Zombies that you want to be friends with (if they’re not hungry)!
So this is the sequel to EAT BRAINS LOVE, which I briefly mentioned a little while ago. Book 1 ended in a precarious place, our protagonists on the run. Book 2 continued at the same speed and took us into new states, different kinds of societies, and a few new kills (duh. it’s a book about zombies). Book 2 got better at giving the female protagonist some dimension (her story was kinda flat in book 1), which was a good thing. I would complain that that there wasn’t enough closure, but I have the sneaking suspicion that another book might be on the way.
EXPRESS Book Review: Noggin by JOHN COREY WHALEY
Ridiculous plot: Teen boy tragically dies of a terminal illness– but is brought back to life 5 years later with his head attached to another person’s body. Everyone and everything –but him– has aged and changed. Despite the ridiculousness of the situation and a multitude of comedic lighthearted moments and teenage antics, surprisingly deep instances often make it through. Totally recommended YA read. Check it out.
EXPRESS BOOK REVIEW: Eat Brains Love by Jeff Hart
One protagonist has just “gone zombie,” and is now on the lam with the class hottie (who’s also gone zombie) after eating half the kids in the school cafeteria. Our other protagonist is a teen psychic who works for the government’s top-secret zombie hunting operation. Lots of fun, adventure, and cannibalism! (It’s quite endearing). Check it out!
If you want to talk about an epic 2015 children’s book that is simply SCREAMING to be taught at school so it can wedge its way into our culture just like The Giver did 20 years ago, start talking about Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. You may as well read it now, because you’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about it (if your daily life involves children’s/YA lit).
My only complaint is that the end isn’t super believable if you’re an adult– but that’s only like 30 pages of around 500. Ignore my complaint for now if you want to be surprisingly impressed with how far you will be taken the story of a sort of magical transcontinental harmonica (for real) that affected some kids’ lives at pivotal times in history. I was particularly impressed with the amount of historical research that seemed to go into this book.
Epic YA fiction! American Teenage Mariam is sent against her will to live for a while with her grandmother in Egypt. She is initially pretty bummed to leave the only life she knows (her peers at school have given her lots of crap about being Egyptian-American, so she carries a heavy dose of self- and cultural distaste). It turns out her grandmother isn’t bad and there’s lots of stuff to do (as well as some time for self-discovery, first love, first adultish independence, etc). But shit kind of hits of the fan due to the revolution going on (as well as some other stuff), and lots of growing has to be done. Amidst a great story, the book also subtly does lots of good work to dispel stereotypes about the Middle East and Arabs and Islam.
I haven’t seen one quite like this before; you should Check it out!
Just a quickie (even though I think this book deserves more) :
If you’re looking for a super-smart teen protagonist, good (both rich and witty) dialogue, and lots of feelings, check out Beau, Lee, The Bomb, and Me. Our protagonist Rylee is super-smart, but fat and an outcast at school– she ends up going on a surprise road trip to San Francisco with Beau, a bullied gay kid at her school, and Leonie, her bff (of circumstance) who’s basically the class ho with a heart of gold (and as it turns out, lots of really good qualities).
While I didn’t find the entirety of the story 100% believable, lots of the different parts are really heartfelt, interesting, and awesome. Read it. You’ll get through it in about a day, and you’ll totally be googling the author to see if there is more. check it outtttt! Or buy it. It’s on sale for under $7.
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.
I’m always happy to promote queer punk YA novels. This one is kind of great; takes place in the year 2000, lets us into the life of high school senior Katherine. Her beloved grandma’s just died, her BFF is ignoring her, her parents are absentee and she’s pretty depressed.
Enter loud, opinionated, gay, straight-edge Marie, who immediately welcomes Katherine into her social circle (girls who start bands and go to punk shows).
It’s a classic YA problem novel in the sense that there’s all kids of drama and mess-ups and there’s kind of a lesson at the end and certain relationships never heal. As an adult reader I was constantly having waves of thankgoodness life’s not like that any more…
There are music references and band interactions that could have been taken out of my personal history. You should check it out.
