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.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Gamer and hacker (in a purely playful way), 17-year-old Marcus and his tech-savvy friends head out to find a clue for their game Harajuku Fun Madness. Then there's a terrorist attack. Marcus and the others are immediately picked up by the Department of Homeland Security -- solely guilty of being computer whiz-kids who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even when they're released, they are not free, nor is anyone else. The government has used the attack to infringe on scared and compliant citizens' rights in every way possible. And they're still after Marcus.

An escape novel with technology as both the prison and the key to freedom, Little Brother will seduce even the staunchest technophobe with its amazing descriptions of high-tech, MacGyver-like jury-riggings. As Marcus and his friends try to put a wrench in the works, there is a serious discussion about security and freedom, government oversight and government take-over.

This is a serious book about the corruption of power. The conversation has a liberal -- or maybe libertarian -- bent; some conservatives might be bothered by the implication that the government misused its power after 9/11.

Lured in by the cover, I was sold on this book by Kris Vreeland of Vroman's. With my students, there have been mixed reviews, but some have loved it.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A thoughtful challenge to the idea that, to be safe, we must give up our personal liberty. The title is a riff on the controversial 1984, another dystopian novel about loss of individual freedom.

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. New York: Tor Teen, 2008.

ISBN: 0765319853. $17.95.

Bad Girls Don't Die by Katie Alender

High school misfit Alexis seems completely focused on her late-night photography, until her unusual little sister becomes possessed with an evil spirit.

One night, Alexis is shooting her house when her sister pops out from behind a tree and she sees an eerie glow by her parents' bedroom window. She assumes that she's seeing things, until, moving over to the back door, she realizes that the glow is following them.

As Alexis stumbles into an awkward romance, things at home get stranger and stranger. Her sister begins to speak in an archaic language. And what happened with her best friend, the thing that no one will talk about?

A creepy ghost story which toes the line between spooky fantasy and high school reality/drama.

I was enticed by the cover image -- and who doesn't love a good possession story?

Bibliotherapeutic value: A story about someone who has purposefully disconnected herself from life having to get involved. About re-connecting and finding inner strength.

Alender, Katie. Bad Girls Don't Die. New York: Hyperion Books, 2009.

ISBN: 1423108760. $15.99.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In the opening scene of this story, Katsa, hooded and dressed like a boy, moves through underground caverns doping her opponents and knocking a killer flat with a single blow.

In this world, there are certain people called Gracelings who are born with a special skill. Katsa's grace is that she is a stone-cold killer.

Easily identified by having two different colored eyes, Gracelings, though blessed with such amazing powers as laser vision or hearing people's thoughts, are not worshipped, they're shunned, kind of like medieval X-Men.

The court found out Katsa's grace when her uncle touched her leg inappropriately. With a flick of her hand, she smashed his skull like an overripe tomato.

Katsa meets her match when she encounters Po, another killer Graceling, and the only person who can stand up to her in a fight -- thus kicking off a rich and romantic fantasy novel with the coolest girl heroine in YA. 

Bibliotherapeutic value: Although she can kill, Katsa can do much more. It is about getting out from under someone else's controlling grip; about a disenfranchised girl finding her true power.

Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. New York: Harcourt Children's Books, 2008.

ISBN: 015206396X.  $17.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

TJ Jones' birth name is "The Tao," so it's no real surprise that he has serious anger management problems. Criminally neglected by a drug-addicted mom for two years, he finally found a home with his foster mother and father. But he lives in a place where being mixed-race (African-American, Japanese, and white) might pit you against the town's brutal jocks--who have a stranglehold on the school, the teachers, and the town itself.

To make things worse for him, natural-born athlete TJ has always refused to take part in any of school sports teams until his favorite teacher begs him to start a swim team. TJ agrees, only because he hatches a fun yet diabolical plan to get back at the jocks and the entire school.

Fueled by his dark humor and barely bottled-up rage, TJ is a winning and completely believable character, even if some of the situations might test anyone's ability to suspend disbelief.

Overall, this is a fast-paced read that's fueled by anger and pathos.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Crutcher takes a real look at racism and child abuse and how the affects can be crippling. TJ and another child he helps in therapy either direct their anger outward or twist it in, turning it into self-disgust.

Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk. Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins, 2009.

ISBN: 0061771317. $8.99.

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

A simple tale about a romance between two 17-year-olds who just happen to be girls. Liza and Annie, New York City girls, meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Liza's there for the architecture, Annie's in a secluded upstairs gallery, singing. The two girls lead very different lives: Liza goes to a private school and leads a quiet and protected (almost anachronistic) life; Annie, the artier and more fragile one, is working class and goes to a rough public school.

But their attraction is instantaneous.

They become fast friends. And then it seems like they are more than friends. But what is this? Liza is completely blindsided as she realizes that she has romantic feelings for Annie. The other girl has felt this, in a milder form, before. An unforgettable story about awakening romance in a hostile environment.

Anyone who has ever been a teenager in love will be able to relate to this story. Written over twenty years ago, this book is a regular contender on many most-challenged lists.

Bibliotherapeutic value: The innocent tameness of tale and the girls' relationship -- with a plot structure that's simply girl meets girl -- makes the hit-list reputation of this book seem a little ridiculous. For any reader, it's a strong reminder of how slapping a label on something can suddenly make something explosive.

Garden, Nancy, Annie on My Mind. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1992.

ISBN: 0374404135. $8.

