Tag Archive | mature teen

Monsters – Emerald Fennell

monstersWhat would you get if you mixed Enid Blyton with Stephen King? I think you’d probably get Monsters by Emerald Fennell.

Monsters is the story of a twelve-year-old girl who has spent the last three summers at her Aunt Maria and Uncle Frederick’s crumbling seaside hotel because her “parents got smushed to death in a boating accident.”  The unnamed narrator now resides with her maternal grandmother and “During the summer holidays, Granny always decides she has enough of me…” That’s how she ends up in Fowery, somewhere on the Cornish coast of England.

The town of Fowery is as eccentric as its residents, a “tiny multicoloured town…built up the side of a green, green hill” and ruled by William Podmore, a recluse who is rarely seen.

Everyone in town knows our narrator – she’s a regular visitor to the candy store and book shop. She knows they think she’s peculiar. And she is. She’s fascinated with murderers and she and her grandmother often watch gory films together. She’s practically memorized The Murderers’ Who’s Who. So she hits the creepy jackpot when the body of a woman is found caught in a fisherman’s net. Suddenly, the summer is starting to look up.

Then thirteen-year-old Miles arrives with his over-bearing mother. Turns out  Miles has a lot in common with our narrator:  he’s fascinated with true crime, a little on the eccentric side and he’s smart.

I really enjoyed Monsters. It’s quite unlike any recent YA book I’ve read.  I was a big reader of Enid Blyton’s books when I was a kid. I loved solving the mysteries in the Adventure series. Fennell’s book is certainly more subversive than Blyton’s books – which were straight up mysteries a la The Bobbsey Twins. Monsters is decidedly darker.

Miles and our narrator spend the summer trying to figure out who murdered the young woman and when another body turns up, they try to figure out who might be next on the killer’s list. They also play their own murder game.

This time instead of being strangled, the victim was drowned. Miles would push me under the water, and I would have to thrash around, yelling and screaming, begging for my life.

If this sounds a little twisted, it is. Monsters is a page-turner with an extended cast of characters ripped straight from a Tim Burton movie. It is odd and oddly fun.

Highly recommended.

 

 

I’ll Give You The Sun- Jandy Nelson

This is us. Our pose. The smush. It’s even how we are in the ultrasound photo they took of us inside Mom…Unlike most everyone else on earth, from the very first cell of us, we were together, we came here together.

20820994That’s almost-fourteen-year-old Noah, one of the twins who narrates  Jandy Nelson’s remarkable YA novel I’ll Give You the Sun. Alternating between Noah and his sister, Jude, who tells her part of the story at age sixteen, the novel traces the siblings’ journey from innocence to experience.

Jude and Noah are artists who dream of getting into California School of the Arts (CSA).  Their parents, both professors, are going through something neither understands. Noah observes “Dad used to make Mom’s eyes shine; now he makes her grind her teeth. I don’t know why.” The summer they turn fourteen, though, their world is rocked by tragedy.

When Jude picks up the story, it is clear that whatever closeness the twins shared has leeched away, their “twin-telepathy long gone…because of all that’s happened, we avoid each other – worse, repel each other.”

Jude and Noah are both eccentric as heck. Jude channels the spirit of her dead Grandma Sweetwine. She’s a self-proclaimed bible thumping klutz who is boycotting all boys because of a traumatic experience she had with Zephyr, the three-years-older than her surf god who “made [her] feel faint every time he spoke to [her].” Noah has his own issues. For one, he paints in his head – elaborate pictures that he’s never told anyone about, not even Jude when they were speaking.  Then there’s Brian, the boy next door. And Noah’s strained relationship with his father who wants him to man up. When the unthinkable happens and Jude is accepted into CSA and Noah is not, the rift between the twins grows larger. It takes a long time before either realizes that the secrets they’d been keeping in an effort to protect each other were, in fact, part of the reason they were estranged.

I’ll Give You The Sun is one of those amazing (and rare) YA novels that actually treats its target audience like they are intelligent (which as a high school teacher, I can tell you with certainty, they are). Everything from the novel’s narrative structure, to its examination of art, love, grief, jealousy, personal happiness versus personal responsibility,  and family dynamics is designed to make you think and question.

Once you’ve settled into the twins’ strange world, you will fall in love with them. They are resilient, brilliant, and endlessly fascinating. They are also just barely hanging on on their own and when Jude finally lets her heart break “Noah is there, strong and sturdy, to catch me, to hold me through it, to make sure I’m safe.”

