Thursday 3: New Teen Fiction

Teen fiction is my preferred reading material, and I’ve been rather immersed in it in recent weeks as I prepped for a presentation at the Minnesota Educational Media Organization Conference in which realistic teen fiction was my responsibility. Here are a
few of my favorites from my part of the presentation.

  • Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon – It’s a novel set in hospice care, so be ready to cry. But it’s also pretty funny.
  • The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider – This romance/coming-of-age novel reminded me a bit of Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, which I loved.
  • Hostage Three by Nick Lake – I read this modern day pirate thriller in one sitting. It doesn’t come out until November, so add it to your library hold list now.

  • My apologies for the lack of links and pictures in this post. I am having some computer issues, and I used the WordPress app on my phone to write this post.

    Where are you from?

    I’m sticking with the theme from my last post and my new zine, Whereverland, for today’s Thursday Three post.  I have three books in which moving and/or exploring one’s roots plays a role.

    • Tlittlefishhe Language Inside by Holly Thompson – Emma spent most of her life as an American living in Japan–that’s home.  Now she’s back in the States re-orienting to the place her parents have always thought of as “home.”  Really beautiful teen novel in verse that explores connecting with people, places, and poetry.  Teacher/Librarian note: There’s a discussion guide here. (Teen Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
    • Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer – Ramsey Beyer captures her first year at art school in this graphic memoir.  She’s a blogger, zinester, and an artist, so I was obviously a little biased toward liking this book even before I started reading.  It’s a more innocent look at college–no parties or hangovers here–than you might find in other books, and Beyer’s sincerity and sweetness make this a cute coming of age book that zinesters and other creative sorts will enjoy.  (Teen/Adult Memoir – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)
    • Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan – This is an oldie, but it is not to be missed.  When Naomi’s mom returns and wants custody of Naomi (and not her brother who has a birth defect), Naomi explores her father’s side with a trip to Mexico.  That one sentence description hardly does the book justice.  It is a thoughtful look at identity and family.  A long-time favorite of mine.  (Children’s Fiction – Find it at your library or indie bookstore)

    Have you read anything that fits this theme?  What would you add?

    From Kissing to. . .

    Through the luck of the library hold list draw I went from reading an ARC of Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan to a library copy of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I think I had tears in my eyes the entire time I read these books back to back.

    twoboysTwo Boys Kissing a a teen novel about a couple of gay teens trying to win the world record for the longest kiss.  In the hands of David Levithan, one of my personal favorite YA writers, the story becomes about more than winning a record or about making a statement about gay rights.  He uses an unusual narrator to tell a larger story.  Our storyteller is an omniscient view from the collective voice of gay men who have passed.  They watch the characters being so open with their sexuality and speak of their experiences before being out was okay, before AIDS was a thing.  It was very powerful, and it is easily one of my favorite books of the year.

    tellthewolvesimhomeThen I picked up Tell the Wolves I’m Home from the library.  I’d been waiting for the book for months, and it seemed serendipitous that it arrived in my hands when it did.  This book is set in the 1980’s, when AIDS was just beginning to be a thing.  June’s uncle whose relationship to the family is strained because he was gay has just died, and June is devastated.  She tries to understand the choices her family made.  But it’s hard to make sense of why we choose to cut off the ones we love the most when they make choices we don’t understand.

    I was reminded of these words from the collective narrator of Two Boys Kissing (quoted from ARC):

    “So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home.  So many of us had to leave.  But every single one of us wishes we hadn’t had to.  Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t had to leave the other one behind.  Every single one of us would have loved to have been loved unconditionally by our parents.”

    It’s gotten better for LGBT kids, I think.  I hope.  But I know that there are still some who have to deal with families who want nothing to do with them.  It breaks my heart to think about the people I know personally who are separated from their families for reasons like this.

    Stories like these make me hug my daughter tightly and promise to love her no matter what.  I hope she knows that she can make different choices than the ones I made without fear of losing us.  We will always act like her family.

    Find Two Boys Kissing at your library or buy it from an indie bookstore.  Then you’ll probably want to do the same for Tell the Wolves I’m Homelibrary or indie bookstore.

    May Book Pick: Formerly, Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

    formerlysharkgirlWhen I’m talking to people about my prosthetic arm, I am quick to point out that I was born this way and that I’ve been wearing a prosthesis since before I can remember.  Most people assume that there was some kind of accident and subsequent rehabilitation, and they often ask questions around that assumption.

