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Posts tagged ‘teen’

Anything To Be Beautiful

Perfect

Perfect by Natasha Friend

Image via Library Thing.

Title: Perfect

Author: Natasha Friend

Year of Publication: 2004

Genre Keywords: appearance, bulimia, death, depression, eating disorders, family, friendship, grief, parents, popularity, psychology, sisters, teen, young adult.

Summary: When Isabelle gets caught making herself throw up, she gets sent to a therapy group for people with eating disorders – and to her overwhelming surprise she finds Ashley, the most beautiful and popular girl at her school, also in attendance. The two become friends, bonding over binges and purges and the relief of finding somebody else who understands what they’re going through. But Ashley can’t help Isabelle deal with what’s really wrong: the unhealed grief she still carries from the death of her father nearly two years ago. How can Isabelle heal if she and her sister have been taught to pretend it isn’t there?

Who’ll Love It: Often fun and light-hearted in tone for such heavy subject matter, this quick read will appeal to anybody interested in the emotional lives of teenagers. The rags-to-riches fantasy element of an unpopular girl invited to the “popular table” in the lunchroom is a fun exercise in fantasy, but the story really drives home the point that popularity, prettiness, and seeming perfection doesn’t guarantee happiness, and can conceal some pretty painful demons. It’s a very readable study on the difference between appearance and reality.

The Real Story: Isabelle may be a fictional character, but bulimia is more common than many of us might imagine, with between one and six of every hundred people affected, depending where you are and which study you take seriously. You can get a good general overview of the sickness here. Lots of people believe that bulimia happens primarily to young girls who think they’re too fat, but anybody can be bulimic, and the link between eating disorders and stress or emotional trauma (as with Isabelle’s grief or Ashley’s family issues) is very real in situations where people don’t feel they can deal with their problems directly.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Image via the English at Katikati College blog.

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie

Year of Publication: 2007

Genre Keywords: belonging, cartoons, First Nations, high school, popularity, poverty, teen, tragi-comedy, young adult.

Summary: Arnold Spirit – known on his Spokane reservation home as ‘Junior’ – is a smart guy. He knows he’s not quite strong enough to fit in with the other kids on the reservation, and he knows he’s never going to survive, much less succeed, unless he gets away. So he takes the first step: he asks to transfer to the nearby “rich white kid” school, Rearden High. He does a lot better there, making friends and even finding a girlfriend, and he’s a lot more likely to get a worthwhile education that might one day mean he can live his dreams of being a cartoonist. But the more he fits in at Rearden, the more unpopular he is back home, with people who think he’s sold out big-time. Is Junior strong enough to survive the judgment and rejection of his own people – and even if he does, will it give him a shot at rising above the crushing tragedy of Native American life?

Who’ll Love It: If you’re fed up with syrupy inspirational stories about ordinary people battling great odds, you may find this book refreshingly realistic. While most such stories focus entirely on whoever’s beating the odds, they tend to ignore the systemic problems that made the odds so darn bad in the first place, and they barely even glance at everybody else left below. But this is as much a story about other people’s failures as it is about Junior’s struggle to succeed, and it doesn’t shy away from depicting the hard knocks of reservation life: violence, poverty, alcoholism, and child abuse are just a few of the problems Alexie takes on through Junior’s eyes. I particularly loved the spin he puts on the familar “sports grudge match” sequence we know from the movies: does it really count as winning when you come from the team who has every advantage and your opponents probably couldn’t afford to eat breakfast?

The Real Story: The heartbreaking poverty in this story is a real and persistent problem for actual families and individuals living on reservations in North America. Spotlight on Poverty offers up an article on the topic, and the Property and Environment Research Center looks at some government-related problems that keep the problem alive. If you’re American, you can find the reservation nearest where you live on this interactive map. (Nothing nearly that nifty for Canadians, but at least we’ve got a list of bands available.) It’s strange to think that this level of poverty, comparable to what you find in Third-World nations, exists within a couple hours’ drive of where you’re sitting in front of your computer screen.

The Fury

The Fury by John Farris

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: The Fury

Author: John Farris

Year of Publication: 1976

Genre Keywords: action-adventure, conspiracy, horror, paranormal, psychic, suspense, teen, telekinesis, thriller.

Summary: Gillian is a level-headed, perfectly normal teenager from a wealthy and powerful family . . . until a serious fever awakens the psychic powers she’s been burying since childhood. Robin is deeply aware of the powers he’s always had, even if he has to conceal them around the fanatically religious relatives caring for him. Now that the teens are beginning to explore astral projection, clairvoyance, and telekinetic powers, government agencies have started to take notice. Will they be able to harness Robin and Gillian’s potential for the sake of national security? Or will the teens’ potentially lethal abilities leave government officials shooting to kill? Just to add a layer of complexity, Robin’s father has discovered how the government wants to use his son, and he’d do anything to save Robin from their clutches. He’s fighting for his son’s life, but the body count is rising and time is running out.

Who’ll Love It: Anybody who likes their horror stories X-Files-style, with a side order of conspiracy-theories-come-true. The imagery is truly macabre and honestly a little bit gory, and the fact that it was current in the 1970s makes it almost period fiction by this point.

Beyond Books: For horror-film buffs, check out the classic film adaptation of The Fury, directed by Brian de Palma.

