Category: Mature Readers


     Reason to Breathe, by Rebecca Donovan

I was talking to another teacher at Chaffey High, Mrs. Vanderbeck (who used to work at Colony as well), about the bullying books I was reading this year. She told me about one she thought was great, so I asked her to write a guest blog post and share the book with you. Here it is!

I just finished a book, Reason to Breathe, by Rebecca Donovan.  It’s about bullying and physical abuse, but from the adults that are supposed to look out for you.  Emily, “Emma” has worked really hard to create a facade of indifference to all the students around her.  She is counting the days to her “liberation”. The day when she graduates from high school and is able to go to college. 

Emma is a straight A student, editor of the school newspaper, is a star soccer and basketball player, all the while hiding a terrible secret.  Her best friend, Sara, knows that things are not perfect at Emma’s home, but she doesn’t know the lengths Emma has gone to protect her little cousins.  In spite of her best efforts, she falls in love with Evan Matthews, a new student to her school, who won’t take “No” for an answer. The book is graphic, sad, and yet allows the reader to feel Emma’s annoyance, curiosity, interest and finally the love she thought was not meant for her, at least not in her current situation. I really enjoyed it. It’s a fast read. I am going to put it out for my students so they might read it during SSR. –Mrs. Vanderbeck

High school housekeeping: I looked and I have one copy at Chaffey, none at Colony. So I’m adding it to my ‘purchase ASAP’ list. I also see that it is the first book in a series, so if you also enjoy it, I’ll get the sequels. –Ms. W.

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers  

 

Regina has bullied other girls all through high school. She’s popular. She’s Anna’s best friend. And Anna is the queen bee of the Hallowell High, calling all the shots, deciding who’s in and who’s out. What separates Anna from the typical queen bee is her sheer pleasure in hurting other people. She wants other students to be afraid of her.  She wants to see them suffer the humiliations she doles out. But she also doesn’t want to get her hands soiled. So she lets others do the dirty work, with the reward that they can continue to be her friend. Regina has done a lot to stay Anna’s best friend, and for three years, she thinks it’s been worth it. But all that changes one night at Josh’s party when everyone except Regina is drunk.

Regina is the designated driver, a role she hates because she’s so bored watching everyone making fools of themselves. But when she tries to rouse the drunken Anna from the den floor to take her home, Anna can’t be moved. Instead, Anna’s wasted boyfriend, Donnie, tries to rape Regina.

And here Regina makes her big mistake. She runs to Kara’s house. Kara who had been too sick to go to the party. Kara, whom Regina has always disrespected. The Kara that Regina was always putting in her place. So although Kara promises to help—and tells Regina she should stay quiet about the whole thing so that she doesn’t awaken Anna’s anger—she does just the opposite.

When Regina gets to school on Monday, she finds out about the rumors. There is nothing for her to do. Anna has frozen her out of the popular group, ruined her reputation and replaced her with Kara. Having the word ‘whore’ written on her locker is just the beginning of a series of more and more vicious ‘pranks’ that turn violent. The whole school is invited to an “IH8RA” website.

There’s no one that Regina can turn to, as she has alienated and hurt so many people by doing Anna’s bidding. She’s treated other people almost as badly as she is being treated now. That makes it hard to sympathize with her. What has she done to Liz to make her have a breakdown?

Yet one of the people Regina hurt is willing to give her another chance. That’s Michael, a loner who spends a lot of time writing in a journal. How does Regina endanger him just by hanging out with him?

“Do something.” Regina always thinks to herself. She wants to fix things. She wants to learn not to care what the popular group thinks. But her solutions often backfire because Anna is so good at being so bad. And because Regina doesn’t trust any adult enough to confine in them. It looks like she’s not going to be able to save Michael anymore than she can save herself.

