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Category Archives: Young Adult / Teen

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Wonder ShowThey say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.  I beg to differ.  See that cover over there on the left?  Kind of amazing, right?  And the hand drawn goodness wraps around to the back as well.  In all honesty, it almost didn’t matter what this book was about.  I fell in love with the cover art and had to bring it home.

Thankfully, the story is just as delightful as the paper it’s wrapped in.  Wonder Show tells the tale of a young girl, Portia, whose father leaves the dust bowl in search of work.  Her aunt takes care of her for a while, but ultimately puts her in a home for “wayward” girls under the watchful eye of a man known only as Mister.

Without giving anything away, events transpire and Portia runs away to join the circus.  Literally.  Actually, she meets up with the “wonder show,” which is basically a sideshow of human abnormalities that travels alongside any circus that will have them.  As she adjusts to circus life she makes friends and enemies, confronts fears, and learns to be a part of a very unusual family.

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Awkward by Marni Bates

Awkward by Marni BatesIn high school, I wasn’t awkward at all.  I had all the right clothes, hung out with all the right people, and got invited to the best parties.  Plus I dated the hottest guy at school.

Okay, so none of that is true.  Especially since my school was all girls.

If you don’t think about high school (whether it was years ago or you’re still there) and cringe, this book may not be for you.  But I’m pretty confident that most people feel out of place and awkward during their teen years, and this book understands that feeling perfectly.

Mackenzie is bookish and clumsy, but is mostly okay with that because she has her ridiculously high GPA and close group of equally nerdy friends to keep her company.  So what if she attends study sessions instead of parties on the weekend?  There’s nothing wrong with that.  (I mean, that’s what I did, and look how I…oh, never mind.)

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The Kid Table by Andrea Seigel

Premise: cousins share a “kid table” at every family occasion (Fourth of July, New Year’s, an adult relative’s bar mitzvah). They enjoy each other’s company – for the most part – but resent the table, scheming of ways to join the adults. This is where we meet our narrator, Ingrid, as she shares the indignity of sitting at the kid table while also resenting the fact that her slightly older cousin – Brianne – somehow managed to make it out.

Ingrid’s relationship with Brianne wasn’t the best to begin with. But when Brianne uses her burgeoning knowledge of Psychology to diagnose Ingrid as psychopath, things go from bad to worse. Now the rest of the family is watching her every move out of the corner of their eyes for confirmation of this diagnosis. Great. And her favorite, Cricket, is looking suspiciously skinny and gets panicky around food. Fantastic. And that really attractive guy (Trevor) who was flirting with her a little earlier? Yea, he’s Brianne’s new college boyfriend. Could get things get any better? Why, of course. Dom is still calling everything “gay” as a way of hinting to his nuclear and extended family that he is same-sex oriented. And Micah can’t seem to keep his clothes on! What is happening?

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Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Why We Broke UpI read this book in one night instead of sleeping.

Things you should know: Daniel Handler also writes children’s books as Lemony Snicket, best known for A Series Of Unfortunate Events.  Maira Kalman is an artist who has published books of her own work along with illustrating books written by other people.  (We previously reviewed one of her picture books here.)  Together they create a physically beautiful book, with glossy pages, full color illustrations, and gorgeous endpapers.  There was basically no chance I wouldn’t buy myself a copy.

The story itself is a letter from a teenage girl, Min, to her boyfriend-for-six-weeks, Ed.  It starts with a box of things that symbolize the relationship to her, which she is unceremoniously dumping on his doorstep.  Each chapter starts with a full-page illustration of an item from the box, followed by a somewhat stream-of-consciousness retelling of how it became important.

If a six-week relationship seems insignificant to you, and definitely not worth being heartbroken over, you may be an adult with a very bad memory of what it’s like to be a teenager.  Min and Ed’s story is full of firsts and lasts, at times painfully awkward while otherwise being perfectly sweet.  Mistakes are made, lessons learned the hard way – and yet, from an outside perspective, the experience gained in six weeks of Min’s Junior year is invaluable.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt

You. Guys. This book! Just, okay. Before I place any value judgment on it, lemme ‘splain.

Jeff Greene comes home one day from second grade to find a note from his mom (Melody) saying she’s skipped out on him and his pops because she just wasn’t happy. Melody asks him to be brave and to not bother the Professor (the oh-so affectionate way Jeff and Melody refer to the father who is in fact a college teacher) and try to be as independent as possible. The hell, Melody? How is he supposed to mourn the loss of his mother if he can’t talk about it? He can’t. He internalizes all his pain and builds a relationship with his father based on muting his emotions, wants, and needs. And the father – being the academic Professor-type – assumes that his son just isn’t very emotional, like himself, and is handling the whole being abandoned thing just fine. Le sigh.

So it goes for years. Years, ya’ all. Jeff comes home, does his homework, make meals and goes to bed. Until one day Jeff wakes up sick and stays sick for days and then weeks. It’s not until the Professor and his friend (a monk who also teaches at the University) discover Jeff in an almost-coma that they take him to the hospital and discover he has pneumonia. That’s when the story really begins. The Professor is forced to contact Melody to get some much-needed medical information about Jeff. A few weeks later, when Jeff is almost completely well, he receives a letter from his Melody asking him to visit her in South Carolina for the summer.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar ChildrenHave you ever felt haunted by a book that wanted you to read it, no matter what?  The wonderfully-titled Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children followed me around for a couple of weeks, then appeared in my house under suspicious circumstances.  Which is to say, it was recommended to me on various websites, by word of mouth, and I saw it reviewed all over the place.  But I resisted, and wasn’t sure that I really wanted or needed to read it.  I wish I could remember what finally convinced me to pick it up, or where or when I finally bought it.  All I can say for sure, however, is that it made its way into my home, at the very top of my TBR, and I’m grateful that it did.

This book takes a series of odd (or let’s say “peculiar”) vintage photographs and builds a narrative around them.  The concept works so well that it becomes entirely plausible to consider the pictures as proof of the story, instead of merely a jumping off point for spinning this yarn.  In truth, I would have been fascinated by the book if it was just a collection of strange and creepy photographs with whatever limited information about their origin was available.  (The photos all come from personal collections, mostly cultivated through flea markets and other somewhat anonymous sources, so there is probably very little solid information available on any of them.)  In some cases you can guess at the techniques used to create an image of an invisible boy, or a girl trapped in a jar, or a young man lifting a large boulder with one hand.  Though I still found it impressive in an age when “dodge and burn” was not achieved by a mouse click in Photoshop.  Other of the photos are not as easy to explain away, and I spent more time than I care to admit just staring at them in amazement.

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