Category Archives: Reviewed by Chrissie

Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews

Some Assembly Required

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If and when my library teens want to discuss what is going on in their lives, they know I am available as a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or as a resource for finding agencies that can provide further help.  Some of my teens have come to me while they were in the process of coming out and/or transitioning.  Thankfully, there are brave young people like Arin Andrews who are willing to share their own stories so that transgender and cisgender people can better understand both the obstacles transgender people face and the resources that are available to them as they decide how they would like to move forward with their lives.

I thought Arin did a great job of explaining the process of [female to male] transitioning both simply and thoroughly; the fact that he managed to do so without being didactic was very impressive!  Though Arin’s transition involved both hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, he was careful to explain that there are many people who opt to transition differently and that all choices are valid.  I was especially grateful for Arin’s candor about dating and sex, since I am sure many people are curious about how that all “works,” when one or more of the people in the relationship is transgendered.  I think this book would be an excellent resource for someone who is preparing for or struggling with his/her own transition, but I also think it is an important book to share with cisgender teens.  As a woman who feels perfectly at home in the body into which she was born, it has taken years of conversations with transgendered teens to even begin to fully appreciate their struggle.  I can only hope that the open sharing of stories like Arin’s will help future generations to be more understanding and empathetic and that the struggle for trans rights will soon become a part of history.

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

So Yesterday

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I’m not quite sure how I read [and loved] Peeps, the Uglies series, the Leviathan series, AND Afterworlds but managed not to get around to this book until now…. Though I felt the references to pop culture and technology definitely dated the story a bit, I think it is still relevant enough to recommend to today’s teens.  After all, society still cycles through “cool” fashions and trends.  And I don’t think many people really consider WHY and HOW things become “cool” — they just fall into the trap of wanting the next “cool” thing.  I encourage my kids (my biological children and the ones I work with) to question everything instead of just taking other people’s word for it.  I also encourage them to trust their own instincts and to find their own style instead of caring what other people will think.  As long as you’re not purposely trying to offend other people, I think you should embrace what you love and just go with it.  Hopefully, this story will help some tweens and teens see the light.

Hunter Braque was a “cool hunter.”  He was literally paid, mostly in free shoes, to report upcoming trends and fashions to a major corporation he called “The Client.”  (Throughout the story, Hunter left out the names of the brands/companies to which he was referring — but he gave just enough information that the readers could likely fill in the blanks on their own.)  Hunter actually worked for a woman named Mandy, who reported back to The Client after “cool tastings” (aka focus groups).  When Hunter met Jen, he just knew Mandy would want to meet her, too, and got her an invitation to a cool tasting.  Jen’s new perspective earned both Hunter and Jen an invitation to a super-secret meeting with Mandy, but then Mandy never showed up.  After hearing Mandy’s cell phone ringing from inside the abandoned building, Hunter and Jen broke in and found a stockpile of the coolest shoes they’d ever seen.  They weren’t sure what to think, but they were pretty sure Mandy was in trouble and that it had something to do with those shoes…. Action and mystery combine for a super-fun read that also questions the conformity and consumerism that run rampant in our society.

A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery

A Million Miles Away

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It was hard enough for Kelsey to deal with the death of her identical twin sister, Michelle, but that was only the beginning of her heartache.  Michelle’s most recent boyfriend, Peter, had just deployed to Afghanistan before Michelle’s tragic accident,t and Kelsey didn’t know how to get in touch with him.  She thought Peter deserved to know what had happened, but she didn’t even know his last name — and he was one of those guys who didn’t have a Facebook page, so she couldn’t just stalk him down via her sister’s page.  When she finally ended up talking to him, via Skype, things got out of hand very quickly.  Between the glitchy connection and the fact that she was Michelle’s identical twin, Peter mistakenly thought he was talking to Michelle.  Before Kelsey could correct him, though, an attack on his base made him cut the call short.  She kept meaning to set the record straight, but pretending to be Michelle made it feel almost like Michelle wasn’t actually gone, and she worried what might happen to Peter if the news distracted him from his mission in Afghanistan.

When I initially read the description for this book, I had no sympathy for Kelsey’s predicament.  I was horrified to think that she would even consider impersonating her dead twin.  But, as I read the story, I couldn’t help but feel bad for her.  It was very easy once I saw how it actually played out.  She never intended to hurt anyone, but she just kept digging herself deeper.  The compounding lies ate her up inside, but she was worried even more about how Peter would take the news.  And then, of course, there is the fact that she started to fall in love with him.  Talk about drama!  Fans of Sarah Dessen and Sara Zarr should definitely give this book a try.

