Friday, March 25, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Read by Joel Johnstone

I can't believe I haven't read this before--I've been recommending it to students since it was published. It's been popular and I even have an autographed copy at home. But somehow it slipped through my reading cracks.

Clay is a teenage boy who receives a box of cassette tapes in the mail. He pops one in to listen and realize that they were created by Hannah Baker, a girl he was crushing on. The problem is that she committed suicide recently. And, while listening to the tapes, Clay realizes why. Sure, it's a heartbreaking story, but definitely worth the read. There were so many chances to save Hannah and, as a teacher, I cringed at the mistakes made by guidance counselors and other adults in her life.

It's a whopper. Check out the book's website at

And an awesome student created book trailer is

Peak by Roland Smith

I have a lot of things on my bucket list--I'm going skydiving this Spring! :) But, after reading this YA novel, I know that mountain climbing with NEVER make it to my list. It hurts. People die. And you have to be in top physical condition, which, face it, people, that isn't going to happen to this librarian unless I hire a personal trainer and a chef.

Peak Marcello is arrested at the beginning of this book for an odd reason. He was, um, climbing a skyscraper. That's illegal, people! So in court the judge is willing to keep him on probation if he gets out of the media's eye. And so he goes to live with his real dad who is a professional mountain climber. But there is a reason why his dad hasn't contacted him much--he's busy and a bit selfish, too. In a promotional stunt, Peak's dad wants Peak to be the youngest boy who has ever reached the top of Mt. Everest. This isn't easy. Sure, Peak has been climbing for years. But, whoa, the descriptions of the difficulties facing these characters made me shiver while I was reading. It's COLD! Fingers fall off, people die, a simple virus wipes out a whole camp. However, I loved that I learned so much about climbing high peaks--Roland Smith really did his research. And, most of all, I enjoyed watching Peak grow up during his difficult climb.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rebound by Bob Krech

Sometimes you just need to read a sports book, and this here YA novel is a BASKETBALL book. :) Cool cover, and cool subplots will make this a popular read at PCHS after I donate it to the library (thanks--Marshall Cavendish!). Ray Wisniewski is a Polish boy playing a black kid sport in his neighborhood. He's supposed to stick to wrestling and the rest of his white friends, but he can't stay away from basketball, even if he is cut from the team his freshmen and sophomore years. He wants to play, even if it means getting to know how to trash-talk on the court with people he's not used to. Much of the book is focused on racial relations, but it's about basketball, too. And, of course, some love interests force Ray to decide what kind of person he really wants to be.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle

To be published May 2011.

One of the benefits of attending ALA Annual and Midwinter is that I get to meet a lot of authors and get their autograph. Even though my daughter is only 8, she has an entire shelf of young adult books autographed to her. The cool authors personalize the books, like Lauren Myracle did here.

I've met Lauren a few times and she's hilarious. But I never liked her books. I thought Kissing Kate was okay and thought the best thing about Rhymes with Witches was the cover. I know her ttyl books were popular, but I just couldn't attack the text-speak. I read, but wasn't thrilled with How To Be Bad by Myracle, Lockhart, and Mlynowski. I really, really wanted to like Lauren Myracle's books, but just couldn't. They were popular and made me grit my teeth.

Until now. Shine is her winner. She's created a modern-day version of To Kill a Mockingbird, complete with gay injustice and meth. It's amazing. I was sucked into the life of sixteen-year-old Cat investigating the beating of her old friend Patrick. The two of them grew apart when Cat distanced herself from ALL her friends, and that story is pretty darn interesting, too. This book treats Appalachian country like the inner city hood, and the result isn't pretty. People are poor, desperate, and turning to meth and moonshine. Patrick happens to be gay in a town where that "ain't Christian." And even Cat's brother Christian isn't acting like his namesake either.

All in all, I'm just glad this doesn't read like a typical Myracle novel. I feel like I've read her first novel--it's gripping, a thriller, and multi-faceted. It rocks, and I'll remember Cat for a long, long time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

After by Amy Efaw, Read by Rebecca Soler

Amazing. So glad this book made it to the 2012 Abe Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award List, because it's freakin' awesome!

You're heard the horror story before--young teenager has a baby, denies the pregnancy, and stuffs the baby in a dumpster. But, this story is different. It's from Devon's point-of-view--she's an A-student, star soccer player, but struggling with a bad mother and keeping all her emotions intact. Told from the day of the birth to her first day in court, Devon's story is told through a series of flashbacks, therapy sessions, and sessions with her lawyer. She did deny her pregnancy....but maybe she had a reason? Is there ever a good reason to put your newborn baby in a dumpster? Is Devon mentally ill? Or was she while she was pregnant?'s a great story. With a great cover, too. Notice the reflection of the girl has a baby bulge?

