All the Bright Places – YA fiction (grades 10 and up)

Niven All the brightNIVEN, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. Knopf. Jan. 2015. 400p. Tr $15. ISBN 9780385755887.
Gr 10 Up—Violet and Finch’s separate life paths first converge six feet above the ground, on the four-inch ledge of their school’s bell tower. When the two are then paired up for a geography project, they begin to heal from past tragedies and slowly bond as they learn to see what is wonderful about their native Indiana, and about life. But some demons simply can’t be avoided, and the desire to live can in itself be fatal. The true mark of a well-written book isn’t a shocking ending; it’s when the story has an ending you can see coming from a mile away, and yet when it transpires, it still breaks your heart. Niven’s foreshadowing and the book’s description was such that I knew what major plot point would occur even before I started reading, but I kept reading anyway because I was that invested in the story. And even though I could predict many important occurrences in the book, Niven constantly surprised me with her execution of the plot points I expected and the introduction of several smaller plot twists that I didn’t anticipate.

I also appreciated Niven’s emphasis on characterization—every character was fleshed out to some degree, sufficient for their role in the novel—and her humane but accurate depiction of mental illness. Finch’s symptoms were not sugarcoated or romanticized; they were simply there, clearly a part of him but by no means defining him. My one complaint is that the beginning of the book moved rather slowly; however, this was less of an issue the second time I read it, as many of the small details mentioned throughout the introduction become important later on. Though I enjoyed the protagonists and the romance between them, I was most compelled by Finch’s individual story line. Violet was a good and wonderful person in her own right, but it was Finch who drew me in, partly because of his charisma and partly because I could see how hard he was fighting to stay awake, to stay alive. Niven documents his descent into instability in such a way that readers can clearly see what is happening, and yet we never stop hoping that somehow, he’ll find a way to overcome his illness just as he helped Violet to overcome her grief and truly live life again.

I would recommend this book for teens and adults, particularly fans of Rainbow Rowell, Ned Vizzini, and John Green. All the Bright Places has many parallels with Eleanor and Park by Rowell, though the two novels ultimately differ in tone and theme.—Emily L., age 17

2014 Cybils Award Finalists Announced

The Children and Young Adult Blogger Literary Awards (Cybils) aim to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. And I’m impressed—out of 80 Cybils finalists this year, 30 of them feature characters or are by authors from diverse backgrounds. In the graphic novel category alone, diversity accounts for nearly half of this year’s finalists in the children’s and young adult age groups. I’ve annotated the titles on the YA finalist lists below—as always, your comments are appreciated!

Nonfiction for Young Adults

COE, Alexis. Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis. Zest Books. Oct. 2014. 208p. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781936976607.

Gr 9 Up—This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Including sociocultural themes on LGBTQ society, gender and femininity, this title packs a punch.

Be A ChangemakerTHOMPSON, Laurie Ann. Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters. S. & S./Beyond Words. 240p. Sept. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781582704654.

Visit Thompson’s website and fall in love. She walks the talk, and is inspiring teens everywhere with this title.

KUKLIN, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Candlewick. Feb. 2014. 192p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780763656119.

Gr 9 Up—Check out Luann Toth’s great interview and discussion of the title with Kuklin, who interviewed, photographed, and then created individual profiles of six transgender or gender-neutral young adults for the book.

VAN WAGENEN, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. Dutton. 272p. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525426813.

Gr 7 Up—Maya commits to following author Betty Cornell’s advice from her 1950s Teen-Age Popularity Guide during her eighth grade school year. Rag rollers, posture lessons, and pearls for the school picture all make an appearance. A delightful memoir from a very fresh voice, Van Wagenen contrasts the mundane (and content) family life she has with the fact that she lives in Brownsville, TX, a border town with Mexico that is notorious for gang warfare, drug dealing, and its poverty. A great addition to this year’s award lists.

FLEMING, Candace. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. Random/Schwartz and Wade. July 2014. 304p.Tr $16. ISBN 9780375867828.

