“Almost Perfect” Brian Katcher

Delacorte Press, 2009. Hardcover. 360 pp.

Logan is expecting his senior year of high school to be a bust. In his tiny town, and even tinier high school, he’ll now have to watch the love of his life who selfishly broke his heart go through her daily life without him by her side. He has no recourse to soothe his agony except for his daily track workouts.

Everything changes when he meets Sage, a new girl who is different, funny, quirky, very cute, yet shy and seemingly scared of her parents. Suddenly, his broken heart is healed as Logan finds himself falling for Sage and wanting to help her with whatever secrets she seems to be hiding. Gradually they warm to each other and, after a few months, he dares to kiss her and feels full of new possibilities – until Sage reveals her big secret. She’s really a boy.

Logan is disgusted, and pushes Sage out of his life. He doesn’t want anyone to think he’s gay, and is angry at her for tricking him. However, he gradually begins to realize their friendship means more to him than what others think, and feels like he might even love her. Unfortunately, what others think has a way of weighing on his mind more than he’d planned and, when Sage really needs his help, Logan is nowhere to be found.

Katcher uses humor and drew on real life teen experiences to write this very touching book for transgender teens showing the problems and experiences they face on a daily basis which include loneliness, suicidal thoughts and rejection. Website resources are included in the Authors Note.

While reading this book, I alternately laughed out loud or reached for a tissue, depending on the situation. Sage is a very believable and lovable character who will, hopefully, make readers see the transgender teen in a whole new light.

Recommended for grades 9-12.

“Chinese Handcuffs” Chris Crutcher

Harper Tempest, 1989. Paperback. 296 pp.

Unfortunately, despite this book having been written 23 years ago, its subject mater hasn’t gotten old and is still relevant today.

Dillon, team trainer for his high school girl’s basketball team and fledgling triathlete, watched his older brother commit suicide. Told through letters to Dillon’s brother, as well as through flashbacks, Crutcher tells the story of Jen – sexually abused by her father, then her stepfather, since she was 5 years old. Now 18, and a star basketball player, she has reached a crossroads. By trying to protect her younger sister from the same fate, her stepfather has boxed her into a corner where she can only see one way out for herself.

Determined not to have what happened to his brother happen to anyone else on his watch, Dillon tries to figure out how he can help Jen escape from a psychopath who is not beyond murdering those who get in his way. Crutcher weaves together the pain in their lives to depict an emotional storyline, combined with hope, that will resonate with teens going through similar experiences who may seek help for themselves.

Contains mature subject matter. I’d recommend it for grades 10-12.

“Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the age of lies” Marc Aronson

Candlewick Press, 2012. Hardcover. 230 pp.

Aronson did an excellent job researching and presenting both fact and fiction related to the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the political pulse of the times, and his manipulations of the F.B.I. As I read, it was clear to see how J. Edgar twisted the Bureau to act towards his own diabolical beliefs whether or not it was contrary to the laws of the land.

Everything he did was cleverly disguised under the guise of protecting America from those seeking to harm her, which raises the question of how far Americans are willing to go in the name of freedom while withholding the freedoms of others. Aronson’s clear writings and period photographs make a compelling case for those of us who call ourselves Americans to really think about what fear can do to a nation, and how the government’s actions during those times may cause more harm than good.

Aronson includes excellent endnotes, a bibliography and index as well as an explanation of why he chose to write the book. “Master of Deceit” is an excellent read, with much food for thought, and should be part of every high school and public library’s collection. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Master of Deceit” won YALSA’s Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults in 2013. Just remember – you heard it first right here. Awards will be announced at the ALA (American Library Association’s) midwinter meeting in January 2013. Stay tuned.

“Ghetto Cowboy” G. Neri

Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. Candlewick Press, 2011. Hardcover. 218 pp.

