Friday, January 23, 2015

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I have great respect and admiration for those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. I am awed by their courage to stand up and say "No more" to laws and people and attitudes so ingrained in society and everyday life. I cannot imagine what it was like for those who marched and boycotted; those who sat at lunch counters and at the front of buses; those who protested peacefully and practiced non-violence; those who fought in the courts and in the streets to obtain the basic rights and dignity that we all deserve.

This story follows the first African American students to attend an all white high school in a small Virginia town. Ten students are finally allowed to go years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of it. The governor and parents fought it. The school closed down for months to prevent it from happening - better for no one to go to school than to let 'them' go.

Sarah Dunbar and her sister are among the ten. Through Sarah's voice, we experience her life. We hear the racist chants by students and adults. We feel the spit on her clothes. We see teachers acting indifferent to the bullying if not expressing their own distaste of her presence in their classroom. We feel the ugliness of racism.  Sarah is a senior and one of the top students at the all black school. Her parents moved to Virginia to be part of the movement, but it is Sarah and Ruth who must face daily onslaught and threats.

Had we just had Sarah's voice, the story might have become overwhelming and desensitizing but we also hear from Linda Harrison whose father runs a newspaper and is one of the most vocal opponents to integration. She spouts the same hateful things her father has been saying her whole life about black people. She tries to defend segregation as Southern tradition. She believes it is unnatural for races to mix and be together in the same places. She knows God never meant for that to happen. Linda also blames the ten for messing up her senior year - if they had not riled things up, she could go to prom.

It is only when Sarah and Linda are put together for a school project that Linda begins to see Sarah differently and Sarah gets the opportunity to tell a white person how she truly feels.

This story takes the reader right into the minds of these brave students. We see all they see and hear all they hear. We know the excruciating reality they face every day. It is unpleasant and shameful. The story did go in a direction I was not initially expecting. If the author was trying to draw parallels with today's issues, I don't believe it was necessary. Nonetheless, this is a compelling read.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Can rumors destroy you? Can your reputation be so ruined by others that you can no longer function? Alice was popular and now she is called a slut and shunned. One party started it all and the death of the star quarterback made it worse.

Alice lives in a small Texas town where football is everything. So when there is no game, what else is there to do. Parties are not those huge deals you see in the movies where hundreds of teens pack a house. Mostly, people (the popular upperclassmen and a select few of younger teens) hang out and drink. Occasionally, something big happens like at Elaine's party where Alice had sex with two guys in the same night. Brandon, one of the guys himself, said it, so it must be true.

Kelsie didn't go to the party (she was ill), but she has been Alice's best friend for...well, since she moved to Texas from Michigan. She was such a nerd back then and decided to start over in her new home. Alice was the first one to speak to her and they have been friends ever since - until the party. How could she risk losing her semi-popular status by staying linked to Alice the town slut?

Josh is Brandon's best friend. He was in the car when Brandon crashed and died. It was Alice's fault. She kept sexting him. It was that distraction that caused the crash. Josh can't keep that kind of info to himself, so now everyone in town knows (including the adults).

Kurt has been crushing on Alice for a long time. He is very smart and keeps to himself. Yes, he lives next door to Brandon, but Brandon would never admit to speaking to Kurt civilly (like he sometimes does when they are by themselves). And that's just fine with Kurt. He doesn't care about the rumors or whether they are true. He just wants to help Alice.

Through the alternating voices of Elaine, Kurt, Josh and Kelsie, we learn about the events leading up to the party and the accident. They each have their own motives and perspectives. What do they reveal and to whom? And is it too late for Alice.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

Liz knew at young age that she did not want to dress like a girl. She hated wearing dresses and all the frilly-ness associated with being a girl. She never identified with things that girls liked.

This autobiographical tale follows Liz's journey as she deals with her unorthodox feelings. She is bullied by other kids and dismissed by adults. She faces down the cultural norms dealing with confusion, sadness, and frustration. For many years, she wishes she could be a boy. Puberty is rude awakening for her (although not really unexpected).

Fortunately, Liz has an incredibly supportive mother. She gives Liz the strength to be who she is without compromising. Imagine having that support throughout your life - knowing that no matter what others say or do, you the blessing from someone who loves you unconditionally to be who you are.

The black and white illustrations are are simple, but convey the emotions perfectly.

We often think of kids being bullied for being gay or unathletic or smart. This particular gender issue is not one I have ever given much thought to. I am glad the Liz Prince choose to write her story and do so in such an accessible form.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hit by Melvin Burgess

This pill will kill you. You live the ultimate high for seven days and then you die. Why would anyone take such a drug? It enhances your physical and mental strength. If your life is already a mess, you could have one last grab at glory, mark off as many items on your bucket list as possible and go out on top. Of course, you could also do something illegal, get arrested, be denied bail and die alone in a jail cell.

The setting is what I will call an economic dystopia. Conditions in England are so bad that society is on the verge of a revolution. Manchester is the epicenter of the movement to overthrow the current government and the location where the pill Death is manufactured.

Adam and (his hopefully girlfriend) Lizzie are right in the middle of it all as the first big riot by the Zealots happens. They are there when city hall is taken. It is exciting to have so much hope and change on the horizon.

