Fiction

The following fiction titles span a variety of genres and topics, but all have elements that will resonate with teen readers.

 
 

Far From the Tree, Robin Benway

ISBN: 9780062330628. HarperTeen, 2017.

 

Plot Summary:

Grace has always known she’s adopted; with a loving adoptive mother and father, it hasn’t mattered much to her. But when she’s finds herself pregnant before graduating high school, and tossed aside by her boyfriend and his family -- who worry about “his future” and not hers -- she begins to wonder about her biological family more. As she struggles with the decision she made to put her baby up for adoption, she’s told the truth: she has bio siblings. Thus begins the relationship with Maya, a younger sister who was adopted into a rich but struggling family, and Joaquin, who was put into foster care and has been through it all, including racism and abuse. Together, they tackle heavy issues: should they find their mother, who gave them up and abandoned them? Can they count on one another as their own found families start to fall apart? As they go through their own struggles -- Maya’s relationship with her girlfriend and her adopted family spiral out of control, Joaquin can’t accept he deserves the love he’s found with his foster family, while Grace must learn to accept the decision she made -- they learn the shocking truth about their biological family, and must find a way to come to terms with it -- and each other.

 

Critical Evaluation:

Benway’s strength in this novel are characters; while the plot is intriguing, it is the characters who make the story so compelling and touching. Benway does this by giving her characters distinct voices to help differentiate each shift in POV; as the most level-headed character, Grace serves as the reader’s anchor, leading the reader through the story amidst all its turns. On her own, Maya could be too much for the book, with her sarcastic humor and tendency to dominate all conversations quickly overtaking the scenes, but when juxtaposed with the quieter Joaquin, the narrative seems effortless. The twists and turns in the story -- the alcoholism of Maya’s adoptive mom and the strain it puts on her family, the accident that gets Joaquin kicked out of his prior foster home and the ways in which he self-sabotages -- are revealed not just as elements to keep the reader intrigued, but to support character development. We see Grace grow to accept new people into her life, and to come to terms with giving her daughter up, as we watch Maya find her place in both of her families and begin to heal her relationships, from her adoptive sister, adoptive mother, girlfriend, and eventually biological family. Perhaps the most agonizing of all, we see sweet, stoic Joaquin finally grow to understand he’s not broken or flawed; his family, biological or foster, love him just the way he is. What could come off as the script for a cheesy TV show instead is a heartfelt take on the issues teens face today, wrapped up in timeless themes of family, loss, and healing. Benway’s care for her characters and the effects these issues have on real teens is evident; at no point do the lives of these characters feel exploited or sensationalized.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

It all starts when Grace gives up her baby for adoption. She thinks she’s losing everything, but with long-held secrets around her now unraveling, she may have found more than she could ever hope for.

 

Author Biography:

Robin Benway is a National Book Award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author of six novels for young adults, including Audrey, Wait!, the AKA series, and Emmy & Oliver. Her books have received numerous awards and recognition, including a 2008 Blue Ribbon Award from the Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, 2009's ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and 2014's ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. In addition, her novels have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and have been published in more than twenty countries. Her newest book, Far From the Tree, won the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was published by Harper Teen on October 3, 2017.

Robin grew up in Orange County, California, attended NYU, where she was the 1997 recipient of the Seth Barkas Prize for Creative Writing, and is a graduate of UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she spends her time hanging out with her dog, Hudson, making coffee, and procrastinating on writing.

Source

 

Genre:

Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

Health Education

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Fancasting - Present the bare bones of the book and ask teens to cast the TV series/movie

Worst/Best -- Ask teens to think of the absolute worst and best media about adoption and teen pregnancy, and what they learned from these books/TV/movies

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

14+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-teen pregnancy

-teen adoption

-lesbian relationships

-alcoholism/substance abuse

-mild drug use

-language

-racism

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

Often, teens shy away from award-winners, especially if they’re not regular readers. This book has literary merit and elements that a reluctant reader will like — interesting, relatable characters with a sensible pace and plotting. It deals with heavy issues without preaching at teens, and leaves them wanting more.

 


Heretics Anonymous, Katie Henry

ISBN: 978-0062698872. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018.

 

Plot Summary:

Michael’s used to moving. Sure, it’s not how he wants to spend his high school career, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen. Until he’s enrolled in a Catholic school. As a “devout” atheist, Michael can’t imagine a place he’d hate more. His father, whose job forces his family to constantly relocate, doesn’t seem to care that Michael’s angry (and isn’t home often enough to notice, anyway), and his mom just wants to keep the peace. Michael’s certain he’s about to be miserable.

