I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

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Sarn, Amelie. I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister. Trans. Y. Maudet. Delacourte Press, 2014. Print. 978-0385743761. 160 p. $15.99. Gr.11-12.

Amelie Sarn’s short novel about two Muslim sisters living in the projects in France is an engrossing story that will linger in the mind of the reader long after the story has ended. The author notes that it was inspired by the murder of a young Muslim girl in France in 2002.  Written in the first person point of view of one of the sisters, Sohane, the story jumps back and forth between the events leading up to the death of the other sister, Djelila, and the present. Sohane had a typical love/hate relationship with her outgoing sister. Sohane is the quiet and more studious of the two and often cannot identify with her sister. While Sahone tries to embrace her Muslim identity, Djelila seems to want to break free from the life her Algerian-French family wants for her. Sohane is especially enigmatic.  The reader grapples with defining Safone as an individual, which perfectly reflects how Sohane views herself- as an enigma of sorts, with multiple personas based on her current environment, be it  at school, home, or on the bus. Her personal identity struggle reflects what many teenagers experience at various times. Sahone decides that to fully represent her faith she wants to wear a headscarf to school, even though this is illegal in France and causes problems for her. Djelila, meanwhile, becomes a target for young men living in their projects who are offended by how Djelila acts and dresses and begin following her.  Due to the violent nature of Djelila’s death and the serious subject matter, I recommend this title for older, more mature teens who can understand the differences between moderates and fundamentalists in any religion. There is an author’s note and glossary included, and these assist with the understanding of the novel.

Realistic        Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

When I finished reading this book, a friend asked me what I thought of it. Immediately, I said that while it was a difficult read, it is one that I feel is important to share with teens in the United States. It can sometimes be hard to understand religious persecution in our nation, where we value our freedom of religion. I was, however, apprehensive about sharing this text with teens because I did not want them to come away from it with a negative view of the Muslim faith. It is important for teens to see that there are moderates and fundamentalists in every religion, which is why this text is for teens who have matured enough to realize that fact and understand that one violent group does not represent an entire people or faith. I did book-talk this book for students, but primarily Honors English 11 students. It is an approachable book because the chapters are so short and the novel itself is brief. The plot grabs you from the beginning and the reader finds her heart breaking for the quiet Sohane. She is a typical teenager trying to define who she is and how she fits into her world, and many teens will relate to her story, especially those who are wary of following in the path that has been laid out for them. This would be an excellent story to spark conversation about religious tolerance as well as religiously-based violence against women, which is something the author mentions in her note at the end of the novel. I look forward to hearing what students have to share after reading this text.

 

Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter

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O’Porter, Dawn.  Paper Airplanes.  New York: Amulet, 2014.  978-1-41971-184-8.  254 p.  $16.95.  Gr. 9 and up.

It is 1994, and Renee and Flo are 15-year-old classmates at an all-girls school in Guernsey, a small island off the coast of France.  Although they haven’t spoken much in past years and seem to be complete opposites – Renee outspoken and unconcerned with her studies, and Flo quiet and studious – the two form a strong friendship as the school year progresses.  This friendship is threatened, however, when Renee starts keeping secrets and withdrawing from Flo.  Told through alternating first-person narrations, the story is infused with a bit of humor and plenty of realistic situations that every teenager faces at some point or another.  It is a quick read that will resonate especially with young women.

Realistic Fiction                    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

This book was a fast, easy, and enjoyable read that accurately portrayed adolescent friendship.  There was, however, a great deal of English slang that might confuse some students.  Cigarettes are referred to as fags, pants as knickers, making out with boys as snogging, and so forth.  This slang and the humorous voice with which the story was told reminded me of Louise Rennison’s works.  Another thing to note about the book is that there are some graphic scenes dealing with both sex and menstrual incidents.  It might be a book more suited for mature readers.

Last Days of Summer…A Little More of the Best of 2013 YA Literature

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Myers, Walter Dean. Darius & Twig. New York: Amistad, 2013. 978-0061728235. $17.99. 208p. Grades 8 and up.

