Archive for the ‘Realistic Fiction’ Tag
Last week I featured three new books that take music as a central theme, a plot driver, a character changer. This week, let’s look at sports in that role. Sports books aren’t a huge genre. Besides the big names, Mike Lupica and Carl Deuker, there aren’t many authors that spring to mind. This fall, though, there have been several new releases featuring sports as a plot point and theme – not to mention the fact that I think they may be quintessential and classic sports stories! So if you love to read about your favorite sport – whether you play or not – pick these up.
Publisher summary: “Felix O’Sullivan, standing in the shadow of his dead brother, an angry, distant father, and racial tension, must lead the last-ever Muckers high school football team to the state championship before a mine closing shuts down his entire town.” It’s a small-town story about a football team no one thinks will make it, based on a true story, written by a former ESPN sportscaster: what’s not to love?!
Sneak Peek! “I come to the shanty in the Barrio from behind, dipping under the broken shutters so the late-October moon won’t cast a shadow and wake up Cruz.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Sandra Neil Wallace)
Maybe baseball stories are more your thing. Well then, Pitcher is a home-run for you. Ricky Hernandez dreams of being a pitcher and has done ever since he learned he had an arm while playing a carnival game. Thing is, now that he’s 14 and he’s got even more speed behind his pitches, he still has not learned to control the ball. He needs a chance and training, but he can’t afford it. He does have this reclusive neighbor, though, who is rumored to have been a big-shot MLB player, long-retired. Ricky’s mom wants nothing more than for Ricky to succeed, so she approaches their neighbor pleading for help; but she has no idea how much this will help them all, in the end.
Sneak Peek! “I never knew I had an arm until this guy calls out, ‘Hey, you want to try and get a ball in the hole, sonny?’” (Text copyright © 2013 by William Hazelgrove)
With all the recent coverage of the NFL’s head injury policies, or lack thereof, this is a particularly perfect book. Another football story, this time one that also features media scandals – high school paper style. The story is told in the form of emails and blog posts, making it a fast read. Jerry is the star quarterback, with all the drama that entails. When he’s thrown off the team after a drunk-driving incident, he thinks he’ll never get back into the world of sports. Enter, Carla, the high school paper’s star reporter. She recruits Jerry to work on a sports blog for the paper. Before he knows it, Jerry is deeply involved in Carla’s attempts to unearth a scandal surrounding head injuries sustained in contact sports at their school – something no one wants to hear as the school and town are poised for glory. It’s as dramatic as a perfectly timed interception when the team is down and needs to get on the board.
Sneak Peek! “On game day, I usually wake up very early and lie in bed thinking things over.” (Text copyright © 2013 by David Klass and Perri Klass)
This week, several new books that take music as a central theme. In each, the main character’s life comes to be defined in a unique way by music.
16-year-old Elise is unhappy, unpopular, and unsatisfied. A year ago, all of these feelings came together in an ugly way and she attempted suicide. Her home is not her happy place, so she gets out often at night – leading her to discover a world she had no idea existed. She quickly falls in love with the warehouse parties – and in lust with a hot older DJ – but even more she falls in love with DJing. She is excellent at it and through it she feels an escape from the pain. This is a true-to-life story of triumph – despite, or because of, Elise’s stumbles along the way. Bonus: the publishers made a playlist for the book so you can be completely immersed.
Sneak Peek! “You think it’s so easy to change yourself. You think it’s so easy, but it’s not.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Leila Sales)
Like your musical tales a little more magical? Our unnamed narrator and her best friend Aurora grew up like sisters in the atmospheric Pacific Northwest. Their mothers were both wild, and their fathers are both long gone, so mostly they have had each other – similar and yet different like mirror images. When a mysterious and magical musician arrives along with a charmingly conniving boss, the differences between the two girls cause their bond to rupture. Infused with art and music, this is a darkly romantic punk-rock tale for fans of Francesca Lia Block – and it’s the first book in a planned trilogy.