Until he meets Lucy, who challenges the Catholic teachers . . . and wants to be a Priest. Lucy introduces Michael to an secret society called “Heretics Anonymous,” created for students who can’t fit in to the Catholic school culture. Lucy is a strong Catholic with an equally strong feminist streak; Avi is Jewish and Gay; Max likes to wear capes and has an uncommon sense of humor; and Eden is a Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan. Together, they vent about school and become close (especially Lucy and Michael), and decide to take action against what they see as injustices in the school. Soon, everyone is talking about Heretics Anonymous and some of the hypocrisies in the school. When Michael decides to take an extreme step in their fight, sparked by unexpected news from home, Michael finds that some risks may not be worth taking.

 

Critical Evaluation:

Two of the strengths in Henry’s book are the language and characterization. She takes what could be an obnoxious character — a confident teen boy who’s on a mission to tear down others’ beliefs — and makes him endearing, sympathetic, and humorous. Readers will laugh at Michael’s jokes and quips without being distracted; the reading experience is much like talking to a witty friend. The dialogue was realistic, even if the secondary and tertiary characters had blended voices that could have been expanded. While Michael’s beliefs never change, he becomes more empathetic and understanding of the beliefs of others, including those of his devout Catholic girlfriend, Lucy.

Michael’s growth as a character is also reflected in his relationship with his father. Henry used a nuanced characterization for his father — it is easy to see how Michael becomes frustrated with his father’s absence, while seeing how his father feels the need to be successful at his job so as to better provide for his family. Throughout the book, they argue and the tension rises; the moment that sparks his extreme action (leaking HR files about school employees via vandalism) is when he finds out that after falling in love with Lucy and finding a home in his school, he must move to Belgium. After confessing to his crime, Michael is redeemed and makes amends. His father is able to communicate why he values his job so much, and Michael is able to better empathize and control his anger.

While the book may seem to exist only to denigrate Catholicism and organized religion, Henry provides a balanced perspective on faith. No person is perfect in the book, and no religion is either. The lesson that Henry provides is that we must learn to live alongside each other peacefully, with full respect of each other’s beliefs and world views.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

Michael, a “devout” atheist, is forced to attend a strict Catholic school. What could go wrong?

 

Author Biography:

Hi! My name is Katie Henry, and I write books and plays for and about my favorite demographic of people: teenagers.

I spent my own teen years in Berkeley, California, an ultra-liberal college town where adolescent rebellion takes the form of eating refined sugars or voting Republican. I moved to New York City for college and decided to stay, even though the avocados here frequently disappoint me.

My interests include feminist/liberation theology, medieval history, and overthinking absolutely everything.

Source

 

Genre:

Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

Social Studies, Religion/Philosophy/Ethics

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a part of something secret and special? Meet Michael, an atheist who joins a secret society at the Catholic school he’s forced to attend.

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

13+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-LGBTQ identities

-violence

-religion

-criticism of religion

-vandalism

-underage drinking

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

Not many YA books touch upon religion, especially from an atheist’s POV. In addition, this book was well-written and engaging, with memorable characters and an interesting plot that had deeper meaning to anchor it. Teens with an interest in religion will enjoy the complex discussions included, and appreciate the maturity and intelligence with which the teen characters are written.



All the Truth that’s in me, julie berry

ISBN: 978-0142427309. Speak, 2014.

 

Plot Summary:

Judith cannot speak — but her truth could save a town, and save herself.

Years ago, Judith vanished from her home, and so did her best friend. While Judith made it back home to Roswell Station, her friend didn’t — and Judith knows why. Returned to her home disfigured and with a mutilated tongue, Judith’s mother is so ashamed of her that she forbids her to speak. Judith finds herself invisible in her town; every one ignores the mute girl. She spends her days doing chores for her mother, the head of he family after her father passed away, and pining away for her childhood friend, Lucas. While Lucas may not notice her, she certainly notices him; with nothing to focus on, she places her hopes on him, even if he’s engaged to the prettiest girl in the community.

But when Roswell Station is attacked, Judith must make a decision: risk Lucas losing his life, or confront her captor. With this decision, Judith will be forced to reveal her truths, or lose everything.

 

Critical Evaluation:

One of the more controversial choices Berry made with this title is the point of view; she employs a second-person narrative for Judith. Judith narrates her thoughts to Lucas, her love interest and former friend, throughout the novel. Given that Judith does not speak to anyone for a large part of the novel, this device allows the reader to connect to Lucas and learn more about Judith. As Judith pines for Lucas and watches him, we do the same. Berry makes this choice even more successful with her writing, which can often be striking: “Like the clanging of the bell, the truth crashes in upon me. At last I understand. He took away my voice to save me. And now, to save myself, I take it back.”

While the characterization in this novel is masterful, another strong aspect of this book is the plotting. Berry sets up Judith’s world slowly, allowing us to see the world from her perspective. Berry leads us to believe that the Colonel kidnapped Judith’s friend; it’s never directly stated, but Berry leads the reader to believe this. When the truth is revealed, it is not a cheap trick or lie to the reader, but instead an example of Berry’s craft.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

Judith can save her town, the people she loves, and herself . . . if only she can speak her truth.

