Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Shelter from the Storms: How You Can Help Recovery Efforts

On Saturday, December 26th, the day after Christmas, I sat in my bathtub with my two crying girls and a dog as tornado sirens blared all around us. I would learn later that night that towns all around us were devastated by this storm, though this time we were spared.

We were not so lucky in 2011. On February 28th, 2011, the town we lived in in Ohio at the time flooded. We were forced to evacuate our home through flowing – and freezing – waters at 4 o’clock in the morning. When we came back the next day we learned that we had lost basically a third of our life. Which for me, included a lot of books. In fact, yesterday we were at Half Price Books and The Teen saw a complete edition of Edgar Allan Poe and I shared with her that when I graduated from high school that I had received a little bit of money and spent it to buy the complete works of Poe. That book, like so many others, was lost in the flood.

The city of Rowlett is about 15 minutes from my house and it was devastated by the storms on Saturday. Yesterday I called and talked to the teen librarian there because although we do not have a lot of money, I do happen to have some books. And man do I know what it is like to lose the things that you love in a storm. So I offered to take them some books if they thought they could help distribute them to their community. It was in this conversation that I learned that the Rowlett Library is acting as a shelter for people in this time of terrible loss. The High School librarian is volunteering there to help coordinate efforts. People are coming there to make important contacts, find the help that they need, and to just find a moment of peace in the aftermath of the storm. Libraries are important community resources.

Thing 2 helping me pack up boxes of books

Thing 2 helping me pack up boxes of books

Here are some of the various people taking donations that I know of. If you know of more, please add them in the comments.

Shields Elementary in the Dallas ISD suffered a lot of damage and they have an online site where you can go donate money to help them rebuild and restock their school library: https://redoakisd.revtrak.net/tek9.asp?pg=products&grp=3

The Teen dropping off clean up supplies at LakePointe Church in Rockwall

The Teen dropping off clean up supplies at LakePointe Church in Rockwall

LakePointe Church is Rockwall is one of several churches taking donations to help the Rowlett community. They are currently taking donations of canned goods and gift cards. If you donate after this week maybe call and see what they are asking for at that time. I know that they were asking for trash bags to help with the clean up and it looks like they no longer are.


Gas Monkey garage is hosting a benefit and taking donations on Saturday, January 3rd.


You can also look at https://garlandtx.recovers.org/ to find out some additional ways to help the city of Garland, Texas.

WFAA has a link to a variety of recovery efforts you can donate to: http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/2015/12/28/how-to-help-tornado-victims/77965462/

The Dallas Morning News also has complete coverage and a list of ways you can help the recovery effort: http://thescoopblog.dallasnews.com/2015/12/how-you-can-help-tornado-victims.html/

The Rowlett Public Library address is 5702 Rowlett Rd, Rowlett, TX 75088. I have never met a library who didn’t appreciate monetary donations. Maybe you can donate to help them provide programming for kids and teens during this long and difficult road to recovery.

And wherever you are, keep everyone in Texas and the surrounding states that have been so greatly affected by the storms of this week in your thoughts. Sadly, a lot of lives have been lost.

Just the other day Amanda MacGregor and I were talking about all the good things that have come into our life and the good things that we have gotten to do because of TLT. And to me, this is one of the greatest. Because of all those conferences I have attended and the generosity of publishers and authors, I have a lot of ARCs and books laying around. Many of them I have loved and been moved by. To own a book is one of the greatest feelings I know. Thank you all for reading TLT and helping me give this small gift to teens in a time of need. A ton of people helped my family out in 2011 when our home suffered from the storms, thank you for giving us an opportunity to pay it forward and put books in the hands of teens in this time of great need.

And again, if you know of recovery efforts or places taking donations – and it doesn’t have to be just in Texas, I know that many states have been effected – please link to them in our comments.

For some additional resources to share with kids, please see this School Library Journal list that appeared after the Sandy Hook Storm.

Book Review: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

firstsPublisher’s Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.

Karen’s Thoughts:


FIRSTS begins as a story about an empowered and sexually confident teenage girl – 17 and in the final part of her senior year of high school – who has decided that she is going to use her sexual knowledge and experience to help virgin boys get over their nerves so that they can give their girlfriends a good first experience. It then performs the most dramatic bait and switch as it becomes clear that our main character is not the sexually assured individual that she has introduced herself as. So what you think is going to be an empowering sex positive story of female sexuality becomes another story about a girl who has been victimized and is very much broken. It’s an unfortunate turn because there are no shortage of those stories out there and many of them are more consistently written.

Mercy – Mercedes – is a complicated and flawed character, which would be good if she weren’t written in such a dramatically inconsistent way. She is at times able to read the boys that step into her bedroom which such precision that she knows exactly what role to take on for them – complete with a drawer full of negligees to help her fulfill their fantasies. And yet she doesn’t see the various warning signs about a character that becomes the impetus for her downfall, even after several other characters point those very warning signs out to her. It’s a characterization that doesn’t make sense but is necessary in order for the plot as written here to work.

Speaking of those other characters, they also were weirdly written and hard to buy into. Faye is the new girl in town who 1) feels almost supernaturally drawn to Mercy from day 1 and 2) conveniently has an eerily similar story that makes her completely empathetic to what happens to Mercy when the school finds out that she has slept with a wide variety of the boys – and the boyfriends – of her fellow classmates. None of it rang true because it once again put plot convenience before character development.

And then there is Zach, who may be the male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. He is too perfect, standing by Mercy’s side after being publicly humiliated and deeply hurt. To up the absurdity of Zach even more, Mercy realizes how much he loves her after her friend Angela quotes a bible verse to her about how there is no fear in love and how perfect love casts out fear (John 4:18). I liked Zach, but I didn’t think he had much depth to him, nor did he seem like a realistic teenage boy.

