Stuff for the Teen Age
BLC's Favorite YA Reads of 2017
Written with Elisa Garcia
In 2017, there was a plethora of new YA fiction making a splash! A little friendly competition among your Bronx Library Center YA librarians made our year of reading more interesting. When the final tally came in our team had read nearly 150 books! While we of course try to stay up to speed with books that were new on the scene in 2017 (The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a unanimous favorite), we also found some hidden treasures published in previous years. Check out our book reviews below for a few of our favorites... Stop by the BLC Teen Zone and we’ll tell you about some more!
Ms. Hannah’s Favorite Reads of 2017:
The Hate U Give (2017)
By Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give takes a close look at race relations in the United States. Readers follow the protagonist, sixteen year old Starr Carter, as she navigates the aftermath of witnessing one of her best friends being shot by a police officer. Starr watches as the justice system falls into the pattern of justifying the police officer's actions and criminalizing Kahlil using his race and background against him. As the sole witness to the shooting, Starr must determine if and how she wants to communicate Kahlil's side of the story. This is complicated by the fact that Starr leads two lives, one at her private school comprised mostly of white upper class kids and another in Garden City, which is also referred to as the 'Ghetto.' Thomas draws on experiences from her own life to create the two lives of Starr. The rhetoric that Starr hears at school and home are vastly different and as her two worlds begin to collide Starr is forced to make difficult decisions in her relationships with those closest to her, including her parents, friends (school and ghetto), as well as her white boyfriend.
At its heart, this is a book that seeks to increase awareness and understanding of the prejudice that is present in our culture. Readers can get a sense of where the prejudices have evolved from and how it can be combated. Starr will take you on a journey of self discovery that will hopefully help many others find their voice and embark on their own journey to combat and expose racism.
VERDICT is that this is a must read book, and if I had to choose the book that left the greatest impression on me this year it would be this one. I personally believe that this is a novel that will touch readers of all ages and race. As a white woman, there are elements of Starr's story that I cannot personally identify with in my own life, but that does not decrease the amount of empathy that I have for her story and in fact gave me a lot of useful context for the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a novel that can help anyone struggling to understand racial prejudice and inequality while at the same time hopefully inspire a new generation of social and political activists.
Making Bombs for Hitler (2017)
By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Making Bombs for Hitler tells the shocking and lesser known story of the slave raids conducted by Nazis in Eastern Europe during World War II. Our narrator, nine year old Lida, is Ukrainian, not Jewish, but she and many other Ukrainian and children are ripped away from their homes and subjected to many horrors at the hands of Nazis. Lida tells readers about her experience as a slave laborer, or Ostarbeiters, after being kidnapped and sent to a concentration camp. One of the youngest prisoners to survive the initial selection process, Lida must work extra hard to prove the value of her work to the Nazis in order to stay alive. Lida's determination to survive is reinforced by her determination to find her younger sister Larissa whom she is separated from shortly after the two are kidnapped. Lida is a charming narrator who will have readers rooting for her survival and success as she works to find beauty in the most horrible of places and inspire those around her to survive as well.
VERDICT this book is a must read for any history buff. It is an important piece of historical fiction writing that tells the story of Ukrainian child slave labor during World War II. The young age of the narrator, but Lida’s emotionally maturity and the gravity of the subject matter make this story accessible to readers ages nine through adulthood.
One of Us Is Lying (2017)
By Karen McManus
This story begins when five high school stereotypes walk into after school detention. There's Bronwyn, the brainiac, Addy, the superficial beauty queen, Cooper, the school dream boy and baseball star, Nate, a convicted criminal, and Simon, an outcast. But detention doesn't go as planned when first everyone is distracted by a car crash that happen right outside the classroom and then shortly after Simon has a severe allergic reaction that winds up with him dead. These things could have been a coincidence, but as the police begin to investigate it becomes clear that someone (one someones) may have wanted Simon dead. Simon wasn't your typical outcast, he was one that everyone knew as he created and ran an app that spread all of the juiciest gossip at Bayview High. Lots of people could have wanted him dead and the four people he was in detention with had additional incentive as Simon had dirt on all of them that was set to be posted online. As the police circle, Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper, and Nate must figure out who they can trust and if they should band together to prove their innocence or fight for their own future.