 

Author Biography:

Julie Berry grew up in western New York. She holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. 

"The Emperor's Ostrich," Julie's newest middle grade from Roaring Brook, earned a Booklist star. "The Passion of Dolssa" (Viking, 2016), won an ALA Printz Honor, was a New York Times Notable title, earned five stars, and was named to many best of year lists. Her middle grade novel, "The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place" (Roaring Brook, 2014) received an Odyssey Honor, was named a Wall Street Journal Top Ten Children's Book of 2014, and was named to the Dorothy Canfield Fisher list. "All the Truth That's in Me" (Viking, 2013) was Julie's first YA novel. It has earned starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly, BCCB, and the Horn Book. It's been named a Horn Book Fanfare title, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013, a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013, and a Junior Library Guild selection. It was shortlisted for a Carnegie Medal and a YALSA BFYA award. It was published in 14 international countries and territories. Julie is also the author of "The Amaranth Enchantment" and "Secondhand Charm" (Bloomsbury) and the "Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys" series (Penguin Books for Young Readers). Julie's works appear in audio and international versions worldwide.

Source

 

Genre:

Historical Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

History

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Explain Judith’s dilemma (without giving spoilers) and ask teens what they’d do.

If you could set a novel in any time period but the present or future, when would you set it?

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

14+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-violence/assault

-attempted sexual assault and harassment

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is an excellent, well-written novel that touches upon tough topics. While it doesn’t shy away from them, it treats them gently. With twists and turns, teens will be entertained and eager to know what will happen to Judith.


The Falconer, Elizabeth may

ISBN: 978-1452128771. Chronicle Books, 2015.

 

Plot Summary:

In 1844 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Lady Aileana Kameron finds herself living a double life, and doing so quite poorly: as a young aristocrat, she’s expected to act as a lady would. She should behave with decorum, protect her modesty, and attain lavish events, all with the intention of attracting a wealthy and well-bred suitor. But her other life’s getting in the way, quite literally: she finds herself slaying faeries at society events.

When Ailieana finds her mother being killed by a faerie, she knows that she must seek revenge. Aided by her own inventive mind, strength and instinct, and a mysterious and arrogant faery dedicated to taking down his own kind, Aileana hunts faeries, all while looking for the faery that killed her mother. With enviable skill and an expert by her side, Aileana is a force to be reckoned with.

But when she discovers some shocking truths about herself, and the large threat looming over Edinburgh, she must use all her strength to face her greatest enemy yet.

There are two more books in the series: The Vanishing Throne and The Fallen Kingdom.

Critical Evaluation:

Although this book may seem very similar to other books and TV shows — Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any YA fantasy novel in the last ten or so years — its likable characters and refreshing lack of tropes set it apart. May sets up Aileana early in the book to have two possible love interests: Kiaran, the mysterious faery, and Gavin, the brother of her best friend and her childhood crush. When a misunderstood incident forces Aileana to enter an engagement with Gavin to save her reputation, this love triangle seems sealed. Yet May veers off from this common trope and reveals that neither one is romantically interested in the other; they are simply platonic friends. This was a refreshing choice that pushed the story farther and gave the series more potential, and gave more agency to Aileana.

Aileana was a well-drawn heroine. Often, heroines in YA will be too perfect, save for clumsiness or self-sacrificial tendencies (Bella from Twilight being an excellent example of both) or too strong and hard to relate to. Aileana was a realistic, intelligent young woman. She is an inventor and very quick-witted, and has excellent instincts. Yet she can also be impulsive and may not always think of the consequences of her actions. She is caring, but also has an extreme focus on finding her mother’s killer that distracts her from other important areas of her life. She is a well-developed, fully fleshed-out character that teens can appreciate and admire.

Reader’s Annotation:

It’s 1844 in Scotland and Lady Aileana Kameron does all the things an aristocratic young woman does: attends dances, has excellent manners, and . . . hunts faeries?

 

Author Biography:

Elizabeth May is the author of the The Falconer Trilogy (The FalconerThe Vanishing ThroneThe Fallen Kingdom) and contributor to the anthology Toil & Trouble. Her work has been published in ten countries, and was an Indie Next Pick, an Amazon Book of the Month, a Green Mountain Book Award nominee, and a Scholastic Reading Club pick.

She grew up outside of Los Angeles, where she spent most of her early years dragging books from the library to dinner tables, restaurants, classrooms, and family vacations. Eventually, she tried telling her own stories, writing about people in places she had never been to, but longed to see.

With writing came her love for travelling. Elizabeth went to the rugged landscapes of New Zealand, the coral reefs of Australia, the plains of Canada, thirty-nine US states, and briefly stopped in Vermont to earn her BA at Marlboro College. One day she landed in the United Kingdom, fell in love with Scotland, and decided that was where she belonged.

