CLP Teens Blog

 

nearly gone

Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

Life isn’t really that great for high school junior Nearly Boswell. After her father walked out with no explanation, Nearly and her mother ended up in a trailer park, where her mother can barely pay the rent with the tips she makes stripping. Now a teenager, the “gift” of empathetic touch that she inherited from her father makes Nearly a self-made outcast. Nearly isolates herself rather than feel and taste the stinging, throbbing, bitter pain of anyone she touches. Despite her few friendships, she’s alone.

So Nearly makes a plan to escape. She’s competing with her best friend and other honors students for a chemistry scholarship. It’s her only chance at being able to pay for college and her future. To qualify for the scholarship, Nearly has to earn the top grade in her class and fill a service requirement by tutoring other high school students.

But nothing is easy for Nearly, and someone’s willing to resort to murder to make her already abysmal life even more miserable. When her students are killed one by one, Nearly finds notes in the personal ads that give clues before the murders take place. Horrified and confused, Nearly tries to do the right thing and goes to the police with what she knows. But instead of being thankful for her information, the police make Nearly the target of the investigation and ask an undercover informant to keep tabs on her. Nearly realizes that she’s being framed by the killer and stalked by a dangerous and alluring police narc.

With a long list of potential murderers, a “touch” of the supernatural and a personal-ad puzzle to solve, Nearly Gone is a winning mystery that will keep you guessing to the end.

Reviewed by Erin, CLP-Allegheny

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doll bones

Doll Bones by Holly Black.

You’ve all heard of Chucky, right? The doll possessed by the spirit of a serial killer? Doll Bones is about a possibly possessed doll that is less psychopathically violent than Chucky but may be even creepier.

For as long as they can remember, Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played a made up game that takes place in a fictional world ruled by the Great Queen, a bone-china doll kept locked away in Poppy’s house.

One day, Poppy starts having dreams about the Queen, the ghost of the little girl whose bones were used to make the doll. She convinces her friends that the only way to get rid of the ghost is to bury the doll in the little girl’s empty grave, though Zach and Alice aren’t quite sure they believe in the ghost. On their quest to bury the doll, nothing goes according to plan, with a simple trip turning into an epic, creepy adventure.

Is the doll just a doll—or is it actually possessed? Zach and Alice aren’t sure—until the ghost starts entering their dreams and adults start to see the doll as a live girl. Poppy starts to act strangely—could she be possessed, too? If the Queen really is a ghost, will it let them go? Will burying the doll in the empty grave put the spirit to rest?

Read Doll Bones to find out.

 

Reviewed by Amy, CLP-Lawrenceville

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life after theft

Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

It is hard enough changing to any new school, but when you go to high school, it is so much tougher. To make friends you try to fit in and try not to cause a fight at least on the first day. Imagine if you were Jeff Clayson. His family came into money and now he is a student at Whitestone Academy, a very exclusive private school in Santa Monica, California. Jeff did exactly what you would not want to do, call attention to himself and get in a fight. The problem was who he got into a fight with.

Now everyone thinks he is absolutely crazy! Apparently, Jeff is the only one who can see a young lady name Kimberlee Schaffer. She’s beautiful, dressed very trendy and apparently from a very wealthy family. The problem is; she’s dead. She died a year ago and no one but Jeff can see her. Kimberlee was the epitome of a mean girl and she was also a thief. Kimberlee is not sure why she was left on Earth and why Jeff is the only one who can see her. Possibly it is to correct some past wrongs. In an attempt to cross over, she solicits Jeff’s help in returning the stolen merchandise to the rightful owners. Easy peasy right. . .? Jeff finds out that it was probably easier for Kimberlee to steal the items than it is for him to return them. Follow the mayhem that ensues in Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike.

 

Reviewed by Andrea, CLP-Homewood

 

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choked

How they Choked:  Failures, Flops and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg.

Did you know the only reason Marco Polo is famous for being an explorer is because he spent time in jail? Or that Isaac Newton poisoned himself to the point of insanity while trying to turn lead and mercury into gold? These stories and more epic failures of the epically famous are told in How They Choked.

