Posted in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, History, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Tween and Teen Fiction that keeps readers on the edge of their seats

I’m at that odd moment when my TBR and my HBR (have been read) piles are toppling. Which is a good problem to have, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that I’m constantly catching up to something, be it reading or reviews. Let’s take a look at some YA, including a book that’s being touted for middle grade, but I feel would work much better for older tweens/teens.

 

They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus/Illustrated by Rovina Kai, (Sept. 2020, Henry Holt BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250224408

Ages 12+

I’m going to kick things off with the book I feel is better for older tweens. They Threw Us Away is being billed as “Lord of the Flies meets Toy Story”, and it’s a pretty accurate description. A blue teddy bear wakes up in a garbage dump and frees himself; he notes his name tag, which says his name is Buddy, and he sees other boxes of teddies on the pile and works to free the others before rats, seagulls, or a terrifying machine gets to them. Together, Buddy and the other teddies – Sunny, Sugar, Horace, and Reginald – put their memories together: they were in the Store, waiting for children to take them home and love them. Once they are loved by a child, teddies fall into the Forever Sleep. So what happened? The group sets out to get some answers, but they learn that the world is a scary place; even scarier than the Dump, and that the answers they seek may not be the answers they want to hear.

The first in a planned trilogy, They Threw Us Away is bleak and often brutal. There are graphic depictions of teddy bear death, which, when I say it, may sound like something to laugh off, but reading it is pretty horrific. Younger readers and more sensitive readers may be upset by the unrelenting danger and horror. Black and white illustrations throughout reinforce the story. There are some loose ends that we can expect future books to pick up on. Each Teddy has a distinct personality and struggles with their circumstances accordingly: Buddy is kind and gentle; the peacemaker and ersatz leader; Sugar, whose damaged box meant she suffered some bumps, too, is flighty and quirky; Sunny is a conflicted character with flashes of rage and a desire to keep the group together; Reginald is a serious, sagelike teddy, and Horace is fearful. Give this to your dedicated horror fans, and save it for your higher elementary readers and middle schoolers.

 

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep: Voices from the Donner Party, by Allan Wolf, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick), $21.99, ISBN: 9780763663247

Ages 13+

This novel in verse is the latest retelling of the Donner Party and their fate in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Poet Allan Wolf gives voice to members of the ill-fated party in his book: James Reed and George Donner, leaders of the doomed caravan; Baptiste Trudeau, a 16-year-old orphan taken under George and Tamzene Donner’s wing; Salvador and Luis, two Miwok Indian guides; Ludwig Keseberg, a haunted man; Patty and Virginia Reed, two of James Reed’s children, and more are all here, telling their stories in haunted verse. Hunger narrates the story, giving readers familiar with Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief a familiar touch. Hunger is dispassionate and yet evokes emotion in the narration. Beginning as the party begins experiencing misfortune, the voices grow more desperate and the verse, more haunting, as the snow falls; the party’s desperation is palpable. Moments dedicated to the snowfall include names of the fallen sprinkled in with the repeated word, “snow”. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, biographies, statistics, a timeline of events, and resources for more reading and research. It’s an incredibly detailed work of historical fiction and nonfiction all at once.

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep has starred reviews from Booklist and BookPage.

 

This is Not the Jess Show, by Anna Carey, (Nov. 2020, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781683691976

Ages 13+

I am DYING to talk about this book, but there’s so much I can’t say because I CAN’T SPOIL IT. So here are the main details: Jess Flynn is a 1990s high school junior wears babydoll dresses and watches Party of Five. She’s developing a crush on her childhood best friend, Tyler. Her sister, Sara, is suffering from a blood disease and has been getting worse. Things are in constant flux for Jess, and things have been getting weird in her home town of Swickley, too: half the population has been hit by a mysterious flu. Her dog goes from lavishing attention on her to growling and hiding from her. She hears strange chanting, and people either stop speaking when she enters a room, or she catches glances that people around her give one another. And what the heck is that black device with an apple on it that fell out of her friend’s backpack? Things are weird in Swickley, and Jess means to get to the bottom of it.

I LOVED this book! The ’90s vibe, the pacing, the overall story, everything is so well crafted and paced. Jess is a smart character who is sensitive enough to her surroundings to know something’s up: this is the constant in a plot that keeps trying to shift her world around. What I can say is that Jess gets a crash course in what people are willing to do for selfish reasons; what she does in response to that fact keeps the story in motion. ’90s pop culture references make this even more fun. Hand this to all your teens, and booktalk Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for it’s awesome ’80s references, too. Tell ’em to read them with their parents.

