Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is that rarest of young adult books; one about normal teens in a small town wasteland, quietly struggling with sadness and pain and the realization that darkness is part of many of us, hidden just below the surface. It's a book that doesn't sugarcoat the problems the characters face, but also doesn't exploit them- you can understand the quiet desperation and the need to make a change, if only you could just figure out how.
Lydia, Dillard and Travis are three friends united by their outsider statuses- Lydia for her outrageous fashion sense and smarts(not an easy thing in rural Tennessee, apparently), Travis by his love of a Game of Thrones-type fantasy world, Internet girlfriend, and ever-present wood staff, and Dill by his preacher father's horrific fall from grace and his family's long, dark past. The three form an unlikely triangle, with each holding up the others as they navigate the end of high school and the difficulties of rural life. Religion and faith play a large part in The Serpent King, but it's never trivialized or ridiculed, and it's a testament to first-time author Zentner's skills that he writes Dill's faith with sensitivity even in the face of powerful external forces.
The Serpent King is a powerful debut novel, and I can't wait to see where Mr. Zentner goes from here.
Banned Books Week isn’t over yet, so here’s one more
interesting, if controversial book to add to our blog discussion.
It’s no secret that I am a fan of graphic novels, and teen
books, so it’s no surprise that I gravitated towards This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her
cousin Jillian Tamaki. This beautiful book was initially very well received,
winning the 2015 Printz Honor Award for best teen book, based on literary
merit, and the Caldecott award for its stunning illustrations.
However, earlier this year the book was banned at parents’
request in libraries in Minnesota and Florida for its profanity and mature
themes. Honestly, most of the upset was probably due to misunderstanding.
Because the book is a Caldecott winner, an honor usually bestowed upon children’s
books, people probably read it, and took offense that the subject matter wasn’t
suitable for let’s say their eight year old child.
The book follows two twelve year old girls spending the
summer in a beach town. Standing right on the brink of adulthood, they encounter
and discuss subjects that are happening in their life, and the lives around
them. That includes puberty, crushes, sex, marital problems, miscarriage, and
It’s a shame that this book was banned, because it really is
a lovely book, and the graphic novel format really amplifies the work with the
idyllic setting being inked in shades of blue. It’s a great novel, and I hope
you take the time to check it out.
A banned book just makes me want to check it out. Earlier this
year, a Vermont school uninvited beloved children's book author, Kate Messner,
from a planned visit due to the content in her latest book, The Seventh Wish . Honestly, I
might have missed this gem of a story, had it not been in the news for this
reason. But I'm so glad I didn't because it's an important story and a good
The Seventh Wish is about
so many things, including Irish dancing, ice fishing, middle school
friendships, and the love of a close-knit family. It's also about opiod
addiction. In the story, the main character's older sister struggles with drug
use and eventually leaves college to go to rehab for her addiction. In the
midst of the rest of the main character's life, the effects of addiction on
each member of the family are explored. This was, of course, this part of the
book that caused it to be censored earlier this year. You can read some of the author's thoughts
and details on this summer's events here.
One of the proudest moments in my career happened when we invited author David Levithan to Kalamazoo. The program was not only going to feature the future Margaret A. Edwards Award winning author, but KPL was also going to give out books to teens featuring LGBTQ characters. The excitement for Levithan's visit soon turned sour when we learned that some people in the community were not happy with the program. The primary objection was that the main character in Levithan's novel Bot Meets Boy, expressed that he knew he was gay in kindergarten. Paul's ability to self-identify at an early age was not something you read about too often in books for teens in 2003. In fact when first published, Boy Meets Boy sparked a revolution in LGBTQ literature for teens. Here was a book that at its core is love story featuring two teens, dealing with teen problems, who happen to be gay. Levithan does address one character's battle with his super conservative parents and how people react to the school's transgendered quarterback/Homecoming Queen, but in the end Boy Meets Boy is about love.
As the day of David's visit got closer, we learned of a protest outside of the library. The local news stations started to call asking for interviews. The staff planned for every possible response from the public that day. When it was time for Levithan's talk to begin, I was proud to see a full house (with people even in the hall) of excited advocates and lovers of literature. Outside I found less than ten protesting. Love won and prevented fear from keeping the message of Boy Meets Boy away from those who need it the most. Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading anything by David Levithan, one of the most challenged and banned authors in the past 13 years.
Let’s talk about Here, a fascinating book by Richard
McGuire. Classified as a graphic novel, it’s less of a comic book, and more of
a subject study as the entire book never leaves the living room of McGuire’s
childhood home. The book travels backward and forward in time, exposing
ordinary events that happened in that very spot, almost like players wandering
on and off the stage.