Tripping by Heather Waldorf

I'm always a fan of seeing a main character in a book with a disability, especially when it isn't a book "about" the disability. So I liked how Rainey's artificial leg is a part of this YA novel, but not really the entire plot. Rainey is Canadian and takes off on a student trip across the country to learn more about the culture, history, and nature. Along the way, she's trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She loves to draw, but should she major in something "more realistic" like her father wants her to? And should she let her cool new step-mom into her life? Or keep blocking her out? Rainey's mom left when Rainey was a baby, and on this trip Rainey can try to see her. If she wants. All sorts of important decisions are being made her this summer, so it's quite the coming-of-age novel.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Payback by Paul Langan

Part of the Bluford High series, this book is popular with lower level readers. It's great to have series that focus on African-Americans, even if this was published a long time ago.

Tyray is the tough bully at school until one day in the cafeteria the tables are turned because a wimpy wrestler breaks his wrist. Spiraling down into being the one who is bullied, Tyray isn't sure what to do. He acts like his dad--bossing people around and earning respect by force, not smarts or attitude. Even Lark, a sweet classmate, can't turn Tyray around. Tyray's older brother is already in prison for robbing a store, and the readers think Tyray is on the way there, too. Why? Because Tyray thinks the only way to win the respect of his classmates again is to get a gun. Um, duh. That doesn't work. But Tyray has to figure things out for himself.

Death on the River by John Wilson

If this book had a different cover, I'd be able to sell it more at my high school. Unfortunately, the cover is horrible and cheesey. The story, however, is pretty darn good. I could see this being used on an American History reading list pretty easily.

Jake Clay joins the Union Army after his brother dies fighting. Why? For revenge? to escape his grieving family? Either way, he is thrust into fighting in the South and is taken to Andersonville after being captured. And, wow, of course the conditions are horrible. I knew that. But he's also taken into a dark world of stealing, murdering, and surviving, and Jake isn't sure that's where he belongs. He knows it's wrong, but he wants to live. When the war ends, Jake has to decide between loyalty to the men who kept him alive in prison or his own sense of right and wrong.

The title and cover is misleading. Really, Death on the River only refers to the last quarter of the book. To me, the most interesting part was the prison setting, not the riverboat. The design of the paperback is cute, too--very Civil War-esque.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Well, the second person narration took me forever to get used to. Actually, I'm still not used to it, even after I finished the book. Why? Because during the entire reading, I kept wondering why she was writing to her kidnapper. Because she was writing him in prison? Was she dead? Was he dead? All those questions kept rushing through my mind, so the ending wasn't as traumatic as I was imagining.

Gemma is kidnapped from a Bangkok airport by a man who looks familiar. He's been "watching" her for years, and when she hears about this, it freaks her out. He was that bum in the park who talked to her when she was little. He was the cute boy working in landscaping in the park a few years later. He was her rescuer when a drunk friend accosted her late one night. And, now, he's her captor in the Australian outback. She has no one besides him and can't survive without him. He is her savior, and after a few days together, Stockholm syndrome begins for her. She starts to understand him--caring for him when he is hurt, admiring his gorgeous body, etc. As the reader, you think, "Ugh!" But, hey, she is a hurt and confused teenager who believes she is stuck forever with him. Alone. And so she starts to cope.

I remember reading a lot about this book when the ARCs came out, so I searched through Goodreads and Amazon to see what people were writing. I disagree with those who say this isn't a YA book. It is. It reminded me of a Sara Zarr, Gail Giles, or Elizabeth Scott novel. It's dramatic, but that's what some teenagers like. It's emotional, but that's what some teenagers like, too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

It's been four years since I read Robert Lipsyte's Raider's Night, but I still remember it--every detail. And, so, when I got to a certain part of this novel, I thought, whoa, I've read this before. I won't give away details, but I doubt if that event is so common that it needs to be repeated in a YA football book. I mean, really, I purchase about every football novel published for YAs, but I know other students are going to notice the similarities between the two novels.

HOWEVER, even if Mr. Cohen borrowed a little from Mr. Lipsyte, I loved the combination of gymnastics and football. The two sports are obviously treated very differently at Anooka High, and the characterization of Kurt and Danny is wonderful. The story is told from Danny and Kurt's point-of-view in alternating chapters. Kurt is a huge fullback who stutters who has been passed around orphanages and and foster homes his entire life. Danny is a tiny gymnast who is on track to be an Olympian, although he doesn't get any respect from his fellow students who aren't gymnasts. When Kurt decides to learn a back handspring, the unlikely pair become friends. And they need to stick together to team up against the three mean football captains.

And this is where I started to not like the book. The evilness of the three boys just seems unlikely. I especially didn't like how no one did the right thing--no one talked to an adult or told the police or told an older sibling or a parent. Some serious felonies happened here and the kids acted like it was just another bad name written on a locker. Hello? Felonies aren't something you try to retaliate by yourself. At least not in my world. And these kids have enough of a sense of right and wrong that they should have known better.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia

I knew this book had to be decent--it was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. But, whoa, I didn't expect it to hit me this hard. Telling the story of three high school girls in an inner-city school, the book is about violence and stupidity.

