Archive for Survivor Stories

Booktalk: The Fall by Bethany Griffin

The Fall cover

This retelling of “The Fall of the House of Usher” is brought to us by Bethany Griffin, also known as the author of the YA novels Masque of the Red Death and Dance of the Red Death.  Although all of these novels are inspired by Edgar Alan Poe stories, the Red Death novels take Poe’s original story and extrapolate a dystopian future society, while The Fall is more of a traditional retelling.

In Poe’s original story we see the action from the perspective of an outsider who is coming to visit the cursed family, someone who’s coming in at the end of the story as the house is about to collapse.  But The Fall lets you imagine the fear and despair of what it would have been like if you’d spent your entire childhood growing up in that dark, creepy house with a curse hanging over your head.

The tagline on the cover is “Madness is in the very air she breathes,” which will give readers a good sense of the chilling, atmospheric story contained inside.


Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  But that’s not where the story begins.

The story started generations ago, when the Usher family was cursed.  Ever since then, all of the Ushers died young, usually after being driven to madness.  Sometimes after trying to leave the house.  The house seemed to have a mind of its own … almost as if it didn’t want them to leave.  Madeleine’s parents sent her twin brother away to try to save him, which left Madeleine even more alone than before.  Now both of her parents are dead, because they couldn’t escape the curse, either.  The only Ushers that are left are Madeleine and her brother, and the curse might die with them.

Madeleine knows the house better than anyone.  She knows its moods and its secrets.  She has peered into its darkest and dustiest corners.  She knows that the house wants to protect her, but she also knows that it might kill her.

Madeleine Usher is eighteen years old, and she’s just been been buried alive.  That’s not where the story begins … but it might be where it ends.

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.


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.

Booktalk: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars cover

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart seems like an ordinary story at first.  It almost seems like a “why am I reading this?” story, because teenagers who spend their summers on a private island are more likely to attract envy than sympathy.  And yet, and yet, and yet …

Cadence is the center of a story that seems ordinary but has an undercurrent of something being wrong but we don’t know exactly what.  She is an unreliable narrator, but it’s not her fault because she doesn’t remember what happened when she had her accident two years earlier.  And since her family won’t tell her what really happened SHE doesn’t know, so WE don’t know …

This is definitely a book to read, discuss, absorb, and remember.


Cadence is upset with her so-called friends.  The four of them spent every summer together on her family’s private island, but then two years ago everything changed when she had an accident and almost drowned.  Then last summer when she was traveling with her father she emailed her friends, but they never answered.  Maybe they forgot about her, or didn’t care after all.

Now this summer she’s back on the island and Johnny, Mirren and Gat are acting like it’s old times again, like their friendship stayed the same.  Now it’s just Cadence’s family acting weird.  They keep acting like she’s fragile, like she can’t be trusted, like every time she gets one of her headaches it means more than it should.  Things haven’t been the same since the accident she had two years ago, but that doesn’t mean that she can’t live a normal life now.  It’s important for Cadence to get back to normal.  It’s important for her to be with her friends again, because when her family starts driving her crazy, her friends are the support system she needs.

And even more important than their support, Cadence realizes that her friends know what happened during her accident, the one she can’t really remember.  She already knows that her family is lying to her, or at least not telling her the whole truth.  But she has to find out what really happened.  She has to make her friends tell her the truth that her family has been keeping from her.  After all, what are friends for?

Booktalk: Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami

Seraph of the End cover

Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami is one of the best mangas I’ve read in a long time.  It has a great combination of external and internal conflicts.  We spend a lot of time inside a 12-year-old boy’s head, learning why it’s so hard for him to trust other people and why he reacts so badly to the idea of a family.  But we also get lots of action in the form of vampires, and there are plenty of exciting scenes that will keep readers on the edge of their seats!


In the future, a mysterious virus kills most of the Earth’s population.  It kills the adults but leaves the children alive. With all of the adults gone, human society starts falling apart.

And that’s when the vampires take over.