Things get interesting however, when little windows start to
appear on the page. A woman in 1957 stops to try and remember why she walked
into the room while a cat from the year 1999 saunters through. A baseball that
crashes through the window in 1983 has no impact on the man trying to tie his
shoe in 1991. The room begins to get crowded as people from the distant past,
present, and future all begin to appear in these trans-temporal windows. As if something about the ordinary-seeming space has unraveled the space time continuum.
It’s a fun, and thought provoking book. After reading it, you can’t help but think about the people who stood where you are years before, and who will be here years after you’re gone.
There are so many wonderful titles on YALSA’s Teens’ Top 10 2016 List. My personal favorite is Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and there are so many other great titles on the list. We have all of these titles at every library location. You can vote for your favorite at this link until the end of October’s Teen Read Week.
Every year, teens across the country nominate titles after reviewing and discussing them in their book groups. The annotated, nomination list is announced each spring. Voting begins to choose the “Top 10” in August 15 and continues through Teen Read Week in October.
KPL is working to establish a teen book group that would receive and write reviews to participate in this initiative. If you are, or know, a teen who would be interested in joining us, please check out our info page and contact me. An interest meeting will be held in early September.
In fifth grade May and Libby created Princess X together. For years after the two continued the story of the princess in the purple dress and red chucks who wields a katana. That is, until Libby and her mom drive off a bridge on a rainy night. Three years later, lonely May discovers a sticker of Princess X on a shop window. No one could have created it, except for Libby. It seems impossible, but May wonders if her friend might still be alive.
This clever murder mystery trails May on her quest to find out what exactly happened the night that Libby and her mom died, and to find Libby if she did indeed survive. Fans of webcomics, suspense, and puzzles will love this book! I sure did!
Do you need more dinosaurs, time travelers, and girl power
in your life? If so, I have two fantastic graphic novels for you. First up, is Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian
K. Vaughn, the writer named by Wired Magazine as " the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years." This suspenseful mystery starts
with a slow burn as four paper delivery girls head out to cover their route the
morning after Halloween in 1988. After
the girls accidentally set off a strange machine, the story kicks off at
break-neck speed, and soon the girls are facing off against dinosaurs,
laser-blasting knights, and sub-human creatures that might just be from the future. It’s intense, fast-paced, wicked
fun, and the series is only just beginning.
Also, make sure to check out the Lumberjanes series by Grace
Ellis and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes follows five “hardcore lady types”
spending the summer at a crazy camp surrounded by bizarre supernatural
mysteries. The girls fight werewolves, solve riddles, and avoid the ever-watchful
eye of their group counselor in this manic, off-beat, fantastic read. This
series has been out for a while, but you can catch up on Hoopla digital.
Both of these series are a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy,
action, and mystery with fabulous artwork. So what are you waiting for?
In this captivating and honest memoir, Arin Andrews tells his story of being born in the wrong body. Growing up trapped in the body of a girl, knowing it didn't feel right, Arin struggles with his Christian school, living in the bible belt, and trying to bridge the rift between he and his mom, as he transitions from Emerald to Arin. This book is wonderfully written. Arin's voice is familiar, though I've never met him, and he tells his truth to the open reader.
Graphic novels have a reputation for being all about
superheroes and explosions, but they can be a really great format to tell more
nuanced stories as well. I’d like to shine a spotlight on two evocative,
character-focused, slice-of-life stories that really shine in a graphic novel
The first is a manga called Solanin by Inio Asano. The story
follows Meiko, a recent college grad, and her friends a group of 20-somethings
living in the background of a Japanese city. Over the course of the summer they
grapple with all of the challenges of new adulthood: starting careers, finding
their purpose in life, and how to break it to their parents that they’ve moved
in with their boyfriend. Though the characters are Japanese, the themes are
universal. Solanin is a novel with fantastic art work, and a story that will
stay with me for a long time.
The second graphic novel is called Token by Alisa Kwitney,
with illustrations by Joelle Jones. Token is a story about fifteen year old
Shira Spektor, living in Miami, Florida in 1987. She lives with her father in
an apartment building on South Beach, and spends most of her time with her best
friend, a spunky 80-year-old woman who shoots straight from the hip. When her
father starts dating his secretary, and the girls at school turn decidedly
nasty, Shira turns to shoplifting. Just when she feels that there’s no one she
can talk to, she meets a tall handsome stranger. She is falling in love for the
first time just as everything else in her life seems to be falling apart. Token
is fun, flirty, and timeless.
Both books have a lazy summer vibe perfect for the upcoming