CLP Teens Blog

 

 

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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starting from here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Colby has had a lot of disappointments and hard times in these last few years. First, her mother dies of cancer and after a too brief mourning period her father goes back to work as a trucker. She doesn’t have any brothers or sisters so she’s pretty much on her own these days. To add insult to injury her girlfriend, the first person she’s fallen in love with, dumps her for a boy. Then, to top it all off, she finds out she is failing chemistry and not doing so well in her other classes as well. So when Colby finds a stray dog that has been hurt and needs to be taken care of she hesitates at first.

But compassion rules the day and Colby takes the dog under her wing, into her heart and nurses him back to health. As Colby cares for the dog she forges new relationships; with the vet who helps her care for Mo, a cute girl at school – even her grades start to pick up. But things with the new girl don’t last and Colby starts to shut down again. With everyone but her dog, Mo. Once Colby realizes what she’s done she’s not sure if she can make amends even though she wants to. Find out if Colby can repair her relationships or if she has to start all over again in “Starting From Here”.

 

Reviewed by Leah, CLP-Downtown & Business

 

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i was the greatest

When I was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Family is family. You can’t pick them, and you sure as hell can’t give them back.”

In When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, fifteen-year-old Ali is happy with his family. He loves his mom, even if she’s gone most of the time, working hard to provide for their family. His little sister Jazz is pretty cool too. She’s responsible and serious, like she’s 10 going on 30. But she helps Ali out—cooks him dinner and does his chores to keep him out of trouble. Even Ali’s dad is a good guy. He’s made some bad choices in life. He robbed a few stores, shot someone, and ended up in prison. He’s out now, and doesn’t live with them. But he still checks in on his kids. And Ali’s pretty sure his parents still love each other. His mom just can’t put up with his dad’s stuff anymore.

Ali’s mother warns Ali that a day will come when he can no longer put up with his best friend Noodles’ “stuff” either. Noodles and his brother Needles are Ali’s next door neighbors. Though Ali has always played it straight, Needles often pushes the limits in their Bed Stuy, New York neighborhood—talking smack, giving major attitude, and treating his older brother Needles like he’s worthless. Needles has Tourette’s Syndrome, which he can control when he’s got knitting needles and yarn in his hands. So if everyone else can treat Needles with kindness, why can’t Noodles? Ali thinks that even though they are brothers, Noodles would gladly give Needles back if he could.

When Ali and the brothers manage to get invited to a secret party, they spend the week getting ready, knowing only the coolest people from the neighborhood will be there. Along the way, Ali begins to question his friendship with Noodles. Can he continue to up with his friend’s “stuff?” When the party doesn’t end well, Ali is forced to make a split-second choice. Where do his loyalties lie?

In this close look at friendship, loyalty, responsibility and family, Reynolds creates a realistic world full of grey areas. Sometimes the role models and heroes aren’t who you’d think they are. Sometimes a good choice brings more trouble than a bad decision. And sometimes the people you surround yourself with make your life harder and not better.

Reviewed by Erin, CLP-Allegheny

 

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maggot moon

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Maggot Moon is an intense what-if dystopian nightmare. Although it’s never explicitly said, 15-year old Standish Treadwell seems to be living in post-WWII if the Nazis had won the war. Standish lives in Zone 7 where the un-pure are forced to live, barely. Starving Zone 7 residents occasionally disappear after which the government refuses to acknowledge that they ever existed. Standish’s parents disappeared after moving to Zone 7. He knows they existed even if the government won’t admit it.

“Standish Treadwell. Can’t read, can’t write. Standish Treadwell isn’t bright.”

Standish is dyslexic (as is the author, Sally Gardner), and his eyes are two different colors: one blue, one brown. Although these two features alone make him an undesirable, he lives in Zone 7 for reasons that precede him. Another family comes to live with Standish and his grandfather, and they have a son, Hector, in the same grade as Standish. They go to school together where the strong minded Hector protects Standish from cruel beatings. Until Hector and his family vanish one day with no explanation.

Now Standish has no one to protect him at school at gets regular beatings from students and his teacher. One day when he’s being beaten by his teacher, Standish decides he’s had enough and punches Mr. Gunnell right in the jaw and off his feet. One small young boy who laughs too hard at the teacher’s misfortune gets the full force of Mr. Gunnell’s wrath as he beats the small boy to death in front of the rest of the class.

Standish knows he’s done for so he comes up with a crazy plan that just might allow him, his grandfather, and the tongue less moon man hiding in their cellar to escape Zone 7. His risky master plan involves finding Hector, a fake moon landing and mass graves.

Maggot Moon has 100 incredibly short chapters and is infused with illustrations of rats, maggots and flies in an almost flipbook fashion. The story isn’t told chronologically – the past, present and future are all mixed together. Even though some of the beatings are sickeningly intense, this book is poetic and haunting and highly recommended.

 

Reviewed by Annica-West End

 

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takedown

Takedown by Allison Van Diepen.

Darren took the fall for Diamond Tony after the cops busted a huge drug deal. He didn’t tell the police who the kingpin was because that’s the code—no snitching, even if it means two years in juvie. Now, two years later, Darren’s out. He’s back living with his mom, sister, and little brother who he loves more than anything in the world. He’s doing well in high school, and he’s even getting close with the girl of his dreams!

Yet Darren is dealing drugs again. He’s gotten back in with Diamond Tony’s gang and is quickly moving up the ranks. The other dealers respect Darren for not snitching and even coming back after what happened. His friends wonder why Darren is back to selling drugs again—though his mom doesn’t hesitate to take the money he offers her each week.

By all appearances, Darren is about to become a trusted executive in Diamond Tony’s drug ring. Yet Darren has a secret: he’s working with the police to bring Tony down. Darren knows he’s playing with fire, but he won’t stop until he brings Tony down—or dies trying.

Reviewed by Amy, CLP-Lawrenceville

 

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James Dashner’s new series The Mortality Doctrine begins with this intense, fast-paced thriller set in a technologically advanced future.  Video games have progressed to the point where, if you can afford it, you can buy a “coffin” where you plug into the VirtNet and actually exist in the game.  You can hang out with your Virt friends, be completely physically and mentally immersed in any game and live out your gaming fantasies. If you die in a game, no big deal.  But when someone starts trapping gamers in the VirtNet, death becomes a very real thing.

No one knows why Kaine is trapping people, but the trapped players are starting to pop up everywhere and disturb the VirtNet.  The government hires Michael, an amazing gamer who spends most of his time in the VirtNet, to solve the mystery with his VirtNet friends Bryson and Sarah.  When they agreed to take on this task they had no idea just how dangerous it would be. Michael, Bryson and Sarah goof around a lot and even though they get into potentially deadly situations they still manage to crack jokes.  The Eye of Minds isn’t all fun and games though.  From page one it’s a super fast paced thriller that won’t disappoint readers looking for an adventurous ride through virtual reality.

 

Reviewed by Annica –CLP-West End

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