Gr 7 up—This book is getting the buzz from all quarters—a sweeping family epic that is geopolitical, dramatic, and incredibly well-researched and written. What‘s not to like?

FreedomSummerMurdersMITCHELL, Don. The Freedom Summer Murders. Scholastic. Apr. 2014. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545477253.

Gr 6-9—SLJ reviewer John Peters call’s Mitchell’s book “A timely, essential account, illustrated with contemporary photos and capped with extensive endnotes and source notes.”

SHEINKIN, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2014. 208p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781596437968.

Gr 7 Up—Not only a favorite in print format, the audio version of this Sheinkin title is getting rave reviews.

Graphic Novels for Young Adults

DOCTOROW, Cory. In Real Life. First Second. Oct. 2014. 282p. pap. $15. ISBN 9781596436589.

Gr 9 Up—SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids had this to say: “The art comes courtesy of Jen Wang, whose previous graphic novel was Koko Be Good, also from First Second. Wang’s art is an extreme treat… .“ It’s great to see a title from First Second on the list.

Strange FruitGILL, Joel Christian and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History. Fulcrum. June 2014. 106p. Tr $23.95. ISBN 9781938486296.

I think this review from Brain Pickings says it all.

BROOKS, Max. The Harlem Hellfighters. Canaan White. Broadway. Apr. 2014. 272p. Tr $25. ISBN 9780307464972.

Gr 8 UpThe Harlem Hellfighters is a fictional account of the 369th infantry regiment’s deployment to France in World War I. White’s illustrations are phenomenal, truly bringing each character and pivotal scene into sharp focus.

YANG, Gene Luen. The Shadow Hero. First Second. July 2014. 176p. Tr $26. ISBN 9781596436978.

Gr 7 Up—Just check out Mahnaz Dar’s terrific interview with Yang for the drive for diverse characters, the origin of the Green Turtle, and his own favorite superheroes.

Through the WoodsCARROLL, Emily. Through the Woods. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. July 2014. 208p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781442465961.

Gr 7 Up—In a particularly strong year for graphic novels, Carroll’s collection of fairy tale twists is thought to be a Printz contender.

KOYCZAN, Shane. To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful. Annick Pr. Sept. 2014. 72p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781554516391.

Gr 6 Up— Emma Weiler from “No Flying. No Tights” sums it up beautifully—“With spare words and text, Koyczan conveys exactly how cruel words make us all feel and also how we are not alone and that we can survive.”

Speculative Fiction for Young Adults

Death SwornCYPESS, Leah. Death Sworn. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2014. 352p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780062221216.

Gr 9 Up—Fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling (Houghton Harcourt) and George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series (Bantam) will delight in this twisty turny tale that is full of magic and romance.

KING, A.S. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Little, Brown. Oct. 2014. 320p. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316222723.

Gr 9 Up—King’s has a legion of followers, and once again, she delights readers with this otherworldly yet contemporary coming-of-age story.

WHALEY, John Corey. Noggin. S. & S./Atheneum. Apr. 2014. 352p. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442458727.

Gr 9 Up—Karen Jensen, “Teen Librarian Toolbox,” calls Noggin “brilliant speculative concept that combines biting humor with the perfect amount of angst and sorrow.”

SalvageDUNCAN, Alexandra. Salvage. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Apr. 2014. 528p. Tr $17. ISBN 9780062220141.

Gr 9 UpBooklist describes Duncan’s debut novel as “part science fiction, part horror story, and a less than subtle, but oh-so-effective object lesson for today’s YA readers about their possible futures.” Though the page count might be daunting, strong characters and fine pacing will drive readers through.

DE LA PEÑA, Matt. The Living. Delacorte. 2013. 320p. Tr $15. ISBN 9780385741200.

Gr 9-12—Featuring diverse characters and de la Peña’s signature wit, The Living rivets readers with catastrophic events, disease, and survival against all odds.

RUTKOSKI, Marie. The Winner’s Curse. Farrar. Mar. 2014. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374384678.

