all the bright placesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven handles difficult topics for teens, from emotional problems and mental illness to death and suicide, but in such a way that everything is written eloquently and seriously, showing the consequences of all actions, no matter how big or small. Niven’s characters are beautifully written. The story really captures the heartbreaking yearning for everything to end up alright by showcasing a compelling search for hope when all seems lost.

All the Bright Places is told from the points of view of two high school students, Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theodore and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Finch is fascinated with death, chronicling ways to kill himself. Something good stops him from hurting himself every time. Violet has a countdown until graduation, when she can finally leave Indiana and start a new life away from the aftermath of her older sister’s death.

That first meeting is the start of a very unlikely relationship between the freak, outcast boy, Finch, and the popular, yet damaged girl, Violet. This book weaves an exhilarating and  charming, yet simultaneously heartbreaking, love story between the two that immediately draws you in. When Violet and Finch then pair up on a class project to discover the natural wonders of their state, they learn more about each other than they initially thought. Death-fascinated Finch and future-focused Violet find hope and help by working with each other. Their lives will be forever changed.

This book is also available as an audiobook. If you use RiverShare OverDrive, our e-book and audiobook service, you can check out All the Bright Places as an e-book, as well as an audiobook.

untangledIf you are raising a teenage daughter, no doubt you could use some support. You will find it in Lisa Damour’s Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through The Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.

In this book Damour, who also directs Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, OH and writes a column for the New York Times’ Well Family Report, outlines seven transitions that adolescent girls must navigate on the way to adulthood. Identifying such transitions helps prepare us for their arrival so that we don’t feel so bewildered once they arrive. It helps prepare us for the reality that, just as we get used to a new “normal” everything can change all over again. It also helps us take care to experience each stage of development without getting stuck somewhere along the way.

If the idea of identifying stages of human psychological growth appeals to you, but you don’t have teenage daughters, you may be interested in Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World by Bill Plotkin, which identifies 8 stages spanning the entire human lifespan.

Reading such books helps us better know ourselves and our relationship to the world, to better understand where we’ve been and how it has shaped us. If the ancient Greek adage “know thyself” has any relevance, then I think it naturally follows that “know thy offspring” would, too. After all, whether we want to see it or not, they often provide a reflection of some aspect of ourselves.


signal to noise

Love. Friendship. Vinyl records. Music. And of course, magic. Moreno-Garcia has taken the everyday perils of teenage life and added in her own twist: magic found in vinyl records.

In Signal to Noise, readers are introduced to Meche, an awkward fifteen-year-old girl, who is friends with two other awkward fifteen-year-olds, Sebastian and Daniela, in 1988 Mexico City. As they slog and struggle through family and school, Meche soon discovers that in the vinyl records that are scattered throughout her house lies the possibility of magic. Soon the three are off searching record stores and Meche’s house for records that are either hot to the touch or give off a shock when touched. Meche is the one who shows a natural aptitude and ability for magic, something her grandmother both fears and acknowledges will happen as she too was blessed with the gift of magic at a young age, though she was not nearly as strong as her sisters. As Meche and her friends begin casting spells, they realize that this new magic will afford them the chance to become more popular and noticed, fix their broken families, find love, and become more confident with themselves. This use of magic comes with a price though.

Flash forward to Mexico City in 2009: Meche has come alone back to Mexico City for her estranged father’s funeral. Moreno-Garcia accomplishes the switch between 1988 and 2009 by alternating back and forth between the different time periods as the reader progresses. The difference between 1988 and 2009 leaves readers wondering what happened between Meche and her family, as well as what happened between Meche and her friends.

For those of you that are trying to wade your way into the realm of fantasy or those of you who are looking for a break from heavy fantasy, Moreno-Garcia helps these by tempering the amount of practiced magic in her book with stories of magic told by Meche’s grandmother about previous practicing witches and warlocks. The amount of fantasy within the book is also lessened by the fact that the friendships between the three teens dominate the majority of the book with magic being a thread that weaves its way throughout everything. This book worked for me as a good introduction into fantasy since the magic present within did not overwhelm me as I was reading.

I have a love/hate relationship with movies that are based on books. Sometimes the movies are well put together and follow the plot lines and character development of the book almost perfectly. Other times, I can tell just by the preview that the movie has completely gone off the rails and does not follow the book. Depending on how attached I am to the book, I might be able to let go of the differences in the movie, but if I feel any deep connections to the book, I pity the people next to me in the theater because I will point out how the two differ. Thankfully, I have found a few book-based movies that have changes that enhance the book or even make more logical sense than the world created in the book.

With the recent upswing in popularity of post-apocalyptic dystopian literature, especially those marketed towards young adults, movie producers have seemingly been turning to these novels as fool-proof ways to draw people into the theaters. (Case in point: The Hunger Games movies based on books by Suzanne Collins, as well as the Divergent movies based on books by Veronica Roth.) A similar post-apocalyptic dystopian book/movie pair just made it to the top of my to-be-read/to-be-watched list and I must say that I actually enjoyed the two.

the maze runnerThis pairing is the book, The Maze Runner written by James Dashner published in 2009, as compared to the movie The Maze Runner released in 2014 by Twentieth Century Fox.

