Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Lauren Myracle’s This Boy is quiet and powerful

This Boy, by Lauren Myracle, (Apr. 2020, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536206050

Ages 14+

Paul Walden is an ordinary teen. He’s not a chest-beating jock, he’s just Paul, and This Boy takes us from freshman year to senior year. We meet Paul and his best friend, Roby; we meet Natalia Gutierrez, the girl they both fall for. They’re ordinary teens, doing teen stuff: some beer, some weed, but mainly, video games and talking about girls. Until disaster strikes and Paul finds himself gripped by addiction, depression, and grief.

This Boy is Lauren Myracle is her most powerful. The story shows readers exactly how “this could happen” to the kid next door. We all know Paul: he lives next door, or have a class or two with him. He’s the Everyman (Everyteen) of the story: living with his mom, not terribly close with his dad, loves playing video games and hanging out with his best friend. The dialogue is so painfully everyday teen; the small moments that make up the first part of this book are so spot on, that it makes the ensuing tragedy and Paul’s spiral even more heartbreaking to witness. He tries to dull his grief, but the usual social drinking isn’t working. He ups his game, becoming a full-blown addict. Paul’s mother isn’t invisible in this story; she’s a scared parent who doesn’t know what to do to help her boy. By trying her own methods first, she puts him in danger of a relapse, and has to come face-to-face with her own complicity in it. Paul’s story is raw and gritty, with frank descriptions of sex, masturbation, and drug use.  A strong choice for teen collections, and a good book to hand to readers who enjoy Chris Crutcher, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Eric Devine.  Hypable has an excerpt available.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Blog Tour: Playing for the Devil’s Fire, by Philippe Diederich

devilsfirePlaying for the Devil’s Fire, by Phillippe Diederich, (March 2016, Cinco Puntos Press), $11.95, ISBN: 978-1-941026-29-8
Recommended for ages 14+

Photojournalist Philippe Diederich wrote his debut novel as a way of communicating his sorrow and anger at the brutual narcoviolence and corruption infecting Mexico. The brutal and gripping story follows 13 year-old Libero “Boli” Flores as he sees his town, Izayoc, crippled by the town’s new inhabitants: men who wear shiny guns, expensive clothes, and drive big SUVs; men who have a lot of money to spend, and men who don’t like to be questioned or crossed. When people speak out, they show up dead.

Boli’s parents know it’s no use to go to the local police, so they head to a neighboring town to seek help, but they never arrive. Boli waits for someone to bring he and his sister, Gaby, some kind of news. Hope comes, briefly, in the form of El Chicano Estrada, a small-time luchador that Boli sees at a wrestling match. Boli, a devoted fan of lucha, particularly the legendary El Santo, begs Chicano to help him locate his parents. Chicano sees the corruption and grim reality facing Boli and the people of Izayoc; it awakens something in him, and he tries to be the hero that Boli needs. But Chicano also knows a truth that Boli hasn’t learned yet: the world is not a good place.

This is a vicious, heartbreaking story about the end of childhood. It’s a grim, powerful, and beautifully written novel, with unforgettable characters: Boli and Gaby are two siblings struggling to move on with their lives in the most horrifying circumstances; their Abuela escapes into her memories of the past to cope; Chicano is someone who just wanted to get by until he found someone that believed in him. Diederich looks at the morality, or lack of it, using Boli as the lens.

Who do you turn to in a town when everyone can either be bought or murdered? This is the question at the heart of Playing for the Devil’s Fire, and it is a very real question facing many Mexican communities. It’s an eye-opening look into a reality many young people face. Philippe Diederich puts a very human face on the cost of the neverending war on drugs.

This is not a book for middle grade or middle schoolers. There is graphic violence (the story begins with a child finding a decapitated head), language, and overall content that is disturbing and upsetting. I’d suggest this for upper high school, young adult, and adult readers, because it is a brilliantly written book that will make readers think, and hopefully, talk.

Playing for the Devil’s Fire has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Philippe Diederich grew up in Mexico City where he played marbles in the streets and became a fan of lucha libre – pastimes he revisits in Playing for the Devil’s Fire. This is his first novel for young adults, but his short stories have been published in literary journals, and his mystery, Sofrito, is a culinary mystery that travels from Havana to New York City. His author website offers a newsletter and more information.

Playing for the Devil’s Fire Blog Tour

August 31: Rich in Color review  (

Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview (

Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves (

Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair (

Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (

September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (

September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (

September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour  (

Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (

September 12: Linda Washington ( )

September 13: Excerpt, Review, Mom Read it (

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Enter the Arena!

arenaArena, by Holly Jennings, (Apr. 2016, Ace), $26, ISBN: 9781101988763

Recommended for ages 14+

In the not too-distant future, gaming goes even more hi-tech. Athletes are gamers now, and the RAGE tournament is the Virtual Gaming League’s top competition, pitting the best against the best. Live, virtual gladiator games, with the players battling one another on a bloody virtual reality field and taking no prisoners. The pain is real, though – just because you don’t die when your throat is cut doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt like hell. Kali Ling is one of the top RAGE competitors, part of the top team, Defiance. Virtual gaming is everything to her – her ticket to fame, fortune, and freedom – until the morning she wakes up next to her teammate and sometime friend with benefits, Nathan, dead of an overdose.