Jandy Nelson writes beautiful books (check out her first exceptional novel The Sky is Everywhere) peopled with flawed and  totally sympathetic characters. That says nothing of the beautiful prose – resplendent language that spills out of every page. I’ll Give You The Sun is deserving of its copious praise and numerous awards. Jude and Noah will certainly stay with me in the days ahead.

Highly recommended.

Winger – Andrew Smith

It is so much easier for me to read YA books that are geared for girls, but since it’s often the boys who are reluctant readers in my classes, I really make an effort to buy and read books I think might appeal to them. Andrew Smith’s book Winger is one book which has garnered copious praise – and it is definitely a book I can highly recommend to those boys who say they don’t like to read.

Ryan Dean West attends a private school called Pine Mountain in Oregon. He’s in Grade Eleven winger-smitheven though he’s only fourteen. He’s super smart. He’s also a talented artist (many of his drawings, cartoons and graphs are included in this novel) and he’s also a terrific rugby player. His nickname, “Winger”, comes from the position he plays on the team.

But despite a whole list of things in Ryan Dean’s plus column, there’s a few things on the negative side. For one, this year he’s living in Opportunity Hall, O-Hall, where they stuck him “after they caught me hacking a cell phone account so I could make undetected, untraceable free calls.” Living in O-Hall sucks for two reasons: 1. Ryan Dean isn’t living with his two best friends Seanie and J.P. and 2. His new roomie is Chas Becker “a friendless jerk who navigated the seas of high school with his rudder fixed on a steady course of intimidation and cruelty.”

The one thing in Ryan West’s life that is both blessing a curse is Annie Altman.  Annie is also in grade eleven, but she’s sixteen. She’s Ryan Dean’s best friend, but he is also desperately in love with her.

…most people would think there couldn’t possibly be anything between us beyond a noticeable degree of friendship, even if I did think she was smoking hot in an alluring and mature “naughty babysitter” kind of way

This year at Pine Mountain turns out to be a year of firsts for Ryan Dean, but it is also a year when he makes a lot of mistakes. He capitulates to teen pressure and drinks for the first time. He gets into fist fights. He makes out with another guy’s girlfriend. But through it all, he remains self-deprecating. In his words: “I am such a loser.”

Ryan Dean is just one of the many lovely things about Smith’s book. I am not a fourteen-year-old-boy, nor have I ever been, but Ryan Dean’s voice feels authentic to me. He is constantly walking that fine line between making a smart choice and doing something he knows he shouldn’t. His narrative is filled with inappropriate talk about sex (just about every girl/woman he encounters makes his acute sexual radar) and expletives which he only ever uses “in writing, and occasionally in silent prayer.”

Winger is filled with laugh-out-loud moments – mostly due to inappropriate sex-talk, but also really lovely moments between Annie and Ryan Dean and Ryan Dean and Joey, another guy on the rugby team who also happens to be gay.

You couldn’t pay me to be a teenager today. But spending time with them is always a delight, even when they break my heart.

Highly recommended.

The Dead House – Dawn Kurtagich

I cannot resist a book with a creepy cover – especially if there’s a  creepy house or building on it and so even though I’d heard nothing about this book and had never heard of its author, I took  a chance on Dawn Kurtagich’s debut novel, The Dead House.

deadhouseThe premise is that investigators are looking into the death of three students at Elmbridge High, a boarding school in Somerset,  England. The school was destroyed by fire.  In order to unravel the story they have gathered police interviews, personal diaries, notes and video tape footage which has been transcribed (although it might have been cool to include links to a site to watch the tape). The incident happened over twenty years ago and as the report statement reveals “little was revealed about the tragedy.”

The incident has been something of an urban legend  connecting Kaitlyn Johnson, “the girl of nowhere” to the blaze. When her diary is found in the rubble, it spurs a new investigation into what actually happened in the days leading up to the fire.

Readers will know they’re not in Kansas anymore from the book’s opening pages. First of all,  we’re at the Claydon Mental Hospital. Kaitlyn has written in her diary:

I am myself again.

Carly has disappeared into the umbra, and I am alone. Ink on my fingers – she’s been writing  in the Message Book.

Good night, sis! she writes. We’ll be back at school soon. I can’t wait.

