David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing was the first LGBTQ themed book I have read that is directed at young adults. I thought it was brilliantly written. When I finally got a grasp of who the narrator is I was surprised at Levithan’s approach to telling this story. I thought using the voice of a past generation was an interesting and bold move. While most of the YA novels I have read focus on a first-person narrative, this book gave a perspective on an older generation. The voice of this generation was wise and thoughtful without being preachy at all. I read a few reviews on Goodreads for this book and found that many people had experienced the same thing as me in feeling a bit weird reading the book in public. I think the choice of the cover photo and title is quite deliberate in making a point of its own in showing the heteronormative society we live in. The homosexual community is evidently marginalized and needs a voice that Levithan is able to give them. I quickly got over my discomfort with reading the book in public because it was so powerful and thought-provoking. I like David Levithan’s writing style in intertwining multiple stories into one novel, I think this style made the novel feel very fast-paced and interesting. I think this book should be recommended to all teens because it gives such great insight into the LGBTQ community and the struggles that teenagers may be going through with sexuality and identity. I have already reviewed David Levithan’s Every Day and believe that it can be classified as a LGBTQ teen read as well because it deals with some characters that identify as homosexual and portray their struggle with identity.
Several months ago, I had a teenage patron ask me for historical fiction books which was a request I had not gotten before. I thought it was odd just because I did not necessarily see the appeal of a historical fiction book. I realize now that historical fiction books can be incredibly powerful and interesting like Nick Lake’s In Darkness. This book was written with such complexity and depth that I was captivated by it instantly. I listened to the audiobook version that is performed by Benjamin L. Darcie and it was absolutely incredible, the voice of Shorty and Toussaint were distinct and well-suited for their characters. This book reminded me a lot of The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao that also looked at a teenage boy’s life intermingled with the history of the country he is from. I think that a young adult can find appeal in the way Nick Lake writes the book in an interesting vernacular that incorporates street slang, Creole, and French. Despite all the potential new vocabulary that a young adult may encounter with this book it does not take away from the story. The story is strengthened by the use of the original language and the conversational tone that Shorty uses when telling his story. His voice is so unique in its honesty and perception of his world and his Haiti. I learned a lot from this book and really enjoyed the intermingling of Shorty’s story with Toussaint Louverture’s, it is a great way to start getting teens to think about freedom, identity and equality. The pace of this book was interesting because it was really fast-paced despite the slow death that is described by Shorty in his thirst and hunger-ridden condition. This was a great book and I would like to find more historical fiction books for teens because this is something that I would love to start recommending to young adult patrons. There is something to be learned in the realness of the setting and the historic elements of the book that I think would be beneficial for any young adult.
This Sunday I had a young adult patron ask for The Fault in Our Stars and I knew undoubtedly that I would not be able to find her an available copy. She went on to list other popular titles like Divergent and other John Green books, none of which were available. This is a common occurrence during my Sunday shifts, while most teens just leave after this interaction, this week my patron asked me for suggestions. I asked her what she was looking for and whether or not it was the terminal illness factor that she found appealing for The Fault in our Stars. She said that she is fine anything and wanted something “you know… that makes you think”. I thought of all the books I have read so far in this class and gave some of them as suggestions, unfortunately some books were out or not at my particular branch. With my suggestions I would give a brief plot summary but when I thought of My Book of Life by Angel, I decided not to suggest it because it was so hard to bring up such a serious topic. When thinking back on this interaction, I start to think about how odd it was that I felt the least bit reluctant about the dark and heavy topic of teenage prostitution. I have been thinking about good ways in introducing this book to readers and I do think I would choose to introduce it by subject matter. Though the style of the writing is very unique I think the most appealing factor is the topic of teenage prostitution. This is surely a book that would make teens think. I think it would be a great endeavor for a library to take on the subject of this book and create a program that encapsulates the realities of our world. I imagine that this program would be in part a book club for teenagers to express their initial feelings towards the book and subject matter. It would also be interesting to get a guest speaker that may be familiar with the state of teenage prostitution in Canada or with first-hand experience that is willing to share their story. Having a program would be helpful in the introduction of heavy topics like this one and can be very beneficial for patrons that are interested in learning more.
I am not usually a fan of fantasy novels, but to my surprise I really enjoyed Seraphina. I think it is a great book to recommend young adults that have enjoyed books like Harry Potter and The Golden Compass because it is so clearly a fantasy novel and has many similar characteristics. However, I think this book would be a great recommendation even for someone looking to explore new genres. This fantasy world was so believable and well developed that I could not put the book down. The appeal of this book is that it has intrigue, wit and action. For non-fantasy readers this book introduces fantasy elements in such a good way that it could easily get readers hooked.
Seraphina is a great character and has a very unique voice that is knowledgeable but still distinctly teen-like. The protagonist’s inability to accept her own identity is a theme that is familiar to the genre but it is simultaneously defamiliarized because the identity in this case is not just a typical teenager but a dragon. The book does not ask a lot of the audience as the world is not too far off from our own. The prejudice and harassment of the dragons is a great starting point to think of treatment of many different groups in our own society that face similar hardships.
Beyer, Ramsey. Little Fish: a memoir from a different kind of year. Zest Books, 2013. 272-page. $15.99. ISBN: 978-1-936976-18-8. Ages 17-18.
Ramsey Beyer writes an autobiography about her first year in college. The protagonist moves from a small town in Michigan to Baltimore for an art college. Beyer is conscious of her comfortable middle-class upbringing and is curious about city living. This book is written in a zine-like format that includes comic-style illustrations, collages and entries from Beyer’s LiveJournal account from when she was actually in her first year of college. The protagonist’s thoughts are depicted through illustrations, lists and proses. The format of the book has great teen appeal because of the graphic novel and zine style. However, despite the aesthetics and uniqueness of the book, I would recommend it with reservations. The book is very slow paced and can be repetitive at times; because there are so many lists the book does not flow well. The repetition comes from the fact that we are often given information in the form of a list then again several pages later with an illustration. This is also not a book if a reader is seeking action because neither Beyer nor her first-year friends are into wild parties. The protagonist comes from a very tame life and continues it as she embarks on her college career. Although there is very little drama in the book, some young adults might enjoy the art work and style. Teen readers can also get a sense of what awaits them in their first year of college. Beyer presents an example of how change can be gradual and the first year of college can be easy and hard at times, it can push you out of your comfort zone but create new comforts as well.
Susin Nielsen’s The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is currently nominated for The Forest of Reading’s Red Maple award which features books aimed at middle-graders age 12 and 13. The book’s target audience is a bit younger than the “young adult” group that we have been looking at for our other novels but I would argue that this book can be appealing to many older teens as well. The book is pretty fast-paced and suspenseful that really captures a reader’s attention. The protagonist, Henry, is a very unique character and provides great insight with dealing with tragedy and being in the aftermath of a school shooting and a family suicide. The topic that this books deal with are dark and in recent years has becoming increasingly common. Another wonderful thing about this book is that it is not only the identity of Henry that is in the midst of being shaped but his father and mother are also reshaping their identity as they move across the country or rehabilitate in a mental health facility. A lot of YA novels are about coming to terms with identity for teenagers but there are times that adults have to face an identity crisis as well. The language in this book is easy to read because it is in the form of a journal but it does not take away from the sophistication of the book and the events that are being conveyed. Ultimately, I believe the main aspects of this book that would appeal to teens is the topic of school shootings, suicide and identity. Susin Nielsen gives a fresh look at a scenario that has become so familiar in our society by giving the perspective of a partial insider of the tragedy but also a character in the periphery.