The vampires capture the human children and bring them underground.  They let the children live, but only to be used as a permanent blood supply.  Yuichiro is a 12-year-old boy who hates vampires.  He dreams of having enough power to fight and defeat them, which is almost impossible because vampires are so much stronger than humans.  But before Yuichiro can defeat the vampires first he must escape the underground city and find his way back to the human world.  He doesn’t know it yet, but the human world is a lot different than he remembered, and a lot different than he expected.

Booktalk: Noggin by John Corey Whaley


Full disclosure: except for the fact that I belong to a YA book discussion group composed of like-minded librarians, we’d settled on “boy books” as our monthly theme, and Noggin by John Corey Whaley won the vote for which book we would read, I might never have read this book.  Having said that, I really REALLY enjoyed it.

As I was putting this booktalk together over the last few days, I was feeling a little stuck.  I started thinking, “How am I going to get kids to take me seriously about this book, when as soon as I tell them it’s about a boy who gets his head cut off and cryogenically frozen they’re going to get so distracted that I’ll lose their attention?”  Okay, to be fair, I don’t actually KNOW that’s what would happen since I haven’t shared this book with any classes yet.  But based on years of prior experience (read: horror stories) one part of my mind always anticipates possible distractions.  So that’s why I tacked on the opening sentences to the booktalk, to try to get my audience warmed up to the idea that they were going to hear a story that was a little … “out there.”


Let me start by saying that this story is a little weird, a little unusual, and even a little ridiculous.  So don’t say I didn’t warn you …

Travis Coates was a 16-year-old boy who had no hope of surviving the cancer that was attacking his body.  So he agreed to have his head cut off and frozen, with the hope that one day it could be attached to a new body.  His parents?  His best friend?  His girlfriend?  None of them really BELIEVED that he would ever come back.  Maybe they hoped it, but they didn’t believe it.

This is the story of what happens five years later, when Travis comes back from the dead.  To Travis, it was like no time had passed at all.  He was sixteen years old when he closed his eyes and went to sleep, and he was sixteen years old when he woke up.  It felt like just yesterday.  But five years passed while Travis was sleeping, and he’s going to learn just how much things have changed since he’s been away.

Booktalk: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is one of my favorite book titles, and this is definitely a book that can sell itself with its cover alone.  I just started booktalking it at schools this week, and I had kids in several classes say, “I want to read THAT book!” before I even started my booktalk.  While it CAN sell itself, it’s still worth booktalking to let teens know about the plot layers of the story and to share this book with the widest audience possible.  Check out Meg Medina’s website to learn more about all of the books she’s written for kids and teens.


Piddy Sanchez is trying to keep a low profile.  She’s trying … and failing.

One morning before school, a girl Piddy barely knows tells Piddy that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass.  Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is, and she has no idea how this girl knows her or why she would hate her.

Piddy is having enough trouble trying to deal with her family, her school, and her job.  She wants her mother to be honest with her about who her father really was.  She wants to fit in at her new school and keep up with her honors classes.  She wants to keep earning money working at Salon Corazon because she really needs it.

But as the harassment from Yaqui and her gang start to escalate, Piddy learns what it’s like to live with a bully’s target on her back.  She learns what it’s like to have an enemy who can make all her other problems seem small by comparison, and who can make her life a living hell.

Booktalk: Izzy, Willy Nilly by Cynthia Voigt

Izzy Willy Nilly cover

If you’re looking for great realistic fiction with well-drawn characters, then Cynthia Voigt is definitely a safe bet.  And you probably won’t have to look far, because her books have been a staple of children’s and young adult collections for years.  She’s written many memorable books, but Izzy, Willy Nilly is one of my all-time personal favorites!


Izzy was a popular, pretty, fifteen-year-old girl.  She was on the cheerleading squad, and she had a lot of friends.  On Wednesday, Marco Griggs asked her out to a party that Saturday night.  Izzy thought he was nice – not great, but nice – and she said she’d go out with him.  He was a senior, after all.  Saturday night they went to the party, and Izzy had a good time.  She didn’t realize just how much Marco had been drinking until he went to drive her home.  He was so drunk that he couldn’t control the car, and they crashed into a tree.  That night, Izzy was brought to the hospital.  By the following Wednesday, Izzy was on her way to recovery, but half of her right leg was gone forever.  In just one week, her whole life had changed.

