Category Archives: Young Adult Fiction

Full Ride

fullrideby Margaret Peterson Haddix

reviewed by Karina, Teen Advisory Board

From the moment this book starts it firmly attaches to your heart. It pulls at your heart strings every step of the way, through every wittingly titled chapter, through every dramatic sentence, through every span of drama. Full ride is truly a novel worth throwing away two or so hours of your life on. This story starts out in Virginia with our main character Becca. She and her mother have been in hiding for years and they want to escape the pain. The pain of what? Of her father’s many crimes putting them all in danger of Excellerand, a highly powerful corporation like Google. Becca never gets to see or hear from her father unless their malicious, power hungry lawyer gets involved. Becca and her mother flee to Deskins, Ohio where they can start anew, but even by moving Becca can’t achieve the one goal she has. All she wants is to go to college, but with her predicament she can’t…until she finds a scholarship.It’s a full ride scholarship and all of Becca’s friends want it too. It’s called the Whitney Court scholarship…

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Filed under college, Coming of Age, Family, High School, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction

Scrawl

By Mark Shulman

Published by Roaring Book Press

Copyright © 2010

Is there any way to reach a bully? Well I guess that depends why the bully is a bully.

Tod Munn is a bully. He’s the kid that intimidates you until you give up your lunch money. Unfortunately somebody else is horning in on his territory, so by the time Munn gets to his usual prey their pockets are empty. This isn’t sitting well with Tod and his “droogs”, so they are going to have to do something drastic. This time they get caught, but instead of expulsion the school counselor has a different plan. She sentences Tod to a month of detention with her, where he is to write in a journal every day. Tod might actually prefer to be with his friends who get assigned to outside clean up duty, at least then he could keep tabs on their mutinous ways.

The reader gets to view this story through the pages of Tod Munn’s detention journal. We slowly learn what landed Tod in detention and what his motivations are for bullying others. What we learn is that Tod is very smart, and even talented, but he is from the wrong side of the tracks trying to survive poverty and a bad family life. What we eventually learn is that some kids bully to survive, and some bully because their just mean. While neither path should be condoned the reader will come away with some empathy for Todd, because in addition to his other problems he is also being bullied just not in the straight up, physical, intimidating way that he bullies.

I love books that make me question my perception. Like most other people, I had been bullied a little bit when I was in school, and so I hate bullies. I root against them; I want them to get what they deserve. The assumption is that bullies do what they do because they are mean and horrible people.

 Mark Shulman tells us a story from the bully’s perspective though, and he helps us to see that it is completely conceivable that some kids bully as a survival mechanism. Again, it doesn’t make it right, but this story actually made me feel for the bully protagonist. So, now instead of saying – I hate bullies, I’m more likely to say – I hate bullying.

“Scrawl” is one of those stories that you know is good because you get so invested in the character that you want to know what he goes on to do when there are no more words for you to read. Tod is a character that many teens will be able to relate to whether they are a bully or a victim of a bully, and I can see this book as a great conversation starter.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Family, High School, Young Adult Fiction

Perpetual Check

By Rich Wallace

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 2009

“Two brothers. One championship.” One really annoying dad.

Zeke and Randy are brothers. Zeke is a senior and Randy is a freshman. Both play chess and are playing in a regional tournament in Scranton, Pennsylvania with the hopes of winning a $1,000 scholarship and an invite to the state tournament. Randy is easy going and friendly and Zeke is a bit of a jerk. Although these boys are very different from one another and don’t generally get along, It is at this tournament that they both reach their breaking point with their meddling father.

Not too long ago I read “One Good Punch” which was set in Scranton, PA as well, and featured a teen track star with a problem. Now reading “Perpetual Check”, I’m beginning to see that Rich Wallace really has a knack for writing quick reading sports dramas.