Anne Frank and Me

Anne Frank and Me

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Anne Frank and Me

Author: Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

Year of Publication: 1997

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, history, Holocaust, Judaism, religion, self-expression, teen, time travel, war, World War Two, young adult.

Summary: Teen blogger Nicole Burns is far too busy avoiding her homework, adoring the class hottie, and wishing she could get her kid sister out of her hair; she doesn’t have time to think about things that happened in generations-ago Europe. So she’s not particularly invested in her teacher’s guest speaker, a Holocaust survivor, or their trip to a nearby museum’s Holocaust exhibit. But then the sound of gunfire erupts in the museum, panic ensues, and Nicole awakens to find herself living the life of a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied Paris. Her new life isn’t so very different from her old one – a gorgeous classmate she adores, an annoying little sister called Liz-Bette, friends and family and all the rest. But she’s also got a yellow star sewn to the front of her coat, and as she watches her freedoms dwindle as the war progresses, Nicole starts searching for a way to make her voice matter.

Who’ll Love It: Who wouldn’t? I recommend it to any reader. If you didn’t find Anne Frank particularly moving or wondered why all those musty old historical stories mattered, this book has the answer: because people who lived those historical experiences are not so different from us.  Conversely, if you’re acutely aware of the lingering evil effects of the Holocaust and the suffering it caused, you’ll find this book deeply moving and hard to put down.

Beyond Books: The novel Anne Frank and Me is based on a play with the same title. Look out for it! Even if there’s no local theatre company bringing this story to life on stage, it would definitely be interesting to consider your own life in light of Nicole’s story. If you traveled back in time to Holocaust-era Europe, what would your life look like? Who would be your parents, teachers, friends, and neighbours? How would you survive? Or would you survive at all?

A community theatre performance of Anne Frank and Me.

Image via Zona Gale Young People's Theatre (ZGYPT) at the Portage Center for the Arts.

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Does My Head Look Big In This?

Image via Journey Online.

Title: Does My Head Look Big In This?

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah

Year of Publication: 2005

Genre Keywords: coming of age, culture, family, friendship, high school, identity, Islam, multiculturalism, popularity, religion, teen, women’s issues, young adult.

Summary: Amal is an Australian teen like any other . . . except that she’s a Muslim of Palestinian extraction who’s decided she’s ready to wear the hijab full-time. She knows it won’t be easy, attending a posh private school away from her Muslim friends while sporting such a hotly-contested marker of her Muslim identity, but she feels passionately about it. Now she’s dealing with all the usual trials and tribulations of high school – crushes, mean girls, friends with body-image issues, and more – but also with the judgments of teachers, friends, and strangers trying to identify what the hijab says about her life and placing her in the role of a full-time apologist for Islam, even in its most twisted and horrifying iterations.

Who’ll Love It: If you’re open to walking a mile in the shoes of a young Muslim woman, this book is a great way to do it. The central character is one of those rare gems – strong and smart and (mostly) confident, yet still believable. Readers who like a good relationship story that centers around friendships and family relationships (as opposed to romantic ones) will find an added bonus in the wide range of people supporting Amal as she tells her story.

Food For Thought: Does My Head Look Big In This? investigates some of the key assumptions many Westerners make when confronted with a Muslim, particularly a Muslim woman. For instance, when you see a woman in the hijab (or niqab, burqa, or what-have-you), do you assume she’s been forced to wear it by some man in her life? Do you stop to wonder how your assumption affects her or makes her feel? It’s worth spending some time with the idea.

Creature

Creature

Image via Fantastic Fiction.

Title: Creature

Author: John Saul

Year of Publication: 1989

Genre Keywords: conspiracy, corporate, experiments, Frankenstein, high school, horror, medicine, popularity, science, sports, suspense, techno-thriller, teen, thriller.

Summary: A corporate promotion lands the Tanner family in a gorgeous company town nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Everything there seems perfect . . . but is it a little too perfect? The family’s eldest son, Mark Tanner, doesn’t have a chance to think about it; he’s too busy not fitting in. Short and scrawny in a high school full of athletic superstars, he’d rather be exploring nature or caring for his pet rabbits than roughhousing on the football field. Still, when the local sports clinic offers to help him boost his growth, he decides he’s tired of being the runt of the litter and signs on for a treatment program. Maybe that’s not the best idea, though, because it seems like one of the other boys getting treated is growing out of control, in every sense of the word.

Who’ll Love It: It’s not technical or scientific enough that people with no background will be lost, nor is it saturated in sports jargon so that you have to understand football to follow the action. Rather, it’s a story with fairly universal themes and a fairly wide appeal amongst horror fans (which, granted, is a fairly specialized genre to begin). Be prepared to marvel at the callousness of the sports clinic’s employees and the corporation running the town.

Themes for Thought: The Frankenstein medical-science theme is obvious – a classic cautionary tale about delving into science without enough respect for human life. But are there other cautionary tales here? Sports can be a deep obsession in North America, leading to physical and psychological injury for players and those who aren’t able to compete. (Consider the ever-expanding archetypal tale of popular athletes picking on the nerds and misfits.) And on a more literal level, think about all the stories in the news lately about athletes caught doctoring their bodies with performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the fictional medicine described in the novel is representative of ethical boundaries being breached in the sports world every day. Think about it . . .

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