Does it make a difference how you want to live your life if someone’s intent on messing it up?  Darius is convinced it does.  Living in Harlem where gangs and bullies are a perpetual threat, Darius tries to focus on doing well in school and helping his mom and younger brother at home.  His one ally and best friend Twig, a sensational runner, is being scouted by colleges, but both boys find it difficult to think of the future when they are bullied on a regular basis by Midnight and Tall Boy.  When the editor of the Delta Review becomes interested in one of Darius’s short stories, he sees an opportunity to escape Harlem.  As he ponders the revisions to make, though, he questions his character’s strength and reasons for pushing his physical limits.  The discoveries he makes register a little too close to his own life.

While teens strive to be accepted and admired, they also need encouragement and guidance to build friendships around faithfulness and honesty rather than popularity.  Darius & Twig is a story of hope and optimism as well as one of despair.  In Darius’s world, sometimes the two are so close, it’s impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Realistic Fiction       Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

 

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Coley, Liz. Pretty Girl 13. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2013.  978-0062127372. $17.99. 352p. Gr. 9 and up.

Angie Chapman stands alone on the outskirts of town.  She has just returned from a weekend camping excursion with the Girl Scouts.  A little confused as to why she’s clutching only a plastic bag, she timidly shuffles to her front door.  Expecting a warm homecoming, the shock and bewilderment on her parents’ faces startle her, but not as much as the realization that she’s been missing for three years.  Now Angie must work with her parents and the local police to piece together the facts of her abduction.  Only her receptive psychiatrist can help when she discovers there are multiple personalities occupying her mind.  With the help of several invasive psychotherapy sessions, Angie has a chance to heal, but her alternative selves may not depart willingly.

An incredible,  psychological thriller shrouded in mystery and evil, Coley explores dissociative personality disorder, identity, and the controversial methods and procedures used to treat individuals.  Angie’s childhood innocence was marred by sexual assault at the hands of  a beloved relative which only makes the reader’s empathy increase as she remembers more of her abduction and imprisonment.  Fans of Ellen Hopkins looking for a similar read won’t be disappointed.

Realistic Fiction, Suspense   Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Why We Took the Car…a Translation

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Herrndorf, Wolfgang. Why We Took the Car. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2014. 978-0-545-48180-9. 245p. $15.34. Gr. 9-12.

Any way you look at it, Mike Klingenberg is pretty boring. He doesn’t have many friends, and he doesn’t have a chance at getting the girl of his dreams, Tatiana, to ever take notice of him. But as boring as Mike is, Tschick is pretty unpopular too, for different reasons. Tschick is a newbie, but his clothes aren’t quite right and he has yet to stay awake for an entire class. When neither of the boys are invited to Tatiana’s birthday party when everyone else is going, Tschick hijacks a car and picks up Mike to crash the party. But why stop at the party when there is the rest of the autobahn to travel? Suddenly, the boys aren’t so boring and unpopular as they meet new friends, get shot at, wind up in the hospital, and are chased by the police!
Realistic        Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS
 
This is the first American translation of the German author Herrnorff, whose story of two boys trying to figure out life makes the reader laugh out loud. Readers will sympathize with Mike, whose dad is having an affair and whose mother is often traveling, but will enjoy the exploits he finds himself in. Perfect for the student who may not be the most popular but can enjoy a good adventure.

Better off…not to be Played: New YA Realistic Fiction

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Eulberg, Elizabeth. Better Off Friends. New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-55145-8. 288p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.
Levi and Macallan have been best friends since shortly after they met when Levi moved to Wisconsin from California at the start of seventh grade. Better Off Friends follows this friendship as it develops over the following five years. As time passes, Levi and Macallan must deal with competing friendships, their individual romantic relationships, and the misunderstandings and fights that all friends encounter. Will their friendship be able to survive? And what about the realization that Levi and Macallan separately reach—that they have romantic feelings for one another.  They’ve always said they are better off as friends, but are they really?

Realistic                   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Some professional reviewers have compared the plot of Better Off Friends to that of the film When Harry Met Sally. In fact, it’s no secret that this film inspired the novel—Eulberg mentions the fact on her website, and it is mentioned in the acknowledgements in the book. While this might render the overall plot somewhat predictable to viewers of the movie, it is still an enjoyable read (after all, there’s a reason When Harry Met Sally remains such a popular film). While an overall romantic comedy tone is present in the novel, Eulberg also includes realistic plot points such as Macallan’s ongoing grief at the loss of her mother a few years earlier as well as Levi’s struggles to fit in to the guy cliques at school. Recommend to fans of YA romances.

