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Take 5: Hazing

Earlier this month it was revealed that the football program at Sayreville in New Jersey was suspended due to allegations that the team was engaging in horrific acts of hazing that included sexually abusing their team mates. Hazing asks – forces, requires – people to do embarrassing or dangerous acts in order for them to be accepted into a group. It says you can be one of us if you are willing to do this thing, and that thing often ranges from embarrassing to illegal, violent and sometimes deadly. To date, 7 teens have been charged for their participation in the Sayreville hazing acts, with more possible charges to come. It is a stark reminder that hazing is a real and current issue, not just in our colleges but in our middle and high schools as well.

Here today are five YA lit titles that deal with hazing.

Press Play by Eric Devine

Coming out later this month, Eric has already told us a little bit about Press Play. You can read that here and check out his Initiation Secrets Tumblr in support of the book and in an effort to raise awareness of hazing.

“Greg Dunsmore, a.k.a. Dun the Ton, is focused on one thing: making a documentary that will guarantee his admission into the film school of his choice. Every day, Greg films his intense weight-loss focused workouts as well as the nonstop bullying that comes from his classmates. But when he captures footage of violent, extreme hazing by his high school’s championship-winning lacrosse team in the presence of his principal, Greg’s field of view is in for a readjustment.

Greg knows there is a story to be told, but it is not clear exactly what. And his attempts to find out the truth only create more obstacles, not to mention physical harm upon himself. Yet if Greg wants to make his exposé his ticket out of town rather than a veritable death sentence, he will have to learn to play the game and find a team to help him.

Combine the underbelly of Friday Night Lights with the unflinching honesty of Walter Dean Myers, and you will find yourself with Eric Devine’s novel of debatable truths, consequences, and realities.” (Publisher’s Description)

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal YouthWith a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive. (Publisher’s Description)

Library Journal gave Brutal Youth a starred review in June of 2014 stating, “Breznican captures a perfect balance of horror, heartbreak, and resilience and takes the high school novel into deeper places.” And you can read his interview with School Library Journal here.

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

“The football field is a battlefield

There’s an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on – and off – the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy – including the most innocent bystanders.

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school’s salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes.” (Publisher’s Description)

In December 2010, Booklist gave Leverage a starred review.

The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper

Sixteen-year-old Jericho is psyched when he and his cousin and best friend, Josh, are invited to pledge for the Warriors of Distinction, the oldest and most exclusive club in school. Just being a pledge wins him the attention of Arielle, one of the hottest girls in his class, whom he’s been too shy even to talk to before now. 

But as the secret initiation rites grow increasingly humiliating and force Jericho to make painful choices, he starts to question whether membership in the Warriors of Distinction is worth it. How far will he have to go to wear the cool black silk Warriors jacket? How high a price will he have to pay to belong? The answers are devastating beyond Jericho’s imagination.” (Publisher’s Description)

In 2003, VOYA gave The Battle of Jericho a 4Q, 4P rating stating that it is a reminder to adults that if youth are asked to choose between fitting in and putting themselves in danger, they will in fact choose the danger. The truth is, everyone is just looking for a place to belong and we will sometimes go through incredible trials to be accepted.
Divergent by Veronica Roth

It was interesting when doing research on Hazing (for an upcoming #SVYALit Project discussion, more on that in a minute) that many people discussed Divergent as a title that belonged on this list. I hadn’t really thought of it in that way, but of course there are many trials or tests that Tris must go through even to get inside the Dauntless faction dorms that could be considered a type of hazing, from jumping off the moving train to jumping off the building. I’m putting it on this list because I think it makes for some interesting discussion about what hazing is and how normalized it may appear.

Books Tagged “Hazing” in Library Thing
Daniel Kraus list of Hazing titles in Booklist

Additional Resources:
NPR: History of Hazing
Pinterest board: Hazing Prevention Week 
Hazing Prevention.Org 
For more on hazing visit StopHazing.Org.

In January, as part of the #SVYALit Project, we will be talking more about the topic of hazing. Not all hazing involves sexual violence, but hazing CAN involve sexual violence and we’re going to talk about that. Authors Eric Devine, Anthony Breznican and Joshua C. Cohen will be joining us and we’ll be reading PRESS PLAY, BRUTAL YOUTH and LEVERAGE. Look for more information in December when the 2015 #SVYALit Project schedule is announced. And please be sure to read the books and join us for this important and sadly timely discussion.

Take 5: YA Horror 2014

It’s October, which means everything is pumpkin flavored or scented and you can’t change the channel without running across a horror movie. While I’m not big on horror movies – I haven’t been able to watch them ever since I saw The Ring because if the scary isn’t going to stay inside the TV box then what is going to keep you safe? – but I still like to read it.

Last night’s #YALove conversation was all about horror (you can find a recap here). Naomi Bates asked what everyone read as a teen for horror and my go to authors were Stephen King, Dean Koontz and John Saul. While I still read King and Koontz, it has been a while since I read some John Saul. Last year we shared a collection of Haunted Readings, all our best October ready booklists for you in one place. There are a few new titles for 2014 I want to make sure you all have seen.