I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak

Ed Kennedy is a self-described loser, an illegal cab-driver who spends most of his time playing cards, drinking, and hanging out with his ragtag collection of lost souls (his friends). Then, one day, Ed finds himself in the middle of a bank robbery. He does something heroic which hits the papers. Soon, he's is receiving mysterious cards in the mail, most of which contain addresses. Curious, Ed begins going to the locations on the cards.

At his first house, Ed witnesses something harrowing: a woman is raped and brutalized nightly by her drunken husband while her daughter bears witness. After seeing the pattern, Ed realizes that he is being called on to end the nightmare.

Over time, the cards get closer and closer to home. Ed, a loafer all his life, keeps getting involved in various ways. But who is sending the cards -- and the violent goons who force Ed to follow directions?

Very intense at times, this is a completely unpredictable and thoroughly enjoyable mystery about getting involved in life. The ending is fantastic, but you've got to pay attention!

Bibliotherapeutic value: This is a story about reaching out to others in order to find yourself. A wonderful book about creating the kinds of connections that sustain a person through life.

Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006.

ISBN: 0375836675. $8.95.

Too Soon for Jeff by Marilyn Reynolds

Jeff Browning has his life entirely planned out -- and then something completely unexpected changes everything. A high school senior and college-bound debate team champ, he's heading for college, for sure. 

And then, just as he's about to break up with his girlfriend, Christy, she tells him that she's pregnant. And she's going to keep the baby.

Responsible enough to live with the consequences of his actions, Jeff sees his entire life turned upside down as he, the reliable student and good son, becomes the kid who threw his life away.

When I was a classroom teacher, my ESL students loved this book -- it's easy enough to read for a second language learner. I finally picked it up and was completely hooked. The characters are so believable and the writing is so straight-forward and honest. A fantastic book for struggling readers!

Note: For a girl's perspective on this issue, check out Reynolds' Detour for Emmy.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Jeff has to live with his guilt and his pain. He deals with the consequences of his actions and everyone's disapproval. A great book about doing the right thing -- and how doing the right thing might upend all of your plans.

Reynolds, Marilyn. Too Soon for Jeff. Buena Park: Morning Glory Press, 1994.

ISBN: 0930934911. $9.95.

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

Simon Glass is a complete geek: greasy, doughy and clumsy, a perfectly classic computer nerd. Then Rob, a relative newcomer who vaulted to the top of the high school's popularity perch within weeks of his arrival, decides to make Simon a project. He's going to take him to the top, too.

It's pretty easy. For one, Simon is rich, so new clothes are not a problem. Two, Simon is a willing (if suspicious) co-conspirator.

Soon, Rob and his friends -- including the writerly rich-kid narrator Thaddeus R. Steward IV (aka Young) -- see their experiment with popularity and power go awry as Simon becomes the prototypical Frankenstein's monster.

A real page-turner, but full of well-trodden tropes about power, control, creation, and high school popularity.

Bibliotherapeutic value: There is a discussion of bullying and power tripping. Also, it's a lesson in looking beneath the surface. Cathartic, but not terribly deep.

Giles, Gail. Shattering Glass. New York: Simon Pulse, 2003.

ISBN: 0689858000. $7.99.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew is a regular Londoner with an average job and a supremely annoying fiancee. Then, on his way to a very important dinner to discuss his future with a VIP, he is swept into the world of a strange girl, who seems to fall out of a wall and into the street, battered and bleeding.

It's not long before Richard, who (being the nice guy he is) takes Door home to care for her, is tangling with something even more ferocious than his bitchy girlfriend -- such as the dark forces of London Below, a parallel and perilous world lurking underneath, beside, and (at times) inside the city itself. Richard and Door team up with the flamboyantly sinister Marquis de Carabas to fight the evil villains who are hell bent on destroying them.

My husband had this book lying around and I picked it up. Brilliant stuff.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A story about self-realization and overcoming paralysis to do the right thing. Cathartic and deep.

Gaiman, Neil. Neverwhere. New York: Harper Perennial, 2003)

ISBN: 0060557818. $13.99.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

In this haunting book, Adam Farmer is riding his bike to see his father. He has some things to give him. He is willing to deal with biting dogs, bullies, and sheer exhaustion to make this trip, which clearly has some deep and terrible meaning to him.

As the story unfolds -- mostly through a series of cryptic flashback interviews -- we learn that Adam Farmer is not his real name, and that there is something mysterious about his family and the reason why they moved to this town. His best friend, Amy Hertz, had begun to ask questions that hint that there's something unusual going on. And why does his mother take calls from someone once a month, like clockwork? And who is that man who comes calling and makes his father nervous?

Though dated by its Nixon-era paranoia, this is still a fantastic read. The end is a terrifying shock. This is by far one of the saddest books I've ever read.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of my favorite YA books, definitely took a thing or two from this classic.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A reminder that "reality" is not always what you think. A piercing, sympathetic look into an unusual mind.

Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006. (First printing: 1975.)

ISBN: 0375840497. $8.99.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Death has touched Liesel Meminger. Our first image of her is when the nine-year-old girl stands in the snow next to her dead brother. And so the narrator comes calling, because the narrator is death himself.

Liesel steals her first book that night, the "Gravediggers Handbook" belonging to the worker who will bury her brother. Then she's shipped off to a foster family, and her foster father teaches her to read with this book.

As she bears witness to the ravages of war on her country, her town, and her street, Liesel gets to know an unusual cast of characters -- from her friend who paints himself black and runs around the track pretending to be Jesse Owens to her own foster mother, an outwardly brutish character who cusses like a truck-driver.