    Then since I’m a children’s librarian by trade, people will bring up Izzy Willy Nilly–a book in which a teenage girl loses a leg in a car accident–and I try to differentiate my experience from this classic teen novel that tends to be a lot of people’s only context for limb deficiency.  Izzy’s situation in the book is just as different to me as it is to anyone else.  There isn’t as much in common as you might think.  I’ve said those sentences many times over the years.

    But, honestly… I’m kind of lying.  Well, let’s call it exaggerating.  I do have a few key commonalities with Izzy in that book and with Jane, the main character in my Book Pick for May, Formerly, Shark Girl.  Izzy, Jane, and I all live with a lot of assumptions about who we are and what our lives are like.  We are heroes or victims.  Inspirations or curiosities.  But we’d like to be more.

    This is an uplifting novel about the big life decisions that will appeal to fans of realistic teen fiction, especially if you like novels in verse.  But it’s also an opportunity to challenge your assumptions about people who look different.

    If you are curious about my story, you can check out Fake Arm 101 for answers to some frequently asked questions. You can also find more reading material on my list of books about various disability experiences.

    Did you miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check it out: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure.

    Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

    The New Forever

    judyblumeFew writers can compare with Judy Blume.  Mostly because, it seems, few writers want to take on some of the subjects she was willing to write about–at least not for young people.  

    You will find some Judy Blume novel at the heart of some “growing up moments” for so many women.  You only have to read read Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume to see just how she influenced a generation with her fiction.

    A couple of the essays in Everything take on Forever… (a.k.a. The Sex Book), and Stacey Ballis describes it like this:

    Forever was the book that got passed reverentially from older sibling to younger, usually with key passages highlighted and essential page numbers listed in the back.  It was the book that we read aloud at slumber parties, whispered about in the back of the school bus, and was the single most likely item to be stolen from a sixth-grade desk.”

    foreverYes, the book’s notoriety among tweens and teens was related to the fact that it talks about sex.  But the book’s resonance went beyond the illicit content.  Ballis continues:

    “Judy Blume opened a door for me by simply depicting something real and not overly romanticized, which seemed to make it even more, well, romantic.”

    That’s what I was thinking about when the teen novel Anatomy of a Single Girl by Daria Snadowsky landed on my desk at work.  The ARC had an eye -catching jacket that promised the kind of illicit content that made Forever what it was.  In case you can’t read it in the photo below, the jacket says:


    Reading may produce the following side effects:

    Rosy cheeks

    Sweaty Palms

    Racing Heart”

    Snadowsky does make good on that promise.  There is sex in this book and plenty of it.  But what reminded me so strongly of Judy Blume was its lack of romance.  The sex in Anatomy of a Single Girl isn’t really about being erotic, despite what the warning might make you think.  It’s more clinical than sexy, and our narrator manages to be scientific and emotional.


    The story began with Anatomy of a Boyfriend, which follows the same storyline as Forever.  Life goes on, of course, even after a break up.  And we get the second installment in Anatomy of a Single Girl.   I don’t know if Snadowsky’s books will have the influence and staying power of Judy Blume’s books, but they definitely add to the list of books that answer all the questions about sex and relationships that girls are often afraid to ask.  I think that’s a good thing.

    Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit this blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

    February Book Pick: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

    justoneday“We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day.”

    Here is a story for the romantic in you that touches on so many of the themes that make coming-of-age novels great.  There’s a whirlwind romance in a foreign country, an opportunity to be someone else just for a day, and then heartbreak.  And not just any kind of heartbreak.  The kind with no closure, no certainty of any kind.  Willem disappears while Allyson sleeps after they share one day in Paris.

    And that’s just the beginning of the book.

    I picked it up because I loved Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, and there was a lot to draw me in with Just One Day.  Frankly, I love find-yourself-while-traveling novels, of which there are many in teen fiction.  But this is less about the romance and the travel in this book than one might think.  It’s more about what comes after.  How do you come back from an experience like that?  For Allyson, the question is whether she can still be who she was before.  The girl who lived out her mother’s plans and followed every rule.  It’s time to ask herself what she wants.

    Recommended for readers of teen fiction who want to read a bittersweet story of self discovery.  As a bonus, we are promised to finally get Willem’s side of the story in a companion novel to be released next year, Just One Year.

