February 28, 2013

How to be a bully

The Bully Book
by Eric Kahn Gale

Almost overnight, Eric Haskins has become the school's Grunt, the one kid who gets mercilessly bullied by the rest of his sixth grade classmates. He doesn't understand why this is happening to him. When he confronts his former best friend, he finds out about "The Book".

Also called "The Bully Book", it's an instruction manual handed down from year to year telling readers how to become a bully, how to pick a victim, and how to rule the school. Alternating between 
Eric's journal and pages from The Book, the story reveals Eric's painful days as he doggedly searches for the Book, trying to figure out why he was chosen. Part mystery, part conspiracy thriller, Eric discovers that bullies thrive right up until adulthood. But something good did come out of his search - he now knows how to fight back. His ongoing mission - to make sure there is never again another Grunt. 

February 26, 2013

Girl gang

The Beckoners
by Carrie Mac

Fifteen-year-old Zoe, through a strong sense of self-preservation, agrees to become a Beckoner. Silently, she witnesses the Beckoners' obsessively cruel tactics against classmates and society. Her situation worsens when she does nothing to help April (Dog), the Beckoners' favourite victim. As Zoe wrestles with her conscience, the Beckoners become increasingly violent to the point where she can no longer tolerate them. But leaving the gang may be even more dangerous than staying.

Gripping and relentless, Mac's novel is a devastating, uncomfortable read. While the Beckoners are eventually brought to justice, the fallout can still be damaging. But by finally taking a stand, Zoe and April may be able to change their lives.

February 21, 2013

Bullying victim

by Shane L. Koyczan

The unnamed narrator of this novel-in-verse is being bullied. There is no reason given for the bullying other than the narrator's obesity. He mentions a troubled backstory involving his absent mother, but he doesn't really understand it, so he can't provide details. But he definitely lacks the confidence to defend himself. He quietly endures, with anger simmering inside him. Reprieve is offered with a change of schools, but it's only temporary. He ends up turning into a bully himself. 

An intense novel that offers no answers. 

February 19, 2013


The Truth about Truman School 
by Dori Hillestad Butler

Frustrated with the censorship she encounters while writing for the school newspaper, Zebby and a friend, Amr, create an online, underground newspaper. They decide that anyone can post something on the website, so long as it is true. They promise not to censor. So when someone posts an unflattering photo of Lilly, a popular eighth-grader, they leave the photo up because it's no big deal. But then things escalate. Mean and cruel gossip take over the site. 

Butler offers an unflattering, yet true-to-life, view of middle school. She shines a light on how cruel, self-centered, and uncaring many pre-teens are. The Truman students have no idea what effect their actions have on Lilly, believing that no one could take it seriously and that Lilly is being oversensitive. Zebby and Amr are also complicit. They know the comments are malicious, but leave them up in their misguided interest in free speech. Lilly herself is not perfect. She's said mean things to other students, so it's no surprise that she's become a target. As for the adults, they deny that such hatred occurs and blindly ignore the bullying that is going on.

Told in shifting first-person narratives, the story is an important and timely examination of bullying, cliques, and peer pressure.

February 14, 2013

Finding one's place in the universe

Every Soul A Star
by Wendy Mass

Ally's a nature girl. She lives at an idyllic campground called Moon Shadow. She likes stargazing and comet-hunting.

Bree is popular and beautiful. She plans to sell makeup at the mall, get scouted by a modeling agency, and become a supermodel by the time she's seventeen.

Jack is overweight and disinterested in school. But he has a secret: he likes to draw. He's also into lucid dreaming.

Ally, Bree, and Jack all come together at Moon Shadow, where a solar eclipse will change all their lives.

A feel-good story that will have readers pondering their existence, the stars, and the connections we make with one another.

February 12, 2013

Faith and belief

Soul Searching: Thirteen Stories about Faith and Belief

These stories attempt to provoke thought and discussion about the conflicts between faith and belief. The teen characters are still struggling with identity issues and their religious faith (or lack of one) heavily influence their personal developments. There are a few good stories: The Shunning of Sadie B. Zook, in which an Amish girl copes with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy; The Funeral, set in Thailand, about an apprentice monk; The Olive Grove, in which the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis are played out in an ancient olive grove; and Star Vision, a free verse poem about a Native-American vision quest ceremony. Other stories seem incomplete, with one, The Evil Eye, about a Venezuelan cult, is overlong and just plain weird. But they will have teens pondering new ideas and different perspectives.

February 7, 2013

Reluctant rock star

Fat Kid Rules the World
by K.L. Going

Seventeen-year-old Troy is miserable. He’s six-foot-one and 296 pounds. People laugh at him a lot. Even his brother thinks he’s a loser. Understandably, he’s painfully self-conscious. Until he meets Curt MacCrae, a skinny, dirty, homeless drop-out and genius guitar player. Curt has a way of getting whatever he wants. Without realizing it, Troy’s been recruited as Curt’s new drummer, even though Troy can’t play the drums. And their gig’s in five weeks.

Troy is full of anxieties, especially if he thinks everyone is looking at him. But he eventually realizes that not only is he holding himself back, but that other people have esteem issues as well.

A funny, honest and realistic look at some of the perils of teenage life.

February 5, 2013

Piano prodigy wants a new life

Broken Chords
by Barbara Snow Gilbert

When she was three years old, Clara started playing the piano. Her father, a former opera singer, and her mother, a conductor, have made numerous sacrifices in order to nurture her gift. Now seventeen, she is competing for a prestigious piano scholarship. 

Practice has consumed her time for many years, but when Clara injures her wrist, she experiences “normal life” for the very first time. It makes her wonder if a career as a concert pianist is really what she wants.

Gilbert does a good job in showing the ever-tightening pressure surrounding Clara, culminating in the suspense of the piano competition. Clara’s situation is something many prodigies may experience; how she handles the aftermath is sensitively portrayed.