Sneak Peek! “Aurora and I live in a world without fathers. Hers is dead and mine was gone before I was born.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Sarah McCarry)
What if you accidentally fell backwards through time and found yourself at Woodstock? Yes, THE Woodstock. With Jimi Hendrix in all his glory rocking the Star-Spangled Banner. When he finds a white Stratocaster played by Hendrix, Rich wonders what on earth his uptight dad is doing with it. Even weirder, when he plays the right chord, he’s transported back to 1969. There, he runs into his dad and uncle as teens – the thing is Rich’s uncle OD’d at Woodstock, and his death is what left Rich’s dad the angry, sad man ruining Rich’s life. So Rich does the only thing that makes sense in this love-filled hippy fest: sets out to save his uncle – and thereby his dad and himself. Sound like a wacky premise? It may be but it is ultimately a realistic, funny and fun read.
If you loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, you will love this book. It’s the 1970s. Lewis is the only kid from the Tuscarora Reservation in the smart-kid track at the county middle school. So you could say he’s a misfit. Used to being bullied and without many friends at his mostly white school, Lewis is surprised when he finds himself becoming friends with the new kid. Misfit meet misfit: they bond over their shared love of rock and roll – The Beatles and other greats – and both slowly begin to trust and understand one another. But when the school’s biggest bully decides Lewis is his next target, their friendship is tested. Given the barriers of class, race, and bullies – can their friendship survive?
There have been some major books released over the last couple of months, so it’s been hard to choose which ones to highlight. This week, though, I was struck by how many “challenging” books I’ve seen hitting the new shelves recently.
By “challenging,” I mean books that suck you in, mess with your head, and knock you back out again as a new person. Books that leave you feeling winded, introspective…changed. Books that make you think – and keep you thinking even when you’ve finished them. One that sticks out in my memory as a challenging read for me is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Not everyone likes these kinds of books: some of us read to be entertained or for comfort, and don’t want to be messed up by a book. That’s okay. You might be surprised, however, next time you reach for what sounds like a comforting read. One thing that is unique about “challenging” reads is that they come in all genres – and they sometimes come out of nowhere. You remember how you felt the first time you read The Hunger Games? You thought, “Boy, my life is different now that I have lived through that.” It’s entertainment, yes, but it left you breathless and altered. Personally, I read it in one night, convinced I wouldn’t like it, but completely changed by watching these children (children!) fight and die for nothing in the messed up world of Panem.
I digress. Without further ado, here are some challenging new reads I hope you pick up soon!
What if you knew the world was ending soon? The characters in this book do. An asteroid is headed for Earth, and all anyone can do is wait. Sienna returns from a mental health facility in time to watch her father get married. Zan must face her fears and get past the recent death of her boyfriend. And Caden is confronted by his long-lost father. Despite the terrifying premise, or maybe because of it, this is a deep and quietly wise book that will make you stop and think about your own life. It’s really kind of joyfully sad, in a way – so perfect for a “challenging” read that leaves you thinking.
Sneak Peek! “The day she gets out, it feels like the end. It’s funny to think about endings now. Now that all there is to do is wait. Now that the real end is coming, all of the other endings feel like something else completely.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Alexandra Coutts)
This one is challenging on several levels. It’s short – so it has less time to hook you, but it still manages to do so quickly and effectively. Narrated by Hannah in somewhat broken English, she tells the story of her youth. When her parents died in a flash flood on a river, she and her friend Becky were left to fend for themselves in the forests of Tasmania. They were essentially adopted by a pair of tigers who managed to keep them safe and fed, despite the girls’ fear and worry. But when Becky’s father finally found them, they were forced to reintegrate into human society at great cost.