Turns out Kaitlyn and Carly  are one and the same. Carly, sweet and shy, inhabits the day and Kaitlyn, a little tougher around the edges, inhabits the night. Dr. Lansing, their psychotherapist, says that Kaitlyn is a product of trauma, a personality born of a personal tragedy. The two personalities communicate via a message book. They remind each other of people they’ve met, food they’ve eaten and the minutiae of daily life. Their separate lives happily co-exist.

But then Carly seems to go ‘missing’ and that’s when things take a decided turn into the weirder.  Dr. Lansing considers the disappearance of one personality a breakthrough. She tells Kaitlyn, “Carly is letting you go. It has to happen. It will feel like abandonment, it will be so hard. But, eventually, you’ll find peace. You’ll integrate. Absorb.”

Kaitlyn is convinced that that is not what is happening. She thinks Carly is trapped in the “dead house” and she has to rescue her. Kaitlyn isn’t alone. Naida, Carly’s best friend, is also sure that something sinister is going on – something to do with powerful dark magic.

Whichever way you read The Dark House, as a novel about mental illness or a supernatural horror story, Kurtagich’s novel is unusual and compelling, if not always comprehensible.

 

 

All The Rage – Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers is Canadian – let’s just get that out of the way. I am extra disposed to courtney-summers-all-the-ragelove her because she’s, you know, Canadian. Like Ryan Gosling is Canadian. And ketchup chips. Okay, now I am just putting off talking about All The Rage because reading Summers isn’t like reading other YA writers. She hits you hard right in the solar plexus. Every. Time.

Romy Grey used to be on the inside – until a party  changes everything.  Now she finds herself navigating the shark-infested waters of her high school and her small town, Grebe, where everyone knows everyone and all those everyones are subservient to the Turners – the town sheriff and his business owner wife.

When Romy wakes up in a ditch, disoriented and with no memory of what’s happened to her, it brings her back to another night when a beautiful boy  – a boy she wanted – rapes her in the back of his pick-up truck.

…how do you get a girl to stop crying?

You cover her mouth.

Romy never tells anyone what this beautiful boy, Kellan Turner (one and the same) did to her. Instead, she pushes the trauma of it as far down inside as she can and protects herself by painting her nails and lips red. But this second incident  – the waking up on the side of the road – starts to unravel Romy. Things are further complicated by the fact that another girl, Penny, is missing. Penny and Romy used to be friends, but are no longer.

There is so much going on in All The Rage. And, frankly, Summers’ timing couldn’t be any better. We live in a world that blames the girl and, regretfully, never really holds the boy accountable. One need only recall the circumstances surrounding the victim in the Brock Turner  rape case to realize how inadequate society’s reaction to these horrific events is. (The link will take you to the victim statement, which should be required reading.)  And almost more problematic is the fact that often women don’t stand with women in these cases. Romy finds herself isolated, bullied mercilessly by other girls which I find incredibly disturbing.

Girls are told what they can and can’t wear – an ongoing issue in every single high school, I am sure – because a visible bra strap or a too-short skirt is clearly an invitation to be assaulted. The victim-blaming is insidious.

It’s all too easy for Romy to be victimized. She was never really part of the gang. Her father was the town drunk. She’s from the wrong side of town. Now everyone blames her for Penny’s disappearance. It’s no wonder that Romy  starts to come apart.

At the checkout, it’s just boys at the registers and I can’t stand the idea of them knowing what I wear underneath my shirt. I tell Mom I have a headache, give her my wallet,  and wait in the car while she pays for it all. I wish I didn’t have a body, sometimes.

There are some good things in Romy’s life. She lives with her mother, who is awesome, and her mother’s new boyfriend, Todd – whom I LOVED, btw. He’s one of the good guys. Leon, the cook at the diner where Romy waitresses, genuinely seems to care for her.

All The Rage tackles a difficult subject with respect and tremendous insight. Romy is a beautifully drawn character, fragile and tremendously brave in equal measure. If I wasn’t already a huge fan of Summers’, I certainly would be after reading this book.

Highly recommended.

Also read: Some Girls Are, This Is Not a Test

 

Breakable – Tammara Webber

Ohhh, Lucas. I still love you. Maybe you will remember a couple years back when I got all 17936925swoony over my  encounter with Lucas in Tammara Webber’s first novel, Easy. In that book we are introduced to sophomore music student Jacqueline Wallace who has followed her douchey boyfriend, Kennedy, from their hometown in Texas to a college somewhere else. (I want to say near Washington, but I am not 100% sure and it really doesn’t matter.)