Inspired by the mysterious, dark, winding alleyways of Edinburgh and the fairy legends of Scotland, Elizabeth wrote her debut novel, The Falconer. One summer, she finished editing the book, held her breath, and sent it out into the world. The Falconer was published two years later.

After earning her PhD at the University of St. Andrews, Elizabeth committed to writing full time. When she isn’t trekking around the Scottish Highlands, hiking mountains and taking photos, she’s imagining stories about complicated girls and writing them down. Elizabeth lives in Edinburgh with her husband and two cats.

Source

 

Genre:

Historical Fantasy

 

Curriculum Ties:

N/A

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Show (or make!) a trailer for the book, along with fan art.

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

13+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-violence

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is a fun fantasy novel set in historical Scotland that weaves in faery lore. With a strong and likable main character, interesting potential love interest, and exciting plot, this will be sure to please fans of Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 



landscape with invisible hand, m.t. anderson

ISBN: 978-0763687892. Candlewick, 2017.

 

Plot Summary:

Adam’s an artist: it’s how he copes with his life now that the vuuv have landed and taken over everything. While the vuuv have introduced new technology, they’ve also put millions of people out of work. After his father leaves and his mother still can’t find a job, Adam finds a new way to support his family: showcase his relationship with his new girlfriend, Chloe. They broadcast dates, hang-outs, and conversations, all with a 50s tone: the vuuv think human culture is classic Americana, and value it highly. While the arrangement is lucrative for the couple, the intense pressure to perform starts to wear them both down. When Chloe picks a new boy, the vuuv cancel their contract, forcing Michael to pay them back. Sick with a chronic illness he can’t afford to treat, Michael’s big chance at saving his family may rest with his art: but what will he sacrifice to save them?

 

Critical Evaluation:

This short novel packs a punch, and uses events in the novel to make a commentary on our society. The vuuv’s fascination with (and misinterpretation of) human culture, as well as their fixation on 50s Americana, is a parallel to the ways in which many idealize and romanticize the past, and overlook many of its problems.

The pressure that Chloe and Adam face to perform and be perfect for the vuuv’s viewing also relates to the ways in which we all perform and perfect ourselves for social media. Each word and conversation Chloe and Adam share is artificial and carefully cultivated, much like the social media habits of many. The harmful effects this has on their relationship speaks to the fact that social media, personal “brands,” and image has on our own psyches.

The ending message of the novel is that resistance might not always take the form of overtaking the enemy, but can consist of smaller victories. Unlike other dystopian novels, the ending is not a tragic battle, but instead the start of a new life with a world of possibilities for Adam and his family. They may not have “defeated” the vuuv, but they have reclaimed their lives.

Reader’s Annotation:

The vuuv have landed, and they’ve promised humans a better life. But what will the humans have to sacrifice for this new life?

 

Author Biography:

M. T. Anderson is the author of The Game of Sunken Places, Burger Wuss, Thirsty, and Feed, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Source 

Genre:

Science Fiction 

Curriculum Ties:

N/A

Booktalk Ideas:

Ask teens to draw what they think the vuuv look like.

What would aliens think about our culture?

Age Range or Reading Level:

13+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

N/A

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This short book would be appreciated by both traditional science fiction fans and fans of blockbuster dystopians; readers who like more nuanced novels that make you think would like this novel, too. It also depicts a boy with a chronic illness, which is rare in YA.

 



the price guide to the occult, leslye walton

ISBN: 978-0763691103. Candlewick 2018.

 

Plot Summary:

Nor Blackburn knows she has a strange family — it’s a family of generations of witches, all blessed with one power, or “burden.” On her little island in the Pacific Northwest, it’s seen as normal for the Blackburn witches to use their powers for good — except for her first ancestor, Rona, who was detested and feared by the villagers. And for Nor’s mom, but Nor can’t talk about her mom without thinking of blood. Her blood, spilled on a roof . . .

Nor has more than a few secrets. The scariest? That unlike the other women, she doesn’t just have one burden . . . instead, she finds herself with powers she struggles to control. When her beloved home seems to be under threat, and her mom is a famous psychic and witch fooling millions of people into following her, will Nor be able to use her powers to save them all? Or will she be like her mother and Rona, and hurt everyone she loves?

 

Critical Evaluation:

This is a beautiful, atmospheric novel that uses magical realism and imagery to tell a haunting but ultimately powerful tale of self-acceptance. Nor was used by her mother to create magic, and her mother hurt her; Nor struggled with this and hurt herself. While she can resist the urge now, she still feels and craves the pain and certainty it brings. Nor’s struggle with self-harm and self-loathing is believable and heart-breaking, but luckily she is able to move past it and take control of her powers.

