Author: Val Emmich with Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Date Read: August 2, 2019
I inhaled this one!!! It is a sensational YA novel adapted from the Broadway smash-hit. Beware: after reading you’ll want to book a trip to see it on the stage as well!
Evan’s chronic social anxiety leads his therapist to give him a unique homework assignment: write a daily uplifting letter to himself, promising that today’s going to be a great day.
Evan is lonely, he doesn’t fit in, and he begrudgingly completes his letters without much belief that they will ever really help him to cope with life in high school. When his letter falls into the wrong hands, Evan becomes embroiled in a lie that takes on a life of its own. For the first time in his life he is no longer invisible– he is a viral social media sensation and his life at school is remarkably changed as well. But it’s all a lie. And one lie leads to another.
Dear Evan Hansen explores life and how we choose to live it. Do choose to read this book– you will love Evan Hansen!
Laurie Halse Anderson is well-versed in writing compelling novels for Young Adults. Her best-known novel, Speak, became a finalist for the National Book Award and won Anderson honours for its portrayal of a thirteen-year-old girl who becomes mute after a sexual assault.
Shout is an extension to her fiction, a poetic memoir written in free verse about her own life growing up as a teen, including details of her rape and the trauma she faced afterward. As she describes it, “The true story of a survivor who refused to be silenced.”
She writes about many pivotal moments throughout her life including how she came to love to read. This is a portion from the poem entitled, “lovebrarians”:
And so, with extra Leslie help and a chorus
of angels disguised as teachers and librarians
for years unstinting with love and hours
of practice, those ants finally marched
in straight lines for me
shaped words, danced sentences,
for a girl finally learning how to read
I unlocked the treasure chest
and swallowed the key.
(Halse Anderson, p.26)
She writes about high school with prickling insight. I particularly liked the metaphor of lockers as “steel soldiers lined against the wall.” It made me recount those long girds running through my own high school. I could hear the metallic slamming and smell the rotten bananas inside. She is more condemning in “gauntlet, thrown” when she writes: “My high school was designed by an incarceration/ specialist to make the herding, the feeding/ and the slaughter proceed as efficiently as possible/ that’s what we thought,/ anyway…” (p.77)
Halse Anderson does not withdraw behind words, she uses them skillfully and without censor. Her voice is unapologetic. You echo in her anger, her frustration, her pain. She says she was “indoctrinated by magazine covers” (29). She tells us that: “the taste of shame smells/ like stubborn vomit in your hair” (32). Her father was “… a shitty driver/ and the booze sure didn’t help.” (127). When working as a court reporter during a rape trial, she watched the victim being re-victimized by the lawyer and then, “I saw myself crawling over the seats, leaping/ throwing punches, busting knuckles, breaking/ a chair over his head, the sweet sound of his teeth/ skittering across the floor/ my pencil snapped” (155).
Twenty years post publishing Speak, Halse Anderson puts up a memoir that rants. Using poetry, every word clamours for our attention. In the age of #metoo, it is an important read. Young Adult readers will resonate with this story, and will, hopefully, find comfort in it– and may be freed of the nightmares to tell their own stories too.
Jennifer Mathieu drops us into Vivian Carter’s high school– and her high school looks a lot like high schools do– that’s not fiction. Trust me, I’ve been in high school for more than 20 years!
Vivian is tired of the singular focus on football, and the way it proffers entitlement for its boorish players. She is irritated by a dress code that focuses exclusively on what women wear, how they are targeted and surveyed by adults, and blamed for distracting their male peers. She is annoyed with the pervasive toxic masculinity that normalizes the sexual harassment of women: they yell out sexist comments at the girls (Make me a sandwich!) Which, as Vivian explains, insinuates that women best stay in the kitchen. They wear t-shirts with demeaning slogans (Great legs! When do they open?); play a game of bump n’ grab in the hallways (groping women’s bodies); and play host to a March Madness game where they rank and sort which of the girls is most fuckable.
So, yeah. Vivian is fed up with her small Texas town high school, and she decides to fight back.
Inspired by the momentos she finds in a box of her mother’s labelled: “My Misspent Youth,” Vivian starts a zine called Moxie in which she calls the girls in her school to action.
This book explores what it means to want fair and equal treatment; to feel safe in spaces; to be a good friend and ally; and to use our voices to speak up.
I expect to recommend this one a lot in the fall when I welcome ninth graders to my reading library. If you have young women in your life, give them a little moxie too!
In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by global warming, Frenchie and his compatriots are on the run from the Recruiters.
Indigenous peoples have the one thing everyone else is missing: the ability to dream.
“We go to the schools and they leach the dreams from where our ancestors hid them, in the honeycombs of slushy marrow buried in our bones. And us? Well, we join our ancestors, hoping we left enough dreams behind for the next generation to stumble across.”
You will be compelled to draw parallels to Canadian Residential Schools, they are mentioned as past markers in the story, but serve to show how when a dominant group wants something– they will stop at nothing to get it. She moves our past into our future– making it impossible to look away.