Marco! It’s true that Marco Polo was a famous explorer, but he overestimated his abilities. His inflated ego unfortunately led him to believe he could defeat an army when he was clearly outnumbered. He was arrested as a prisoner of war and while in jail he spent time with a historian and writer. Marco Polo passed the time by telling amazing stories of his travels on the Silk Road and being sort of adopted by Kublai Khan. The historian turned those stories into a book called Description of the World (also known as His Travels). It was written 150 years before the printing press was invented and even so was hugely popular and translated into many languages. And now people all over the world hide from people shouting Marco from pools.

Even though the genius Isaac Newton lived into his 80s he was insane by the time he was 50 from practicing alchemy, which was very illegal. Alchemy is the “science” of turning common metals into gold. Even though it doesn’t work, it was still against the law to try. Newton was a strange guy in many ways, but trying to get rich quick, er um, slowly since he tried and failed for 25 years, made him all the more strange when lead and mercury poisoning turned his brain into mush. Perhaps his lack of social skills hid his madness, but take a lesson from Newton and don’t try this at home.

 

Reviewed by Annica CLP-West End

 

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 anya

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Ghost stories can be pretty horrifying. Some have grisly looking spirits erupting from dark corners of long abandoned mansions. Others feature ghastly specters wandering cemeteries at night, hoping for someone from the land of the living to enter. Anya’s Ghost is a ghost story of a different kind. What if you met a ghost that seemed a lot like you? Someone who wanted to go with you to school, read the same fashion magazines, watch the same TV shows? Doesn’t sound quite as horrifying does it? That’s exactly what Anya thought too. Unfortunately for Anya, ghosts are always as transparent as they seem.

In Anya’s Ghost, author Vera Brosgol creates a graphic novel that blends humor, drama and suspense. Her illustrations are simple but affective, using a grey scale palette and focusing more on giving the book style and infusing it with character rather than creating overly detailed artwork. However, the ideas within Anya’s Ghost are not quite as simple, and will hit rather close to home for most readers.

Anya is a girl struggling to find an identity. Torn between her family who are Russian immigrants and an American culture at school that demands conformity, Anya is more and more choosing the latter lifestyle over the example her mother has tried to make. Throughout the book, we see Anya dealing with issues of cultural identity, self-confidence, body image – basically the kind of issues most teens deal with when they’re in high school. Plus, you know, there’s a ghost.

It’s an interesting dynamic between Anya and her newly found ghost friend, Emily. Emily was about Anya’s age when she passed away and has plenty of advice to give her about family, school and boys, all through the point of view of someone living in 1918.

Through the course of the book, Anya realizes that this helpful ghost may not be what she seems and ends up discovering more about the Emily’s life (and death) than she ever wanted to know. The results of these epiphanies are thrilling and lead to a climax that you’ll have to read to get the details. Highly recommended.

 

Reviewed by J. J., CLP-Beechview

 

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foul trouble

Foul Trouble by John Feinstein.

Terrell Jamerson has it made. He’s the best high school basketball player in the country. His team is about to win state. He has an entourage of friends (or are they “friends”?) who follow him around. He’s getting multiple scholarship offers from universities and could probably play in the NBA tomorrow if he wanted. Sneaker reps offer him free gear, college scouts offer to buy his mom a house. Everyone says they’re just trying to help him out. This is the dream, right?

Best friend and teammate Danny Wilcox, who is also highly recruited, isn’t so sure. This kind of “help” could get Terrell investigated by the NCAA, and possibly ruin his career before it even starts. Even an innocent lunch with the wrong people could land them both in trouble. Danny questions the motives of the entourage that follows Terrell around, and even Terrell’s mom’s boyfriend might be on the payroll of one of the colleges. Danny and Terrell both have some huge decisions to make that will impact the rest of their lives.

Together, Terrell and Danny have to decide who to trust. Will Terrell decide to take the guaranteed “help” now, or wait to earn it?

Reviewed by Amy, CLP-Lawrenceville

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The End Games

The End Games by T. Michael Martin

I love epigraphs. You know those one-ish sentence quotes at the beginning of a book? Not all books have them, but the ones that do have a special place in my heart. The End Games by T. Michael Martin is one of those books—it has TWO epigraphs! Epigraph 1) I shall tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day. –Albert Camus. Pretty good right? Even better though: Epigraph 2) Everything not saved will be lost. –Nintendo “Quit Screen” message. This mix of philosopher wisdom and video game pop culture pretty perfectly sums up the zombie infested post-apocalyptic world of The End Games. Yes, my friends, another, but worthwhile, zombie story.