High school housekeeping: It’s my goal to read many ‘bullying books’ this year. Although all the titles I read over the summer are good, they seem to appeal to a specific audience or have a supernatural element to them. Some Girls Are is the first that deals with real problems and allows them to have the worse possible outcomes.  It has broad appeal—I think this is the one that everybody will be telling friends to read. I hope that none of you have ever had to deal with anyone as vicious as Anna or Kara, but I bet a lot of readers will recognize their type. Mean girls to the nth degree.

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When we think of summer reading, we think of books we choose because we like them—books for fun.

In the past I’ve read long lists of YA books over the summer and have encouraged you to read some of them as well. This year I think I need to feed my soul with some not-so-light adult books that probably don’t have wide teen appeal. I will also be reading some books about bullying—both the cyber sort and the in-person attacks. (I listed choices in a recent post.)

Since I think you should pick some fun reads for summer, I hope you’ll read some YA books that are soon to be movies. Reading the book before you see the movie provides a good opportunity for you to compare and contrast two works; it’s a great way to think at a higher level without even realizing that your brain is working.

 Win-win.

 So many good teen books are coming as movies in the next few years. Here are some that I’ve read and reviewed:

 2013:

Catching Fire

(Second book in the Hunger Games trilogy)

Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

The Great Gatsby

(OK, it’s an adult book, but teens read it in school, it’s short, and it’s great—

romance, betrayal, mobsters–all the stuff teens love)

2014 and possibly 2015:

Divergent

Graceling

The Knife of Never Letting Go

(first book in the Chaos Walking series)

Incarceron

The Maze Runner

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

The Fault in Our Stars

(Yea! It will star Shailene Woodley as Hazel. No word on Gus yet.)

Coming as movies soon, but I haven’t had the chance to read the books yet:

Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Tunnels by Roderick Gordon

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (and Jane Austen, of course.)

Actually, I have had the chance to read this one,

but I didn’t like it, and I quit after a few chapters.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Have a great summer reading on your own and at the theater!

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Summer Reading

One of my reading goals this summer is to read and select some books about bullying—both the cyber sort and the in-person attacks. I hope to recommend two bully-themed books per month in the 2013-14 school year.

This is going to be my “Ontario Teens Read” for 2013-14.

If you want to read some of the bullying books this summer before we start the “Ontario Teens Read 2013-14,” below are titles I’m considering.

We’ll begin the school year with a few that we’ve already been talking up for a while—they have become popular on my campuses, but if you haven’t read them, you might start here:

Want to Go Private

(Mature teens only—read the review!—cyberbullying by a sexual predator—the horrible, lasting effects of having the wrong things posted online!)

Thirteen Reasons Why

A new book I want to pair with Thirteen Reasons is:

I Swear by Lane Davis

It’s similar, but the students who pushed the girl too far are trying to cover up their responsibility.

Other bullying books we’ve talked up in the past:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

The Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Others I’m considering–some new, some tested and loved, some intense reads, some for reluctant readers–all got good reviews.

There are more than I can feature in a year. If you want to read a few and let me know what you think, I’d appreciate it very much!

The List by Siobhan Vivian

The Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Shooter by Walter Dean Myers

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian

Rotters by Daniel Kraus

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Promises to Keep by Paul Langan

Playground by 50 Cent

The Beckoners by Carri Mac

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

Brutal by Michael B. Harmon, Michael B.

Burn : A Novel  by Suzanne Phillips

By the Time You Read This, I’ll be Dead by Julie Ann Peters

Cracked by K. M. Walton

Crossing Lines by Paul Volponi

Dough Boy by Peter Marino

Dumped by Meredith Costain

Egghead: A Novel by Caroline Pignat

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Letters to a Bullied Girl by Olivia Gardner

Names will Never Hurt Me by Jaime Adoff

Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss

Teen Queens and Has-beens by Cathy Hopkins

What Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles

Who I Am by M. L. Rice

Send by Patty Blount

Playground by 50 Cent

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Beaten by Suzanne Weyn

I’ll decide on titles as the school year progresses, but I’m still in the selection stage. Any of these would make a great summer read.

