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Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

There are some books that are so hard to describe and I’ll Give You the SunIllGiveYouThesun by Jandy Nelson (the 2015 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature) is one of them. So the best thing for me to do is keep my description very brief, lest I ruin the book for you. Jude and Noah are twins. At the beginning of the book, at age 13, they are as close as twins can be, knowing how the other feels, thinking what the other thinks without verbally communicating.

Noah is a geek with few friends. He draws constantly, both in his mind and on paper. Jude is beautiful and popular, and as most teenagers will, she rebels against her mother by wearing short dresses and lots of make-up. She too has artistic talent.

Jude sees the ghost of her paternal grandmother, Grandma Sweetwine, on occasion (as did her mother).  Grandma Sweetwine compiled a ‘bible’ of home remedies, superstitions and more, such as “A person in possession of a four leaf clover is able to thwart all sinister influences.” Jude believes these remedies and carries onions around for good luck or sucks lemons to dampen love.

But things change very quickly.

There are so many things that make this book special, the least of which is that Noah’s story starts at age 13 and Jude’s starts at age 16. Each of the characters have such distinct personalities. They are each hiding something major that will have a huge impact on other family members. Some of the characters seem larger than life. Noah talks in colors. Jude talks in home remedies. Grandma Sweetwine floats around in flowery dresses.

Nelson’s use of language, especially when describing what Noah sees and feels is unique. Her plot is unusual. Her characters are vivid. While I found the beginning a little slow going, by page 50 or so I didn’t want to put it down. So, if you’re looking for a book like no other that you’ve read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson will be that book.

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TellMeAgainTell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, is a pleasing, low key romance–much more low key than her debut novel If You Could Be Mine. Leila knows her crush on girls would devastate her Iranian born parents…confirmed by the fact that a neighbor disowned their son when he came out. As a result, she can’t tell her parents or her perfect sister, Nahal, the apple of her parents’ eyes, so she thinks. She doesn’t want to be disowned, unloved.

When a new, beautiful girl, Saskia, transfers to her school and shows interest in Leila, she’s ecstatic. She can’t stop thinking about her, her looks, the smell of her hair, the feeling as their arms brush together. She has high hopes that Saskia will become her girlfriend. But Saskia is erratic, sometimes encouraging, sometimes conniving and sometimes hurtful.

At school, all students must have an extracurricular activity. Since Leila’s no athlete, it takes little encouragement from Saskia to convince Leila to drop soccer and try out for the school play together, Twelfth Night. Although she doesn’t get a part (and Saskia does), Leila agrees to work backstage where she meets Tanya, Simone and Christine, the rumored stereotypical ‘backstage lesbians’.

While all of this is going on, Leila reconnects with a childhood friend, Lisa Katz, who had migrated to the ‘in crowd’ at school, leaving the Lisa/Leila friendship in the dust.

(Possible spoiler) I’ll admit that parts of the story are predictable, as is the ending (but it’s the ending you want). But that doesn’t detract from this sweet story. Leila is like any sixteen year old in the throes of love, regardless of whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual love, whether you’re a guy or a girl. Her insecurities about romance will resonate with most teens, since both genders go through the heartbreak of romance at some point in their young lives.

Additionally, we all think we know our siblings, only to find out they’re totally different than our image of them. Nahal is no exception.

And finally, the book reinforces the unconditional love that a parent has (should have) for a child.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel will make any romantic feel good, which is certainly how a crush should feel.

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Better late than never, right?  Here are my picks for the 10 best YA books that I read in 2014 (in alphabetical order by author’s last name):

ImpossibleKnifeOfMemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Hayley and her father have been traveling as he looks for a place he can settle down in after returning from Iraq. As they try to settle in his hometown, Hayley attempts to balance a normal teenage life including school, friends, and a new boyfriend with constantly worrying about worst-case scenarios she and her dad could face.

TornAwayTorn Away by Jennifer Brown – When a tornado strikes Jersey’s hometown in Missouri, her house and neighborhood are destroyed, but her losses cut much deeper: her mother and five-year-old sister are among the many killed in the storm.