The book tosses you immediately into the action as the main character Michael wakes up around a campfire and his 5 year old brother Patrick is not sleeping beside him and is nowhere to be seen. These brothers are on no camping trip, though, they’ve been on the road for weeks since the arrival of the Bellows and the END OF THE WORLD. “Bellows” is the first clue you are getting into a pretty good zombie story. The author sticks with the unspoken rule not to call zombies “zombies”, using the name Bellows instead, for the terrifying way they echo everything they hear, creating an audio landscape of screams, pleas, and last words. When Michael calls out his brother’s name, that’s what the Bellows begin to echo: “PAAAAAAATTTTRIIIIICKKK!”—in chill-inducing vividness.

Non-spoiler alert: In the first few pages, Michael grabs Patrick and they high tail it out of there, but that close call leads to an unceasing storm of others, as they try and make their way to the safe place described by the Game Master. This is where epigraph #2 (the Nintendo quit screen quote) comes in. Michael keeps talking about a Game Master. Apparently the boys are stuck in some kind of game? Is the whole thing a computer game? Is this virtual reality? Are they in some sort of new and perverse Hunger Games? All zombie narratives have an element of unreality, but not being able to determine whether the Bellows are all a game and will disappear soon (which is every characters wish in a zombie narrative) adds an added element of surreal-ness. Are the boys going to be able to escape from it all? Will it be over soon? CAN it be over soon? Even better than that though, the use of gaming as a motif really highlights the undercurrent of how we live our own lives. Would we approach our lives more strategically if we treated it more like a game? Or are our lives stuck in technology, like they are stuck in “The Game”?

This is where epigraph #1 comes in—“Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day.” Wait, I have to fight off Bellow/zombies every DAY?! Well, no, but seriously, how do you live your life? This is the real question of a zombie story—how do you keep (or live) your humanity? By putting humans in the most extreme circumstances you see who they truly are, and The End Games is no different in posing questions about what is good in a world gone bad.

 

Harper Collins calls The End Games “John Green meets Stephen King”. I don’t know if I’d take it as far as John Green, but that is the style of writing thrown into a desperate world, and John Green himself calls it “A stunningly intelligent, thrilling story about family and love that just happens to include some zombies.” I can agree with that. In the end, I really found The End Games to be a unique end-of-world read. A handful of times I had no idea where the story was going, which was slightly alienating and aimless, but I also love it when I can’t predict what will happen next in a book, and this one definitely fits that bill. If you like not knowing how a story will end, and are looking for a new spin in a genre that seems to be all the same, give The End Games a try. And be sure to ask yourself: what kind of epigraph would YOU give yourself at “the last judgment”?

Reviewed by GiGi, CLP-Brookline

 

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charm and strange

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

Winner of the William C. Morris Award for best teen book by a new author, Charm & Strange is a book full of mystery that has a twist ending I never saw coming. Andrew Winston Winters used to go by Drew until half of his family died in a horrible tragedy and he was sent away to boarding school. To try to separate himself from the stories of his family in the news, he starts going by Win, short for Winston. It works. No one knows about his past.

Win’s past is way more complicated than just painful memories of his dead siblings. Win also has intense rage that comes out in spurts of violence brought on by things that a well adjusted kid could easily shake off. Win is a sensitive and sad kid. At boarding school he keeps to himself, doesn’t drink like the other kids, is anorexic to make sure he can reach his goal of 6% body fat, which he apparently thinks will make him run faster in track. He’s a control freak. One reason he hates drinking is because he was regularly drugged as a child to keep him from getting carsick. He can’t stand the drowsy feeling of Phenergan, even if it does keep him from puking his brains out.

When a hiker is brutally attacked and killed in the woods behind Win’s school, not just killed, but mauled and partially consumed, Win begins thinking that maybe he killed the hiker in one of his rage induced blackouts. As the next full moon approaches, Win feels something inside of him brewing and he’s finally ready to let it out. He’s afraid he’s going to hurt someone, so he goes off naked and alone to let nature take its course far away from his school. Win is ready for the change.

I know what you’re thinking now, but just wait for the twist! This book not only has some pretty realistic and intense violence, but there’s also some uncomfortable sexual situations, so I would only recommend this to mature teens. Without giving too much away, this book has the potential to heal, but also the potential to trigger, so reader beware.

