Archive for Friendship

Booktalk: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Trouble is a Friend of Mine cover

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly has lots of different layers that move in and out of sync with each other.  Zoe is a believable, nuanced character who is experiencing frustration with her family, her school, and with the quirky boy who shows up on her doorstep.  It’s kind of a story about friendship, kind of a story about romantic tensions, and kind of a story about a missing girl and her possible connection to another missing girl.  It’s sort of a realistic fiction story, but it has enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing!

BOOKTALK:

Zoe Webster is a 16-year-old girl who was living a normal life in Brooklyn until her parents got divorced, and then she and her mother had to move to a small city in upstate New York.  She had to leave her friends and her school behind, and then start her life over again feeling completely alone.  Except she wasn’t alone for long, because a boy named Digby showed up on her doorstep on the first day of school.  Digby sounded like he knew all about her.  He sounded like he’d been watching her.  And he also sounded like a jerk.

This is the story of a girl named Zoe who unwillingly becomes friends with a boy named Digby, a strange boy with an even stranger reputation.  He’s definitely a bad influence, and he definitely gets her into trouble.  But he also gets her to help him solve a mystery involving the kidnapping of a local teenage girl.  He lets her into his world and his secrets.  And he shakes up her life in ways she never expected.

Booktalk: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places cover

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is a poignant and heartfelt story that made me cry every time I read it.  Give this book to any of your teens who are looking for realistic fiction about real-life problems, for books that give an honest portrayal of death and grief, and for books about friendship and love.

BOOKTALK:

Finch and Violet have known about each other for a while, but they don’t really KNOW each other.  They both go to the same school, but that’s about all they have in common.  Violet is a beautiful, popular girl.  Everyone knows her and everyone likes her.  Finch, on the other hand, isn’t popular at all.  He only has a few friends, and everyone else just thinks that he’s weird and he’s a loner.

In fact, one of the weird things that Finch does is go to the bell tower at school, climb to the top, and hang out on the ledge.  He never jumps, he just THINKS about jumping.  He hangs out by himself on the ledge of the bell tower, and he thinks about ending his own life.  He thinks about what it would be like to die, and to escape this life that makes him so unhappy.

And that’s why when Violet climbs the steps of the bell tower and steps out on the ledge, Finch happens to be just a few feet away.  Because he was already there.  Now, Finch has been up on the ledge several times before, and no one’s ever tried to stop him.  Maybe it’s because he’s weird, or unpopular, or forgettable.  But Violet is none of those things.  When she goes out on the ledge, people notice right away.  When Violet’s friends come over to see what’s wrong, Finch decides to save her, or at least to save her reputation.  He tells people that the reason Violet came up to the ledge of the bell tower was to try to save him.  Even though they both know that’s not true.

Up until now, Finch and Violet didn’t know each other, they had nothing in common, and they definitely weren’t friends.  But ever since they met on that ledge and actually spoke to each other, things started to change between them.  As the days turn into weeks and months and they get to know each other better, they’ll realize that they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Booktalk: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here cover

So, how many of you are getting tired of hearing about Patrick Ness?  Yeah, me neither.  I love his books to pieces, as evidenced by the booktalks I’ve already writtten about his earlier books A Monster Calls and More Than This.  But with The Rest of Us Just Live Here, he writes a new kind of story altogether, a story about ridiculous but awesome YA novels and what must be going on behind the scenes.

This was a challenging story to booktalk, and I probably would share this with classes that I feel have a longer attention span because they’ll need to absorb the premise of the book in order to appreciate the payoff.  That being said, I would definitely recommend this book to teen audiences as well as adults.  It’s a great story overall, but it will be especially appreciated by fans of YA lit in all its ridiculousness / awesomeness.

BOOKTALK:

Many of you have probably read young adult novels where an ordinary teenager becomes the hero of the story.  It starts out as the story of an ordinary teenager who lives in an ordinary town, but then something EXTRAORDINARY happens.  Maybe there’s an alien invasion.  Maybe people start turning into vampires or zombies.  Maybe the ancient gods are having a battle that affects modern-day earth.  But this ordinary teenager somehow manages to save the day.  Maybe it’s because he’s really smart.  Maybe it’s because her hobby was studying vampires, and that made her extra-prepared for vampire attacks.  Maybe it’s because he’s related to those ancient gods, or because he’s an alien himself.  For whatever reason, this ordinary teenager in an ordinary town turns out to be The Chosen One and manages to save the day.

Now, if you want to read a book about a teenager who turns out to be The Chosen One and saves the day, you go right ahead.  But THIS is not that book.