Friends, colleagues, and family had begged me to read this book. As soon as I read death describing the way he sees colors, I knew that this was a masterpiece of innovative storytelling.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Many of the scenes are brutal, depressing, and harsh -- this is raw-boned life in the middle of a war. However, any teen will benefit from seeing war through the eyes of an "enemy" citizen. Also a strong reminder that first impressions can be deceiving. About how people cope with extreme grief over death and abandonment.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006.

ISBN: 0375831003. $17.99.

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

Frankie is just an average kid, but there's nothing average about his brother, Steve. The school's soccer star, effortless student, and girl magnet, Steve has nothing to prove to anyone -- except the town's cholos, a gang of tattooed locos who play by a whole separate set of rules. Steve's about to go to college on a scholarship. Will he risk everything he's done in high school to win a different kind of respect?

Pushed by the school's rich kid/jock/bully, Frankie is beginning to think that his brother is onto something.

This book was chosen as part of my school's book club. The students love it (especially the boys).

Bibliotherapeutic value: Examines the concept of machismo and respect. Frankie gets props for taking on the town bully, but he's signed onto a game of one-upsmanship that, once it starts rolling, is hard to control.

Voorhees, Coert. The Brothers Torres. New York: Hyperion, 2009.

ISBN: 1423103068. $8.99.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Taylor Markham should be used to being abandoned. When she was just a kid, her drug-addled mother left her at a 7-11. Now she's a senior at a boarding school and the woman, Hannah, who has taken care of her has disappeared.

Just elected the leader of the Underground Community, Taylor has to take the helm in the annual summer war game between the Cadets, who camp nearby, and the Townies.

Unsure she can lead, worried about Hannah's whereabouts, still haunted by the memory of her mother, Taylor is a whirlwind of anger and confusion. And then there's that manuscript Hannah left behind, with the story about a decades-old car crash which practically wiped out two families.

Somehow, to handle all of the pressure and solve these mysteries, Hannah knows she has to find her mother. But how?

This book was chosen by two of my book clubs, one at my school and one adult YA group. It's baffling at first, but it is mysterious, gripping, and emotional...and it's one of my very favorite YA books ever. (Adults seem to have more patience with the confusing beginning than teens do -- if they can hang in there, it's well worth it.)

Bibliotherapeutic value: I can't talk about it without spoiling the ending, but this book discusses some seriously traumatic episodes. Taylor is a tough, confused victim, but she's not curling up -- she's all action. As wounded as she is, Taylor is the model of a self-directed, take-charge girl. If she could only connect with someone else. In order to do that, she needs to expose some secrets and dredge up some ugly old ghosts. A powerful story about moving forward by stepping back into the past.

Marchetta, Melina. Jellicoe Road. New York: HarperTeen, 2008.

ISBN: 0061431834. $17.99.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Probably the best book about war written specifically for teens, Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels follows Perry, a Harlem kid who enlists and is promptly sent into the thick of battle in Vietnam. Crestfallen because his dream of going to college wasn't realized, he fled New York, but -- as he's flown into the middle of a blistering, confusing war zone -- he quickly realizes that he had no idea what he was getting into.

In Vietnam, Perry (who spent the flight over innocently flirting with a nurse) realizes that the war is not petering out like he believed. His first night in camp is a horrifying wake up call. What follows is traumatic and eloquent, a war story that throws all of the problems of American culture -- homophobia, machismo, racism, poverty, class warfare -- into high relief.

One of the saddest, most brilliant, most real YA books that I've ever read.

Bibliotherapeutic value: In order to make this book feel so real, Myers had to include profanity and violence. The book, through its depiction of a unit filled with disparate and sundry characters, underscores the value of every human life. A sympathetic portrait of many different types of people and a clear-eyed look at how status quo American culture dehumanizes its "enemies" as much as war does.

Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. New York: Scholastic Books, 1988. (First published in 1984.)

ISBN: 0545055768. $6.99.

Forever by Judy Blume

Still one of the most frequently challenged books over thirty years after it was first published, Forever tracks the course of Katherine and Michael's high school relationship. The two explore sexuality together, both the idea and logistics of it. Their romance, at first, seems to survive both their constant dialogue about the deed and the fact that Katherine is a virgin and Michael is not.

Forever taught me that books can be powerful and, to some, dangerous. In the sixth grade, I brought it to school and showed it to a girl who had just moved to California from Cairo. Her parents weren't pleased, and neither was the school. The next day, I was promptly herded to the principal's office.

Now this book sits on a shelf in my library. I have to chuckle every time I see it.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Although many teens will find themselves searching for the "good parts" and many critics are horrified by the book's frank discussion of mechanics and birth control, this book is a very responsible look at teen sex and romance. It's also an exploration of what makes a full and complete romantic relationship.

Blume, Judy. Forever. New York: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2002. (First printing 1975.)

ISBN: 0689849737. $18.99.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The story begins with a horrible murder, but one person in the house survives, a toddler who manages to stumble outside and wander to the graveyard down the street. There, the ghosts discover, adopt and name him; "Nobody" or Bod is the only truly alive person in this haunted place.

But the killer is still out there, and he's still on the prowl.

A fanciful, fantastic book filled with a little bit of fear and lot of humor; the ghosts are far more friendly and kind than the humans.

While most YA books disassociate themselves from the past, this one treats past and present as one. Gaiman is a master at weaving in layers of history, creating a rich world in which fun and dread inhabit the same playground.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Although Bod's story begins with mass murder and his life is run through with danger, he also finds friendship and nurturing at the hands of others (though those others are often supernatural!). Bod, often too trusting, has to discover who will protect him and who won't. About navigating danger in the world.

Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.

ISBN: 0060530928. $17.99.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Mia seems to have it all -- cool parents, musical talent, a rock star boyfriend. But then there's the accident, which leaves her at the side of the road looking at her parents' mangled dead bodies. When the emergency technicians arrive, pull a body out of the car, and begin to work on it, she realizes that it's her own.

Caught in a dreamlike limbo suspended between life and death, Mia observes as she and her brother are taken to the hospital. While doctors and nurses try to resuscitate them both, Mia looks over her own life and what she has left of it. She has to decide whether she's going to go with her parents or opt to live.

A hypnotic, slim tale about trauma, friendship, and what makes life worth living.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Though Mia has to deal with serious trauma, and she sees things that no one should ever see, this book -- which threatens to become a dread-logged tale about death -- becomes a pensive meditation on friendship and life.

Forman, Gayle. If I Stay. New York: Speak, 2010.

ISBN: 014241543X. $8.99.

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

Meredith sits on the curb outside her condo, waiting for her father to get home. This isn’t just any reunion -- her father has been in jail for three years for sexually molesting her. To make matters more twisted and painful, Meredith’s mother can’t wait for him to get there so that they can rekindle their marriage, even though, aside from molesting her daughter, he also molested several young boys on his middle school baseball team.
Though the premise is almost ridiculously unbelievable, it’s a testament to the fierce beauty of Laura Wiess’ writing – her impeccable attention to the smallest detail -- that she pulls off this tale, making this nightmare scenario feel downright terrifying. 

Meredith’s story is one of ultimate betrayal. Her father is completely unrepentant and ready to take up where he left off with his daughter. The mother is both sinister and clueless, and horrifying in her own right. This is a powerful book about fear, evil, and redemption.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Even though Meredith has some attentive adults around her, she finds that only she can help herself. A poignant story about moving out of victimhood.
Wiess, Laura Battyanyi. Such a Pretty Girl.  New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2007.

ISBN: 14165-21836. $7.99.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Collector's Edition) by Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit, Jr., was born with water on the brain, bad eyesight, and suffocating poverty. On his Native American reservation in Washington, he sees people trapped in their lives -- hungry, drunk, and stuck, and, when a teacher on the reservation tell him that his only hope is to go to a white school over twenty miles away from the reservation, he decides that doing this, the unthinkable, is his only hope.

Facing racism at school and perpetual tragedies at home, Junior’s path is an uphill battle – one that he often has to walk alone, 22 miles to his school.

Full of the kinds of risky and controversial behaviors that teens see every day, Arnold has to deal with the trouble all around him, from alcoholism to life-crushing recklessness, child abuse to gambling addictions. Hilarious all the way through, Junior faces life’s dangers with a searing sarcasm and true grit.

Bibliotherapeutic value: All around him, the narrator sees his friends and family trapped in a cycle of poverty and alcoholism. This is a book about facing life’s most difficult challenges head on.

Note: Details below are for the collector’s edition because this one’s a keeper!

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Collector’s Edition). New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009.

ISBN: 0316068209. $19.99.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

It’s Melinda Sordino’s first day of high school, and, from across the room, her best friend mouths to her, “I hate you.” Everyone seems to know who she is, and everyone seems to hate her, too.

Infamous for being the girl who ruined the best party of the summer, Melinda quickly retreats into her own world. All she wants is to be left alone, but she is keeping a terrible secret, a secret that, if told, would destroy the insular little cocoon that Melinda has wrapped around herself.

Dark and sarcastic, Melinda’s take on high school is smart and piercing. She watches from the outside – an angry ghost. But the truth of what happened that night needs to be told, eventually.

Bbliotherapeutic value: Writer Anderson emphasizes that victims must expose the victimizer to break the cycle of rape and abuse. An affecting tale of violence and healing.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. 2009.

ISBN: 0142414735. $11.99.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Sixteen-year-old Katniss is a survivor, but she might not be able to survive this. 

In this world of the future, the capitol of the U.S. is a place called Panem – a place completely immersed in intense entertainment and ridiculous high fashion. In the rest of the districts, most of the people forage and scramble not to starve to death. Ruling with a wicked iron fist, Panem controls all of the districts by putting on the annual Hunger Games, a reality television show in which two kids are plucked from each district to battle each other in a brutal fight to the death. Only one can live.

Volunteering in her sister’s place, Katniss will fight, and probably die, in this year’s games.

Intense and brutal at times, the teens in the games must outthink the game-master’s and other opponents. The political background bolsters an action-packed story about power and control. Though she wants to live, Katniss struggles to maintain her humanity.

Last year, I’d picked this book up and, unwilling to delve into this depressing world, put it down. This year, a student begged me to give it another try – by the time they were on the train, I was hooked. It’s almost impossible NOT to finish this book in a day. A serious page-turner.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Hunger Games is a story about toughness, resiliency, and fostering one’s strengths. It’s a survival story about staying strong even when faced with abysmal odds.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008.

ISBN: 978-0439023481. $17.99.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender is only a child, but he’s a brilliant kid, physically tough but mainly a master at strategy. Sweet and sensitive, but a born warrior, he’s plucked from his semi-normal life to begin another at a space station battle school. His adult instructors are watching all of the kids there, hoping to find the next great leader, a military commander who can help them vanquish the Buggers, aliens who are regrouping for another stab at Earth. This time, the Buggers will be different, stronger, smarter; a great Leader might be their only chance.

