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.
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
|| On this Father’s Day, a story of family, friends and love…
Ali lives in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is falling apart and life is gritty, but Ali doesn’t mess with the bad stuff. Instead he sides with his sister (he wouldn’t trade her for a bother even if the brother was Jay-Z), he hangs with Noodles and Needles on the stoop, and he takes boxing lessons. They all manage to get by until a party shines a light on the flaws they’ve ignored.
Jason Reynolds’ writing draws readers in and allows us to hang on the stoop with Ali and his friends. On the stoop, we get a bird’s eye view of life in Bed-Stuy. We learn that for Ali “family is family, no matter what,” but he’s lucky ‘cause we know that’s not the way it is for everyone – especially not for his neighbors Noodles & Needles. We also learn about Ali’s hopes, his fears and his anger. Most importantly though, the story leaves us pondering what friendship is, what love looks like, how we forgive our self, and how we forgive others when they hurt people long after we put the book down. When I Was the Greatest is a profound story that students will gobble up. Thank you Mr. Reynolds.
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.
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…
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR 5/27/2014
One Man Guy tells the story of Alek, the second son of an Armenian family living in New Jersey, as he attends summer school in order to stay on the Honor Track (his parent’s desire not his!). Summer sucks until Alek’s world is turned upside down and then upside right when Ethan, a resident skateboarder and instigator of the “infamous food fight”, saves Alek from a bully and then shows up in his Algebra class. As Ethan broadens Alek’s horizons with NYC and Rufus Wainwright, Alek must decide if he wants more from Ethan than friendship.
Michael Barakiva places Alek in a wonderful and crazy Armenian family where going to a restaurant wreaks havoc on their waitress, where eating cereal for breakfast is a crime, and where commuting 3 hours to and from an Armenian church is a given. Alek’s character reeks of innocence and goodness with a splash of defiance. Mr. Barakiva expertly draws readers into Alek’s life and subsequently we feel his desire to do what’s right, his attraction to Ethan, and his breathlessness for their first kiss. Readers will find themselves cheering for Alek as he discovers who he truly is and applauding Ethan’s ability to move beyond the pain in his past. Needless to say, I could not put the book down and am anxiously awaiting to opportunity to put it in the hands of students both gay and straight. Thank you Mr. Barakiva for this beautiful and inspiring book!
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR
Silver People is the story of the “others” who built the Panama Canal. The non-white people who worked the hard backbreaking jobs, the most dangerous jobs. These people were paid in silver not gold (hence comes the name) and were left out of the history books. Margarita Engle seeks to reverse this blatant mistake with Silver People.
Ms Engle’s non-flowery poetic style gives voice to the stark reality of the silver people: the medium-dark Cubano – Mateo and the dark-dark Jamaican – Henry, the locals (e.g. Anita) and the forest. Her poetry moves from one person to another and then is juxtaposed with the discordant response of the forest – the animals, the bugs & insects, and the trees. While the U.S. is building this canal to further industry on the backs of the silver people, the forest gives voice to the devastation wrought through the construction. Once again, Ms Engle beautifully shares a story that enriches our lives. Librarians and Readers’ Advisors, please put this book into as many hands as possible – you won’t regret it!
Played by Liz Fichera
Published by Harlequin TEEN 5/27/2014
In Hooked, by Liz Fichera, we meet Sam Tracey and his unrequited love for Fred (short for Fredericka). In Played, Liz Fichera’s second novel surrounding the Gila River Indian Rez and Lone Butte High School, Sam Tracey gets his own story. Sam is smart and wants to use his smarts to help his people. Riley is only worried about how other people see her. When Riley falls off the rim and Sam tries to save her, their lives collide.
Told in alternating points of view, Ms Fichera pulls readers into the story with her spot on understanding of teen life. She keeps us hooked with Riley’s effort to find herself and Sam’s effort to see beyond Fred. Readers also get an authentic portrayal of the poverty, illiteracy and beauty of life on the Rez. Ultimately, Riley and Sam – just like teens everywhere – want to be seen beyond their family, beyond the labels. Played is an enjoyable read that teens will devour. #WeNeedDiverseBooks