Amity by Micol Ostow

Amity is a twisted look at an already twisted story: The Amityville Horror Story. In this version, two separate teens move into the Amity house ten years apart and the haunted happenings bring them together in really disturbing ways. Blood drips, the house seems to stare, and everyone who enters seems to change – and not in good ways at all. Don’t read it alone in the dark.

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

True fact: My favorite short story writer is Edgar Allan Poe and I desperately wanted to name either one of my girls Annabel Lee, but The Mr. was not sold on naming our daughter after a dead girl in a poem. When Annabel Lee’s mother dies, she ends up living with her father, whose experiments have always troubled her. In this new home she meets his young assistant, Edgar Allan Poe.  As a series of murders begin to plague the town, it is up to Annabel Lee to figure out what is happening and who might be involved. Check here for more Poe inspired YA lit. Pair this with The Madman’s Daughter or The Monstrumologist.

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

If The Ring taught us anything, it’s that we should never trust a girl from a well. This dead girl from the well roams the streets hunting murderers. A strange boy with even stranger tattoos finds himself drawn to this spirit and soon the two of them are fighting creepy evil – their are dolls involved, it turns out dolls can be incredibly creepy (I’m looking at you Doll Bones by Holly Black). The Girl from the Well takes you from the American suburbs to Japan and keeps you on the edge of your seat while doing it.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

This may seem like a strange book to put on this list, but I think it’s a fitting choice. Afterworlds is two books in one. In the real world, Darcy Patel moves to New York to write her debut YA novel. And the debut YA novel, well that is a haunting read. In the novel Darcy is writing, Lizzie has just survived a massive terrorist attack at the airport and finds that she can now step into the Afterworld, a place between life and death where a madman is hunting her because he wants her power.

Sanctum (Asylum #2) by Madeleine Roux

Dan, Abby and Jordan barely survived their summer at a school set in an asylum, but now they are receiving disturbing pictures of an old time carnival. The three return to Brookline in an attempt to discover what it all can mean when they find themselves once again sucked into a tale of terror. Definitely put this in the hands of American Horror Story fans.

And if you are a horror movie fan, be sure to follow Daniel Kraus (who writes most excellent YA horror) on Twitter for the #31HorrorFilms31Days discussion. He’s sharing his favorite horror films, which you don’t want to miss.

Now it’s your turn: What new YA horror titles are you reading this month? What are some of your favorites, new or old? Tell us in the comments.

Take 5: October New Releases

October is a HUGE month for new YA! There are lots of great reads coming your way. Today I’m sharing with you 5 that are on my TBR list. As a bonus, I’m adding a September release that I just started reading. I got a little bit behind. 

Survival Colony 9 by Joshua David Bellin

Publisher’s Description:

In a future world of dust and ruin, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn struggles to recover the lost memory that might save the human race.

Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to–because heat, dust, and starvation aren’t the only threats in this ruined world.

There are also the Skaldi.

Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they’re not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.

Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi–and now he can’t remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.

If he can’t, he’s their next victim.

Karen’s Thoughts: I just started reading this, in large part because Jonathan Maberry told me to. It’s right there on the cover, Jonathan Maberry calls this “A terrific novel!” And as a huge fan of Maberry’s, that was enough to sell me. You should know this is technically already out.

Sublime by Christina Lauren

Publisher’s Description:

True love may mean certain death in a ghostly affair of risk and passion from New York Times bestselling duo Christina Lauren, authors of Beautiful Bastard. Tahereh Mafi, New York Times bestselling author of Shatter Me calls Sublime “a beautiful, haunting read”.

When Lucy walks out of a frozen forest, wearing only a silk dress and sandals, she isn’t sure how she got there. But when she sees Colin, she knows for sure that she’s here for him.

Colin has never been captivated by a girl the way he is by Lucy. With each passing day their lives intertwine, and even as Lucy begins to remember more of her life—and her death—neither of them is willing to give up what they have, no matter how impossible it is. And when Colin finds a way to physically be with Lucy, taking himself to the brink of death where his reality and Lucy’s overlap, the joy of being together for those brief stolen moments drowns out everything in the outside world. But some lines weren’t meant to be crossed…

Karen’s Thoughts:  Sometimes, you just want a haunting read and I can name tons of my teen readers who will eat this up. This sounds like a great read for October!

Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke

Publisher’s Description:

Hot girls get the fairy tales. No one cares about the stepsisters’ story. Those girls don’t get a sweet little ending; they get a lifetime of longing

Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status.

When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time.

While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crushed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story.

And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.

Enhance the experience with the companion soundtrack, Imogen Unlocked, by the author’s band, Wedding Day Rain.

Karen’s Thoughts: MTV called Damsel in Distress a must-read, and it’s pretty cool to have a channel popular with teens endorsing reading. There is a band, a real life band, by Kelsey Macke and crew called Imogen Unlocked that ties-in to the book, which is also very cool. 

Press Play by Eric Devine

Publisher’s Description:

Greg Dunsmore, a.k.a. Dun the Ton, is focused on one thing: making a documentary that will guarantee his admission into the film school of his choice. Every day, Greg films his intense weight-loss focused workouts as well as the nonstop bullying that comes from his classmates. But when he captures footage of violent, extreme hazing by his high school’s championship-winning lacrosse team in the presence of his principal, Greg’s field of view is in for a readjustment.