The religious elements presented in Firsts are perhaps the most interesting part of this story. Mercy goes to an early morning Bible study because her best friend Angela believes. They are joined by Charlie, until Charlie makes it clear that he believes very little of what he claims to believe. Angela is a caricature of a deeply religious teen, and yet her character seemed the most authentic in the way that she struggled with purity culture and the idea of saving yourself until marriage. She at least seems to genuinely believe what she says she believes even as she wrestles with the practical aspects of living it daily.

To be honest, I was turned off of this book in the first few pages. We meet Mercy as she is engaged in her first of several “sex counseling” like sessions that she engages in throughout the book. Mercy asks Evan what he would do and he says he would “ask if I could touch them.”, them being her breasts. To which Mercy replies, ” . . . never ask if you can do something. Be bold, because confidence is one thing you can absolutely fake until you actually feel it.” The sexual politics of the story just get muddier and muddier from this moment out. In fact – and this is a MAJOR SPOILER – it becomes clear that part of the reason Mercy is so messed up is because she herself was groomed and then raped by an older boy at the age of 13, although no one ever calls it rape, which is another unfortunate misstep in this book. And when the school finds out that Mercy has slept with over 13 boys and the insults of slut and whore follow, only one person points out to Mercy, who blames herself for ruining these guys lives, that they were willing participants who sought her out for her “services”. So, there are some messy and not well addressed sexual politics that happen in this story. And that, to me, is one of my biggest concerns and one of the biggest flaws of this book.

Combine that with weak, inconsistent and unbelievable characterization and a lot of very unrealistic plot points – no adult ever really finds out about what is happening? no one in the school finds out about Mercy and her “services” until somewhere around boy 10? And a teenage girl even offers these kinds of “services”? – and I obviously have trouble recommending this book.

I will say, after all hell breaks loose because of the vindictive manipulations of one teenage boy, the story does kind of put the pieces back together in a feel good kind of way. Sure, you have to buy into the fact that Faye knows exactly what is happening to Mercy and Zach will unflinchingly stand by her side and Angela will believe her story and forgive her, but if you can do all of that then you get your feel good narrative.

On the flip side, I know people who have read this book and are singing its praises. I am not that person, but they are out there. In fact, it has an average rating of 3.80 on Goodreads with over 261 reviews. So make of that what you will.

FIRSTS will be released by St. Martin’s Griffin on January 5, 2016. I received an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. ISBN: 9781250075963.

16 2016 YA Books I’m Anxiously Anticipating

Like many of you (I’m guessing), I keep multiple reading-related lists. I keep track of what I read each year. I keep track of what ARCs I’ve gotten and hope to read. I keep track of what books I either want to get when they come out or hope to track down as ARCs but haven’t yet. There’s the list of 2016 LGBTQIA+ books. Look, I like lists. Even just listing my lists was fun for me. So anyway, I scanned through all my various relevant lists and pulled together this new list (yay!) of 16 YA books I can’t wait to read. In some cases, it’s because I liked the author’s previous work. In some cases, it’s a debut that’s caught my attention. In some cases, it’s just that I like reading my friends’ work. My list could have easily been “66 2016 YA Books I’m Anxiously Anticipating.” Hop in the comments or catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething and tell me what you are anxious to read in 2016!

All descriptions from the publishers.


some of the partsSome of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby (Random House, 2/16/2016)

For fans of Love Letters to the Dead and I’ll Give You the Sun comes a heartrending story of a teen who sets out on an unusual quest.

For months, Tallie McGovern has been coping with the death of her older brother the only way she knows how: by smiling bravely and pretending that she’s okay. She’s managed to fool her friends, her parents, and her teachers, yet she can’t even say his name out loud: “N—” is as far as she can go. Then Tallie comes across a letter in the mail, and it only takes two words to crack the careful façade she’s built up:

Two words that had apparently been checked off on her brother’s driver’s license; two words that her parents knew about—and never revealed to her. All at once, everything Tallie thought she understood about her brother’s death feels like a lie. And although a part of her knows he’s gone forever, another part of her wonders if finding the letter might be a sign. That if she can just track down the people on the other end of those two words, it might somehow bring him back.

Hannah Barnaby’s deeply moving novel asks questions there are no easy answers to as it follows a family struggling to pick up the pieces, and a girl determined to find the brother she wasn’t ready to let go of.


lookLook Both Ways by Allison Cherry (Random House, 6/14/2016)

Thoughtful, funny, and steeped in the wild drama of growing up, Alison Cherry’s new novel is the story of a girl hoping she’s found a place to belong . . . only to learn that neither talent nor love is as straightforward as she thinks.

A summer away from the city is the beginning of everything for Brooklyn Shepard. Her theater apprenticeship at Allerdale is a chance to prove that she can carve out a niche all her own, surrounded by people who don’t know anything about her or her family of superstar performers.
Brooklyn immediately hits it off with her roommate, Zoe, and soon their friendship turns into something more. Brooklyn wants to see herself as someone who’s open to everything and everyone, but as her feelings for Zoe intensify, so do her doubts. She’s happier than she’s ever been—but is it because of her new relationship? Or is it because she’s finally discovering who she wants to be?


original fakeOriginal Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills (Penguin Young Readers Group, 4/19/2016)

In this Banksy-inspired illustrated novel, an escalating sibling rivalry train wrecks and vengeance is a street-art act of war

Introvert Frankie Neumann hates his life, and understandably so. He’s got a weird, tutu-wearing sister, Lou, and even weirder parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively. And, he’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta. Though he has secret artistic aspirations of his own, his over-the-top family makes him want to stay in the background. But Frankie’s life is about to change—becoming way more interesting, even a little dangerous, but definitely cool.