Even for those who don’t like war novels, Ender’s story is brilliant and addictive. The high-tech games – either computer or live action – are incredibly real-feeling. Ender battles the school’s bullies and tries to keep his own inner demons in check. He knows that he’s a smart strategist, but is he a killer? Can he control his own worst impulses, or is he just being controlled by reacting?

My husband and a friend (who is in the CIA) were discussing this book, which they had read as kids, and it seemed to have really stuck with them as one of the smartest and most morally complicated books they'd ever read. I’ve recently had a parent tell me to stop buying books in this series for his son; he felt that they were too violent and a bad influence.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Although many criticize this book for glorifying war and violence, it’s actually a philosophical meditation on the causes of war and violence. Ender is forced to contemplate whether it’s possible to face one’s bullies without becoming like them. He also has to figure out if, by playing his commanders games and doing well, is he controlling the game, or is he just a pawn?

Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. New York: Tor Science Fiction. 1999.

 ISBN: 0812550706. $6.99.

The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer

To the five Herbert girls, life is messy and unpredictable. Dad’s been laid-off; Mom’s a sensitive, overweight wreck; Fancy, the special needs one, just won’t stop talking; Stevie’s mean; Beauty just can’t wait to escape the family and the town. To the stranger, they are perfect, a joyful flock of girlish energy. He watches. He waits. He won’t act – or will he?

A story of teen/tween angst – or family turmoil and romantic longing – turns into a quite different story of abduction, of decisions that could make the difference between life and death.
This book was selected as our school’s book club book for May 2010; I was intrigued by the cover image of swirling hair on a white background and became hooked when I read the predator’s haunting take on the girls as he passes them to work every day.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A story about how true mental illness can reside in a completely normal-looking person, it shows surface normalcy can be deceiving (that someone perfectly innocent and boring-looking to a teen might be a real threat). It’s also a tale about strength and self-preservation – and about recovering from trauma.

Mazer, Norma Fox. The Missing Girl. New York: HarperTeen, 2008.

ISBN: 0066237769. $16.99.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

What are the rules? How to survive living with Mom.

A story set up in the form of a letter, older brother Matthew writes to tell his baby sister, Emmy, what to do and what not to do to remain under the radar of their mother, Nikki, a bipolar and, at times, psychotic narcissist who terrorizes her three kids. One day, Matt meets Murdoch, a tough yet kindly protector of children who seems like the perfect savior.

Desperate to help his two sisters and himself, Matt obsesses over Murdoch as his family’s only salvation. But what if Murdoch is no match for Nikki, a mom who makes Mommie Dearest look downright nurturing?

Told with straightforward, real-feeling drama by Werlin, this is a fantastic story about the lengths someone might go to save himself and those he loves.

Teens at my school had discovered Werlin’s Impossible, when – at a loss of what to recommend for a rabid reader – I pulled this one off of the shelf. She came back the next day, held the book out, and said, “Oh, my God. Ms. Scribner. This book” -- high praise from a jaded bookworm.

Bibliotherepeutic value: While the situation is terrifying, Matt’s well-thought-out survival tactics are encouraging. A story about staying strong, being smart, and asking for help.

Werlin, Nancy. The Rules of Survival. New York: Speak, 2008.

ISBN: 0142410713. $7.99.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bonded by a pact that could destroy them, Lia and Cassie were best friends. Both suffering from eating disorders, they encouraged and helped each other in their self-destructive behavior. Then, one night, Cassie calls Lia repeatedly – and then dies in a hotel room. Her death leaves Cassie with tremendous guilt. She tries to piece together what happened to Cassie, which can only lead her to examine their long, tangled friendship. Will Lia be able to salvage her own life – or will she travel Cassie’s horrible path?

Anderson plumbs the mind of someone suffering from eating disorders so well that, as queasy Lia’s behavior makes you, it’s easy to understand. Residing in Lia’s mind is no fun, but it’s difficult to detach from this hypnotic, chilling read.

The Vroman’s YA book expert brought this book to school and, because of the depressing subject matter, none of the students wanted to read it. Neither did I. But it’s a book that fully fleshes out the experience of living with a severe eating disorder. Though it’s hard not to feel the complete disgust that Lia feels when being around food, it’s also a fair warning to see the innocent roots of this illness – the comparing, competing, and girlish dieting that can lead to real tragedy.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. New York: Viking Juvenile, 2009.

ISBN: 067001110X. $17.99.

Crackback by John Coy

Awkward with girls and confused about family, Miles’ only chance to shine seems to be on the football field. This year, his football team might go to the state finals. Put under tremendous pressure by his father (whose motivation is linked to a murky family secret), his back-breaking coach, and his friend – who pops steroids to ensure a stab at state – Miles has to figure out if he’s tough enough to stand up for what he believes.

Coy presents an eloquent look at football as muscular ballet; this is one of the best books that I’ve read about the action on the field. Miles feels confused and real – and his character moves far beyond the jock stereotype.

Perfect for struggling readers, this book was put on the list for our school's book club. Athletes in particluar will relate to the pressure and action.

 Bilbliotherapeutic value: A quick, gripping book about dealing with peer pressure, navigating family expectations, and questioning authority.

Coy, John. Crackback. New York: Scholastic Press, 2005. 