I was totally into this one. Sweet late-bloomer flute-prodigy teenage Todd shares a ghost (Leroy) with his BFF Jennifer. In the midst of dealing with his alcoholic (librarian!) mom, realizing his sexuality, learning about a secret with his BFF, embarking on a major treasure hunt-ish challenge, (and more!), Todd learns exactly what the ghost is up to…
The writings good, the story kept me going, and there was a good bit of humor and dramatic irony nestled into the gravity of everything else. It’s different from the usual YA, which is pretty neat.
Taking place in the 1920’s and lightly historical, Vixen is a fun and captivating read. It won’t be researched enough for staunch historians or literary enough for lit lovers– but it’s success is in gossipy drama that occurs in an unusual setting. While the characters didn’t necessarily romance me, the setting did, and I found myself trying to hunt down both the sequels and other YA books on the topic (sparkly outfits! music! danger! rebellion!). It is indeed a fun read– and if you read a lot, you won’t lament that you spent a day or two on this one.
You see the cover? That’s kind of the mood of this book.
Mellow, introspective, and no big climax– but interesting enough to get me through the 250 pages.
It’s a YA novel about teenage Abby, who’s big sister (the radiant, charming, and beautiful) Tess is in a coma following an accident. Average Abby’s always felt overshadowed by Tess, and does a lot of internal processing while Tess is comatose. There’s a cute boy with issues, a surprising-to-Abby (but not to the reader) revelation about Tess, and an obnoxiously bad self-esteem that improves.
This is, indeed, a YA book. It wasn’t as lovable as Stealing Heaven, but that’s ok.
Check out a copy here
I am so busy, so here is a 2fer.
Book Review: Lauren Yanofsky Hates the Holocaust BY Leanne Lieberman
I appreciate that this book plays with a topic that is so often ignored by YA lit: religion. And in particular, discomfort with religion.
Our protagonist Lauren has grown up Jewish in a pretty observant family; she had a bat mitzvah, she used to go to the Jewish youth group, and she had to beg her parents to allow her to exchange the fancy Jewish private school for the ordinary public school. Oh, and she might be questioning her belief in the religion– but that’s to the side of the main point. The main point is that the boy who she’s been flirting with plays Nazi games when he gets drunk and this really appalls her because you see, in addition to it being generally messed up, she has built up multiple layers of holocaust-related trauma. And it’s starting to seem like the entirety of her and her religion is based around the holocaust and her friends don’t understand… My description may seem clunky, but the author actually deals with it all pretty smartly.
This is a really solid book in lots of ways. It’s well-written and has surrounding friendship drama plots, coming of age stuff, imperfect relationships and choices, problematic parenting, familial imperfection.
This unusual book is quite good and it won’t take you too long to read. Check it Out!
The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis
Olivia is 16 and lives with her 2 dads in LA. The family owns a fancy little restaurant that Olivia (genius cook that she is) cooks the weekly specials for. But Oh No! the bankers are coming after the family’s restaurant and house because the business hasn’t been doing so hot. Meanwhile, Olivia gets a really cool part time job, bends some legal rules to try to meet her birth-mom (she’s adopted), spends time with a boy from her past, and encounters a lovely little dose of magic. What will happen?!?!
This is a nice read that covers lots of ground and has a good amount of dimension. I wish there was more character depth and physical description of people and outfits, but that’s just me. There are some really good and detailed descriptions of the food– and I guess that’s closer to where the plot’s at anyway. I’d been missing magic, and this had a tidy little dose of it. Get a copy!
This is a quick little YA coming out/coming of age story. After the kids at his high school find out he’s gay, our protagonist Will loses his sense of place. It’s a messy little story, kind of like real life, and kind of like the author was trying to make the 142 pages as meaty as possible.
Matt begins dating an older guy online, he had strong emotions about what’s going on in the life of his BFF, he explores his feelings about the out-ness of the other gay boy at school, and he acts like a bog ol’ jerk for a lot of the book. Basically, he’s a teenage mess, which is developmentally normal.
It didn’t change my life, and it’s not too unlike a lot of other gay lit I’ve read– the but I can see how this book could be really important for some readers in need of coming-out companionship (if they were able to get past the title).
