Archive for High School

Booktalk: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Darkest Part of the Forest cover

I’ve been a fan of fantasy books since I was a kid.  While I admit a certain fondness for high fantasy stories featuring princesses, castles, and unicorns, I have a special place in my heart for the stories where fantasy and reality blur.  Because (of course) those kinds of stories were more likely to really happen to me!

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black is an awesome fantasy story set in modern day featuring some characters that feel like they just stepped out of a fairy tale and others who feel like your childhood friends or the kid you used to be.  And because I always like books that cross genres because then I can use different hooks to appeal to different readers, I should also mention that this story blends fantasy with adventure and suspense AND it also features numerous romantic angles!

BOOKTALK:

The town of Fairfold seems like a modern place that fits into the 21st century.  But the town has very old roots, and those roots are filled with magic.  Most of the magic is invisible, but there’s one magical thing in the town that you CAN see.

That magical thing is a boy — a very unusual boy.  And tourists will come from miles around just to see him.  This boy has horns on his head and pointed ears, but other than that he looks human.  The boy is lying in a glass coffin in the woods.  It’s a very special coffin, because it can’t be opened and it can’t be broken.  The boy appears to be asleep … at least, no one’s ever seen him open his eyes.  And there’s one more unusual thing about the magical boy.  Even though he’s been there for as long as anyone can remember, he never gets any older.

Hazel and her brother Ben grew up in the town of Fairfold, so they both spent a lot of time hanging out in the woods and visiting the magical boy.  Like generations of kids before them, they’ve spent time talking to him and wishing he would wake up.  Hazel and Ben have seen pictures of the magical boy from years ago.  And in every picture he looked EXACTLY the same.

Hazel and Ben don’t know it yet, but the town of Fairfold is about to go through some major changes.  And one of those changes is that the magical boy is going to wake up.

Booktalk: Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson

Placebo Junkies cover

Placebo Junkies by J.C. Carleson is … mind expanding?  Yes.  Mind-altering?  Yes.  It’s also one of my favorite YA books of the year.  It’s hard to describe without giving too much away, but the best I can tell you for now is that it seems like realistic fiction but then again it might not be, depending on whose point of view and whose reality you’re talking about.  Seriously, though, this is a book you’ll want to read and then read again to see what you might have missed the first time around.

BOOKTALK:

May cause vomiting.  May cause depression.  May cause death.

That’s what it says on the labels of the pills that Audie takes.  You see, Audie is part of a group of people who volunteer again and again for pharmaceutical trials and medical procedures.  They don’t have “real” jobs, but instead they go from place to place signing up for different pills and procedures so that they can make enough money to get by.  Sometimes they get the real medicine, and sometimes they get placebos.  They never know if the medicine they’re taking is real or fake.  Sometimes they have no idea until they start throwing up, or rashes appear on their bodies, or their hair starts falling out.  It’s not the safest way to make money, but being a human guinea pig is easier than working … at least it usually is.

Now, the problem with going through all these procedures and taking all these pills is that sometimes things start happening to your body and your mind … and you don’t know why.  If you start having blackouts and losing your memory, is it because of the pills you took on Monday, or that injection you got on Tuesday?  Or are you having blackouts for another reason that has nothing to do with medical tests?

Audie and her friend Charlotte each have their own reasons for wanting to earn extra money.  Charlotte wants extra money so she can afford to move away and start over in a new place.  And Audie wants extra money so that she can plan a surprise for her boyfriend’s birthday.  But to earn that money, they’re going to have to sign up for even more medical tests than before.  And with every new test, they put themselves at an even greater risk.

May cause vomiting.  May cause depression.  May cause death.

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: Ask the Past by Elizabeth P. Archibald

Ask the Past cover

I first heard about Ask the Past when I was listening to an episode of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.  Elizabeth P. Archibald was being interviewed, and she talked about how she’d started the Ask the Past blog which turned into the Ask the Past book.  Even though this book was written for an adult audience, I thought that it might be worth reading because I’m always looking for nonfiction books (especially funny nonfiction books to balance out all of my depressing fiction books) that I could share with teens.  I was pleased to discover that this would be a great book to share with teens, although I am leaning towards high school rather than middle school because of the book’s higher reading level.

Also, I just wanted to mention that this is one of my favorite types of booktalks.  It’s basically a list, and if I leave out some of the items on the list it’s okay and if I rearrange the order of the items on the list it’s also okay.  This is always a good quality in a booktalk which can be very helpful if I lose my place while I’m talking or if I see that the kids in my audience don’t have the attention span I thought they did and I need to cut things short.

BOOKTALK:

Sometimes you can get good advice by listening to people who are older than you.  Your parents and even your grandparents can try to point you in the right direction, and sometimes their advice will be good and sometimes it’ll be too old-fashioned and it won’t work.

