This book has a bummer of a title, but it’s all right. Indeed, there’s a dead best friend– and there’s Cass, who’s still alive. Basically, it’s a story about how Cass learns to deal with the loss– and also falls in (teenage) love along the way.
Chapter-by-chapter the narrative flip flops between past and present, which was a little weird. It was slow and funky at first, but It drew more of my commitment by the time I got to the middle. I didn’t find everything completely believable– but I do gotta support a decent librarian-authored book that somehow brings together bike touring, Quakers, drama, and teen lesbians.
Francesca Lia Block and I go way back– like all the way to the 6th grade. I stumbled upon Weetzie Bat sometime before it “went missing” from the local library (oooh, yes, it’s a “banned book”), and was immediately obsessed with bleached crew cuts, pink cowboy boots, Dirks&Ducks (omg I could not believe what I was reading!), & pastel-bleached summer so-cal days. Love In the Time of Global Warming is less about life and beauty and finding a sense of place– and more about an Odyssey. And I mean that Homeric-ly. Penelope a.k.a. “Pen” (remember that Odysseus’s wife’s name was Penelope)is the only one left at the site of her family’s house after a huge disaster hits. She holes up along in the rubble for a while until a mysterious man brings her a map and a van…
A dreamlike odyssey follows, and some of the critics point this out as a weakness, but I think it’s kinda beautiful. It’s been well over a decade since I was forced to read the original in school, but I can tell you that the obstacles that Pen encounters mirror those in the classic Odyssey, but in a fresh and unique way. You meet the Cyclops, but it happens somewhere supermodern and kinda apocalyptic anyway (etc). FLB is FLB, so she also finds lovely ways to weave in narratives of LGBT teenagers, which will probably change some kid’s life, first relationships, elements from her real life, and hazards of genetic engineering… If it sounds like a lot it is, and is it literal, or is it an dreamy meditation about how to function, and ultimately love, in a world so damaged by everything our kind has done to it? My recommendation is to avoid going into this book with expectations of tidy points, simplistic resolutions, or clear-cut anything. Just dive in, and see what happens.
Totally worth it!
So Lo’s a teenage girl who skates with the dudes in some NorCal suburb in the 90’s.
Everything around her is pretty boring and her family life kinda sucks, and in the midst of it all a crazy reciprocated crush starts happening with a girl from school. They become total BFF’s, but in the meantime something totally nuts happens in the family realm, some other things happen, and Lo ends up going on a wild runaway adventure and tons of interesting stuff happens.
This book is often poetic, and always a little magical. Argo’s capture of the onset of first crushes and queer identity and discovery of identity-shaping things is ridiculously spot-on. She nails how it works in your (ok, my) head. There’s drugs, action, sex, music, ADVENTURE, and a solid story line that keeps you reading until the last page (apparently there’s a sequel in the works, and this is a good thing). Though under 300 pages, the story is dense and you’ll definitely probably take a couple of days to read it.
This book is super enjoyable and well written. BUY a copy here cuz it’s self published and you’ll probably want it for your bookshelf anyway.
Just a heads-up that this kinda awesome graphic novel exists. It somewhat poetically tells the story of two queer high school students (a tough girl and a soft boy) who find each other as friends, go on coming-of-age adventures and get into conflicts, etc. The feel is pretty passionate and teenage (lots of song lyrics and drama), and the art totally wins. Check out the “Look Inside” section on the amazon page to see some samples. There’s not really a beginning-middle-end to the story– it’s more of a snapshot in time.
I do love YA novels with nontraditional trajectories. Our protagonist Alva Jean is 14 years old and has grown up in a Fundamentalist Mormon (FLDS) community in Utah. She’s never known anything outside Pine Ridge other than what she has heard in sermons (including institutionalized racism, mega-patriarchy and plural marriage), and hasn’t questioned it until she is one day made to witness the grisly punishment of a woman from her community.