Sneak Peek! “Me name be Hannah O’Brien and I be seventy-six years old. Me first thing is an apology – me language is bad cos I lost it and had to learn it again.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Louis Nowra)
The title sure puts it all out there, huh? In a sense, that’s the point: these two topics run rampant in our society, many believe to the detriment of it. And this story tells just how the normalization of sex and violence hurts young people – without preaching a moral message. It’s is honesty on a plate – and it’s not always pretty. 17-year-old Evan is a master of being the new kid in school, after spending his lifetime moving around with his dad’s job. Evan is also the master of figuring out which girl will say ‘yes.’ But this time, he picks the wrong one and ends up getting beaten by the kings of his school. When he moves to a quiet small town to recover with distant family, he must confront the fears and weaknesses that have driven him, and result from his miscalculations. Gritty, funny, life.
Sneak Peek! “When I came out of the Connison gang shower, Collette Holmander was waiting for me.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Carrie Mesrobian)
Mila is highly attuned to people – able to read the room, sense emotions and put together the puzzles people make of themselves. When her father’s best friend goes missing, what was to be a visit to him turns into Mila and her father on the case, so to speak. But this story is far more than a mystery with an easy solution. Written in first person, so much so that the dialogues is filtered through Mila’s head, without quotes, you are drawn into Mila’s world in a strange and thrilling way. This is a complex story that will challenge your worldview and assumptions.
Sneak Peek! “The first Mila was a dog. A Bedlington terrier. It helps if you know these things. I’m not at all resentful at being named after a dog.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Meg Rosoff)
Every so often I have to highlight series books. Why? Because there are more series than stand-alone books, or so it seems! This fall, there have been and will be a lot of sequels out. It’s a great time to be a fan!
Sequel to The Last Dragonslayer. Jennifer Strange and all of the magicians are back in this sequel that shares the funny, quirky style of the first book. When the King chooses a rival magician from the firm iMagic to be his court magician, Jennifer and the wizards at Kazam are thrown into a magic duel. They know that the King is up to no good, attempting to control magic for his own personal gain. Kazam has a problem though: some of its strongest wizards are under a spell, and the King has decided to lock up the others as criminals. The quarkbeast might just save the day.
This is not so much a sequel as a companion novel to last year’s Code Name Verity. Set during the same time period as Code Name Verity, this is the story of a young American girl who, like Queenie and Maddie, finds a way to be involved in the war efforts. As a pilot, Rose’s job is to move planes, not to fight. But then Rose is captured during a routine mission and sent to a notorious concentration camps with other prisoners of war.
This is a long-awaited sequel to 2006′s Burned, written in Hopkins’ signature novel-in-verse style. As in Burned, we are following the story of Pattyn. The story begins abruptly, and somewhat violently, but readers of Hopkins’ books know to expect the troubled situations she portrays. Pattyn finds her father beating her sister Jackie, and presumably kills him. But only the girls know the truth of what happened. Although Pattyn and Jackie have not had it easy, they are easy characters to root for and see ourselves in.
Other sequels out now:
United We Spy by Ally Carter (Gallagher Girls #6)
Monsters by Ilsa Bick (Ashes trilogy finale)
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson (Fire and Thorns trilogy finale)
Are you a graphic novel fan? And I don’t mean manga – that is its own thing. Or comics – that’s another separate entity. Comics are usually published in issues, they’re shorter and have an ongoing storyline like a series book (i.e. Superman. Or any other superhero you can think of. Or Calvin & Hobbes). Manga is Japanese comics. Same idea: ongoing storyline, etc. Graphic novels is a name that usually refers to stories told in pictures and words, typically one-off or non-series stories (or sometimes short series like a trilogy), with unique characters (not Batman), etc.
Graphic novels cross audiences: they’re typically realistic or fantasy fiction, so could easily be read by fans of those genres, but they are told visually, so could be read by fans of visual story forms like manga and comics. But it seems to me that neither of these fan groups really find the graphic novels. I’m here to tell you that you are both missing out!
