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

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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

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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.

Leverage by Joshua Cohen

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I read this book because the Upper Hudson Library System has a yearly “tough reads” book discussion during our June Youth Services Advisory Council meeting. We talk about why the book was a tough read, why it’s so important not to censor our collections, and how to get these books into the hands of the tweens and teens who would benefit from reading them.  Sadly, I was unable to attend the book discussion this year, so I don’t know what everyone else thought about this book… but I figured I could at least share my thoughts on this blog.

This story is a sports rivalry like no other; the rivals aren’t even from different schools.  The members of the football team and the gymnastics team keep pranking one another, and the stakes just seem to get higher and higher every time.  It’s pretty clear to the guys on the gymnastics team that the guys on the football team are getting out of control, but they just can’t seem to help themselves.  When something completely terrible happens to Ronnie, no one wants to talk about it.  Even his own teammates try to get him to pretend it never happened.  But life doesn’t work like that.  And, sooner or later, someone is going to have to put a stop to this prank war before it claims another victim.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

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Although I enjoyed the Burn for Burn series, it wasn’t what I would typically expect from Jenny Han.  I first fell in love with her writing when I read Shug.  I went on to adore the Summer I Turned Pretty series and frequently recommend it to readers who are looking for an author similar to Sarah Dessen.  Even though Jenny Han’s stories fall on the lighter side of YA, I can’t help but use words like “honest” and “raw” when I describe her characters.  I love the fact that Han’s characters face problems that a majority of tweens and teens can relate to — and the mom/librarian in me especially appreciates her multidimensional female characters.

Lara Jean has fallen in love many times, but that doesn’t exactly mean she has had much dating experience.  Instead of dating those boys, though, she skipped straight from falling in love to letting them go.  And, in order to let them go, she wrote a love letter of sorts.  Whenever she wrote to one of the boys she loved, Lara Jean always wrote honestly and held nothing back (because she knew that the boys would never really read the letters).  She’d planned to simply keep all of the letters in the hat box her mom gave her to hold her special and/or secret items.  The fact that she chose to include the name and address of each boy on the front of the envelope, nevertheless, proved to be rather unfortunate.  After the hat box mysteriously disappeared from her closet and the letters were all “accidentally” mailed out, Lara Jean ended up agreeing to be in a fake relationship to avoid her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh — to whom she had written one of the most recent letters . But how is a girl supposed to know whether her fake boyfriend is actually flirting or just putting on a good show?  And what should she do if she starts to think she might have feelings for him?  The book ended a little too abruptly for my liking, so it’s a good thing there is a sequel — P.S. I Still Love You — that came out at the end of May. 😉

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi

The summer I wasn't me
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Despite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association put forth a resolution in 2009 stating that “there is insufficient evidence that sexual orientation change efforts work,” there are still numerous facilities and therapists that claim they can “cure” homosexuality.  It breaks my heart and makes me angry, in equal measure, when I hear about teens being sent off to so-called conversion therapy camps.  To put it plainly, I find the notion that GLBTQ people can/need to be “fixed” is simply horrifying.  I recognize that some people’s religious views are the reason they don’t condone homosexuality, but I reject the implication that one’s religious beliefs can or should be forced upon anyone else.  Though some some places [California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington D.C.] have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, I am appalled that so many states haven’t stepped up.  Hopefully, books like The Summer I Wasn’t Me and The Miseducation of Cameron Post can help to open people’s eyes and to bring about further change.

Lexi knew that she was a lesbian since she was in elementary school. And she also knew, for just as long, that she would prefer to hide this fact because the rest of her South Carolina community was adamantly against homosexuality.  She almost told her father when she visited him on his death bed, but she was terrified that her final memory of him would be of his disapproval and disappointment.  After his death, Lexi’s mom fell into a deep depression.  Though Lexi did what she could to try and make things easy for her mom, nothing seemed to work.  So, one day, when Lexi accidentally left out a journal in which she had drawn pictures of a girl she liked, her mom completely freaked.  The only thing that seemed to make her mom happy was the possibility that Lexi could be “cured” at a special camp called New Horizons.  And even though Lexi wasn’t sure it would work, she was willing to do whatever it took to make her mom happy again. 🙁

Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker

Clutterfree with Kids
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The complete title of this book is actually Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking.  Discover new habits.  Free your home.  Since that was such a mouthful, though, I decided to go the extra mile and even de-clutter the title of this post!  I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to expect when I checked out this book.  As many of you are probably doing right now, I read the title and assumed that it would be a collection of tips and tricks on how to organize your home better so that you can eliminate clutter.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was less Secrets of an Organized Mom and more Say Goodbye to Survival Mode.  Rather than tips and tricks for being better organized, I found inspiration to live more simply.  Becker gets to the root of the problem and acknowledges that people who desire a less cluttered home, and who want to spend less of their time cleaning up and organizing their stuff, should work on owning fewer things.  While some people take minimalism way too far for my comfort, I thought Becker’s approach was perfectly reasonable.  And though I could probably go on and on about different things that resonated with me, I think the perfect summary can be found on Becker’s Becoming Minimalist website — “Never underestimate the importance of abandoning crap you don’t need.”