Around the same time, an innocent first kiss lands Alva Jean on the wrong side of the community’s favor, a number of punishments happen, and she soon finds herself forcibly married to someone other than her teenage crush. This novel is stark, rough, and quite engrossing. The story seems to partially function to educate the reader about how problematic the FLDS church/cult can be (and simultaneously is sympathetic to the people living in it)– and if you’re like me and didn’t have any previous knowledge of it, you’ll gain a ton of new information.
The book was pretty great, but I think that the ending was a little too swift, easy, and unbelievable. I feel like this one could have easily become a two-book story (or following recent convention, a trilogy if things got stretched a little more)– but don’t let that stop you from reading it!
A while back I read and reviewed Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother. I’d been meaning to get around to Little Brother, and its pick as San Francisco’s One City One Book gave me the push that I needed.
Little Brother takes place in a present day, slightly dystopian version of San Francisco (these is more obvious surveillance, tracking, blind patriotism, and privacy breaches). The premise is that terrorists have blown up the Bay Bridge, and our teenage narrator and his friends just so happen to be ditching school Downtown when it happens. In the wrong place at the wrong time, they get arrested and jailed & abused in a secret prison on Angel Island. Our narrator Marcus gets out and basically starts a secret internet and technology-based revolution.
Like Homeland, the really big strengths of this book are in the political messages. They are about the stifling prevalence of surveillance, the problems of illegal secret imprisonment of innocent people, and the importance of privacy. The story was ok, and it’s clear that effort was put into making the characters human, but it honestly seemed more like padding for all of the exciting concepts presented. Actual timing and events in the narrative felt kind of dizzy and lumpy. Ultimately, it was the action and the politics that moved me through the book. If anything, this exciting and thematically important book will make you want to re-check your privacy settings…
Quirky and creative Bea moves to a new school and becomes fast friends with Jonah, an outcast who everyone calls “Ghostboy.” They have a fabulous and artistic friendship together, but it turns out that Jonah has some really dark, messed up family stuff going on. I’m not going to say what it is (though I will say it’s not what you’re expecting). It starts to consume him, and Bea joins Jonah on the wild ride of trying to fix it. Meanwhile, Bea’s got her own family drama going on. And on top of all of that, they’re each navigating the worlds of high school hallways, parties, bars, and a nightly late-night call-in radio show.
I felt like a lot of really improbable things happened in this book, and that’s what kept me from falling in love with it. BUT, if you can take the somewhat fantastical events as they’re thrown at you (as I probably could have as a teenager– and this is a YA novel), you’ll get a well-written story where lots of really unique things happen. The story is different from others that I’ve read before, and is totally worth the couple hours that it will take you to get through it. Check it out!
On a softer note than the one from the other day, I have a confession to make.
So we librarians have all these really great readers advisory tools that our employers pay money for. Lots of money. They come in the form of $15-an-issue periodicals, hard-bound books, electronic databases, our big giant brainzzz– but my favorite is still the section of the amazon.com product page that is called “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” Here are two that were recommended to me in that way:
Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee by Megan Boyle
This book felt a little bit like watching a tv show like the dog whisperer in a hotel room in a new city alone late at night. It’s a steady something, but I really wish that time would speed up and I could be doing something else. That’s not necessarily a 100% negative thing; I kept thinking that I would’ve been really into this book at maybe age 19. I have a habit of not googling writers or literary references until I’m done (see my review of I Love Dick)– turns out Megan Boyle has an internet presence and this book kinda falls into step with it. Get a library copy or a support-the-author money copy.
Whores on the Hill by Colleen Currran
This is one of those books that an alternative kid could read as a teenager and get sartorially and emotionally inspired by. Kind of like how all of us “older” millennials did by The Craft and Tori Amos and maybe the Weetzie Bat books. It’s a series of vignettes about a group of shamelessly sexual and kinda gothy 1980’s teenage friends. Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely beautiful sentiments and sentences in this book (these alone make it worth the couple hours’ read), but I thought it really got deflated by adding in the disaster at the end. Not every book needs a moral edge. Find a copy here!