 

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Fichera, Liz. Played. Don Mills, Ontario: HarlequinTeen, 2014. 978-0-373-21094-7. 341p. $9.99. Gr. 9 and up. 

At first glance, Sam Tracy and Riley Berenger seem to come from two different worlds. Sam, a Native American likes to hang out with his friends on the reservation and works to not draw attention to himself. Riley loves the color pink and is concerned with improving her social status at school. When Sam rescues Riley after she falls off a mountain ridge while they are attending a school-sponsored camp, Riley decides to return the favor and help Sam out. Her goal: break up the relationship between Fred (Sam’s longtime crush) and her new boyfriend Ryan. The complication: Ryan is Riley’s older brother. As to be expected, problems and misunderstandings ensue in the alternating chapters told from both Sam and Riley’s viewpoints. In the midst of all the drama, Riley and Sam discover that perhaps they have more in common than they initially thought.

Realistic Fiction        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS


Played serves as a companion of sorts to Fichera’s 2013 book Hooked, which detailed the relationship of Riley’s older brother Ryan and Sam’s crush, Fred(ricka). Readers need not have read the prior book in order to understand and appreciate Played. While I did feel that the ultimate conclusion of Played was somewhat predictable and Sam had to rescue Riley a few too many times for my tastes, what makes this book blog-worthy in my opinion is the integration of issues related to Southwestern Native Americans throughout the story. Sam and Riley encounter issues such as stereotypes, race and class throughout the novel. Through Sam’s eyes, the reader gains an insight into modern-day reservation life and some of the issues facing today’s Native American teens. Sam was the most well-rounded and fully developed character in the story—I would gladly have read a book totally from his perspective!

Realistic Attitude – More 2013 Picks in YA Fiction

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Stevenson, Robin. Attitude. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers, 2013. 978-1-4598-0382-4. 137p. Gr. 7 and up.
Australian native, Cassie Jordan, is heading to Vancouver, Canada, to dance in a summer initiative at the Pacific Coast Ballet Academy.  But the cutthroat competition turns personal when Melissa and her group of sidekicks decide to vote girls out of the program.  Cassie votes the first time, thinking it’s just a silly game.  When disaster strikes, she learns Melissa can be ruthless.  With the increasing pressure to compete and keep her friends, Cassie hears her dad’s voice, “Just do what you know is right, Cassie, and everything else will fall into place.”  Dancing might take audacity, passion, and diligence, but so does standing up for what you believe in.  Cassie can only hope her desire to stay true to herself doesn’t end up costing her a chance to become a world-renowned dancer.

Being so far away from home and living with a family, Cassie shows an admirable amount of determination and courage.  She only speaks to her parents occasionally, yet their words of  wisdom and advice still resonate within her heart.  She and other girls are bullied in subtle ways, including cyberbullying, and her quiet resolve to stand up for herself and others is quite remarkable and sends a positive message to young girls.  

Part of a series, Attitude is a great hi-lo choice for reluctant readers.

Realistic Fiction                            Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

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Blumenthal, Deborah. The Lifeguard. Chicago: Albert Whitman & Company, 2012. 978-0-8075-4535-5. 277p.
Gr. 9 and up.
Instead of spending the summer at camp with her best friend Marissa, Sirena is sent to Rhode Island to live with her aunt while her parents finalize their divorce.  Thousands of miles away from home, Sirena continues to struggle with her parents’ separation, the idea of returning to two houses, and the image of her dad leaving a tawdry hotel with another woman.  Then she meets Pilot, the lifeguard who patrols the local beach.  He’s gorgeous and mysterious, and Sirena is attracted to him on a primeval level she doesn’t fully understand.  Tormented by his taciturn demeanor and the ghosts in her aunt’s house, she finds herself confiding in a local artist at the beach.  Then, in a moment of irrational conviction, she sheds all inhibition, steps into the ocean and is pulled under by a riptide.  Only Pilot will be able to save her if he finds her in time.