Gr 7 Up—A straightforward plot with a Regency romance overlay, fans of series fiction are already hungry for the next title.

While We RunHEALEY, Karen. While We Run. Little, Brown. May 2014. 336p. Tr $15. ISBN 9780316233828.

Gr 9 Up—Healey hit it out of the park with When We Wake, the prequel toWhile We Run, so I had no doubt that the writing would continue to be just as beautiful, the plot as gripping, the story as thrilling.

Young Adult Fiction

QUINTERO, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos. Oct. 2014. 208p. Tr $17. ISBN

Gr 9 Up—In an interview with School Library Journal, Quintero says “I will be the first to admit that Gabi is a lot like me. She is, however, braver than I ever was.” Critics are loving this achingly bittersweet tale of one struggling teen’s senior year of high school.

Girls Like UsGILES, Gail. Girls Like Us. Candlewick. May 2014. 224p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763662677.

Gr 8 Up—While writing Girls Like Us, Giles was warned by a publisher “that I would be ‘flayed’ if I attempted this” story about two young adults with cognitive impairment. Biddy and Quincy show the world and themselves that they deserve respect and love, not pity and hatred.

NELSON, Jandy. I’ll Give You the Sun. Dial. Sept. 2014. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803734968.

Gr 9 Up—The twin trope abounds in YA lit, but Nelson brings a whole new story to readers with the alternating voices of Jude and Noah, once inseparable but now in fierce competition for virtually everything—recognition for their artistic talent, the affection of their parents, and the love of a boy.

COLBERT, Brandy. Pointe. Putnam. Apr. 2014. 333p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399160349.

Gr 9 UpSLJ’s Joy Piedmont calls Pointe “a strong Morris contender. Really strong.” Dealing with heavy issues such as anorexia and racism, Colbert’s compelling story barely holds back a call to activism.

When I was the GreatestREYNOLDS, Jason. When I Was the Greatest. S. & S./Atheneum. Jan. 2014. 240p. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442459472.

Gr 7-10—Blogger Melissa Wiley, “Here in the Bonny Glen,” writes, “When I Was the Greatest is a novel with extraordinary heart, with a cast of characters so real and flawed and complex they feel like family.” With a cover that draws readers in from across the room, Reynolds’s story will transfix teens.

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Teen Lit Award Ccontenders

And the Winners Are: Teen Lit Award Contenders │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

With the American Library Association Midwinter meeting just weeks away, all eyes turn to lists of the best releases of 2014. Water cooler conversations and social media heat up with passionate discussion of fan favorites. Who will be the winners of the coveted prizes? A debut novelist? A past winner? A three-time nominee? Journals, blogs, and associations are already giving readers food for thought. The following selections for teens chosen by the editors at Junior Library Guild are well on their way to fueling the rumor mill.

ANDERSON, Laurie Halse. The Impossible Knife of Memory. 304p. Viking. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780670012091. JLG Level: Y+ : Young Adults (Grades 9 & Up).

Impossible KnifeBeing a teen is hard enough. Hayley has the extra burden of dealing with her father’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Constantly worried that his depression will have fatal effects, she struggles through her classes at school and avoids real relationships. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Gracie, Hayley wrestles with her memories. Then she meets Finn. Though their romance can’t cure everything, it may give her the support she needs to help her dad battle his demons.

Readers can discover more about Anderson by visiting her website. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. She also has a YouTube channel. Her publisher posted a preview of the novel on their website. For further reading about PTSD, send your teens to TeensHealth.

Current recognitions include: SLJ Best Books 2014, Young Adult; 2014 National Book Awards Longlist for Young People’s Literature; Top 20 Editors’ picks 2014, Teen & Young Adult; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Young Adult

FLEMING, Candace. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia. 304p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780375967825. JLG Level: HH : History – High School (Grades 10 & Up).

