Archive for Families

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.

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 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.

Booktalk: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

The White Darkness cover

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean has one of the most unusual premises of any young adult book I’ve ever read.  A girl, who is in love with a long-dead explorer, ends up going to the same part of the world where he died and risks following him to the same fate.  There’s danger, drama, and adventure on the outside while on the inside there’s an ongoing conversation between two people, one living and one dead.

There are times that I read books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and I think, hmmm … I can see why they thought that was a great book, but I would find it hard to recommend to most teenagers I know and I definitely couldn’t booktalk it to an entire class!  But The White Darkness has enough appeal and enough unique layers that as soon as I finished reading it I knew that I wanted to share it with a larger audience.

BOOKTALK:

Sym has always had trouble fitting in.  She doesn’t have many friends, and a lot of kids in school make fun of her.  Her father didn’t like her very much either, but he’s dead now, so that doesn’t really matter anymore.  Her mom is okay, but Sym actually gets along better with Uncle Victor, who isn’t really her uncle but more a friend of the family.  But Uncle Victor is the only one who really understands just how much she loves the Antarctic.  How much she dreams of following in the footsteps of the brave explorers who went on doomed expeditions to the South Pole, many of whom lost their lives surrounded by miles of ice and snow.

In fact, while Sym has never had a boyfriend, there is one man who she loves more than anything in the world, and that man is Titus Oates.  As in, the late Titus Oates.  You see, Titus is one of those explorers who never came back from the Antarctic alive.  But Sym has read so many books, seen so many videos, and learned so much about Titus’ life that she feels like she knows him.  She even has long conversations with him inside her head.  But that’s not a secret Sym tells anyone — not even Uncle Victor.

Now Sym’s life stays pretty much the same until the day that Uncle Victor offers to take her and her mother to Paris for the weekend.  Sym thinks this is a great plan, even though the plan keeps changing.  First her mother’s passport went missing, so she was unable to go with them.  Then the weekend trip to Paris turned into several weeks in Antarctica.  Since Sym has always wanted to go there, she’s delighted.  But it’s when they reach the end of the world that Sym’s dream turns into a nightmare.

Sym is going to learn some very painful truths … about Antarctica, about Uncle Victor, and about herself.  She will find herself in incredible danger while surrounded by miles of ice and snow in every direction.  And her only hope of survival will be to rely on everything she’s ever learned about the Antarctic, her intuition, and the voice of a long-dead explorer that only she can hear.

Booktalk: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars cover

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart seems like an ordinary story at first.  It almost seems like a “why am I reading this?” story, because teenagers who spend their summers on a private island are more likely to attract envy than sympathy.  And yet, and yet, and yet …

Cadence is the center of a story that seems ordinary but has an undercurrent of something being wrong but we don’t know exactly what.  She is an unreliable narrator, but it’s not her fault because she doesn’t remember what happened when she had her accident two years earlier.  And since her family won’t tell her what really happened SHE doesn’t know, so WE don’t know …

This is definitely a book to read, discuss, absorb, and remember.

BOOKTALK:

Cadence is upset with her so-called friends.  The four of them spent every summer together on her family’s private island, but then two years ago everything changed when she had an accident and almost drowned.  Then last summer when she was traveling with her father she emailed her friends, but they never answered.  Maybe they forgot about her, or didn’t care after all.

Now this summer she’s back on the island and Johnny, Mirren and Gat are acting like it’s old times again, like their friendship stayed the same.  Now it’s just Cadence’s family acting weird.  They keep acting like she’s fragile, like she can’t be trusted, like every time she gets one of her headaches it means more than it should.  Things haven’t been the same since the accident she had two years ago, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t live a normal life now.  It’s important for Cadence to get back to normal.  It’s important for her to be with her friends again, because when her family starts driving her crazy, her friends are the support system she needs.

And even more important than their support, Cadence realizes that her friends know what happened during her accident, the one she can’t really remember.  She already knows that her family is lying to her, or at least not telling her the whole truth.  But she has to find out what really happened.  She has to make her friends tell her the truth that her family has been keeping from her.  After all, what are friends for?

