Archive for Realistic Fiction

Booktalk: Uncaged by John Sandford & Michele Cook

Uncaged cover

Here’s a suspenseful story for teens from John Sandford, an author who’s famous for writing suspenseful stories for adults.  Uncaged is the first in a series of books that Sandford wrote with his wife Michele Cook, about a brother and sister who get in over their heads trying to escape from a corporation that will do anything to stop them.

BOOKTALK:

Shay Remby and her brother Odin have had a hard life for the last several years, and now it’s getting worse.  First both of their parents died, and they spent a lot of time going in and out of foster care.  They were living separate lives but secretly keeping in touch on Facebook.

Then Shay gets a message from Odin saying that something bad just happened, and he is in a LOT of trouble.  It turns out that he was part of an animal rights group that broke into a lab to free the animals and ruin the experiments.  But what they found weren’t the kind of experiments they expected, and the company that runs the lab will do anything it can to silence them.  Odin escaped from the lab with some flash drives, a computer, and a very special dog.  He didn’t realize it when he rescued it, but the experiments they were doing on this dog make it very valuable … and very dangerous.

Shay, Odin, and X the dog all have a price on their heads, and they’ll have to be strong, smart, and lucky if they want to escape with their lives.

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: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Boy in the Black Suit cover

Jason Reynolds was already a published author when he skyrocketed to YA fame with his 2014 novel When I Was the Greatest.  With 2015’s The Boy in the Black Suit, he once again takes a sensitive, realistic, and powerful look at the life of a troubled teenage boy in an urban setting.  Give this book to any teens you know who could appreciate a realistic fiction story about death, grief, identity, families, and friendship.

BOOKTALK:

After Matt’s mother passed away, his life went in some unexpected directions.  Unfortunately, most of those directions were bad.  Many of the kids and teachers at his school stopped talking to him or avoided him, almost like his mother’s cancer was contagious.  Then his father started drinking again, and life at home got even worse.  Matt felt like he was more alone than he’d ever been before.

Then Matt got a new job to help pay the bills, and that job saved his life.  Which is a little weird, because his new job was all about death.  You see, Matt’s new job was working at a funeral parlor, helping people who had just lost loved ones of their own.  He started wearing a black suit every day to school, and that got him even more weird looks than before.  But even though Matt had been feeling so depressed because of his mom, his dad, and his friends, working at the funeral parlor and attending the funerals of strangers starts to reopen his heart in ways he never expected.

Booktalk: Invincible by Amy Reed

Invincible cover

Are you and your teens looking for #sicklit books?  Are you looking for books that are filled with happiness and sadness and sickness and romance and dashed hopes?  Would you like to read one of my top tearjerker contenders of 2015?  Well, check out Invincible by Amy Reed, and get ready to be crushed by ALL THE FEELS.

Seriously, though.  This book made me cry so much that it was embarrassing.

Enjoy!!!

BOOKTALK:

Evie knows that her days are numbered.  She has to deal with the cold hard fact that she’s living in the cancer ward, that she’s NEVER going to get better, and that she’s nearing the end of her life.  She’s growing apart from the people she used to know, and the girl she used to be.  As each day passes, she’s pulling further and further away from her friends, her boyfriend, and even her family.  Because she isn’t that pretty, popular, loving girl anymore.  She’s not the Evie that they used to know.  Now she’s a different girl altogether, a girl who hangs out with other sick kids like Caleb and Stella in the cancer ward.  Now she’s a girl who’s waiting to die, or a girl who’s waiting to see which of her friends die first.

But here’s the thing — Evie doesn’t die after all.  She gets better.  On the one hand that seems like the best news in the world.  But on the other hand … it isn’t.  Because Evie already spent a huge part of her life saying goodbye to everyone who used to be important to her.  The more time passes, Evie is going to realize that she’s not the same person she used to be.  And that living can be even harder than dying.

Evie gets her life back.  But what kind of life is she going to have?  And what kind of person is she going to be?

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.

Boooktalk: Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel

Faceless cover

I must confess that when I first picked up a copy of Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel and read what it was about, I moved it to the bottom of my reading pile.  I honestly didn’t know when (if ever) I would be able to emotionally handle the story of a girl whose face is burned away in a freak accident.  I mean, I like #sicklit as much as the next person, but the whole concept just seemed too gruesome for me.

When I did read it, though, I discovered that the story was moving and painful without being overly explicit.  It focused more on Maisie’s identity, who she thinks she is, who she wants to be, and who she CAN be.  This is sure to be a hit with #sicklit fans and teens who enjoy survivor stories.  I think that it would also make a great topic for a book discussion, because this is a book about characters who go through different emotional struggles and make sometimes questionable decisions along the way.

BOOKTALK:

When Maisie wakes up in the hospital, she doesn’t remember what happened to her.  She doesn’t understand why she can’t move, or why her body feels different.  All she knows is, based on how much her mother has been crying and the look on her father’s face, whatever happened to her must have been REALLY bad.

This is the story of a girl who used to have a normal, happy life.  She was a good student, she was a runner, and she had a wonderful boyfriend who asked her to the junior prom.

This is the story of a girl who went out for a run one morning, and on the way back home she was injured in a freak accident when an electrical wire fell on her during a storm.

This is the story of a girl whose body was so badly damaged by that accident that she will need a face transplant to replace the part of her that was burned away.

This is the story of a girl who realizes that her life will never be normal again.

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: 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.