ISBN: 0439697336. $16.99.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Under the surface, identical twins Kaeleigh and Raenne’s life in California’s sleepy wine country is a roiling nightmare. No amount of money, political power, or connections can help them. While their mother campaigns for a seat in Congress, the father is home to ignore Raenne but molest Kaeleigh regularly, which he has been doing for years. The house is a sumptuous hell inhabited by still-living ghosts, all of whom find extreme ways (alcohol and prescription drugs, to name just a couple) to block out the pain.    

The source of some of the trauma is a horrible accident, which happened years ago but still haunts them all. Kaeleigh deals with this and her father’s unsought attentions by being a “good girl” – working at a nursing home and fleeing from her incredibly patient teenage suitor’s embraces. Raenne is the proverbial “bad girl,” chasing street drugs and sex to numb the pain.

Although there are serious problems with this story’s plot, Hopkins’ writing is so hypnotic that it’s easy to withhold disbelief. Even though their situation is so brutally extreme, the girls’ voices – piercing and realistic in their fear of what is and hunger for something else– feel incredibly real.

All of Hopkins' books are extremely popular with struggling readers, especially  girls.

Bibliotherapeutic value: The book underscores the value of connecting with others and sharing secrets in order to heal. Though both girls are fully aware of what they’re doing and (usually) why, nothing can break them out of their cycle until they break their silence.

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

ISBN: 978-1-4169-5005-9. $17.99.

Kin: The Good Neighbors, Book One by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

A Graphic Novel by Holly Black; illustrations by Ted Naifeh

Rue Silver’s mother has disappeared and, though she’s still hanging out with her goth-punk friends, she’s also beginning to see strange things – sticks turn into human shapes, people pop up with pointy ears and very strange ways.

When her father is arrested for the murder of his student and the presumed murder of his wife, a sinister parallel world of faeries (aka “The Good Neighbors”) begins to crawl out of the shadows. Is Rue crazy, or is the thin veil of normalcy in her everyday world being pulled aside so that she can see things as they really are?

Sharp and dark, the entire book is drawn in a hypnotic black and white. The creepy alternative dreamworld is repulsive and seductive at the same time.

In the post-Twilight era, teens were flocking to Black's Tithe series -- a gritty book about faeries. The cover image of this graphic novel is pretty alluring. And goth-punk faeries? Pretty fun stuff.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Rue begins the book with a tough (“no worries”) attitude, but she soon realizes that she has plenty to worry about. The intensity of this graphic novel is nicely paired with Rue’s tough-as-nails approach; this story captures the feeling that many teens have that they are living in a strange world in which they are not understood by anybody, and in which their parents might not be the people that they’ve always imagined.

Black, Holly and Naifeh, Ted. The Good Neighbors: Kin. New York: Graphix, 2008.

ISBN: 978-0-439-85562-4. $16.99

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coraline: The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman

Coraline and her family have just moved in to a new home, a large rural manse inhabited by an odd mouse trainer and two blowsy yet charming ladies who used to be actresses. An inveterate explorer who is mind-numbingly bored in this new place, Coraline explores her strange new home.

On her travels, she discovers a door that carries her to a parallel world where her "other mother" -- an extremely creepy maternal doppelganger with the general looks of her real mother but buttons for eyes and witchy hands -- and "other father" live. Suddenly, Coraline's real parents vanish, and Coraline knows that only she can save herself and bring them back.

Chilling (yet at times funny), Gaiman's story taps into some deep fears about abandonment and the dangers lurking in the world outside the home. P. Craig Russell's meticulous, painterly illustrations bring the humor and strangeness of this tale to life.

Graphic novels of books have always seemed like film novelizations to me -- an abbreviated shadow of the original. I've always heard that this is one graphic novel that one-ups the original story. And what a spooky story.

Bibliotherapeutic value: A curious girl who ventures into a perilous world, Coraline is a great model of a self-reliant tween who battles a force that threatens to swallow her up. A story about facing down life's dangers.

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. New York: Scholastic, 2003.

ISBN: 0380977788. $16.99.

Cut by Patricia McCormick

Because she cuts herself, Callie finds herself at "Sick Minds" (aka Sea Pines), a rehabilitation facility. She's surrounded by young girls who engage in risky behaviors -- from drug use to anorexia -- but no one even knows why Callie's there. Wandering from activity to activity like a sleepwalker, Callie refuses to speak at all -- thus earning her the nickname "S.T." for Silent Treatment. Will Callie ever connect with the other girls and her psychologist to express why she landed there in the first place?

A delicate, careful novel about the forces that motivate kids to hurt themselves. McCormick, who studied kids who cut for three years for this book, delivers a thoroughly believable world. The main draw is the desire to know the mystery behind Callie's hard-to-comprehend behavior and the charming yet flawed girls around her. A very real-feeling book with a lot of heart and hope.

This tiny book always seemed pretty off-putting to me, from the topic to the raw cover design, but teens in my library kept begging for it. Now know why.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Valuable for both kids who engage in risky behaviors and the ones who don't understand them, this is a book that sheds light on a very difficult topic with care and grace. Encourages talking and connecting with others for healing.

McCormick, Patricia. Cut.  Pennsylvania: Front Street, 2000.

ISBN: 1-886910-61-8. $16.95.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a perfect world. There is no crime, no war, and no sickness. Everyone is given a job that is perfect for his or her talents and character. But then Jonas takes on his job as the Receiver of Memories, and he has to be the community's collective conscience. As he takes in these memories, Jonas discovers that this world is not as perfect as it may seem -- and that sacrifices have to be made for the good of the group. The more he learns, the darker and more disturbing this world becomes. What will Jonas do as the keeper of this knowledge?

