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.”

 

All The Bright Places By Jennifer Nevin Is The “It” Young Adult Novel for 2015

All the Bright Places

Jennifer Nevin’s beautifully told All The Bright Places is the teen book to read in 2015.  It will be compared to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park.  But this book stands on its own as a brilliantly crafted love story about two non perfect people who save each other with a non fairy tale ending.  Violet is dealing with incredible pain since losing her older sister in a car accident several months before.  She finds herself at the top of the bell tower at her school along with the school “freak” Finch.  Finch isn’t really sure why he is up there.  Maybe he will jump, but Violet distracts him and he talks her back off the ledge.  Everyone things she is the hero who saves the nut job boy who is always acting crazy when it is really the other way around.  Finch describes his life in times where he feels awake and others where he feels asleep.  It is an asleep day that he finds himself at the top of the tower.  But something about Violet brings him back.  He pursues this shy and troubled girl.  They start a project together where they are supposed to wander around Indiana and discover new things.  Violet won’t ride in a car.  Slowly Finch brings her out of her shell and they beautifully fall in love.  It is told in different points of view, alternating between Finch and Violet.  This is another swoon-worthly, YA love story.  Finch is right up there with Park and Augustus Waters.  Finch’s problems are very real and painful.  This is another read that will hollow you out.  It is gut wrenching and hopeful at the same time.  Nevin deals with very deep content from bullying to mental illness to suicide.  Everyone should read this!

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

What are your first impressions of Finch and Violet?

Discuss when Finch goes running to “outrun the words.”  Discuss the passage from page 63.

Discuss Finch’s awake vs. asleep.

Discuss when Finch distracts everyone from Violet dropping her books.

Why do you think Gabe Romero bullies Finch.  Why does it seem the school does nothing?

Explore their wanderings through Indiana.  Backyard Rollar Coaster

Discuss when Finch says, “the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.” pg. 34

Discuss how Violet and Finch’s relationship evolves throughout the story.

How did they change each other?

Discuss this passage,  “What if we could just cut out the bad and keep the good?  This is what I want to do with Violet – give her only the good, keep away the bad, so that good is all we ever have around us.”

Discuss “The cadence of suffering has begun.  I am in pieces.” pg. 297

Discuss Violet and Finch’s conversation about the black hole.

Read aloud and discuss Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Read out loud Finch’s email to Violet on page 327 and discuss the quotes from The Waves.

Discuss this passage, “Your hope lies in accepting your life as it now lies before you, forever changed.  If you can do that, the peace you seek will follow.” pg 349

 

 

 

 

2013 Printz Winner Takes On Somali Pirates In This Gripping New Teen Read In Hostage Three

Hostage Three

I so enjoyed Nick Lake’s In Darkness, I was thrilled to get a copy of Hostage Three from his publisher.  Hostage Three is an intense, fast moving story of Amy whose family’s yacht is taken by Somali pirates.  Amy is extremely wealthy but her life has not been easy.  Her brilliant but emotionally unstable mother is no longer with her and a new stepmother is on the scene.  We first meet Amy when she has a gun to her head.  The narrative then jumps to events before the yacht trip right before she takes her final exams, showing up to school with a face full of piercings and a cigarette to light up during the test.  She gets her kicked out on her last day.  Surprisingly her workaholic father decides to take a year off and sail around the world in a luxurious yacht called the Daisy Mae.  The voyage must pass near Yemen and Somalia, putting the passengers and crew at risk for pirates.  Although they take precautions, they are taken.  This is a terrifying and high intensity scene.  Amy befriends Farouz, the pirate who speaks English and acts as a translator.  As their friendship deepens the story of the pirates becomes less black and white and introduces us to why this way of life came to be.  This is a complicated love story and a story of loss as we learn more about Amy’s mother.   This book is full of well researched stories and the reader will learn a great deal about Somalia and the history of the pirates.  I enjoyed the stories from Somalia such as The Camel and the love story between Arabia and Africa that created Somali’s culture. I also enjoyed how music played a part in the friendship between Farouz and Amy. From the first page to the last, I didn’t want to put it down.  I even put off watching the mid season finale of The Walking Dead to finish it. I highly recommend this book.  It is one of my favorites from 2013.

Ideas for discussing with teens:

What would it be like to have wealth like Amy?  How does that help or hurt her?

Why do you think she got all of those piercings and messed up her exam at the last minute?

Talk about Amy’s feelings for Farouz.

Talk about the story of the camel tail in the sky.

Discuss the significance of Amy’s birthday cake.  Talk about what everyone went through to make it happen.  Why do you think it was that important.

Discuss Amy’s Before and After.

Discuss how Farouz became a pirate.  Do the ends justify the means?

Discuss Amy and Farouz’s love of music and their instruments.

