Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

What’s the (Short) Story?

In my review of The Curiosities, I mention that short stories seem to be a hard sell to teens.  Most often, they are also a mixed bag; I have yet to come across a short story collection where I thought every story was a divine work of inspiration (although The Curiosities comes close).  But here are 5 short story collections that I think are must have for teens and the libraries that serve them . . .

Steampunk Poe
They are the original works of Poe with Steampunk illustrations.  You can never go wrong with Poe.

Although there are some good stories about being bullied, standing up to bullies, etc., the reason this book is a must have is for the short story How Auto-Tune Saved My Life, a story that reminds us that sometimes adults in positions of power can be bullies.  This is a must read for all teachers.

Dear Teen Me
It’s such a unique concept and a great look at life as a teenager, and an important reminder that most of us make it out alive and relatively unscathed.

The Letter Q: Queer writers notes to their younger selves
David Levithan, Malinda Lo and more talk about growing up, coming out and surviving as they learned to understand their sexuality and embrace who they are.

And of course, The Curiosities

Now it’s your turn. What short story collections are on your must have list and why?

Book Review: The Curiositites: a collection of stories by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff

A vampire locked in a cage in the basement, for good luck.

Bad guys, clever girls, and the various reasons why the guys have to stop breathing.

A world where fires never go out (with references to ice cream.)

Are you curious?

The Curiosities began as a writing experiment between three friends, popular YA Lit writers Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton and Breena Yovanoff.  And it ended with an awesome epic amazing curiously awesome collection of short stories.

The Curiosities is a fun look not only into the paranormal world, but into the world of writing and at a glimpse into the life of 3 friends who happen to be writers.  These stories are unedited and contain a variety of hand written notes throughout; in fact at one point, one of the authors circles a bunch of “it is” in one story and says that if she was editing the story, she would use more contractions.  Some of the other notes include:

“Full disclosure: I still don’t really know what this title means. But I liked how it sounded.” (p. 212)

“I almost convinced myself I could give this story a less unhappy ending, but that wouldn’t really be in keeping with the prompt.” (p. 78)

“Contrary to popular belief, this IS an ending.” (p. 10)

There are notes about the stories, notes about each other as a writer and fun things like a hand drawn diagram of Brenna’s brain, Tessa’s liver and Maggie’s heart.

Karen’s Pick for a Holiday Season Gift Book

There are other fun asides in this book, such as this list:

How to End a Story When You’re Stuck:
Kill Someone
Kill Everyone
Burn Things Down (apparently Maggie Stiefvater has someone inside her always saying “fire, fire”)
Make Them Kiss
Get the Paino Wire
Start Over
It Was All a Dream
End Mid-Sente . . .

Most of the short stories in this collection are good, unlike a lot of other short story collections.  But in many ways, that hardly seems like the point of this book.  No, this is a heartfelt look into the life of a writer and into a friendship – and it is truly quite glorious.  I really loved this book.  It is creative, interesting, and such an intimate look in the writing process, friendship, and the hearts (and brain and liver) of three very talented ya writers.

Here is my caveat: I don’t know about you, but my teens don’t really check out short story collections.  I don’t know why, but they don’t.  They never have.  And this book seems like a real fan’s book.  I imagine that the audience for this book is limited, maybe to three types of people: 1) those that are interested in learning more about the art of writing, 2) fangirls (and guys) – those who are fans to any one of or all of these ya authors and 3) me people like me who love a good story.  I can also seeing this be a huge success in the classroom as it kind of lifts the veil to the writing and editing process and behind the curtain you see the editing wizard.

To be honest, this is a 5 star book and I highly recommend it, with the above mentioned caveat.  And I think this is a great holiday gift book to anyone who would put themselves in the above categories.

P.S. – there is a really interesting twist on the zombie story in here.
So tell me, do your teens read short story collections, or are they dust collectors at your library too?/

Book Review: Cornered, 15 Stories of Bullying and Defiance

You can’t turn on the nightly news without hearing news stories about how bullying is affecting the lives of our teens.  Make no mistake, bullying has always been an issue, but the impact of it seems to be changing as bullying takes to the Internet.  Teens are talking about it.  Parents are talking about it.  School are talking about it.  And authors are writing about it.  So I was interested in seeing this collection of 15 stories about bullying.