VERDICT is that this is a book that libraries will have trouble keeping on the shelves. This book starts of with a bang and will keep teen readers entertained right up to the end. The book switches narrators with every chapter taking you into the mind of Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper, and Nate, which makes it accessible to male and female readers alike. It's an intriguing look at how the same event can be seen and experienced differently by people. You won't know who to trust and won't want to stop until you reach the end!
Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time (2017)
By Tanya Lee Stone
Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time is perhaps the most moving book I have read in 2017. Tanya Lee Stone was inspired to write this book as a companion to the film documentary Girl Rising. She felt there was more of the story to be told and wanted to continue sharing the profiles of girls in countries around the world as they are deprived of an education and in many cases basic human rights. As Stone points out, it is easy to take certain things for granted, such as free public education, when you live in a fully developed country. This book asks readers to take nothing for granted. The resilience of the girls here is inspiring as they face unimaginable situations that range from slave labour to sexual abuse with little hope of escape unless aided by an outside individual or organization. Readers will hopefully be moved to want to make a difference in these girls lives. And another cool aspect of the book is that it provides resources that will enable anyone to make a difference. There are tips on how to get involved in social activism and/or with one of the non-profit organizations mentioned in the book.
VERDICT is that this is a must read for boys and girls both young and old. If you can't find a copy in your school or public library request that they purchase a copy. This book helps drive home the importance of education across genders and highlights the difference that it can make in our world economy and culture. Stone's text is concise and paired with extraordinary photography that enhances the emotional potency of the book while also making it a relatively quick read.
Far From You (2014)
By Tess Sharpe
Sophie Winters has defied the odds of death on multiple occasions as the survivor of a terrible car accident, as a recovering drug addict, and when confronted by a masked man with a gun deep in the woods. Sophie's best friend Mina is not so lucky—she does not walk away from the confrontation with the masked man and Sophie is the only one who knows what happened. Unfortunately, when drugs are found at the scene of the Mina's murder, Sophie is deemed an unreliable witness and the incident is written up as a drug deal gone bad. But this is not the truth. At the time of the incident Sophie had been clean for over sixth months, but no one will believe her. Instead, her parents ship her off to a rehabilitation facility for three months and Mina's killer is allowed to walk free. Sophie is determined to return home and catch Mina's killer, but she'll need help from new and old friends, as well as family, in order to solve the mystery. Author Tess Sharpe tells the story from Sophie's present interspersed with memories from before the car accident and before Sophie's death. Through these various timelines, a thrilling and intricate story is woven about love, friendship, and drug addiction.
VERDICT is that this book will strike a cord with a wide array teens. Tough topics such as drug addiction and sexuality are covered in a realistic way that can help generate conversation and awareness for anyone who may be struggling personally with either or both issues.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2007)
By Alison Bechdel
It is only appropriate that Alison Bechdel, a prolific cartoonists with pieces published in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Slate and others, would pen her memoir in the form of a graphic novel. Bechdel explores her relationship with her father whom she finds out was a closeted homosexual following his early death. Her father's death, which comes shortly after Bechdel reveals to her parents that she is a lesbian, occurs under unusual circumstances which she speculates may ultimately mean suicide. This is a difficult story that is made more accessible with Bechdel's dry sense of humor and quirky artistic stylings. It is a story that is relatable in many from her difficult relationship with her parents, to her exploration of sexuality, and ultimately her very real processing of grief.
As someone who has previously worked for The Public Theater, the off-Broadway theater where Fun Home the musical was first produced, Alison Bechdel's story is something that I have heard about, but had somehow resisted reading until recently. I attribute my lack of initiative to a personal reluctance to read biographies and nonfiction in general. Having now read Fun Home, I can guarantee it is a book that I will read again in the future and would recommend to older teens and adults, including those reluctant to read nonfiction.
Annie On My Mind (1982, reprint 2007)
By Nancy Garden
Sometimes it takes meeting the right person to help uncover a part of yourself that until that moment had remained undefined or perhaps even unnoticed. That's what happens for Liza Winthrop when she meets Annie Kenyon. When seventeen year old Liza stumbles upon Annie singing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art she feels an instant connection with mysterious girl and instantly wants to know more about her. As the girls grow closer, it becomes apparent that both desire more than a simple friendship. While Annie has known for sometime that she is a lesbian, it is the first time Liza has ever put a name to the feelings she has had. The two go on a journey of exploration as to what it means to be a lesbian couple in the 1980s, keeping their relationship a secret for as long as possible until it is exposed by a homophobic woman at Liza's school who catches the girls in an intimate moment. In the aftermath, Liza is struggles to reconcile what happened and it is through her memories that we are told the story, waiting eagerly to find if the girls love will be able to overcome the diversity they face. It is clear that months later Liza still has Annie on her mind, but will she be able to fully accept herself and get Annie back in her arms.