Start with these three new graphic novels that pack a punch:
A sort of semi-fictionalized memoir, this book tells the story of Beyer’s freshman year at an art college. She’s far from home, exploring her art form, making new friends, and learning who she is. And she conveys this story in a completely brilliant way: through lists, drawings, panels of comic-strip-type action, and more. It’s like a scrapbook that tells a wonderful story of some big life moments, something we can all relate to.
You will love Delilah Dirk if you love feisty lady protagonists like Katsa (from Graceling by Kristin Cashore). She’s like Indiana Jones, but a young lady in the early 19th century! Delilah seeks and finds adventure, but that adventure has landed her in prison. When she makes her escape, Delilah decides to take along a lieutenant who is decidedly her opposite. Selim, despite being quite a proper gentleman who prefers staying in to going out, actually makes a great partner for daredevil Delilah as the two gallivant across the world. Action and adventure await!
This is a little like Diary of a Wimpy Kid for those of you in middle and high school who have already grown out of that series. Annie and her friends are not the popular crowd. Not that life is much easier for those people – everyone is a freshman and being a freshman is not always fun. But it is a constant learning experience, and as Annie and her crew learn, that learning extends far outside of the four walls of the classroom. And it is sometimes really awesome.
There are so many books published for adults that have what is called “crossover appeal,” meaning they are recommended for teens, too. It’s hard to find those books, of course, because they are shelved in the adult fiction area and we don’t exactly put shining beacons on them all to let you teens know they’re there! So this week I thought I’d showcase some new-ish books for adults – that also happen to pair well with new-ish YA titles for extra added appeal and ease of entry into the world of books for adults.
Books about growing up
…featuring horses. You’re probably saying, “But I stopped reading horse books when I was 11!” Give these two a shot, though, if you still (secretly) like stories involving animals in some way, but also really love great realistic fiction about growing up in an imperfect world.
In the South during the Great Depression, an elite equestrian boarding school gets a new student: sheltered Thea Atwell is banished from her wealthy family in Florida after her naivete gets her into trouble. Her home-schooled, insular life did not prepare her for what she finds at the Yonahlossee Riding Camp. The Southern belle and debutante students have their own particular social hierarchy into which Thea has trouble understanding at first, but her riding skills allow her to slowly make her way in this new world, coming to terms with who she is and what she needs to learn to grow stronger.
YOUNG ADULT: Catch Rider by Jennifer H. Lyne
Sidney grew up tough, so when she needs to escape her over-protective mother and her mother’s string of abusive boyfriends, she finds a job cleaning stables for a rich woman and drives herself there even though she’s only 14. She loves to ride, so working amongst the horses and riders is thrilling for Sid. The mill town she lives in feels like a dead-end, and probably will be for most of Sid’s classmates and her beloved uncle. But Sid wants so much more from life, and her opportunity to see how the other side lives leads to more opportunities to pursue her dream of riding.
If you’ve seen any of the award-winning TV show The Borgias, you know that this is some fascinating history. When their father rose to power as the pope, the Borgia children had to learn the ropes of the family business: getting even more power for their family and themselves. Cesare is the cold, manipulative one who thinks nothing of killing those who stand in his way – including his sister’s husbands. Lucrezia’s job is to be beautiful and attract those husbands, until she realizes she is a pawn in a game over which she could have some control, too.
YOUNG ADULT: Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub
Love the thrilling real story of the dramatic Borgia family? Methinks the bard did, too. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet takes on Italian family drama, and this novel takes that drama to another level. Still Star-Crossed picks up where Romeo and Juliet leaves off – with the title characters dead. Even though they have died through their love, the Capulets and Montagues are still feuding. A plan to make peace involves another Capulet-Montague match-up, but will it end well this time?
Death & Destruction
ADULT: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
If you’re a fan of fast-paced thrillers like Michael Crichton or Michael Grant, or literary horror/zombie stories like those of Daniel Kraus and Patrick Ness, then you will love Red Moon. In the world of this book, werewolves are real – they are people disturbingly transformed by a disease – and they are rising up against the rest of humanity. They live in what could be called peace, but an extremist group of lycans is planning deadly attacks on the U.S. (there are major parallels to the 9/11 terrorist attacks), determined to spark a war to end all wars.
