Booktalk: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking Normal

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens is a great teen novel about the power of secrets.  At first it reminded me mostly of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because of its focus on a girl who’s hiding a secret and the stress is ruining her life.  But the more I read, the more it reminded me of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  It made me think of that book because the focus expands to include a boy and a girl who would not normally have even spoken to each other, but who end up forming a very powerful bond.  I think what I’m saying here is that you should DEFINITELY be able to find a big audience for this book!

BOOKTALK:

Alexi has a secret that’s eating her alive.  The secret makes it hard for her to trust people, or even talk to them.  The secret makes her curl up and hide on the floor of her closet when she comes home.  The secret makes her scratch herself until she bleeds.  But the whole point of a secret is that nobody else knows.  She can’t tell anyone.

One of the only things that can distract Alexi from the secret in her head is Bodee Lennox, a boy in her school who’s always been quiet and weird.  His nickname is the Kool-Aid Kid because of the way he colors his hair.  That was the most famous thing about him … until now.  But everything has changed for Bodee, because now he’s famous for a different reason.  Because his father just killed his mother.

Alexi has a secret that’s trapped deep inside of her.  Bodee’s home life was a secret until now … but that secret has been revealed to the world, and now everyone knows how terrible things were at home.

In a perfect world, Alexi and Bodee would never have hung out together.  They would never have spoken to each other.  And they definitely would never have become friends.  But this isn’t a perfect world, and Alexi and Bodee are both damaged goods.  Alexi and Bodee are going to need each other’s strength and support to deal with the secrets that have the power to destroy their lives.

My Favorite Children’s and Teen Books of 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming coverGoodreads coverGrasshopper Jungle cover

Here are all of the books I mentioned in this episode:

PICTURE BOOKS

Quest by Aaron Becker

My Teacher is a Monster! (No I am Not!) by Peter Brown

Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans

CHILDREN’S CHAPTER BOOKS

Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

TEEN BOOKS

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Amity by Micol Ostow

Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

BONUS CONTENT — I’ve read SO MANY teen books this year that I couldn’t fit all of them into this episode!  So make sure you check these out, too!

Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Oblivion by Sasha Dawn

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Sekret by Lindsay Smith

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

Booktalk: How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

How it Went Down Cover

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon is a great choice for fans of realistic fiction as well as reluctant readers.  But what really makes it unique is how it’s all about perspective — it’s told from different points of view, and different characters disagree about larger philosophical issues (like what kind of person Tariq was) but also about what each of them saw with their own eyes.  This would be a great choice for a teen book discussion, because it would definitely inspire conversation!  Or, hey, how about as a companion piece to 12 Angry Men?

BTW, my next “in depth” episode isn’t ready yet, so I’ve moved it ahead to next week.  That’s because December is usually when I talk about my favorite children’s and young adult books of the year, and I’ve been so busy with reading YA stuff lately that I need to catch up with some more children’s titles.  So tune in for that next week!

BOOKTALK:

Tariq is a young black teenager who might or might not have been a good person.  He might or might not have wanted to be in a gang.  He might or might not have had a gun in his hand.  But he was shot in front of a bodega in his neighborhood, and now he’s definitely dead.  That’s the one thing that everyone CAN agree on.

Lots of people had their own opinions about Tariq — friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers.  Everyone had their own opinions about what kind of person Tariq was, about whether or not he set the events in motion that led to his own death, and even about what they saw just before and just after he was shot.  The problem is that many of those people, even the ones who were out on the street at the same time and who saw what happened, don’t agree with each other.

Finding the truth about Tariq might be harder than you think.

Booktalk: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling cover

I’ve been a fan of Lucy Frank’s writing ever since I read her YA novels I Am an Artichoke and Will You Be My Brussels Sprout? back in my librarian trainee days. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling is also an excellent book, told in a unique writing style (as a poem-format novel, with poems in each girl’s voice on different sides of the page) and with powerful themes of friendship and overcoming odds.

This would be a great choice for books about death and grief as well as survivor stories (because yes, this story includes a range of possibilities).  Do you know teens who finished The Fault in Our Stars and are looking for more books that will make them contemplate their own mortality?   Share this book with them!

BOOKTALK:

Francesca was sick for a long time, but she didn’t know it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  She knew that something was wrong, and that some days she felt so sick that she didn’t want to move, or walk, or get out of bed.  But she just figured that she ate the wrong thing … or maybe she was imagining it … or maybe it was real, but if she just ignored it, it would go away.  Well, ignoring it didn’t work.  And one of the most romantic nights of her life quickly turned into one of the most EMBARASSING nights of her life when she got so sick that she wound up in the hospital.  Where she got a roommate named Shannon who’d been sick for a VERY long time.