VERDICT is that this is a novel that transcends time. Annie on My Mind was first published in 1982 and has since been recognized as a historic piece of literature within the LGBTQ genre. This moving story does not read as though it was written in a different century though and it is only the absence of certain technology that marks its time (i.e. the girls call each other on landlines instead of via cellphone). The narration will hold the attention of teens and adults alike as you go on a journey of self-discovery and first love.
Ms. Garcia’s Favorite Reads of 2017:
I am Alfonso Jones (2017)
By Tony Medina, John Jennings (Illustrator) Stacey Robinson(Illustrator)
I am Alfonso Jones takes a look at the Black Lives Matter movement from a teen perspective and magically meshes it together Shakespeare’s Hamlet. All Alfonso wanted was to play Hamlet in his high school's hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play Hamlet and buy his first suit. Unfortunately life had other plans and Alfonso finds himself on a ghost train with individuals that have lost their lives due to police brutality in the past. I read many books this year, but this one really touched me to core, made me cry and question many things about current events in our society. I loved the diversity of the characters, the artwork and the brilliance of being able to communicate events from the past with current events it's definitely magic and a must read for all!
We Are Okay (2017)
By Nina LaCour
Everyone deals with grief differently even though it's a universal feeling. In, We Are Okay we get to experience grief through Marin who leaves California to start a whole new life without anyone from her past.
Even though this is a very quiet book it's a book that deals with relationships, emotions and you get to feel everything Marin is feeling which is a truly unique experience being able to connect so strongly with a character. Reading this book will be a memorable experience, I know that it has been for me and am looking forward to reading other work by Nina LaCour.
The Upside of Unrequited (2017)
By Becky Albertalli
This is one of those super good feels, beautifully written books that you find reminiscing about. Molly has had twenty-six crushes, she crushes hard and way to often and she can’t believe crush #27 wants to make its way to her. Molly has decided that she’s had enough of this crushing business, and then there comes Reid the Tolkien superfan who also happens to be Molly’s co-worker and possibly crush #27. Molly is one of my favorite characters of 2017! Even though I am a grown-up there’s so much of Molly in me that while reading the book I felt that Becky Albertalli wrote this book just for me. Cheers to all the Molly’s out there and thank you Becky Albertalli for bringing her to life!
Now or Never! Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Infantry War to End Slavery (2017)
By Ray Anthony Shepard
This is the story of George E. stephens and James Henry Gooding. These two incredible men were part of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry and the black regiment of the Civil War. This is a very well researched book with excellent primary sources and a new fresh perspective about this little known part of history and the incredible men that led this mission. This is an important addition to Civil War history and am so glad teens and adults will get the opportunity to learn about the role these men played in American History. I was truly touched by their bravery and search for justice.
The Nowhere Girls (2017)
By Amy Reed
This is a really important book and correlates perfectly with currents events of 2017. The diversity and depths of the characters make this book relatable and extremely important. Feminism and rape culture are meshed together into this book creating thought provoking questions and an amazing story for men and women. I felt empowered reading this book and I can’t stop recommending this memorable, life-changing book for everyone!
Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics (2017)
By Margarita Engle and Illustrations, by Rafael Lopez
I loved learning about all of the people featured in this book! It was really cool to collectively learn about the contributions by these Latinos in America and other Latin American countries and the Caribbean. The artwork is vibrant and beautiful and it's a great addition to your classroom library and to share with students any time of the year, but especially fantastic during Hispanic Heritage Month!
You’re Welcome, Universe (2017)
By Whitney Gardner
This book represents diversity at its best! This is the story of a teenager named Julia. Julia is deaf, but this doesn’t define her. This book gives us the opportunity to learn about deaf culture and the complexities and extreme measures graffiti artist take to share their artwork with the world. This book has super cool elements of diversity—the inclusion of artwork made this book fresh and different. Julia is my favorite vandal and heroine... Pretty much she rocks!