The imagery and symbolism in the novel is striking; Nor’s mother, Fern, has ferns tattooed on her body, and on the body of her followers; we also see ferns come to life and try to hurt Nor. Throughout the novel, the animals and nature become part of the book; partially because Nor can communicate with them, but also because they signal the coming threat and help add to the mood of the story. The magical realism in the novel is supported by the strong, varied female characters in the book, who support one another.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

Nor has many secrets . . . but her biggest one could save them all.

 

Author Biography:

Leslye Walton was born in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps because of this, Leslye has developed a strange kinship with the daffodil--she too can only achieve beauty after a long, cold sulk in the rain. She was named a William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist for the publication of her novel The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. The book received several accolades, including the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Pacific Northwest Book Award, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award, and was short-listed for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. The book was also number one on the Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List, and was named one of the best books of 2014 by Publishers WeeklySchool Library Journal, the Boston GlobeBustle, Hudson Booksellers, Amazon, and more. 

Leslye is a full-time writer currently living in Seattle, Washington with her chihuahuas, Mr. Darcy and Doc Holliday. Her next novel, The Price Guide to the Occult, comes out March 2018. 

Source

 

Genre:

Magical Realism

 

Curriculum Ties:

N/A

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Fancasting - Present the bare bones of the book and ask teens to cast the TV series/movie

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

15+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-teen pregnancy

-violence

-self-harm

-suicide

-implied rape/sexual assault

-murder

-witchcraft

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is a beautifully written novel that offers a captivating plot and language along with an important message about self-acceptance. 


  


the astonishing color of after, emily x.r. pan

ISBN: 978-1510102965. Orion Children’s Books, 2018.

 

Plot Summary:

Leigh knows two things 1. her mother is dead and 2. her mother is a bird.

Leigh’s mother committed suicide and she doesn’t know how to cope with it, especially because she was busy kissing her best friend when her mother died. Overtaken by guilt, Leigh wonders if she could have done something to stop it had she been there. Then again, her mother had been suffering from depression for some time. Leigh, wracked by guilt, finds herself unable to sleep and cope with the loss.

As she grieves, she meets a large red bird outside her house, and somehow becomes certain that this bird is her mother. Soon, she receives a package of photographs that only could have come from her mother. Taking this as a sign, she and her father go back to Taiwan, where her mother was born, in the hopes of meeting the bird again. She’s never been to Taiwan, and her mother was very secretive about her past, but this journey might just bring her back.

Told through both vivid flashbacks and present-day, we discover the truth with Leigh about her mother.

 

Critical Evaluation:

Told in the magical realism style, this novel depicts the truth of loss: the pain may never go away, but it does ease. Leigh is a likable and three-dimensional character with flaws; as the reader, we wish we could intervene and tell her to say what she feels to her mother, her best friend, and her father. The other characters are flawed as well; her maternal grandparents made mistakes, but it is easy to see how they regret their actions. Similarly, Pan creates a complicated father figure; often the antagonist to Leigh’s dreams of being an artist, one can see how he wants more for her, and why he leaves so often for work — he thinks it’s helping the family, when in reality it drives them apart.

Pan’s language is beautiful, and there were many passages that were striking: “once you figure out what matters, you'll figure out how to be brave.” Told in small snippets ranging from a page to ten or so pages, and through flashbacks, the narrative is easy to follow and the reader is eager to find the red bird along with Leigh.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

After her mother commits suicide, Leigh knows what she must do: follow her to Taiwan, where she is now a bird.

 

Author Biography:

Emily X.R. Pan lives in Brooklyn, New York, but was born in the Midwestern United States to immigrant parents from Taiwan. She received her MFA from NYU, where she was a Goldwater Fellow. She is a co-creator of FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology, and a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Djerassi.

Source

 

Genre:

Magical Realism

 

Curriculum Ties:

Cultural Studies

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Leigh experiences emotions as colors. How would you describe your emotions in colors? How would your choices be different from those of your friends?

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

15+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-mental health

-teen sexuality

-suicide

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is a powerful, beautiful novel about grief and the lengths we go to in order to heal. Teens will relate to Leigh and her emotions, and her struggles with her best friend, as well as dynamics in her family.

 


  


you bring the distant near, mitali perkins

ISBN: 978-0374304904. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

 

Plot Summary:

Spanning generations, You Bring the Distant Near is the story of women accepting themselves and learning to love one another, and opening themselves up to the possibilities of life.

Sonia and Tara are sisters, raised by their Bengali parents in India, London, and later, New York. Sonia is a quiet, bookish girl with an activist streak: when she’s passionate about something, she will speak up — even against her mother. Tara has dreams of being a star, but feels limited by her grades, and hides behind her beauty. How will they pursue their dreams?

