Save Me, Kurt Cobain is one of my favorite reads this year.

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Nico lives with her dad and mom is missing.  She has a few memories but doesn’t understand why her mother would just leave her.  She comes up with the idea that her mother had an affair with Kurt Cobain and maybe he is her real father.  Nico searches for Kurt, convinced he is still alive and will lead her to her mother.  This book has such vibrant characters.  The cover jumped off the shelf for me and I was instantly hooked.  Just like I did as a teen, Nico uses music to escape and make her stronger.  I recently read The Carnival At Bray and Love Letters From The Dead which are teen books that feature the Nirvana front man.  It’s been quite a while since I was a teen but listening to the music always brings me back to senior year when Nevermind rocked my world.  But I digress, back to the book.  Nico dangerously follows a man she is convinced is Kurt Cobain hiding away from the world.  Nico discovers much about herself during this journey and learns what really happened all of those years ago.  Along with well developed characters, Manzer writes with a fantastic sense of place in Canada.  I highly recommend this book for both teens and adults who remember what it was like to be a teen.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss Nico’s friendship with Obe.

Discuss how Nico guards her memories and does not want to hurt her brain so her memories of her mother won’t fade away.

Discuss how Nico uses music from Nirvana to deal with difficult moments like when the girls in the bathroom made fun of her.  How did the music make her stronger?

Have you ever used a Ouija Board?  What did you ask it?

Discuss when Nico says, “Nirvana’s music made me feel better even though it was dark.  I had never heard music before that sounded like I felt.”

Discuss when Nico says, “People were always hopeful that I was a normal girl, and I always let them down.”

Talk about Kurt Cobain’s journal and how it said, “If you read, you’ll judge” on the cover.

Discuss how Nico and Obe’s relationship changed.

Discuss this line, “There is a comfort in being sad.  But I am ready to give it up.”

 

Got Girl Problems and Bully Problems? You Are Not Alone. The Students At Misfit Academy Have Seen It All!

Misfit AcademyThis is a debut young adult novel by Lisa R. Petty.  She is well known for her contributions to Huffington Post and her blog, lisarpetty.com.  Scott lives in Hollywood, Florida.  He feels like a dork at his private school for kids who had trouble in public school.  He and his best friend, Bailey are constantly bullied by a kid named Wolfgang.  Wolfgang’s dad owns the pizza place right next to his family’s deli so there is no escaping this guy.  His home life isn’t perfect.  His dad is always at the deli while his mom’s many ailments turned her into a hermit.  Girls are a constant source of confusion.  There’s a new girl named Ashley. He makes a fool of himself any time she is around.  He thinks his school is a joke so many young readers will relate to that feeling.  It doesn’t help that his principal thinks the bully, Wolfgang can do no wrong.  When something happens to the bully it is hard to decide if justice was served or was Wolfgang a victim.  It makes for a great discussion with teens.

This is a great guy read.  He has embarrassing biology moments where he is grateful for a towel to cover up the evidence.  Many young readers will see themselves in Scott and his friends.  Being a teen is a royal pain and for most people it is a time to survive instead of thrive.

I loved all of the South Florida references.  I lived in Plantation for a couple of years which is near Hollywood, Florida.  Reading this book made me feel nostalgic for the beach and the mall of all places.  Petty does a great job keeping it authentic.  It was a fun read!

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Would you rather attend a school with 25 students in your whole grade or hundreds of people you don’t know?

How would you handle Wolfgang if you were Scott?

Why do you think people act weird around people they have a crush on?

Discuss Bailey’s possible drinking problem.  Why do you think Scott didn’t know?

What did you think was going on with Ashley and her pills?

Discuss what happened between Bailey and Wolfgang.

Discuss Scott’s relationship with his parents.

Discuss Scott’s relationship with Ashley.

What do you think Ashley sees in Wolfgang?

Discuss Scott’s first card he made for Wolfgang.

Discuss how Scott could have responded to Mrs. Luger’s comment about being nice to Wolfgang on page 185.

How do you feel about birthday parties.

 

 

 

 

Lauren Myracles’ yolo Tackles Tough Issues For College Freshman In Funny, Heartfelt Teen Read

yoloI had not read the first three Internet Girls books, ttyl, ttfn, or l8r g8r.  It was fine because yolo is strong enough to stand on its own.  Best friends, Maddie, Angela and Zoe are starting college at three different universities.  Maddie goes the furthest to California, Zoe at Kenyon College in Ohio, and Angela stays home in Georgia and gets involved in the Greek scene.  Like the first three books, the story is told through texts, phone calls and chats.  The friends deal with many first year of college issues, making new friends, painful breakups, hazing, taking classes you don’t like, dealing with roommates and date rape. I had some crappy roommate experiences in college and this book brought back memories.  The girls share very real problems in a realistic way, staying in constant communication even though they are many miles away from one another.  I enjoyed this book very much!  Fans of the series will love it, and it is a solid novel even if you have not read the other books.  I enjoyed the journey of Zoe as she turns to running and writing to deal with her pain.  I loved watching Angela evolve and make a good boyfriend choice instead of following the sorority herd.  Maddie does what many young people do, hide what is going on with them with a super positive social media image.  Many young readers will relate to these girls and find inspiration on how do deal with their own problems.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss Zoe’s worries about Doug not wanting her to visit.