 

 

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Women's History

Women in the Old West: Frontier Grit

frontier-gritFrontier Grit, by Marianne Monson, (Sept. 2016, Shadow Mountain), $19.99, ISBN: 9781629722276

Recommended for ages 12+

Monson profiles 12 pioneer women who lived life on the frontier as America expanded into the West. From a freed slave who watched her husband and children sold in front of her to a woman who rescued Chinese girls from human trafficking, every woman profiled in this book withstood hardships, overcame obstacles, and thumbed their noses at nay-sayers to change the world. There are entrepreneurs, doctors, politicans, and activists, all here to inform and inspire a new generation.

Frontier Grit gives us a new batch of women in history that many of us would otherwise never have heard of; while the research is well done and comprehensive, the writing is simplified, more for a middle school audience than the 18+ age group suggested by the publisher. An author summary at end of each profile relates what each woman personally means to the author, detracting from the scholarship of the overall book and relegating it to the territory of history report. Each woman’s impact could more effectively be communicated by making it less personal, more definitive; the lasting impact of each woman on all women.

Each profile includes photos (or drawings, where applicable), notes and sources. A reasonable purchase if you need additional women’s biographies, particularly as they relate to the American frontier or women’s suffrage.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Donner Dinner Party, by Nathan Hale (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales), Abrams, 2013

Recommended for ages 8-13

donner

Colonial spy Nathan Hale is sentenced to death by hanging – but WAIT! He’s got stories to tell! His executioner and the British soldier standing guard are intrigued. Off he goes into yet another Hazardous Tale from history, this time, about the infamous Donner Party.

You’ve heard of the Donner Party, if only as a horrific joke. During the Westward Expanion, they were a group of pioneers headed for California who got caught in the brutal winter of 1846 and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Nathan Hale’s book tells the story of the Donner-Reed party, focusing primarily on James Reed, whose “shortcut” caused the doomed wagon train to stray off course into brutal territory.

Written as a graphic novel, this book is a great read for middle schoolers and even the reluctant high schooler. The story cuts between Nathan Hale, the British soldier and the executioner as Hale tells the story, and the story of the Donner-Reed party. The characters are detailed, and kids will love the executioner, who really, REALLY doesn’t want to hear bad news about any of the animals in the story. There are well-drawn diagrams and graphics teaching readers about the members of the party, maps of the territory traveled, and informational bits that enhance the story for all.

Hale doesn’t shy away from the more brutal aspects of this story, but he doesn’t glorify them, either. He presents the facts, even illustrating a specter of death coming for the travelers, with their names, as they pass away, listed on Death’s cloak.

This was my first Hazardous Tale from Mr. Hale, but it certainly won’t be my last. Stock this book in your bookshelves, teachers and parents, and watch kids scramble to learn about history.

Mr. Hale’s website offers information about his other books, his blog (which includes sneak peeks at his artwork for future books!), and a section dedicated to Correction Baby, who helps edit all of his books. Check it out!

DonnerSpread

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (HarperCollins, 1971)

Recommended for ages 8+

Most people know Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories, if not through her books, then through the long-running television series, Little House on the Prairie. A a pioneer child who wrote down her experiences and later had them published, Ms. Wilder wrote nine Little House books, originally published between 1932 and 1943. The series resonated with girls and young women and is popular to this day.

Little House in the Big Woods is the first book in the Little House series, and introduces the reader to the Ingalls family: Laura, her older sister, Mary, baby sister, Carrie, and parents, Ma and Pa (Caroline and Charles). The family lives in the Big Woods in Wisconsin in the later part of the 19th Century, shortly after the Civil War. (Laura even mentions a family member who is “wild since he came back from the army”.)

We go through each of the seasons with the Ingalls family and learn how families lived, ate, and had fun. There are family dances and visits, trips to town, and encounters with bears and bees. There is always time for work, though, and this is where the book acts as a primer. Laura details the process of preserving meats and vegetables to keep the family fed through the lean winter months; how Pa prepares an animal skin to be used as leather goods; how to get sap from a tree, and how to smoke bees out of a hive to be able to get to the honey. It’s a fascinating look at a different time, and while it is written with a girl’s voice, this is should not be considered a “girl’s book”: boys and girls alike can learn much about the wildnerness life.

Laura writes in a clear voice, drawing her readers in because her stories are real. The love of family and nostalgia as she looks back on her life bring to mind the feeling a child gets when listening to a parent or grandparent talking about their childhood. Black and white drawings by Garth Williams add to the book.

There is a wealth of information about Laura Ingalls Wilder online. Wilder’s home in Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where she wrote the Little House books, is now the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum and word finds, quizzes and coloring pages. The Little House Books website features a family tree tracking the girls of the Little House series from Laura’s great-grandmother to her daughter, Rose. The site also offers games and craft ideas, as well as information for teachers interested in teaching the book.