Shanti and Anna, cousins, couldn’t be less alike. Shanti is biracial — African-American and Bengali — and she’s an athletic, confident girl who does not understand why she can’t simply be both black and Bengali, and why her family is so divided. Anna, who grew up in India, will do anything to preserve her culture; she protests against Shanti’s American ways and wants to say 100% Bengali. Will they learn to get along, and can they learn from each other?

Finally, Ranee struggles with loss and must find a way to move on, and embrace her new identity as an American.

 

Critical Evaluation:

This novel remains upbeat despite the grief and other topics handled in it because it has a heart. It is easy to see that Perkins loves her characters; they are written with such care, even though they are flawed. Each character is distinct and adds to the story; for example, the examination of Ranee and how she embraces her American identity at the end of the novel ties it together, and gives her character complexity. It does not excuse her earlier behavior, but it makes her realistic; people do make mistakes and can be forgiven. Similarly, Anna at first comes off as prickly, but the readers soon can see her side and empathize. She does not want to lose what’s important to her.

It is a quick read, and easily could have been another hundred pages longer without suffering. While the writing is not lyrical or particularly striking, it does easily bring you into the worlds of the women, and makes you want to keep reading.

The multiple POVs were employed effectively, and helped to ensure that the reader never became bored.

Reader’s Annotation:

Follow the story of three generations of women as they learn to love themselves and each other in this sweet, heartfelt story.

 

Author Biography:

Mitali Perkins has written several novels for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near (nominated for the National Book Award) Rickshaw Girl (a NYPL best 100 Book for children in the past 100 years), Bamboo People (an ALA Top 10 YA novel), and Tiger Boy, which won the South Asia Book Award for Younger Readers. She currently writes and resides in San Francisco.

Source 

Genre:

Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

Cultural Studies, American Studies

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Would the story of your family make a good book? Who would relate to it?

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

13+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-racism

-death/grief

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is a book that features a variety of characters and personalities, and is one of the excellent diverse books that have been released in the last several years. It’s a sweet and ultimately uplifting tale that teens can read and relate to.

 


  


two boys kissing, david levithan

ISBN: 978-0307931900. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013.

 

Plot Summary:

Told through the collective voice of men who have died from AIDS, the book follows a cast of characters, all young gay boys, as they navigate their lives.

Craig and Henry want to break the record for the world’s longest kiss — after they’ve broken up. Craig hopes it might bring them back together again, but Harry doesn’t feel the same way.

Tariq wants to be brave, but he’s still scared from being attacked. How could they tell so easily that he’s gay?

Peter and Neil seem to have it all figured out, but can Peter really see how hard Neil has it?

Avery and Ryan want to be together, but if Ryan can’t let go of his anger, there might not be a future for them.

Finally, Cooper lives a hopeless and empty life; his only solace is the conversations he has with other men online. When his secret is discovered, he feels like he has nothing left. What will he do?

Critical Evaluation:

This is a brave book that takes risks; not many authors can take on such a unique narrative style. Rather than being distracting, the device is an inventive way to offer third-person narration, and adds to the novel. This novel handles contemporary issues and modern LGBTQ identities, but also shows that these identities stem from the lives of earlier pioneers, who braved the world when the world was far more cruel. The narrative is able to describe the events in the book and also provide a commentary on them, without making the reading a challenging experience.

The writing, particularly from the narration, is haunting: “we do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust. That's all we ask of you. Make more than dust.” There is such care for the characters through the narration, which helps the reader truly feel for them. Particularly in the case of Cooper, there is a sense of urgency in the novel; while the tone can often be sweet, with world record plot, there’s often this tension to the countdown, even before we know what Cooper will try to do. This makes the reading experience that much more exciting and interesting; one wants to savor the words, but is eager to see how the storylines will be resolved.

This book is essential because it so thoughtfully and honestly depicts issues that plague young gay boys.

Reader’s Annotation:

Harry and Craig know that beating the world record for longest kiss will be hard; what they didn’t know was how it would change their lives, and the lives of others.

 

Author Biography:

David Levithan (born 1972) is an American children's book editor and award-winning author. He published his first YA book, Boy Meets Boy, in 2003. Levithan is also the founding editor of PUSH, a Young Adult imprint of Scholastic Press.

Source

Genre:

Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

American History (AIDS crisis)

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Show the cover to teens. What does it tell us about the book? Compare initial impressions.

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

14+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-homosexuality

-violence

-domestic abuse/violence

-suicide

-mental health

-bullying

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is a brave book that deals with real issues to which teens can relate. It’s often missing or stolen from libraries, both from teens who desperately need it, and from those who would deny them access. It’s also been challenged. All of these reasons make it essential for a YA collection. 


Regugee, Alan Gratz

ISBN: 978-0545880831. Scholastic, 2017.

 

Plot Summary:

Josef, a Jewish boy in Germany, finds himself terrified one night when Nazis break into his home and take his father. When his father returns a different man, the family decides they must flee, or they’ll all be taken. But what they don’t know is that the journey to leave for safety in Cuba may be much more dangerous than they ever could have expected.