This book is filled with advice that is much older than your parents or your grandparents.  It’s filled with advice from books that are hundreds of years old!  Sometimes the advice still works, but more often it’s really REALLY ridiculous.  For example, people used to believe:

  • that you could cure a nosebleed by using powdered toad
  • that you could cure insomnia by putting lettuce in your bed
  • that if you wanted to check if someone was alive or dead you should apply roasted onion to his nostrils (because if he was alive, he would scratch his nose)
  • that if you want to attack a ship you should throw jars of soap and hog’s fat to make the deck slippery so your enemies will fall down
  • that you could lose weight by eating bread, butter, and 3-4 cloves of garlic every morning and every evening
  • that you could cure seasickness by putting dirt under your nose
  • that you could cure laryngitis by applying a thin piece of raw beef to your forehead overnight
  • that you could get your hair to grow back by rubbing your bald spots with ground onions
  • that you could get rid of mosquitoes by fumigating your home with elephant dung
  • that you could win a court case if you carried the teeth, skin, and eyes of a wolf with you, and …
  • that you could heal a wound by covering it with a piece of raw bacon

You can learn all about these pieces of unusual advice and many more by reading —

Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice From Yesteryear by Elizabeth P. Archibald

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!

BOOKTALK:

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: 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: Dear Marcus: A Letter to the Man Who Shot Me by Jerry McGill

Dear Marcus cover

I first checked out Dear Marcus by Jerry McGill because I’d heard it referred to as “the #1 book in juvie,” and I wondered what kind of book could entice kids in juvenile detention centers. As soon as I started reading it, I was swept up in the universal questions that it raised about forgiveness, about anger and grief, and about how often each of us look back on our lives and wonder “what if?”

Many library systems including mine have this book shelved in their adult collections.  That’s understandable because it’s written from an adult perspective, but it’s also understandable that it would have lots of crossover teen appeal because so much of it focuses on the author’s youth.  This would make a great book to share with older teens who are fans of real-life survivor stories, and it would also make a great topic for a book discussion.

BOOKTALK:

Jerry McGill was 13 years old when he was shot in the back by a stranger.  He had been a smart kid with a promising future.  He was great at sports, he could dance, and he was popular.  But then one bullet changed everything.

Jerry spent a lot of time thinking about the “what ifs.”  What if he hadn’t been out on the street that night?  What if he and his friends hadn’t stopped to play video games on the way home?  What if they had walked home a different way?  Jerry and Eric had been walking next to each other — what if the man had decided to shoot Eric instead?

What if, what if, what if?

But all the what ifs in the world don’t matter, because Jerry was shot and his life changed forever.  When he wasn’t thinking about the what ifs, he was thinking about the person who did this to him.  Was it a boy or was it a man?  Why did he shoot him?  Was it accidentally or on purpose?  Was he proud afterwards, or did he regret it?  Is he still alive, or is he dead?  Is he in prison, or is he free?

Jerry has no idea, because they never caught the person who did this to him.  But he can imagine that person.  He imagines that the person who shot him is named Marcus, and that whether he was a boy or a man on the day he pulled the trigger, he’s definitely a man by now.  This book is a letter from Jerry to Marcus, filled with all the things he wants to say to the man who ruined and transformed his life.

Booktalk: Nil by Lynne Matson

Nil cover

Nil by Lynne Matson is a suspenseful book that blends adventure, romance, and the challenge of survival.  I’m a big fan of books that open with someone being dropped into a strange environment and being forced to adapt to this strange new place and learn its rules in order to survive.  That’s why I would recommend this book to any readers who enjoyed House of Stairs by William Sleator or The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

BOOKTALK:

Charley went to Target to return a couple of skirts she’d bought the day before.  She parked her car in the lot, got out, and started walking towards the store.  But then she suddenly saw the air start shimmering in front of her.  It was like a wall of wavy glass, and that shimmering wall was moving towards her. Suddenly Charley felt a blinding, burning heat all over her body.  She tried to scream, but it was so hot that she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs.  Within seconds, she felt hot, and then she felt cold, and then she felt nothing.

Charley woke up somewhere, but she had no idea where she was.  She was lying in a huge field that was filled with red rocks as far as she could see.  The sun was shining down overhead, strong and hot.  Target was gone, the parking lot was gone, her car was gone … and her clothes were gone.  Charley was naked and alone, and she had no idea where she was or how she got there.

Charley is going to learn that she’s on an island called Nil, and it’s a place that doesn’t appear on normal maps.  She’s going to learn that there’s food and water on the island, so she’s not going to die … at least, not right away.  She’s going to learn that she’s not alone on the island, but that being around other people won’t always mean she’s safe.  She’s also going to learn that there are rules on this island, and one of those rules is that she has 365 days to escape, or else she’ll die.

The clock has already started ticking … but Charley just can’t hear it yet.