After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie meets David and Rory, cousins and errand runners for the mysterious Uncle Epic, a legendary anonymous street artist and Frankie’s absolute idol. Little could Frankie dream that his new adventures with Uncle Epic would lead to the perfect opportunity to strike back at his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But things go haywire quicker than you can say “street art kicks righteous ass,” and the lines are suddenly blurred between art and Frankie’s real life.


love blindLove Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry (Simon Pulse, 5/10/2016)

Shy high schooler Kyle Jamieson and Hailey Bosler, a musician with degenerative blindness, team up to tackle a bucket list of greatest fears in this compelling novel that explores what it means to take risks.

It starts with a list of fears. Stupid things really. Things that Hailey shouldn’t worry about, wouldn’t worry about if she didn’t wake up every morning with the world a little more blurry. Unable to see her two moms clearly. Unable to read the music for her guitar. One step closer to losing the things she cares about the most.

For a while, the only thing that keeps Hailey moving forward is the feeling she gets when she crosses something off the list.

Then she meets Kyle. He mumbles—when he talks at all—and listens to music to drown out his thoughts. He’s loaded down with fears, too. So Hailey talks him into making his own list.

Together, they stumble into an odd friendship, helping each other tackle one after another of their biggest fears. But fate and timing can change everything. And sometimes facing your worst fear makes you realize you had nothing to lose after all.


whateverWhatever by Suzanne Cudd Goslee (Roaring Brook Press, 8/2/2016)

Hilarity ensues when a slacker teen boy discovers he’s gay, in this unforgettably funny YA debut.

Mike Tate is a normal dude. He and his friends have a crappy band (an excuse to drink cheap beer and rock out to the Lemonheads) and hang out in parking lots doing stupid board tricks. But when Mike’s girlfriend Lisa, who knows him better than he does, breaks up with him, he realizes he’s about to have a major epiphany that will blow his mind. And worse–he gets elected to homecoming court.

It’s like the apocalypse came, only instead of nuclear bombs and zombies, Mike gets school participation, gay thoughts, and mother-effin’ cheerleaders.

With the free spirit of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the raw voice of Winger, and characters reminiscent of Freaks & Geeks, this debut YA offers a standout voice and a fresh, modern take on the coming-out story.


9780399175411_OutrunTheMoon_BOM.inddOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee (Penguin Young Readers Group, 5/24/2016)

From the author of the critically acclaimed Under a Painted Sky, an unforgettable story of determination set against a backdrop of devastating tragedy. Perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Breakout author Stacey Lee masterfully crafts another remarkable novel set against a unique historical backdrop. Strong-willed Mercy Wong leads a cast of diverse characters in this extraordinary tale of survival.


we are the antsWe Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 1/19/2016)

From the “author to watch” (Kirkus Reviews) of The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley comes a brand-new novel about a teenage boy who must decide whether or not the world is worth saving.

Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button.

Only he isn’t sure he wants to.

After all, life hasn’t been great for Henry. His mom is a struggling waitress held together by a thin layer of cigarette smoke. His brother is a jobless dropout who just knocked someone up. His grandmother is slowly losing herself to Alzheimer’s. And Henry is still dealing with the grief of his boyfriend’s suicide last year.

Wiping the slate clean sounds like a pretty good choice to him.

But Henry is a scientist first, and facing the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons: in the bully who is his perpetual one-night stand, in the best friend who betrayed him, in the brilliant and mysterious boy who walked into the wrong class. Weighing the pain and the joy that surrounds him, Henry is left with the ultimate choice: push the button and save the planet and everyone on it…or let the world—and his pain—be destroyed forever.


enter titleEnter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia (Disney-Hyperion, 8/2/2016)

I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.

Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.

What’s a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent’s help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.

But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she’s already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.

Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)

In this wholly unique, wickedly funny debut novel, Rahul Kanakia consciously uses the rules of storytelling—and then breaks them to pieces.


smaller evilThe Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 8/2/2016)

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.


you know meYou Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour (St. Martin’s Press, 6/7/2016)

Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other — and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Told in alternating points of view by Nina LaCour, the award-winning author of Hold Still andThe Disenchantments, and David Levithan, the best-selling author of Every Day and co-author ofNick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (with John Green), You Know Me Well is a deeply honest story about navigating the joys and heartaches of first love, one truth at a time.


when weWhen We Collided by Emery Lord (Bloomsbury USA, 4/5/2016)

Seventeen year-old Jonah Daniels has lived in Verona Cove, California, his whole life, and only one thing has ever changed: his father used to be alive, and now he is not. With a mother lost in a deep bout of depression, Jonah and his five siblings struggle to keep up their home and the restaurant their dad left behind. But at the start of summer, a second change rolls in: Vivi Alexander, the new girl in town.

Vivi is in love with life. Charming and unfiltered, she refuses to be held down by the medicine she’s told should make her feel better. After meeting Jonah, she slides into the Daniels’ household seamlessly, winning over each sibling with her imagination and gameness. But it’s not long before Vivi’s zest for life begins to falter. Soon her adventurousness becomes all-out danger-seeking.

Through each high and low, Vivi and Jonah’s love is put to the test . . . but what happens when love simply isn’t enough?


words for yesThe Word For Yes by Claire Needell (HarperCollins, 2/16/2016)

At once honest and touching, Claire Needell’s debut novel is a moving look at date rape and its aftermath, at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart.

The gap between the Russell sisters—Jan, Erika, and Melanie—widens as each day passes. Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence.

And in the aftermath, Jan, Erika, and Melanie will have to work hard to reconnect and help one another heal.

The Word for Yes will inspire necessary conversation about a topical and important issue facing our society. The book includes a thoughtful author’s note that provides resources for readers.


the way i usedThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 3/22/2016)

In the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault.

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.


the memoryThe Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic, 1/26/2016)

When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: After her suicide attempt, she shouldn’t be alive. But then she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she’s never had.

But Vicky’s newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vick back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage  and strength. She may not have them. She doesn’t know.