Greg knows there is a story to be told, but it is not clear exactly what. And his attempts to find out the truth only create more obstacles, not to mention physical harm upon himself. Yet if Greg wants to make his exposé his ticket out of town rather than a veritable death sentence, he will have to learn to play the game and find a team to help him.

Combine the underbelly of Friday Night Lights with the unflinching honesty of Walter Dean Myers, and you will find yourself with Eric Devine’s novel of debatable truths, consequences, and realities.

Karen’s Thoughts: I am a HUGE fan of Eric Devine as a person and as a writer. By day he teaches high school English so he really has a grasp on what teens are like, which comes across in his writing. This book would be a great tie-in with books like Me, Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. You can also pair it with the biography of Andrew Jenks and host a real life teen film festival, which I have conveniently discussed for you here.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

Publisher’s Description:

In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation—it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.

Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter—and her father’s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jail—including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of “the finest men in Memphis” declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.

Alice + Freda Forever recounts this tragic, real-life love story with over 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenes—painting a vivid picture of a sadly familiar world.

Karen’s Thoughts: Alice + Freda is published by Zest Books (you guys know I am a fan!). It’s based on real life events and includes letters, which is a great way to discuss primary and secondary resources with teens (yes, I truly am a geek). 

Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst

Publisher’s Description:

Lies, secrets, and magic — three things that define Kayla’s life.

Sixteen-year-old Kayla plans to spend her summer hanging out on the beach in Santa Barbara and stealing whatever she wants, whenever she wants it. Born with the ability to move things with her mind — things like credit cards, diamond rings, and buttons on cash registers — she has become a master shoplifter. She steals to build up a safety net, enough money for her and her mom to be able to flee if her dad finds them again. Well, that, and the thrill of using her secret talents.

But her summer plans change when she’s caught stealing by a boy named Daniel — a boy who needs her help and is willing to blackmail her to get it. Daniel has a talent of his own. He can teleport, appearing anywhere in the world in an instant, but he lies as easily as he travels. Together, they embark on a quest to find and steal an ancient incantation, written on three indestructible stones and hidden millennia ago, all to rescue Daniel’s kidnapped mother. But Kayla has no idea that this rescue mission will lead back to her own family — and to betrayals that she may not be able to forgive… or survive.

Karen’s Thoughts: Durst is the author of Conjured, which is a truly stunning book. Based on the quality of that work alone, this goes to the top of my TBR pile. Plus, secret powers!

October is actually a big month for YA releases, so tell me – what’s on your TBR pile? 

Take 5: Teens as Sci Fi Soldiers(ish) – When YA Lit meets The Bourne Identity or Red Dawn (or even 12 Monkeys)

When we read The Hunger Games, we like to think to ourselves that we know that would never happen – who sends kids out to kill? But the truth is, there are countries all over the world where children are in fact forced to become soldiers and fight for causes they know little about and are forced to serve at the whims of adults. But it can’t happen HERE we say – but what if it could? What if it did? Here’s a look at some cool science fiction stories where teens are manipulated by adults to become soldiers or mercenaries of some kind. They’re pretty cool books to read, but they also make us a little bit uncomfortable because we would like to think there is no possible way it could happen . . . but the truth is sometimes people in power will go to great lengths to keep that power. Like all good science fiction, these titles create absurd sounding scenarios to make us think about real world truths. And these titles ask us to think about things like free will and determination, nature vs. nurture, the role of government in our lives, and what lengths we are (and should be) willing to go to in order to keep ourselves – our country – safe.

I Become Shadow by Joe Shine
“Ren Sharpe was abducted at fourteen and chosen by the mysterious F.A.T.E. Center to become a Shadow: the fearless and unstoppable guardian of a future leader. Everything she held dear—her family, her home, her former life—is gone forever.” (Publisher’s description)

As an action/thriller, this is a fun story. There is a lot of interesting subtext about free will. I was surprised by some of the decisions characters made at the end, which would make for some great discussions. There is also some very interesting subtext about addiction that could make for great discussion. And of course it asks the age old question: what lengths should we go to in order to protect our future. This is an interesting read.


Uninvited by Sophie Jordan
When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Julliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.”

I really like this book a lot. Because they fear she MIGHT in the future become violent, Davy is removed from her normal life and put in a situation with people who are in fact very violent. This is a look at the age old nature vs. nurture argument. It is also an interesting discussion about the prison system as every day we see minor offenders placed into jail who then become more violent offenders because they are forced to try and survive in the prison environment. And then there are some twists that make this book fit the list but I’m not going to elaborate. Just take my advice and read this book, it’s really good. The next book, Unleashed, comes out in February 2015 from Harper Teen. 

Tabula Rasa by Kristen Lippert-Martin
“Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.” (Publisher’s description)

In my review earlier this month I note that there are a couple of flaws with this book, but in terms of readability it is a lot of fun. The tagline itself describes Tabula Rasa as The Bourne Identity meets Divergent. There are, once again, lots of interesting discussions to be had about science ethics, free will and autonomy, and the role that adults can play in the lives of teens. High on readability and survival, it’s a good read.