I found this book accidentally– it was in a pile of new library books that were waiting to be shelved. I liked the cover, so I snagged it & checked it out before any of its intended teenage audience could get their little hands on it.
First things first, the book is British! I leaned all kinds of new terms like “loo paper” and “minge” and “luggage trolley.” The Britishness also fostered a totally “un-American” openness about sex (yay!); the teen characters had plain and clear conversations with each other about the sex that they were having, they referenced a sex ed class, and it was all without shame or weirdness.
So the premise is that teenage Jeane is a super-creative, super-weird all-around awesome blogger/public speaker/web personality on the internet (she has a growing lifestyle “brand” called “Adorkable”)– and also a righteous loud-mouthed feminist and activist in real life. She’s SO brash and opinionated that it’s hard for her to make friends with all the loathsome people at high school, but then she and a really good-looking “normal” and “popular” boy who are on total opposite ends of the teenage spectrum kinda fall in together. What follows is reexamination of preconceptions on both ends…
Honestly, I found Jeane’s character to be a little too awesome; her achievements and involvements were a few too many for me to find 100% realistic (e.g. getting a book deal and speaking at professional conferences overseas unchaperoned…). BUT. The concept of the book was pretty rad, Jeane didn’t have to give up any of her beliefs, and my interest was kept through the full 384 pages of the book (e.g. I was thinking about getting back to reading it while at the supermarket). Furthermore, on the teenage front, “Jeane” will alert teen girls about all kinds of rad stuff like labor issues, fat positivity, rock-n-roll camp for girls, general feminism, individuality, etc…
A gay seventeen year-old boy (bullied, heartbroken and silenced) hangs himself.
His death catalyzed some shifts in the lives of people who he barely interacted with (a teacher, a classmate, the principal and the guidance counselor (who are secretly a couple)) at the Catholic school that he attended. Monoceros is their story.
Monoceros doesn’t dwell on the sadness or the could-haves or any of the stuff that you would expect a novel about the aftermath of the tragic suicide of a gay teen to. Instead, it’s an intimate look into a diverse group of people’s interconnected lives and ultimate development.
The writing is addictive and poetic, but not in a stifling way. It reads juicy like chick lit, but it’s not ostentatious or shallow. Read it! I kind of loved this book.
I found out about this book in some recommendations on amazon.ca. Please comment if there are any other awesome Canadian authors that aren’t really promoted in the US that you recommend!
Find a copy here
I found this one on some librarian Juv/YA booklist, and I’m glad that I checked it out! I recommend it for all ages. Though intended for kids age 12+, I think it would work well for teens also as well as adults who like YA books).
Ghetto Cowboy is the story of what happens to 12-year-old Cole who gets in trouble one time too many at his mom’s house in Detroit, and is sent to stay with his father (whom he has never met) in Philly to help clean up his act. But as soon as Cole’s mom’s car pulls into town to drop him off, he realizes that his dad doesn’t live in an ordinary place. Nestled in the middle of the inner city are barns, horses, and bona-fide African American cowboys. At first he’s freaked out. But then things start to come together…
The storyline is fairly typical to what an experienced adult reader would expect, but the parts of this novel that were the most interesting to me are as follows:
1) The author has Cole narrate with a natural urban conversational tone (you know, the way real kids talk) without apology
2) Inner-city black cowboy associations are totally a real-live thing. Read about one HERE.
3) Technically a children’s book, Ghetto Cowboy doesn’t pussyfoot around things like institutional racism, gentrification, gangs, etc. The author does a good job of trusting that the reader can handle it all
Find a copy at your library
The Drama High series kept on getting mentioned as one of the few contemporary book series’ out there about African American teenage girls. So I picked up Second Chance to see if it was something that that the teenagers at my library would be into (and, um, because I like YA fiction).