   Ashes by Ilsa Bick (first in a trilogy)

Alex, seventeen and traveling alone in the Michigan wilderness, is on a mission to bid her goodbyes to the world. She has a brain tumor that appears unstoppable, even with experimental treatments. While Alex is on her backpacking adventure, an electromagnetic pulse—EMP—rocks the earth, killing many people. Yet after the EMP, Alex is not only alive, but changed. The sense of smell she had lost due to her cancer treatments is now so keen that she can smell emotions, such as fear.

Alex discovers that almost all others who are left alive are very old or very young. Generally, after the EMP blast, middle-ages folks are dead and teens become zombie-like—Alex refers to them as ‘brain-zapped.’ While the brain-zapped don’t eat one another, they crave human flesh. The combination of troubles is post-apocalyptic: teen zombies, a dying earth with fried technology and no means of modern communication, and a remaining population with no means of producing goods, including food. The worst in people comes out, and they fight and kill for survival supplies.

When the EMP takes place, Alex happens to be talking to a few people she met on her wilderness hike, a little girl named Ellie and Elle’s grandfather. The grandfather dies immediately, and Alex becomes Ellie’s protector. Later she teams with the hunky but shadowy Tom, who is on leave from the war in Afghanistan. They fear that they, too, will become brain-zapped. Their goal is to travel to safety, to find a town and some help. But along the way, danger separates them. Tom is wounded as survivors are stealing his provisions, and his wounds become infected. In seeking help, Alex finds a surviving town called Rule.

Rule is an odd place. Folks are deeply religious, but in a way that demands subservience from women. The fact that the folks in Rule are helping Alex is more sinister than it first seems. These survivors appear to be as dangerous as the zombies. Except for Chris, who has a crush on Alex.

Bick does a great job of framing her post-apocalyptic world and of explaining how such a thing might happen as well as hinting at the reasons why some young people like Alex, Tom, and Chris have survived. In all, she does a great job with drawing the reader in. Her writing is also very good. Given these things, and the fact that no plot points are concluded, most teens will quickly leap to the next book. However, Bick also spends a good portion of the novel with lengthy descriptions of the gross realities of this new world. Ashes is an A-One gore-fest. Bick has that paradoxical ability to stop the story dead in its tracks to wax on about zombies plucking out eyeballs and livers, and yet to make it feels like this is fast-paced action.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a sissy in these matters. While the blood jets, the shootings and other violence didn’t get to me, I couldn’t stomach the frequent and vivid descriptions of pus—yellow-green, oozing, stinking. I read while waiting for appointments—and thus in public places—and often found myself unable to continue, the bile rising in my throat, the gag reflex operating. For this reason, I’m not going to continue the series. But if you don’t have these sorts of issues, this is a heart-smacking work for mature readers (about 14 years and up).

I’ve thought about why my reaction to books like Ashes is so different from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which is also set in a post-apocalyptic, violent world of survivalists and cannibals. I think it just comes down to the writing. McCarthy can make me realize all the terror of his world. I have the full emotional impact, the genuine sense of horror and concern for the characters. But I’m never at risk of puking while waiting for the dentist.

Solitary: Book Two of the Escape from Furnace series

by Alexander Gordon Smith

Just a quick heads up on this series. I reviewed the first book, Lockdown . I thought it was great entertainment and a perfect choice for guys who have a hard time finding a book they like. I wanted to continue the series and see if the same quick-paced action/adventure continued. It does.

This time Alex is locked up in solitary confinement after his escape attempt. The cell is more like a coffin standing upright. His buddy Zee is also locked in a solitary cell nearby and the two figure out a communication system that helps them stay sane. Still, Alex has many hallucinations, particularly of his old cellmate Donovan, who was taken by the men in black suits and the Wheezers in book one.

