Category Archives: teen

Why you should not mess with the nice ones


Millie has her share of burdens to carry – her weight, her parents’ fears, her own fears, obnoxious boys who think it’s funny to torment the fat girl.  But she has a secret spine of steel which she hides under her sweet smile and good manners.  The world is not going to bring this girl down.

It’s bizarre, really, that Julie Murphy managed to take such a unicorn and stardust gal and match her up perfectly with a fallen mean girl like Callie, but it works.  There are all kinds of disasters and misunderstandings and no shortage of drama, but this one’s a treat.  There might not be quite as much Dolly Parton as I’d like. (See here.)

But there’s oh so much to love.

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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Parallel worlds, similar crap

an-unkindness-of-magicians-9781481451192_lgMagic and the mundane operate in the same but sometimes separate spaces.  It’s not like Harry Potter, this author seems to say.  Then again, power, revenge, and secrets are universal.

Sidney’s lived her life, if you can call it that, apart from the magical world until she’s somehow able to escape the horrors of her childhood.  Her choices will certainly upend the magical establishment and expose uncomfortable truths about what magicians have accepted in order to maintain their status quo.  And there is an evil twisting in and through the whole fabric of the magical world.  It might destroy it, unless something can stop it.  Will she be that something?

I’m not sure it matters that this book is about a magical world.  The magic is an elegant, challenging, and complicated thing, but you could translate the story into more realistic settings, and it would simply be a great story about persistence and overcoming institutionalized whatever.

But the magic adds to the beauty and horror of the story.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it–about the choices the characters make, how power corrupts, and how good people let things slide or stand up.  I can’t always remember what I read last week if I don’t check my own blog postings, so believe me when I say it’s great, people.  Don’t miss this one.  Neil Gaiman likes it, too.

(Also, even though this book’s in the adult science fiction/fantasy at our library, it would be a great one for older teens.)

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

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Graphic novel? Picture book? Both?

small thingsI hadn’t thought about it lately, but this book reminded me that even the shape of a book sometimes leads you to make assumptions about who it should speak to.  This one is big, like a picture book, although the format is more graphic novel-like.  There’s no real text to help you out, either, and it’s all grayscale, so even the colors don’t clue you in.

It could be a way to talk through how the small things in life wear at you, tear you apart, leave you without defenses to meanness or negativity.  It could be a path into a discussion about depression and how it affects people (large and small).  It is on the edge of breath-taking and has a hint of hopefulness about it, but only at the very end, and that feeling for me does not overwhelm the sadness or grayness of it all.

I showed it to my husband who doesn’t read many picture books or graphic novels, and he commented that it really wasn’t what he expected.  Exactly.  It doesn’t make it better or worse, but it left me wondering if I needed to have a stronger opinion about it than just, “wow.”  See what you think.

small things  by Mel Tregonning

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Dreamers and doers

reboundare your choices still bronze, not quite perfect but trying?

when you leap for an apple, do your fingers touch air?


do you smile at a challenge, at the roxies and cjs?

do you trust too much, when your voice isn’t clear?


strong women, strong men

they make up a family

you are part of that, too

young charlie, chuck bell

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Rebound, Kwame Alexander’s stellar new novel in verse.


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A creepy one, if you like that kind of thing

hazel woodThere’s a moment in this book when I gasped and slammed the book shut.  Is that a good thing?

Shutting the book didn’t change the ending, of course, or what Alice was going to have to endure before the last page.  Melissa Albert masterfully weaves fairy tale storytelling with modern life, action movie visuals and the twists and turns of a thriller.  And maybe you can consider it a compliment that I had bad dreams a few nights while reading it.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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Good surprises.

prince dressmakerLooking at the cover, I was not so sure if we were leaning towards traditional fairy tale or girl power story with this one.  But what the heck?  It’s a graphic novel, I thought.  It won’t be long, and I can always bail on it if it’s too sappy, I thought.

Then BOOM, several pages in I find myself thinking, “Welllllll, I was not expecting that.”  That might apply to a lot of things, but definitely fits this book.  It probably reveals some privilege and/or bias on my part that I was surprised, but that was quickly followed by thinking what an excellent story it really is.  There’s friendship, love, secrets, family drama.  This book has it all, along with some painful moments and realizations about growing up and becoming who we are meant to be.  They do live happily ever after, though, which is maybe the thing we should focus on and hope for, right?

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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Girl power — now with comics!

brazenI know.  I’m a total sucker for exactly this kind of book – cool stories about smart women, fun facts, charming and engaging illustrations.

You might say I’ve been glowing and gushing about a lot of books lately, and you’d be right.  This one is really, really good.  Really.  There are a few women I knew already and many I didn’t, but all of their stories are compelling and just plain fun to read.  I read the whole thing in two days, but I could easily see reading one biography a day, or just going back and rereading the book several times to look for little details I missed.