LastForeverLast Forever by Deb Caletti – Tessa, a high school junior, has been having a hard time since her mother died a few months ago. Her mother’s last gift to her is a one-of-a-kind heirloom plant that Tessa must protect. When her father decides they should go on an unplanned adventure to the Grand Canyon, Tessa brings her mother’s fragile plant along for the ride.

VeryNearlyHonorableVery Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson (more middle grade than YA, but wonderful just the same) – Fledgling pirate captain Hilary bravely engages in nonpiratical behavior to rescue kidnapped friends and expose chicanery in high places. Hey, don’t forget the gargoyle!!!!!

ReturningToShoreReturning to Shore by Corrine Demas – A thoughtful teen reconnects with her nature-loving father on Cape Cod. Fourteen year-old Clare is less than thrilled with her mother’s plan to have her spend three weeks on a remote island with her father, Richard. She hasn’t seen him in twelve years, and they only speak on Christmas. This coming of age story takes place on Cape Cod. What could be bad????

SeptemberGirlsSeptember Girls by Bennett Madison – Before the school year is over, Sam’s dad quits his job and takes the 17-year-old and his older brother, who’s home from college, to a sleepy Outer Banks beach town for the summer. Sam’s mom left abruptly months earlier and the three are still reeling from her sudden departure. Ensconced in a rundown rental, the boys spend the summer partying, swimming, and trying to get to know the beautiful, blond, ephemeral-looking girls who seem to be everywhere in town.

PositivePositive: A Memoir by Paige Rawl – Rawl’s journey from secrecy to acceptance of her HIV-positive status, thanks to her friends and family, makes for a compelling memoir. As a child, Paige saw her daily doses of medicine as normal—not strange at all. It wasn’t until she was in sixth grade that her mother told Paige that she had been born with HIV. That revelation ends her idyllic life in Indianapolis forever

WeAreTheGoldensWe are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt – Sisters Nell and Layla were once so close Nell thought of them as Nelllayla. But as they enter high school, the two siblings are drifting apart and Nell feels a tremendous sense of loss. At first, Nell is not sure why, but then she learns Layla’s secret. Nell is having her own struggles after she hooks up with a boy at a party.

BrownGirlDreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – A multiaward-winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer. Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina.

FallingIntoPlaceFalling into Place by Amy Zhang – High school junior Liz Emerson hovers between life and death in the hospital after purposefully running her car off the road, while friends, teachers and curious classmates gather to stand watch and hope for the best. Strategically timed flashbacks to weeks, days and minutes before the crash, some voiced by Liz’s platitude-spouting childhood imaginary friend, reveal a wealthy, popular girl tortured by regret over her cruel actions against others. The amazing thing is that this was written by a teenager.

These are just the 5 star books. If I included the 4 1/2 star books, we’d be here until 2016.

 

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Sixteen year old Devorah Blum is a such a good Hasidic girl, she’s nicknamed LikeNoOtherfrum Blum. It is nearly Rosh Hashanah and she’s at the hospital awaiting the arrival of her 18 year old sister’s first child. She’s in the waiting room sitting next to her brother-in-law, Jacob. It’s hurricane weather outside.

Taking the elevator down to the cafeteria, the electricity goes out and the elevator stops. That’s a problem in and of itself. However, the even bigger problem is that there is a 16 year old boy, Jaxon, in the elevator as well, and good Hasidic girls are not allowed to be alone with members of the opposite sex, regardless of the circumstances. As Devorah squats in the farthest corner of the elevator car, long dress draped over her legs, Jaxon starts talking to her. Against her better judgment, she begins to respond, his easy going manner and genuine interest a far cry from what Deborah’s used to.

As any astute reader will surmise, Jaxon is not Jewish. Additionally, he is Black, so he’s got a double negative against him. Before you know it, there’s an attraction between them and they are sneaking off to see each other, the consequences (especially Devorah’s), if found out (and you know they will be), be damned.