The Wheezers are back as are the mutant rat boys, only this time they are out for Alex’s blood. In Solitary we also get a good look of the horror of the infirmary—we figured Donovan had been taken there to be transformed into some sort of creature at the end of book one. Now we know for sure.

This book, like the first, certainly has lots of disturbing images and description. It’s hard for me to say why it doesn’t bother me in the same way that it bothers me in many books. I think, for me, it all plays pretty well into the nightmare of Furnace, so it doesn’t have the same gratuitous feel that I’ve experienced with other science fiction for reluctant guy readers. However, I’ll give you an idea of what some professional reviewers thought:

“The gross-out factor is high in many sections” (School Library Journal)

“Readers who relish lurid imagery and melodramatic prose will continue to be riveted and left eager for the next disgust-o-rama episode” (Booklist)

So, that’s the caveat (warning)—meanwhile, I’m on to book three, Death Sentence.

 

Briefly:

You asked for it.

We weren’t sure about the novels–reports/reviews are that they are far more graphic than the TV series.

Decision:

We’ll have the graphic novel series available to you soon.  They are mature, for teens, but not over the top.

At Chaffey, we bought issues 1-17 (all that are currently available). At Colony, I asked the public library to purchase as there is adult appeal to all fans of the program. They jumped right on it and ordered the two book compendium of the graphic novels.

Zombie happiness all around? :)

Take a living walk into the library soon!

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What’s cool about the California Young Reader Medal is that the books are selected by young readers. So, teens select the winner of the young adult category. In order to vote, you have to read all three of the nominated books, of course.  Sometimes adults worry that teens won’t select books that are well written. But the truth is that some of my favorite YA books have been Californian Young Reader Medal winners. In fact, one of my absolute, all-time favorite YA books–Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was a winner years ago.  So, we shouldn’t worry. Teens make great choices in books!

Of the three nominees for 2014, I’ve read (and reviewed) Divergent. I do love both Jennifer Donnelly, the author of Revolution,  and Wendelin Van Draanen, the author of The Running Dream, so this year’s award will make for some great reading.


The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

When a school bus accident leaves sixteen-year-old Jessica an amputee, she returns to school with a prosthetic limb and her track team finds a wonderful way to help rekindle her dream of running again.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

An angry, grieving seventeen-year-old musician facing expulsion from her prestigious Brooklyn private school travels to Paris to complete a school assignment and uncovers a diary written during the French revolution by a young actress attempting to help a tortured, imprisoned little boy–Louis Charles, the lost king of France.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

In a future Chicago, sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed  

I’m not a fan of advice columns and I loathe self-help books, so I was surprised when someone I trust recommended this book. And wow! What a sparkling collection of wisdom Tiny Beautiful Things is.

Author Cheryl Strayed wrote the columns anonymously for The Rumpus (online). She later published Wild, a nonfiction memoir on her solo trek of 1,100 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. That book was selected by Oprah for her book club. Tiny Beautiful Things also became a best seller. So things are looking mighty good for Strayed. But her journey to success has been a convoluted one, filled with grief and betrayals. And what she learned, she shares in her Dear Sugar column.

Strayed is always compassionate and maybe that’s what sets her apart. People who write to her know that she is going to set them straight, but she’s also going to call them sweet names (like sweet pea) and make a lot of sense. She deals with betrayals of all sorts, the death of parents and children, miscarriage, rape, infidelity, financial troubles, jealousy and the sense that personal success will never come—all of life’s big problems. The letter in which she reflects on her one-time job as youth advocate at a middle school is worth the price of the book. Unfortunately, some of our students will recognize their own stories in the stories of the teens Strayed worked with—how they are living through a hell that no one, especially someone so young, should have to experience.

There are other teen problems discussed. (A fun answer to a teen is in “Hell is other people’s boyfriends.”) But anyone of any age can relate to all of the problems and Strayed’s sage responses. She often tells a story from her own life that seems totally unrelated—she’s a great storyteller—and then comes around to the connection to give the reader an ‘ah-ha’ moment.