Inspired in part by the author’s own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one — about living when life doesn’t seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.


ask meAsk Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann (HarperCollins, 5/3/2016)

From the author of the acclaimed Poisoned Apples comes a novel in verse about a young woman and the aftermath of a life-altering decision. This thought-provoking and sophisticated read further confirms Christine Heppermann as an important voice in the tradition of Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, and A. S. King.

Addie has always known what she was running toward. In cross country, in life, in love. Until she and her boyfriend—her sensitive, good-guy boyfriend—are careless one night and she ends up pregnant. Addie makes the difficult choice to have an abortion. And after that—even though she knows it was the right decision for her—nothing is the same anymore. She doesn’t want anyone besides her parents and her boyfriend to know what happened; she doesn’t want to run cross country; she can’t bring herself to be excited about anything. Until she reconnects with Juliana, a former teammate who’s going through her own dark places. Once again, Christine Heppermann writes with an unflinching honesty and a deep sensitivity about the complexities of being a teenager, being a woman. Her free-verse poems are moving, provocative, and often full of wry humor and a sharp wit. Like Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins, Christine Heppermann is a voice to turn to for the truth of difficult subjects. Ask Me How I Got Here is a literary exploration of sexuality, religion, and self-discovery.


3P JKT Geeks_Guide.inddThe Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash (Simon & Schuster, 6/14/2016)

John Hughes meets Comic-Con in this hilarious, unabashedly romantic, coming-of-age novel about a teenager who is trying to get his best friend to fall in love with him from the author ofThree Day Summer.

Graham Posner has fallen for his best friend Roxanne and has planned (in excruciating detail) a perfect weekend for her at Comic-Con, where he intends to confess his love. But things start falling apart before the weekend even starts, and Graham has to make a lot of crazy promises to get things to go his way. When Roxanne meets her “ideal guy” at the convention and Graham finds himself with some stiff competition, the stakes are raised even higher. Will all of his geeky knowledge and charm be enough to win her heart?

Middle School Monday – Cooking School

So I’m on vacation, as you might expect, and reading things that I can’t review for a while. But I’m thinking about an offer I had over the Thanksgiving weekend. Friends whom I visit once or twice a year said to me, “We had this great idea, but only if you think it’s a great idea.” Intriguing. Basically, they want me to teach their children (Isabel, aged 13, and Ezra, aged 9) to cook.

I am immediately all in. I learned to cook both from pestering my mother at a young age and from Girl Scouts. These friends believe that it will be easier for me to teacher their children, because they won’t roll their eyes at me. If they do, it won’t be the first time – it’s something I’m used to from working with middle schoolers.

61GZFVZN8SL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_My first instinct is to make a Pinterest board with recipe ideas. Next come the children’s cookbooks. I am most intrigued by Wendy Sweetser’s How to Cook in 10 Easy Lesson001s: Learn how to prepare food and cook like a pro. It seems to cover all of the essential skills needed to understand cooking from recipes, while giving a good overview of basic standards. It reminds me a little bit of the book I had as a child… 





Another option might be the 2015 Complete Children’s Cookbook by DK.  It is described as:

Delicious dishes ki9781465435460_eca8dds will really want to make.

More than 150 fabulous recipes, divided into nine themed chapters (Breakfast, Soups and Salads, Light Bites, and more) will have you and your child in the kitchen and cooking in no time. From French toast to rainbow salad, vegetable lasagna to tomato soup, and ice cream to mini muffins, Complete Children’s Cookbook has a recipe for every occasion. And with beautiful full-color photography, simple instructions, and a focus on safety, each one makes an ideal cook-together project that will have children excited to try the new flavors in the dishes they helped make. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow and feature a picture for every step, so children can see clearly just what to do as they build basic cooking skills, safe kitchen practices, and adventurous palates.

I can only hope it lives up to expectations.

But there are so many choices. What would you recommend?




Take 5: YA Lit with Great Female Friendships

friendshipYesterday I shared with you a little bit about my feelings about people telling The Teen that she is “too sensitive”. It’s something that we obviously talk about a lot because I want to remind her that she can and should be able to express her feelings and stand up for herself. The other part of the equation is that I also share YA books that have strong female friendships in them with her. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not romanticized ideals of friendship; in fact, I love books that are just the opposite, that model friendships going through turbulent times and how the girls in the stories figure out ways to work out their issues. Sometimes the friends will spend a large part of the story apart as they figure out how they feel and why. Here are a few of the recent ones that she has read and loved. Please share your recommendations in the comments, we’re always looking for more to read.

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

friendship6About the Book: In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that’s still so present. Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who seems to truly understand Eva’s grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head-over-heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the west coast to see Will again. As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls “gorgeous, funny, and joyous,” readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all of its forms.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is not just a great book about the friendship between two girls – and it is in fact that – but it is a great book about female relationships in a lot of different directions, including mothers and daughters. The trip brings Eva and Annie together and tears them apart, but it’s what they learn along the way that really matters.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

friendship4About the Book: Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Karen’s Thoughts: Look, this book is glorious and if you haven’t read it you should rectify that right away. Like Kissing in America, this is a great book about a variety of different types of relationships, including mothers and daughters and girls and their favorite aunts. It’s a book about grief and healing. It’s a book about self acceptance. It’s a book about falling in love. But it is a book about old friendships and new, about loving friends, about hurting friends, about forgiving friends – and that is one of the most amazing parts of Dumplin’s story.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

friendship1About the Book: Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Karen’s Thoughts: This is a book we both read this year in preparation of meeting author Sarah Dessen, one of my long time favorites. Sydney finds herself adrift after her older brother is sent to jail and her family dynamics are totally changed. She is taken in by a new family, where she meets Mac and Layla. Although there is some good romance stuff happening with Mac, it is the friendship with Layla that I found to be the most compelling part of this book.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

friendship3About the Book: I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine – and I will do anything, anything to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France – an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team

Karen’s Thoughts: This is one of the most profound and glorious examples of female friendships I have every read. It’s historical fiction and shows our two main characters engaged in activities that were very unusual for girls at that time – flying a plane! So that’s an additional bonus element to Verity. But man, this friendship is just amazing.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

friendship5About the Book: Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins

Karen’s Thoughts: It pains me to note that at this point, this is a classic. And of all the titles this one is perhaps the most romanticized, in part because the magical pants bring that element into the story. And, of course, in this story the girls actually spend a great amount of time apart going on their own separate journeys. But it is the coming back together again that reminds us all that friends can spend time apart, learn and grow and change, and still be friends in the end.

