Playing by the Book by S. Chris Shirley
Published by Riverdale Avenue Books 6/11/2014
Jake, a naïve sheltered teen from Alabama, lives by the Book – the Bible. His father, The Preacher, wants Jake to follow in his footsteps. Fortunately, Jake’s love of journalism has him headed in another direction, headed to New York City and Columbia University’s prestigious summer journalism program. Needless to say, Jake’s entry into New York is eye-opening. From homeless people on the streets to his hot neighbor Sam and gay marriage, his world view gets turned upside down. Most importantly though, how can he follow the Book when he can’t stop himself from fantasizing about Sam? This summer, Jake is about to find out if he can be true to himself and still play by the Book or least part of it.
S. Chris Shirley’s first novel details Jake’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and his Christianity. A beautiful and profound story that asks readers to question their own beliefs and their ability to look at people beyond the labels, beyond what we “see.” Mr. Shirley’s powerful prose draws us into Jake’s world – a world of fundamentalist Christians, a world where people must follow the book, a world that makes me cringe. In this world, Jake tries so hard not to be gay that even his part is straight. Jake’s authentic voice underscores the reality that many GLBT teens live with and struggle against every day. Though Sam, the wise, hot, Jewish, gay friend, puts it best, “How can it be a mistake, brah? It’s who you are.” Mr. Shirley, drawing from his own experience, resolves the gay/Christian dilemma superbly and leaves Jake and readers with the knowledge that interpreting the bible, like the constitution, evolves over time. An excellent story with an insightful message – perfect for all teens, especially Christian teens.
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Published by Scholastic 5/27/2014
In the summer of 1964, the headquarters for SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the Mississippi Freedom Project are located in Greenwood, Mississippi. The Mississippi Freedom Project is designed to education African-American children and adults and to conduct a voter registration drive. It is a summer of turmoil because white Mississippi takes offence of the Freedom Summer invaders and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Churches and crosses were burned, people were beaten and arrested, and three Freedom Summer workers were murdered. Revolution tells the story of upheaval in Greenwood, Mississippi during this summer through the eyes of Sunny a white girl, her step-brother Gillette, and Raymond an African-American boy.
Deborah Wiles once again stuns readers with a powerful story told not only through fictional characters, but through photographs, quotes, and lyrics which provide readers with a more thorough understanding of that summer. She cleverly inserts juxtapositions between the Freedom Workers’ invasion and the Beatles’ invasion and the US’s commitment to Vietnam with their lack of commitment to African-Americans in Mississippi to get us thinking. In addition, Ms Wiles superbly brings in crucial side stories about Bob Moses, LBJ, Muhammad Ali, and Wednesday’s Women & Dorothy Height which offers a deeper insight into the time period. Needless to say, we as readers are privileged to read this insightful story. Thank you Deborah!
WARNING: Readers of all ages may have a visceral reaction to pamphlets & flyers written by the KKK, the words of Governor Wallace, and communications from the town of Greenwood. Librarians, parents, and teachers – please use this opportunity for discussion about Civil Rights and the 14th amendment.
For older readers who’d like a more thorough account of the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner and subsequent lack of justice, I recommend The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell, published by Scholastic.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi
Published by Sourcebooks Fire 4/2014
Six months ago Lexi’s father died. Her mother, unable to deal with his death, gets pushed farther off the deep end when she discovers Lexi is a lesbian. Her mom’s response – God must be punishing her. Lexi will do anything to help her which includes spending the summer at an ex-gay camp. With a motto “say goodbye to homosexuality”, Lexi knows it will be bad. The good news… Lexi realizes that all the girls there are lesbians as well (yippee!) and the one that just walked in the room is really beautiful! Clearly she’ll have some trouble saying “goodbye to homosexuality.”
