A blog about books. Oh, and some other stuff too.

For the 10th Day of #Bookmas…


As you know by now, we are celebrating all things bookish by recognizing the 12 days of Bookmas, the most wonderful time of the year. This year I’m profiling a small selection of favourite things on a theme, based on what I’ve read and enjoyed (or even what’s been recommended to me by trusted advisors) in 2015. To me, Bookmas goes beyond Christmas Day until the end of the holidays themselves. If you have suggestions or recommendations for topics, please leave them in the comments.

Today’s theme is Books That Bring out Your Inner Teen

Sometimes when we go home for the holidays, we become the person we were in high school. Whether or note that’s a good thing depends on you – but let’s hope this time you remember to do the dishes without being asked. In honour of that return to our teenage years, here’s a few great books for teens that I wish had been around when I was in high school.

dumplinSelf-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

What can I say about Dumplin’, except that it was one of those books that made me laugh and cry at the same time, and wish that I had read it during high school to make me stronger? Tiff at Mostly YA Lit wrote a wonderful review about why she loved this book so much, and a lot of what she felt about this book was also how I felt, so I won’t belabour the point except to say that any book that promotes body positivity while identifying that event the most confident of us have days where we hate what we look like is well worth reading. When you factor in drag queens, best friend drama, Dolly Parton, grief and first love that is all handled with wit, dignity and gentle respect, it transcends into something even better.

This is the book that you hand to your niece, your god-daughter, your little sister, your best friend’s daughter, the neighbour’s kid down the street, and to the kids you teach in your own classes.

Dumplin’ is published by HarperCollins Canada. ISBN: 9780062327185, 375 pages. 

scorpion rulesThe world is at peace, said the Utterances. And really, if the odd princess has a hard day, is that too much to ask? Greta is a duchess and crown princess—and a hostage to peace. This is how the game is played: if you want to rule, you must give one of your children as a hostage. Go to war and your hostage dies.

Greta will be free if she can survive until her eighteenth birthday. Until then she lives in the Precepture school with the daughters and sons of the world’s leaders. Like them, she is taught to obey the machines that control their lives. Like them, she is prepared to die with dignity, if she must. But everything changes when a new hostage arrives. Elián is a boy who refuses to play by the rules, a boy who defies everything Greta has ever been taught. And he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the system they live under—and to her own power.

As Greta and Elián watch their nations tip closer to war, Greta becomes a target in a new kind of game. A game that will end up killing them both—unless she can find a way to break all the rules.

The Scorpion Rules was the book that EK Johnston told me that I had to read. Then it was the book that my Simon & Schuster Canada reps couldn’t stop talking about, and it was the book that had huge banners at BEA. When I realized that it was by Erin Bow, author of Plain Kate, I knew it was jumping to the top of my reading pile. It’s ended up being one of my top five books of the year for so many reasons, not the least of which is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve read in years.

Using historical events as a background, Bow creates an entirely new yet familiar world that asks what happens after the wars, and how do we decipher the shades of grey to decide between what is “good” and “evil”. Greta and Elian are pawns, but they are also more in charge of their destiny than they will admit. Talis is the most charming and amoral villain (and I use that designation only because I can’t think of an alternative) that I’ve ever encountered, and WWTD (What Would Talis Do) continues to be played by friends.

I won’t say too much (spoilers) except to say that the writing is lyrical, the worldbuilding frighteningly possible, the torture excruciating in its simplicity (since I now live above an apple cider pressing facility, it’s especially spooky) and the characters multi-faceted and intriguing. In high school, at a time when I was devouring Day of the Triffids and the Chrysalids, this would have been catnip for me.  That it’s only book one of a planned series makes me hungry for the next.

The Scorpion Rules is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, and distributed by Simon & Schuster Canada. ISBN: 9781481442718, 384 pages.

I of ASix months ago, the men of the lakelands marched south to fight a dark god. Weeks after the final battle was won, sixteen-year-old Hallie and her sister, Marthe, are still struggling to maintain their family farm—and are waiting for Marthe’s missing husband to return. After a summer of bitter arguments, Hallie is determined to get Roadstead Farm through the winter—and keep what’s left of her family together, despite an inheritance destined to drive them apart.

But when Hallie hires a wandering veteran in a bid to save the farm, every phantom the men marched south to fight arrives at her front gate. Spider-eyed birds circle the fields, ghostly messages writes themselves on the riverbank, and soon Hallie finds herself keeping her new hired hand’s despite desperate secrets—and taking dangerous risks. But as she fights to keep both the farm and her new friend safe, ugly truths about her own family are emerging—truths that, amid gods, monsters, and armies, might tear Roadstead Farm apart.

Leah Bobet’s stark, beautiful fantasy explores the aftermath of the battles we fight and the slow, careful ways love can mend broken hearts—and a broken world.

Bobet’s second novel reads like poetry to me. The world-building is so strong and vivid that I could feel the brush of wings burning my shoulder as I turned the pages, and the characters spoke to me as if they were at my kitchen table.

The emotional resonance of this book appeals not only to teens but to anyone who has suffered a loss, felt alone or longed to find their place in the world. There are secrets that are kept – not only because they are too terrible to consider saying aloud, but also because saying them may make the reality come true.  As much as there is sadness, there is also hope and determination in this narrative. There is a need to not succumb to the darkness, and to fight the past in order to move forward.

An Inheritance of Ashes has been re-read over and over again, and even in high school I would have wept for the sense of loneliness and longing within Hallie, for the broken relationship between the sisters, for Marthe’s grief over her missing husband. Again, one of my top five books of the year, and one that should be on your list no matter your age.

An Inheritance of Ashes is published by Clarion Books, and distributed by Scholastic Books Canada. ISBN: 9780544281110, 391 pages

every last wordSamantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

There are some books that you stumble across and you realize that you have found a gem – books that speak to you like nothing before, and books that you want to hand off to individuals you know will appreciate them. While Every Last Word may fall under the banner of “YA Issues” books, author Tamara Ireland Stone has given us a heartfelt and intriguing look into the world of OCD as a teenager.

Sam is a highly relatable character; she desperately wants to stay with her cool kids friends, but knows that they aren’t a healthy match for her. She struggles daily with OCD issues, and despite being conscientious about visiting with her psychiatrist, she can’t turn off the thoughts in her head. What I love about this book is how supportive her family is of Sam and her ongoing struggles, and how Sam develops as a character. Her relationship with the other students in Poet’s Corner, as well as her conversations with Caroline allow us to see a more intimate side to Sam, and your heart will ache for her as she begins to find out who she really is after all.

Every Last Word is published by Disney Hyperion and distributed by Canada Manda Group. ISBN: 9781484705278, 365 pages. 

Honourable Mention

rest of usA new YA novel from novelist Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal- and Kate Greenaway Medal-winning A Monster Calls and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

I wanted to profile The Rest of Us Just Live Here, but then this very excellent review was posted by Carrie S at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and I really think that it sums up all the reasons why you should read this book. Smart, funny, honest, and a completely different perspective, it’s another top pick of the year for me.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is published by HarperTeen and distributed by HarperCollins Canada. ISBN: 9780062415639, 336 pages. 


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