Eve Bunting – Blackwater
Brodie pulls a harmless prank on the Blackwater river. Two teens drown but Brodie is hailed as a hero for trying to save them, or was he the cause of the drowning? A tense, emotional novel looking at guilt and conscience.
Alden Carter – Wart, son of Toad
Steve, nicknamed Wart by classmates, has a tense relationship with his father, the high school science teacher, called Toad by students. A few years ago, his wife and daughter died, leaving him distraught and angry. He takes that anger out on his students, who in turn take their anger out on Wart. Steve is not a good student, but does enjoy auto mechanics and wants to pursue that as a career. His father does not want to hear it, but insists of college. This book won a slew of awards and recognition when it was published in 1985. It was re-issued in 2010 and every bit of the novel is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.
Aidan Chambers – Dying to Know You
This story hit me like a breath of fresh air right from the beginning. A stream of back and forth dialogue is used at the start of the book and is employed heavily throughout the novel. This approach made me feel immersed in the characters’ worlds and minds. Karl, an 18-year-old British plumber, stops by the home of his girlfriend’s favorite author. The girlfriend, Fiorella, wants Karl to write to her about his feelings and thoughts so they can get to know one another. Karl is dyslexic and has difficulty writing, but then he is not terribly verbose to begin with. He doesn’t feel up to the task alone. So he asks the author, who is the narrator for this story, for help translating his thoughts into these letters. Over time, the aging author and Karl develop a close friendship. They help each other through difficult times. Karl’s father passed away 6 years earlier, and the author’s wife had died just a few years ago. These losses fuel much of the emotion of the story. There is such an honest, raw presentation of love, depression, death, heartbreak, and self-discovery. Dying to Know You is an emotional, character driven story both captivating and thought-provoking, reeling the reader in and taking hold. Highly recommended and best for older teens.
Stephen Emond – Happyface
When his parents break up following a family tragedy, comic artist Emond reinvents himself at his new school. Told through journal entries that are a mix of comics, emails, and writing, the source of all the emotional dishevel in the family is not revealed until the end of the book. Best for older teens.
K.L. Going – King of the Screwups
Compared with the other books listed here, this is lighter fare. Liam is the spoiled son of a wealthy father who is fed up with his lack of responsibility. Liam is the good looking athlete that has everything given to him. The father has had it. He sends Liam to his wife’s brother, Uncle Pete, who is a cross-dressing gay living in a small trailer. Liam tries to improve, he really does, but it all goes wrong. I really liked the characters here. Uncle Pete’s friends are supportive of Liam and all quite unique. Best for older teens.
K.L. Going – St. Iggy
This is one day in the life of Iggy, who lives in New York City public housing and has two drug-addicted parents, and a best friend and mentor who has his own escalating drug addiction. Facing expulsion from school, his principal advises him to , “Do something that contributes to the world.” This slender novel is painfully told. It is gritty and real. The ending is heart wrenching. Best for older teens.
Pete Hautman – Blank Confession
This quick read packs a punch. I can see needing an extra copy or two for the library to meet demand. Shayne Blank has attended several different high schools. He meets Mikey, a small-in-stature yet smart mouthed, quirky classmate. Mikey is being bullied by his sister’s boyfriend who is also a drug pusher in school. Shayne acts as vigilante, out to protect the weak against the cruel. The story is told in the alternating voices of Mikey and Detective Rawls who is taking Shayne’s murder confession. The story begins with Shayne showing up at a police station saying he murdered someone. As the story unfolds, we see what really happened. Hmmm – is the main character named Shayne after Shane, the 1953 movie starring Alan Ladd?
Barbara Haworth-Attard – Theories of Relativity
A very gritty novel about life on the streets, this is a very gritty novel and best for older teens. Dylan is the oldest of 3 boys and his mother cruelly kicks him out in the hopes of hooking husband #4. Dylan struggles daily to exist on the streets of a bustling downtown. He develops theories, like every fourth person will give you money. He knows that help comes with strings attached. He sees teens turning to prostitution and drugs. The writing is excellent so that the reader feels what Dylan feels. It is a difficult read because of Dylan’s story, not because of the writing, actually, the book reads rather quickly.