So far, we’ve taken our camera and zoomed in on this one kid who’s heroically fighting against the vampires … or gods, or aliens, or whatever.  But now let’s take that camera and zoom out until we can see the whole town.  What’s everyone else doing?  How are the rest of the people in the town reacting to what’s going on?  Do they even KNOW what’s going on?  Are they getting bitten by vampires, or blasted by ray guns, or are they just trying to go on with their ordinary lives while this life-or-death battle takes place just a few blocks away?

If you and your friends are ordinary teenagers in an ordinary town where disaster strikes but none of you are The Chosen One, what happens to you?  Can your life also be important even if you’re not the hero?  This book tells THAT story!

Booktalk: The Kidney Hypothetical, Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee

Kidney Hypothetical cover

The Kidney Hypothetical, Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days has a couple of important things going for it.  It’s a funny (although bittersweet) story, it’s got a smart and sarcastic male protagonist, and it has one of my favorite titles since Josh Lieb’s I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President.  Which, now that I think of it, is also funny and also has a smart and sarcastic male protagonist …

Visit Lisa Yee’s website to learn more about her books for kids and teens!

BOOKTALK:

Higgs Boson Bing had an amazing life.  He was an excellent student, he was going to go to Harvard like his father and grandfather before him, and his girlfriend was one of the most beautiful and popular girls in school.  And then that beautiful and popular girl asked him, “If I needed a kidney, would you give me one?”  Okay, she didn’t REALLY need a kidney.  It was just one of those hypothetical questions.  A “what if”? question.

Now, I’m going to give all of you a free piece of advice.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend ever asks you a question like this, what you SHOULD say is, “Of course, Honey!”  And then everything will be fine.  But Higgs Boson Bing didn’t say “Of course” because he really wanted to think about his answer.  WOULD he give up a kidney for her?  Wouldn’t that put his own life at risk?  Couldn’t she get a kidney from somebody else instead?

Well, this was definitely the WRONG answer.  His girlfriend was angry and upset and embarrassed.  And it certainly didn’t help that she complained to all her friends and told them what he said … and they told their friends … and they told everybody else … and very soon after that Higgs Boson Bing didn’t have a girlfriend any more.  And as an added bonus, everyone in school thought he was a jerk.

Unfortunately for him, giving the wrong answer to that hypothetical question was just the beginning of his bad luck.  And losing his girlfriend was just the first sign that his amazing life was totally going to fall apart.

Booktalk: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here book cover

I Was Here by Gayle Forman is a poignant and powerful book about teen suicide and the power of friendship.  Fans of Gayle Forman’s earlier novels, especially the major tearjerker If I Stay, will find lots to love in this book, as well.

BOOKTALK:

By the time Cody found out that her best friend Meg wanted to kill herself, it was already too late to stop her.  Meg sent several time-delayed emails: to Cody, to her parents, and to the police department letting them know that she was committing suicide and where they would find her body.  Meg had family and friends who loved her, but when she died, she was all alone in a hotel room.  When Cody found out what happened to her friend, she was filled with anger, grief, and a lot of questions about what happened and why.

Cody goes to Meg’s apartment, she meets her friends and roommates, and she reads her emails.  But as she learns about Meg’s life she has even more questions than before.  Did Meg really kill herself, or did someone else push her to do it?  Could anyone have stopped this from happening?  Could CODY have stopped this from happening?  If Cody had been a better friend, a better listener, or a better person, would Meg still be alive today?

A lot of people feel sorry for Cody.  They just think of her as “the dead girl’s friend.”  Cody is filled with anger and sadness, and she feels like she can’t go on with her own life until she figures out what really happened to Meg.  Now Cody is going to try to put the pieces of Meg’s life together until she truly understands who she was and why she’s gone.

Booktalk: Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen

Popular cover

Since most of the YA books I read are fiction and many of those are dark and depressing, I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction titles and for books that are sweet and uplifting at their core.  Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen succeeds on both counts!

BOOKTALK:

This is the true story of a girl who tried to do something brave.  She tried to come out of her shell and become popular.  In order to transform herself, she used a book called Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide.  Betty Cornell wrote that book in 1951, and Maya’s father had bought a copy of that book at a thrift store before Maya was born.

Maya decided to see if advice that was over 60 years old would still work today, and if it could help her transform into something she definitely wasn’t.  Because up until now Maya had been quiet and shy, she only had a few friends, and she hated talking to strangers.  But when she was in 8th grade Maya used this book to learn how to use Vaseline instead of makeup on her eyes, how to brush her hair 100 times before she went to sleep at night, how to close her pores with ice cubes, how to wear pearls, how to stand tall, how to talk to strangers, and how to transform herself into a whole new person.