Blackout by Robison Wells
“Laura and Alec are trained terrorists.
Jack and Aubrey are high school students.
There was no reason for them to ever meet.

(Publisher’s description)

This is one of those books I really would have liked to have seen get more love; it is really under-rated. It’s got your post-apocalyptic virus plague scenario, a dystopian government, some X-men like superpowers, teens conscripted into government service, and a dash of terrorism mixed in to make it an almost perfect reflection of modern fears. In my earlier review I said, “Blackout definitely excels as a thriller.  I highly recommend this book.” So let’s give this book the love it deserves.

Reboot by Amy Tintera
“Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).” (Publisher’s description)

Teens who are essentially “zombies” – though definitely not traditional zombies – are stripped of their rights and forced to serve as a government clean up crew to help protect the remaining humans from those that reboot. This is another one of those titles that I want to see get more love because it is such an interesting twist on zombies and is a compelling metaphor for discrimination, something we’re talking a lot about these days. What makes us human and does one group of people’s rights trump those of another? Like all good sci fi, this can be read on multiple levels and can lead to some interesting discussions. Read my earlier review here. The sequel Rebel is out now for your reading pleasure.

This is what happened when I asked Twitter to recommend MG & YA lit titles for those asking about Ferguson

Inspired in part by Robin’s post yesterday on talking with her middle grade students about Ferguson and the book Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth, I wondered what kind of list we could put together quickly to recommend to students who were wondering about the events happening in Ferguson. So I went to Twitter and asked for everyone’s suggestions. Here’s what they recommended:

If you have titles to recommend and add to this list, please share in the comments. We believe that literature can help us understand current events and sharing these titles can help our communities process events happening at Ferguson.

A Little Summer Lovin’

Ah, Summer. There is something about summer that makes me want to read some summer flings. While during the rest of the year I am drawn towards dark and edgy, there is something about the summer sun shining brightly that makes me want to pick up those books with light, airy covers that suggest we can all have our own summer love story. So here are 10 titles whose covers suggest these might be some great summer reads. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any meat in between the covers. Also, I haven’t read some of these yet (I add notes!), their covers just speak to me and whisper: we would make a great summer beach reads display.

The Bridge from Me to You by Lisa Schroeder

“Lauren has a secret. Colby has a problem. But when they find each other, everything falls into place.” – from the publisher (Scholastic Point, July, 9780545646017)

Things You Should Know:
There is some poetry in this book.
My God-daughter, a Tween and avid reader, is a HUGE Lisa Schroeder fan and highly recommends them all. All of them.

#Scandal by Sarah Ockler

“Lucy’s learned some important lessons from tabloid darling Jayla Heart’s all-too-public blunders: Avoid the spotlight, don’t feed the Internet trolls, and keep your secrets secret. The policy has served Lucy well all through high school, so when her best friend Ellie gets sick before prom and begs her to step in as Cole’s date, she accepts with a smile, silencing about ten different reservations. Like the one where she’d rather stay home shredding online zombies. And the one where she hates playing dress-up. And especially the one where she’s been secretly in love with Cole since the dawn of time.” – from the Publisher (Simon Pulse, June,

Things You Should Know:
Our MC is an online video gamer who loves to shred zombies. And she’s a girl. I love this.
Also, Ockler is a very dependable author that I enjoy so I am looking forward to this one.

Through to You by Lauren Barnholdt

Opposites attract—and then complicate—in this romantic, relatable novel from the author of Two-way Street and Sometimes It Happens.” – from the publisher (Simon Pulse, July, 9781442434639)

Things You Should Know:
I have started this and am enjoying it.

The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

“Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.” – from the publisher (Bloomsbury, May, 9781599907888)

Things You Should Know:
I enjoyed Leavitt’s previous title Going Vintage very much and am looking forward to this.

The Superlatives: Biggest Flirts by Jennifer Echols

“Tia and Will’s lives get flipped upside down when they’re voted Yearbook’s Biggest Flirts in this sassy novel from the author of Endless Summer and The One That I Want.” – from the publisher (Simon Pulse, May, 9781442474451)

Things You Should Know:
Fun series are always a great go to.
Echols is another author I recommend.

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

“A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers.” – from the publisher (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, May, 9780374382674) 

Things You Should Know:
This is Peter Pan based.
It gets lost some along the way and has some very mixed reviews, but it is an interesting concept and definitely has that summer vibe.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

“What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once?

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.” – from the publisher (Simon and Schuster, April, 9781442426702)

Things You Should Know:
This book is a really great read. It was recently nominated as a Best Fiction for Young Adult title
This is the first book, there is at least one more to come.
This is one of the few titles I have received that really has any diversity.

How to Meet Boys by Catherine Clark

Find out what happens when you fall for your best friend’s worst enemy in this timeless and hilarious story of a forbidden first love and forever friendship.” – from the publisher (HarperTeen, May,

Things You Should Know:
Clark has crafted a couple of other really great beach read favorites so this should be a good one.