Breakable is pretty much their story, only this time from Lucas’s point of view. And you might think, “Hold on, wait a minute. Why in the heck do we need to hear the same story all over again?” Trust me – you need to hear Lucas’s story because Lucas is that guy – you know, the hot one with a tragic backstory. Also, Webber can write and it will not be a hardship to plow through Lucas’s story. Did I mention he’s hot?

Lucas first spots Jacqueline in an introductory Economics class. He is there, not as a student, but as the tutor – taking notes so he can help struggling students. He observes Jacqueline from across the room noting

There was nothing in the room as interesting as this girl…This girl wasn’t tapping her fingers restlessly, though. Her movements were methodical. Synchronized. …and at some point,  I realized that when her expression was remote and her fingers were moving, she was hearing music. She was playing music.

It was the most magical thing I’d ever seen anyone do.

Lucas can’t stop watching her, but he also can’t do anything about it. For one thing – she has a boyfriend (the aforementioned douche) and for another, it’s against the tutor-potential tutee rules. And Lucas is not anything, if he’s not principled. Plus, the professor of the course is his de facto father and Lucas would never willingly do anything to disappoint him.

Except, of course, he doesn’t really want to stay away from Jacqueline. He can’t.

Avoidance would have been the smart thing, but where she was concerned, all logical thought was useless. I was full of irrational desires to be what I could never be again, to have what I could never have.

I wanted to be whole.

Anyone who has already read Easy will already know how Jacqueline and Lucas officially meet. They will also know how intense their feelings for each other are. What they won’t know is how Lucas came to build the walls around his heart or the horrible feelings of guilt he carries with him or why he and his father have such a strained relationship. Breakable will answer all those questions.

Breakable is a companion rather than a prequel or a sequel. It’s also a much racier book than Easy, which I had no qualms about putting on my classroom library shelves. I’ll probably keep this one here at home.

I am sucker for the bad boys. Lucas and Jacqueline 4eva!

Another Little Piece – Kate Karyus Quinn

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book as whackadoodle as Another Little Piece. But I kinda mean that as a compliment because even though I often didn’t have a sweet clue how all the disparate pieces of Kate Karyus Quinn’s novel worked together, I couldn’t seem to stop reading.

12665819A teenage girl wanders out of a field, her feet “bare and bloodied” tugging at the “garbage bag she’d refashioned as a poncho.” She doesn’t know who she is or where she is. It turns out she’s Annaliese, missing and presumed dead for the past year.

Her identity and what happened to her is just one part of the mystery and quite frankly I’m not sure I’m up to trying to untangle the messy threads of Annaliese’s life because it’s not just Annaliese’s life. In fact, Annaliese isn’t actually Annaliese at all. It’s hard to say much, but  there’s definitely something not quite right about her. She’s a girl who watches a football player across the field and feels, of all things, a pang of hunger.

I could see the beads of sweat on his golden brown skin. Except it didn’t resemble sweat so much as the juices dripping from the crisp and crackling skin of a roasted chicken. I wanted to sink my teeth into him.

As Annaliese (let’s call this one Annaliese Two) tries to reconcile her new life in this body that isn’t hers, she starts to have flashes of memory. In the first memory she is standing in the woods watching a girl (the real Annaliese, let’s call her One) have sex with a football player (same as the juicy  chicken one) and when they are done and the boy has left her, Annaliese Two steps out from her hiding place and tells  Annaliese One that “It’s time to pay.” Payment, as it turns out, is pretty gruesome, but that’s how Annaliese Two gets from body-to-body. And she’s been doing it for a long time.

Despite the desire to bite someone, Annaliese isn’t a vampire, but she is something very old (I think) and very deadly. That said, she isn’t altogether unsympathetic. When she meets Dex, the reclusive boy next door, she starts to wonder if she might not have another kind of life, a real life, one that actually belongs to her.

I had a hard time keeping all the girls straight in the story and I think that after a while I just stopped caring so much about the logistics of the plot. I followed the through-line of Annaliese and glossed over the bits that made me go WTF. Another Little Piece is well-written, creepy and original. There’s lots for careful readers to gnaw on…and that line will be really funny once you’ve read the book.