A fantastic novel about the individual and society that brings to mind some of the best dystopian literature.

I've always been attracted to any kind of novel about dystopia. Read this one with students in my English class. It was either loved or fiercely hated. 

Bibliotherapeutic value: While some scenes in this book are shocking, this is a great jumping off place for discussions with young people about community -- and what kinds of freedoms we're willing to give up for a harmonious existence. 

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Houghton, 1993. 
ISBN 0-395-64566-2. $13.95.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Jerry Renault's life has just turned upside down; his mother has just died, and he has very little connection with his hard-working father. But he's tough -- even when pushed hard, he won't back down. When the controlling gang/secret society at his Catholic private school forces him to refuse to sell chocolates during their yearly fundraiser, the group begins a full-on war between Jerry and Brother Leon, one of the scariest teachers to ever grace the pages of a YA novel.

A harrowing book about power and authority, The Chocolate War definitely feels like it comes from a different era, a time when no student would dare defy a teacher. However, the well-drawn characters and tightrope-taut plot has a pull all their own. This is a world -- distant, strange, and old school -- that crawls into your veins. Explosive and heart-wrenching.

Bibliotherapeutic value:  Times have changed, but students will be able to relate to the power struggle. Anyone who has ever been forced into doing something by a parent, friend, or peer group will relate to Jerry's struggle and admire his guts. There's no clean message here, but it's a powerful meditation on power and control.

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1986.

ISBN: 978-0440944591. $7.99.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

"Alice" is not her real name, but it's the only name she goes by now. She is a husk of a person, a girl who has been living with her abductor, Ray, for five years. Stolen away when she was eleven and on a school field trip, Alice has gotten used to living life as a slave. Only Alice is getting older; it's a fact she can't hide anymore, and Ray doesn't like older girls. What is she willing to do to escape?

A terrifying work of fiction that, unfortunately, mirrors real-life newspaper headlines, Living Dead Girl takes a serious look at what happens to victims of repeated abuse. Again and again, Alice forces us to look at the moments when someone could have noticed something was amiss and done something to help her. What she finds is a world that would rather look away than face the truth dead on.

This was chosen for our school's book club -- and then I chose it for my adult YA book club. It's a great one for all kinds of debate.

Bibliotherapeutic value: While absolutely devastating in its portrayal of a nightmarish situation, Living Dead Girl gets into Alice's head in a way that is hard to forget. Readers will understand that the cycle of violence and victimization -- once begun -- is almost impossible to break. It's a potent reminder that, in the words of Arthur Miller, "attention must be paid."

Scott, Elizabeth.  Living Dead Girl. Simon Pulse, 2008.

ISBN 978-1-4169-6059-1.  $16.99.

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Josh is a brilliant but difficult kid. His anger flashes into violence in a heartbeat. He won't even talk to his former best friend, and you know that he has done something to her about which he feels terrifically guilty.

As the story unfolds, the truth of what has happened to him is revealed: When he was only twelve years old, his married social studies teacher very carefully manipulated and seduced him. An unconventional sexual predator, Eve was caught and convicted of the crime. Now Josh is a senior, and Eve has just been released. Along with her release comes a confrontation with Rachel, the girl he has been avoiding for five years. Will Josh be able to tamp down the flood of memories that threaten to drown him?

Chilling, difficult, interesting, and at times long-winded, Boy Toy is a piercing look at the relationship between the confused child victim and adult predator. Well-written but very disturbing.

Students have been asking for this one for over a year; then I read a School Library Journal article about censorship that featured this book. The topic alone is pretty intriguing.

Bibliotherapeutic value: The tension comes from the fact that, as readers, we know exactly what is going on -- and that's a brutal reminder of how young and innocent the victim truly is. A deep look at how, for the victims of sexual abuse, even the most normal situation can become fertile ground for guilt and shame. Potently shows how sexual trauma robs its victims.

Lyga, Barry. Boy Toy. New York: Houghton, 2007.

ISBN: 978-0-618-72393-5.  $16.95.

When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins

One of the most riveting YA novels ever written, When Jeff Comes Home begins as 16-year-old Jeff is dropped off in his old neighborhood. When the door to his home opens, it is the first time that his family had seen him for years. When he was 13, Jeff was abducted from a rest stop by a man named Ray, who had held him captive and shut off from the world. Thus begins his painful reentry into everyday life, with the man who abducted and enslaved him still lurking around, and Jeff absolutely refusing to describe what has happened to him.

Based on the true story of Steven Stayner, a boy who was abducted in the 1970s and then escaped years later, When Jeff Comes Home is a wonderfully written novel about the psychology of a victim who is too ashamed to accuse his attacker. Though seemingly sensationalistic in its topic, writer Atkins creates a true-to-life, meticulously detailed story about serious trauma and its aftermath.

Always wondered why we had three copies of this one in my library. The cover image was immediately disturbing. Now I know why we had so many -- a fantastic read.

Bibliotherapeutic value: As painful as it is, this story underscores the importance of safety net for victims of abuse. The final revelation is a psychic punch to the gut -- and a reminder of how the mind can twist a traumatic situation around to hurt a victim again and again. 

Atkins, Catherine. When Jeff Comes Home. New York: Putnam, 1999.

ISBN: 0-399-23366-0. $17.99.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a high school freshman, and he sees the world a little differently. As he begins his high school career, he is still getting over his best friend's suicide the year before. He feels things deeply, he sees things deeply, but he is a boy in a bubble, so sweet and childlike that he's almost not of this world -- but when he does cry, he just can't stop.