Surely, readers can draw connections to our present reality and the plausibility and gravity of her story. For me, it brings to mind the environmental degradation caused by Canada’s oil sands and their emissions-intensive extraction process and destructive land use. Canada is also home to 75 percent of the world’s mining companies. And they don’t have a great record around the world. Murders, rapes, and beatings have been reported at mines owned by Canadian companies. They’re not doing so well on the environmental front either. Contamination of water bodies from tailings pond and dam failures has become commonplace. In B.C., wild salmon have been the backbone of Indigenous food systems for millennia. Much more recently, fish farms have begun popping up on the coast. They concentrate hundreds of thousands of fish in floating farms using open net pens. The farms breed pests and diseases like Infectious Salmon Anemia, sea lice, and Piscine Reovirus, and can pass those on to wild populations. Indigenous-led activists have attacked the industry for its effects on wild fish. I would be remiss to not also mention issues of violence against Indigenous women and the violation of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights.
“Indigenous peoples are being forced into long and costly court battles to defend their traditions and ways of life because governments in Canada still refuse to accept the need to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on important decisions about environmental protection and resource development,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “It’s ironic that the Committee report should come out in the midst of today’s court hearings into the Site C dam, a megaproject approved by the federal and province governments over the objections of First Nations and despite a highly critical environmental assessment.”
UN human rights report shows that Canada is failing Indigenous peoples JOINT PRESS RELEASE PUBLIC STATEMENTS JULY 23, 2015
Dimaline’s novel is not entirely fiction. But it is essential reading.
Cherie Dimaline is a Canadian Métis writer. In The Marrow Thieves, she explores the continued colonial exploitation of Indigenous people and the land. She has received great acclaim for her novel: the Governor General’s Award for English-language children’s literature at the 2017 Governor General’s Awards and the 2017 Kirkus Prize in the young adult literature category. It was also a finalist in the CBC’s 2018 Canada Reads competition, successfully appealing beyond the YA category to adult readers in the competition.
This is a great YA read. What I liked the best was the interspersion of a podcast in which the presenter is trying to make sense of the disappearance of a young girl, Mattie, while Summers simultaneously provides the narrative from Sadie, her sister, who is hollowed by her sister’s death and on a mission to make sense of a botched investigation.
You can actually listen along to the fictional podcast while you read.
Sadie is tormented by the intolerable town she lives in; a mother who never cared for her; men who came in and out of her mother’s life and ruined hers; and the unbearable grief of losing the sister she cared for as her own.
“But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.”
Another YA novel from Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give.
Thomas creates strong voices for her central teenage characters that rap with swagger and trade in inner-city barbs. Maybe that’s what makes me old, unhip, and a little disengaged.
Although I can’t rave about how I couldn’t put this book down, because I did multiple times; I do know it has appeal for audiences much younger (and cooler) than I .
Bri is a sixteen year-old with a passion for rap. She is startled by her own success in ‘the ring’ where she battles line for line with some of the best rappers from her neighbourhood. The pressure however, is palpable– as she is constantly juxtaposed with her successful father who was on his way to success when he was murdered.
Thomas judiciously covers several plots that help her closely examine race, prejudice, and our deep desire to do the right thing– and to stay true to ourselves despite what looks easy and thrilling.
Bri sums it up in this short snap here:
We can’t have any power, either. I mean, think about it. All these people I’ve never met have way more control over my life than I’ve ever had. If some Crown hadn’t killed my dad, he’d be a big rap star and money wouldn’t be an issue. If some drug dealer hadn’t sold my mom her first hit, she could’ve gotten her degree already and would have a good job. If that cop hadn’t murdered that boy, people wouldn’t have rioted, the daycare wouldn’t have burned down, and the church wouldn’t have let Jay go.
All these folks I’ve never met became gods over my life. Now I gotta take the power back.
And Bri does take the power back with her intelligence, thoughtfulness and skill; she is a wonderfully strong and fully-developed female protagonist. Worth a read if you’re a rap-savvy high-school student!
Another touching and authentic novel for Young Adult readers!
Grace has a home-life that makes her desperate for graduation; and the hope that she will cast-off the burdens placed on her by a severe and intolerant step-father; and a mother with implausible standards and wild mood swings that Grace can’t predict or avoid. The bleakness of her life at home weighs her down– but she finds solace, and Gavin, at the high school theatre.
Gavin is the epitome of a modern-day knight in shining armour– he writes songs for Grace; takes her on surprising and impetuous adventures; and makes her feel protected and special. But Gavin is also controlling, jealous, and unstable. And Grace finds herself oppressed by the weight of the love he’s promised her.
Here’s a short snap of Demetrios’ writing: “Something in me is dimming, something that I already know I can’t get back. But you’re worth it. You are. I will tell myself this for several more months. And when I realize you aren’t worth it, it’ll be too late.”
Demetrios paints an unflinching picture of high school romance from both sides as Grace herself unwinds the tale trying to make sense of how it went from perfect to impossible.
Read this poem/letter in one sitting. I told you already to read everything Reynolds writes… still true. This book is a poem. A nod. A nothing to lose. Needs to be passed on. One line sticks, especially: “I’d rather suffer from internal eczema, constantly irritated by the itch of possibility.”
Finished late at night in the dark with a flashlight. Used to do that to read past curfew. Did it last night because I had no power. Another powerful YA novel tackling important issues. The traditions of this prep school allow a toxic masculinity that ask both main characters to push up against what’s expected of them at school that demands that they conform.
“…Even in a room full of girls it was all about the guys.” ― Brendan Kiely, Tradition
Loved it. Was riled by it. My haunches were rankled, my dendrites were alight.
If 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale got together and made a baby… the result would be Vox, the most riveting, frightening and compelling book. Told now, in Trump’s America, makes it horrifyingly realistic. Could not put it down. Two thumbs way up!