Get a copy here!
The cover picture is totally anachronistic.The story takes place in the 80’s, and somewhere in this YA novel’s 3o9 pages, it mentions big bangs and Aquanet (whereas the model has reasonable hair and totally 2000’s eyebrows). And what’s up with the ocean in the background? The meat of the story is in San Francisco’s Richmond District, and the ocean is only fleetingly mentioned like once. But gripes aside.
So Frances attends all-girl Catholic school and lives in a 1-bedroom apartment with her mom in the Richmond in SF (totally exciting fame moment if you live in the City). She’s super sheltered, and at 17, has really only been to the Richmond, Chinatown, and Downtown maybe a little bit. Her mom’s pretty strict and intense (and abusive), and plan is for Frances to take Calculus, get straight A’s, and go to Berkeley to become a doctor. The plan goes into action without much fanfare until oops, quiet, obedient Frances takes a public speaking class instead of Calculus and starts winning competitions. Her mom is pissed. In classic YA novel fashion, everything else collides too…
It’s a pretty typical coming of age story, the protagonist is reasonably likable, and she makes choices that you’ll support. Some of the plot was kind of meh, but you know. It won’t necessarily change your life– but the 1980’s san francisco scenery will make you happy.
get a copy here
So I had this giant stack of well-respected adult literature that I was intending to read– and instead I gravitated toward teen stuff (and returned the adult stuff to the library). So much for faking like I’m fancy and grown up. Here goes:
45 Pounds (more or less) by KA Barson
So teenage Anne has been told that she is 45 pounds overweight, her (super skinny) mom is a total jerk about it, and as a result, she has a pretty big complex. Her lesbian (!) aunt’s wedding is in a few months and she wants to lost the weight so she can look thin in the ceremony, so she goes through some extreme measures to start– and ends up having to get a job to support these new measures, and meanwhile there’s a boy she likes and her little sister is starting to get emotionally distressed about something, and there’s a mean girl out to sabotage her…
Ultimately lots of the right lessons are taught, but I really wish the “happy ending” could have been made happy without the stereotypical things that it ended with. I kind of also wish that we’d gotten to know Anne a little better. BUT this teenage “problem novel” is still solidly multi-dimensional, entertaining, and interesting.
Find a copy here
Hot Girl by Dream Jordan
14 year old Kate’s had a tough life. She’s been bounced around group homes and foster families, is a former gang member and former pot smoker and all-around tough girl– but she finally had a good social worker, good grades, and an ok (but strict) family she lives with. But when her BFF goes away for the summer, she befriends Naleejah, a super-fancy girl who has tons of money and designer clothes– and sleeps with guys to get them. Naleejah gives Kate a makeover, and the kind of attention that she gets starts to change… Will she fall in too deep with her new friend and risk losing everything that she’s worked so hard to make stable in her life?
This is a decent YA novel. It features multiple characters’ complications and complexities, and is realistic in the sense that it doesn’t try too hard to clean up supporting characters’ messes. Kate is weird enough that we can actually believe that she’s a real person, and while some of the other characters might be jerky, they still elicit some empathy.
Find a copy here
This novella ended almost as quickly as it began, but its 137 pages are packed with lots of information. Our teen protagonist is gay and out only to his family and BFF, Jonathan. He totally wants to get down with Jonathan (also gay), but Jonathan says no, as he’s taken an interest in hooking up with lots of other guys. Theo’s dad is recovering from a brain injury and his step mom is overly obsessed with all the small details of Theo’s life, and Jonathan’s dad is a violent homophobe. Lots of events collide, and the ending, while mildly uplifting after an intense climax, is not a simple “happily ever after.”
It’s a weird little book with lots of complexities; its biggest strength is that it shows the messiness of humanity (as well as the importance having good people in your life). The ideas and emotions are really strong. The actual series of events didn’t really allure me too much, it seemed like certain happenings occurred without much purpose to the storyline. I would have liked for a lot of the side characters/events to be more fleshed out, and for this to be a novel, rather than a novella. I want Theo’s quirky 1st grade teacher who he met in the gay bar to show back up in later chapters, and for the little sister to have some kinda narrative-altering effects. That sort of thing.