Here Strayed is talking about people in their twenties, but I think it makes sense for teens, too: “Because you’re in your twenties, you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an a*****. . . . You’re generally less humble in that decade than you’ll ever be and this lack of humility is oddly mixed with insecurity and uncertainty and fear. You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.”

Read this for the excellent storytelling and you’ll come away with something that sticks.

Caveat: The folks who write letters to Dear Sugar often use very colorful language and Strayed uses it right back. The problems they discuss are often of a very mature nature (but, unfortunately, they are things that happen to high school kids, too).

Knowing that the Jack Reacher movie was coming out, I decided to try one of the novels—Worth Dying For—just to see if it was something our students would like.

I’d never read a Jack Reacher book before and was a bit surprised that he is 6’5” and Tom Cruise is playing the part. Having only read the one book, I don’t know why Reacher, former cop and war veteran, is a one-man vigilante, bound to seek justice for the little guy (and gal). Whatever the reason, he is certainly good at it. I guess this was sort of Die Hard in a book.

In Worth Dying For, Reacher finds himself in a very small town in Nebraska where the Duncan family plays a local, minor mafia. When Reacher sees that Eleanor Duncan, the wife of one of these bad guys, has an unstoppable bloody nose, he realizes that her husband, Seth, beats her. So he finds Seth and breaks his nose just to give him an idea of what it feels like.

But more trouble is afoot—the Duncans are not only abusive, they are criminals who force the local farmers to use their trucking company to transport their crops. And they seem to have been involved in the disappearance of an eight-year-old neighbor girl 25 years earlier. But why? And where did Seth Duncan, the adopted son of one of the three Duncan brothers, come from? No one is allowed to question them. The Duncans employ former Nebraska Cornhusker football players as henchmen. (I have a feeling that Cornhusker alumni don’t like this book much.) Everyone in the town is so afraid of the Duncan family that they have formed a phone tree to always let one another know what the Duncans are doing.

When Reacher starts snooping around, the Duncans need to have him taken out. As he is too much for the former football players, they seek help from their criminal contacts all the way from Las Vegas. Everyone gets in on the plan to kill Reacher because they all depend on illegal shipments by the Duncan family trucking business. What these shipments are is one of the mysteries for the reader to figure out.

I can understand why some readers would like Jack Reacher novels. Honest. But I hated this one, so it’ll be my last Jack Reacher novel. He gets out of trouble way too easily for me. I wish the author would have allowed him to have a few big fails—the kind that make readers worry about the protagonist and become invested in him.

The other thing about me is that I can only take so many descriptions of how to break noses—and even fewer on how to pop them back into place. Only so many descriptions of kicking and blowing things up—at least ones that include exact measurements of the sizes of all equipment and all body parts involved. How many centimeters between the bridge of the nose and the center of the forehead? I really don’t care.

I also don’t like it when the writing tends toward this sort of thing: ‘A car was coming down the road. It was red, but you couldn’t tell in the dark. It looked blue or gray or black—something not light, like white or yellow. Reacher knew that the car could turn left away from him. He knew that it could turn right toward him.’ (No—not a direct quote, just close.) Honestly, as much action as there is in this book, as much repetitive and gratuitous violence, it was surprising how it just seemed to drag on and on because of the monotony of the descriptions (including all those measurements.) I thought it would never end, but I stuck with it because I had invested so much time in it. By the time I finally finished, the movie had already been out for several weeks.

The end of this book, the disappearance mystery, the revelation of illegal product that the Duncans are transporting—that was very good. And the description of victims is the most understated, best writing in the entire novel. It worked beautifully, and made me wish the rest of the book had been written that way. Good as that ending was, it just took me too long to get there to want to try another book in the series. But, my taste in this matter is probably in the minority. High school guys may like the Jack Reacher books in the same way that they like violent action films. If so, there are many titles in the series available at our local public library.

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