Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Booktalk This: Teary Reads

As a teen (way back in the early 1990s), my friends and I sighed over a story about one our crushes when he was in 4th grade: that was the year his teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows to him and his classmates (including our storyteller). The whole class was overwhelmed by that books’ ending, including our crush, who put his head down on his desk to hide his tears. Sigh. Actually, I don’t know a single soul who has read (or been read) this book who hasn’t cried. Unless you are me, and have successfully avoided reading it simply because I don’t often want to sob through books if I can help it. I do know, however, that there are many readers out there who love a good book-induced cry, so this list is for you! 

My Sister’s Keeperby Jodi Picoult (Washington Square Press, 9780743454537). This book is an older read, but it’s a good one. Anna’s older sister, Kate, has leukemia, and as Anna was purposely born to be a genetic match to her sister, she’s spent all of her 13 years undergoing the same surgeries – when Kate needs bone marrow, Anna goes under the knife, too. But then, one day, Anna decides she’s had enough, hires a lawyer and sues her parents for control of her own body and any future medical procedures. But what does this mean for Kate’s health? Now, I sobbed through this book from a mother’s point-of-view, but making the sorts of decisions Anna does are pretty painful from a flat-out human being’s point-of-view. Fact: Picoult’s own son read this book, and was so devastated by the ending, he refused to talk to her for hours after. 
Anna is alive for one reason, to save her sister’s life.  Year after year she undergoes surgeries, tests, needles and more to save her sister’s life.  Until the day she decides she can’t do it any more and hires a lawyer.  If you knew that you could save your sister’s life, would you choose not to?
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press, 978-0763639310).  Todd is pretty miserable, living in his noisy, all-male town. When you can hear your neighbors’ thoughts, day and night, and quite a few of them seem to have gone more than a little crazy…it’s no wonder that Todd would rather wander the swamps with his annoying pup, Manchee, whose thoughts, unfortunately, are also audible. And then, one day he hears a pocket of nothing in the swamp. When he investigates, he discovers that pocket of silence is a girl. The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of those books that everyone everywhere seemed to be telling me to read, but I just didn’t. And then my book club read it. And I couldn’t put it down. And it made me SOB. It’ll make you cry, too, but it’ll also make you laugh, and make hold your breath with fear and tension. This one’s a keeper, for sure.
There are no girls. None.  And the men who live can hear one another’s thoughts.  The animals too.  One day Todd enters into the swamp and hears nothing, glorious silence.  It turns out this means only one thing: Todd has found a girl.
The Fault in our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 978-0525478812). Hazel is dying. She’s 16-years-old, she has cancer, and she is definitely going to die young. This she’s managed come to terms with, but it’s the people she’s leaving behind that weigh heaviest – how will her parents get through this? Her friends? That adorable new guy, Augustus? And, why, exactly, does she have to deal with all this? What good will a cancer support group do her, really? Why does she have to have cancer at all? Hazel is a completely lovely character, funny and heart-breaking, and the journey she takes you on WILL put a major dent in your Kleenex-fund.

Pretty much any book by Lurlene McDaniel (Delacorte Press). Lurlene McDaniel books have been around for a LONG time, and there’s a good reason for that: these books are depressing. Someone is dying of something in nearly every one of her books, and it’s often right after the main character falls deeply in love with his/her one true love. Now, I’m not spoiling any endings for you, since the point of her books isn’t necessarily the plot twist: it’s the very cathartic sob-inducing situations of the characters within. And I don’t have a particular title to suggest. I just recommend sitting down with a shelf of her books and reading the back cover blurbs to get a sense of which will make you cry the most. Just last week I asked one of our teen volunteers to pick out the saddest Lurlene McDaniel she could find. She came back with four.

And finally, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (Bantam Dell, 978-0-553-27429-5). Seriously. If what you’re looking for is a cry, and haven’t yet read this classic about a boy and his two beloved hunting dogs, do it. Just make sure you’re in a safe space with plenty of tissues for your tears.  It’s a book with a dog, you know what is probably going to happen.

Karen would add Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson and If I Stay by Gayle Forman to this list.

