February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

It’s Not All Death, Dystopia, and Disaster: YA Novels to Tickle the Funny Bone

Filled with memorable characters and laugh-out-loud moments, these entertaining tales of friendship, love, and self-discovery explore coming-of-age themes with spot-on insight and large doses of humor. Recommend these engaging offerings to readers who like their stories comedic and cathartic.

The chemistry of the modern family

Nielsen_We are all made of moleculesAs socially awkward as he is intellectually gifted, Stewart, 13, is still deeply affected by his mother’s death (his science-focused mind takes comfort in the idea that he still connects to her by breathing in her molecules), but he’s ready to move forward. Popular and pretty Ashley, 14, who prefers fashion magazines and outfit-tweaking to homework, is still reeling from her parents’ divorce and the revelation that her father is gay. Their parents have been dating, and when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom, the two teens become sort-of step-siblings, thrown together at home and at school (Ashley is mortified when “the midget freakazoid” is moved up to her grade). Alternating first-person chapters create a unique and believable voice for each protagonist: Stewart works through emotional and social challenges by applying line graphs, lists, and analytical thinking, and his oddball quirks, quiet sensitivity, and compassion for others are irresistible. The cracks in Ashley’s shallow, self-obsessed, drama-queen veneer gradually uncover the chrysalis of a more thoughtful and caring individual. Susin Nielsen’s novel employs wry humor and superb characterizations to tackle serious issues, emphasize the importance of family, and reveal the truth that despite our differences, We Are All Made of Molecules (Random; Gr 7-10).

Going out with a bang

dentonlittledeathdateDue to advances in the field of AstroThanatoGenetics (ATG), every individual knows the exact—and inescapable—day of his or her demise. Though he is only 17, Denton Little’s Death Date (Knopf; Gr 9 Up), like those of most other folks, is celebrated with a funeral (complete with a painfully awkward self-eulogy, mediocre deejay, and tacky plastic party favors) and a Sitting (the soon-to-be deceased gathers with loved ones on the big day to wait “for something to happen. And something always happens.”). However, things do not go as expected for the usually low-key Denton, whose last moments are plagued by a head-spinning hangover, a hazy hookup with his best friend’s sister, stalking by his girlfriend’s jealous ex, a strange purple rash, a slew of near-fatal mishaps, and an enigmatic encounter with a mysterious stranger. Luckily, Denton has his fun-loving pot-smoking pal Paolo by his side, the support of his always-tongue-tied dad and overbearing stepmom, the antics of other delightfully rendered characters, and an impromptu trip to prom to buoy him up while he awaits his fate (which, against all statistical odds, is an unexpected one). Lance Rubin’s page-turner sparkles with hilarious dialogue, deadpan drollness, roller-coaster plot twists, and wryly presented coming-of-age revelations.

Step out of your comfort zone

easton_boys dont knitAs the result of a rare reckless moment (involving dimwitted friends, a shoplifted bottle of liquor, and a collision with a crossing guard during a bicycle getaway), the usually law-abiding Ben Fletcher, 17, is on probation. Along with journal keeping and community service, he must participate in a “suitable extracurricular activity” and signs up for a community college knitting class, assuming it will be led by Miss Swallow, his incredibly hot English teacher. But everyone knows that Boys Don’t Knit (Feiwel & Friends; Gr 8 Up), so Ben tells his buddies and soccer-obsessed father that he’s taking pottery. Though disappointed when he finds out that Miss Swallow is not the knitting teacher, the protagonist soldiers on with needles and wool and is amazed to discover an affinity for the art form. In fact, it turns out he’s a natural, talented enough to create his own designs and even compete in the All-UK Junior Knitting Championship. All well and good, but is he ready to go public with his newfound obsession? Ben’s British-slang-sprinkled diary entries expertly interweave comically exaggerated plot elements, diverse and well-wrought characters, and uproarious dialogue with themes of self-discovery, stereotype smashing, and first romance. T.S. Easton’s novel will leave readers in stitches.

Yee_Kidney_Higgs Boson Bing is counting down the final seven days of the perfect high school career. Named by his astrophysicist mother for the God particle, this Chinese American/English overachiever has it all—he’s valedictorian, debate team caption, track star, boyfriend to the popular and beautiful Roo, and Harvard-bound. However, his carefully laid plans are derailed by The Kidney Hypothetical (Scholastic; Gr 7 Up), a seemingly simple question posed by Roo: Would he give her a kidney should she need one? Higgs’s wrong answer results in an immediate breakup and an avalanche of consequences—disgruntled classmates come out of the woodwork, he realizes his teachers don’t really like him, his best friend is avoiding him, and info provided by an enemy raises doubts about his Harvard application. When he meets Monarch, a free-spirited girl living in an abandoned Airstream trailer in the California foot hills, he throws caution to the winds, jumping into an extended misadventure that includes an ill-fated fistfight with twin thugs, scaling an off-limits water tower, time in a jail cell, and maybe even falling in love. Meanwhile, Higgs begins to face truths about his ordained career path (does he really want to be a third-generation dentist?), unresolved family fallout from his older brother’s tragic death (and his attempt to fill Jeffrey’s shoes), and the giddy possibility of making his own future. Humor and heartache abound in Lisa Yee’s novel, and her pompous yet somehow lovable protagonist will evoke eye rolls and empathy.