Adam's life is good until...he pushes Lizzie too fast in their relationship and his brother Jess is declared dead. Suddenly, taking the pill doesn't seem like such a stupid idea. He could make lots of money to help his parents, make up with Lizzie, do something for the revolution, maybe even kill somebody who deserves it (and have sex, of course). It's amazing what someone can accomplish with an extra boost and the ultimate deadline.

This story went places I was not anticipating when I first chose this book. There is the drug kingpin and his psycho son who causes much trouble for all the main characters (theft, violence, kidnapping - you know typical gangster stuff). The oncoming revolution is always happening (mostly in the background). It is a dark and nasty world, but worth a brief visit.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Suicide by car - that's how Liz Emerson chose to kill herself. That way it would look like an accident. Why make it more difficult for the people left behind?

This was not a spur of the moment decision. Liz had thought about it. She knew where she would drive her car off the road. She gave herself a week for some sign that would stop her -some reason that would show her why she shouldn't do it. But nothing happened - life at school and home went on as usual.

Why would a popular girl like Liz Emerson want to kill herself? That is what this story is all about. Liz's life is revealed to us through multiple flashbacks - weeks before the 'accident' and the minutes leading up to it. We also live in the present as Liz's friends find out about it and wait at the hospital with other students.

Among the waiting are Liz's friends: Kennie, who was recently pregnant, and Julia, a good student who is more than just a casual drug user. There is also Liam, who is not really friends with Liz, but has crossed her path more than once.

We learn of Liz's rise to popularity and cultivation of close friends. We see her dating history with a popular football player who she doesn't even like anymore (though they are still together). We also learn of the people Liz hurt along the way (including those close friends). Liz begins to realize that she has been so cruel that she doesn't even know who she is anymore.

It is a enlightening journey for us and Liz as we see how vulnerable she truly is on the inside and how little she thinks of herself. Does she live? Does she die? Somethings are best discovered on your own.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's twitter feed.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King

I have no idea how A.S. King comes up with her ideas. Her characters are so different from anything I could ever think up and they live in such unique circumstances (that are often somber). And the things they think and do are so intriguing. For all these reasons and more, she is one of my favorite authors.

So much to say about Glory's life. Let's start with her mother who committed suicide by sticking her head in the oven when Glory was only 4. Her mom was talented photographer with a deep interest in the process of developing pictures. Glory takes picture, too, and aspires to be like her mother.

Glory lives with her father in the same house where the suicide occurred (the stove is gone and never replaced). He was an artist who now spends his time sitting on the couch doing tech support from his laptop. He does not talk about Darla (Glory's mom) and has left Glory with a lot of unanswered questions.

Across from their house, there is a commune where Glory's best friend, Ellie lives. Ellie's mom, Jasmine, runs the commune. Ellie stopped going to school a long time ago and will not be graduating with Glory in a few days. Glory wonders if their friendship should continue. Pretty normal stuff so far...

I will not elaborate how, but Glory and Ellie do something that allows them to see a person's past and future when looking at their face. Not just the person, but generations in the past and future.Glory sees what is going to happen to people and society in the not too distant future, and it isn't pretty (if its even real).

Glory's life is in transition as she is graduating. She wonders about her mother, discovering more about her through things left behind in her dark room. She questions her relationship with Ellie. She writes down her visions of the future. She wonders where she fits in the world. It's confusing enough for any teen without having to see the future of mankind.

Another good one from this author who bends reality just enough to make things interesting.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander

Charlie is one of the smart ones. He attends Bright School of Mathematics and Science. His dream is to go to MIT (even though he hasn't sent in the early admission forms yet). Charlie is tall and lanky with blonde hair. When it comes to girls, he has always been awkward. Now, it is his senior year and he is ready to concentrate on school work and not worry about girls until...OK, like you didn't see this coming...he meets Charlotte.

Charlie has never seen Charlotte before the day he touches the infinity tattoo on the back of her neck while waiting in line to get donuts. Not the smartest thing to do, but they briefly speake and it is kind of flirty. Charlie's brain usually so full of equations and theorems is very distracted by this girl with the tattoo.

One thing that can help keep his mind on something else is the new English teacher. Being science minded, none of the Brighton students like the idea of reading poetry and literature. So each year it becomes a game to torment the new teacher until her/she leaves. This has been very successful, but this year's teacher, Ms. Finch, is on to them and openly welcomes the challenge. Charlie is at first reluctant to participate but circumstances make him the leader of all the pranks.

It might have been easier for Charlie to forget Charlotte until he finds her in his kitchen one day. It turns out she has become his sister Becca's new (and only) friend (Charlie isn't the only socially awkward person in his house). So there is Charlotte in his house everyday after school, sleeping over, hanging out on weekends. She practically lives there!

It is whole new world for Charlie. With encouragement of his friends, Greta and James (and once he actually tells them about her), Charlie decides that maybe getting to know Charlotte would be a good thing. Even being distracted by her has lead to new discoveries (I'm not going to go into the details about Charlie driving off the road into an old lady's prized flower garden and what happens as a result).

It's a nice story of young awkward love and the potential for everything.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.