And a Bonus TV Show: Girl Meets World

friendship8I am not ashamed to say that I love this show. Yes, it’s very preachy and heavy handed, but it also features two very fleshed out and strong female leads that I just enjoy. Maya is my favorite, in part because she has more dimensionality to her. But they have also done a really good job in recent episodes of giving more depth and conflict to Riley. I’ve been a little worried with the Texas series about the plot device of having a boy come between them, though this is a very real world scenario for this age group. I just worry over making this strong story of two girls now become about a boy, at least about a boy’s role in their lives and their friendship. But I’m trying to keep an open mind and hope that they don’t screw things up.

As we go into this new year, I have been thinking a lot about friendship. The Teen likes to read romance, which I understand because I remember being in middle school. But I hate the way girls reach a certain age and all the sudden everything becomes about boys. It’s not a thing that just happens, it is in fact a message that we send to girls culturally over and over again. So I love a good book that reminds us all that friendships are not only as important but sometimes even more important than the boyfriends that can highlight the middle and high school years. I am personally not in contact with any of the boys I dated during these years, but I still talk to some of my best friends and I am grateful to have those relationships all these years later. So here’s to female friendships in YA literature!

Sunday Reflections: Dear world, stop telling my teenage daughter she is too sensitive

example39We were driving to a friend’s house when we came to the Intersection of Doom; traffic almost always comes to a stop here as 3 billion cars try to navigate an interchange designed to meet the freeway needs of only about 1 billion cars. At the time, I’m sure it made sense in some civic engineers head, but that civic engineer had no idea the number of humans that would move to the DFW area or the number of a times a day the traffic would come to a stand still.

As I contemplated all of this, an intense sobbing soon came from the seat beside me and to be honest, I knew right away what it would be. You see, this Intersection of Doom is also a great place for the homeless to stand – the cars always stop here, you are more likely to be seen and heard. And as I look up my suspicions were confirmed: outside the passenger side window stood an older gentleman holding a sign asking for food and in the seat beside me sat my teenage daughter sobbing. I knew what it was because I know her.

She is a sensitive soul. And to be quite honest, I like that about her. Though I don’t like what it does to her. But I understand it because she comes by it rightfully – I too am a sensitive soul. I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that not a day hasn’t gone by in my life where I haven’t teared up. TV commercials, songs, stories that my friends tell, seeing the homeless people at the Intersection of Doom. I get who she is and why she is crying.

Yes, she is sensitive. She is also passionate, compassionate, caring, kind, giving, gracious, grateful and so much more. Her heart is raw and exposed, but she acts on it and I think the world is better for it.

During last summer a friend said a thing that hurt her feelings. She told me what it was, it was in fact a pretty crappy thing. Instead of saying “I’m sorry”, this friend busted out the “you’re just too sensitive card.” What she was really saying is, “I don’t want to take responsibility for the fact that I did a crappy thing and hurt your feelings so now I’m going to blame you.” And here’s why it sucks: now, my daughter is hesitant to speak up when friends hurt her feelings, giving control to others in the relationship. She’s afraid to stand up for herself, she’s afraid to speak up about her feelings, she’s afraid to ask for respect and kindness. She stays silent because she fears that standing up for herself will result in her losing friends or being blamed for being too sensitive.

example46When we tell someone that they are too sensitive, what we are doing is telling them that they don’t have a right to think and feel what they think and feel. We invalidate them. We dismiss them. We ask them to conform to our standards instead of recognizing that there are other equally valid ways of being in this world. We blame those we have hurt for having the audacity to be hurt rather than say we are sorry for hurting them.

The other day a friend did a really crappy thing to her. She came to me with the hurt in her eyes, but she wouldn’t say anything. She wouldn’t say anything because she feared that by saying that hurt my feelings she would lose a friend because she was being too sensitive. But the truth is, if you have a friend who doesn’t care that they hurt your feelings, if they aren’t at least willing to talk to you about it to listen to your feelings, then they probably aren’t really a friend at all.

Because I was upset to see her feeling like she couldn’t even talk about her feelings, I said something on Twitter. It turns out a lot of us get told we are “too sensitive” and have strong feelings about it:

My friends on Twitter helped give me the words I needed to talk to The Teen about why “too sensitive” was a problem; not necessarily a problem with who she is, but a problematic statement. It also helped me understand why it had always bothered me when I was told this. And I was told this a lot. Am. I am told this a lot.

In November, my dad visited. At one point he made what in his mind was a humorous statement that involved “your face” – which he said to a 13-year-old girl who is just now wrestling with how she feels about her face. It was definitely the wrong thing to say at the exact wrong time. When he saw that he had hurt her feelings, he went and talked to her. This is progress. This is a step in the right direction from the man who frequently told me that I was “too sensitive”. Maybe it’s the difference between being a father and a grandfather. But I would like to think it is 20 years of learning and progress and empathy.

example5That’s what “you’re just too sensitive” lacks: empathy. Empathy for the person in front of you saying that their heart or their soul is wounded by the words that you have said or from the actions you have just taken, or failed to take. Empathy looks at the person in front of you expressing their feelings and tries to understand their point of view; empathy asks you to step outside of yourself in this moment and put your feet into their shoes so that you can try and understand what it is they are thinking and feeling. “You’re too sensitive” shuts down any doorways for empathy. The door is slammed and the person on the other side is just expected to deal because it is their problem.