Note: for some reason the graphics button isn’t working at the moment on Blogger.  I will go in and add pictures when it is fixed.

5 Minute Booktalks: NaNoWriMo Edition by Kearsten

Did you, like me, start November with a bright and shiny resolution to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days for National Novel Writing Month? If so, I certainly hope you were more successful than my almost 7,000 words. November got too crazy a month for me, and I ended up abandoning my lonely little manuscript after only one week. In an attempt to inspire myself to do better next time, I put together a list of teen books in which writing plays a role – and maybe you’ll be inspired to begin a writing journey of your own!

Pemba’s Songby Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin.  When Pemba moves to a small town in Connecticut, she’s furious with her mother for forcing her to leave all her friends behind in Brooklyn, and can’t imagine anything will be as exciting as what her friends are doing without her. But then Pemba starts seeing a face other than her own looking back at her in her mirror. A sad-eyed woman calling Pemba, “friend”. Encouraged by an older neighbor, Pemba begins researching her home’s history, and then the life of a female slave who died there. As she learns more, she records her fears, frustrations and loneliness in song lyrics and verse:  “it’s the city symphony/ I’m wishin’for, rockin’me like a harmony.”


Terrier (Beka Cooper, Bk 1) by Tamora Pierce. If you’ve heard or asked for writing advice, number two (after read, read, READ), is usually something along the lines of  “write every day”. The easiest way to do this is to keep a journal, just like Beka Cooper, in  Pierce’s beyond-awesome fantasy series. Beka’s a rookie Provost’s Guard, and requests the toughest part of the capital city of Tortall as her “keeping the peace” training assignment – after all, it’s where she grew up. Beka’s world is one of nobles and street toughs, magic users and thieves, and she must use all her abilities to survive her first year as a Guard in the training yard and the streets, even if it means telling others what pigeons tell her about the dead…
Breathing Underwaterby Alex Flinn. Nick’s dealt well with his father’s rages….or so he thought,  until the day his relationship with Caitlin, his dream girl, gets violent. Court-ordered to keep a journal and attend counseling and anger management classes, or else go to jail, Nick begins writing down his “truth”.  Don’t you want to know how a guy goes from loving his girlfriend’s smile so much that he “wanted to put it in his pocket to look at over and over”, all the way to a restraining order? This one is dark and distressing, yet a story that needs to be told and read.

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. When T.C., Augie, and Alé began their freshman year, not one of them figured it would be life-changing, but as they each describe that year as part of their junior English essay project, their stories of love, discovery, baseball, sign language, and Mary Poppins unfold in delightful, witty detail.  Kluger’s writing style is unusual and fun, and he lets Alé, T.C. and Augie tell their stories through essays, Instant Messenger, email, musical theater cast lists – even on Secret Service letterhead. The likelihood of your getting through this book without falling in love with at least one of these characters is highly unlikely.

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. Okay, so you want to try this writing experiment again and you refuse to be deterred, eh? Why not try this funny, non-fiction guide to writing a novel in one month, written by the creator of NaNoWriMo himself? Baty includes writing tips on location, setting, character development, plot ideas, and, most importantly, the best ways to teach your friends and family how to guilt and harass you into finishing that novel – with love, of course. The book guides you through weeks one through four (making this helpful in November, but in all the other months as well!), and, should you discover that you’re one who can persevere, No Plot? No Problem! also has suggestions for editing and getting published.

Now, get reading and writing!  You don’t have to wait until next November 🙂

5 Books written by Teens:
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Booktalks in a Box: It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Booktalks are a great way to get teens reading.  Here is an overview of booktalking for you – you’ll want to check out several of the links provided there, including those to Nancy Keane and Joni Richards Bodart, masters of the fine art. As part of a new regular feature, tween/teen librarian from Arizona Kearsten is sharing some of her booktalks with us.

End of the world/your world

I’m obsessed with end-of-the-world stories. I love what a collapsing society does to those left behind to clean up: do they hold on to what once was? Rebuild? Throw out every old idea, and just go crazytown? Teen fiction plays with this theme very well, letting you experience what it might be like if your whole world changed.

