Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Published by Algonquin Young Readers 10/7/2014
Leila is an Iranian-American teen who’s into Zombie Killers movies and perfect hiding places (in order to avoid running during soccer). Not really in any clique, she’s surviving high school alongside her friends Tess and Greg. Even though she’s dated and kissed boys over the years (including Greg), Leila never crushed on anyone. That is until this summer when she was kissed by a girl – whoa! Now its fall and Leila’s back in school. Worried that her classmates will discover her secret, she works tirelessly to hide it from her friends, from the other students and from her Iranian-American family. However, once she starts crushing on the new girl Saskia all the lies and half-truths come crashing down.
Sara Farizan writes a powerful coming-of-age story where Leila doesn’t struggle with her own feelings towards girls so much as how her family, friends and fellow students will feel about her. The evocative prose pulls us into the high school milieu where the vagaries of students push and pull Leila in one direction or another, where mean girls exist regardless of whether they kiss boys, girls or both, and where one finds true friends by being true to themselves. Ms Farizan – a lesbian of Iranian ancestry herself – will have readers laughing as ethnic and sexual stereotypes are upended and worrying about Leila as Saskia’s behavior gets out-of-control. Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is an excellent read that teens, both gay and straight, will find engaging and thought-provoking.
Side Note: For further reading on Iran and homosexuality, Deborah Ellis’ Moon at Nine is a fascinating historical fiction about lesbian teens and their life and death struggles in 1988 Iran.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
Published by Clarion Books 8/26/2014
In the rambling old Greenglass House where smugglers come to stay, Milo Pine and his adopted family, proprietors of the House, are settling in for a snowy winter vacation. Milo’s plan: get homework done right away so the rest of vacation is vacation. Unfortunately, his plans go awry when mysterious guests show up – completely unheard of for winter vacation is NOT the season of smugglers. In a strange turn of events, the guests all have connections to the Greenglass House. When lost objects are found and others disappear, Milo and Meddie, the younger daughter of the Inn’s chef whom he just met, use an old role playing game (RPG) to get to the bottom of the mysteries shrouded within the Greenglass House.
Kate Mildford superbly crafts the wonderful and fantastical world of Nagspeake and the Greenglass House. A world where smugglers are the good guys and the customs agents are the bad guys, where ghosts quietly reside unless provoked, and where the beauty of the stain glass permeates the entire story. Readers will find stories within stories which draw us further into this fantastical world. As for the main characters, Ms Milford realistically depicts Milo as a thoughtful and caring boy who nonetheless wonders about his birth parents, yet feels guilty at the same time. Ms Milford’s use of the RPG not only allows mysteries to be solved, but allows Milo the freedom to wonder what his life might have been, to wonder about a different family. Meddie is his outspoken sidekick which is the perfect foil and which helps Milo work through the mysteries. Greenglass House is beautifully written and is story-telling at its finest which deservedly belongs on the National Book Award’s Longlist.
Side Note: Ms Milford became so invested in Nagspeake that she created a tourism website where readers can visit the town. http://www.nagspeake.com
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…
Going Over by Beth Kephart
Published by Chronicle Books
It is 1983 Berlin, Germany where we find a wall of cement and concertina wire that separates the city and separates two lovers Ada and Stefan. Ada, a graffiti artist in the West, wants Stefan, in the East, to go over the wall, but with more failures than successes, odds are not in Stefan’s favor.
Beth Kephart expertly weaves Going Over between the lives of Ada and Stefan. Ada is not only a graffiti artist, but also works with children of Turkish immigrants. She desires to save these children from their hard future as well as Stefan from his. Across the wall, we find Stefan whose only connection to his dream is through his Grandfather’s old telescope. Each point of view transports us into the heart and soul of each character. Ms Kephart has created a hauntingly lyrical and powerful story about lives in a divided Berlin, about choices and consequences, about love and loss that draws you in and won’t let you go long after you’ve put the book down.
Note! If you are looking for another novel about graffiti artists, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley is a powerful story of an anonymous graffiti artist and a girl that goes looking for him.
Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach
Published by Sourcebooks Fire 5/6/2014
Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders is the story of how one boy leads the fight against cheerleader dominance. Or at least against cheerleaders using band camp money from the pop machine at school for the new dance squad. Geoff Herbach deftly tells the story in the form of transcripts taken during the interrogation of Gabe (the Fat Boy), who was caught stealing money from said pop machine. The story is so ingeniously crafted that the reader gets drawn into the events and forgets we are actually at the Police Station until a cellphone rings. Mr. Herbach populates the story with quirky characters that leave us laughing out loud and who eventually become unlikely heroes. In the midst of hilarity, hidden lessons on scarcity, civics, protests, and eating healthy can be found. What is not to like in this hilarious story? Give Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders not only to fans of Geoff Herbach, but also to fans of Gordon Korman and wait for the laughter to begin.
Undone by Cat Clarke
Published by Sourcebooks Fire 5/6/2014
Undone opens with Jem struggling to survive after her gay best friend Kai commits suicide. A video outing him has gone viral. Jem’s heartbreak has her contemplating her own suicide until Kai’s sister shows up at her door with a package of letters he wrote the night before he died. Cat Clarke creates a powerful story that puts readers through the wringer as we follow Jem and the letters for a year. While Jem gets caught up in her plan for revenge, we are stunned that she is blinded to the truth – she is starting to live again. Ms Clarke has us anxiously awaiting the train wreck that Jem seems incapable of stopping. While the reader keeps hoping that Jem will open her eyes, Ms Clarke has other plans. Her audience will be reading into the night to see how the story ends.
Hopefully beyond the enduring power of the story, Undone will get readers talking about the pointlessness of revenge and the damage it causes as well as inherent value of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.
The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker
Published by Bold Strokes Books, Inc.
Jamie, a junior in high school, is regularly bullied and sometimes beaten because he’s gay. If only he can survive high school and get out of town, he knows life will get better. Luckily, his best friend Sarah – she always has his back – and his dad help him survive. One afternoon Jamie returns home from school (beaten and bloodied thanks to Billy Stratton – “his high school nemesis”) to find a Pegasus in the backyard and a stranger in the house. His response? Scream like a girl (don’t judge!). Xena (aka Maia) upends Jamie’s world view with the announcement that she’s his (supposedly dead) mom and with his father’s announcement that she’s also an Amazon. Maia has shown up now because someone is out to destroy the Amazons and Jamie is the key to their survival.
Jeffrey Ricker writes a fast paced fantasy novel based in Athens, a St. Louis suburb, and the world of ancient Greek gods & goddesses. Initially, readers might be reminded of Percy Jackson, but they will be thrilled when they encounter a story where the characters have more depth, more emotion, and are more real. We feel Jamie’s first flickers of desire and the power of a first kiss to the final tears of loss. Mr. Ricker’s prose transports readers into the world of bullies and redemption, love and loss, and prophecies and the chosen one. Alongside the blood of both worlds, readers are also treated to Jamie’s snarky comments which left me laughing out loud.
Teens will love the action and adventure as well as the fact that this isn’t simply another coming out story, but rather an excellent fantasy story with a gay protagonist. Thank you Mr. Ricker!