Category Archives: Books

Evelyn Lau – Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review ten books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my tenth, and final, review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 15 and up. Topics covered include running away, living on the streets, drugs, prostitution, and suicide. Themes include fighting with others and self and trying to meet goals in the face of adversity. The genre is non-fiction, autobiography. The author is Canadian.

Teaser
Evelyn Lau, at the age of 14, decides to leave home in order to get away from her repressive parents whose unreasonable expectations are crushing her. She starts off living with friends, but eventually spends most of the next two years in shelters, foster homes, and on the streets. She quickly learns how to make “easy” money through prostitution to support her drug habit. The book is a diary that Lau kept while she was on the streets, and it holds very little back in the descriptions of life on the streets as a teenager. It is very hard to predict whether Lau will survive the experience, or whether this eloquent, though excruciating, book will end with a terse epilogue written by one of her social workers.

Review
This is not an easy read. Lau takes us through every step of her painful spiral into homelessness, drugs, and prostitution. She battles a range of demons — both real and imagined — during her time on the streets, but it is her struggle with herself that is most heartbreaking to witness. “I could become one of the top writers in Canada, or I could be a drug addict, or I could die. Those are the choices.” Young adult readers, who may wonder what it would be like to run away, will certainly get a good taste of the reality of living on the streets. The book works as both a cautionary tale, although readers will likely agree with Lau’s reasons for wanting to escape, and a source of hope for those who are facing similarly desperate odds. This is an important and unique look into the life of a troubled, though highly intelligent, teen and is recommended reading for anyone who wants an inside look into the mind of a young adult on the street.

If I were to use the VOYA scale, I would give it a 3P (moderate appeal) and 4Q (high quality). The heavy nature and graphic detail of this book means that it will not have as wide appeal as some of the lighter books out there, but it is an important addition to any young adult collection.

Sarah Dessen – Someone Like You

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review ten books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my ninth review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 13 and up. Topics covered include boyfriends, first love, relationships with parents, death of a friend, and teen pregnancy. Themes include growing up, changing roles between parents and children as the children grow up, and navigating the world as a teen. The genre is contemporary fiction.

This book was recommended to me by Samantha, who challenged my review of Marthe Jocelyn’s “Would You?” and led me into a thoughtful discussion of other YA books. Thank you, Samantha!

Teaser
Halley is spending a few weeks at summer camp (her mother’s idea) when she receives a phone call from her best friend Scarlett asking her to come home. Scarlett’s boyfriend has just died in an accident and Scarlett, usually the strong, sensible one, needs Halley’s support. This event sets the tone for Halley and Scarlett’s junior year (Grade 11), in which both of them do a great deal of growing up, whether they want to or not. Halley navigates her first real relationswhip while Scarlett faces a difficult decision. The stakes are high for the girls as they navigate ever-changing relationships with their friends and parents, and deal with the consequences of their actions.

Review
This is a great teen read, especially for girls. Halley is a likeable character and her voice stays fresh throughout the story. The book deals with important issues like teen sex, pregnancy, and relationships with parents, but it does so in a way that won’t make teens feel like they are reading a reference book on moral education. Halley’s relationship with Macon follows an arc that most will be able to predict, but Dessen does an admirable job of not letting the story fall into cliche. Young adult readers will be able to identify with Halley and the issues she faces throughout the story.

If I were to use the VOYA scale, I would give it a 5P (high appeal — especially for girls) and 4Q (high quality). It is written in a way that young adults will find engaging and it deals with the kinds of issues that teen readers would face in their own lives. Recommended for any teen collection.

Craig Thompson – Blankets

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my eighth review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 16 and up. Themes include Christianity, first love, siblings, maturing, relationships with parents, and fitting in. The genre is autobiography. This book is a graphic novel.

Teaser
This is a story told with images (graphic novel) drawn by Craig Thompson about his own life as a teenager. He focuses on his relationships with his brother Phil, his first love Raina, and his Christian faith. The story jumps around in time from Craig’s childhood to his early adulthood, touching on various episodes in more or less depth. The focal point of the story is Craig’s relationship with Raina, a girl that he meets at a Christian camp. Craig is a socially awkward child who seems to fall on the wrong side of the bullies at every stage in his life. Raina, however, accepts him for who he is, giving him a new confidence and also making him reflect more deeply on his relationship with his brother and with his faith.

