I cared for – cheered for – each of the characters in the Young Adolescent novels listed below.
WHAT IF IT’S US by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Boy meets boy. Boy loses boy. Boy finds boy (about 100 pages later). Boys fall in love. Boys disagree and separate. Boys reconnect and then ‘carry on’. This story is told in alternative voices of Ben and Arthur and is and provides honest insights into the dating game and the challenge and thrill of finding love as a gay (or straight) teenager. An up-to-the minute setting, social media, Hamilton (the musical) and all. Highly enjoyable read.
DARIUS THE GREAT IS NOT OKAY by Adib Khorram (ages 12-14)
Like his father, Darius takes medication to control his depression. A Fractional Persian (his mother’s side), the adolescent has some difficulty fitting in with others at school. When his grandfather is diagnosed with cancer, Darius travels to Iran with his family. A strong friendship is developed with a neighbourhood boy named Sohrab and the two boys feel that they can tell each other anything. Darius realizes that his visit is only temporary but in that short time he learns more about his grandparents, his parents (especially his father), his sister and his culture. The author has done a fine job of opening a window for readers to Persian culture as well as insights into the life – and growth – of a troubled teenager.
THE GIVER by Lois Lowry, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell (graphic novel)
Since it’s release in 1993, The Giver has been read by millions (particularly young adolescents). This story of a boy who lives in a future community where everyone is the same has been transformed into a play, a movie, and an opera. The graphic adaptation is a perfect vehicle to tell the story in another art form. Much of the images are monochromatic black, white and washes of blue and splashes of colour emerge is given the power to maintain memories.
CHICKEN GIRL by Heather Smith
Ebb & Flow, and The Agony of Bun O’Keefe were absolutely two of my favourite reads last year and I so looked forward to Heather Smith’s new novel. It’s fantastic! Poppy and Cam are two twin teenagers whose relationship is deepened by their varied outlooks on life. Poppy has issues with body images and is hired to dress up as a chicken mascot to advertise the local restaurant. Cam is an openly gay teen who strives to maintain an optimistic outlook on life with all that he encounters. When Poppy meets a young girl named Miracle who is sheltered by a group of homeless people, she struggles to come to terms with the good and bad in the world. This novel is full of heart, albeit an aching one at times, and unforgettable characters. Kudos to Poppy, Cam, Miracle.. and Heather Smith.
OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt
A beautifully-written coming-of-age story by author Gary D. Schmidt (The Wednesday Wars) who skillfully captures the voice and heart of his characters. Doug Swieteck lives in upstate New York in a place he calls ‘The Dump’. His father is abusive, his one brother is trouble, another returns disabled from Vietnam and his mother has the best smile of anyone in the world. Doug is obsessed with the Birds of America plates of John James Audubon and with mentorship, he strives to imitate Audubon’s style. As stories about young adolescents, Doug struggles to find a place of belonging, struggling to fit in at school, at home and in a small community. I really loved this book, but was rather dismayed with the final chapters which stretched some believability (e.g., adventure on Broadway episode).
LAURA DEAN KEEPS BREAKING UP WITH ME by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (Graphic novel)
Frederica (Freddy), an Asian teenager, is besoughted with Laura Dean who chooses to casually move in and out of romantic adventures, which breaks Freddy’s heart. Artist, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell uses black, white, grey and salmon pink to present some stark visual images. Visuals are well crafted and varied in perspectives, but didn’t always add to the narrative or emotional impact of this lesbian relationship. Really the title says it all, but it this story of longing,
BE MORE CHILL by Ned Vizzini
Jeremy longs for popular, beautiful Christine, and even though he knows he doesn’t stand a chance, he think of ways to succeed. When a pill-sized computer (“The Squip”) that can be swallowed is offered to him, Jeremy jumps on the chance since the The Squip brings on anything one desires in life. Under the control of this supercomputer, Jeremy becomes the coolest dude in the class. But being under the influence of the ‘drug’ can of course lead to disasters. Teenage fans have connected enthusiastically to the trapped feelings offered by his fictional characters (It’s Kind of A Funny Story; House of Secrets). Be More Chill has been transformed into an off-Broadway musical sensation. The musical now appears on Broadway. Ned Vizzini committed suicide in 2013.
The 10PM Question by Kate De Goldi
Huge thanks to my colleague Shelley Stagg Peterson who brought me this award -winning “Book of the Year” title from New Zealand. Frankie is a neurotic teenager who bravely tries to cope with his persistent anxieties and his quirky family that includes a demanding older sister, three feisty great aunts, a rascal brother, Uncle George (his father) and a mother who, after nine years refuses to leave the house. Gigs and Frankie are great friends. When a new girl, Sydney, arrives in his class, Frankie discovers a new soulmate (who’s not his girlfriend) who helps him to get through the life’s foibles (Sydney has her own family troubles). This terrific New Zealand author paints vivid images of her characters and presents a strong voice and the sympathetic soul of a teenage boy who would likely be a great friend to Holden Caulfield. I loved this funny, heartwarming, special book!