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Tag Archives: coming-of-age

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

thehiredgirlThe Hired Girl

In 1911 Pennsylvania, farm girl Joan Skraggs wants a life like those in her beloved books, one with romance and beauty and adventure. But Joan’s father hates her books and the ideas they and her mother put into her head. When her father refuses to give her some recognition for her hard work at the farm taking care of him and her three brothers and then he burns her beloved books when she asks for money to improve their situation, Joan decides to run away and become a hired girl in Philadelphia. She reinvents herself as Janet Lovelace working for a charitable Jewish merchant family, the Rosenbachs, with a persnickety old cook, Malka, who needs help. The Rosenbachs become a sort of family to Joan, with the father who highly values education, the kind eldest son who wants to study the Talmud, the younger son who wants to be an artist, and their young daughter who hates learning. Joan catalogs her journey in her diary, resolving to be as refined and elegant as the novels she loves, and in her experiences, Joan can truly transform into a bright heroine like the ones she’s daydreamed about.

I really liked this book. It definitely has that turn of phrase and tone that evokes similar thought-provoking award winners and the appeal is probably less broad as a result of both the more literary writing and the subject matter. However, this could be for younger audiences who are voracious or more serious readers as they will appreciate Joan’s ability to dream and her same love of literature. Joan herself is inspiring for having the courage and perseverance necessary to achieve a new future, one in which she might have a chance at happiness and independence. I love that theme of feminism! I also really liked the other characters and their development, particularly how their interactions with Joan teach her different ideas and how Joan learns to think for herself rather than simply listen to what she’s told. Joan is funny in her naivety, strength of will, and her straightforwardly honest demeanor that occasionally causes a few mishaps with her new employers. This book is perfect if you’re looking for something thought-provoking and yet quietly inspiring, especially for its love of learning and education.

Note: This title will be more appealing to older readers as it follows the slower maturation of classic literature than your typical fast-paced YA. It would be a very interesting research essay to compare and contrast this book and heroine with one of Joan’s favorites like Jane Eyre and how both evolve…

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2016 in Historical fiction, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Recent William C. Morris Debut Award finalist! 18166936

 The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

In a haunting and richly imagined multi-generational narrative comes an offbeat tale of a girl born with wings with a heritage of heartbreak, tragedy, and being an outcast on the fringes of society.

To preface and give depth to her own story, our heroine Ava Lavender begins her tale with the story of her Maman, her great-grandmother who immigrated to “Manhatine” and had four children, one of them Ava’s grandmother Emilienne. From Maman to Emilienne and her siblings, then Ava’s mother Vivianne, and finally Ava and Henry, each suffer terrible heartbreak that is offset through magical abilities and passed down in an odd legacy. Ava herself is struggling to understand her past and her identity, especially how a girl with wings fits into the world. Sheltered by her mother and grandmother, Ava longs to be normal and tries to break out of the protected circle of her home with mixed results. Her best friend and bff’s brother both love her purely, but Ava’s wings draw the comparison with angelic power. In that day and age, there was a lot of superstition and secrecy, denouncing sin but hiding cruelty. Ava’s mystical circumstance catches the perverted notice of a young clergyman and what follows is the brutality and brilliance of love, both the exploited kind and the true kind that eclipses all before it.

I both loved and hated this book, so it is a little hard to explain. I loved the writing, the imagery, the unique tale, but the plot and a few other particular areas, I disliked with a passion. I would not know how to recommend this book to anyone. Really. Definitely not anyone with a strong religious bent. It does contain violence, sexual circumstances, and graphic sexual scenes. I also did not find that the title at all fit with my reading of the book. I thought the ending rather too sad to be at all beautiful, and so horribly tragic that I won’t be picking it up again. I’m sure something by Shakespeare would describe it. Or perhaps poems about death, how comparisons are drawn with beautiful and peaceful things, but then death is violent and bloodthirsty and insatiable…

Note: Not for the majority of middle grade readers.