In the book, Dashner begins the story of the Maze by introducing Thomas, the newest Greenie who wakes up in the bottom of the Box not knowing anything about himself, not even his name. He is greeted by the other boys, the Gladers, and shown around his new home, the Glade, a large expanse of land surrounded and enclosed in huge stone walls. Each boy has to pull his own weight in order for them all to survive, leaving them all with jobs to make their enclosed community run smoothly.

As Thomas soon learns, the Gladers are sure of only a few things: every morning the stone doors open, every night the doors close, and you do not want to be stuck in the maze at night because that is when the Grievers, a weird mechanical, bulbous type of monster that, if they corner you, can sting you and make you go through the Changing, come out. Every night after the doors close, the maze changes, making it even harder for the boys as solving the maze is the only way they can escape. Every thirty days a new Greenie is delivered in the Box. These things have been consistent since the first group of boys woke up in the maze over two years ago. Until Thomas shows up… Then everything changes.

the maze runner dvdThe movie version deviates from the plot of the book, but in a good way, in a necessary cinematic way. Some of the plot points Dashner makes in the book would have been difficult and a little far-fetched to allow for on-screen time, but at the same time, the exclusion of those significant details changed the plot from what Dashner wrote in the book. (For example, the exclusion of the Cliff, the abyss that is mentioned throughout the book, allowed the movie producers to instead dive more into the mechanics of the Grievers and the interlocking technology aspects that WCKD, also known as the Creators, used to control the boys.) Many other changes were done to enhance the book, but the overall themes of the book are still present within the movie.

All in all, the movie allows viewers who have read the book a better understanding of the workings of the boys’ minds, to see in better detail the immensity and confusion of the maze, and the destruction that the Grievers, and therefore the Creators, run the boys through on a day-to-day basis.

In my opinion, the movie version did not detract from the book, but instead adds a necessary level of cinematic pop to keep viewers engaged in the Gladers’ lives and their struggle to get free.

The Maze Runner is also available as an e-book, an e-audiobook, a playaway audiobook, and a cd audiobook.



ocdthedudeandmeI recently finished the extraordinarily good Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and as much as I’d love to talk at length about my love for that book, Lexie already beat me to it. Shucks.  So, instead, I’m going to write about my second favorite young adult novel about a red-headed social misfit published this year — Lauren Roedy Vaughn’s OCD, The Dude, and Me.

Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in (has there ever been a young adult book about someone well-adjusted?  Would anyone want to read it?)  Diagnosed with OCD, she attends an alternative high school and has to see the school psychologist to work on her social skills.  With no friends and a rotten self-image, Danielle’s energy goes into rearranging her snowglobe collection, writing and reading, and pining for her crush, Jacob.  That is, until she meets Daniel, a fellow outsider who introduces Danielle to the cult classic, The Big Lebowski and they find themselves at Lebowskifest (something that I’m happy to report is real), a place where Danielle finally feels like she belongs.

Vaughn chose to introduce Danielle diary style — through her school essays, journal entries, and email exchanges– to great effect.  Witty and sarcastic, Danielle steadily grows up as the year passes.  As she gains confidence, she becomes more likable — a concept that may be inspiring to the self-deprecating among us.  Fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky should pick OCD, The Dude, and Me.

waywaybackThere comes a point in most people’s lives when they begin to realize that they’re finally an adult.  For me that moment came the first time I re-watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I realized that I sympathized more with the adults and Ferris’ sister than Ferris.  Since that day, I’ve noticed a trend in my entertainment sympathies.  I watched Easy A and my favorite characters were Olive’s parents (hilariously played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci). I’ve been re-watching The Cosby Show, and my affinity has swayed from Theo to Clair.

So when I watched The Way, Way Back, I was expecting the same.  Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash*, the writers of the Oscar winning The Descendants screenplay, this is a smart, funny movie about the pain of growing up and the fear of becoming the wrong kind of adult.  Liam James is remarkably and heartbreakingly convincing as Duncan, a 14-year-old spending the summer with his mom, Pam (Toni Collette) at her boyfriend Trent’s beach house.  Trent, played by a surprisingly unlikable Steve Carrell, is the aforementioned wrong kind of adult.  He is obsessed with the “supposed to” in life, caring more about things and image than people.  When Duncan finds a job at the local water park, he begins to meet people that have chosen a different path toward adulthood (and have reached it in varying degrees).

There are a lot of reasons to recommend this movie.  The supporting cast — Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and the scene stealing Allison Janney — is fantastic, and the movie is hilarious.  But I loved the movie because of how much I cared about Duncan.  Teens are often portrayed as arrogant and reckless or completely socially inept nerds, but most kids live somewhere in the middle.  James’ performance and Faxon and Rash’s writing helped give me a chance to root for the teen again, which is almost like reclaiming my youth.