YOUNG ADULT: The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer
While not as tensely paced as the book to which this is the sequel, House of the Scorpion (2002), this is another riveting and imaginative look at what our world could be in the future. El Patron is dead, and Matteo must step into his position of power. I paired this with Red Moon because both focus intensely on real-world issues but frame them in an alternate reality.
Summer is drawing to a close. Sure, for those of us who don’t go back to school in the fall, it feels like summer stretches just that little bit longer. But for you readers who are getting your back-to-school shopping done, living in your bathing suit and flip-flops until you’re forced to change into something else, and soaking up those last-minute rays, summer is actually nearing an end. Read some stress-free books and unwind a little before it’s done!
If you wish you could go on one last hilarious adventure this summer try…
This is a companion to the incomparable The Schwa was Here so you can expect goofiness, antics, a little intrigue (because why not?) and good old Anthony “Antsy” Bonano. When Old Man Crawley turns 80 Antsy’s family is invited to pack up and join him on a cruise. Antsy can’t keep himself out of trouble despite being stuck on a boat floating in the Caribbean Sea, and soon finds himself at the center of an international incident involving illegal immigration. Oops! But Antsy takes it in stride because he’s a Brooklyn kind of guy. If you liked the previous books, or are just looking for a fun, realistic fiction read, pick this one up.
Sneak Peek! “Don’t ask me because I don’t got an opinion. I’m not red, I’m not blue; I’m not an elephant or donkey; I’m not left or right; and I ain’t center either. I’m not even in the ballpark. If it’s a ballpark, then I’m playin’ hockey.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Neal Shusterman)
If you’re wondering what the new school year will mean for your social life try…
A perfect end-of-summer read: Max and Sadie have always been best friends. Max is the steady, serious, shy one, while Sadie is the flighty dreamer. When they go live on a farm with Sadie’s mom for the summer – to get over some bad decision-making during the previous school year – their friendship is quickly tested. Max gets an unexpected opportunity to come out from Sadie’s shadow, and she is left wondering if they really are good for each other. Did they run from their problems just to realize their problem is staring them straight in the face? If you like true-to-life friend books – think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – or even if you just have friends, this book is right for you.
Sneak Peek! “We’ve been sitting on our bags in the middle of nowhere for almost an hour. ‘No one’s coming,’ you say, always the pessimist. You sigh and pull a sweaty clump of hair that’s stuck between your temple and the giant sunglasses you always wear, the ones that cover nearly half your face and make you look like a movie star. ‘I thought Nebraska was supposed to be cold.’ Where you got that idea, I don’t know.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Amy Reed)
If you want just one last lazy weekday afternoon romantic read try…
Travel back to 1982 Russia. This is not a Soviet-era spy novel, though, although because of it’s setting it does have a bit of international intrigue. Laura has decided to come to Russia for a semester to expand her horizons. The freezing winter she arrives to warms suddenly when she meets Alyosha on a bridge. Soon they are deeply in love and Laura is shown a side of Cold War Russia she didn’t know existed where kids read banned books, have parties, and find a way to get around all the rules of their Communist society. Laura and Alyosha’s romance is fast and beautiful, even when they both know it may be destined to end shortly.
Sneak Peek! “Laura and her roommate Karen tramped along the frozen mud road that lead through the university, past a wall with OGNEOPASNO! painted on it in huge red letters. An icy wind blew off the Neva River. It was January in Leningrad.” (Text copyright © 2013 by Natalie Standiford)
This week instead of writing about books that are already on the shelves, waiting for you to pick them up, I though I’d highlight some brand new books that aren’t even ready to be checked out yet (at Shorewood at least).
