Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli
Listening to this book was a bit like watching a John Hughes movie… actually, it was a lot like watching a John Hughes movie. It is kind of sweet, there might be some heart-breaking moments, some misunderstandings, some bullying, but definitely a lot of friendship, quite a bit of sweet-loving, and totally easy to get hooked on and want to know more and want everything to work out at the end — and boy did EVERYTHING get worked out! Mostly believably so but definitely veering toward the hyper-optimistic end of possibilities: which, we all need from time to time!
I was a little sad that once Simon & “Blue” met up in real life, the author pretty much stopped giving us their exchanges of ideas: no more interesting emails to read of their views on the world around them or the quirky questions and answers. In the last part of the book, the readers are left with just observing their physical (sweet) contacts and first explorations: as if all those emails were just a precursor to what REALLY matters: kissing and other physical relationships… It would have been more fulfilling an emotional journey for me as a reader if both physical and intellectual aspects of their relationship had been more equally represented during the last part of the story.
(And a potential quibble: I am still baffled why the characters refer to Tumblr as “the Tumblr” — was it that the author does not understand the teen-lingo these days or that it is THAT specific Tumblr page reserved for the kids in that particular town/high school — thus the article?)
The Marvels by Brian Selznick
In this third installment of a loosely connected (by form, by theme, and by narrative progression) literary trilogy, following the previous two marvelous titles: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick once again pours his artist’s soul and a writer’s heart into the tome and brings readers a moving tale. Much like the other two picture-novels, The Marvels features instant and fast friendship among two young characters, a cross-generational relationship that grows from suspicion and uneasiness to faithful loyalty, and the deep and palpable connection a person can have with history.
I had a grand time looking through the pictures and reading the story and was unbelievably moved (to a whole lot of tears) as the truth of the story of the Marvels family was revealed. And also by the fact that Brian’s portrayal of the gay characters is without additional fanfare: subtle and yet you can’t misinterpret.
I imagine the book an instant hit with all my students when it’s published on September 15! Can’t wait to hear their reactions!
George, by Alex Gino
Alex Gino achieved something extraordinary in giving the world GEORGE: they (Gino’s choice of pronoun) created an authentic main character struggling with gender identity (she, George) and a credible scenario with an appealing plotline that speaks directly and honestly to young readers in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. No extra unnecessary drama, just realistic reactions from those around George/Melissa. Very pleased to have read this short middle grade fiction.
by Alison Bechdel
I savored every page, every sentence, every word of this graphic-narrative memoir. Still didn’t pay enough attention to the details of each panel and will hopefully go back to the book one day to closely examine all the illustrations as well. The tenderness and unflinching truth=telling of Bechdel’s own painful life events touch me deeply. A sense of vicarious catharsis presented itself every time I opened the book in the past few days. I want to “study” this literary masterpiece in an English class so badly — to engrave every overt and covert meaning onto my mind!
by Tess Sharpe
Genre(s): Mystery, Romance, Realistic Fiction
Basic Content Information: 17 year-old girl, former prescription drug addict, recovering from two traumatic events in life: surviving a car crash at age 14, leaving her crippled and scared (does not hinder her attractiveness from others); her best friend, a girl who is a faithful Christian withholding her dark secret of being a lesbian, was murdered in front of her — now will have to face distrust from parents, police, her best friend’s brother, and at the same time piece together the evidences that will lead her to the identity (and hopefully arrest) of the murderer. The book is told in present tense, first person perspective, chapters alter from present to a moment in the past (still told in present tense) that reflects, affects, or triggers events in the next present day chapter. It is a murder thriller and a love song in a very leisure pace.
Pub Date: April 8, 2014
(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)
Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.
by Bill Konigsberg
The best adjective I could think of to describe this book is perhaps “earnest.”
The reluctantly outed celebrity quarterback’s story is told with such sincerity and truth that the reader cannot but root for the main character. Along the way, there is just the right amount of suspense and uncertainty — how everyone might react to the news and accept or disapprove of his sexuality or decision making — to maintain a high interest level to continue reading. I read through it quickly because I truly wanted to know what happened next. The football play-by-play scenes are described with lucidity and are quite exhilarating. So even this football layman could form clear mental pictures and follow the games with all the thrill a spectator at the games would possess. That is one of the strengths of this book.
I cannot not quite decide whether Bobby is flesh and blood and completely realized or is a courageous face on the cover of a magazine or national campaign poster, whose story is told to and not quite lived by this reader. Perhaps he is both — at different times in the telling, depending on whether he is put in the middle of a scenario and reacts, or he is being cool-headedly examined by himself in one of his many his internal monologues.
This was high on my “to-read” list after the January 28th Youth Media Award announcement — It won the Stonewall Award, is a Printz honor and is also the Pura Belpré award winner. And the cover had always spoken to me. But, it took me a whole week to finish reading this easy and not very long book. Mostly because I found myself not being drawn back emotionally to the book every time I put it down and I also didn’t feel compelled to continue reading for a long time. I found Aristotle’s narrative too wordy, too self-analytical, too clinical, even, at times. There’s so much crying and laughing: as if those are the only two actions that can express the emotions of the characters. And the descriptions of the crying and laughing were not that varied. The way the father cries is not distinguishable from the way Dante cries. I think this is a message-y book — but the revelation at the very end of Aristotle’s sexuality does nothing to strengthen the book’s power for me. I can appreciate the everyday life style of the storytelling but at the same time, there is definitely plenty of tightening up that could be done. (Is it necessary to feature an aunt who was shunned by relatives because she was a lesbian and a brother who’s serving time for the murder of a transvestie all in one story and all in one person’s life?)
by John Green and David Levithan
Both John Green and David Levithan are known for their witticism, and both also have created stories where things get out of hand, and the reality just seems larger than life/real — I often think of it as “ultra realism.” And in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, you get a double dose of this over-the-top tone: Their nerds are just nerdier, their gay characters gayer, their jokes funnier, their sorrows more desperate, and their big finale of a High School Musical is so improbable that readers just have to suspend ALL disbelief (WILLINGLY) and simply enjoy the ride.
I enjoyed it for sure. I laughed out loud many times — both are so good at coming up with amazingly intelligent and painfully truthful funny one-liners (or one-paragraphers.)
What intrigued me the whole way was how these two YA superstar authors collaborated. Did they challenge each other with surprising scenarios or was it all planned out? Am I right in assuming that one wrote the Gay Will Grayson part and the other the Straight Will Grayson part? Who wrote which? (I thought I got it down from the beginning but now I’m not so entirely sure!)
One of my high school students read the book (a big Levithan fan, didn’t know John Green and now became a fan, too) and did not love love it because it reminds this student too much of the REAL life drama that goes on around the group of friends. It probably is painful.
No matter how ultra realistic this novel is, so much truth is dragged up from the bottom of a teenager’s heart that one cannot but admire the authors’ deep connection with their own inner teens and their abilities to capture all those feelings in words.