Fault Line by C. Desir

Fault Line
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The most obvious audience for this book is people who have been directly affected by sexual assault.  I think this book could help both victims and the people close to them with processing their feelings and seeing that they are not alone — especially friends and family members of rape victims, since there aren’t many books about the guilt, shame, and helplessness they often experience.  One of the most important audiences for this book, nevertheless, is the general population of adolescents and young adults.  Sadly, many people aren’t even sure what constitutes rape.  I think reading this book would be an excellent way to broach the subject with adolescents and young adults as a part of a comprehensive sex education program.  Fault Line provides an opportunity to explore and discuss the concept of consensual sex vs. rape and also provides some valuable insight into some common reactions of victims of sexual assault. Though some people complain that there are “too many rape books” out there, I disagree.  Rape is still a very big problem in our society.  Perhaps if Laurie Halse Anderson‘s Speak weren’t so relevant almost 20 years after it was first published, I might think those critics had a leg to stand on.

Ben’s life was bordering on perfect when he and Ani first got together.  Not only was he a popular jock whose swimming had him on the fast track to a scholarship, but his family was so well-adjusted as to be freakish.  Ani made him happier than he had ever been… and then something happened at a party.  Ben didn’t go to the party, so now he blames himself for what happened.  But, what did happen?  Some people started saying that Ani got drunk and willingly slept with a bunch of guys.  The biggest problem, for Ben, is that Ani doesn’t seem to remember much, and she is all too willing to both believe the rumors and to blame herself.  Still, her friend Kate, who was at the party, was certain that Ani must have been drugged and that the resulting sexual encounter could not have been consensual.  The only complaint I have is that some of the discussions between Ben and Ani’s advocate [from the ER] seemed a bit too clinical and didactic — although it’s entirely possible that conversations such as that would be kept clinical in real life.

Burn for Burn [trilogy] by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

Burn for Burn
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There is one thing I would like to clarify before starting my actual review.  Some people might start reading the first book of the trilogy and think the “sci-fi/fantasy” classification is unjustified.  Even at the end of the first book, I was a little unsure if the supernatural element was quite enough to justify being in the “sci-fi/fantasy” section of the Teen Area.  But, trust me when I say that it will make sense if you keep reading.

Although Jar Island is typically thought of as a super-safe, affluent summer destination, much like Martha’s Vineyard, some people know there is a darker side of the island.  Lilia, though wealthy and typically good, had a bad experience with some boys over the summer and will now stop at nothing to keep her little sister from being hurt, too.  Kat got tired of being treated like an outcast and a freak because of a falling out with her former best friend and decided to do something about it.  And Mary has come back to Jar Island, four years after leaving because of an incident with a local boy, to show that she’s not the timid girl she used to be — she wants him to pay for what he did to her.  Though the three girls didn’t start the school year as friends, fate brought them together and they decided to work together to exact revenge on the people who’d hurt them most.  Love triangles, back-stabbing, and supernatural thrills abound in this fast-paced series.  I’m so glad I waited until all three books were published before I started, because I might have lost my mind if I’d had to wait!

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word
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I was eager to read this book because of my own experience with Pure-O OCD.  For those who don’t know, Pure-O OCD is a lesser-known form of OCD that “has fewer observable compulsions, compared to those commonly seen with the typical form of OCD (checking, counting, hand-washing, etc.)”  It was very obvious that Tamara Ireland Stone did a lot of research and took her time interviewing the teen who inspired her interest in this topic.  Sam’s intrusive thought spirals and panic attacks felt very real, and her therapist  sounded authentic.

Ever since kindergarten, Samantha has been a part of a clique called the “Crazy Eights.”  Even though she finds herself drifting from the group, and despite the fact that her therapist has recommended that she work on finding new, less “toxic” friends, Samantha feels stuck.  She is too afraid that parting with the clique will leave her without any friends and also make her a target of their bullying and gossip (like another girl who previously left the group).  Because of her OCD, Samantha lives in constant fear not only of her intrusive thoughts and panic attacks, but also that people will find out how “crazy” she is.  When Samantha meets a girl named Caroline, who offers to show her something that will “change her life,” she actually goes for it.  She follows Caroline, discovers a secret poetry club, and starts to make new friends.  Writing poetry helps her to work through her feelings, and making new friends helps to boost her confidence…  But will it be enough for Samantha to finally accept and just be herself?

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Cath was not just a Simon Snow fan.  She was an über Simon Snow fan who actually had followers of her own.  How?  Cath wrote fan fiction.  More specifically, she wrote Simon/Baz fan fiction.  And her story, Carry On, got tens of thousands of hits every time she posted a new chapter.  While I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Cath entered college with the intention to be a fiction writer, I was interested in how she struggled with creating stories all her own even though the fan fiction flowed so easily for her.  Even more than that, I was impressed by how wholly I found myself being absorbed into Cath’s everyday life and her struggle to adjust to the new realities of her life as a college freshman.

On the surface, my experiences as a college freshman wasn’t much, if anything, like Cath’s. Much like when I was reading Eleanor & Park, I found that the details of the main character’s life didn’t have to match up for the story to touch me on an almost spiritual level. Maybe it’s because there is just something so fundamentally real about Rainbow Rowell’s characters? Maybe they are people I could see myself being friends with?

The one major complaint I had about this story was that I wanted to know more about Simon Snow.  I enjoyed the passages that supposedly came from the Simon Snow books and from Cath’s fan fiction… but I wanted to be able to read all of the Simon Snow books and watch the movies, too!  I was absolutely delighted, therefore, when I saw an announcement  about the cover art reveal for the Carry On book from Rainbow Rowell, which is due out in October!  (The book was apparently announced back in December, but it probably didn’t register on my radar because Carry On didn’t mean anything to me until I read Fangirl.)  You better believe I immediately signed in to my book ordering account and added this title to my pre-order list.  I’m just hoping, now, that I will find lots of other stuff to read and keep my mind off Carry On so I don’t go crazy waiting.