Isabel loves living in Cuba, but it’s getting more and more dangerous to live there. When an opportunity presents itself, Isabel and her family flee to the United States. But what if they all don’t make it?

Mahmoud lives in war-torn Syria. While his family is lucky and is able to survive, he knows that they can’t stay forever. When their house is bombed and they barely make it out, the family decides to leave. Yet the journey there is perilous, and they find themselves facing threats and losses they may not defeat.

Three stories, three children, and one connection they never would have expected.

 

Critical Evaluation:

Told through multiple POVs, this is an exciting, fast-paced tale with an important message. Gratz manages to make this historical novel a perfect parallel to the Syrian refugee crisis (which is also included in the novel); teens and other readers can easily see the plight of Josef and Isabel, and will understand how Mahmoud is just like them.

Gratz humanizes his characters extraordinarily well. Teens will relate to Josef having to grow up and take charge, and to Isabel yearning for a better future; they will see how Mahmoud just wants to be safe, and wants his family to be whole again. They are all believable characters you can’t help but root for. Those who may struggle to understand why people enter into countries illegally will be able to better understand the plight and perspective of refugees; as Gratz shows, no one wants to leave their homes and loved ones with nothing but what they can carry, but everyone wants (and deserves) to be safe, and sometimes that means making difficult decisions.

By using cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, Gratz ensures that readers will stay hooked and attuned to the story. Although he uses more accessible language, the story is still compelling enough for teens and adult readers.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud all have one thing in common: they’re refugees. What they don’t realize is how they’re all connected.

 

Author Biography:

Alan Gratz was born and raised in Knoxville, TN, home of the 1982 World's Fair. After a carefree but humid childhood, Alan attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a College Scholars degree with a specialization in creative writing, and later, a Master's degree in English education.
In addition to writing plays, magazine articles, and a few episodes of A&E's City Confidential, Alan has taught catapult-building to middle-schoolers, written more than 6,000 radio commercials, sold other people's books, lectured at a Czech university, and traveled the galaxy as a space ranger. (One of those is not true.)

Alan is the author of one of the ALA's 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, Samurai Shortstop (Dial 2006), and Something Rotten (Dial 2007), a contemporary young adult murder mystery based on "Hamlet." He is currently at work on a sequel, Something Wicked (Dial 2008), and a middle-grade novel about family, baseball, and American history, called The Brooklyn Nine (Dial 2009).

Alan now lives with his wife Wendi and his daughter Jo in the high country of Western North Carolina, where he enjoys reading, eating pizza, and, perhaps not too surprisingly, watching baseball. 

Source

 

Genre:

Historical Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

Current Events, History, Politics

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Imagine that you must leave the U.S. today or your family will be in danger. How do you cope? How would you decide what to bring? Where would you go?

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

13+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-immigration

-refugees

-violence

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is perfect for reluctant readers, or readers who need a fast-paced, action-packed story to keep them engaged.


the first part last, angela johnson

ISBN: 978-1442403437. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2010.

 

Plot Summary:

Bobby is struggling. He feels like he gets no sleep, no free time, and is exhausted all the time. He knew having an infant would be hard, but he didn’t know it would be this hard. But his love for his daughter brings him back to reality: he has to keep moving forward so that she can have a good life. He’s never known a love like this before, and all he wants to do is keep Feather, his daughter, safe and healthy.

Yet it all starts to get to be too much — can’t he be a teenager? Why does he have to do it alone? As the stress starts to pile up, Bobby starts to make decisions that get him in trouble. He must recognize what to do before it’s too late.

Through flashbacks, we see Bobby and Nia, his pregnant girlfriend, as they try to figure out how to navigate teenage parenthood and try to make the right decision for their child, and in the present-day, we see how Bobby must cope with the decisions he’s made, and make for a better future for his daughter.

 

Critical Evaluation:

Johnson creates a likable character in Bobby; he is sweet and his love for his daughter is endearing, but we can see that he’s also a typical teenager. He wants to be free, have fun, and not be exhausted all the time. He’s also dealing with the grief of being a single parent. Johnson manages to create realistic, believable characters in such a short book by focusing on plot. The writing isn’t the focus; the reader is meant to simply take in the words and experience the feelings of Bobby — we are not meant to appreciate the language or savor it.

The simplicity of the language does not mean that the book does not have any layers or meaningful themes; on the contrary, it offers a lot to think about. Teens reading along can ponder if Bobby made the right decision in not choosing adoption: should he have given her daughter up and grown up himself? Johnson explores the themes of adulthood and growing up without sacrificing the readability of her text. This book would be perfect for teens who struggle with issues like these and are reluctant to discuss them, but need to see that they are not alone in having to make these difficult decisions.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

Bobby is like any other teenager — except he’s a teen father, raising his infant daughter by himself. How can he make it work?