LaMarche paints what I’d consider a realistic picture of Hasidic life and thought, and the actions taken when a young girl rebels against Hasidic life. (Interestingly, I don’t recall reading any books about males exploring outside their very insular life. If you know of one, I’d be interested.) Having witnessed first hand what the Hasidic community will do when someone dates outside the religion, the actions taken by Jacob and Devorah’s parents do not surprise me.

While I thought at some points that Devorah’s actions and transformation were not realistic, I discovered, as I thought about it, that my thoughts changed. When a girl who is brought up all her life knowing she’ll get matched to a suitable mate and ‘learn’ to love him after marriage, experiences a physical and emotional attraction to someone for the first time, she could very well consider it love. (It might or might not be.) And given Devorah’s spunk, she’ll pursue it as aggressively as she can, bearing in mind the tug of war she’s having between her upbringing and family vs. her freedom.

And when a young man meets a girl who is so not the average girl he’s used to meeting, he too may interpret it as love, whether or not it truly is, and pursue her aggressively.

Like No Other is a powerful story. I can understand both Jaxon’s and Devorah’s emotions, their longing for each other. Devorah’s struggle to align her religious upbringing and beliefs with her desire to explore the outer world is true. Contrast that with Jaxon’s more liberal, more understanding family and you can understand Devorah’s turmoil.

I just need to say that insularity of Hasidic Judaism is not unique. There are many nationalities and religions that frown upon young women venturing out on their own, where parents determine the lives that their daughters, especially, will lead. And therefore, this book should resonate with young girls wherever they may be.

We, more liberal folk, tend to think that the whole world is in the 21st century, but clearly that is not true. Definitely give Like No Other a try.

 

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 BrownGirlDreamingwinner of the National Book Award for Young Adult literature. In this novel in free verse, Ms. Woodson takes us on a tour of her childhood in Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. In the same soft voice with which she speaks, she tells of her loving family in South Carolina, her grandfather Gunnar who acted more as her father, her Jehovah’s Witness grandmother, her brothers and sister and her dreams.

In both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the former a recently desegregated Southern state and the latter a theoretically liberal minded Northern borough, she felt the impact of racism. In South Carolina, Blacks still went to the back of the bus to avoid conflict. There were stores that Blacks didn’t enter because they were ignored or because they were segregated prior to desegregation. In Brooklyn, there were streets Blacks didn’t cross because they took them into the white neighborhoods.

Ms. Woodson talks about her feelings of inadequacy when compared with her older sister who was considered gifted. She talks about wanting to be a writer, but reading initially didn’t come easy to her. And, as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, a young Ms. Woodson was caught up in the idea of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and the ideals of the Black Panthers.

Brown Girl Dreaming is eloquent. Her life and emotions, such as being sad when the Woodson children had to go in earlier in the evening than other children in the neighborhood, come to life. There are vivid images of both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the contrasting surroundings, soft cool green grass vs. hard, sharp concrete sidewalks, the sweet smell of rain vs. the non-smell of rain. Through it all, it is the bond of family that shines.

Many times I’m not in agreement with the judges of book awards, but Jacqueline Woodson, author of such Young Adult classics (or just classics) as If You Come Softly, Miracle’s Boys, Hush, and Locomotion, is a worthy recipient of the National Book Award Prize. Readers of all ages will get lost in the story telling of her books.

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I must be in the ‘mother recently died’ phase of my reading. LastForeverFirst it was Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw and now it’s The Last Forever by Deb Caletti. Tessa’s mother died three months earlier of cancer. She and her hippy, pot smoking, old tv show watching father, Thomas, are having a rough time of it. The only tangible thing Tessa has from her mother is a rare plant, a pixiebell, that has been kept alive since her grandfather Leopold stole the seed decades ago. Her mother took it everywhere and so will Tessa. She’s determined to keep it alive.