I’d recommend this movie for fans of Little Miss Sunshine, Crazy Stupid Love, or Adventureland.

*The Dean from Community has an Oscar!

rookie1.cover_webGet this book for any teen girl you know. Tavi’s online zine, Rookie Mag, has been collecting accolades since the fifteen-year-old blogger started it from her Midwestern bedroom. Tavi has been a respected style blogger since 2008, when she began her fashion blog Style Rookie at the tender age of eleven. Since then, she’s been invited to attend and review fashion shows all over the world, but it’s not just clothes anymore; this clever writer and all-around gifted young woman has created a magazine where teens can go for conversations with other teens about school, friends, music and movies, feminism, body image and self esteem, fashion, sex, and all the minutiae of teenage life that seems so monumental to those who are living it. She writes about the problems and the questions that real, modern teens have. She’s frank and funny and I wish I’d been even one-tenth as smart and confident as she is when I was a teenager. What I’m getting at is: here is a great, realistic role model. And a great book!

Rookie: Yearbook One is an ink & paper retrospective of the online magazine’s first year. It contains a lot of writing by Tavi, but it’s been touched by dozens of others; Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Aubrey Plaza, Joss Whedon, Patton Oswalt, and many others make appearances – either in pieces they’ve written for the magazine or as the subject of one of Tavi’s excellent interviews (I love how she is just as comfortable grilling Whedon about his modern-day interpretation of the sexual politics of “Much Ado About Nothing” as she is sharing a laugh with Plaza about how much they love the film “Reality Bites”). These are articles that matter, ideas that resonate, and interviews that are exciting and in-depth; it’s also lighthearted (you’ll love the section on how to cry without anyone catching you), and the graphic design of the book is phenomenal. If you have any taste for collage (and a little bit of the ridiculous) your eyes will pop at the juxtaposition of textures, photos, and hand-drawn illustrations. It’s just amazing, and I wish so much that I’d had it when I was a teenager!

Years ago, I enjoyed reading Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It was funny and quirky and self-revealing, with some darn good writing suggestions along the way.  Her new novel, Imperfect Birds, is a work of fiction, and thankfully so, as it’s characters ring painfully true.

As the story opens, seventeen year-old Rosie Ferguson is ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school.  She’s smart –a straight-A student; she’s athletic – a former state-ranked doubles tennis champion;  she’s great with the kids at her volunteer job,  and she’s beautiful to boot!.   But Rosie also has a knack for driving her mother, Elizabeth, crazy.  She’s also quite adept at manipulating the truth and Mom seems more than willing to believe her lies. By the time school starts again in the fall, there are disturbing signs that is Rosie is not only abusing drugs, but that she is also making very dangerous choices, forcing her parents to finally confront the obvious.

As a parent myself (though thankfully no longer of teenagers) there were times when reading this  made me vaguely uncomfortable.  Had I, like Elizabeth, been too trusting when my son called to ask if he could spend the night at a friend’s?  Hmmmm.  Still, there’s a message here for both teens and adults, and the novel does end on a very hopeful note.  Readers will also note the familiarity of characters and themes from the author’s previous works, such as Rosie and A Crooked Little Heart.

They were just six days at the end of a miserably hot summer. Yet to 13-year-old Henry those six days will change everything about his life in Labor Day by Joyce Maynard.

For Henry, the days pass monotonously – his emotionally fragile mother Adele has mostly checked out of life, rarely leaving the house. His father has a new family on the other side of town. Henry, lonely and awkward, and at that stage when you know so much and yet so little, just wishes something would happen. And then, Frank, bleeding and limping, walks into their lives. Henry has no idea how different he will be in six days. He will learn how to bake a pie, how to throw a baseball, the pain of jealousy and betrayal, and the power of love. Those six days will shape him into the man he will become.

Frank is an escaped prisoner who has been serving time for murder who seeks sanctuary with Henry and his mother. He is kind and thoughtful and soon Adele and Frank fall in love. They make plans to escape together to Canada. Henry struggles with this new person in their lives – relief that he is no longer the only person responsible for his mother’s happiness, fear that he’ll be left behind.

Narrated by Henry as an adult looking back on those six days, you hear the angst of the teenager softened by the perspective of time. It is written with simplicity and eloquence and a sympathetic understanding of the emotional complexity of people. The extended epilogue –  particularly the last sentence – brings the story to an especially yet realistic satisfying conclusion.

icantkeepmyownsecretsI Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs By Teens Famous & Obscure is a collection of writings gathered by Smith Magazine editors Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith from over 800 teens who share autobiographical truths about themselves  – in just six words.  These lines, more succinct than haiku, provide insightful glimmers into their day-to-day thoughts and realities.

Late For School Every Single Day

I fulfilled my awkwardness quota today.

My mom had my boyfriend deported.

Willing to share with us your six-word reality?  Use the comment section below.