So dear world, please stop telling my teenage daughter that she is too sensitive. Instead, maybe take a moment to listen to her express her feelings and acknowledge that she has a right to feel them, to be who she is. Let her know that who she is and what she thinks and feels has value and that you will try to honor that value by respecting her enough to listen to her. And just maybe, once in a while, you could say that you’re sorry for hurting her.


Her Mom

Friday Finds – December 25, 2015

fridayfindsThis Week at TLT

Sunday Reflections: Last Christmas, I Gave You My Hope

Middle School Monday – Superheroes Don’t Eat Veggie Burgers by Gretchen Kelley

Book Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

App Review: FotoRus

Karen’s Top 15 Reads of 2015

How Did You Do That? Photo Apps Version

Around the Web

The Number Of U.S. Teenagers Giving Birth Has Reached A Historic Low

You Should be Reading Lumberjanes

Allegiant Posters!

26 of Our Most Anticipated Fantasy Novels of 2016 — The B&N Teen Blog


How Did You Do That? Photo Apps Version

I get a lot of email where people ask how I created such and such of a graphic. Today, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips, tricks, and filters. A decent portion of my current teen programming involves teaching teens how to do fun photo tricks and then to translate that into their own artistic creations. I myself use these tips to create images that I use on social media, both personal and for the library, on crafts that I create, and I even use them to make a variety of photo announcements. Each year I make party invitations and keepsakes for the girls designed to capture the essence of who they are in that year. I also like to design my own party invitations and holiday cards.

The Grid Photo

I like the grid photo as it is a great overlook of an event, a year, or a relationship. For example, when The Teen got her black belt this summer I created a grid photo that highlighted the events of that day. I use the grid photo choice in the Photo Shake app to make my grid photos.

Black belt day

Black belt day

Hey look, it's TLT!

Hey look, it’s TLT!

A Variation on the Grid Photo: The Stacked Photo

The Teen and The Bestie

The Teen and The Bestie

I made this stacked – also called a collage photo – using the DipTic app. You can put a variety of pics together in various sequences using this app.

The Blended Photo

I am currently obsessed with blended photos, which I create using the Fused app. This is two photos blended together. The first photo is the Sunburst background that I found in the Pic Effect Free app. The second photo is of The Teen on black belt test day. Before I could use the photo I first had to turn it into a white silhouette, which I did using the Silhouette app. Then the Fused app blends the two together to create an awesome looking photo.


Here’s another example. In this one, Thing 2 is turned into a silhouette and blended with a galaxy pic.


The Image Overlay

Although there are many apps that can do image overlays – like Aviary and Be Funky to give a couple of examples – you can also do this using the Fused app as well. This is the foundation of one of the six – yes, six! – variations of Christmas cards I made this year.


As you can see, I used a grid photo of the girls and fused it with a silhouette of a Christmas tree. I then went on to add text, snow effects (stickers in the Candy Cam app), and such to make it look like a photo card worthy of one made in a store or online.

example59The Blue Brick Wall

Another thing I am obsessed with: the blue brick wall. Here’s what it looks like:


Here’s how I make it happen. First, I took a picture of a painting that The Mr. did a couple of years ago:


Then I used the Stenciler effect on the Be Funky app to make it look like this:


And then I just added my text. This one is quick and easy but has been one of my favorites.

Galaxy Effect


Just in time for Star Wars Reads Day, I discovered a cool way to make galaxy effects on my photos. First step, use the Space Effects app to put stars and galaxy effects on your photo. And then, use the Fish Eye filter in the FotoRus app to give it that circular planet look. It helps that I was dressed up as a Jedi and had a R2-D2 prop on hand.

Some of my other favorite Be Funky effects include: Holga Art, Motion Color and Pop Art 6 (which makes it look like a comic book page).

Image Chef

While helping The Teen with a recent poetry project, I stumbled across an app called Image Chef – there is also an online version – that can help you create fun images quickly and easily. Behold:

example44 example43 example42

The Shanghai Filter

If you, like me, loved the cover of A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, then you will like the Shanghai Filter. I swear they used it to make the cover of this book. This is a filter in the Hipstamatic app. Hipstamatic is an awesome – though it can get expensive quickly – app that I love. The only issue I used to have with it is that you had to select a combination of film and lens before taking your picture and it required you to really understand how they would all work together. In the newest update of the app you can now take a picture with your regular camera and then use the various films and lens on your picture to find the combination that works best for you. Hallelujah! And it goes without saying that right now my favorite is Shanghai:

example46 example39 example5

Adding Stickers for Pizzaz!

There are a lot of apps out there that have what they call stickers. My favorite to date is Candy Cam. They had a wide variety of amazing winter and holiday stickers that I used to create my various Christmas cards. I mentioned I made six of them, right? Yes, I have issues. But the stickers in Candy Cam allowed me to take my photo from this:


To this:

example65By the way, the snowflake picture itself was created using the PIP feature in FotoRus.

Putting It All Together

I am not an artist. I am not a photographer. And I am not a graphic designer. I’m just a YA librarian that loves to make displays, flyers and promo materials and a mom that is obsessed with her kids. But using a variety of apps I am able to transform a really crappy picture that looks like this:


Into something else altogether. First, I make the image more focused and cut out all the extra bits using filters and the vignette effect in the Aviary app:


Then I add text using the Over app. There are other ways to do this, including right there in the Aviary app, but I am most comfortable using the Over app.


Then, I load my saved picture into Candy Cam and add my sticker effects. In this case, I chose snow.


It may seem like a long process, but I do it so often that I can create entire images in less than 5 minutes. There are probably easier ways to do this. A graphic artist could do these same things using one program I imagine. That is not my skill set. So I use apps. Often times I will use multiple apps to create one image, saving each step of the way in case I make a mistake. And in case you are wondering, my cards printed out nicely and I could mail them traditionally or electronically to whomever.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t just do this for personal use. I go through these steps to create images for various promotional materials at my library. And I have created images that I have later used in crafts to make original gifts for people.

