THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

JAY ASHER

Having thoroughly enjoyed the show on TV I wanted to read the book and I wasn’t disappointed. In many ways the book is more coherent than the show which gets caught up in too many time changes and flashbacks. Hanna Baker is a high school student who commits suicide. She leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes, each directed at one person, each giving a reason she had for killing herself. She talks about the rumours and the betrayals she suffered at the hands of people she longed to call her friends. She mails the tapes to Tony who supervises that they get sent on to the next person. Each chaper of the book is the contents of the tape with minimal backup from Clay the boy who tried but failed to befriend her.

The book is as gripping as the tv show. Maybe more so.

WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES

moleculesSUSAN NIELSEN

Molecules is a light, young adult book that is laugh aloud funny yet still able to deal with some challenging issues. The story is told from two points of view: Ashley and Stewart. Stewart is a genius, gifted academically but stunted and awkward socially. Ashley is the complete opposite: she is the queen bee of her grade, doling out social blessings on those she deems acceptable. But her grades are all D’s and C’s. Their families meld because Steward’s Mom died a year earlier and Ashley’s Dad moved into the garage because he’s gay. Ashley is horrified of the thought that people at school might find out her dad is gay. In many ways the story is unrealistic but it is still fun. So when you are in the mood for something light….

A WORK OF ART

MELODY MAYSONETwork

Tera is an artist like her dad. She has always worked hard for his approval. He has sculpted her and her abilities at the expense of the mother who he calls crazy. The father is manipulative and cunning, pitting his daughter against her mother. He convinces not only Tera that her mother is crazy, but also the mother herself. Tera is willing to do anything, even when it feels wrong, to win her father’s approval. Tera has been accepted with scholarship to a prestigious art school in France. She finally sees the pride in his eyes. Her world is coming together until her father is arrested for child pornography.  Tera puts her entire future on hold to prove his innocence. In the process she starts to doubt he is innocent. As she explores her budding sexuality memories that hold secrets from Tera’s past come to light. Nothing is right anymore and Tera must find her way through the mess of her life.

Well written Art is a page turner.

TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME

wolvesCAROL RIFKA BRUNT

1987, AIDS is misunderstood and prejudice is running wild. At first I asked why would anyone want to document this sad and depressing time but of course we need to know where we came from to appreciate where we are now. June had a special relationship with her uncle and god-father, respected painter Finn Weiss. When he died of an AIDS related condition her mother pointed out the man who killed him, who gave him AIDS, Finn’s partner Toby. Gradually June and Finn begin to develop a relationship. June learns that the reason she never knew about Toby, essentially her uncle’s husband, was because it was the only way her mother would let her brother Finn have a relationship with June and her older sister Greta. It is interesting to see June assess the situation and come to her own conclusions.

“Toby was right. Finn was my first love. But Toby, he was my second. And the sadness in that stretched like a thin cold river down the length of my whole life.”

Wolves is a YA novel but has much to offer adults.

BELZHAR

belzharMEG WOLITZER

“Words matter. This what (the teacher) has basically been saying from the start. Words matter. All semester we were looking for the words to say what we needed to say. We were looking for the our voice.” Belzhar is about the power of writing and the power of books. The narrator of the novel, Jamaica “Jam” Gallahue, is enrolled at The Wooden Barn in Vermont, an institution dedicated to the care of “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers.” The Wooden Barn is the type of sanctuary a sensitive, difficult and well-to-do teenager is shuttled off to when, as Jam’s mother puts it, “We don’t know what else to do with you, babe!” She has been chosen for a peculiar class, Special Topics in English, where only a few select students will study with a respected, older teacher, to study only one writer in-depth. This year the poetess Sylvia Plath has been chosen for study. Journals are distributed for twice weekly writing about any topic. Each student in the group has suffered a life-altering calamity and when they write in their journal they go back to the time of their trauma to relive the time before it happened. Belzhar (pronounced BEL-jhar in homage to Plath’s “The Bell Jar”) is their code name for this trance state. When they return from Belzhar exactly five pages have been written in their journals, about what they did in the trance.

Wolitzer is a great writer. At times Belzhar was a page turner. Had I known it was a young adult book I likely wouldn’t have read it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

RANSOM RIGGS

Jacob has grown up listening to his grandfather’s strange stories, although as he grows into his later teens he doesn’t believe the stories
the way he used toas boy. When he witnesses his  grandfather’s death by a vicious attack by one of the strange monsters form the stories he is both confused and inquisitive. Haunted by his grandfather’s last words, Jacob is determined to find out the truth.

Jacob manages to convince his therapist and his parents that a holiday away from home in a remote island off the coast of Wales is just what he needs to clear his head. Once he’s there, however, he realises that all his grandfather’s stories were true. Peppered with creepy photographs, the story is one of adventure and fantasy. Jacob is a great narrator, one who’ll appeal to children and adults. On the island, he finally feels like he’s found a place where he belongs and a sense of purpose in his life. Despite the image on the cover, this is not a horror story. It is more a magical fantasy world that we enter when we go with Jacob into Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The book is fill will unusual pictures. The story is quirky and fun. Meant for teens, it is still an  enjoyable fantasy for adults.

