Friday, April 20, 2012

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

The cover image says a lot -- dark, gothic, sexy, ambiguous. In this spooky, addictive read, Mara Dyer is the pseudonym of the narrator, a girl who has been in a horrible accident in which three of her friends die. What actually happened that night is a mystery, and she ends up moving in order to forget. Of course, we know how quickly such plans tend to go awry. For Mara, things go horribly awry; as if creepy hallucinations aren't enough, she's become the target of the cutest, most evil girl in school. But Mara herself might be hurting people in a much more lethal way. Could she have caused that accident? Could she have actually killed her best friend?
Soon, Mara is swept up in some suspenseful action and caught in the web of a gorgeous British guy. As with the girl in water on the cover, it's unclear whether he's out to hurt her or save her.

Though there are clear Twilight-esque set ups, this is a great read that will shock and confuse you. Aside from the other big questions that pop up at the end, the main one is whether you can actually stand waiting for book two.

Value: teen readers will most likely connect to Mara's confusion about her family and the charming but possibly dangerous boy in her life. Captures the desire to uncover the truth and the sense that nothing is exactly the way it seems. Very cathartic.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Three teens who have hit rock bottom meet in a psychiatric hospital for their suicidal or self-destructive behavior. Speaking in the first person, all of them reveal the events and family situations that put them in this place. The voices are haunting, funny, sarcastic, and real.

Tony, Connor, and Vanessa connect with each other at a time when their lives seem devoid of hope -- will that connection help them heal, or just drag them down?

Students always responded to these books, but I, frankly, avoided them, believing that they were too raw or that they exploited serious issues for sheer dramatic impact. After reading the mesmerizing Identical, I saw the light.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A book that describes extreme psychic pain, the book provides the assurance that connecting with others over painful experiences can help the healing process.

Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc./Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008.

ISBN:1416903577.  $9.99.

Black Box by Julie Schumacher

Elena's older sister, Dora, seems to snap one day, suddenly changing from a dramatic, emotional girl into a teen who sees no point in living.

Always the stable one, Elena is determined to save her sibling after she gets out of a mental hospital, but -- now skipping classes and engaging in other risky behaviors -- Dora doesn't much resemble the sister that she's always known.

Can the school bad boy help Elena rescue the sister she loves from crushing depression?

This came into my library as a Junior Library Guild pick, and the books they choose are generally solid reads. The cover is haunting, and students have really responded positively to this slim book. Good for struggling readers.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A honest and straight-forward look at depression, it can help tweens and teens understand this at times mystifying mental illness. It nicely captures the helplessness that is felt by those witnessing its tenacious grip.

Schumacher, Julie. Black Box. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers,

ISBN: 0385735421. $15.99.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Most days, 13-year-old Lakshmi spent time helping her mother carry water, grow vegetables, patch their leaky roof and try to keep their heads up despite crushing poverty. It doesn't help that her step-father takes any money they make and gambles it away. And then, after a particularly bad losing streak, he sells her.

She thinks that she's going to the city to work for her maid, like her best friend did not long ago. After a four-day journey from Nepal and into India, terrified but tough Lakshmi finds herself in a house of prostitution.

This is the story of her heart-rending journey, from simple country girl to brothel captive.

With rich descriptions (she calls the brothel keeper, better fed than any person Lakshmi had ever seen, "the mango woman" for her round face) by a naif plunged into a completely foreign world, the book captures the fear of a child sold into sexual slavery.

Students have recommended this one to me and I've always wanted to read it. Contrasts the natural beauty of Lakshmi's home and the harsh, strange world of brothel life with sensitivity.

Bibliothereapeutic value: Although Lakshmi is pitted against cruel strangers and a world that completely devalues women and girls, she maintains her pride and self-respect. This is a ripped-from-the-headlines tale that fully personalizes the serious, real-life problem of human trafficking.

McCormick, Patricia. Sold. New York, Hyperion, 2006.

ISBN: 0786851716. $15.99.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Touch by Francine Prose

Maisie has told the story about what happened in the back of the bus so many times, she's not even sure what the truth is anymore. She knows that there is going to be a hearing, and she knows that she will have to accuse her former best friends, now known as "the defendants."

All that's clear is that Maisie is now alone, friendless. She hates her step-mother, her real mother had abandoned her and remarried a hostile jerk, and she seems to be living at the therapist's office.

A sad, affecting tale about the awkward passage from childhood to pubescence -- about what happens when budding sexuality complicates everything.

I've read Francine Prose's adult novels about similar topics (she seems particularly interested in the morally murky waters of sexual harassment and molestation). My friend, who writes about YA novels brought this one over to my house and the jacket flap drew me in.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A book about how "the truth" can be slippery when put under a microscope by peers, parents and other authority figures. An interesting look at victimization.

Prose, Francine. Touch. New York: HarperTeen, 2009.

ISBN: 0061375179. $16.99.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

After a "Heartland War," the faction who are pro-life and the others who are pro-choice have come to an agreement. Every child gets a right to life...until he turns 13.

Then, it is determined whether a child will live or become "unwound." Not technically "killing," unwinding means that every single body part is farmed out for use by someone who may need it.

Three kids have been selected by the government or their parents to be unwound. Connor just isn't "good" enough, Risa is living in an overcrowded group home, Lev has been chosen as his religious family's tithe.

Surprisingly, none of them wants to be dismantled, even if it is for the public good.

A very creepy, fast-paced thriller that is, essentially, a long chase; the three go on a sinister roller-coaster ride as they evade the government.

Another one book-talked at our school by Kris Vreeland of Vroman's. It's been a huge hit with boys, especially sci-fi fans and struggling readers who like an adrenaline-charged page-turner.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Underneath the heart-pounding suspense, this is a book about self-reliance and questioning authority.

Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2007.

ISBN: 1416912045. $16.99.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney

Janie Johnson is just a regular girl who dreams of an exotic life filled with adventure -- and, boy, does she get it. One day, as Janie and her friends are eating lunch in the school cafeteria, the kids all joke about the missing children ads on their milk carton. Janie picks up her friend's carton, drinks the milk, then realizes in a flash of memory that the girl on the carton is her.

Stunned, Janie begins to question everything around her. Who are these people who have said they were her parents? Are they crazy? Could these caring, nurturing people be dangerous? Haven't they already broken the law?

When she finds a cache of old papers with the name "Hannah" on them and the dress from the milk-carton photograph, she finally confronts her parents.

Their answers pacify her...until new, unsettling questions arise to poke holes in their story.

A twisting mystery that brings up some of the most unsettling feelings; What if the life that seemed so normal was merely a sham?

Intrigued by the title, I delved in and couldn't put this book down. Disturbing and gripping.

Bibliotherapeutic value: This is a novel about a child "owning" her story, about finding out the truth, even when the truth may be uncomfortable. In order to get what she wants. Janie has to confront people with buried memories that some would prefer stayed buried.

Cooney, Caroline. The Face on the Milk Carton. New York: Laurel Leaf Books, 1991.

ISBN: 0440220653. $6.99.