Dominique is a starting basketball player ticked off because her coach is benching her. Yeah, it doesn't matter that her grades aren't good enough to play--in Dominique's eyes it's the coach's fault, not hers. She has major anger management issues, and when a girl gets in her "space" before school, Dominique says she's going to beat her up after school. And that's it. Nothing really happened except for Dominique having a bad day.

Trina is the bouncy, selfish girl who had no idea what Dominique had planned for her. She's vain and proud of her looks and artistic ability. She's so selfish, her tale doesn't seem realistic. Are any high school students that self-confident and absent of self-doubt?

Letitia is the unfortunate girl who hears the threat and must decide whether to do anything about it. She's in love with her phone (has even named it) and her morals, um, aren't really there.

It's funny how I ended up hating Letitia more this morning. I mean, she could have done something, but didn't, and her uncaring nature makes me hate her. Dominique, at least, has had a rough life. She has anger problems for a reason. Letitia has a decent mother (it seems) and somehow turned out stupid. Ugh.

I'm debating nominating this for the PPYA list, but I'm not even sure if it falls under bullying. It's just stupid girl violence. Stupid. Stupid.

Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy, Narrated by Jenny Sterlin

I'm a fan of Binchy audiobooks, mainly because I'm a fan of Irish accents. I wasn't disappointed, although I think the abridged version may have confused me a bit. Sometimes I had no idea who was talking--in a book I would have flipped back to the chapter title to see. Unfortunately, that isn't possible when listening to a book.

A road is being planned to run through Whitethorn Woods, and the town is in an uproar because of a shrine to St. Anne that would have to be removed. Through different narrations, tales of visit to the shrine are told. Of course, as in most Binchy novels, the tales intertwine a bit so there is a complete story of townspeople who have been affected by the shrine. Was it great? No. But it was what I expected and it, again, made me want to fly to Dublin.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern

Ahhh, I needed this book! So many quotable quotes--I laughed, smirked, and smiled. Jessie is a sophomore and things are changing. Her two best friends decide to go punk overnight--things to a spending spree at Hot Topic. Jessie is kinda more punk than them. I mean, at least she can play the drums and her brother is in a punk band. But her friends are more interested in hanging out with Jessie's brother's friends than Jessie. And so, slowly, Jessie realizes that maybe they aren't true friends.

This book has one of the best brother-sister relationships portrayed in YA lit. Jessie and her older brother Barrett are only two years apart in age, but are very close. She's going to miss him next year when he goes off to school, and it's great to see their relationship strengthen as they begin dating.

It's also rare to find a YA novel that deal with sexually transmitted diseases. Jessie's friend gets gonorrhea from one stupid night. Jessie has to take her to a clinic, and it even leads to her brother getting involved and telling the boy. They try to make things right--the idiot is supposed to tell his "list" of girls that he's infected. It's rare to see something like this handled as well as it was in this book--I was impressed. It wasn't preachy, but the reader learned how kids are supposed to act.

And, hey, there's Dungeons & Dragons. Done well. Sure, Jessie might be turning into a bigger nerd than ever before, but she's choosing that road and having fun doing it! I highly, highly recommend this read and I'm glad it was nominated for the Geek/Nerd list for PPYA.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

I'm finally getting around to reading the 2011 Alex Award Winners! I think I picked the wrong book to start with--the committee would have had to talk me into this one. The action just moves sooooo slowly. I knew we'd eventually find out who was causing all the little German girls to disappear, but it took me a week to finish the book to find out who was murdering them. And, if you know me, you know that it should not take me a week to read a little book. I just couldn't get sucked in. The first third was great and I zipped through the last third of the book tonight, but the middle took too long. The main character, Pia, reminded me of To Kill A Mockingbird's Scout because she's forced to recognize evil in her small town and has to learn that things aren't always what they seem. She's a regular Nancy Drew, too.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Read by Kim Mai Guest

It's very rare that I manage to listen to an audiobook and I don't feel connected to the story. But that happened to this YA fantasy read for some reason. I'm not sure if it was the narration or what, but I just didn't get into the action or the characters. In fact, my mind wandered a lot.

Claudia is the prison warden's daughter who lives a life of privilege, but she has to marry the prince. Of course, she doesn't want to. Finn lives in the prison Incarceron, and, of course, wants to get out. When the two teenagers find a way to communicate with each other, they hope to plan their escape. Claudia wants to escape from her father, the Queen, and the horrid man she is supposed to marry. Finn thinks he may have had a life before the prison, even though everyone says no one gets in or out. Again, I'm not sure why I didn't react well to this novel--I finished it, but I thought seriously about switching audiobooks.

The sequel, Sapphique, is already a bestseller. See for the trailer.