So these are some of my favorite apps, tips and tricks. What are yours? I’m always looking for new ways to create some fun so please share in the comments.

Photo Apps Mentioned:

Aviary (general editing and filters), Be Funky (filters), Candy Cam (stickers), Diptic (collages), FotoRus (Fish eye filter, picture in picture), Fused (blending photos), Hipstamatic (Shangai effect), Image Chef (quick images), Photo Shake (grid photo), Pic Effect Free (sunburst effect), Silhouette (turn a pic into a silhouette), Space Effects Free (planet, galaxy effects)

See also: Generate Marketing Creativity with iPhone Apps

Karen’s Top 15 Reads of 2015

Earlier this month Amanda shared her Favorite 15 reads of 2015. Today it is my turn. Since we try to cover as many books as possible here, we often don’t read the same books, though that is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes I will read a book and want to talk to Amanda or some of the other TLTers about it. Sometimes Amanda will rave so much about a book that I have to read it too. Sometimes we just love the same authors. For example, Robin and I are currently fighting over an ARC of the 2016 release from Sarah Rees Brennan because we love her (for the record, I think Robin won). So my list is purposely much different than Amanda’s list.

This is how I went about making my list: I didn’t go back and read reviews. In fact, I didn’t even look up book titles. What I did was sit down and write down a list of the books that I could think about off of the top of my head first. These are the books that were so memorable to me that I still think about them, talk about them, etc. A couple of the titles I didn’t actually even write a review for. Only one of the titles appears on both mine and Amanda’s list, though I love Amanda’s list and all the books on it and could just as easily have written that list. And if I wrote this list a month from now, some of the titles would change.

So, now that you know a little bit more about how this list came to be, here are some of my favorite reads of 2015 . . .

My Favorite 15 Reads of 2015


Because Girls Matter, Too, and So Do Their Stories

top1Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

This book is amazing in every way. I love how the characters are all so well developed; not just the main characters, but all of the characters. I love the various ways it looks at female relationships, including various levels of friendships and the mother/daughter relationship. But what I love most about this book is the profound impact it had on my daughter who also read it and the conversations it helped us to have. Dumplin’ is well written, inspiring, and it also has a lot of sass and fun. Dumplin’ may or may not win the local beauty pageant, but she is sure to win your heart.



top12All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Everyone should read this book which takes a hard look at what life is like for girls. It’s like Summers set out to write a book that highlighted everything that’s wrong with rape culture and asked us to look deeply into the dark ways in which we discount and blame victims for their rapes. PS, that is in fact exactly what she has done. In a year in which the topic of sexual violence has taken over a large portion of our national headlines, this is a must read that helps put some of what we hear into perspective. It’s a very difficult read, but it is so well done and so very important.



top6The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Because of the Faith and Spirituality in the Lives of Teens series, I read a lot of books this year that dealt with the topic of faith. Minnow Bly was shocking from page one and never really stopped shocking me. But it also spoke to the very core of me about the female experience; even though this story is not my story, I recognized so many of the universal truths presented here. And at the end of the day, after being told time and time again who to be, how to dress, and what to believe, Minnow Bly is finally put in a position where she can begin to answer those questions about herself, for herself. Every part of this journey is challenging and yet moving.


top4Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

This is another title that spoke to the heart of me about what it means to be a girl in our world. I was so moved by this book that I wrote the author, Corey Ann Haydu, a very personal letter explaining my upbringing and how much I related to this book. This is a very realistic look at the pressure we put on young girls to look a certain way and the impact it has on their sense of self and worth. I would love for all high school students to have to do a study on the female experience which would include reading this book, All the Rage, Dumplin‘, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and the Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, to name just a few.


top8Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

In the early days of my YA librarian career, there were far less YA titles and authors to choose from. They consisted primarily of Judy Blume, Chris Crutcher, Robert Cormier, R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike. Horror, in fact, made up the largest part of my collection. And then there was Sarah Dessen. Dessen has consistently written YA books that are insightful, engaging, and yes, heartwarming. Saint Anything is a moving story about friendships of many kinds, falling in and out of love, family, and self.


Because Politics are Interesting

top13The Fixer by Jennifer Lynne Barnes

As a nation, the United States is in a polarizing and important election. One of the things that I liked most about the Fixer is the behind the scenes looks it gave readers into the world of politics and power plays. As someone who has been saying for a long time that money buys elections, it was interesting to read about it in the pages of a YA thriller. I also love that this book features a strong and confident yet flawed female in a role that would traditionally be occupied by a male protagonist. It’s also a fun thriller; sometimes it’s nice just to read something fun.

top14The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules is a thought provoking dystopian that also gives us an interesting glimpse into the world of politics. Here, major political heads are asked to send their children to a remote colony where they will be sacrificed in the event of war. The theory is that this will prevent world leaders from initiating acts of war; after all, what parent wants to sacrifice their child for power? There are lots of twists and turns and power plays and sacrifices here. And you are reading the story of isolated children and teens who have no one but each other to befriend or even date, knowing that at any moment they could be mortal enemies where one life is pitted against the other. It’s intense, unique, and compelling.


Because a Good Twist is a Good Twist

top15Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

This book is mesmerizing. I hate to compare and author to another author, but in this case I think the comparison is both warranted and one of the biggest compliments I can give to another author: This book always makes me think of Ray Bradbury. I think it is the haunting way that the small town with the gaps is described and the things that happen in those gaps, which are chilling. The descriptions, the tone, the atmosphere, the melancholy of it all brings to mind Dandelion Wine and the haunting tale itself always makes me thing Something Wicked This Way Comes. But make no mistake, it is by no means derivative, it is unique in the story it tells and the ways that it haunts.


top16The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

What if the characters of Love and Death played a game? What if that game involved characters falling in and out of love? And what if that game took place in the 1930s where one of the characters was white and the other was black? And what if we added in the background amazing jazz music, gender stereotype breaking women, and just continued to raise the stakes and defy convention? The Game of Love and Death is this amazingly crafted story of true love against all odds. This book isn’t just on my list, it’s on The Teen’s list of her top 5 books of 2015.


top9More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

I love this profoundly trippy and moving book for some many reasons. First, it kept me guessing every step of the way and kept surprising. Second, it was one of the few books I read this year that realistically portrayed the life of a profoundly poor teen. Third, it is a spot on depiction of the roller coaster ride that grief and guilt are. And fourth, it is a humanizing look at the life of a young man who is wrestling in very real and immediate ways with identity.


