Archive for Survivor Stories

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: 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.

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: 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: 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?