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Fantasy, Young Adult/Teen

 

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The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

13522285 The Beginning of Everything

Seventeen-year-old Ezra Faulkner has a theory, that everyone has a tragedy–a single moment that changes your life so completely that everything after is somehow more than before. For his best friend Toby, that moment was riding a roller coaster while a child stood up, got decapitated, and Toby caught the severed head. Since then, Ezra disassociated with Toby because who wanted all that terrible attention and teasing? For Ezra, his moment comes after he feels he’s on top of the world. He was a star tennis player looking to be recruited for college, had a beautiful girlfriend, and was one of the very popular crowd. One night after a party where he finds his girlfriend cheating on him, he gets in his car to go back home and another car smashes into him. Ezra loses his kneecap and can never play tennis again. His friends don’t ever call or check up on him while he’s in the hospital, and he’s utterly alone except for his overprotective and coddling parents. He’s the one that draws the stares and whispering this time. Surprisingly, the one person who comes through for him is his old friend Toby and his enthusiasm for the debate team where Ezra meets the spectacular Cassidy and must learn to navigate his new life with the aftereffects of his personal tragedy. What he doesn’t realize is that everyone just expects him to be the same old Ezra, but what if Ezra doesn’t want to be the same old? What if he wants to be…new Ezra.

cvr9781471115462_9781471115462_hrDespite the oddity that is this book, I really liked it and it could definitely be a John Green read-a-like even if it doesn’t feel like it ends as happily as some of his do. This is actually a reprint of a popular UK title Severed Heads, Broken Hearts, which I think fits much better than The Beginning of Everything. I expected this book to be more about roller coasters or something. Boy, was I wrong. 🙂 It was quirky, smart, and mostly believable, if you bought into the tennis team being the height of teenage popularity. Still, I caution readers. You might also get annoyed with the literary superiority of the teens in this book; they’re certainly not average teens…they’re very gifted and try to confound you with their intellectual wittiness, but for smartly confident teen readers or apathetic teens, it might be a definite draw. If you’re easily offended or hate uppity types, do not pick up this book. 🙂 I especially liked how Ezra was figuring himself out, mirroring his perfect golden boy, tennis captain image with his crippled, driven, and genuine self that he becomes while with Cassidy and Toby. Perfect coming-of-age title for readers who like The Great Gatsby and a few other post-modern classics.

 
 

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Author Spotlight: Rainbow Rowell

In honor of Teen Read Week coming up, here is a fabulous author who’s been very big in YA in the past two-ish years. She’s the author of four books, two for YA, Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, and two for adults, Attachments and Landline. While I’ve read Attachments and thought it was great for the New Adult sector or anyone who happens to like chick lit (Meg Cabot’s books, Bridget Jones, etc.), we won’t be covering that book here.

Hope you will fall as much in love with Rainbow Rowell’s books as I have! She also seems like a cool author who I’d love to be friends with (right up there with a few of my favorites like Maggie Stiefvater, Veronica Roth, Meg Cabot, and more!). Check out her website for more information, including a blurb about two upcoming comic books she will be writing in the coming years!

First up is Eleanor & Park which is a Printz Honor book!

eleanor and park Eleanor & Park

In 1986 Omaha, Nebraska, teens Eleanor and Park have formed an unlikely friendship. Eleanor is the new girl, and not well liked for her appearances, but Park still takes pity on her and lets her share his seat on the bus since that first day. Every day they sit together and Park reads his comic books and lets Eleanor read over his shoulder. Park just can’t help but give her things, things he thinks she would like, and Eleanor can’t stop herself from taking them.

Park: Half-Korean with a father who thinks his elder son should be more, just more, and a mother who is nice to everyone. Park, despite his different heritage, is fairly untouchable by the local bullies because his dad’s lived there for years, and the fact that he knows taekwondo.

Eleanor: Bushy red hair and a large-boned body that earns her the nickname “Big Red”. Wears ratty men’s clothing. Is back with her mother, hated stepfather, and siblings because she wants basically unwanted. Her stepfather rules the household and terrorizes them all, denying them suitable food and other basic needs like privacy and clothing because he feels entitled to spend all of their money. Eleanor is bullied by Tina, a local girl, and by an unknown person, who writes terrible things in her notebooks.

They fall in love and readers fall right along with them, until when things fall apart, you’re still rooting for a happily ever after simply because you can’t imagine Park without Eleanor. While I love teen love stories, I especially loved this book! You can almost feel the sense of the 1980’s lifting off the page, but still connect with the characters and events that are happening because of how likeable they are. Every teen has something to identify with either Eleanor or Park here, like loving comic books or music, being athletic (his martial arts) or popular, most especially being different from other kids, or even having an upsetting home life as Eleanor does. Kids who have been bullied, abused, mistreated, or feel invisible will find something great in this book, most notably the hope that even if these things happen to you, in the future things will be better. A beautifully poignant and raw first love story.

This year, Eleanor & Park was just voted the #1 for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten titles, and most deserved the award!