Jessica Verdi takes a well-meaning Lexi and drops her into a cringe worthy environment. An environment where nature is manicured to perfection (ha!), where girls must wear pink clothes and boys must wear blue clothes (ugh!), and where everything about New Horizons including the director makes readers queasy. However, in the midst of this horrific setting, Ms Verdi organically allows friendships to grow, realizations to develop and truths to be told. In addition, she brilliantly succeeds in making The Great Gatsby a character as Lexi & Carolyn interpret passages and covertly exchange notes in the margins in the book.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me is not for the faint of heart for some of the stories shared as well as some of the events in the book are awful. While it’s a hard to read, it’s a powerful story that will have teens talking. Pair this with copies of The Great Gatsby as readers will want to determine if Nick is really in love with Gatsby…
Nick the Saint by Anthony Szpak
Published by Vincere Press
It is after the Civil War and American is in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. In New York City, people are hungry and factories use child labor to cut costs. Into this mess comes Nick – who lost his parents, who lost his girl and who was sent to jail because of a ruthless factory owner, Fergus Crank. Nick survives only to end up back in New York where he discovers his purpose – to help the children in the factories.
Anthony Szpak’s wickedly creative version of Saint Nicklaus has a comic book milieu which depicts Nick as a vigilante fighting for kids. Since all good comic book heroes have a sidekick, Nick gets Benny, an inventor and fellow inmate, who adds levity to the story with a little OCD, a little steampunk, and a little love. Additionally, Mr. Szpak ingeniously weaves in some pulley theory, some penicillin and some history to get us thinking. Readers will quickly get caught up in the story as we watch Nick develop his own brand of justice. Needless to say, all is not as it seems and we encounter unforeseen twists which keep us on the edge. An excellent action story that will draw both middle grade and teen audiences.
Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Gemma’s summer plans go askew when her boyfriend of two years dumps her and her mom & step-father are headed to Scotland. Instead of staying home, she’ll spend her summer with her dad in the Hamptons. Not so bad unless it happens to be the place where she wreaked havoc five summers ago. As Gemma heads out of town, chance encounters, mistaken names, and trying to right wrongs collide and mayhem ensues. What’s a girl to do?
Katie Finn masterfully creates Gemma’s crazy world where everything that can go wrong will go wrong and where “karma’s a bitch” seems to apply more than “forgive and forget.” The story has the readers so caught up Gemma’s life that we want to scream at her and tell her to stop the scheming because it will only make things worse! Interwoven in the story are twists and turns that surprise even the most jaded of us in addition to an ending that leaves us stunned. Ms Finn takes readers on a ride of mayhem and no holds barred revenge and all I can say is HOLD ON!
We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt
Published by Wendy Lamb Books 5/27/2014
In the Golden family, there are two sisters: Nell and Layla. This year Nell, a freshman, joins Layla, a junior, at City Day High School and Nell knows this will be the best year of her life. Except it isn’t. Something is wrong with Layla and Nell needs to find out the reason why. But the worst part, the worst part is figuring out what to do with the information once Nell knows the why.
Dana Reinhardt places most of Nell’s story inside her head as she looks back on her freshman year and her sister’s behavior. Nell’s ongoing monologue is interspersed with hints regarding Layla and with the dead Creed brothers, Parker and Duncan, acting as her conscience. Ms Reinhardt expertly weaves the interplay between the sisters and Nell’s struggle to find the truth. The tension becomes palpable as Nell gets closer and closer to the truth and as she determines what must be done with it. Ms Reinhardt produces another thought provoking story that readers will quickly devour.
If your readers are looking for another sibling story, The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt will touch you profoundly. Boaz, a marine, has returned home from war a changed man and Levi, his brother, will do whatever is necessary to reconnect – to know the changed Boaz.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Published by Delacorte Press 5/13/2014
Cadence Sinclair Eastman spends summers with her extended family on their own private island near Martha’s Vineyard – she, her cousins, and Gat are the Liars. Cady used to be described as blond, strong, and pretty, but not anymore. During “Summer Fifteen” on the island, something traumatic occurs and Cady is left with migraines and no memory of the event. Now it is “Summer Seventeen” and Cady is trying to piece together the lost summer and the lost memories.
The title of the book tells the readers right off the bat that the narrator is unreliable, but what we aren’t prepared for is the clean and lyrical prose E Lockhart uses to blow our socks off. Alongside the narrative, Ms Lockhart provides the readers with bits and pieces of truth through princess tales Cady has written. These tales shed light on her family’s dysfunctional dynamics. Ms Lockhart also uses evocative metaphors to describe Cady’s pain since speaking about said pain is unacceptable. Cady’s truth and fiction are so expertly woven that readers will be up long into the night to discover what is actually true. Once again, Ms Lockhart has given readers a brilliant and powerful story to savor.
Give this to fans of Loud Awake and Lost by Adele Griffen and vice versa.