Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 452 p.
Who am I? The year he turned 17, Salvador’s mind was full of unanswered questions. He had always been able to tell his best friend Samantha anything, as she was like a sister to him, but he felt he couldn’t tell her he didn’t want his wonderful and supportive gay father, who adopted him and who he dearly loved, to know he was thinking of his real father. He’d been getting into lots of fights; leaving him wondering if the anger he felt came from his real dad. Was he an offshoot of his dad? Did he inherit his dad’s anger issues? Who is he really? Sal doesn’t know.
Sal knows he doesn’t want to go to college, doesn’t want to write his admission essay, and doesn’t want his beloved grandmother Mima to leave him. He loves his family but has lots of questions about his place in the world. While Sal tries to figure out some answers to the craziness going on in his head, stuff keeps happening. Death, sadness, grief, anger and sorrow keep entering his life; along with the love that comes from a close knit family and good friends. Why does his life feel so messed up? Who is he really?
Many of Sal’s questions will ring true with teen readers, along with his emotional ups and downs. I was moved to tears by Mima and Sal’s friend Fito’s problems, and loved the strong friendship between Sal and Sammy. The strong and powerful love given to Sal by his dad is an example for all dads to follow. Once again Sáenz pens a winner.
Highly recommended for readers age 14 and older.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.
Duncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.
Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.
Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.
Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.
Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 310 p.
Using a poetic style of writing, along with text messages, St. Vil tells the story of Shay, a lonely, overweight 15-year-old girl. Shay has learned to constantly eat to cope with the pain of bullying and missing her dead father, as it helps her forget she’s fat and alone with her evil stepmother. Her gay best friend Dash, and her dying-of-cancer friend Boots assure her she is beautiful and funny, but even they can’t give her the help and support she finds from eating.
A chance encounter with a boy in a chat room leads to days spent laughing and chatting online. Soon her humor and his wit combine to form love, but is it possible to fall for someone you’ve never met? Shay believes staying online is enough, and resists all attempts for them to meet in person. She is certain that once he meets her he will run away, so is willing to settle for second best. Can she learn to overcome her fear and stand up for herself?
“Girls like me” tells Shay’s, Dash’s and Boot’s stories of loneliness, friendship and heartache, along with the ups and downs that come with being seen as “different” by their peers. It is a story every teen should, hopefully, learn from as they read.
Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 20, 2016. Harper. 234 p.
Shane and his best friend Josh are in sixth grade. Video games and baseball consume their every waking moment, and girls are making an appearance. Even though his dad hasn’t made too many attempts to be part of his life or to come for visits after his parents divorce, Shane is doing just fine without him. When he and his mom left San Francisco for Los Angeles three years ago, Shane never looked back. With his days filled with baseball, his friendship with Josh, and designing his very own graphic novel, he is finally getting to become the person he always knew he should be.
Despite his rosy outside life, Shane is hiding a secret that would change everything about his life if anyone ever found out about it. With his secret getting closer to exposure every day Shane will soon learn that truth comes with a price, and will have to decide if he is willing to pay it.
Once I started reading “The other boy” I couldn’t put it down, and finished it in one sitting. Hennessey’s young readers have the opportunity to learn about the many difficulties and challenges, as well as the hopes and fears, faced by transgender boys and girls. Through reading Shane’s story in this finely crafted novel, it is hoped they will learn acceptance and tolerance. Every middle school and public library should have a copy of “The other boy” in its collection.
Highly recommended for ages 11-14.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2016. Abrams.343 pp.
Olivia hates that her mother walked away from her family three years ago. Kat holes up in her room with Internet games. Matt fills his days getting high. Juniper is the perfect queen of Paloma High. Valentine is a loner. Lucas is everyone’s go to guy for beer and weed. Claire wonders why she can’t be like Olivia and Juniper.
When the news breaks that someone is involved in a secret affair with a teacher, everyone is shocked. Each of these students has the power to reveal the truth, yet they all have their own secrets. Are someone else’s secrets more important than your own? As truth and lies blend, this unlikely group of students become bound together in ways they never imagined.
“Seven Ways to Lie” was very thought provoking, with each character having their own chapter to articulate their issues and thought patterns. She challenges her readers to think about the “why” of situations, reminding them that things are not always as they seem.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published August 4, 2015. Little, Brown & Company. 412 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)
Gerald and Sara Murphy came of age in the 1920’s, hosting extravagant parties in their Villa America estate on the French Riviera with family friends like Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and many others. After spending their youth as outsiders laced into a form of conventionality by their parents and society, their new way of living freely was a way to recoup those lost years.
Despite outward appearances, all is not as it seems in the Murphy household as secrets are eating away at their foundation. Scott and Ernest create dramas of their own while Owen Chambers, a handsome American pilot with a tragic story, is soon irretrievably mixed in with Gerald and Sara’s confusing lives with unfortunate results.
I found Villa America to be as long on the discussions and short on the action as Owen described it to Gerald. Before I was halfway through reading it I was as tired of the Murphy way of living as was Owen.
The book had its moments but, in general, I wasn’t a fan. Therefore I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner Publishing Group). 287 pp.
Stationed with his Marines unit in Afghanistan, Ben plans to volunteer to infiltrate a Taliban-filled unit in the morning. Knowing that those who volunteer for these assignments usually don’t survive, he has decided to unburden his soul from a deep, dark secret he’s carried for 3 years.
Ben spends all night penning a “To All Whom This Might Concern” letter in which he recounts what happened in his Wisconsin hometown three years ago the summer he was seventeen. Up to that point he’d been living a robot-like life going to school, taking classes at the university, getting high grades and working two jobs trying to please his mother by getting into the college of her dreams. When Del, a classmate, was killed in an accident Ben volunteered to mentor his younger brother Jimmy.
Through a series of events, Jimmy was murdered. Ben was a witness to the events of that fateful night, yet couldn’t be sure of what he’d seen. Through fear he stayed silent but through his letters he questions himself, his actions, and everyone who played a part in Jimmy’s murder. As he struggles to figure out why Jimmy was killed and who did it, he rails against rumors, his cowardice, his inability to make decisions, his parents and life in general.
“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” is full of questions, innuendoes, and half-truths leaving readers scratching their heads while feeling strong empathy towards Ben and Jimmy.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).