Shannon tells her what it’s like to live when your body is full of steroids and painkillers.  What it’s like to live with a chronic disease that isn’t fatal … unless, of course, you die from it.  What it’s like to live when everybody you know is either lying to you or feeling sorry for you.

Francesca and Shannon are two girls lying next to each other in a hospital room.  Two girls separated by a thin curtain that hangs between them.  Two girls staring at the ceiling.

Booktalk: The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

The Music of Dolphins cover

This week we’re going to have a change of pace, because I haven’t posted a booktalk of a children’s book in a while and because I’ve been so busy reading lately that I haven’t had a chance to write a new booktalk this week.  So off to the archives we go!

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse is a beautiful book in an unusual format. At the beginning of the book, Mila is a wild child who relates to dolphins better than to humans.  But as the book progresses and Mila starts interacting with people, we see her language skills develop along with her mind and her writing style starts to evolve.  This is a poignant and remarkable story, and kids will keep thinking about this book long after they’ve finished it.

BOOKTALK:

Mila is famous all over the world, and she’s only a teenager.  She was rescued by dolphins after her plane crashed when she was four years old, and she spent over ten years of her life with them.  Now she’s been rescued again – this time, by people that look like her.  The difference is, this time she didn’t want to be rescued.

The doctors work with Mila, teaching her to speak and to play music.  She learns very quickly; soon she can play computer games, figure out puzzles, and play music on the recorder.  She learns a lot about what it means to be human; she learns through books, through radio, and through television.  But too often she feels like she’s trapped in a net of humans.

Will Mila ever think of the land as her home, or will the pull of the ocean be too strong?

Booktalk: The Devil’s Intern by Donna Hosie

The Devils Intern cover

When I first picked up The Devil’s Intern by Donna Hosie, I expected … well, I think I was expecting a story about Hell, and it definitely is that.  The setting of this story is very well thought-out; Hosie put a lot of detail in the logistics of Hell.  For example, the underworld’s business district is in a cave, with departments arranged higher or lower by level of importance.  The devil is at the top, and reality TV stars clean out the ground-floor toilets!

But what I didn’t expect was that the mood of this story would alternate between feeling snarky, sarcastic, strange and sad, and that I’d actually grow to care about these characters.  The mood of the book shifts from the beginning (funny and sarcastic) to the end (affecting and emotional) as Mitchell and his friends escape Hell and revisit the scenes of their own deaths.  This is a one-of-a-kind story about the road trip to end all road trips.

BOOKTALK:

Mitchell is a teenage boy who is going to be a teenage boy forever.  That’s because he’s dead, and he’s been living in hell for the last four years.  Hell is a crazy place that’s getting more and more crowded, and Mitchell’s not looking forward to living here for the rest of … well, for the rest of FOREVER.  The only thing that makes his afterlife bearable is the fact that he has friends here.  They keep him company, they make him laugh, and they make him feel like maybe he’s not going to lose his mind after all.

And then one day Mitchell’s boss shows him a secret invention, a time machine that can be used to solve Hell’s overcrowding problem.  But Mitchell has a better idea — he wants to steal the time machine and go back to the moment of his death.  That way he can save his own life and stop himself from ever winding up in Hell.  But he never imagines that his friends will insist on coming along for the ride, and that each of them will want to revisit their own deaths, too.  They are definitely in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Families in YA Fiction

Crossover CoverCrazy coverIll Give You the Sun cover

Family problems, family love, family drama, and more!  Here are the titles I mentioned in this episode:

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Hungry by H.A. Swain

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready

The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn

The Last Forever by Deb Caletti

The Fall by Bethany Griffin

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Booktalk: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

The Fall cover

This retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” is brought to us by Bethany Griffin, also known as the author of the YA novels Masque of the Red Death and Dance of the Red Death.  Although all of these novels are inspired by Edgar Alan Poe stories, the Red Death novels take Poe’s original story and extrapolate a dystopian future society, while The Fall is more of a traditional retelling.

In Poe’s original story we see the action from the perspective of an outsider who is coming to visit the cursed family, someone who’s coming in at the end of the story as the house is about to collapse.  But The Fall lets you imagine the fear and despair of what it would have been like if you’d spent your entire childhood growing up in that dark, creepy house with a curse hanging over your head.

The tagline on the cover is “Madness is in the very air she breathes,” which will give readers a good sense of the chilling, atmospheric story contained inside.