 

Author Biography:

Angela Johnson (born June 18, 1961) is an American poet and writer of children's books, with over 40 books to her credit since beginning her writing career in 1989. Her children's picture books are simple yet poetic stories about African-American families, friendships, and common childhood experiences such as moving. Her books for older children revolve around similar themes but also explore deeper issues such as teen pregnancy and divorce. In all, the characters are realistic and the treatment sensitive, positive, and hopeful. Many of Johnson's books have Alabama connections and several treat Alabama history, as do her picture books A Sweet Smell of Roses about the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965 and Wind Flyers about the Tuskegee Airmen, as well as her collection of lyrical poems The Other Side: Shorter Poems, which evoke Shorter, Alabama

Source

Genre:

Contemporary/Realistic Fiction

 

Curriculum Ties:

Parenting, Sex Education

 

Booktalk Ideas:

What are some of the more and less realistic books, movies, and TV shows about teen pregnancy and parenting? Do you think that having more media in society helps, or hurts?

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

13+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-teen pregnancy

-violence

-vandalism/crime

-adoption

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is very easy to read, and discusses issues teens face in a realistic way.

   


one of us is lying, karen M, mcmanus

ISBN: 978-1524714680. Delacorte Press, 2017.

 

Plot Summary:

Nate, Cooper, Bronwyn, Simon, and Addy all have their own secrets. But who doesn’t? When they all end up in detention one day, everything changes. Simon is murdered and every teen in the room is a suspect. After Simon, the creator of a gossip app, dies, secrets about all of the teens in room start to come out, and they all have motives.

Could it have been Nate, the loner and criminal, known for dealing drugs? What about Bronwyn, the quiet, smart, determined student with dreams of Yale? Cooper may be the guy next door with an enviable future in baseball, but what if he’s not all he seems? Finally, Addy, the popular and beautiful girl with the perfect boyfriend — what if she has a hidden side to her that no one else can see?

They all say they’re innocent, but one of them is lying. If they don’t find out the truth soon, one of them might follow in Simon’s footsteps.

 

Critical Evaluation:

McManus takes what could be a formulaic plot and cast of characters, and turns it into something exciting and refreshing. The novel is like Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club: there are twists and murder, and the pacing is fast, but there is also character development and clear consideration given to the tough topics that are being addressed.

The book handles issues like being gay and outed with grace; being neglected and abandoned by your family; feeling all of the pressure put on you, forcing you to crack; and feeling trapped in the expectations others have of you. All of the issues are treated with respect, and are not there to be sensationalized; for example, the outing of Cooper is shown rightfully as horrible and anxiety-inducing. We see the repercussions of this action, and see how important it is for teens to have strong support networks times of crises like this. McManus uses this opportunity to bring her characters closer together for the story, and to show how to be an ally to someone.

While the characters appear as stereotypes at first, this is intentional as the story develops their personalities and backgrounds as it continues. Told through multiple POVs, each voice is distinct and adds to the mystery, leaving the reader with red herrings. Teens can relate to the characters, if not the murder mystery plot, and see that they are not alone.

 

Reader’s Annotation:

Five students walk into detention. Only four students leave alive . . . when every one of them has a motive, how can you find out the truth? 

Author Biography:

Karen M. McManus earned her BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross and her MA in journalism from Northeastern University. When she isn’t working or writing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, McManus loves to travel with her son. The New York Times bestseller One of Us Is Lying is her debut novel. To learn more about her, go to her website, karenmcmanus.com, or follow @writerkmc on Twitter.

Source

 

Genre:

Mystery/Drama

 

Curriculum Ties:

N/A

 

Booktalk Ideas:

Fancasting - Ask teens to cast the characters.

Ask teens to give themselves labels — how they see themselves, and how others see them. Compare that to characters in the book, who have secrets of their own.

 

Age Range or Reading Level:

15+

 

Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation:

This book deals with many issues and experiences teens can relate to that may be challenged, including:

-teen sexuality

-LGBTQ identities

-violence

-murder

-plagiarism

-drug use

-abuse/neglect

Defense File:

Collection Development Policy

  1. Have readily available

  2. Have staff be familiar with the document

  3. Have staff know and be trained on how to use the policy in a conversation about a challenged book

  4. Have staff be familiar with the process of reporting challenged books

ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom

ALA Library Bill of Rights

ALA Document on the First Amendment & Censorship

ALA Challenge Support

ALA: How to Respond to Challenges and Concerns about Library Resources

Professional reviews, as published by Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus

  1. Staff should be familiar with these sites, and be able to explain why librarians use them

Rating and information found on Commonsense Media

Any applicable awards for the title or author

  

Why Included:

This is a fast-paced novel that tackles tough topics without sacrificing the writing or character development. It has relatable characters, and teens love the plot twists.