I loved the history G. Neri infuses throughout the book, such as learning that slaves who worked with cows were called Cowboys, thus becoming the first to be called by that name. I was surprised to learn that stables actually still exist in the inner cities of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, run by Black Cowboys to keep kids out of gangs and to give purpose to their lives. G. Neri does an excellent job of educating readers of a long ago tradition that still exists in modern times and tying it in with the story of Cole, a young boy struggling to figure out his place in the world. It’s important for all young boys to read about the influence and strength Cole gains, not only from caring for horses, but from the father he’d never met who helps him to stand up for what he believes when faced with injustice.

I’d recommend it to students in grades 4-7 who are interested in horses or learning about the history of Black Cowboys in the United States.

“Hummingbird Heart” Robin Stevenson

Orca Book Publishers, 2012. Paperback. 272 pp.

Sixteen-year-old Dylan faces some interesting dilemmas as the author takes readers to deeper levels of thinking and compassion. Along with having to deal with a pot-smoking, freethinking, tattoo-filled mother, Dylan meets a father she never knew existed, struggles with whether or not to become a bone marrow donor for a half sister she never met, wonders whether to have sex with her first boyfriend, and tries to hold on to a friendship that seems to be crumbling right in front of her eyes.

Even with everything she’s going through, Dylan has an obsession with pollution, global warming and other issues of the environment, including death. Practically every page has a rant about one or the other, which seemed to be a bit much. I wasn’t really a fan of this book, but it did have some good parts to it. Students in grades 8-9 might enjoy it.

“The Calling” Kelley Armstrong

Darkness Rising, Book 2″ Harper, 2012. Hardcover. 326 pp.

In this second book of the Darkness Rising trilogy, Maya and her friends find themselves lost in the middle of a forest. The helicopter which was supposed to have rescued them from their burning town was actually manned by a kidnapper who was killed when the helicopter crashed. Maya, as usual, is clueless to Daniel’s feelings towards her, despite the loss of Rafe in book one, and finding him again in book 2.

The kidnappers know they’ve survived, and have rigged the crash site to appear as if everyone died so no one in the outside world, including their parents, would question their disappearances when they are captured. As the kidnappers sweep the forest looking for their prey, Maya and her friends struggle to stay ahead of capture and find their way back to their parents and their old lives. While they run for their lives, Maya transforms into a cougar for the first time, while Corey’s symptoms hint at something much darker. Despite their attempts to regain their freedom, the St. Cloud Corporation has other plans for them that don’t include a happy reunion.

Once more Kelley Armstrong has kept me and students from grades 8-12 glued to the edges of our seats eagerly awaiting book 3, which is supposed to be released sometime in 2013. My fingers are crossed that I won’t have to reread this book when it’s finally released.

“The Gathering” Kelley Armstrong

Darkness Rising, Book 1″ Harper, 2011. Hardcover. 359 pp.

One of the reasons I don’t like books that come in a series is because by the time the next one is written, I’ve forgotten what happened in the first book. Such was the case with “The Gathering.” I read this sometime last year, but seeing as how I’d probably read about 200+ books after it, I didn’t remember the plot enough when part 2 “The Calling” was released this year. So, you know what happened, I had to read “The Gathering” again. Sigh.

Maya doesn’t know much about her background except that she was adopted when a baby and raised in a tiny town in the middle of a forest with other families who work for the St. Cloud’s, a research facility which owns the town. She grew to love animals, and seemed to have a special healing touch when it came to helping wounded ones. She has a small paw print on her hip, and things seem to get weird when she is called a witch by an old woman. Maya looks up the ancient Navajo word she was called, and finds out it means “shape shifter.”

She meets Rafe and his sister Annie, who also have the paw print, and finds out that Annie can shift into a cougar and that the same fate awaits her and Rafe. While trying to get her mind around this, a stranger appears in town trying to find out more about what’s going on in the research labs of the St. Cloud’s and asking strange questions about the teens in town. When that reporter is found dead, and a forest fire is deliberately set to clear everyone out of the town, the mystery thickens.

“The Gathering” leaves its readers wondering what will happen next as everyone is forced to abandon the burning forest and leave Annie behind, who has shifted but can’t be found. I’m hoping “The Calling” will have lots of answers.

A great read for grades 8-12.