It might be especially wonderful to me–I do love me some women’s history–but the format is one that would appeal to all kinds of people from teens to old ladies with open minds.  It’s the way it’s told that really made it come alive.  And although some people might be uncomfortable with its discussion of controversial topics, others might find that to be a great selling point.  We all know there are nice books about super amazing women out there, but somehow they don’t all sing, do they?  Too much dense text on the page?  Boring pictures?  Not much zing?

I don’t know what it is, but this one has exactly the right combination of all the things I want to read, maybe more than once.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu

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Dive in

love hateMaya’s life is full of all the usual teenage stuff – figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life, navigating changes in your family, friends, and romantic life, and dealing with jerks who range from stupid to mean to dangerous.  And she’s got some added challenges in her immigrant parents who want her to stay close to home for college (while she dreams of New York) and are already planning to marry her off to a suitable boy.  And she’s Muslim, too, in a predominantly white community, with some people who are quick to label people who are “different” terrorists.

Love, Hate & Other Filters diverges a bit from similar stories by adding a window into the mind of the terrorist who’s planning an attack which might upend Maya’s life.  His thoughts break into the flow of Maya’s busy life, poisoning the happiest moments a little, but doing it in a way that reminds us all of how fragile life and love really are.

There are many windows into lives here, and many reminders that whatever the choices in front of us, there’s a whole history spreading behind us, too.  Does it weigh us down so much that we can’t keep moving forward?  Do we let it change us, or do we choose to leave it behind?  Can we forge a different path?

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Not much of a review – more of a rant

truly dYou’ve been warned.

Fortunately I didn’t read the inside flap of this book until I was halfway through it.  The first of a murder-mystery trilogy?  Grrr.  I am so tired of trilogies and duologies and sequels right now, mostly because they mean I have to wait!  Grrr.

And then when the new book comes out, I have to decide if I’m going to reread the previous one or just trust that the author can whip together something to remind me of all the important stuff without weighing the first five chapters down with explanations.  Not many people can do that well, you know.  And then there are the cliffhangers, which sometimes don’t age so well during the wait.  Maybe a character escapes or disappears towards the end – are they dead or just plotting an evil return?  Who knows?  Do I care?

Is this delicious and wonderful to someone?  I sometimes end up feeling like I’m just being played, and not in a brilliantly twisty, sneaky way.  It doesn’t really make me inclined to gush about a book and wait enthusiastically for the next one.  Honestly, this is the whole reason I quit reading Rick Riordan’s myth-inspired books.  The afternoon my son binge-read one of his newer books and came out annoyed about the obvious ploys to set up the next book – well, that was the day I quit reading them.  I like those books; really, I do.  But the author lost me as a reader when I understood I wasn’t the only one who felt completely and obviously manipulated.

But this is not about Rick Riordan, is it?

Truly Devious will apparently be a trilogy, and if it were all out now, I’d just charge ahead and read the next two.  Why?   Despite everything I said up above, it sort of won me over.  It’s a wonderful homage to classic mysteries – the isolated location, the quirky characters with lies and secrets strewn behind them, an imperfect but brilliant detective,  a creepy rhyme or two, and oh, so many twists and turns.  I read the whole thing in less than a day, and I loved it, right up until the point when someone conveniently disappears through a secret passageway, and one final big surprise is cast at our feet.  But will either of those things bother me?  I guess I’ll have to read the next one to find out, won’t I?

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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Pain finds its voice

neverthelessOne of my library friends passed this on to me not long ago, suspecting that I might appreciate both the language and the art of it.  Many of us have revisited long-set-aside incidents in the wake of the #metoo movement, either in quiet moments on our own or while chatting with our previously labeled “feminazi” friends.  Now we are part of something bigger, right?

speakI started reading this new graphic novel version of Speak just a day or two after getting O:the Oprah Magazine’s March 2018 issue.  (I don’t read a lot of magazines these days, but once in a while, I’ve been known to splurge on a magazine subscription.  My $5 is paying off big-time now, too!) If you have time to seek it out, take some time to appreciate the #USTOO art on page 105. It is painful to read, but most women I know can relate to multiple incidents on it.  Key to what it and some of the pieces accompanying it relate is the fact that change will not come from silence.  We are not alone, but if we keep things quiet, we feel like we are, and things don’t change.

Melinda feels like she’s alone, despised, ignored, and so many other adjectives.  Her story – being raped at an end-of-summer party by a popular predator – comes out over the course of her freshman year.  The art in this version is brilliant, highlighting and connecting the words and story with images that make you feel it all the more intensely.  Can she see the people who would help her?  Can she trust the people who are supposed to be supporting her?

This moment is the perfect one for this book – one more opportunity to start some tough conversations with young people, as well as our friends, partners, families.

Speak: the graphic novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

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