An alluring coming-of-age story about first love and the power of friendship and sacrifice.  With summer just around the corner, take this straight-forward novel to the beach.  Enjoy a little romance with a supernatural twist.

Supernatural Fiction                        Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

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Hucklesby, Jill. Samphire Song. Chicago: Albert whitman & Company, 2013. 978-0-8075-7224-5. 287p. Gr. 6 and up.
It has been two years since Jodie’s dad died, but the hurt still burdens her heart.  She tries to keep busy with school and working at the stables but feels lonelier with each passing day.  Then an unexpected surprise from her mother allows Jodie to realize her dream of owning a horse.  She stumbles on Samphire at a horse auction, and their immediate bond is undeniably powerful.  He is a spirited stallion, and some would even claim hostile and damaged, but Jodie only sees a kindred spirit.  When her brother’s kidney disease takes a life-threatening turn and her mother loses her job, Jodie must make the ultimate sacrifice for her beloved brother.  Through tears, she promises Samphire they will be reunited one day, but providence may have other plans for her cherished horse.
Girls in the middle school seem to truly enjoy animal stories, especially about horses.  The plot is fairly predictable, but the love between Jodie and her horse is undeniable.  She relentlessly searches for him after raising enough money to buy him back and discovers the sordid world of animal abuse and trafficking.  The story will appeal to animal lovers and tug at their hearts.

Realistic Fiction                            Christine Massey, JWP Middle School

Yaqui Delgado Wants to…

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Medina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2013. 978-0763658595. 272 p. $16.99. Gr. 9-12.

The title and opening line of this gritty realistic fiction will easily encourage students to pick up the novel, but the engrossing story will not make it easy to put it down. Author Meg Medina has written a gripping account of one girl’s struggle with bullying in an urban high school. Piddy Sanchez is in her tenth grade year at a new school after her mother finally realized her dream to move to a nicer (less-rundown) apartment.  Raised by a single mother, Piddy knows very little about her father, a fact which comes up frequently in conversations with her mother, but the focus of the story is Piddy’s experience at her new school. She is quickly blindsided by a classmate yelling at her, “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass!” She does not, however, know who Yaqui is or why she has become the target of Yaqui’s ire. Darlene, one nosy student who seems to know everything, tells Piddy that Yaqui and some of the other Latino girls think that Piddy, who is Latino but does not “look” the part, sways her hips while she walks to attract all of the boys in school, Yaqui’s boyfriend included. Piddy quickly becomes the target of numerous attacks by Yaqui, which range from lunchroom encounters to physical attacks. Piddy chooses not to confide in her mother. Instead, she begins missing school, trying to get her mother’s best friend Lila to lie about her whereabouts and spending days with a boy from her former neighborhood. The themes of bullying, identity, acceptance, and growing up are all illustrated clearly and realistically through Piddy and her experiences. This novel will have you wondering how many students have experiences like Piddy’s, and wondering how we can make school a safer place for all students.

Realistic          Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

I was completely engrossed while reading Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick your Ass. I do not usually gravitate towards urban fiction, but in this case I was glad that I did.  I recently spent time in various classrooms book talking about books with a bullying theme, and this title was high on my list to share with students. Even though I am in a suburban school district, many students will still identify with Piddy and her struggles throughout the novel. Medina has a simple writing style that evokes the voice of a young teen unable to tell her mother exactly what is going on at school.

With that being said, our Book Club selection for February will be the recent debut title Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, which I chose over Yaqui Delgado simply because I believe that my students will relate more to the characters and the style of bullying being highlighted in Reconstructing Amelia. Even though the main characters in each novel are fairly similar (both live in New York City, both are being raised by single mothers who work long hours), the setting and cultural backgrounds could not be more different. Piddy lives in a low-income area and goes to a rough public school, while Amelia lives in a lovely brownstone and attends an expensive prep school. I enjoyed each title and the themes reflected in both, but as my goal is to elicit discussions on bullying in our own school, Reconstructing Amelia will be a better springboard for a dialogue on issues occurring in our student body. I hope to have a few of our more dedicated readers also read Yaqui Delgado in order to have a discussion comparing and contrasting the two stories and the types of bullying highlighted in each one. For now, I hope that my book talks have encouraged enough students to check out either title and learn more about how we can address bullying in all schools.