Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a quick read. Turn each page to follow the protagonist Eric Calhoun (nicknamed Moby, like the whale) as he moves with wit, compassion, and purpose through his senior year of high school. Understand his protective feelings for his childhood friend, Sarah Byrnes. As a toddler, her face was severely scarred by an accident in the kitchen; her father refused reconstructive surgery. Although damage was done to her psyche as well as her body, Sarah pursues academic excellence. Eric/Moby suffers from obesity until he swims pounds off on the high school swim team. Then, instead of developing a tapered swimmer’s body, he decides to overeat and stay a “misfit” with his friend, Sarah. Eric eventually discovers Sarah’s dark secret. Since for him “what’s known can’t be unknown,” he is propelled into saving Sarah’s life although it may sever their friendship, and puts them both in danger. This story features drama, destruction, change, and hope, and emphasizes the value of help from buddies and caring adults.
Crutcher draws on his experiences as a family therapist to develop his characters. Readers should be prepared for some foul language, unflinching portrayals of abuse of family members, bigotry, hatred, depression, and even death. Crutcher’s characters also consider other serious social issues, including religion and abortion. Be prepared to think about how YOU treat others. Finally, be prepared to cheer for the survivors in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.
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Every school has them, the popular clique of girls whom everyone wants to date or be best friends with. The Pretty Little Devils (PLDs) are such a group of girls, at Brookhaven High School in California. While they are pretty and intelligent, they are also manipulative, and can get away with anything, maybe even murder.
Hazel is at first on the outside looking in at the PLDs, like the other less popular students at Brookhaven, until she is noticed by the group’s leader and brought in as their newest member. This is just the change Hazel has hoped for. She wants new friends to help boost her status at Brookhaven, in order to make the most of her high school years. She gets what she wants but, as is so often the case, she doesn’t know what to do with it once she gets it. She soon realizes that she might be in over her head. Hazel tries to make the best of it, but when a rival of the PLDs turns up dead she wonders just how far the girls are willing to go to rule the school. Could one of them be capable of murder?
This book reads a bit like a teen horror movie from the 90s, one that I might have seen during my own (less murderous) high school days. Teens behaving badly and the desire for popularity are merged seamlessly here with death and deceit. By the end the mystery is solved, and the story comes to a conclusion, but room is definitely left for a sequel. This would be a good read for those who don’t want too much realism in their murder mystery, as just enough of a teen romantic-comedy is mixed in to be appealing.
Check the WRL catalog for Pretty Little Devils
When Margo Roth Spiegelman shows up at your window in the middle of the night, you go with her, even if her plans for the evening involve thirteen pounds of dead catfish. Margo Roth Spiegelman is just that cool. She is the Chuck Norris of high school girls.
Quentin, known to his friends as Q, has known Margo his whole life (as nine-year-olds, they discovered a body in the park together), but it’s been a long time since they’ve really connected. Suddenly he’s invited to help her carry out an epic, elevenfold plan of revenge against her ex and the ex’s new girlfriend. Then they break into SeaWorld. Surely this is the beginning of a whole new phase of their friendship? Maybe more?
Not so fast, Q. He’s the only one who shows up at school the next day. Margo vanishes, and Q, a guy with a bad case of putting his girl on a pedestal, is left to figure out why. The answer kind of depends on the answer to another, more psychological question: who is Margo, beneath the surface, and is she really anything like the captivating legend that he believes in?
All of Green’s novels are funny and thoughtful by turns; I like them best for the esoteric facts you pick up from his geek characters. This one also has (sub)urban exploration, spelunking in abandoned mini-malls, obsessive consulting and editing of Wikipedia “Omnictionary” entries, a death-defying road trip, and brilliant use of an obscure mapmaker’s term: the paper town.
Check the WRL catalog for Paper Towns
Or check the WRL catalog for the audiobook
In the history of star-crossed loves, the story of Miranda and Zachary ranks right up there with Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, or perhaps more appropriately, Buffy and Angel, with a bit of role reversal. Miranda is a vampire and Zachary is an angel, but their story doesn’t start out that way. Miranda was a human girl, with the human desire to win a role in her high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Zachary was her guardian angel. When Miranda bombs her audition she meets up with her best friend Lucy for a pity party that goes horribly wrong. They meet video store employee Kurt while browsing the horror aisle, and he convinces them to meet him in the cemetery at midnight. When is that ever a good idea? Upon reaching the cemetery, Miranda and Lucy are inevitably attacked by a vampire and Zachary, in his role as Miranda’s angel, does his best to protect her. Unfortunately, in his fervor Zachary reveals his true form, which Lucy sees, and as punishment he loses his powers and is cast out of Heaven. Zachary’s attention is diverted for mere seconds, and yet the vampire has escaped and Miranda is nowhere to be found.
Then the real story begins. In order to regain his powers, Zachary is given one final mission, a mission which leads him to Miranda, who has not only become a vampire, but is the vampire daughter of the King of the Mantle of Dracul. Zachary again undertakes the task of keeping Miranda on the straight and narrow, which is not a path typically walked by a vampire. Miranda, who never knew Zachary existed before her death, much less that he was her guardian angel, finds herself strangely wanting to live up to his expectations of her. What would her father think? It’s hardly the behavior of vampire royalty.
Check the WRL catalog for Eternal.
This alternate World War I adventure kicks off with a middle-of-the-night escapade in an AT-ST walker a two-legged stalking tank, followed by aerial acrobatics aboard a living hydrogen balloon. If you enjoyed the mid-air hoverboard chases that are half the fun of Westerfeld’s Uglies series, this first installment in a trilogy should be an easy sell.
