Archive for Abuse

Booktalk: The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

The Bunker Diary cover

When I read The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks earlier this year, it was one of the most suspenseful YA books I’d ever read.  Teen in peril?  Edge-of-your-seat?  No idea what will happen next?  Our hopes repeatedly raised and then dashed to pieces?  YES to all of the above.

Give this book to fans of books like What Happened to Cass McBride? or any other realistic fiction that will keep them on edge!


Linus woke up in a place he’d never seen before.  It was like an apartment with several rooms, but the more he looked around the more he realized that this was no ordinary apartment.  The walls were made out of concrete, and they were painted white.  There were no doors or windows leading outside, so he had no idea where he was or even if it was night or day.  The only connection between this concrete bunker and the outside world was an elevator.  An elevator that went … somewhere …

Linus spent some time exploring his new surroundings.  There was a bathroom, kitchen, elevator, and six identical rooms.  He thought … why would there be SIX rooms if he was the only person here?  And then he wondered if maybe he should expect some company.

Linus also spent some time thinking back on how he got here.  He remembered how he stopped to help a blind man who turned out not to be blind at all, a man who drugged and kidnapped him before bringing him to this mysterious place.

Linus doesn’t know it yet, but being kidnapped and brought here against his will isn’t going to be the worst thing that happens to him.  He doesn’t know it yet, but his nightmare is just beginning.

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!


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.

Booktalk: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is one of my favorite book titles, and this is definitely a book that can sell itself with its cover alone.  I just started booktalking it at schools this week, and I had kids in several classes say, “I want to read THAT book!” before I even started my booktalk.  While it CAN sell itself, it’s still worth booktalking to let teens know about the plot layers of the story and to share this book with the widest audience possible.  Check out Meg Medina’s website to learn more about all of the books she’s written for kids and teens.


Piddy Sanchez is trying to keep a low profile.  She’s trying … and failing.

One morning before school, a girl Piddy barely knows tells Piddy that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass.  Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is, and she has no idea how this girl knows her or why she would hate her.

Piddy is having enough trouble trying to deal with her family, her school, and her job.  She wants her mother to be honest with her about who her father really was.  She wants to fit in at her new school and keep up with her honors classes.  She wants to keep earning money working at Salon Corazon because she really needs it.

But as the harassment from Yaqui and her gang start to escalate, Piddy learns what it’s like to live with a bully’s target on her back.  She learns what it’s like to have an enemy who can make all her other problems seem small by comparison, and who can make her life a living hell.

Booktalk: All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry

All the Truth Thats in Me cover

All the Truth That’s in Me is primarily a suspense story, but it’s also a historical fiction novel which is unusual because we never know exactly when this story takes place.  The story unfolds in short, poetic chapters told from the point of view of a girl who has survived one ordeal and may have to survive another.  Judith is a fascinating narrator — sometimes unreliable because of the gaps in her memory and understanding, but always empathetic.

Check out Julie Berry’s website for more information about this book and her other titles for young readers.


Four years ago, Judith and her best friend Lottie disappeared.  Soon afterwards, Lottie was found, dead, in a stream.  Two years after that, Judith suddenly came back to town, but she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to Lottie or what had happened to her.  That’s because the man who had kidnapped her had cut out her tongue to make sure she wouldn’t speak.

He also told her that if she tried to tell anyone what had happened, that he would destroy her town.  She’d spent enough time with him that she’d seen all of his weapons and explosives, and she knew that he could do it.

For two years, Judith has lived as an outcast.  Nobody wants to talk to her or interact with her.  Nobody knows what to say to her.  And she doesn’t know what to say to them without putting them in danger.

But when the town is threatened once again, Judith can think of only one way to save it.  And that means going back to the place where she was held captive for two years.  Going back to the man who kidnapped her and cut out her tongue so that she wouldn’t speak.  And pleading with him to use his weapons and save the town before it’s too late.

Booktalk: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock cover

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is, in many ways, difficult to read.  We shift back and forth between caring for our protagonist and getting irritated when he rubs us the wrong way.  He’s our hero, but he’s difficult to love.  We also see that he hasn’t been loved enough, and we wonder who, if anyone, will have the strength and the insight needed to save him.  As many of you know from reading Silver Linings Playbook or watching the movie, Matthew Quick is skilled at creating endearing yet flawed characters, and Leonard Peacock is another great example.


Today is Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he’s planning to kill himself.  But first, he needs to get a couple of things done.

Leonard wants to give some going-away presents to some of the most important people in his life.  Except, these people won’t realize that they’re going-away presents until it’s too late.  Leonard wants to give them presents because each of them managed to make his life feel a little less worthless.

After he gives those presents away, Leonard is planning to kill Asher Beal.  Asher used to be Leonard’s best friend, and then he turned into something else.  Asher is the main reason that Leonard wants to kill himself.

And then, after he distributes his going-away presents and after he kills Asher Beal, Leonard is going to kill himself.  Unless anyone can give him a good reason why he shouldn’t.