Julie Peters – Define Normal
Two completely opposite girls in every way, rich/poor, studious/slacker are paired by the school counselor. Antonia is a good student who has the weight of the world on her shoulders facing many problems at home and agrees to take on Jazmine who is rebellious. Can the girls end up helping each other? This has been on our school reading list twice now and eagerly read both times.
Matthew Quick – Boy 21
Finley’s family has been beaten down by the Irish mob of Philadelphia. He sees basketball as his way to a better life. Basketball is his focus and his coach is respected. One day Finley’s coach comes to their home and asks a favor. Coach’s longtime friends have been murdered and their basketball superstar son is having a difficult time dealing with the loss. Coach asks Finley to be the boy’s friend when he transfers to their school. Finley and Russ, who now goes by the name Boy 21 and claims to be from outer space, have a quiet friendship. It is a friendship that survives the competition for the starting position on the team. The reader gets a hint at the dedication it takes to be a star athelete.
The story is so much more than sports fiction! It is a fast read. Finley has suffered loss but the reader does not know exactly what that loss is until late in the book. He has the most amazing basketball star girlfriend who compliments Finley’s quiet manner so completely. We get a glimpse into the workings of the Irish mob and the tough life in the neighborhood and a family’s sacrifice for their son’s better life. Stellar!
Neal Shusterman – Bruiser
Brewster is a loner, he avoids others and they avoid him. Brewster and his younger brother, Cody, live with an abusive uncle. Brewster has the ability to absorb the pain and injuries of those he cares about. For example, if the uncle beats Cody, Cody feels better but Brewster absorbs the bruises and broken bones. Popular twins, Tennyson and Bronte befriend Brewster and learn his secret. A powerful, emotional book told in four voices.
William Sleator – Rewind
The story opens when Peter “dies” after being hit by a car soon after learning he is adopted. He is given the chance to alter events until he isn’t killed. A rather short read, it is very well done. You think, okay, this time Peter fixes things, but no.
Todd Strasser – Can’t Get There From Here
Dotted with police reports of deaths of teens living on the street, this is an intense book better for older teens. A group of teens has formed a kind of family, caring for each other as best they can but knowing that many will end up dead, on drugs, or as prostitutes. Told with teen Maybe’s narrative, the author successfully exposes the bleakness of their situation.
Terry Trueman – No Right Turn
Jordan isolates himself after his father commits suicide. After three years of feeling completely numb, it is the Corvette of his mom’s new boyfriend, Don, that seems to wake him up again. He enjoys the thrill of riding in the car. He betrays Don’s trust and takes the car out without permission time and again. He must come to terms with the consequences. This is a short book and very intense. Best for older teens.
Wendelin Van Draanen – Runaway
Holly is in foster care after her heroin-addicted mother does not take care of her. The last two years, she is shuffled between five different families. She has runaway several times, but this time, at the age of 12, she feels wise enough to not get caught. Told in diary format, we follow Holly as she travels cross country to what she hopes is a better life. Very popular with students and deservedly so.
Jennifer Shaw Wolf – Breaking Beautiful
This murder mystery wrapped in teen drama hits the mark. Allie has survived an accident that apparently killed her boyfriend, Trip. It looks like she jumped out of his truck before it went over a cliff and into the ocean that swallowed the truck and Trip’s body. She suffered a severe head wound and can’t remember the accident or the events leading up to it. Or can she? Allie has been covering up an abusive relationship with Trip for years. Trip comes from a wealthy family that owns and controls the town and she hadn’t had the strength to leave the abuse. Her twin brother has cerebral palsy that limits his mobility but not his intelligence. He saw through the façade and urged his sister to leave Trip. But now Trip is dead. Was it an accident or murder? The pace of the novel is excellent so that the reader learns Allie’s story as Allie comes to terms with it. The characters feel real and the drama around the relationships is spot on. Blake, Allie’s childhood friend and champion, tugs at the heart. The author delivers a gripping story while addressing abusive relationships. Several library copies will be needed to satisfy demand.
Virginia Euwer Wolff – Make Lemonade, True Believer, This Full House
LaVaughn is determined to make a better life for herself. She needs to earn money to go to college so she takes a job babysitting for Jolly, a young single mother of two. Told in free verse, the author captures the girls’ inner-city environment and struggle to make a better life. True Believer and This Full House round out this poignant series.