The Last Best Kiss by Claire LaZebnik

“Anna Eliot is tired of worrying about what other people think. After all, that was how she lost the only guy she ever really liked, Finn Westbrook. Now, three years after she broke his heart, the one who got away is back in her life.” – from the publisher (HarperTeen, April, 9780062252289)

The Last Forever by Deb Caletti

Endings and beginnings sit so close to each other that it’s sometimes impossible to tell which is which.

Nothing lasts forever, and no one gets that more than Tessa. After her mother died, it’s all she can do to keep her friends, her boyfriend, her happiness from slipping away. And then there’s her dad. He’s stuck in his own daze, and it’s so hard to feel like a family when their house no longer seems like a home.

Her father’s solution? An impromptu road trip that lands them in a small coastal town at Tessa’s grandmother’s.” – from the publisher (Simon Pulse, April, 9781442450004)

Things You Should Know:
Caletti writes amazing and beautiful love stories and you should read them all. 

And don’t forget Morgan Matson! Great summer reads. 

Take 5: 5 New Titles Coming from Simon & Schuster

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

Publisher’s Description:There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.

As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.”

Note: Historical fiction, ghosts,and a good book to add to help us all meet our active goal of trying to make sure our collections and TBR piles have more diversity.

Publishes by McElderry Books on August 5, 2014. ISBN: 9781442483583

Rumble by Ellen Hopkins

Publisher’s Description: “Eighteen-year-old Matthew Turner doesn’t believe in much. Not in family—his is a shambles, after his brother’s suicide. Not in so-called friends who turn their backs when the going gets rough. Certainly not in some omnipotent master of heaven and earth, no matter what his girlfriend, Hayden, thinks. In fact, he’s sick of arguing with her about faith. Matt is a devout atheist, unafraid of some Judgment Day designed by decidedly human power brokers to keep the masses in check. He works hard, plays hard, and plans on checking out the same way. But a horrific accident—one of his own making—plunges Matt into a dark, silent place where the only thing he can hear is a rumble, and eventually, a voice. And what it says will call everything Matt has ever disbelieved into question.”

Note: I recently mentioned that one of the authors I hear YA librarians they have to replace a lot is Ellen Hopkins. She writes very gritty, realistic novels – in poetry. This latest title deals with a teenage boy who proclaims atheism as his belief system. The topic of atheism has been getting more coverage in the press, so this is a timely novel. And no doubt for many it will be controversial. In other words, awesome and classic Hopkins.

Publishes on August 26, 2014 from Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 9781442482845

In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy

Publisher’s Description: “Ultracompetitive Brynn from The Summer of Firsts and Lasts craves swimming victory—and gets in over her head—in this irresistible novel from Terra Elan McVoy.


Nothing else matters to Brynn as she trains her body and mind to win. Not her mediocre grades and lack of real friends at school. Not the gnawing grief over her fallen hero father. Not the strained relationship with her absent mother and clueless stepdad. In the turquoise water, swimming is an escape and her ticket to somewhere—anywhere—else. And nothing will get in her way of claiming victory.

But when the competitive streak follows Brynn out of the pool in a wickedly seductive cat-and-mouse game between herself, her wild best friend, and a hot new college swimmer, Brynn’s single-mindedness gets her in over her head, with much more than a trophy to lose.”

Note: I was at a S&S event last year at ALA annual where I watched teens vote between two covers for this title. This is the cover that won.

Publishes July 8, 2014 from Simon Pulse. ISBN: 9781481401364

Trouble by Non Pratt

Publisher’s Description:In this dazzling debut novel, a pregnant teen learns the meaning of friendship—from the boy who pretends to be her baby’s father.

When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant via her ex-best friend, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”

Told in alternating perspectives between Hannah and Aaron, Trouble is the story of two teenagers helping each other to move forward in the wake of tragedy and devastating choices. As you read about their year of loss, regret, and hope, you’ll remember your first, real best friend—and how they were like a first love.”

Note: Received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly 5/01/2014

Publishes June 10, 2014 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781442497726

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson

Publisher’s Description: “In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, determined to have adventures like she promised her brother Jon before he died. With her Mama frozen in grief and her Daddy busy as town judge, Becky spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her.

Becky decides that she and Amy need a bag of dirt from a bad man’s grave as protection for entering the Widow’s house, so they sneak out to the cemetery at midnight, where they witness the thieving Pritchard brothers digging up a coffin. Determined to keep her family safe (and to avoid getting in trouble), Becky makes Amy promise not to tell anyone what they saw.

When their silence inadvertently results in the Widow Douglas being accused of the graverobbery, Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow’s name. If she pulls it off, she might just get her Mama to notice her again and fulfill her promise to Jon in a most unexpected way . . . if that tattle-tale Tom Sawyer will quit following her around.”

Note: Received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly 5/05/2014, for Middle Grade readers ages 8 to 12.