So yes, Second Chance is a recommendable book. In all honesty, I think that being a teenager would have enamored me to it more (the author does a great job of capturing that certain breed of awful anxiety that comes with relationships when you’re a teen– and it’s so nice to be free of that as a grown up– also, there’s a good deal of interpersonal friend drama that was more teen-style than I was into (but I’m not a teen)).
So the story is that Jayd is African American and lives in Compton and wakes up every morning to take the bus to a mostly-rich-and-white school in LA. She’s in AP classes and has a handful of African American classmates who are also from her part of the city. Amongst them are her 2 best friends, her sworn enemy, and the manipulative boy who she used to date. Jayd starts dating a rich white boy, and drama of course ensues. Unlike a lot of paperback teen novels in general, Jayd and her surrounding life gets a fair deal of dimension. Her grandma who she lives with works making potions and magic satchels (and it’s treated totally normally in the book). The school has some notoriously racist teachers, and Jayd tries to bring charges against one of them. Jayd also works on the weekends and has difficulty with her dad and his side of the family. She’s likable, typically says the right thing, and has a strong sense of self.
This is not the first book of the series, and I would recommend starting with book one, as I felt a little bit in the dark about some of the characters. On a similar note, it is definitely part of a series– so there is not a tidy conclusion.
Find a copy here
Realistically, I will probably love Rachel Cohn’s books no matter what, because her writing was one of the lures that initially built up my strong and hard faith in YA literature. It was the frank talk about teen sexuality in the Shrimp and Gingerbread series as well as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist with David Levithan(as well as the quirky and believable voices, and the nonchalant presence of actual gay characters).
BETA takes a leap away from Cohn’s typical trope of quirky-smart modern girl meeting life head-on in a big city– and takes place in a pretty much post-apocalyptic future. Elysia is a Beta, a laboratory-born clone designed to serve a wealthy family as the perfect daughter. She has no emotions, opinions, or sense of taste, and there is a chip implanted under her skin to track her location at all times. This is the life that she wakes up into at age 16. Within a short time, however, things start to change quite radically.
Beta is well-written and super engaging. I read it in less than 24 hours. The post-apocalypse world in which the characters live is pretty convincing, and lightly touches on some social commentary about our current times, but not as much as other futuristic teen novels such as the Hunger Games or Uglies. My only critique of BETA is that the pacing is sometimes kind of weird. The timeline and markers of Elysia’s eh, awakening– seem to all happen faster than I wanted them to. But maybe that’s how the story goes 😉
Find a copy here
I’d seen this book around, but had always had something more urgent to read at hand. Not in a bad way, just in that way that it so often is with books.
So I was finally in a situation where I had a lot of free time, an e-reader, and a connection to Overdrive, the service that my library uses to access e-books. I browsed the YA selections, pressed the download button, and started to read.
So it’s a loner-comes-out-of-his-shell narrative. Our protagonist Fanboy (who’s the subject of bullying at school and a shitty family at home) meets Goth girl Kyra (basically a manic pixie dream girl who isn’t given enough dimension, in my opinion) who pretty much befriends him out of nowhere and widens his world, sort of. Over the course of the book he learns to respect his art, stands up for himself in a pretty sassy way, and kind of makes things better with his family. Kyra, on the other hand, gets crazier and crazier, though this novel doesn’t dwell on that (I just learned that there is a sequel— maybe Kyra gets whole?).
The book ends on a note that seems to be unsatisfying and incomplete. Sure, everything’s starting to look up for Fanboy– but it’s hard to feel too happy for him when you never even learned his real name.
So I was disappointed with certain elements of the book– but it’s still worth reading. Fanboy’s observations about the messed up adults in his life are spot-on and took me back to my own teen years. Also, if you’re a comics person, there’s some comic-related stuff that you’ll like.
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga
Find a copy here.