Sometimes the end of the world comes via natural disaster as in Mike Mullin’s Ashfall and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. 

In Ashfall, fifteen-year-old Alex’s bad attitude has won him a weekend at home alone in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his parents and sister head off for a vacation in Illinois. With visions of hours spent playing World of Warcraftdancing in his head, he’s just settling down at his desk when his world explodes around him. The supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park has exploded, debris raining down, ash covering everything.  Alex’s hometown quickly becomes deadly, as emergency services are rendered useless, and chaos reigns.  Alex must rely only on himself as he travels on foot to Illinois to find his parents and sister in this suspenseful story of surviving after a hellish natural disaster.

Life as We Knew It looks to space for its disaster. When a meteor strikes the Earth’s moon, many are relieved, believing they’ve been saved – it didn’t hit the earth, after all. Their relief is short lived, however, as it soon becomes clear that the meteor knocked the moon out of its normal orbit, causing world-wide tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, killing millions and making Earth nearly inhospitable for people like sixteen-year-old Miranda and her family.  Miranda chronicles her struggles with starvation, danger, and fear in a journal, giving the reader a first-hand view of her scary world.

In Tomorrow, When the War Beganby John Marsden, and in Ilsa J. Bick’s Ashes, the end of the world comes from an act of war.

Imagine coming home from an awesome camping trip with friends to an eerily empty town: no adults, no notes…nothing.  Then imagine finding out that your families have been rounded up into prison camps, because while you were gone, your country was invaded and you must now decide: turn yourself in and join your families; head back into the wilderness to hide; or, take your chances and fight back. In Tomorrow, When the War Began, Australian teenager Ellie writes of what happens when she and her friends decide to fight back in a deadly, desperate bid to save their families and themselves.

In Ashes, terminally ill, 16 year-old Alex is backpacking alone through the Michigan wilderness when the Zap happens: one minute she’s considering her death by brain tumor, the next she’s trying to survive the most terrifying pain she’s ever faced. Bombs detonated above the Earth’s atmosphere have resulted in devastating electromagnetic pulses, destroying electronics, wiping out communications, and killing millions. She’s suddenly faced with a completely new world, in which most adults and teens have died, and those who haven’t died have…changed. Into something even more terrifying.

And sometimes, as in Goneby Michael Grant, the end of a teens’ world is unexplained…for now.

One afternoon, as fourteen-year-old Sam tries to stay awake in History, when, without warning, his teacher disappears.  Across town, adults have vanished: food half eaten, cars suddenly driver-less, words left half-written on a chalkboard.  The children left behind, fourteen and younger, are confused and very scared. Some kids wander, others begin to take care of the toddlers and babies, and others take advantage of zero adult supervision and seize control. But how safe is a town run by bullies? With no phones or internet, how can they get help? And what on Earth can they do about the dangerous powers a couple of kids have begun to develop?

Kearsten’s Bio: I am a Tween/Teen Librarian in Glendale, AZ, at the same library I used as a teen. By the time I got my MLS from the University of Arizona in 2004, I’d been working in Glendale libraries for eight years and tried out circulation, adult reference, and children’s services before finding my home working with teens. I am the unofficial book club queen, coordinating and moderating three very different book discussion groups for tweens and teens aged 8-18, and am happiest when talking with teenagers about awesome books. I’ve spoken about book groups, teen reading confessions, and the importance of graphic novels in libraries at Arizona Library Association conferences, for the Maricopa County Library Council’s Continuing Education program, and at the ultimate geek prom, San Diego Comic Con. My darling husband understands that I won’t answer questions posed while I’m reading, and I lose my 9-year-old to the comic books whenever she comes to work with me. Some of my favorite authors are Tamora Pierce, John Green, Lish McBride, Jonathan Maberry, Jim Butcher, Elizabeth Peters, and Mo Willems. I prefer my genres ‘blended’ – an end-of-the-world paranormal mystery in a Victorian/steampunk setting? Yes, please! — and I’m always up for anything involving zombies….unless it’s about dating zombies. That’s just too scary for me.