Booktalk: Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose

Dear Nobody cover

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose is a powerful and painful story about a girl who was plagued by bad luck and bad choices.  Give this book to your teens who are looking for real-life tragic stories.  As the editors say in this interview about the book in School Library Journal, Dear Nobody is “the authentic version of Go Ask Alice.”

BOOKTALK:

Mary Rose kept a diary where she wrote about all the things that were going wrong with her life.

She wrote about how her mother kept getting back together with Joe, even though they fought all the time and even though he’d been violent with both of them.  About how they moved to a new place to get away from Joe, but how Mary Rose was lonely because all the other kids already knew each other and none of them wanted to be friends with her.  About how drinking made her feel better, even if it made her sick.  About how taking drugs made her forget how unhappy and lonely she was, even though they made her forget things sometimes, like who she could trust or how she woke up in this strange place.  About falling in and out of love with different boys.  About going to rehab to try to break her addiction to drugs and alcohol … and failing.

Mary Rose is a real person who kept a diary.  THIS is that diary.

Booktalk: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead cover

This book falls into a rare sub-category of fiction — not just a letter-format novel, but an unanswered letter-format novel (see Love You Hate You Miss You by Elizabeth Scott for another great example).

Love Letters to the Dead is an excellent debut novel that will speak to teen readers looking for realistic fiction about life, death, friendship, and family.  You can learn more about this book on Ava Dellaira’s website or the Love Letters to the Dead website.

BOOKTALK:

Laurel’s assignment for English class is to write a letter to a dead person.  She writes a letter to Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, was a fan of his music.  Kurt Cobain is gone now, and so is May, but Laurel still thinks about both of them.

Laurel is supposed to turn in the letter to her teacher, but she doesn’t.  Instead she writes another letter, and another, and another.  Sometimes she writes to Kurt Cobain, or River Phoenix, or Janis Joplin, or Amelia Earhart, or Amy Winehouse, or Judy Garland, or Jim Morrison, or e.e. cummings, or Heath Ledger.  She writes to dead singers, dead actors, dead poets, dead people who weren’t brave enough or dead people who might have been too brave.  She writes to them about their own lives and about her own life.  She writes about starting over at a new school, about trying to make new friends, about falling in love for the first time.  But she also writes about May, about trying to understand May’s life as well as her death, and about learning to live now that May is gone.

Booktalk: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Noggin

Full disclosure: except for the fact that I belong to a YA book discussion group composed of like-minded librarians, we’d settled on “boy books” as our monthly theme, and Noggin by John Corey Whaley won the vote for which book we would read, I might never have read this book.  Having said that, I really REALLY enjoyed it.

As I was putting this booktalk together over the last few days, I was feeling a little stuck.  I started thinking, “How am I going to get kids to take me seriously about this book, when as soon as I tell them it’s about a boy who gets his head cut off and cryogenically frozen they’re going to get so distracted that I’ll lose their attention?”  Okay, to be fair, I don’t actually KNOW that’s what would happen since I haven’t shared this book with any classes yet.  But based on years of prior experience (read: horror stories) one part of my mind always anticipates possible distractions.  So that’s why I tacked on the opening sentences to the booktalk, to try to get my audience warmed up to the idea that they were going to hear a story that was a little … “out there.”

BOOKTALK:

Let me start by saying that this story is a little weird, a little unusual, and even a little ridiculous.  So don’t say I didn’t warn you …

Travis Coates was a 16-year-old boy who had no hope of surviving the cancer that was attacking his body.  So he agreed to have his head cut off and frozen, with the hope that one day it could be attached to a new body.  His parents?  His best friend?  His girlfriend?  None of them really BELIEVED that he would ever come back.  Maybe they hoped it, but they didn’t believe it.

This is the story of what happens five years later, when Travis comes back from the dead.  To Travis, it was like no time had passed at all.  He was sixteen years old when he closed his eyes and went to sleep, and he was sixteen years old when he woke up.  It felt like just yesterday.  But five years passed while Travis was sleeping, and he’s going to learn just how much things have changed since he’s been away.

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.

BOOKTALK:

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.