Publishes July 22, 2014 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781481401500

Get in the Game! YA fiction that features sports

On Sunday night I took part in a Twitter chat under the hashtag #TitleTalk about sports fiction. The truth is, I’m not a big sports fan. In fact, when people talk about some people not liking to read for recreation I use sports as my go-to example: I’m never going to like sports for fun and that’s okay, just as it is okay that some people don’t like reading for fun. What IS important is that everyone CAN read. Literacy is an important, life saving skill. Reading for pleasure – well, I don’t understand it if that’s not how you choose to spend your time and I feel like you’re missing out on a lot, but it’s not the end of the world. We each have our passions and I respect that. But sports can be a great way to get some more reluctant readers into books if you can connect them to a book that features a sport they enjoy. Plus, regular readers just like to read about the things that interest them, which I understand for a lot of people this can be sports. So let’s talk sports in YA fiction, shall we? Also, don’t forget all the awesome nonfiction and biography titles in your collection!

Some of my Go To sports authors include:
Chris Crutcher, Carl Deuker, Simone Elkeles, John Feinstein, Robert Lipsyte, Mike Lupica, Chris Lynch, and Paul Volpini. Crutcher is a particular favorite of mine and illustrates how a book can have sports in it but not actually be about sports. Miranda Kenneally, Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Sarah Ockler often feature sports in their titles. And of course Walter Dean Myers features sports in a lot of his titles.

TAP OUT by Eric Devine features a young man who gets involved in MMA fighting.

HOOKED by Liz Fichera features golf, including a female golf player.

Baseball is featured in MEXICAN WHITE BOY by Matt de la Pena, CURVEBALL: THE YEAR I LOST MY GRIP by Jordan Sonnenblick and PLUNKED by Michael Northrop, to name a few.

Rugby is highlighted in WINTER by Andrew Smith, a breakaway hit from 2013.

Cheerleading is featured in titles like I WAS A NON-BLONDE CHEERLEADER by Kieran Scott and BAD TASTE IN BOYS by Carrie Harris.

Soccer shows up in the graphic novel series WHISTLE by Daisuke Higuchi and the novel SHUT OUT by Kody Keplinger.

High school sports culture plays an important part in CANARY by Rachele Alpine, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Matthieu and SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL by Trish Doller. Each of these titles highlight the way that sport culture can shape a person’s character. In SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL, the main character, Travis, is the son of a professional football player and we he quits football in high school it dramatically impacted their relationship. And CANARY and THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE highlight the way that sports culture allows athletes – even high school athletes – to get away with abhorrent behavior. Football and high school sports culture also place a prominent role in INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch.

THIS SIDE OF SALVATION by Jeri Smith-Redy features a male protagonist who is a dedicated to baseball, which is a huge part of his personal identity. Eventually, as a sign of his faith, he is asked to sacrifice his involvement in this sport to prepare for the upcoming “Rush”, what the rapture is referred to in this title.

I am a huge fan of UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP by Jennifer R. Hubbard for many reasons. But one of the things I love is that it features a female main character that that goes hiking and mountain climbing with her male best friend.

If we’re going to kick it old school, I think the first sports themed book that truly moved me was WRESTLING STURBRIDGE by Rich Wallace. It really captures the desperation to get out of small town life and how for many teens, sports and a sports scholarship are their only hope. And in the not truly YA (they are MG titles), I think everyone should read TANGERINE by Edward Bloor and CRASH by Jerry Spinelli. TANGERINE is quirky and compelling. CRASH is touching and humorous.

The upcoming IN DEEP by Terra Elan McVoy features Brynn, a young lady training as a swimmer. Brief blurb for IN DEEP: “Ultracompetitive Brynn from The Summer of Firsts and Lasts craves swimming victory—and gets in over her head—in this irresistible novel from Terra Elan McVoy.” Given my love for WHALETALK and STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES, which both feature swimming, it seems like this is my kind of book.

In the upcoming PERFECTLY GOOD WHITE BOY by Carrie Mesrobian the main character takes up track as he prepared to join the military after high school. Running is also featured in the upcoming ON THE ROAD TO FIND OUT by Rachel Toor, described as “a funny, uplifting debut about running, romance—and dealing with college rejection and other hurdles.” While you are waiting for these, be sure to check out THE RUNNING DREAM by Wendelin VanDraanen for an older and excellent title about running.

And in the upcoming BLEED LIKE ME by Christa Desir a female skateboarder is featured. Skateboarding is also featured in SLAM by Nick Hornby and THOU SHALT NOT DUMP THE SKATER DUDE AND OTHER COMMANDMENTS I HAVE BROKEN by RoseMary Graham.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, because sports are a huge part of Middle and High School life and they make an appearance in a lot of titles. Goodreads can be a good place to start looking: Popular YA Sports Books on Goodreads, YA Sports Novels (188) on Goodreads. In fact, leave a comment telling us about some of your favorite titles to help build a great resource list for others. Do you know of any upcoming YA titles that feature sports? Share those with us as well please.

Memorial Day Reads

Today is Memorial Day.  Today is a day to honor the men and women who have served and died in the U.S. Military. I come from a military family, the Air Force. Every three years we moved to a new military base. Twice members of my family were stationed overseas. My brother was born on an Air Force base in Japan. Thankfully, no member of my immediate family ever served in a war. But I do have a couple of friend’s whose husbands served in our recent wars. Those men, they came back haunted. Some of them are missing body parts. But they all seem to be missing a piece of them, they all seem so different. I have seen those marriages end as these men (and in this case, they were men) tried to re-adjust back to life as a civilian. Some of them were depressed. Some of them were angry. But they all seemed haunted in one way or another. We don’t do enough to honor our commitments to those who serve, especially in regards to their mental health. So when you pick up a book to read today, read one of these YA titles and get a look into life for the people who have served and the people that love them.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Hayley’s dad is so haunted by memories of Iraq that he can’t find a place to stay, a place where he feels safe. This means a lot of moving around for Hayley. But then the return to her dad’s hometown, a place that may help him heal – or make everything worse.

