Archive for Realistic Fiction

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: 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: 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.

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.

Booktalk: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling cover

I’ve been a fan of Lucy Frank’s writing ever since I read her YA novels I Am an Artichoke and Will You Be My Brussels Sprout? back in my librarian trainee days. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling is also an excellent book, told in a unique writing style (as a poem-format novel, with poems in each girl’s voice on different sides of the page) and with powerful themes of friendship and overcoming odds.

This would be a great choice for books about death and grief as well as survivor stories (because yes, this story includes a range of possibilities).  Do you know teens who finished The Fault in Our Stars and are looking for more books that will make them contemplate their own mortality?   Share this book with them!

BOOKTALK:

Francesca was sick for a long time, but she didn’t know it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  She knew that something was wrong, and that some days she felt so sick that she didn’t want to move, or walk, or get out of bed.  But she just figured that she ate the wrong thing … or maybe she was imagining it … or maybe it was real, but if she just ignored it, it would go away.  Well, ignoring it didn’t work.  And one of the most romantic nights of her life quickly turned into one of the most EMBARASSING nights of her life when she got so sick that she wound up in the hospital.  Where she got a roommate named Shannon who’d been sick for a VERY long time.

Shannon tells her what it’s like to live when your body is full of steroids and painkillers.  What it’s like to live with a chronic disease that isn’t fatal … unless, of course, you die from it.  What it’s like to live when everybody you know is either lying to you or feeling sorry for you.

Francesca and Shannon are two girls lying next to each other in a hospital room.  Two girls separated by a thin curtain that hangs between them.  Two girls staring at the ceiling.

Booktalk: The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

The Music of Dolphins cover

This week we’re going to have a change of pace, because I haven’t posted a booktalk of a children’s book in a while and because I’ve been so busy reading lately that I haven’t had a chance to write a new booktalk this week.  So off to the archives we go!

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse is a beautiful book in an unusual format. At the beginning of the book, Mila is a wild child who relates to dolphins better than to humans.  But as the book progresses and Mila starts interacting with people, we see her language skills develop along with her mind and her writing style starts to evolve.  This is a poignant and remarkable story, and kids will keep thinking about this book long after they’ve finished it.

BOOKTALK:

Mila is famous all over the world, and she’s only a teenager.  She was rescued by dolphins after her plane crashed when she was four years old, and she spent over ten years of her life with them.  Now she’s been rescued again – this time, by people that look like her.  The difference is, this time she didn’t want to be rescued.

The doctors work with Mila, teaching her to speak and to play music.  She learns very quickly; soon she can play computer games, figure out puzzles, and play music on the recorder.  She learns a lot about what it means to be human; she learns through books, through radio, and through television.  But too often she feels like she’s trapped in a net of humans.

Will Mila ever think of the land as her home, or will the pull of the ocean be too strong?

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: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since Youve Been Gone cover

I’m not usually a chick lit kind of reader, but I do like books about friendship and books about unravelling mysteries so that’s why I originally picked up Since You’ve been Gone.  When I started reading it, I was pleased to discover that this is a sweet and life-affirming book about the power of friendship and what happens when a wallflower is brave enough to step away from the wall for the first time.

Check out Morgan Matson’s website for more information about this book and her other summer-themed reads for teens!

BOOKTALK:

Sloane and Emily were best friends, and they had their whole summer planned out.  They were going to get a summer job together, and travel, and hang out, and have fun.  But then Sloane and her family disappeared, and Emily had no idea what to do.  Sloane was always the one with the plan.  She was the one with the big ideas, and she was the one who was brave enough to try new things.  Emily was just “Sloane’s friend,” and where Sloane went, Emily followed.

And then Emily gets a letter from Sloane, and the envelope contains one piece of paper — a list of thirteen things that Emily would never normally do.  Some of them seem pretty tame, like “apple picking at night” or “sleep under the stars.”  But others are a little more daring, like “kiss a stranger” or are things she would never do in a million years, like “go skinny dipping.”

Now that Sloane is gone, Emily has no sense of direction … except for that list.  Now that Sloane is gone, Emily has the whole summer free to herself.  She doesn’t have anything ELSE to do.  Maybe doing the things on that list will help her figure out what happened to Sloane.  Maybe doing the things on that list will transform Emily’s summer into something new, brave, and completely unexpected.

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.