Discuss Doug’s breakup with Zoe.  How would you have handled it?

Discuss Angela’s relationship with Reid.

Discuss the yolo plan, saying yes to new experiences.

Discuss the verbal abuse and expectations from the Zetas.  Would you stay or depledge.  Discuss the date rape.

What do you think of Canyon?

Talk about what happens with Angela, Lucy and the homeless man.

What do you think is going on with Maddie when she deletes her Facebook page?  What did you think was really going on?  What would you do if you were going through that?

 

Can A Book From 1951 Make You The Most Popular Girl In School? One Eighth Grader Decided To Find Out.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern GeekMaya Van Wagenen knows what it is like to be unpopular.  She is bullied and has very little self esteem.  I can certainly relate to this girl.  That was me at that age.  Maya discovers a book written in 1951 on how to be popular.  Maya is an excellent writer and her mother suggests she follow the book’s advice during her eighth grade year.  Maya follows advice such as how to constantly change her hairstyle to keep them guessing, how Vaseline is better than eye shadow and how to wear a girdle. The harder part comes when Maya must try to be more sociable and try to talk to people.  What she learns during that rather difficult lesson surprised her and me.  I was deeply moved by this book.  Maya is such a brave young lady.  Middle school is a painful ordeal that must be survived for most people.  But that wasn’t enough for Maya.  She wanted to thrive!  This book is an excellent lesson in social skills and how a little kindness can make all the difference.  My favorite moment of discovery for Maya was when she learned,   “I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me.  But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.”   I highly recommend this book for everyone from 4th grade and up.  Taking the advice just might make your life a little better, not just for you but for others as well.  I laughed, cried and mostly remembered what it was like to be 13.  It was freaking hard!

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss this passage on pg. 147, “Maybe real popularity comes from when you take time to listen to someone else.  When you actually care about them.”

Discuss how school can be an armpit.

Discuss, “Now I want to flourish, not just survive.”

Discuss when she rambles on about The Hobbit in front of her crush, Ethan.

Discuss page 152 when Maya says popularity has “more to do with kindness than keeping a wiggly backside in check.”

Discuss her relationship with Leon.

Discuss this passage on pg. 183, “I’d always thought I was alone in my suffering, but tons of other people are shy too.”

Discuss her plan to sit with different people at different lunch tables and try to make new friends.  Would you be willing to do this?  What would your plan be?

Discuss “I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me.  But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.” (pg. 191)

 

 

Disturbing Take On Internet Bullying In Compelling Novel, Butter!

Butter

 

I was afraid to read Butter by Erin Jade Lange.  I have a hard time reading stories where a child is bullied to the point of considering suicide.  I am glad I put that fear aside and read this.  It was so compelling that I read it in less than 24 hours, which is very fast for me.  Butter is a morbidly obese teen, weighing in at over 400 pounds.  He is a wonderful person, a talented musician and a great student.  Butter does not have any friends.  The other students in the beginning of the book are not outwardly mean to him.  But when he sees an internet list that has him as most likely to die of a heart attack, he decides to do something drastic.  He creates a website and invites students to watch him eat himself to death.  What happens with his fellow students and his new found popularity is very disturbing.  The popular kids invite him to be part of the in crowd, with the knowledge that he will be dead in a month.  They become macabre cheerleaders, urging Butter to end his life and suggesting ways he should do it.  Butter got his nickname after a cruel incident years ago with one of the boys and his older brother.  Butter has a secret.  He is in love with a girl from his school who he has an online anonymous relationship with.  The girl has no idea who he really is and is falling for him too.  The outcome of that is potentially painful for both teens.  Lange has a great gauge on how monstrous bullying can be.  This book is relevant for the time, especially when teens are killing themselves while others egg them on with cyberbullying.  I highly recommend this book for all teens and am thrilled that is in a Teens Top Ten Pick for YALSA.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Why do you think Butter’s parents did not push him to lose weight?

Do you think Jeremy and Trent should be prosecuted for their role in Butter’s plan?

Discuss this passage on page 29, “When she kissed me on the head and hummed her way out of the kitchen, I dropped my fork at last.  The food didn’t taste as good without an audience.  If I had to be the one to carry the weight, it was only fair that they be forced to watch.”

Discuss how much the online relationship mean to Anna?  How she wanted a boy to like her without knowing what she looked like.

Talk about the day after Butter created the website when he said, “I understood now why the sun had not hidden behind clouds that morning; because it was not a day for gloom.  It was a day for seeing more clearly than ever. (page 86)

Discuss this passage on page 116, “The two faces of my fellow students were so different, I genuinely convinced myself those vultures online were not the same people as the kids suddenly being so nice to me at school, and they couldn’t possibly be the same people who invited me to go bowling on Friday.”

Talk about how Butter’s life improved once he posted the website and how it got worse.