FANGIRL_CoverDec2012-725x1075 Fangirl

It’s Cath’s freshman year at college, and she’s being forced to get a real roommate instead of her built-in twin sister Wren. Cath’s roommate, Reagan, is a junior and appears to come attached with a boyfriend because Levi is always there even when Reagan is not. As everything Cath’s ever known is changing and she’s worried about her dad, who’s prone to forgetting his basic needs when he’s being a workaholic, and sister, who’s embroiled in the rampant drinking and partying college is famous for. Cath’s interests tend to be more literary as she is a fairly infamous fanfiction writer of Simon Snow and the love portrayed by the two main character boys, Simon and Baz (a fictional representation of Harry Potter perchance and a Harry/Draco slasher?) One of Cath’s classes is in fiction writing, but when Cath gets a failing grade because of writing some fanfiction, she can’t bring herself to finish her final short story. Luckily or unluckily, her father is put into the hospital and Cath gets a much needed break. However, her life is spiraling even more out of control as her sister has been speaking with the mother who abandoned them. It’s a story of self-identity, romance, and finding your own independence, and thereby finding your own strengths.

I loved this book! I loved that it also took fanfiction, which could be a red-headed stepchild among authors and writers, and gave it something more legitimate. Fanfiction might still be big, but it was huge during the Harry Potter fandom years. Other fan faves have had tons of fanfiction too. Some of them Buffy the Vampire Slayer, SupernaturalTwilight (in fact, fanfiction started 50 Shades of Grey and The Mortal Instruments series). I don’t know what the current fanfiction fad is, but take a quick google if you’re interested. (Watch out for those stories rated Adult!) Another unique thing about Fangirl is that of it’s audience. There has been some disagreement over it in the library world, but not too much. Fangirl is atypical YA, as it is actually more of the New Adult genre that has been emerging in recent years. (However, teens DO need to be able to read about older teens who are in college, so I fully support keeping it in the YA area.) It straddles the gap between YA fiction, which is usually typical teenage years, to transition into the adult collection. I think there should be a lot more books about this time, and Fangirl does it so well without dwelling on the mass of commitments that usually make the college years rather boring, as if it’s all about classes and schoolwork, or overwhelming, like when you add sports, romance, work, school, social activities…and the list could go on. Teen readers who are looking for that little bit of something more or maybe just looking over the next horizon will find Fangirl a book to pick up, especially if you’re the quirky, writer/reader type.

 

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Author Spotlight: John Green

If you weren’t aware of John Green before The Fault in Our Stars, then you might have missed out on his earlier works. All have a coming-of-age theme and explore the importance of other characters impressing upon the main character rather than event. People change, and people can change you.

looking for alaska Looking for Alaska

It’s Miles Halter’s first year at his new school, Culver Creek, a prestigious boarding school endorsed by his own father’s legacy. His old life was bland and forgettable, so Miles believes he needs to seek “a Great Perhaps” in a new place. Miles is very smart, fairly sheltered and entirely unadventurous until he meets his new roommate, Chip and Chip’s best friend Alaska. Miles, now nicknamed “Pudge” for his decided un-pudginess, has never met anyone like Alaska before. Now he can count two obsessions in his life: his penchant for memorizing the last words of famous dead people and Alaska Young. She is a complicated mix of a person: she loves books and has a whole library of books, most that she’s never read but plans to read; she has a boyfriend whom she loves very much but she flamboyantly flirts with Pudge; she plays the good girl but her mischievous and self-destructive qualities eventually win out; and she is beautiful but wholly untouchable. Pudge has fallen for her hard, and in Alaska, he finds his Great Perhaps, learning what it means to really live.

While it doesn’t outrightly say, this is somewhat of a mystery novel. Most definitely it is a coming-of-age story as Miles transforms and becomes more self-aware from the beginning to the end. Alaska herself is an enigma, who the reader must puzzle out just as Miles does. All in all, while I liked this novel, it wasn’t my favorite of these four of John Green’s books.

Note: Language, alchohol, cigarettes, and sexual circumstances.