Family RomanovMany are familiar with the story of the Romanov family’s assassination, but it makes one wonder—how did the situation in Russia get that far? How was the royal family spirited away to the desolation of Siberia unnoticed until it was too late? Fleming set out to find the answers to these and other questions. The results are presented in chapters alternating between two worlds—the glittering, lush life in the palace and the harsh, never-enough-struggle outside the gates.

Don’t miss sharing the book trailer from Fleming’s website or YouTube. From book design to Fleming’s unusual style of research, more information is available to readers directly from the author on her blog. Follow her on Twitter. The Classroom Bookshelf featured the selection, providing teaching ideas and numerous websites for research.

Current recognitions include: SLJ Best Books 2014, Nonfiction; PW’s Best Books of 2014, Young Adult;Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2014; Finalist 2015 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Awards

QUINTERO, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. 208p. Cinco Puntos. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781935955948. JLG Level: CH : City High School (Grades 10 & Up).

GabiGabi’s senior year is complicated by friends and family who make life anything but stress-free. Her mom harps on her weight. Her girlfriend gets pregnant. Her other best friend comes out and is thrown out of his house. She lives in constant fear that her meth-addicted father will kill himself. Then an English class gives her an opportunity to express herself. Poetry changes her life, giving her the courage she needs to survive the challenges and learn to love herself.

What’s the backstory of Gabi? Listen to Quintero talk about its origin SLJ interviewed the author, revealing her personal connection to the characters. Readers can follow Quintero on Twitter andFacebook.

Current awards include: SLJ Best Books 2014, Young Adult; Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2014; Morris Award 2015 Finalist

VAN WAGENEN, Maya. Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. 272p. Dutton. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525426813. JLG Level: C+ : Advanced Readers (Grades 6–9).

popularArmed with the advice of a 60-year-old book on teenage popularity, 15-year-old Maya is determined to follow the instructions to move up the social ladder. Using guidance on hair, makeup, clothing, posture, and personality, Maya’s social experiment forces her to stop being an oyster and come out of her shell. Van Wagenen’s memoir shines with honesty, amazing readers at her courage on a dangerous playing field—middle school.

Amazingly, Van Wagenen’s social experiment has shot her straight to stardom. She’s appeared on The Today Show and has been interviewed by USA Today. Dreamworks has optioned the film rights. Her website is full of the charming admonitions gleaned from the 1950s book that changed her life. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Penguin has also reissued Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide. Read it while wearing your pearls.

Current awards include: Finalist, YALSA’s 2015 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Awards

WESTERFELD, Scott. Afterworlds. 608p. S. & S./Pulse. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781481422345. JLG Level: Y+ : Young Adults (Grades 9 & Up).

AfterworldsDarcy wrote her first novel in one month. She was 17 years old. Now she’s put off college to begin a career as a writer in Manhattan. Though her novel is a fantasy about a girl who survives a terrorist attack, it’s strangely woven from the pieces her own life. Fact and fiction blend in an alternating chapter format that keeps readers glued to the pages.

Show the book trailer and you’ll never have to shelve the book again. Fans can read more about Westerfeld on his blog, in this SLJ interview, and follow him on Twitter. Read and hear an excerpt on at Simon Pulse.

Current awards include: SLJ Best Books 2014, Young Adult.

Additional Resources

The resources for the above titles have been organized in a new JLG Booktalks to Go: Fall 2014 LiveBinder. Titles are sorted by interest level, PreK-3, 3-6, 5-8, and YA. Check out our award-winning Spring 2014 LiveBinder which organizes resources for spring releases. All websites are posted within each LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources are added. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Booktalks and resources are also included on JLG’s BTG Pinterest board.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)

National Readathon Day – Saturday, January 24, 2015

National Readathon Day, Saturday, January 24, 2015, make #timetoread

What’s National Readathon Day (NRD)?

– NRD is a nation-wide marathon reading session on Saturday, January 24 from Noon – 4pm (in respective time zones)
– You can share your love of books and support programs that promote reading by pledging to read and fundraising for the National Book Foundation
– It’s like a walk-a-thon charity drive, but we’re turning pages instead of walking laps.