Review
Despite its length (592 pages — a hefty tome to hold), I found this to be a very quick read (finished in a few hours one evening). The images are well drawn and serve to enhance the reader’s understanding of Craig’s perspective. The story is compelling and would certainly appeal to teenagers. There are some explicit drawings (primarily of naked men and women, sometimes in compromising sexual positions) that will certainly offend people who are looking to be offended, so it would be advisable for librarians to read this book before adding it to their collections in case they are asked to defend it. While I enjoyed the book as a whole, I found the ending to be unsatisfying (it seems to just *end*) and I sometimes felt that the discussion of Thompson’s struggle to come to terms with his faith took over the story. People who are looking for non-traditional Christian literature may find this struggle enlightening/entertaining but I found that it often threatened to dominate the themes in the book, making me wonder whether I was reading an edgy coming-of-age book or one that was designed as a conversation piece for Bible study classes. Forewarned of the religious overtones, the reader can make her own choice of how to digest the story.

Richard Peck – A Long Way from Chicago

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my seventh review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book is probably suitable for children around 10 years of age or older. Themes include siblings, grandparents, and rural vs. city living. The genres are humour and historical fiction.

Teaser
Joey and his younger sister Mary Alice are sent away to the country to spend the summer with their grandmother in the late 1920s. At first the kids are pretty annoyed with their parents for sending them away from home (Chicago) to a place where they have no friends and nothing to do, but eventually they start to appreciate the chance to watch Grandma Dowdel in action. Grandma gets up to all sorts of capers which tend to shock and amuse Joey and Mary Alice, and most of the chapters end with a funny twist that lets the reader in on why Grandma did what she did. The book is written in episode-based chapters, which, after the first chapter, could probably be read in any order.

Review
I enjoyed this book (as an adult), but I am not entirely convinced that it would capture a young adult audience. The writing is kind of hokey and the themes are a bit simplistic (e.g. Grandma pulls one over on the sheriff, Grandma enters a pie in the county fair, Grandma teaches some local hoodlums a lesson). I can’t imagine contemporary urban youth finding anything to identify with in these pages. However, as I said, I enjoyed the book as an adult and I think that younger kids (maybe 9 or 10 year olds?) would probably enjoy listening to the stories being read to them. I think the audiobook version of this book would be good for a family roadtrip — although even young kids might balk a bit at the slow place of the first couple of stories. If they can get through the preliminaries, Grandma Dowdel might win them over.

Marthe Jocelyn – Would You?

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my sixth review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 15 and up. Themes include sisters, families, death, and boyfriends. The genre is contemporary (Canadian) fiction.

Teaser
This book mainly takes place over the span of about two weeks. Natalie is a normal teenager who hangs out with her friends and steals her older sister, Claire’s, clothes. Claire has just graduated from high school and is set to start college in the fall. One evening, Claire goes out with her boyfriend (with the intent to break up with him), and she gets hit by a car. The story continues on from there about how Natalie deals with Claire’s accident.

Review (includes spoilers)
I was very tempted to stop reading this book shortly after I started it. It is clear that the author is a talented writer — the book is quite well written — but I just did not like the topic that she chose to write about. The older sister, Claire, is in a coma after her accident and the reader is subjected to Natalie’s tormented thoughts about the situation. When, after the doctors have done more testing, it has been determined that Claire is brain dead, Natalie is left with a person-sized hole in her heart. Reading about this kind of pain was too upsetting — at least for me — to enjoy it. I am not sure who would enjoy it. I would think that a person who lived through such a tragedy would not want to relive it by reading about another person’s pain in a book. I suppose it would be an informative book to read if you had a friend who was dealing with the loss of a sibling, but I think it is really just too much tragedy and not enough “other stuff” to water down the raw emotions and make it an enjoyable read. Then again, maybe some people like to stir up raw emotions. It would certainly be a cathartic read if someone wanted give herself a reason to cry!

Overall, I would say that I cannot recommend this book to a general audience. There would have to be a very good reason for me to suggest this book to someone; for example, if the person was in a play about death and was looking for insight. Otherwise, I think teenagers have more than enough angst of their own to deal with without giving them extra things to worry about!