When her father suggests a road trip to the Grand Canyon a week before school ends, Tessa has no recourse but to go. She packs the pixiebell and its flower pot in an old shoe and cushions it well in a box so it won’t get tossed around on the trip. The road trip takes a few extra turns and Tessa and Thomas end up at his mother, Jenny’s house in Parrish Island, WA.

Her father leaves suddenly saying he needs time alone leaving Tessa with a grandmother she hasn’t seen or heard about since she was a toddler. It is certainly awkward.

It is in the Parrish Island library that Tessa meets Henry Lark, who will become the love of her life. It is also in Parrish Island that the pixiebell starts to droop. Tessa and Henry and a cast of several others vow to save the plant.

What did I like about The Last Forever? So many things. Caletti has developed wonderful characters: Tessa and Thomas, Henry, Jenny, the library staff of Sasha and Larry, Jenny’s art class students. The list goes on. They are colorful and caring. If I had to pick a community in which to live, these would be the people I’d like to live amongst.

Second, the library plays a prominent role in the story. As a librarian, that’s heart warming.

Third, every chapter starts with information about a seed. I love gardening and flowers and seeds. They intrigue me. That’s why I’ve read A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette, Who Named the Daisy by Mary Durant and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell. Seeds are fascinating.

FortunesOf IndigoSkyeI learned something from this book. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault does actually exist (you’ll find out how it fits into the story when you read the book). It is located in the permafrost of the mountains of Svalbard, Norway and is dedicated to retaining the diversity of food crops.

And finally, it’s just a fun story. There are twists and turns that keep you reading.HoneyBabySweetheart

I’ve read several of Deb Caletti’s books: The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, The Nature of Jade and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

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OhYeahAudreyEver since, as a young child, Gemma Beasley saw a photo of Audrey Hepburn, she was in awe of her. Her beauty, her fashion, her stature, her presence. Three months ago, when her mother passed away, she started her blog, Oh Yeah, Audrey!. She posted photos daily of Audrey.

When it was announced that there would be a midnight showing of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Ziefield Theater in New York, she decided that she’s sneak out of her Philadelphia home, not tell her lonely, over protective father, and spend a day in HollyGolightlyNew York, touring Holly Golightly’s haunts, culminating in a viewing of the movie. She booked a cheap hotel in Chinatown.

Oh Yeah, Audrey opens with Gemma standing in front of Tiffany’s at 5 AM dressed in a long gown, a tiara in her hair, big sunglasses, holding a cup of coffee and a pastry, just like Holly Golightly. She’s hoping that her internet friends, Bryan from California and Trina from Colorado show up, as promised. When they do, Gemma hands them the one day Holly Golightly itinerary. Later, they’re surprised to meet up with Telly, an Audrey Hepburn naysayer who posted negative comments on Oh Yeah, Audrey. Telly begs to be included in their threesome, having seen the light about Audrey, but not for her beauty and fashion, but for her humanitarian works.

A fifth musketeer appears in the form of Dusty, an exceedingly rich New Yorker who Gemma helped with a school assignment on fashion and movies. He woos Gemma, who then must decide to accompany her friends for their night out or go out with Dusty.

I was first introduced to Tucker Shaw through his book Flavor of the Week. His books are enjoyable, light reads which have a moral at the end. Oh Yeah, Audrey! is no different. Gemma goes through a journey of self discovery. Her mother always used to tell her that she needs to figure out who she is and by the end of her New York stay she has. Shaw deals with the loneliness of a parent/spouse’s death. He points out the dichotomy between Hepburn the fashion icon vs. Hepburn the humanitarian. Unfortunately, in many cases the former out shadowed the latter.

I must admit that Oh Yeah, Audrey! has awakened my interest in Audrey Hepburn movies and I may go on a Hepburn binge. I won’t memorize the lines of Breakfast at Tiffany’s but her classics such as Sabrina, Charade, Roman Holiday, Wait Until Dark and my all time favorite movie, My Fair Lady are definitely worth a visit.

So read Oh Yeah, Audrey! for both an enjoyable book and a rekindling of your interest in Audrey Hepburn.

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