Tag Archives: coming-of-age

Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin

25372971Tell Me Something Real

William C. Morris Award finalist for 2017

In San Diego, California, three sisters deal with the realities of their mother’s leukemia and their double life in Tijuana, Mexico where their mother attends treatment. Instead of parents who take care of them, it is the girls who take care of their family. While visiting the clinic for her mother, Vanessa, the middle sister, meets a young man, Caleb, on remission from leukemia and they form a close bond. Caleb and his mother even come live with their family when Vanessa’s mom becomes terminal, and Vanessa feels like she has love despite the stress of her mom and their life. Vanessa also begins to really discover the strength of her dreams of playing the piano and planning for her future. However, when Caleb and his mom leave suddenly, Vanessa decides to find out what secrets they’ve uncovered, and in doing so, she and her sisters must face the worst possible betrayal and their lives change forever.

I don’t typically read books about chronic illness, since it’s something that gives me anxiety. However, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars definitely changed that for me, so now I am simply more careful about what I read. Still, I was really intrigued about this book as it really shows a different perspective of illness. Vanessa and her family are not typical. Her mother has been ill for a long time, and Vanessa and her sisters are basically running the house so their father can continue working and making the only income they have (even if his boss is horrible and not understanding of the family situation). Vanessa is still normal though and wants to live her own life. When she meets Caleb, she gets to be a little bit more normal for awhile, and their romance is sweet and real. The real test for Vanessa is when the plot twist occurs and disrupts everything. It is Vanessa who has to deal with all the fallout and who is the hardest hit by everything. It becomes more about what choices she will make because of it, and how that will then affect the rest of her family. She also discovers the value of truth and trust in a way that closely echoes real life. Vanessa becomes a tough heroine and I had a lot of sympathy for her.

This book might speak to any teen who has been deeply betrayed and is learning to trust again. The story is more for high school teens, better for juniors and seniors as it relates to a similar time in their lives when they are choosing their futures and displaying their true selves.



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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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