Reviewed by Annica-CLP-West End

 

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freakboy

Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark.

 From the outside Brendan’s life looks pretty great. He’s on the wrestling team, has a beautiful girlfriend and does pretty well in school.

To some people Angel might seem confused. She grew up where no one was like her…A half Mexican boy in an all white neighborhood.

Vanessa must seem pretty happy to most people. She’s got a great boyfriend, and loves being on the wrestling team and doesn’t care what anyone says about it.

In Kristen Elizabeth Clark’s debut book Freak Boy you’ll get to know Brendan, Angel and Vanessa. The book, told in verse, follows all three characters and brings you in touch with their lives and their very different journeys. Angel is a Trans woman who has never been confused about her gender. She knew from the start that she had been born with the wrong body. Vanessa is a girl who just happens to love working and playing hard with the boys. On the wrestling team she wins more than she loses while managing to completely tune out those who want to call her identity into question. She knows who she is and that she loves her boyfriend, no name calling can change that. Lastly, Brendan who loves Vanessa but fantasizes about being a princess with long hair and a beautiful face is struggling to make sense of his mix of feelings. How is it possible to be enjoy sex with your girlfriend while wishing to be a girl yourself?

The world wants everyone to fit into boxes…Gay or Straight, Female or Male. But what happens if you can’t decide? what if you feel differently from day to day? Most of the people in Brendan’s life want him in a box. They feel more comfortable knowing where Brendan fits…but he’s starting to wonder if he has to choose. He’s even learning, with Angel’s help, that there are other people like him and that choosing Gender Fluidity might allow him to live his life as it was meant to be.

 

 

Reviewed by Brooke, CLP-South Side

 

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ruby red

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier.

Time-travel, romance, ghosts. Just another day in the life of Gwen – at least it has been since Gwen discovered that the time-traveling gene that runs in her family has been unexpectedly passed down to her. Now she is being pulled into a secret and ancient society known as The Guardians, a group of men and women with ties to her family, her past, and now it seems her future. Among them is her male time-traveling counterpart, Gideon, who she might consider incredibly attractive if he wasn’t so annoyingly clever and bossy. There are twelve documented time-travelers, each represented by a gem. Gideon is the eleventh, represented by the diamond. Gwen is the twelfth, the Ruby.

Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red was originally published in 2009 but didn’t make it to American bookshelves until 2011. Why the delay? Someone had to translate it into English from the original German. Good thing they did too or else American readers would have been deprived of an interesting story with a captivating world filled with mystery and wonder. The book is an interesting blend of science fiction, the supernatural, and (of course) the obligatory love triangle, this time featuring reluctant time-traveler Gwen, the handsome and talented Gideon and Gwen’s beautiful cousin Charlotte, the member of her family who was supposed to inherit the time-traveling gene according to the experts in the secret society.

Unfortunately for Gwen, it’s she and not her picture perfect cousin that has this special ability, which means she’s the only one who holds the key to the secret the Guardians have been searching for the last 500 years. But can Gwen trust the members of this shadowy group? That’s one of the big questions of Ruby Red. Gwen struggles not just with the shock of her new found abilities and how to control them but also with the fact that she’s no longer in control of her life, feeling more like pawn in a game that began generations before she was even born.

There’s a lot in this book to engage various types of readers. The sci-fi/fantasy elements harken back to the high points of the Harry Potter series, bringing together ancient myths, historical figures and alluding to a culture of which the rest of the world is completely unaware, while the romance will be more welcomed by enthusiasts who liked similar aspects of the Twilight and Hunger Games series.

Like most YA fiction, Ruby Red is the first book in a trilogy. While this can be seen as a positive in that it allows the story and characters to evolve over a longer stretch of time, it also may leave readers a little wanting by the end of this first volume. Instead of serving as its own stand-alone story like the first Hunger Games or Twilight books manage too, this novel is very much the first chapter of an ongoing saga, so instead of finding closure after finishing its final pages, readers will more likely be searching the library catalog for the next volume, entitled Sapphire Blue. Is this a bad thing? Not necessary. Just remember: reader be warned. If you read the first book in this time traveling trilogy, odds are that you’ll be reading the second and the third in no time at all.

Reviewed by J.J. CLP-Beechview

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