Booktalk: You Don’t Know Me by David Klass

You Don’t Know Me by David Klass is one of my favorite teen books that I’ve read since I became a librarian.  The cover grabbed me right away, and once I started reading it I was enthralled by the story and the narrator’s voice.  Reading this book felt like a roller-coaster ride, because of all of the emotional highs and lows.  I’ve been booktalking this book and placing it into teenagers’ hands for years, and I’m very glad that it’s still in print.  Every library should have copies of this book in their teen collection (hint-hint)!

Now, let’s take a minute to talk about booktalking technique.  This is one of the few books I’ve read that uses both first and second person, and my first sentence of my booktalk introduces the first-person concept.  I always take a brief pause after saying “My name is John” to give it a second to sink in and to let my audience know that I’m going to be speaking as that character.  And if listening to a female librarian call herself a male name isn’t strange enough,  addressing the audience as “you” at the end of the booktalk adds to the power of the presentation.

Also, this is my booktalk as originally written, but I’ve made adjustments to it depending on my audience and my state of mind.  First, the paragraph about the music teacher isn’t really essential, even though it does highlight the humorous aspect of the book.  So I have occasionally left that part out, either because I was pressed for time or because while I was in the first paragraph I was watching my audience and felt that they were too distracted and I needed to cut to the chase.  Second, there’s that description of Gloria eating and swallowing the note.  I’m guessing that if you know teenagers, you know where this is going.  That’s right — many teenagers, especially older ones, will laugh out loud at that description because they think it’s an oral sex reference (which it isn’t, but there’s no time to explain that in the middle of a booktalk).  So I usually keep the booktalk in its original form when I present it to 7th grade classes, but remove the “One gulp and it went straight down that beautiful perfect throat of hers” line when I present it to high school classes.

The lesson here being, don’t be afraid to learn from your audience and adjust your booktalks accordingly!


My name is John, and my friends don’t know me. They think they know what kind of person I am, but really they have no idea. Glory Hallelulia doesn’t know me, either. Her real name is Gloria, but because she’s so beautiful that she’s absolutely perfect, I call her Glory Hallelulia. Well, today I passed her a note in class asking her to go to a basketball game with me. I was really proud of that note! There was one box to check for yes and one box to check for no, and the box for yes was really big, and the box for no was really small, and do you know what she did after she read it? She folded it back up … and then … she *ate* it. She didn’t even chew it! One gulp and it went straight down that beautiful perfect throat of hers. I’m still trying to figure out what *that* meant. Well, Glory Hallelulia may be perfect in many ways, but she doesn’t know me, either.

My music teacher, Mr. Steenwilly, doesn’t know me. He thinks I have great potential, that I have the ability to make beautiful music with a tuba that thinks it’s a frog. Mr. Steenwilly couldn’t be further from the truth.

The man who is not my father doesn’t know me. He thinks he knows what kind of person I am — that I’m weak, and afraid, and that I’ll always do whatever he tells me to. But no matter what he does to me when we’re alone, and no matter how much he makes my life hell … well, let’s just say I’m stronger than he thinks. And do you know what hurts most of all? Even more than than the man who is not my father? That you don’t know me, either. Because if you did, I think everything would be different, and my life wouldn’t be the way it is right now. If I had one wish, it would be that the next time you looked at me that you would look into my eyes and finally see who I really am.

Booktalk: The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot

When I first saw The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot on my library’s bookshelf, it appealed to me on several levels.  I’d always wanted to booktalk a graphic novel, but the graphic novels I knew the best were the ones that I’d read back in college, like Watchmen and The Sandman.  This book appealed to me because it was a modern story in which a teenager was the protagonist.  It also appealed to me because I, too, had been a fan of Beatrix Potter books when I was growing up.  So the title set off a little Pavlovian bell in the back of my brain that made me want to read the book.  When I finished reading it, I was moved both by the powerful story, and by the ending that felt like a punch in the gut.  Yes, I knew all along that SOMETHING must be wrong, but I didn’t realize …

The trick about booktalking is giving away enough of the story to get your audience hooked but not giving away the ending (since you want them to read it for themselves!)  This booktalk was tricky to write because the story as a whole is kind of quiet.  The goal is to fill your audience’s heads with questions:  Why did Helen run away from home?  Why would she rather be homeless than go back?  Why does she think about killing herself?  Why does she feel guilty?  Why can’t she trust people anymore?  Hopefully, if you put enough of these questions in their heads, they will have no choice but to read this book to find out the answers.


Helen is living on the streets of London.  She’s made a cardboard sign saying “Homeless and Hungry.  Please Help” that she puts in front of her, waiting for the few coins that will keep her alive.  Helen doesn’t know how much longer she can keep living on the streets.  She often thinks about killing herself.

Helen’s only possessions are the Beatrix Potter books she took with her when she ran away from home, and her only friend is her pet rat.  It’s the rat that keeps her alive more than anything else, because it depends on her for food and companionship, and Helen needs to feel needed and loved.  Helen also needs to leave London and start her life over again; she’s run away once already, but it seems that she can’t run far enough to leave her past behind her.  The guilt about what happened when she was living at home is still following her, haunting her.  It changes how she feels about people, when she makes the decision about whether or not to trust each person she meets.  She’s already learned the hard way what can happen when the person you trust most in the world betrays you.