 

 

 

 

Booktalk: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This cover

More than This by Patrick Ness is a profound book that is difficult to categorize, in part because the reader doesn’t fully understand this world until it unfolds.  And even by the end of the story … well, let’s just say this book raises more questions than it answers.  It’s a richly rewarding story, and one that will have a strong impact on teens, especially on curious teens who enjoy taking their minds in new directions.

BOOKTALK:

Seth was dead, and then he was alive again.  The last thing he remembered was swimming in the ocean.  He remembered the pull of the undertow and how he was fighting against the waves, and that no matter how hard he tried to swim away from the rocks, he couldn’t.  He remembered the waves dashing him against the rocks.  He remembered the sound of his shoulder blade snapping in two, so loud that he could even hear it underwater.  He remembered drowning  … and then he remembered waking up here.  Wherever “here” is.

Seth doesn’t know if he’s dead, or alive, or dreaming.  He doesn’t know if he’s in heaven, or hell, or somewhere in between.  All he knows is is that he woke up in front of a house that looks vaguely familiar.  He doesn’t know exactly where he is, but when he steps inside the house it feels like he’s been here before, a very long time ago.  He also knows that wherever he is, he’s completely alone.  He listens carefully, but he can’t hear the sound of any people, or animals, or birds, or even insects.  This world is completely silent.

Seth doesn’t know what kind of place this is, or why it feels familiar, or what happened to everybody else.  He doesn’t have the answers to any of these questions … YET.

Booktalk: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Riverman cover

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a unique story for younger teens or older kids that balances on the border of fantasy and reality, the real world and an imagined one.  That’s just one of the reasons that this book reminded me of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson — there’s the real/imagined world, but also the profound and powerful friendship between a boy and a girl.

The Riverman will keep readers guessing and hoping until the end of the story to find out what happened.  Some but not all of their questions will be answered, but since this is part of a trilogy, it’s setting up for a much larger tale.  The next book in the series, The Whisper, will be coming out in March!

BOOKTALK:

Fiona and Alistair are very unlikely friends.  Sure, they’ve grown up in the same neighborhood and their families used to hang out together when they were kids.  But now they’re different.  They’ve each grown up in different directions and they have different friends.  And then one day Fiona shows up at Alistair’s house and tells him that she wants him to write her biography.  Alistair thinks it’s a little weird, but still, he’s flattered to be asked.  It means she thinks he’s a good writer and he’s creative.

Fiona starts telling Alistair her life story, and that’s when things go from a little weird to VERY weird.  Fiona tells Alistair that she doesn’t spend all of her time in the real world.  That sometimes she visits a magical place called Aquavania, where all she has to do is wish for something and it comes true.  She can wish for the ability to fly, or for the sky to change colors, or for a magical talking animal to be her friend.  And whenever she visits Aquavania, even if she’s spent days or weeks there, when she comes back home it’s like no time passed at all.  But as wonderful as Aquavania is, it’s also dangerous.  Because there’s a creature there called the Riverman that steals the souls of children.  And when he steals their souls in Aquavania, they vanish in real life.

Little by little, Fiona tells her story to Alistair.  And little by little, Alistair comes to the conclusion that obviously she’s crazy … or she’s lying.  But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that something really IS wrong, and that Fiona might be in danger.  Whether it’s happening in the real world or in some imaginary place, SOMETHING is threatening Fiona.  And it will be up to Alistair to try to save her.

Booktalk: Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Falling Into Place cover

If there is one niche that Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang falls into, it’s probably the “I’m looking for books like If I Stay” category.  Or, in a larger sense, the “I’m looking for books that are about life-or-death choices” category.  This would be a good book to share with large groups of teens (because after all, hasn’t everyone thought about life-or-death choices?) and it would also be a solid choice for book discussion groups.

BOOKTALK:

Liz Emerson thought that her death would be quick and easy.  She thought that she would drive her Mercedes off the road in a spot where she would die instantly and where her family members wouldn’t find her.  But she miscalculated, and now she’s alive — barely.

Liz Emerson was one of the most well-known girls in school, but not always for the right reasons.  She had friends, she had acquaintances, and she had enemies.  Maybe that’s why she tried to kill herself — because she didn’t always treat people the right way.  Maybe it was because she was unhappy, or lonely, or drunk.  But whatever the reason, she failed in her mission.  Now she’s lying in the hospital with tubes and machines keeping her alive.  She didn’t want her family or friends to see her like this, but now she doesn’t have a choice.

It might be too late for Liz, or maybe there’s still time to save her.  Her broken body lying in the hospital bed is pulling at the emotions of all different kinds of people.  Her best friends.  The boy who loved her for years but never told her.  Her classmates who envied her and hated her.  While Liz’s life hangs in the balance, all of those people will have time to wonder: Who is Liz Emerson, really?  And why would she try to kill herself?

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.