I am super excited about all of these books. They’re from a few of the best writers writing YA lit. It also just so happens that they all write books with major guy appeal. Ladies will like these reads, too, but if you’re a literarily inclined gentleman you will not want to miss them.
Yes, the real John Green. This is a new and hilarious graphic novel that promises to be one of the most ridiculous things you read this year. The subtitle really says it all: “The angst of being a teen, the thrill of being a boat!” Basically this dude is a sort of a transformer – he morphs into a boat – and a semi-superhero who is really just trying to make it through high school.
His first novel, Silver Linings Playbook, was made into a movie last year, but his second and third novels (Sorta Like a Rockstar and Boy 21) were both YA and were really where he made his name. Like in his other books, Quick takes a deep, dark and unflinching look at mental illness in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.
Another slightly dark, mostly hilarious book from another well-known dude writer. Ritchie Sudden is a teen rocker in juvie with a dead sister. He likes none of these things about himself. Ritchie will tell you all these things in his raw and real, and really funny, story.
On Monday, August 5 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Village Center Meeting Room, the Shorewood School District is holding a community forum about youth mental health and suicide. These are important, huge subjects that deserve our close attention. I hope you can make it to this community forum!
Authors know this – maybe those authors who write for teens in particular – and that is why it’s actually pretty easy to find a lot of amazing fictional books about mental health issues facing young people. Fiction helps us to better-understand big issues like depression, teen suicide, and bullying, by letting us explore the issues through a comfortable distance while simultaneously pushing us to examine them more closely. Fiction can also help to normalize – and thus reduce the stigma of – mental illness. When we can openly talk about mental illness, we can help ourselves and help others instead of persecuting, ignoring or shaming someone for their illness.
Reading well-written fiction about people like ourselves or very different from ourselves – clever, thoughtful, otherwise okay teens who suffer from depression, or popular, happy teens who find themselves having to come to terms with the suicide of a friend, or marginalized, queer/questioning teens who overcome bullies by finding solace in friends, family and caring adults – helps us better understand all of us.
Here are a few (pretty) new titles that explore mental illness in teens:
Emmy and Justin are both sent to Heartland, a treatment center boarding school where they are supposed to come to terms with the mental illness that got them there. Emmy threatened a racist bully and got expelled from school and Justin feels strongly that his suicide attempt wasn’t serious; both teens think they are mostly fine. As they get to know each other and their classmates/therapy group-mates, they begin to delve deeper into their illnesses – and to come to terms with the fact that they have been ignoring their illnesses and won’t recover until they face them. Like some other notable books about teen mental illness (for example, It’s Kind of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini), Cook lets her characters be hilarious, inappropriate, sarcastic while dealing with serious mental illness – and thus Emmy, Justin and the whole Heartland bunch come across as very real.
On the surface, this is not a book about being depressed or suicidal – but it is a book about sliding between stable mental states, struggling against violence in a violent society, and coming to terms with oneself. James is desperate to prove himself to his older brother, Louis, and does the only thing he knows how: gets involved in Louis’ drug dealing. When a deal goes awry, Louis abandons James to the consequences. James is incarcerated at a juvenile detention center where bad goes to worse: every inmate is a bully, every situation is wrought with violence and fear and James does not know how he will hang on to himself – or who he even is. At the heart of James’s story is a message of survival when the odds are against you.
This is another story that treats a serious mental illness – schizophreniform disorder, a kind of temporary schizophrenia – with both humor and tender tact. It’s not a kind of disease that we talk about much, so Cameron’s situation is unique and enlightening. Cameron decides not to take his meds in an effort to maintain some control over his life. But this means that it is not long before he hears voices in his head which begin to compete for his attention. On top of that, Cameron convinces Nina, a clinically depressed classmate, to drop her meds, too. Only Nina’s decision may have more serious consequences than Cameron’s. Author Averett is a clinical psychologist and does an amazing job of showing us who a teen with schizophreniform disorder is.