No wonder that Charlie is an outcast at school. Then, a group of unconventional seniors take him under their collective wing. Soon, he is learning about punk rock and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, finding out what it's like for his best friend, who is gay but has to keep his relationship completely secret. Charlie, too, has a secret.

A slim, fast, fantastic read, The Perks of Being a Wallflower's beauty is all in the narrator, a lost kid who sees way too much.

Teachers with struggling readers have used this one in the classroom, and I've been curious about it for a long time because of comparisons to this and A Catcher in the Rye.

Bibliotherapeutic value: The homosexuality in this book is treated with empathetic care; one the one hand, Charlie is completely accepting, giving a vision of a non-judgemental world. On the other, the culture of the school promotes sameness, making it necessary to hide what should be a pretty simple romance -- all kinds of pain is created by this situation. Then there's Charlie's shocking secret. The entire book pivots on the dysfunction that occurs when they are forbidden to express what should be expressed. A deep, brilliant little book.

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV, 1999. 

ISBN 0-671-02734-4. $12.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Raiders Night by Robert Lipsyte

Matt and his fellow football players enter the gym, pound metal, and then head for the back room for their injections. In the opening sceene of Raider's Night, you are delivered a world in which kids are willing to do just about anything to win -- and the coaches and parents are willing co-conspirators.

Riding an emotional roller coaster -- partially caused by the drugs, partially caused by the tough, warlike jock culture that keeps him cut off from his feelings and from connecting with any girlfriend -- team co-captain Matt goes off to football camp, eager to focus on the game. Only a harrowing hazing gone wrong makes him question everything that's made life worth living.

No mere football book, Lipsyte's gripping and at times terrifying novel is a serious critique of macho masculinity. This is a deep, powerful read about all the things that can keep boys and men focused on the strength of the body at the expense of the soul.

This was a class assignment, and I assumed I wouldn't be interested. Boy, was I wrong.

Bibliotherapeutic value: Though shocking at times, this is a brilliant exploration of sports/guy culture. It sends a strong message to the reader that friendship is more important than fighting and winning. Underneath it all, there's a sense that Matt's main problem is that he can't acknowledge his own feelings -- rather than making him a winner, it's threatening to undermine his entire life.

Lipsyte, Robert. Raiders Night. New York: HarperTempest, 2006. 

ISBN 0-06-059946-4. $15.99.   

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan

The story begins as Claire, at school, realizes that something is terribly wrong. She watches the reactions of the people on the street; she tries to calm the elementary school kids as things get more and more chaotic. The Twin Towers fall.

The tale of three teenagers in New York City at the time of 9/11, Love is the Higher Law is part historical novel -- with brutal, realistic details -- and part gay love story. Two of the characters, Peter and Jasper, had met at a party before the tragedy hit. They had made a date for that night.

Peter is as devastated in his way as Claire is, but Jasper literally and figuratively sleeps through the whole thing. Completely shut off from the rest of the world, Jasper has developed an armor of steel. Not even 9/11 can break through his narcissistic self-absorption.

Will Claire stop her nocturnal wanderings and come back to life? Will Jasper ever feel anything?

This is a deep, brutal, but ultimately hopeful meditation about three teens facing a national disaster and its aftermath.

Occasionally, the conversations are a little long-winded, but the emotional fumbling between Peter and Jasper feels very real; the details of people's reactions are heart-wrenching. A slim, powerful book.

Kris Vreeland, the children's book expert at Vroman's bookstore, brought this one up in a book talk in '09. Really wanted to see how Levithan framed this event to hook young readers.

Bibliotherapeutic value:  Because this story is set in New York City, Peter is a gay character who is generally accepted and angst-free about his sexuality. Jasper, however, is Korean, and his parents are far more traditional. The book shows how the outside world can pressure and discriminate against GLBTQ people in subtle and soul-crushing ways.

Levithan, David. Love Is the Higher Law. New York: Knopf/Borzoi, 2009. 

ISBN: 978-0-375-93468-1. $18.99.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Paul lives in a world where the cheerleaders gun Harleys at pep rallies, the quarterback is a drag queen, and Paul's own kindergarten teacher states on his progress report that he is gay. This high school sophomore's life is easy and angst-free until he meets Noah, the artsy new kid in town, who is completely crush-worthy.

Generally, it wouldn't be a problem, except there's Paul's angry ex, Kyle, who is suddenly reaching out to him; there's his depressed best friend Tony, whose religious parents refuse to accept that he's gay. And then there's his other best friend, Joni, who is swept up in a relationship with a difficult, controlling jock.

Suddenly, life's not so easy anymore. How can Paul connect with Noah when his life is a roiling mess. And, soon enough, he's asking himself if he'll ever truly connect with anyone.

With a main character who is completely comfortable with his homosexuality, Boy Meets Boy is a book about friendship, family, and romance.

Fanciful yet full of humorous day-to-day teen drama, this is a lighthearted book with serious issues at its core.

Bibliotherapeutic value:  Imagining a world in which gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people are accepted highlights the harsh realities (and unfairness) of what GLBTQ teens go through every day. This book creates a pleasant fantasy world in which everyone is accepted, no matter what. Boy Meets Boy is full of hope -- with a strong central character who is very self-assured -- and it's a reminder of how far we are from a world in which everyone is accepted.

Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. New York: Knopf/Borzoi, 2003.

ISBN 0-375-92400-0. $17.99.