    Read an excerpt of Just One Day here.

    Check out last month’s Book Pick: Goliath

    Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links benefits this blog.  Thanks for your support!

    Teens, Grief, and God in Fiction

    Teens, Grief, and God in Fiction

    Most of the time, I avoid books with the potential to make me cry.  Frankly, I do most of my reading these days on my commute, and I hate to cry on the bus.  It has happened more times than I care to admit despite my attempts to screen  out tearjerker titles from my to-read pile.

    The Theory of EverythingRecently, though, I found myself reading J.J. Johnson’s new teen novel The Theory of Everything on my bus ride home from work.  It was clearly about grief and loss, which would usually be screened, but it managed to intrigue me anyway.  I’m glad it did.  It was a nice contrast to the many, many novels about grief that invoke faith. (Not to knock those that do invoke faith when characters are grieving; See You At Harry’s, for example, is excellent.)  In TToE, Sarah isn’t particularly religious, and when her best friend dies in a freak accident, people  offer religious ideas to comfort her.  Sarah finds it more alienating than comforting, especially when it comes from her boyfriend who turns out to be more religious than she thought.  The book isn’t all sad, though.  Sarah is a snarky narrator, and each chapter begins with a humorous chart or diagram.  I appreciated these attempts to off-set the grief, and Sarah’s growth throughout the novel made this a book I would recommend to readers who enjoy the tragicomic.

    37 Things I LoveThis is somewhat similar to another book I read recently that addressed loss.  In 37 Things I Love by Kekla Magoon, Ellis narrates her feelings as she and her mother make the decision to take her father off life support:

    “We’re not religious, but when I think about what’ll happen when Dad goes away, I have to wonder.  I don’t know if I like the idea of an afterlife.  It feels like a huge gamble.  I mean, it’s pretty much fifty-fifty that there’s life after death.  But on top of that, it’s fifty-fifty that life after death is going to be something worth hoping for.  You just don’t know what you’re casting your lot toward.  It could be awesome, a euphoric heaven where you never feel worried or hurt.  Or it could totally blow, and then you’re really stuck.  What if heaven/eternity/forever is this horrible trap that’s way worse than life as we know it?

    Maybe it’s better if the end is just the end.”

    It’s good for teens to read that there are many ways to find comfort when you lose someone you love.  These books introduce the idea that one person’s answer isn’t necessarily going to be your answer.  I think that’s an important thing for teens to know.

    I’ll add these books to the very short list of teen fiction with secular main characters, and I’ll go back to reading books that won’t make me cry.

    However, if you do like to read books that make you cry, here is a list of Contemporary YA Fiction about Grief and Loss from Stacked.

    Also pictured: After Eli by Rebecca Rupp, which has a young teen dealing with the death of his older brother.  It is for a slightly younger audience (middle school) than the TToE and 37 Things, which are for teens.

    For more about secular family life, see my Secular Thursday page or check out the Books for Secular Families Amazon Book Shop.  A portion of purchases made from links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support!

    Everything You Need to Survive the Tightrope Walk of Parenting

    Parenting can be a tightrope walk.

    We’re always in search of a middle ground. We want our kids to eat healthy, but we don’t want to deny them sweets.  We want to guide them to good decisions, but we don’t want to make decisions for them.  It isn’t always clear at first where the middle is, so we are always readjusting our sense of balance.  At least, I am.

    I think that the most delicate and debated issue that requires nearly constant readjustment is that of religion–or in my case, lack thereof.  I’ve written of my desire to let my daughter make her own choices about her beliefs as she gets older.  But that’s easy to type.  In practice, it gets a bit murky.  How do you answer your child’s questions about the world without indoctrinating them?  Is that even possible?!  Sometimes I wonder.  Writer Wendy Thomas Russell delves into the murkiness of the non-religious parenting on her blog Relax, It’s Just God.

    All that never far from my mind, I was eager to read the teen novel Everything You Need to Survive the Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss.  Yes, it’s a novel published for teens.  But I am recommending it to parents.  Non-religious parents, in particular, may relate to the father, described as an “enthusiastic atheist,” as they read the teen’s story of exploring religion.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if my daughter would feel like she needed to hide her interest in beliefs that differ from mine like Phillip does.  Or if I would forbid her from it like Phillip’s dad does.  I don’t think that I would, but sometimes we act more emotionally than rationally, especially when it is about the people we love the most. The book isn’t about religion being true or not true or good or bad.  It’s about the way religion affects people and the choices we make as we decide how we will let it affect us.  It’s about family.