Because Relevant and Timely Still Matter

top10I Crawl Through It by A. S. King

This is probably the book I have wrestled with most as a reader. Not just with what it has to say, but how it has to say it. This is the book I have most asked other people to read and discuss with me. To be completely honest, there are still parts of the story that I am trying to figure out. But there is no denying that A. S. King hands down captures that very real anxiety that today’s teens are living with and the various reasons why. Characters that walk around inside out, characters that are growing up in a culture (a home) obsessed with mass shootings, characters that attend a school that keeps being cancelled because yet another bomb threat has been called in . . . this is the reality of the world our teens are living in and King captures the stress and uncertainty of it with pitch perfect brilliance.

top5All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds are both amazing writers who approach a timely story with sensitivity and compassion yet brutal honesty. Told in two points of view, Reynolds and Kiely ask us to consider what it is like for a black boy to be approached by the police and what it’s like to stand up for justice in a world that is very much divided on what justice may look like.


Because Not Every Teen Lives in a Gated Community or Goes to a Boarding School

top7The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler

The Truth About Us is a very accessible romance that also highlights socio-economic disparity and the conflict it can cause. I love, however, that this book flips the genders – growing up it always seemed like it was a rich boy/poor girls story like Pretty in Pink. There is a lot of good stuff happening here as we get an inside look at the life of a teenaged boy who works and eats at a local homeless shelter. He is not, technically, homeless like the teens in No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss (another good read), but he is very much worried about where his next meal is going to come from.

top2The Hit by Delilah S. Dawson

This book combines a lot of my favorite elements into one awesome story: dystopian, politics, and socioeconomic inequality. The premise of this first book is unique and fascinating. In this future, you may be conscripted by a firm to perform a certain number of assassinations for them in order to get your freedom. That’s right, they make people kill for them in order to pay off your debt. It’s an interesting premise and a thrilling read. In a world where the income gap grows larger every day, it’s interesting to take an absurd look at where we might be headed to force ourselves to ask the very relevant questions we need to be asking about where we might be headed if we continue to let our fellow citizens slide further and further into poverty.

Because Sometimes a Book Just Makes Your Spirit Soar

top11Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

This book is glorious. But it is also gut-wrenching. Madeline lives her life inside a bubble, quite literally: she is allergic to everything. But when she takes a chance on the new boy across the street, everything changes. This book makes my soul sing. And it made my eyes leak a little bit here and there. And this is another title that is not only on my top of list for 2015, it’s on The Teen’s.

 How about you? What’s on your list and why?

App Review: FotoRus

It’s been a couple of weeks since I talked about a photo app, so you probably thought that my obsession with photos and photo apps was dying down – but no! It is alive and well, I have just been waiting for the right moment. Like now, now feels like the right moment to discuss with you an app with a few fun new features that I have found.

fotorusFotoRus is an app that does multiple things. You can create a collage, add a sticker or edit like a pro using the pro edit feature. My two favorite things about FotoRus are the Mag Library feature (InstaMag) and the PIP (photo in a photo) feature.

Mag Library

Mag Library is short for magazine library. Here you can select a magazine spread layout and add your photos. You can’t do a lot of editing, which is the downside, but if you are looking for quick and easy layouts it is a definite plus. Even when switching to Pro Edit I couldn’t get rid of a few pieces of text that I wanted to. There are a ton of fun and creative layouts to choose from.



The PIP feature allows you to create a dual picture effect. I made holiday cards this year using the snowflake picture. There are also images like camera view finders, bottles, smart phone screens and, my other personal favorite, the audio cassette. As you can see, it kind of puts the picture in the background as an out of focus image and then it highlights it inside the selected picture.



The App Details

Description from iTunes:

Including Professional Edit, Beauty, Special Effects, Sticker, Secret Album, and InstaMag!

Apply hundreds of stickers with funny, cute and girly themes. Make your photo more expressive!

【Classic Collage】
Over 100+ Square, Portrait, Landscape, and Strips format and styles to suit all your artistic needs!

【Pro Edit】
Over a dozen powerful and must-have editing functions such as Filters, Scenes, Adjust, Lighting, Light pen, and etc! Come check it out!

Try our real-time beauty camera and take the perfect-looking selfie! Use our rich function sets to further edit your selfie including: Remove blemishes, whiten skin, remove eye-bag, and many more!

The most fashionable designer-style collages and posters! Easy, beautiful, with all kinds design styles to choose from.

【PIP Camera】
The most creative and professional-studio selfie with one tap of a finger! #1 in over 40 countries! Great for making your profile photos.

【Secret Album】
Protect you secret photos from others!

This app is available for both iTunes and on Google Play. It is free and there are ads.

You can also download FotoRus for your PC. I have not done this and can’t tell you how it works on the PC, sorry.

There are other apps that do some of the same things as FotoRus. For example, you can do a lot of the editing in Aviary, you can add text with Over, you can make collages with a wide variety of apps, and you can add stickers with apps like CandyCam and A Beautiful Mess. FotoRus is the only app that I have found that can do the PIP feature. And, as I mentioned, I really like the InstaMag layouts. For these features alone, I recommend this app.

For more app reviews check out the MakerSpace section or Tech Talk. Or click on the Tech Talk or App Review tag.