Steph’s Best of 2016!


All American Boys
Authors: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Keily

ABOUT:  In this book co-written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily the #blacklivesmatter movement is confronted directly and intensely. Quinn and Rashad go to a heavily populated high school and have some acquaintances in common, but don’t float in the same circles. Rashad is a black teen trying to keep his dad off of his back about “turning out” like his older  brother Spoony, who by the way is dependable, has a steady job and girlfriend in law school, but  in his dad’s opinion “looks” the wrong way, i.e.  dreadlocks, over-sized shirts, baggy jeans… Rashad joined the junior ROTC program at his school to appease his dad who is more than proud of his own past military and law enforcement service. Quinn is the oldest son of “Ma” who was windowed by the war in Afghanistan. After his father dies, Paul Galluzzo, the older brother of Guzzo, Quinn’s best friend, takes Quinn under his protections and tries to act as a proxy for Quinn’s father. Paul Galluzzo joins the local police force and a banal event involving Rashad, that Quinn witnesses, instantly escalates into a catastrophic situation.

Stephanie says:Technically, this book was written in late 2015, but its theme is one that is ALWAYS relevant and should be read about, and openly discussed. Rashad and Quinn are both reasonably happy teenagers, who like many of us, would rather keep their heads low and live their lives, but they are both put in a scenario that forces them to open their eyes and see, really see, even if they can’t process or understand what it is they are witnessing.  Now, they have to decide whether to be active or passive.  I loved how the authors used the connections to the military as an abstract purifier, or an exonerator of antagonism. Before the #blacklivesmatter movement some viewed law enforcement in a similar manner. Reynolds and Keily force us to ask ourselves WHAT is All American and WHO is All American? This book will ask you to conjure a mental image of an “all American boy”, and you might be surprised by what your mind visualizes.  I kept getting goose-bumps while I was reading this and I am getting them now as I’m writing about this extremely affecting story. I can’t recommend this book enough. You don’t need to be an activist to have insight and understanding, but the temptation will be there.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

ABOUT: In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled.

Stephanie Says: I fell in love with this book when I first read the title. Smells always induce nostalgic feelings. Usually, when I read a book I don’t experience it with all my senses. This book made me feel as if I were a by-stander in all the scenes, experiencing all the smells and tactility that the characters were.  I love when stories have a way of weaving the individual stories within them together displaying an impressive tapestry at the end. That is the way this book made me feel, as if I were watching beauty being created before my eyes. My mushy feelings aside, I never knew that there was so much contention about Alaska transitioning from a territory to a state.  The backdrops for many characters in this story begin in 1958 when many Alaskans were fighting against statehood. This novel perfectly reminds me that struggle begets grace.

The Serpent King
By Jeff Zentner

ABOUT: Dillard Early is a very recognizable name in Forrestville, Tennessee. His father, Dillard Early, Jr. and his grandfather, Dillard Early, Sr. made quite the impression upon their small town. Dill, as he goes by, is constantly trying to avoid the stigma of his name while also completing his senior year in high school. His only two friends, Travis and Lydia have very different lives, although they still have problems of their own. Lydia, who is “internet famous” for a fashion blog she runs Dollywould is trying to reconcile the space between the two worlds she resides in: 1) the mega interesting world of young fashionistas who shop ivy league colleges and attend fashion weeks in New York and 2) Forrestville, Tennessee, where she was born and raised and her only two REAL friends, Travis and Dill, are destined to continue their lives in the sad, pathetic town that she believes they are all better than. Travis is choosing to escape the troubles of his reality by becoming completely engrossed in a book series called Bloodfall. He wears a necklace with a dragon charm and carries a staff everywhere Lydia will allow it. They all know their lives are going to change soon. How they cope with the changes approaching will determine their futures.

Stephanie says: This book really challenged some realities for me. First, I am also from a small town outside of Nashville, Tennessee, so the proximity of where this story takes place to where my hometown is caused me to devour this book. I knew all the references that were unique to Tennessee: the way he described the light on a September afternoon, or the style of homes on a rural street, or even East Nashville’s cluttered coolness. What was so affecting to me though was the way Mr. Zentner approached place and questioned how it defines you, or if it does. Dill and Travis both feel their destinies are defined by Forrestville. Lydia, on the other hand feels that Forrestville is the only thing keeping her from her destiny. I think everyone can relate to one of these two feelings, maybe both of them. Each character is trying to carry their individual burden their small town has bestowed upon them. Lydia wants more for Dill and Travis then they want for themselves, but how could she possibly know what life was really like for either of them? I absolutely LOVED this book. There are only a few books in my memory that have stuck with me so deeply. The characters in The Serpent King will embed themselves in your brain and you won’t be able to shake them.

The Last True Love Story
by Brendan Kiely

ABOUT: The point of living is learning how to love.

That’s what Gpa says. To Hendrix and Corrina, both seventeen but otherwise alike only in their loneliness, that sounds like another line from a pop song that tries to promise kids that life doesn’t actually suck. Okay, so: love. Sure.

The thing about Corrina—her adoptive parents are suffocating, trying to mold her into someone acceptable, predictable, like them. She’s a musician, itching for any chance to escape, become the person she really wants to be. Whoever that is.

And Hendrix, he’s cool. Kind of a poet, but also kind of lost. His dad is dead and his mom is married to her job. Gpa is his only real family, but he’s fading fast from Alzheimer’s. Looking for any way to help the man who raised him, Hendrix has made Gpa an impossible promise—that he’ll get him back east to the hill where he first kissed his wife, before his illness wipes away all memory of her.

One hot July night, Hendrix and Corrina decide to risk everything. They steal a car, spring Gpa from his assisted living facility, stuff Old Humper the dog into the back seat, and take off on a cross-country odyssey from LA to NY. With their parents, Gpa’s doctors, and the police all hot on their heels, Hendrix and Corrina set off to discover for themselves if what Gpa says is true—that the only stories that last are love stories. (from publisher)

Stephanie Says:  If you are a music junky this book will speak to your soul; even if you aren’t the rich story that emerges from these broken characters will draw you into this story. Teddy, Gpa and Corrina are all extremely lonely. Teddy because his father is dead and his mother travels for work a lot, so he is left alone most of the time, Gpa because he has Alzheimer’s and is losing the company of his memories, and Corrina because she longs to know about her biological parents and life in Guatemala, where she was adopted from as a baby.

I love Kiely’s descriptions of the very specific places Teddy, Gpa and Corrina stopped at   while trekking across America. From his detail I knew this must have been a trip Kiely himself once took.  I also loved that he put two sensitive and thoughtful teenagers in the roles of caregiver for an Alzheimer’s patient. They made him feel safe and often played music from his younger life that inspired memories of his late wife.

The ending was a surprise to me and I was glad that is didn’t turn out the way I predicted. I encourage all readers to be sure to read his acknowledgements at the end.

About Audviral, Mistress of the Stacks

Teen Services Librarian for the Rita & Truett Smith Public Library of Wylie, Texas.
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