Now she has to start her life all over again, as something she doesn’t want to be: an amputee, a freak, a cripple.  The kind of person people don’t know how to talk to, or even look at.  Izzy thought that only her life would change after the accident.  What she didn’t realize is that everyone else’s lives would change, too.

Booktalk: All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry

All the Truth Thats in Me cover

All the Truth That’s in Me is primarily a suspense story, but it’s also a historical fiction novel which is unusual because we never know exactly when this story takes place.  The story unfolds in short, poetic chapters told from the point of view of a girl who has survived one ordeal and may have to survive another.  Judith is a fascinating narrator — sometimes unreliable because of the gaps in her memory and understanding, but always empathetic.

Check out Julie Berry’s website for more information about this book and her other titles for young readers.


Four years ago, Judith and her best friend Lottie disappeared.  Soon afterwards, Lottie was found, dead, in a stream.  Two years after that, Judith suddenly came back to town, but she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to Lottie or what had happened to her.  That’s because the man who had kidnapped her had cut out her tongue to make sure she wouldn’t speak.

He also told her that if she tried to tell anyone what had happened, that he would destroy her town.  She’d spent enough time with him that she’d seen all of his weapons and explosives, and she knew that he could do it.

For two years, Judith has lived as an outcast.  Nobody wants to talk to her or interact with her.  Nobody knows what to say to her.  And she doesn’t know what to say to them without putting them in danger.

But when the town is threatened once again, Judith can think of only one way to save it.  And that means going back to the place where she was held captive for two years.  Going back to the man who kidnapped her and cut out her tongue so that she wouldn’t speak.  And pleading with him to use his weapons and save the town before it’s too late.

Booktalk: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock cover

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is, in many ways, difficult to read.  We shift back and forth between caring for our protagonist and getting irritated when he rubs us the wrong way.  He’s our hero, but he’s difficult to love.  We also see that he hasn’t been loved enough, and we wonder who, if anyone, will have the strength and the insight needed to save him.  As many of you know from reading Silver Linings Playbook or watching the movie, Matthew Quick is skilled at creating endearing yet flawed characters, and Leonard Peacock is another great example.


Today is Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday, and he’s planning to kill himself.  But first, he needs to get a couple of things done.

Leonard wants to give some going-away presents to some of the most important people in his life.  Except, these people won’t realize that they’re going-away presents until it’s too late.  Leonard wants to give them presents because each of them managed to make his life feel a little less worthless.

After he gives those presents away, Leonard is planning to kill Asher Beal.  Asher used to be Leonard’s best friend, and then he turned into something else.  Asher is the main reason that Leonard wants to kill himself.

And then, after he distributes his going-away presents and after he kills Asher Beal, Leonard is going to kill himself.  Unless anyone can give him a good reason why he shouldn’t.

Booktalk: Sick by Tom Leveen


When I was looking for scary books to booktalk this month, I found an advanced readers copy of this book in the pile on my desk.  The title and the great cover illustration caught my eye, as well as the tagline “High school is full of monsters.”  When I read the back cover and saw that they were calling this book “The Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead,” I knew that I HAD to read it.

Sick is a great book to share with reluctant readers, because the story is exciting, the violence is gruesome, and the language is … shall we say … realistic to the high-school experience.  Visit Tom Leveen’s website to learn more about this book and the other novels he’s written for teens.


Brian and his friends decided to cut out of school in the middle of the day.  That’s one of the main reasons they’re still alive right now.  By the time they came back to school later that afternoon, the outbreak had already started to spread.

It started with students fighting other students.  But these were no ordinary fights.  You see, infected students were attacking healthy students.  They attacked their victims by knocking them to the ground.  Biting their arms.  Clawing their faces.  Ripping out their throats.  Some of their victims died instantly, but some of them weren’t so lucky.  Some of them became infected, and they started hunting for victims of their own.

Brian and his friends are safe, for now, in the theater department.  But Brian can’t just think about himself.  There’s his sister Mackenzie, and his ex-girlfriend Laura.  They’re somewhere in one of the school buildings.  Maybe they’re alive, and they need to be rescued.  Maybe they’re dead.  Or maybe they’re worse than dead — maybe they’ve already been infected, and they’re just waiting for someone to bite.