Discuss the statement where “[bullying] sometimes comes in the form of encouragement.” (page 227)

Butter and The Professor discuss how a person’s looks can determine if someone wants to listen to their music.  Think about the artists you listen to.  Does that mean anything to you?

Mobsters, Stolen Art & GeoCashing Make Erin Dionne’s New Book A Fun Read

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking: A 14 Day Mystery

Moxie isn’t afraid to stand up to mean girls, but when a mobster girl dressed in black leather shows up threatening her family, Moxie may have met her match.  Moxie’s grandfather has some secrets.  His has a shady past that has now come knocking.  He has something a mobster wants, but the fact that he has Alzheimer’s is making things extra complicated.  It is up to Moxie and her geocaching best friend, Ollie to find where it is hidden.  To do this, Moxie must break a bunch of family rules, including spilling some family secrets to Ollie.  She has two weeks to find the stolen art her grandfather hid for mobster, Sully Cupcakes, or her family could get hurt.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.   I am a big fan of Erin Dionne and this new book didn’t disappoint.   Moxie is a tough, adventurous girl who loves her grandfather and handles it well when he gets confused about who she is.  She doesn’t lament the fact that she has few friends, instead she has one great friendship that she celebrates.  Moxie uses a math proof to organizer her thoughts while she tries to solve this problem and find the stolen art. Dionne continues to write about smart, interesting female characters.  I highly recommend this book for anyone, not just mystery fans.  Moxie has… well plenty of moxie!

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss the moment when Moxie sees her grandfather turn into a scarier version of himself.  Do you have wonder about your grandparent’s lives and what they were like when they were younger?

Discuss Moxie’s friendship with Ollie.  How will it change when they go to different schools? How having a boy as a BFF different from having  a girl as a BFF?

Talk about keeping family secrets.  Is that more important than safety for Moxie?

Discuss Moxie’s mother’s trouble with watching her father get worse.  How do you think Moxie copes with the loss when her grandfather doesn’t know who she is?

Discuss geocaching.  What would you hide for people to find?  How does this fit the theme of the book?

Moxie struggles with telling her mom about the whole situation and letting her handle it.  What would you do?

Talk about how Moxie isn’t afraid to be snarky with the mean girl, Jolie Pearson.  How would you handle that situation?

Discuss this passage, “As the lies I told piled higher, Grumps and I were becoming more alike in ways I never expected.” (pg 147)

When Moxie is grounded, she is cut off from the internet.  How would you problem solve or find information without technology?

Forget Edward and Jacob… Teen Girls Should Be Falling For Park!

Eleanor & Park

So much has been said about romance whether you are a fan of Twilight or Fifty Shades is more your speed.  But if you crave a beautiful story about real love between two actual human beings, you must pick up this book.  Eleanor and Park are misfits in their own way.  Eleanor is big, red headed and lives in poverty with a frightening step-dad and a gaggle of siblings.  Park is one of the few Asian kids he knows.  He sits alone on the bus in fear of being bullied by kids he may have been friends with in the past.  This is why when Eleanor rides the bus to school for the first time that the seat next to him is the only one available.  Neither one of them has super powers.  Neither one of them is otherworldly attractive.  They are just regular teens on a regular school bus.  At first the two are weirded out by each other.  But Park notices she has The Smiths written on her book.  He can’t believe she has never actually heard them.  Eleanor has a walk man but can’t afford batteries and tapes.  Park decides to make her a mixed tape and give her his batteries.  I love that he goes home and empties out all of the devices in his house to find batteries to give to Eleanor.  That was the moment I know this was going to be a great story.  The two bond over comic books and music.  When they hold hands for the first time it is magical and beautifully expressed in Rainbow Rowell’s writing.  This is teen love in the days before cell phones, texting and social media.  They fall for each other… hard.  This is a story of two people who truly care for each other and are willing to do anything to help each other when times become scary.  This story is very well written by Rowell in alternating voices.  My wish for teen girls… forget Jacob and Edward.  Instead fall in love with Park and also August from John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars.  You will be doing yourselves a favor.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss this passage, “He [Park] knew it was crappy, but he was kind of grateful that people like that girl existed.  Because like Steve and Mikey and Tina existed too, and they needed to be fed.” (pg. 14)

What would you do if Eleanor got on your bus?  Be honest.  Would you offer her a seat?

Talk about poverty and how Eleanor wanted to listen to The Smiths but couldn’t because she didn’t have batteries for her walk man.

Discuss this passage, “Eleanor was right:  She never looked nice.  She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” (pg. 165)

Discuss how Park still wanted popular girl, Tina, to like him.  “He thought he was over caring what people thought about him.  He’d thought that loving Eleanor proved that.  But he kept finding new pockets of shallow inside himself.  He kept finding new ways to betray her.” (pg. 178)

Discuss what Eleanor means when she says her mother won’t leave Richie because she “doesn’t think there’s enough of her left.” (pg. 196)

Discuss when Eleanor says, “There were things worth than selfish.” (pg. 205)

Discuss this passage, “There’s no shame with Park. Nothing is dirty.  Because Park is the sun, and that is the best way she could think to explain it.” (pg. 302)

What do you think Eleanor wrote on the post card?  Would you have made her same decision?