If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

Quin has kissed a guy who isn’t her boyfriend, the local hero Carey. Carey is serving in Afghanistan. Now everyone is telling secrets about Quinn, shunning her for her betrayal, but they don’t know the truth. Secrets, shame, and small towns take center stage.


In Honor by Jessi Kirby

Honor receives her brother’s last letter 3 days after she learns he has died in Iraq.  He sends her on a quest to tell his favorite singer, Kyra Kelly, that he was in love with her.  A touching road trip through grief.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Travis returns from Afghanistan to to find that his parents have split up, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car, and life just isn’t the same. In fact, Travis isn’t the same after losing his best friend and suffering from PTSD. This is Travis journey to creating a life that might be something like normal.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick

Private Matt Duffy wakes up in a military hospital and is awarded the Purple Heart.  But the memory of a young boy’s death haunts him.  He worries that he is somehow responsible.

Personal Effects by E. M. Kokie

Matt’s older brother is killed in Iraq. When he gets his brothers personal effects, he makes a shocking discovery that rocks his world and makes him question everything he thought he knew.

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Even if you give it a fancy name, a patriotic name – say Operation Iraqi Freedom – to the soldiers fighting on the front lines it’s all still the same. No matter what you call it, it’s still a war. And for those soldiers fighting that war, even your war with a fancy inspirational name, it’s still gunshots and fear and sometimes even death. These men and women on the front lines, like the young man named Birdy from Harlem, sometimes after they get there and see what war is really like, sometimes they’re not sure they really want to be there. Because as they say, war is hell, no matter what kind of a name you give it.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt

Levi’s brother Boaz has returned home from the war, but things are not okay. Boaz is different. These are the things a brother just knows. So when Boaz leaves again, Levi follows him. Together they learn things that only a brother knows.


All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg

Matt Pin was airlifted out of Vietnam during the war.  He now lives in the US with an adoptive family.  But he is haunted by secrets.  A powerful, moving debut from 2009.


If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

There are 2 things I really loved this book: 1) It has a very spot on depiction of poverty and the emotions and barriers that a child living in poverty face and 2) it has a very accurate depiction of what military life is like for the child. I particularly related to the getting orders and having to move quickly feelings expressed. This is also a really compelling story about friendship, discrimination, and the life of a boy growing up on a Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975.

And One to be on the Lookout For . . . 

Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian

This book is not out until later this year, but make a note. Sean Norwhalt is navigating his senior year of high school. His family is falling apart, he’s been dumped, and he knows that there aren’t a lot of good options out there for him. His only hope seems to be the Marine Corps, which no one believes he will really join. Well, that, and this thing happening with Neecie Albertson, whatever this thing may be. Mesrobian is the Morris finalist for her debut novel Sex & Violence, which won a ton of accolades and appeared on a lot of best of 2013 lists. PGWB captures the voice of a lost young man perfectly. It also provides some very detailed insight into the journey into military life. I have a lot of teens that come in asking for books about the military and I thought this captures the emotional and technical journey into military life quite well. This book resonates emotionally.

What are your favorite titles about soldiers and the military?  Share with us in the comments. You can find some additional lists here, here and here.

In Our Mailbox: How do we guide teens in a safe & critical discussion of sex in YA literature?

I got this letter in my mailbox and thought I would take a moment to answer it:

I agree with what you and other bloggers have said about sex in books for teens not being a bad thing. Teens, like everyone else, need to read books that mirror their experiences and also broaden their views of the world. They need to think about difficult topics in safe environments, and books are a great way to do that. They need to read about things so that they can learn they don’t need to experience them first hand. The same thing goes for alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.

The question is how do we, as librarian, guide them to a safe and critical dialogue about these books? I knew kids as a child, and I know 8th graders now, who will find books that mirror what they want
to experience. Rather than truly investigate the material, and think critically about it, they will read it only on the surface. So, the book about the healthy sexual experience where consent is freely
given, and the book about the controlling relationship, will be seen as equal in their eyes because they aren’t truly thinking about the content of the book.

So, how, within the processing of helping teens select, check out, and return those books, can we teach them to think critically about them? How can we engage them in safe dialogue, or guide them to the proper place for that dialogue? Is it therefore irresponsible to recommend a book that features sex to a student who we don’t know well enough to know what they will gain from it?

Karen’s Thoughts on This Question:

This is a really good question and I have some thoughts.