This behemoth of a YA coming of age story is 470 pages. The internet recommended it to me, and I was immediately drawn to the idea of it: a teenage lesbian coming of age in farmy and conservative Miles City, Montana, who gets sent to what is basically an “ex gay” boarding school (you know, like along the lines of the one in the genius film But I’m A Cheerleader, and uh, unfortunately in real life too (see map)).
I’m going to start with the critique so that I can end with the really good parts: There are two distinct (and I think unintentional) halves to this book: the first takes place at home in Miles City, and the second takes place at the ex gay boarding school. I don’t feel like they mix well; most of the characters from the first half are totally dropped, and characters in the second half just show up mid-book. Also, the ending leaves you hanging, and I My impression is that the author had a really huge body of work and the editors were like “let’s delete a bunch of stuff and cram this into one book,” rather than “let’s turn this into a miniseries/trilogy” or something… Or the contrast is intended to highlight just how different Cameron’s life suddenly gets when she’s sent away…
But the good! The writing is great, and the setting of Miles City is thoroughly and wonderfully described. I grew up totally West Coast, but the descriptions of how Cameron navigates the space as a young teen felt so familiar. There’s such lovely and nostalgic attention to detail. The coming out parts between teens are so super right on, and I really believed in her relationships and friendships in the first half of the book. I found the religion part really interesting (her aunt moves in and starts practicing as a very Born Again Christian), and while that’s the detail that unfortunately gets Cameron eventually sent away to the ex gay school, it indeed makes for a captivating setting.
The book is a hulking 470 pages, but I remain impressed with the large quantity of information and “story” that gets fit into it. I could really go for a sequel, but I can’t find any evidence of one being in the works.
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.
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!
This is the first book I’ve ever read about teenage lesbians in Iran.
So if you don’t already know, homosexuality is illegal in Iran. It can be punishable by death. Women must cover their heads when outdoors, and arranged marriages are fairly common. Obviously, it’s an entire country with lots of other dimension, too– but these are some of the ways that it differs from my life in a liberal city on the west coast of the USA.
Our protagonist Sahar and her BFF Nasrin have been in love since they were children. It’s a secret that’s pretty much been going fine until just recently when Nasrin’s parents have arranged a marriage for her. Nasrin decides to go with it because she doesn’t want consequences, and Sahar’s really upset. Her disquiet leads her into an Iranian queer underground that her cousin Ali is close to the top of…
If You Could be Mine was awesome; the setting was super interesting to me. I thought it wrapped up a little quickly– I want a sequel. Check this book out for its unique context, its solid writing, and its decent amount of depth for a YA novel.
After “It Gets Better” got co-opted into a generic non-LGBT-specific anti-bullying campaign, there was this magical cloud over everything that started to imply that the problems of queer kids all over America are due to bullying by their peers– not due to the institutionalized homophobia of the entire society that they live in. Suddenly there was this notion that simple things like purple tshirts and signing online anti-bullying pledges, and carefully-planned interviews on national talk shows had ended homophobia forever, and that queer kids no longer had anything to worry about.
Not the case.
Granted, purple tshirts and signing online anti-bullying pledges, and carefully-planned interviews on national talk shows help make things better. And some things really have “gotten better.” But the system is still broken. Queer kids are still killing themselves because they’re queer.
It really does get better if you can figure out a way to strategically make it better– but it’s not like some equation just goes *zing* and gets magically solved when you turn 18, and suddenly everything that’s been holding you down for your whole life dissipates. We gotta show people how to do the math.
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan is pretty great. Written from the perspective of the ghosts of gay “ancestors” who lived amongst the 80’s and AIDS, it describes a few days in the lives of 5, sometimes 6 teenage gay boys. Two are working on beating the record for the longest same sex kiss, two are starting a new relationship, one is fleeing his abusive family, and another is observing the kiss while still reeling from a recent homophobic attack. There’s tons of details, it’s David Levithan so the writing’s totally lyrical, and you’ll probably read it in one or two sittings. A+, this is definitely one I’ll be recommending.
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!
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…