Helen punishes herself every time she imagines throwing herself in front of a train, or jumping off a bridge.  But even that kind of escape might not be enough to free her from her past.  Helen is going to learn that running away from her problems will always mean never running far enough.  And that the only way she will ever be able to deal with what happened to her is if she stops running, turns around … and faces the truth.

Booktalk: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Elizabeth Scott has been very prolific in the field of young adult literature over the last few years.  Many of her books fall into the “chick lit” category because they focus on things like girls, love, and friendship.  But when she wants to get serious, she can get REALLY serious.  Books like Living Dead Girl and Love You Hate You Miss You feature female protagonists who are both strong and flawed at the same time, and readers will ache inside as they read these books and feel how much these girls are suffering.

Note: although the language in this book is very simple, I’m recommending it for high school students rather than middle school students because of the intensity and maturity of the subject matter.  And yet, it’s not gratuitous or explicit in its exploration of Alice’s life.  So while I might not recommend it to middle school kids across the board, I would put it in the hands of the ones I thought were mature enough to handle it.

Also Note: You’ll probably notice that there’s a lot of dramatic pausing in my presentation of this booktalk (or, perhaps, that my pauses are a little longer than usual).  Remember that writing is only half the task of a booktalk, and the teens in your audience didn’t watch you write.  They’re watching and listening to you as you speak, and it’s up to you to decide how to present your words most effectively.  This booktalk is my way of presenting an amazing book about a profound, tragic, and frightening subject.  With every pause, I’m maintaining eye contact with my audience and letting my words sink in.


Alice has been living with Ray for the last five years.  When she was in the fifth grade, Ray kidnapped her while she was on a field trip to the aquarium.  Now Alice is fifteen, and she’s getting too old for him.  Ray is doing everything he can to keep her like the little girl she used to be.  He dresses her like a child.  He starves her to keep her weight under a hundred pounds.  He makes her take pills every day — one so that she won’t get acne, and one so that she won’t get her period again … like she did last year.   But there are some things that neither of them can control, like how much Alice has grown.  She’s almost as tall as Ray now, and that displeases him.  Alice is tired of fighting, and she’s also tired of living.  Alice has vivid daydreams about what it would be like to die, but for reasons that she can’t explain, her heart still wants to beat, and her lungs still want to breathe.  Alice knows that Ray wants to find a younger girl, but she doesn’t know what her own future holds.  Maybe Ray will let her go, so she can start her life over again and even return to her family.  Or maybe Ray will do the same thing to her that he did to the last girl he called Alice.

Booktalk: Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories

I first became aware of the nonfiction essay collection called Dear Bully when I got an advance reader’s copy shortly before October, which was National Bullying Prevention Month.  Reading this book made me think about how bullying affected my life when I was a kid and how much it influences the lives of the teens I see every day.  Think about all the times that you ever bullied someone, how many times you were a victim, and how many times you watched it happen to someone else.  Now think about the kids growing up today and how new technologies like social media and texting can spread insults and rumors like wildfire, increasing that humiliation and frustration even further.  This is a book that teens, teachers, and parents should be reading, or at the very least they should know that it exists.  Usually this is the point where I plug the author’s website, but since this is a collaborative effort by so many authors I’ll point you to the book’s website instead.  There you can learn about the book and the authors, and also read new essays every week.


Ellen Hopkins.  Carolyn Mackler.  Lauren Oliver.  Mo Willems.  R.L. Stine.  These are just a few of the people who contributed to this book, and they all have two things in common.  The first thing they have in common is that they all grew up to be writers.  The second thing they have in common is that they all have strong memories of bullies from when they were growing up.  Some of these authors were bullies.  Some of them were victims.  And some of them were bystanders who stood back and watched what happened to other kids.  But they didn’t say anything because THEY didn’t want to become the next targets.

All of the stories in this book are true.  All of these stories were remembered by young people who grew up, and learned how to share their voices with the rest of the world.  And each of these authors needed to share their stories with you.  They wanted to tell you that even though they lived with depression, confusion, and anger, they struggled … but they survived.

And so can you.

Booktalk: Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

While Alex Flinn is probably best known for her book Beastly (which was turned into a movie starring teen heartthrob Alex Pettyfer), the first book I ever read by her is still one of my favorites.  Breathing Underwater is a journal-format novel written from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, which makes for a fascinating read as well as an intriguing booktalk.  It’s a boy-centered book that focuses on family and romantic relationships, so both boys and girls will be intrigued enough by this book to want to find out what happens next.


Nick didn’t do anything wrong, really.  Everyone was making such a big deal about what happened between him and Caitlin.  I mean, Nick didn’t hit Caitlin at all – it was more of a slap, really.  And it only happened once.  So why was everyone acting so crazy, and why was Nick sitting here in a courtroom with Caitlin on the other side?  Nick and Caitlin belonged together, and no restraining order or violence counseling or mandatory journaling was ever going to change that.

The judge says that he can write truth or lies in his journal; she says she likes fairy tales.  But Nick is going to write the truth.  500 words per week about what really happened between him and Caitlin.  From the moment he first met her to today, and everything in between.  The whole truth and nothing but the truth.