In the end, I think that most of the time the narrative of the story actually makes the unhealthiest parts, the danger and the emotional effects of the situation, quite clear. And we should not underestimate our teens and their ability to think and discern the nuances of the story. If we ask them to read classics like Black Like Me and 1984 and such in class, classics written by adults for adults, then we should trust them with books that reflect the teenage experience as well. We ask them to read books about politics, about racism, about economics – about very heavy themes – but we seem so fearful of doing the same when it comes to the issue of sex, and yet this is the time that teenagers are starting to ask themselves these questions.

For the next part of this discussion, we need to have a basic understanding of what rape culture is.
“What is rape culture? To put it simply, it’s basically attitudes or practices that (consciously or not) try to normalize, excuse, trivialize, and/or ignore the seriousness of rape.”
Read more at Gurl.com http://www.gurl.com/2014/03/26/rapecultureiswhen-tweets-about-what-rape-culture-is/#ixzz2xTkHFshW

I think for me, one of the things that I would like is for us to really begin to examine are the ways that we can casually include moments of sexual violence in literature (and other forms of media) and how that influences our acceptance of what is typically referred to as “rape culture”. So when I think about equipping readers, I think about making us really examine whether or not the way that sexual violence is used in a book is 1) necessary and 2) contributes in any meaningful way to breaking down rape culture. This I think is an important way to consider the books that we read, by asking ourselves if the inclusion of sexual violence is simply used as a narrative device (see, for example, Maggie Steifvater’s essay on Literary Rape) or if it is an essential part of the story that is used effectively. And when I say is used effectively, what I mean is that it doesn’t engage in victim blaming or slut shaming, it doesn’t minimize the crime that sexual violence is, and that it doesn’t gloss over the very real effects of sexual violence in the life of its characters, for example. We – Christa, Carrie, Trish and I – are also working on a basic list of questions that can help readers evaluate books on this topic. Our goal is that these questions will help engage readers in thinking critically about the way relationships, sex and sexual violence in particular, are portrayed and used in a story.

I will say this caveat: not all books are right for each reader, which is where good reader’s advisory comes in. This means that we need to be well read and look at what we are reading critically and make note of the themes, style, and even level of explicitness. Then when we are talking to our teens, whether it be in a group or in a one on one situation, we can make better, more personalized recommendations. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Uses for Boys by Erica Lorainne Scheidt both deal with the subject of rape and consent, but they are very different books and as a librarian doing RA knowing and understanding those differences can help us provide better RA.

As a final note on this topic, for the moment at least, I want to talk about the idea of triggering or rape triggers. For sexual assault survivors, reading books with sexual violence can trigger intense emotions related to their own experiences. This is another reason why I am strongly concerned about authors (and directors) haphazardly, sometimes almost lazily, throwing sexual violence into a work where it is not necessary to propel the story or the character in any way. Imagine if you will being a teenage girl, a rape survivor, and reading a book when suddenly the character is attacked and you find yourself very vividly and without any foreknowledge or preparation having to relive your own rape experiences. This is what sexual assault survivors are forced to do time and time again because the topic is often used so casually in various forms of media.  Have a female character that you want to have some type of emotional baggage? Well, of course she’s been raped the answer seems to be. And though statistically we know that many girls (somewhere around 1 in 3 statistics tell us) and even many boys (possibly as high as 1 in 5) will in fact be the victims of sexual violence, I feel we can do a better job of protecting survivors from these types of gratuitous triggering scenes when it isn’t in any way essential to the story or character. (For more information on triggers and how to talk to survivors, check out this sheet on Tips for Friends and Family).

And let’s take a moment to address the very last part of your question: Is it therefore irresponsible to recommend a book that features sex to a student who we don’t know well enough to know what they will gain from it?  At the end of the day, we never know how a reader will respond to a book. And it’s interesting that we as a society continue to ask as if somehow sex is this great other thing that can impact a teen reader when they are faced in every book with so many issues, whether it be violence, family dynamics, drug and alcohol use, bullying, issues of class and poverty, etc. Every book has such a wide variety of topics enclosed within its pages and we can never predict how a reader will respond or what, if anything, they will gain from it. But that is what the access to information is all about, the belief that people have the right to access as much information freely as they want and to take that information and make of it what they will. I don’t get to control what any reader will gain from any book, none of us do.

Carrie Mesrobian had this to say:

The only thing I can say about this is that being a teacher is also this way. You toss out seeds and hope some bloom. You can’t be sure what impact the book will have, even at the time the kid reads it. There may be reckonings from reading it that come later, or lead to other books or ideas. You just don’t know and I don’t think you can control that.

Writers don’t necessarily write wanting to control response or take-aways, either. At least, I try to minimize that. So perhaps the notion of ‘this book is supposed to make you learn X’ isn’t the right response.
I was doing a reading/panel last week and I was sort of spouting about this. Books are not like other lesson plans. They aren’t like a chem lab, where the objectives might be clearer, or a spelling test or even a reading comprehension exercise. Books are mini worlds that orbit all in themselves; they aren’t necessarily object lessons. They don’t stay confined within the spaces we want them to. A book might bleed into history and economics and politics and science and psychology. This is why stories are so powerful, why we keep using them in our lives and our histories. What I was trying to say during this panel was that I think we need to approach books as different kind of teaching experiences or lessons. They aren’t as compact or precise. We have to be comfortable with a certain level of chaos when it comes to student response.