I really appreciated how in just 112 pages he takes us into the youth chess world, introduces us to a dysfunctional family, and presents us with signs of a resolution to sibling rivalry and parental interference. It isn’t burdened down with chess match details he just provides enough so that the novice and the experienced player get the picture. In addition, the resolution does not feel forced or contrived. While he occasionally gives us a glimpse into the past of these characters, Wallace mainly just gives us a day in the life of these two characters, and it just happens to be the day that they both come together and have had enough. Teens 13 and up will really be able to relate to this characters, and it may just spark their interest in the game of chess.

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Filed under Family, High School, Sports, Strong Sense of Place, Young Adult Fiction

Hitch

By Jeanette Ingold

Published by Harcourt, Inc.

Copyright © 2005

Moss Trawnley is 17 and he is doing everything he can to keep his family afloat. Considering that he is living during the tail end of the great depression and he still has his job at an airfield in Texas he feels pretty hopeful. He is able to send money home to his family in Louisiana every month, he is planning to go to radio repair school, and he has girlfriend named Beatty. However, when Moss suddenly loses his job his dreams seem to be turned on end.

After locating his father in Montana, Moss decides to sign up for a hitch with the Civilian Conservation Corps where he will get 3 squares and a cot and two-thirds of his pay will be sent home to help his family. Moss endures extreme weather and troublesome cabin mates, but he also learns what it takes to be a good man and a leader. He learns the meaning and value of hard work, helping others, and of loyalty.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s initial New Deal programs designed to put the nation’s young men to work during the Great Depression. They were charged with among other things the tasks of reforestation, dam and reservoir construction, and park restoration. Ingold tells a fascinating story that shows why a young man might join the CCC and what camp life might be like. 

More than just being an overview of the CCC though, she creates a likeable protagonist for us who is coping with internal and external conflicts. And she highlights the proper way to deal with those conflicts. While reading Moss’ story you are waiting for him to lash out because it is the natural first instinct, but he learned from his experience what happens when you do that. Moss is a flawed character but he is good at heart, accepts subtle direction, and learns the best ways to lead. 

In addition to Moss she shows young men and women who have many different talents and passions. I thought it was great that there were young men who loved to read and were good in the kitchen and that there were young ladies who were pilots and were interested in the family farm. It is a reminder that it is our abilities and interests that should guide our work and passions, not our sex.

While the characters in this story tend to be 17 and older, I feel that youths 12 and up would enjoy this story. This book would also be well used in middle/high school language arts classes to make a cross curriculum connection with U.S. History in particular the Great Depression and the New Deal era.

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Filed under Community, Family, Historical, Young Adult Fiction

The Book Thief (Must Read)

by Markus Zusak

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 2006

 

“The Book Thief” is a dramatic and amazingly haunting story of ordinary people in Germany during World War II. The perspectives of this tale, however, are anything but ordinary.

 

Death, it is everywhere. Dying of old age or sickness is bad enough, but oh so often humans die at the hands of other humans. It is a wonder we haven’t exterminated ourselves. In this story we are taken to a time and a place where this had never been truer – Germany during World War II. It is in this hellish place that the personification of Death chooses to show why we (humans) are worth the effort, and it is through the story of a young girl.

 

Liesel is on a train with her mother and brother. They are bound for the town of Molching near Munich where the two siblings will be left with new foster parents. On the train ride Liesel’s brother dies and she and her mother are forced to get off at the next stop to arrange for his burial. It was in this place that she stole the first of many books.

 

After her brother is buried they board another train to finish their trip. Liesel is left with her foster parents, the Hubermann’s. Rosa Hubermann is a loud woman with a lethal mouth and Hans Hubermann is a quiet man with a kind heart. It is in this home where Liesel learns to read, and it is here that she learns that words can have great power for good and for bad. Poor Liesel will see both first hand as her life intertwines with that of a Jewish street fighter, the German Jesse Owens, various fanatical Germans, and of course her foster parents.

 

“The Book Thief” is a different take on an often written about time period. Many Holocaust novels seem to be written from the viewpoint of a Jewish person; however Zusak’s protagonist is a young German girl who is displayed as something of a heroine. This is interesting to me, because we generally like to pigeonhole Germans from that era as being horrible people who were rabid supporters of “the Fuhrer.” Zusak puts some cracks in that stereotype, to help us see that there were those who were likely very good people, who were caught up in a very dangerous situation. 