Cornered has a foreward written by Chris Crutcher.  Chris Crutcher is a fabulous author, he is one of my favorites, but he is also an adolescent psychologist with keen insight into the teenage psyche.  In his forward Crutcher notes that “bullying starts with adults” because we “don’t tolerate kids finding their ways through natural developmental stages.”  I also appreciate it when Crutcher says, “If you want to find the bullies, a good place to look is among the bullied.  Most of what we learn as little ones comes through our pores.  Back before language we absorb through our senses.”  In some ways, when we are talking about teens, it is too late, they have already learned the ways of violence.  Crutcher’s introduction provides a keen, thoughtful introduction to these varied 15 stories.  And the stories themselves will prompt some good discussion about the topic with your teens.

Here’s another interesting thing about short story anthologies; although it seems like they would be an easy sell – especially to reluctant readers – they are, in fact, a very hard sell in terms of library circulation I have always found.  I imagine they work well in the classroom and the school library, but I have always found they are dust collectors in the public library.  But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t purchase them.  (What about at your library – do short story collections circulate for you?)

But let’s talk about this particular collection of short stories, shall we?  Like all short story collections, there are some good and some kinda meh.  There are a couple of stories, like Inside the Inside by Mayra Lazara Dole, that take the topic of bullying out of reality and into the realm of fantasy.

The two stories that have stayed with me the longest after reading this collection are Nemesis by Kirsten Miller and How Auto-Tune Saved My Life by Brendan Halpin.

Nemesis is the story of an individual who goes by the name, well, Nemesis.  Once a victim of bullying herself, she now offers a unique service to those being bullied: she anonymously documents their tormentors and sends them a cease and desist order or threatens to go public.  But what happens if the person that contacts you for this service happens to be the person who tormented you?

How Auto-Tune Saved My Life is a fascinating look at bullying because in this case, it is the teacher that it a bully.  Of course it is true, with power and authority, such as teachers have in the classroom, comes a great temptation to abuse that power – and your students.  This was a brutal story.  We all know teachers that had a reputation, but it is nothing compared to the teacher in this story.  Here, some students get together and find a unique way to try and bring the problem to light, with interesting results.  Because the sad truth is that sometimes, the bully wins and justice does not prevail.

Like Kicking a Fence by Kate Ellison (author of The Butterfly Clues, a previous Rec of the Week) touches on what Crutcher mentioned in his foreward.  As the title implies, this is a brutal story, full of raw emotion and some intense physical violence.

In this collection of 15 stories there are a wide variety of targets and perpetrators and there is good coverage of various scenarios.  Issues of sexuality and gender identity are raised, suicide is discussed, and the role and reactions of parents and educators are highlighted.  I tried to read these stories in one sitting but it was rough; these are intense, raw emotions being discussed.  I posted rants several times while reading these stories on my Facebook page about my thoughts on bullying and how angry it makes me.  These stories will definitely make you think, challenge some of what we think we know about bullies and bullying, and can really open the floodgates of discussion.  For me, personally, a couple of the stories simply didn’t work; but a couple of the stories worked so well that it makes the collection a good purchase, especially for schools.  I would love to see schools make reading and discussing How Auto-Tune Saved My Life a regular part of staff development to be honest.

And to close our 15 stories, there is a short story by Lish McBride, author of Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.  Let me just say that if you have not read Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, you should stop what you are doing and go read it NOW! Seriously, I’ll wait.  I love that book – it is wicked funny and very Buffyesque.  Her short story here, We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team, has some Necromancer tie-in and it ends the collection on just the right note.

As a total side note, since we are discussing short stories about bullying, I would like to recommend that you pair this collection with the truly amazing short story All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury, one of the most gut wrenching stories about bullying I have ever read.  I read it in English class, 8th grade, and still think of it often to this day.  You can view the story here.  It would make an interesting unit to look at the old and the new and compare the two.

As for Cornered, it comes out in July of 2012 and is being published by Running Press Teens.  I give it a 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it particularly for school libraries and classrooms.  And like I said, schools should consider reading and discussing How Auto-Tune Saved My Life as part of their yearly staff development.

Table of Contents:
Nemesis by Kirsten Miller
On Your Own Level by Sheba Karim
The Shift Sticks by Josh Berk
Everyone’s Nice by David Yoo
Defense Mechanisms by Elizabeth Miles
Sweet Sixteen by Zetta Elliott
Like Kicking a Fence by Kate Ellison
How Auto-Tune Saved My Life by Brenda Halpin
TK by Rhoda Belleza
The Ambush by Matthue Roth
Inside the Inside by Mayra Lazara Dole
But Not Forgotten by Jennifer Brown
The Truest Story There Is by Jaime Adoff
Still Not Dead by James Lecesne
We Should Get Jerseys ‘Cause We Make a Good Team by Lish McBride

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