Discuss when Amy’s mother said the turtle was telling her to hold on. (Page 156)

Discuss this passage, “I closed my eyes.  Dad was wrong and the stepmother was wrong:  I wasn’t self-destructive, and I didn’t have a death wish.  I knew it most fiercely in that moment – not because I wasn’t scared, but because I was excited.  I wanted to live.  I wanted to experience everything.”  (Page 254)

Discuss the end of the book when Amy says, “Mom and Farouz, they will be my hostages.  I will carry them round inside me, secretly, and never let them go, only ever keep them safe.” (Page 368)

John Green’s Best Book Yet! Please Don’t Read This Post Until You’ve Read The Book

 John Green sums up my feelings about his new book, The Fault In Our Stars, in one of his quotes, ” Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all humans read the book.”  I am a huge fan of John Green.  I’ve loved all of his books for his brilliant writing, hilarious moments of humor, highly intelligent girl characters, and deep human connections.  This book is my new favorite.  16-year-old Hazel has cancer.  She’s had it for a long time and will for however much longer she will live.  She is sheltered.  She attends college classes with her oxygen tank in tow, but her main social interaction is her parents.  Her mother makes her attend a support group, one that is normally depressing and boring.  That is until one day when Isaac brings his friend Augustus.  Augustus is a cancer survivor.  He won’t stop staring at Hazel, which both thrills her and freaks her out at the same time.  You see… Augustus is gorgeous.  With Augustus, Hazel’s world expands as she explores a deep friendship and love.  I don’t want to say more than that.  Sometimes you just have to experience the book and anything I have to say about their beautiful relationship would not give it justice.  Hazel has a favorite book about a girl struggling with cancer.  The author never wrote a follow up and Hazel would love to know what happened to the characters.  When she has a chance to meet her favorite author, who is a bit of a recluse, it makes for an odd experience.  While reading that section I thought about the time I met John Green, who is one of my favorite authors.  He came to my library to talk to teens.  He was extraordinary with them.  Afterward staff had lunch with him and we had a wonderful talk.  He was just as personable and funny as he is on his you tube videos.  I made him a cake that looked like the cover of Looking For Alaska, which would seem weird for anyone who is not part of his fan community.  He told me the cake tasted awesome and seemed to really mean it.  So my experience meeting a noteworthy person I admire was the opposite of Hazel’s.  I felt fully immersed in reading this book.  The characters seemed so real to me and I felt great sadness when they were in pain and struggled.  Teens will love this book, but I am glad I read it as an adult.  When you are a parent and you read this you get another perspective.  Reading this book was a rich experience.  I worried about the characters in between my times to read and couldn’t wait to pick it back up.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Hazel says of her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, “There are books which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”  Discuss.

Talk about Hazel and Augustus’s connection.  Have you ever had that kind of relationship with someone?  If not, what do you think it would be like?

Compare Augustus to other boys in YA novels you’ve read. 

Talk about the breakup between Isaac and his girlfriend, Monica.  Why would that happen?  Would you do the same thing?

Discuss when Hazel tells Isaac, “Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them.”

Discuss when Augustus says to Isaac, “That’s the thing about pain.  It demands to be felt.”

Talk about when Augustus and Hazel are in the Anne Frank House and they overhear Otto Frank say, “Most parents don’t know really their children.”

Discuss Hazel’s curiosity about Augustus’s late girlfriend.

Talk about when Hazel met Peter Van Houten.  What would it be like to meet someone you admire?  Do you think you would be disappointed?

Do you watch America’s Next Top Model?

Interesting Teen Read About Death And What Comes After

Madison wants to be clear.  She is dead.  She is stuck in a dark place pulsing with energy.  The only things she sees are lost items from her life.  Each one takes her back to a moment when she was alive.  A lost orchid takes her back to getting to know Gabe, her boyfriend.  A rattle takes her back to when she was an infant.  Only when she revisits a hair clip she lost at a slumber party does she encounter another ghost.  As the girls play with a Oujia Board, Madison realizes she is not the only spirit watching this scene.  Using the board, the ghost reveals she’s Tammy and that she’s sorry Madison is dead.  Madison has no idea what happened to her, but she does not have any memories past the age 17.  Her lost physics homework takes her to Gabe, who she soon realizes is also dead.  Together they witness what ended Madison’s life.  Only then can they move onto the Everafter.

I really liked how the author uses lost items to connect Madison back to her life.  The nonlinear story telling keeps us guessing about what happened to Madison.  It also gives us glimpses about Madison as Huntley slowly builds her as a character.  I love it when a young adult writers use the classics as their muse.  Huntley shares the Emily Dickenson poem,  “My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close.”  Madison uses this poem to write an English paper, somehow forshadowing what is to come.

“My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me,”   – Dickenson

Some Ideas For Discussion With Teens:

If appropriate, talk about how the teen’s beliefs about the afterlife differ from the author’s idea.  Or maybe they are the same.

Talk about the Emily Dickinson poem and about how that forshadows two deaths.  What could the third even be?

Why do you think the author chose lost things as a way to reconnect with life?

Which lost item affected you the most?

Think of a lost item from your own life that is significant.

Discuss the Ouiji Board and how the game is played. 

It took a while for the cause of Madison’s death to be revealed.  How did you think she died?  Did you expect what happened?