BOOKTALK:

Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  But that’s not where the story begins.

The story started generations ago, when the Usher family was cursed.  Ever since then, all of the Ushers died young, usually after being driven to madness.  Sometimes after trying to leave the house.  The house seemed to have a mind of its own … almost as if it didn’t want them to leave.  Madeleine’s parents sent her twin brother away to try to save him, which left Madeleine even more alone than before.  Now both of her parents are dead, because they couldn’t escape the curse, either.  The only Ushers that are left are Madeleine and her brother, and the curse might die with them.

Madeleine knows the house better than anyone.  She knows its moods and its secrets.  She has peered into its darkest and dustiest corners.  She knows that the house wants to protect her, but she also knows that it might kill her.

Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  That’s not where the story begins … but it might be where it ends.

Booktalk: The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin

Nethergrim cover

When I first picked up The Nethergrim by Matthew Jobin, I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that it was a fantasy book, the cover looked ominous, and the tagline “when magic sleeps, evil awakens” sounded promising.

What I found was that this was an exciting story with three different teenage protagonists who were all empathetic and interesting for different reasons, and there were lots and lots of MONSTERS.  There were the typical physically scary monsters of the supernatural strength / pointy teeth variety but then there were also many aspects of the story that were psychologically scary, as well.  And of course, the closer our protagonists get to the Nethergrim’s lair, the scarier it gets!

This would be a great book to give to fans of the stories it echoes — The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the Narnia series. But it would also be a great book to give to teens who don’t think they like fantasy but are willing to be swept up into an exciting and suspenseful story.  This is the first book of a planned series, so get in now on the ground floor!

BOOKTALK:

Edmund, Katherine, and Tom are all fourteen years old, they all live in the small village of Moorvale, and they’re all teased for being different from the typical kids their age.  Each of them has dreams of having different lives, but little hope of ever achieving those dreams.

But then some strange things start happening in their village.  First, animals start disappearing.  Soon after that, children start disappearing.  The last time something like this happened was years and years ago, when an ancient and evil creature called the Nethergrim was still around.  It was killed by a knight and a wizard who joined forces and raised an army of men to defeat it.  Everyone has heard the songs and the stories, so it MUST be true.

Except … maybe the songs and the stories were wrong.  Maybe the Nethergrim isn’t dead after all.  Maybe it was only sleeping all this time, and now it’s waking up.

Edmund has a very personal reason for wanting to find and destroy the Nethergrim.  His younger brother is one of the children who disappeared.  Edmund is very interested in magic and has read lots of magic books, which is why he has a theory that those missing children aren’t dead after all.  Or at least they’re not dead … YET.  There might still be time to save them, IF Edmund and his friends can find the Nethergrim’s lair before it’s too late.

Booktalk: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

The Shadow Hero cover

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang is a great choice both for reluctant readers and for grownups who need to be convinced about the value of graphic novels.

In my booktalk, I mainly promote the connection between Hank and his mother.  But there’s a lot more going on in this story.  There’s the historic setting.  It’s a great choice for educators looking to get some diversity on their shelves.  It’s a book about superheroes and what it means to be a superhero.  Hank has a romantic interest in a woman who might be one of The Bad Guys (isn’t that ALWAYS the way?)  And it’s also laugh-out-loud funny at times.  Share this one with the teens in your life, and with the librarians, teachers, and parents who are looking for great books to share with the teens in their lives.

Note — there is one point that I’m not 100% clear on, and that’s the exact time frame for this story.  I’ve seen it referred to in reviews as taking place in the 1930’s or 1940’s.  The story does span a number of years, but since this character is based on one who originally appeared in a 1940’s comic book I chose to say the 1940’s … but I could be wrong.  In any case, feel free to adjust as necessary!

BOOKTALK:

It’s the 1940’s in Chinatown, and Hank just wants to live a normal life and work in his parents’ grocery store.  But his mother wants him to be a superhero instead, and she won’t take no for an answer.

The problem started when his mother was rescued by a superhero.  You see, her life was in danger because a bank robber was holding a gun to her head.  And then a superhero called the Anchor of Justice flew in to help, and he saved her life.  She was so impressed by this that she decided that her son should be a superhero, too!

This is the story of Hank, also known as the Green Turtle.  It’s the story of a boy who wants to be just like his father, living a quiet, ordinary life.  It’s the story of a boy who doesn’t realize how much strength he really has, and how much potential he has to be much MORE than ordinary.  It’s the story of a boy who becomes a superhero … even if it isn’t his idea.

%d bloggers like this: