The Next Great Teen Read

As a Library Assistant, there is nothing I find more encouraging than having a teenager approach my desk looking for something to read. With Tumblr, Snapchat, WhatsApp and whatever other social media outlets out there that I’m far too old to understand it’s awesome to know that there are still so many teenagers who enjoy reading a good old fashioned book.

The best reader’s advisory questions I get are from high school students looking for their next great read. I always make sure I have a running list of the latest teen fiction to suit which ever genre appeals to them. This can be tricky, however, when faced with those keen readers that have already finished all of the popular teen titles in our collection. For this reason I was thrilled when The Echo Room by Parker Peeveyhouse crossed my desk.

In The Echo Room, Rett wakes up in an abandoned building. There is no food and no water. He has no memory of how he got there. There is blood on his clothes. There is blood on his hands. The only clue is the phrase “Scatter 3” written on the wall.

Stumbling through empty rooms, he comes across a girl named Bryn. She also claims to have no memory. As they explore, danger arrives. Their memories erase and the day repeats. And it repeats again. And again. Every time the day repeats, the reader learns a little more about Rett and Bryn’s situation.

The outside world is failing. Crops are making people sick. Parents are forced to work off their medical bills at government run facilities. Their children are being left to be raised in orphanages. As Rett and Bryn make their way through the abandoned building, they discover that surrounding area has turned into a wasteland- nothing but rocks and ruined structures. As the days keep repeating, Rett and Bryn begin to recall tiny parts of their former lives and they must put all the pieces together if they want to survive.

I am so excited to have another excellent title to recommend to those enthusiastic teen readers who come to my desk. The Echo Room will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner series, yet it offers a whole new take, combining all of the elements of a thriller, survival and science fiction book into one. Teen readers this IS your next great read.

— Lesley L.

People Kill People

An Outlook Into Gun Control

An elderly man purchases a gun. His mental health is not called into question. He takes excellent care of his gun until the day he shoots an intruder. When he sells the gun, no questions are asked about the buyer’s history. No questions are asked about their knowledge of weapons use. In Arizona, you don’t have to be a licensed dealer to sell a gun. And there are no laws requiring a background check for the buyer.

Since 2014, gun related deaths have increased significantly in the United States and mass shootings are becoming more widespread. In her author’s note, Ellen Hopkins explains that she wrote her novel People Kill People as a way to understand why someone would resort to pulling the trigger. Why do people hate? Why do people fear? Why do human beings go out and kill each other?

Using inspirations from the news, Hopkins developed six young characters that all have different life experiences and different points of view. Each of them has a reason to be angry. Anyone of them could be capable of gun violence.

Camilla is a young mother married to Rand. She is a stay at home mom to her three-year-old son but dreams of returning to the nightlife with other girls her age. She prefers to live in the moment rather than be saddled down with responsibly. Her rash actions often complicate her marriage.

Rand is married to Camilla. He works long hours and is studying to enter into the police force. In contrast to his wife, he doesn’t like to party. In childhood he suffered a trauma that he keeps hidden from his family. Despite his best efforts to keep it buried deep down, the memories rise up in unexpected ways.

Ashlynn grew up in a house full of violence. Her mother tried her best to shield her from it but the memories of her father’s brutality haunt her all the same.

Noelle was once an honour student with a world of opportunities ahead of her. She was the good girl, the responsible teen. A random act of gun violence left her injured and prone to seizures, taking away her promising future.

Silas wears steel-toed shoes just in case he’s in a fight. As his mother puts it – some people are just born angry. His temperament only worsened with his parent’s divorce.

Daniel is the product of an affair between a successful, married corporate attorney and a young Honduran housekeeper. His mother was deported when he was young and Daniel was sent to live with his father and step-mother. After his father passes, his step-mother raises him but with great resentment.

Author Ellen Hopkins brilliantly develops these characters as their stories start to intertwine. The decisions made by one character can affect all of the others, even if they don’t realize it. The story becomes so intermixed it’s easy to see how one action can cause a cascading effect until there is a powder keg just waiting to explode.

People Kill People is not without controversy. It contains violent actions and some very racist points of view. It is never gratuitous; however, it is always done to illustrate a point. It fits with the unstable upbringing of certain characters. Gun control is a widely debated subject in North America and People Kill People will make for very lively discussions in book clubs.

— Lesley L.

The Hate U Give

When I discovered The Hate U Give during its release last year, I thought to myself, “This book is going to resonate with readers and become very popular.” After 85 weeks on the NYT Bestseller List, millions of copies sold, and a movie adaptation released in theatres this week, it has become more than popular; it’s mainstream. Why? Because there are so many people around the world (and not just teens) who, like the book’s narrator, are experiencing varying forms of a political awakening.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a story of many stories. It’s a story about 16-year old Starr Carter struggling to exist between two worlds: her predominantly black neighbourhood of Garden Heights and the predominantly white suburban prep school she attends. It’s a story of her childhood best friend Khalil being brutally shot by a police officer unarmed. It’s a story of grief. It’s a story about systemic injustice. It’s a story about the realities of racism in America that persists today. It’s a story about finding your voice. And it’s a story about a community that struggles to come together against these injustices while trying to restrain their fury towards each other.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Its subject is timely, complex, and rendering. I loved how much the book focused on Starr and her family. Unlike many YA books where parents are either dead or absentee, Starr’s parents and extended family were not only consistently present but fleshed out. We not only know Momma and Daddy, but Starr’s older half-brother Seven, Uncle Carlos, Nana, and her younger brother Sekani. All of these relationships are dynamic and create a fully imagined community. Sure, Starr has a boyfriend and friends from school, but they stand on the periphery in the story. In the darkest and most tragic of circumstances, Starr’s loving family not only supported her, but empowered her too.

While this book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement it unapologetically tackles the question of what racism looks like in America today. Many may suggest that racism is a term of the past but this book argues otherwise. Racism may not have public lynchings or signs that segregate white Americans from African Americans like it was under the laws of Jim Crow, but the segregation that separates Starr’s communities allows the persistence of endemic oppression of African Americans to continue. Racism can look like Starr’s dad being ordered to lay down with his hands behind his back for having a loud conversation with his next-door neighbour Mr. Lewis. Or it can be more invisible such as Hailey unfollowing Starr’s Tumblr account because she didn’t want to see “gross images” of Emmett Till on her dashboard. While this book doesn’t attempt to solve the problem of racism (that’s way too big a task) it does paint a complex picture of what racism looks like in America in 2017. Its picture has heavy strokes of blatant racism, tones of invisible racism, white privilege, systemic oppression, and even reverse-racism in the background.

While this book has a tragic beginning, it ends on an impassioned and empowering note. As Starr is politically awakened, she is empowered to use her voice to stand up for her community. In these perilous times we live in, Starr sets a great example of becoming an advocate even when the system always fails you. And that’s why in the Parthenon of young adult literature, Starr will continue to shine on and off the page.

— Eleni Z.

The Winnowing

The trickiest questions I’m asked at WPL’s Information Desk often come from vivacious teen dystopian readers. They have already read all the popular titles. They were captivated by The Hunger Games long before it was popular. They were engrossed in Divergent long before it was made into a movie. They devoured Lois Lowry’s books before they even got to high school. So what’s left to recommend? Thankfully, Canadian author Vikki VanSickle has come to the rescue with her latest title, The Winnowing.

The Winnowing offers a retelling of history, mixed with conspiracy and science fiction. After World War II the world faces a spreading infertility crisis. No children have been born since the end of the war and the human race faces extinction. Fast forward to 1989 – the small town of Darby, New Mexico is home to a group of scientists who have miraculously found a way to reverse the crisis. The cure is now administered to all children.

The book begins with a young woman, Marivic, having vivid nightmares of running through burning lava. The dream seems so real that it feels as though her feet are truly being scorched. This is the first sign of ACES (Adolescent Chromosomniatic Episodes), the side effect of the cure that all teenagers experience during the onset of puberty. Next, they will develop extraordinary abilities that stretch beyond human limitations. If they do not undergo a procedure called The Winnowing, they become a danger to themselves and those around them. Those who complete the winnowing are left with hazy memories, unable to recall any specific details of the procedure.

Like all teenagers in Darby, Marivic is sent to a medical centre to be treated for her ACES. Her best friend Saren is already there, having started treatment sometime earlier. Together they encounter a suspicious young man who claims to have information linking The Winnowing to more sinister events.

Science fiction enthusiasts will notice various references to famous sci-fi creators sprinkled throughout the novel, the most notable being the character of Dr. Roddenbury (a nod to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury).

The Winnowing, which is a Red Maple Fiction Award nominee, will appeal to vivacious dystopian fans, as well as those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory.

— Lesley L.

Fighting Cancer. Finding Courage.

“Courage is not always big and bright and loud; sometimes it’s as silent and small as true words, a smile when you’d rather weep, or getting up every day and living with quiet dignity while all around your life rages. You cannot truly love, live or exist without courage. Without it you are simply biding time until you die.”

In 2013 Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Approximately 10 per cent of these cancers will be caused by BRCA1 gene mutation. Those who carry the gene have a drastically increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age. After learning she carried this gene, Jolie made the decision to reduce her risk and removed both her breasts and later her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although the gene is hereditary, gene testing is the only way to know if you are a carrier. Jolie is an advocate for gene testing, believing that knowledge is power. She encourages women to learn their options.

wendy-mills-author-photoPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills begins with 16-year-old Erin heading to school on an ordinary Tuesday. She attends class, laughs with her best friend and studies for a physics test. But her ordinary day comes to a screeching halt when her mother announces she has breast cancer. Life is now split into two categories: before the cancer and after the diagnosis. To make the situation even worse, the cancer was caused by the BRCA gene. Erin has a 50 per cent chance of being a carrier of the gene. However, Erin cannot be tested until she is 18. Even then, the healthcare community recommends she wait until she’s 25 and see a genetic counselor before even thinking about being tested.

How is anyone not supposed to think about such a terrifying situation? Erin is consumed with thoughts of the unknown. Will she have to remove her breasts? She bought her very first bra just a few years before. She hasn’t even thought about having children. Now she’ll have to remove her ovaries? Suddenly the everyday dramas of teenage life seem small and trivial. No one her age can possibly imagine what it’s like to be faced with these decisions. Erin reads about a direct-to-consumer company that will conduct the gene test without having to go through a medical provider. Without telling anyone, she jumps at the chance to find out her status.

When her test comes back positive she reaches out to an online forum for young BRCA gene carriers. She meets a young lady named Ashley who helps her find her own inner strength.

There are some very emotional passages in Positively Beautiful. Both Erin and her mother are incredibly strong women. Although cancer is part of the plot, the main theme of the book isn’t illness, it is courage. Erin shows us that courage lives in all of us, we just need to know where to look.

— Lesley L.