SHINE

Patrick is a victim of a gay bashing hate crime. He was beaten tied to a gas pump with the nozzle taped into his mouth, suck on this was written in his own blood on his chest and then left to die. Now he is in a coma, and sixteen-year-old Cat, his former best friend, is investigating what really happened. The police are incompetent and want to believe that it was out of town boys who came looking for trouble and who can never be found. It sounds pretty clear-cut, but it’s more complicated than that. There’s all sorts of relationship dynamics between the inhabitants of this small town, and, of course, there’s the small-town mentality that Cat needs to overcome, especially considering that Patrick was supposedly attacked because he’s a homosexual.

Cat is threatened when she asks too many questions, but the threats only make her angrier and more determined to find the answers. In the process of digging up information about Patrick’s attack, Cat also has to dig up her own past and the emotions she buried a long time ago.

This is the town that Cat grew up in; these are people that she knows and have relationships with. Some of them she’s had bad experiences with; some were her former best friends. There  is a lot of emotional depth in the young adult novel. Ironically the novel is essentially about a gay youth but he is barely in the book.

Well worth the read.

ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY NOT …… GAY

DAVID LAROCHELLE

Steven begins by clearly asserting that he is absolutely, positively not gay. He is able to rationalize with great aplomb his attraction to men, his love of square dancing, and the fact that he’s never shown an interest in girls. But when he begins to question his own excuses, Steven launches into a hilarious series of events in an effort to assert his heterosexuality. But everything intended to bring what he believes to be his “latent” attraction to girls to the forefront — a dismal attempt to bond with the overly-manly hockey team, a series of dates with as many girls as he can round up — ends in complete failure. When he invents a girlfriend named Kelly to take to a school dance in order to throw his mother off the scent (he ends up taking his best friend’s golden retriever named Kelly as a “statement”), he is forced to at last confront the fact that he is gay.

When he tells his best friend Rachel that he is gay, her reaction is finally! In fact her whole family parents and little brother think it is about time he realized that he was gay.Rachel is a real go getter. She immediately want to form a gay-straight alliance in their high school which horrifies Steven.

Steven  reminds me of Raj in The Big Bang Theory who in one show will exclaim to himself, “I am so not gay” but in the next episode he will be the only one who raises his hand when the group is asked who likes puffy sleeves for bridesmaids.

It’s a great coming out story for teens. It won an American Library Association Best Book for Young adults.

GREG HERREN

Eric wakes up in the hospital with no memory of how he got there or who he is or who that strange woman is who is crying. He doesn’t even remember who his mother is. Total amnesia. He doesn’t remember that there was another boy, Sean, in his car who died of gunshot wound before the crash. That is the mystery, who killed Sean and why and what was he doing with Eric?As memories start to return he finds that he doesn’t like the person who he was: a gay bashing bully. He wonders why he was like that.

One weak theme in the novel that never went anywhere was when Eric came out of his coma he had some psychic abilities. He could see the future in dreams and he could read people’s minds when their hands touched. The novel would have been better without this especially since it wasn’t explained but just left dangling.

A most interesting point of view.

SCHOOLED

GORDON KORMAN

Schooled is a truly entertaining and moving novel written for the young adult market but can be enjoyed by all. Capricorn has been raised all his thirteen years on a back to the land, hippy commune called Garland. Completely isolated from the outside world, Cap has been home schooled by his Grandmother, Rain. Rain has taught Cap how full of evil the world is: competition, violence, capitalism, greed, hunger, cities etc. But when Rain falls and breaks her hip, Cap drives her to the hospital. Rain taught him to drive when he was eight. Rain needs to be hospitalized for several weeks for rehabilitation so social services needs to find a place for Cal. The social worker, Flora, had spent her formative years in Garland also so as soon as she saw Cap she knew what was going down. Flora elects to keep Cal in her home in order to better protect him.

At school, the students always pick the biggest looser to be the class president as a year long humiliation. This year it  was to be Hugh. That is until Cal showed up.

A definite must read despite its week ending. Also read Korman’s SON OF THE MOB. It is funnier than Schooled.

MONEY BOY

PAUL YEE

On the surface Ray Liu appears to be living a normal immigrant life: learning English, going to school, working in the family business. School is difficult for for Ray. Despite how much his father pushes him, Ray can’t keep up to his stepbrother who is the family favourite. When his father finds gay oriented websites in his browser history he kicks Ray out of the house. The few possessions that he takes are soon stolen. Not knowing what else to do Ray turns to prostitution. “In China boys who sell sex to men are called money boys, while those who offer services to women are called ducks.”

Well worth the read.

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE

GENE LUEN YANG

American Born skillfully weaves the stories of Jin Wang who desperately wants to fit in with his peers at school and and the mythological story of the Monkey King. When his family moves from San Francisco’s Chinatown to an exclusively white suburb Jin finds ridicule and social isolation in the casual racism of teenagers. Danny is a popular blond, blue-eyed high school jock. His social status is jeopardized when his goofy, embarrassing Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee, enrolls at his high school. Chin-Kee is a combination of all Chinese stereotypes. Quite hilarious though painful. The Monkey King is unsatisfied with his current sovereign and desperately longs to be elevated to the status of a god but because of “racism” is not allowed to join the ranks of the gods.

This book was ordered for my son’s book club and I quite enjoyed it.