 

I also thought that the author pulled off an interesting twist in perspective, by making the narrator of this tale be the death personified, the grim reaper if you will. I don’t believe in the immortality of the soul as the author suggests it at times; however as a fictional storytelling device it works well as a way to insert an outside/otherworldly view or opinion. I’m not sure if this has been done before, but I genuinely liked it. I think the story would have been good without it, but it is such an emotional tale that it helps give the reader some distance and some foreshadowing to prepare them for what is to come.

 

Though this book was written for young adults, some books transcend age limitations. “The Book Thief” tells a story that portrays what is beautiful and what is ugly about the human creature, and the way in which we use words. This book should be on the must read list of anyone 13 to 113.

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Filed under Historical, Young Adult Fiction

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

By Roald Dahl

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 1977

I know Roald Dahl by his children’s stories like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, and “James and the Giant Peach”. All of these books are filled with characters who experience extraordinarily impossible things which stoke the fires of the imagination.

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, and Six More” is a collection of Dahl’s Short Stories that are aimed at an older audience. Whether it is a children’s novel or short stories for adults, Dahl has a penchant for writing the amazing. In these stories there is a boy who talks to animals, a fingersmith, a Roman treasure, a boy who flies home, and man who learns to see without his eyes. Some of the stories are funny and other tragic but all are amazing, or in some cases amazingly odd.

On the whole I enjoyed reading this book. However there was a story or two that I didn’t particularly care for. When Dahl writes a story with miserably rotten characters they usually get theirs in the end; which I like. In “The Swan” he breaks that tradition and doesn’t give me any real closure on the story. Otherwise I loved the stories. “The hitchhiker” was particularly humorous, and “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” was an interesting fictional story of character transformation. This is a nice read for young adults (12 and up) and adults.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Fantasy, Short Stories, Strong Sense of Place, Young Adult Fiction

The Unidentified

By Rae Mariz

Published by Balzer + Bray

Copyright © 2010

What if Coke, Revlon, Taco Bell, and Apple ran the school systems? Wait don’t they already? Okay, what if they had complete control because they provide all the funding? It’s an extremely interesting question and “Unidentified” gives us a picture of it that eerily isn’t too far from what the reality would be.

15 year old “Kid” goes to school in the Game. The Game is an old mall that was converted into a high school which is run and funded by corporate sponsors. It is called “The Game” because instead of boring lecture like classes, students learn by playing games, completing searches, or watching movies. There is a price for having this much fun though, the corporate sponsors monitor the students by way of video cameras and keep track of their social networking pages in order to conduct market research. Students who prove that they are “trend spotters” can end up being “branded” or personally sponsored by companies and receive serious loot.

Kid is low-profile, she doesn’t much care if she was branded or not. She just likes hanging out and making music with her friends, Ari and Mikey. When Kid witnesses a slightly scary and realistic looking anti-corporate prank perpetrated by the “Unidentified”, her curiosity is stirred and she needs to know who they are and what the prank was supposed to mean. Her quasi-detective work leads her into a game of deception and backstabbing and she isn’t quite sure who to trust. Should she trust her friends, the corporations, or the Unidentified? The answer will definitely surprise you.

“The Unidentified” is a riveting story of teenage angst coupled, corporate greed, social networking, and suspense. I love this book because it is a pretty accurate look at the youth of today where social networking and having the right brands are all important. To me it is uncanny how close Mariz has gotten to what could happen. I mean, even though it is a work of fiction, it would not surprise me to see this happen to our educational system in the near future. Children and teens are already exploited by greedy corporations and media companies; a complete take over are the obvious next step. In addition, the Mariz describes the inevitable backlash and the fight for a personal identity and private life.

There is some mild language and some rather close euphemisms to beware of in this book so I would probably recommend it for youth ages 13 and up.

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Filed under Dystopian Future, High School, Suspense, Young Adult Fiction