The point-of-view alternates between teenagers on opposite sides of the impending war. Fifteen-year-old Alek is a disinherited Hapsburg princeling who might yet prove himself heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Deryn Sharp, also 15, has just disguised herself as a boy to take the entrance exams for the British Air Service, which, for reasons that will be explained in the next paragraph, is largely composed of jellyfish hydrogen-breathing living airships.
Scientists in this version of England have taken Darwin’s theory of evolution and run with it, creating genetically-engineered animal hybrids like lupine tigeresques for industrial and military use. The Leviathan of the title is both a warship and a floating ecosystem—a whale-based zeppelin powered by bacteria and armed with strafing hawks and fléchette bats, the completely, disgustingly organic Gatling guns of the skies. Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the other hand, reject meddling with DNA in favor of good old-fashioned mechanical engineering, although their fleet of multilegged armored vehicles has its own stalking and clanking charm.
As usual, Westerfeld delivers a fast-moving story in which the characters are constantly imperiled. The fun, novel setting plays to Westerfeld’s strengths: his powers of invention and a fantastic ear for slang. So far this is a Great War scenario with a very light touch.
Check the WRL catalog for Leviathan.
Nightshade, California, the setting of Dead is the New Black, shares quite a bit in common with another strange California town. No, I don’t mean L.A. I’m referring to Sunnydale, CA. For those who don’t get the reference, Sunnydale is a fictional town, and the home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Like Sunnydale, Nightshade has its share of, well, shady characters. There are vampires, werewolves, psychics, and cheerleaders. And as Sunnydale has Buffy, so Nightshade has Daisy. Only Daisy doesn’t have any superpowers. In fact, she’s the only one in her family without them. Daisy’s mother and oldest sister are psychic, her other sister is telekinetic, and her father doesn’t count, since he disappeared years ago (not magically – popular opinion is that he ran off with another woman).
Daisy’s trouble begins not with the vampires, werewolves, or psychics, but the shady cheerleaders. One in particular. Samantha Devereaux, the school’s most popular girl, head cheerleader, and Daisy’s former best friend, shows up on the first day of school looking dead on her feet. Literally. She’s pale, she only wears black, and she wheels a coffin around with her wherever she goes. Daisy’s conclusion? Samantha has become a vampire, and to prove it she goes as far as joining the cheerleading squad. There’s an opening for a replacement, as one of the cheerleaders has fallen mysteriously ill. Could she have been bitten by Samantha? And what about the corpse Daisy saw move in the morgue. Could it have been one of Samantha’s minions? Daisy may not have superpowers, but she’ll use the power of deduction to solve this mystery.
This is a quick, fun read, and a lighthearted alternative to the darker supernatural fiction that has gained popularity in YA lately. This book is followed up by Dead is a State of Mind.
Check the WRL catalog for Dead is the New Black.
It’s only his first day of high school, but Arnold “Junior” Spirit has had enough.
His underfunded school is on the Spokane Indian reservation, where Junior’s whole family lives within five miles of where they were born. His mother would have been a teacher, his father would have been a musician, and his sister would have been a romance novelist… if they’d gone to college, if they hadn’t been alcoholics, if they hadn’t been depressed, if they’d had any hope left.
Junior doesn’t have much going for him: a skinny, poor kid with a big head, allergies, bad eyes, a stutter, and a lisp. But he’s the most hopeful person in his family, maybe the most hopeful kid on his reservation, and he doesn’t want to stay on the reservation for the rest of his life. He asks his parents for a transfer to all-white Reardan High, where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Now his best friend thinks he’s a traitor, and the kids at Reardon think he’s a freak. It’s going to be one of the roughest years of his life.
It’s also very funny. Junior’s narration is conversational, ironic, blunt and hilarious, even and maybe especially when his life is the pits. This is such a guy book, complete with hormones, uncouth language and fart noises, and guys attempting to negotiate complicated emotions via fistfights and basketball games. But they are EPIC basketball games, man; they are Shakespearean conflicts on the court.
Book versus audiobook? Here’s the dilemma: the book is illustrated with Junior’s cartoons, but the audiobook is read by Sherman Alexie. Sure, the cartoons add something personal to Junior’s story, but so does hearing it read by the author with gung-ho enthusiasm. Sherman Alexie owns this story. You can’t lose either way.
Check the WRL catalog for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Or check out the audiobook
People often wish they could know what others are thinking, but what if you could see the dreams of others? How would you cope with seeing the subconscious of your best friend, worst enemy, or crush acted out in front of your eyes?
Janie has been able to see dreams since December 23, 1996. She was eight years old, riding the bus with her mother, when she entered the dream of another bus passenger. It was a classic bad dream: the dreamer is unprepared for a presentation and discovers that they are standing in front of a group of people wearing only their underwear. This is only the first of many times that she is drawn into the dream of another.
Janie can become a part of any dreamer’s dream, but while inside, she can only act as a spectator, and cannot manipulate what she experiences. She becomes trapped in the dream until it reaches a conclusion or the sleeper wakes. In the physical world, she is paralyzed, unable to control herself or her ability. She learns to keep a distance from sleepers, as proximity will affect her connection to their dreams.
All of this changes when Janie shares the dream of Cabel, a boy from school. Cabel dreams about a monster, a man with knives for fingers lurking in his backyard. Janie experiences his dream as she usually does, but in this dream a second version of her is present. Cabel is dreaming about her. She watches as Cabel asks the dream-Janie for help. Janie has feelings for Cabel, and wants to help him overcome whatever real-life fear his subconscious is interpreting as a monster, but she cannot risk anyone finding out about her secret.
All of this fantasy is mixed seamlessly with a story about teenagers in high school, including the usual: parties, after school jobs, class trips, first loves, and rivalries. Throw in a twist at the end, and you get quite an intriguing story.
Check the WRL catalog for Wake.