Tracers by J. J. Howard

Tracers

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If you’re looking for a book that reads like a movie — especially one that has actually been turned into a movie (which stars Taylor Lautner of Twilight fame) — you won’t want to miss this one!  Cam was a bicycle messenger in New York City who worked almost constantly because he needed to pay off a massive debt to a Chinatown loan shark.  One day, a girl literally fell from the sky and caused Cam to wreck his bike.  With no bike, he had no job, and no way to pay off his debt.  Cam was devastated.  He got a call from his boss the next day, though, informing him that the mystery girl had left him a sweet replacement bike.  When Cam was on a delivery run and ran into her, as she was doing parkour/tracing with some friends in Central Park, he couldn’t help but feel that fate was talking to him.  Cam fell nearly instantly for both Nikki and tracing.  After proving to be a quick study, Cam was invited to train with the group and even started working for their boss, Miller.  His gut kept telling him that he was only digging himself deeper into trouble, but Cam owed so much money that he couldn’t think of another way out.  If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, add this to your summer reading list!

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me

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This book was an interesting blend of historical fiction, mystery, and science fiction.  I can certainly see why it won the Newbery Award, since it is well written, pays homage to a “classic” children’s book, and has a nostalgia factor for the teachers and librarians who grew up in the 70s and 80s — especially with all the references to Miranda’s mom practicing for her appearance on the game show $20,000 Pyramid.  I suspect, though, that a lot of tweens and teens would find it difficult to really get hooked on this story.  I was curious about how things would play out in the end, but the story didn’t exactly keep me on the edge of my seat.

One day, as Miranda walked home with her best friend, Sal, he got punched in the stomach. The kid who punched him was new to the neighborhood and didn’t even know Miranda or Sal, so there didn’t seem to be any reason for the attack.  Even worse?  Right after that incident, Sal began to get distant . Miranda felt lost without Sal, since the two of them had been constant companions since their early childhood.  And then, when the hidden/”emergency” key to her apartment went missing and she found a strange note hidden in a library book, Miranda got understandably freaked out.  Especially since the author of the note seemed to know things about her — even things that hadn’t happened yet.

Fans of A Wrinkle in Time are sure to enjoy the way Miranda’s life experiences have parallels to that book and make her question the real possibilities of time travel.  I think there are enough details, nevertheless, that the story will still make sense to readers who aren’t familiar with L’Engle’s work.

Undertow by Michael Buckley

Undertow

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I really enjoyed the fact that this book didn’t fit neatly into a single category.  Readers who enjoyed the fantastic, blood-thirsty mermaids in Lies Beneath will likely be enthralled by the different races of the Alphas and their various body types, weapons, and powers.  Fans of The Hunger Games are sure to appreciate the various layers of societal resistance, government involvement, and fighting for survival.  And, of course, readers who prefer their dystopias with a side of angsty/forbidden love, like in the Delirium series, will not be disappointed!

When the Alpha emerge from the Atlantic and set up camp on the shores of Coney Island, Lyric Walker’s world is turned upside down.  Her mother, who came with a smaller “scout” group of Alpha is desperate to find her family but needs to remain hidden — for fear that she will either be punished by the Alpha or taken away by the US government for medical experimentation at a secret internment camp to which most of the other “scout” Alphas were relocated.  Lyric knows that she is supposed to keep a low profile so that no one discovers the truth about her mother’s identity, but she somehow ends up being assigned as a peer mentor to the Alpha prince.  With the impending threat of harm to her family and the very real possibility of war between the humans and the Alphas, it’s no wonder Lyric’s every move had me on the edge of my seat.

The Misfits by James Howe

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Everything started back when Addie refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance; she was adamant about the fact that there wasn’t “liberty and justice for all” and, on principle, refused to say the pledge anymore.  Even though her teacher didn’t quite seem to understand where she was coming from, her friends, the misfits, thought she was on to something.  They were tired of being made fun of and mistreated, and they were fairly certain that nothing would improve unless they did something about it — so they decided to go about effecting that change by creating a third party in the student council elections.  The book did get a little didactic at times, but I think many tween and teen readers will appreciate Addie’s brand of idealism and the fact that working together actually made a difference in the school.  Fortunately, many schools are making an effort to teach character education and to promote an environment free from hatred

and bullying… but it’s still out there.  Sadly, I’m all too certain there will always be kids who can relate to this story.