Will-Grayson-Will-Grayson Will Grayson, Will Grayson

For Will Grayson(1), his friendship with Tiny Cooper has meant there are numerous jokes about his apparently latent homosexuality. However, WG1 doesn’t have a girlfriend and doesn’t seem to have many friends, so to some, comments are fair game. As for Will Grayson(2), he actually is harboring the secret of his sexual identity even from his family and closest friends, all except for Isaac, a boy he’s met online. When WG(2) finally gets up enough courage to meet Isaac, he discovers the depth of cruelty people will go to just to find out their own curiosities. Despite his deep hurt, it must be fate that he meets WG(1) and the completely fabulous Tiny Cooper. With this new connection and the impending play about and directed by Tiny, both Will Graysons take chances and find themselves on an upward spiral, perhaps to discover love, acceptance, and how precious friendship can be.

This is possibly one of the few books I’ve ever read that revolve so complete about a secondary character, Tiny Cooper. Trying hard not to give much away here, but Tiny plays a huge part in both WGs lives. His character is part of a catalyst for change. Despite part of the book being fairly…depressing, especially by WG(2), the final result is very uplifting. It shows the journey people take towards seeing the part of themselves that is different/outcast by society, and shows them seeing how it makes them a better person and accepting it as a strength. It is yet another story of finding self-identity, but also about the power of friendship and acceptance.

Note: Language, sexual circumstances, and LGBTQ issues.

0142410705_01_LZZZZZZZ An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines finds newly graduated, and newly single, Colin Singleton embarking upon a road trip to find his Eureka moment, precisely, what is the deal with Katherines always dumping him. His best friend Hassan accompanies him, and together they find themselves in nowhere Tennessee visiting the grave of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand. When they arrive in Gutshot, Tennessee, Colin and Hassan are given jobs, to record the lives of the locals of Gutshot for a rich local. Meanwhile, Colin, a gifted boy who’s always been told of his genius, is struggling to figure out a theorem as to why Katherine’s dump him (this is ingenious really, and a description of the math resides at the end of the novel for those interested), and Hassan befriends some local teens. Their guide and host is Lindsay Lee Wells, who is also very smart and is beloved in the Gutshot. Colin, Hassan, and Lindsay reach their Eureka moments, but it isn’t quite what you would expect.

This is perhaps my favorite of all of John Green’s books, probably more so than The Fault in Our Stars only because I did not like An Imperial Affliction. Well, maybe it’s still second. Anyway, I loved the adventures and humor that run through this book, but also just the sense of how much one small summer can change your whole life and the way you look at your life. The summer between high school and college is a period of growing up for many reasons and this recalls some of that sense of the unknown.

PaperTowns2009_6A Paper Towns

Soon to be a major motion picture coming in 2015, Paper Towns follows Quentin Jacobsen as he goes on an adventure to search for the mysterious Margo Roth Spiegelman, his neighbor who also happens to be his greatest crush and a very popular girl in her own right. Before she leaves, she takes Quentin on a wild adventure, and Quentin just can’t believe everyone doesn’t care about finding her. Throughout his journey he comes to find the real Margo and not the Margo that everyone else sees. Also, Margo herself comes to realize the power of friendship and that there are those whotruly care about her.

Another transformative adventure about a boy chasing after a girl and finding himself in the process.

Paper Towns was full of great quirks and is a fascinating mystery. If you’re interested in abandoned places (towns, that Disney water park…) or pranks or scavenger hunts, you will like the details in this book. Another great lesson this book will remind you of is how great stories are, especially stories of adventures, maybe give you a sense of nostalgia for those great times, i.e. that one time your car got hit by a deer (Gilmore Girls reference) or maybe you visited an old hospital and got sick from the atmosphere (true story!).

Note: Language, alchohol, sexual circumstances, and general hilarity.

book-review-let-it-snow-three-holiday-romance-L-rzIkMT Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Recently optioned for film since the great success of TFIOS, Let It Snow is a perfect winter romance. After a strong storm blows in on Christmas Eve and thickly blankets a sleepy North Carolina town in Appalachia, a passing train gets stranded. The high snow drifts and a stuck train doesn’t stop one passenger, Jubilee, from braving the elements after her Christmas has been ruined and her boyfriend doesn’t have time for her. Her lonely rebellion and “screw you” to her crappy Christmas forges a path for other teenagers on the train and this sets off a domino effect for Christmas miracles. It’s an adventure, and what magic can happen during adventures! Find a little bit of romance as a girl takes a chance on an odd stranger, three friends undertake a dangerous race in the middle of the night for cheerleaders and hash browns, and one miserable girl tries to overcome her gloom by rescuing a teacup pig. It will leave you feeling warm and happy and longing for winter. Simply, quirkily magical.

 

 

Check out more from John Green at his website and his YouTube channel with his brother, Hank.

 

 

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