    Recommended to parents of all sorts, but especially those wondering how to approach the balancing act that is allowing our kids to explore beliefs that are different from our own.


    For more about secular family life, see my Secular Thursday page or check out the Books for Secular Families Amazon Book Shop.  A portion of purchases made from links on this site benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! (Book was reviewed from a library copy.)

    Now Available: October Mourning

    Leslea Newman, author of Heather Has Two Mommies, happened to be a guest speaker for the Gay Awareness Week celebration on the University of Wyoming campus in October of 1998.  In horrible coincidence, that was the week that Matthew Shepard was killed as a victim of a hate crime.  Now all these years later, Newman has written about her connection to this incident in an affecting book of poems: October Mourning.

    She wrote on the Huffington Post:

    “It is my wish that October Mourning will carry that message of hope, born from a horrific act of violence, to our youth. Those entering college this fall were only four years old when Matt Shepard was murdered. Those starting high school were only infants. But Matt’s legacy will live on, and I intend October Mourning to be a vehicle for that legacy, to help our youth remember the lesson of his life and death: That all of us, no matter how old, no matter where we live, deserve to be free to be who we are. Hatred ended Matt’s life, but love can unite us.”


    Disclosure: links are affiliate links. A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

    Believing Differently: Exploring Religious Diversity in Teen Fiction

    I grew up knowing I was different because of what my family believed.  We were Christian, but we were outside of the mainstream enough that even as a kid, I stuck out.  As an adult, I’ve chosen another minority belief:  non-belief.  The number of non-religious people is growing, but many people (myself included) still perceive a stigma to the point that we are careful to avoid the topic altogether or avoid using certain labels–like atheist, for example.

    I watch my daughter play with her young friends, and I wonder what her experience will be like–how much it will match my own.  She won’t have to go to the library during class holiday celebrations as I did, but she will at some point be set apart by what we have chosen.  For as much as I am trying to create a safe space of exploration of science, religion, and philosophy for her, she will eventually encounter people who want to push her out of that safe space into one label or another.  That thought makes me nervous.

    That thought is part of what the Books for Secular Families series is all about.  I believe that education and stories are the first step to confidence and compassion. I grew up with stories, and I am grateful every day for my mom’s willingness to let me explore the world through stories so freely.  It was in a story that I first encountered the idea of a non-religious family and the idea that a child’s spiritual identity could be separate from the family’s.  Now, this is one of my core values.  Everyone is on their own journey–even our children.  Beliefs are not hereditary.

    As I read Sarah Dooley’s Body of Water, which is a novel aimed at middle schoolers, I wondered if my daughter would ever lie about our family’s beliefs to fit in, if she would be embarrassed to be outside the mainstream.

    In the book, twelve-year-old Ember has a lot she would like to keep secret.  Her family is homeless as a result of a fire, and they are living at a campground for the summer.  She lets the other kids at the campground think her name is Amber because that’s more normal than the nature-derived name her Wiccan parents gave her.  Ember knows from experience that not everyone will be friends with someone whose family worship nature.  My heart just about broke for the girl as I read her thoughts that if she wants any friends, she has to keep the spiritual part of her life to herself.

    I think that any child in a family whose beliefs–religious, political, or whatever–are outside of the mainstream will be able to relate to Ember’s reluctance to share her family’s religion.  Ember’s unsent letters to her former friend throughout the book offer an intro to Paganism as Ember gets her chance to say what she’s always wanted to say to the friend who shunned her because of her religion.  It’s very informative.  Paganism and Christianity have more in common than one might think, and Ember lets loose with the facts she usually keeps to herself.

    I just wanted to take Ember and all the other children who feel pressured to be the same label as their friends or who have been shunned by anyone because of their or their family’s beliefs and keep them safe until we have created a world in which children don’t have labels and they don’t automatically get the one’s their parents have.

    Let’s work on that one, okay?

    Also pictured above: Girls Don’t Fly by Kristen Chandler (which I blogged about here) and Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (which is about a Muslim teen who decides to start wearing a head scarf)

    Disclosure: links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!