Kali finds herself named Defiance’s team captain and Nathan’s memory all but erased. There’s a cover-up in play, because no one wants to talk about the drug abuse going on in the virtual gaming world; no one wants to hear the ugly side of the glitzy business. But Kali is determined to fight in the virtual world and outside of it to wake people up.

Arena is going to be a huge summer hit with gamers and sci fi fans. It’s been compared to one of my all-time favorite books, Ernest Kline’s Ready Player One, but I think it’s grittier and tackles harder subjects like drug abuse in sports, constructing the perfect media image, and the problem of celebrity as role model. Although Arena takes place in the future, it sounds surprisingly similar to problems we have today in our very real world of sports. It’s a wake-up call on one hand, and a tremendous sci-fi novel with a kickass female lead character (and two equally kickass female supporting characters) on the other. That’s what’s going to get this book into people’s hands, and that’s how the message is going to be relayed.



Arena has ethnic and sexual diversity. Much of Kali’s internal healing comes from Taoist texts, including the Tao-te Ching, so make sure to have some of those titles (and Sun Tzu’s Art of War) ready for readers who will go deeper. Pair this up with Armada, Ready Player One, and the Vault of Dreamers books for readers who are gamers and dystopian, media-driven future aficionados.

This is Holly Jennings’ debut novel – and there’s going to be a sequel, so get ready. I’m looking forward to seeing what else she gives us. Arena is out tomorrow, but you can check out Holly Jennings’ author website for an excerpt right now!

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Crack Coach looks at the cult of personality and addiction

crack coachCrack Coach, by Steven Sandor (Sept. 2015, Lorimer), $14.95, ISBN: 9781459409804

Recommended for ages 12+

Bob Jones is a beloved high school football coach who just won the election for Toronto mayor. He seems to be one of those guys that can do no wrong – but some people would say otherwise. He’s always got an excuse for his bad behavior. When he refuses to meet with the GLBT alliance or address crucial issues facing the city, he claims it’s because his priority is to coach the high school football team. And the kids on his team, particularly Maurice and Vijay, see that the coach not plays favorites and makes some uncomfortably racist remarks while trying to be the “cool old white guy”. He punishes his team by putting them through abusive practices and says it’s for their own good. But when word starts to leak out about the mayor’s public drunkenness, added to suspicious video and pictures surfacing that highlight a possible drug abuse problem, Maurice and Vijay know that they have to mobilize the team and take control back from the coach.

Crack Coach is another hi-lo reader from Lorimer. I’ve become a big fan of this line; the authors are knowledgeable about their subjects (Crack Coach author Steven Sandor is a soccer broadcaster and sportswriter for an online Canadian soccer magazine) and the topics are timely and interesting. They never talk down to their audiences, relying on smart, direct writing and captivating subject matter to draw their readers in.

Crack Coach is a dramatic title, I’ll be the first to agree, but it pulls you in, doesn’t it? I loved the book and enjoyed the characters. They’re teens that other teens can relate to, with real-life issues that affect kids’ lives today. If you think the coach’s story sounds familiar, you’re not wrong – the book was influenced by a true story. Talking to teens about the story behind the story will bring a current events aspect to lessons; bring in some newspaper clippings or access them online to teach teens about primary sources and how writers use them as a tool.

Crack Coach is another great Lorimer book, perfect for reluctant and struggling readers and tweens who are ready for some grittier novels. A good add to libraries and classrooms with a struggling reader population.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Fix: A powerful, moving story about healing and moving on

7d16c80d10959594-FixcoversmallThe Fix, by Natasha Sinel (Sept. 2015, Sky Pony), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1634501675

Recommended for ages 12+

Seventeen year-old Macy has it pretty good, at first glance: she’s pretty, her family is financially comfortable, she’s got a good-looking boyfriend who adores her and a best friend. Sure, she and her mother don’t get along and her father is always away on business, but that’s being a teenager, right? The thing is, Macy has a secret that she’s kept suppressed for years; after a late-night conversation with Sebastian, someone she kind of sort of knew as a kid and meets up with again at a party, her life changes. Sebastian is a drug addict who ends up in the psych ward shortly after their meeting. Macy feels compelled to go see him. Their feelings deepen as they get to know one another, and Macy starts reliving the events that left her more damaged than she could ever have realized. Left confused by her relationship with Chris and her feelings for Sebastian and feeling vulnerable over her painful secret, Macy has to learn to trust enough to reveal her damaged self and move forward with her life.

The Fix is a tough book. There’s sexual abuse and drug addiction, family discord and a lot of pain. It demands to be read. Told from Macy’s point of view, we get a raw recollection of her abuse at the hands of her older cousin and the fallout – which includes the demise, to a degree, of her family unit. We see how parents can fail their children and the resultant damage. And then we get Sebastian’s story – how a boy can survive child abuse, an alcoholic parent, and drug addiction with the love of a connected parent. Sebastian’s and Macy’s stories are two halves of a whole, and each story will resonate with readers. The Fix is a story about survival and ultimately, recovery, forgiveness, and hope. There are resources at the end of the book for help regarding sexual abuse, depression and mental illness, and substance abuse.

Natasha Sinel’s author webpage includes information about The Fix, the author’s bio and blog, and contact information.

Add this one to your high school library shelves. Someone out there needs it.