smale_geek girl0A self-admitted Geek Girl (HarperCollins; Gr 7-10), 15-year-old Harriet Manners has zero social skills, a tendency to trip over her own feet, and a habit of spouting random facts in lieu of conversation. She is utterly gobsmacked when her best friend and would-be model Nat drags her to a fashion expo and Harriet ends up being the one who gets discovered by an agent (once he lures her out from her hiding place under the table). An uber-trendy fashion designer wants her to be the face of her new line, and despite her fear that Nat will hate her for stealing her dream, Harriet, who is bullied and teased at school, just might be ready for a change—“I could go from proverbial caterpillar to butterfly, from tadpole to frog. From larva to dragonfly (which is actually only a half metamorphosis, but still—I think—worth mentioning).” It will take an array of humorously disastrous photo shoots and runway outings, ridiculously poorly planned deceptions, and several encounters with the kindhearted and swoon-worthy Nick (her modeling counterpart) before she realizes the truth of who she is and who she wants to be. Harriet’s self-deprecating humor and hilarious descriptions make Holly Smale’s series opener a fun-filled frolic.

Magic and mirth

connolly_seriously wickedTenth grader Camellia spends hours mucking out the dragon’s garage, caring for the werewolf pup, and doing other chores for Sarmine Scarabouche, the Seriously Wicked (Tor Teen; Gr 6 Up) witch to whom she is “enslaved,” leaving little time for passing algebra, let alone studying complicated spells. In fact, Cam has absolutely no interest in following in her guardian’s magic-doing footsteps. However, when the witch’s latest evil plot to take over the city goes wrong and a just-summoned demon ends up occupying the body of the cute floppy-haired new boy at school, Cam must take action—even if it means magical action—to oust Estahoth and save Devon before it’s too late. Tina Connolly has a knack for integrating fantastical elements into the day-to-day world of school dramas, boy-girl flirtations, and mother-daughter angst (though Cam maintains that she was stolen Rapunzel-style as a baby, readers will quickly guess the true relationship between the two). The supporting cast is well drawn, interesting, and unaffectedly multicultural. Tongue-in-cheek humor and fast-paced high jinks abound as events build toward a climactic Halloween dance and Cam steps forth as resourceful heroine ready to embrace her innate abilities, chart her own course, and experience her first kiss.

Don’t kiss and tell

spalding kissing tedWhen they unexpectedly catch their two bandmates making out after practice, 16-year-olds Riley and Reid make a pact to help each other add a little romance to their lives and document their efforts in a shared notebook. Shy and sincere Reid maps out an elaborate plan to catch the eye of a classmate who volunteers at an animal rescue shelter (he ends up with a new canine companion but not the girl), while the much-less-romantic Riley (her list of goals includes “Doing it!!”) suddenly finds herself inundated with options—the geeky but immensely kissable Garrick (best study session ever), the effortlessly suave Milo (they meet at her favorite record store, and he writes his number on her hand), and the irresistibly perfect Ted (the boy she’s been crushing on forever). Suddenly, Riley is busy dating and Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys) (Little Brown; Gr 9 Up), chronicling the details in the notebook, and trying to sort through a whirlwind of new feelings. Things are confusing enough, but what will Riley and Reid do when the notebook goes missing? The book is set against a fresh indie-music-scene backdrop, and events unfold from Riley’s point of view with irreverent humor and a genuine voice, while journal entries provide glimpses into Reid’s experiences. Amy Spaulding’s novel explores the ins and outs of friendship, the foibles of first love, and the beginnings of emotional maturity.

Waggish and warmhearted love stories

katcher improbableIn The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak (HarperCollins; Gr 8 Up), two teens who occupy opposite ends of the high school stratosphere collide—and connect—during a chaotically turbulent, riotously funny, and totally unintentional first date. Straight-A student and go-getter Ana Watson is not impressed when Zak Duquette, geeky underachiever, is named as an alternate for an upcoming quiz bowl championship in Seattle. As for Zak, he would much rather spend the weekend communing with his cosplaying cohorts at WashingCon—the best sci-fi convention of the year—but attends the bowl to meet a graduation requirement. While there, Ana’s whiz-kid younger brother Clayton, swayed by Zak’s hyperbolic descriptions of the gathering, makes a run for the convention center, and Ana and Zak must track him down before her parents or their chaperone discover that he’s missing. During their zany all-night quest, they tangle with outlandishly costumed attendees, avoid a vengeance-seeking Viking, attend a wedding ceremony (it’s a “mixed marriage” since John’s a Star Trek fan and Mark likes Star Wars), rumble with zombies, are kidnapped by a drug dealer, and more. As events unfold at manic pace, the two gradually open up to each other, discover hidden-away strengths and vulnerabilities, and finally own up to their burgeoning mutual attraction. Told in alternating chapters by the articulate and idiosyncratic protagonists, Brian Katcher’s hysterical and sweetly romantic novel is underscored with meaty themes about discovering identity, navigating family relationships, and finding a place to fit in.

Albertalli_SimonHigh school junior Simon Speir has been communicating anonymously via email with another boy in his grade, and he thinks he might be falling in love. Blue is thoughtful, sensitive, eloquent, and funny and Simon just can’t stop thinking about him. Simon has not yet come out to anyone as gay, so when nerdy Martin Addison confronts him with a screenshot of one of Blue’s emails (left on a school computer), Simon is thrown for a loop. Martin promises to keep the matter secret if Simon will help him get close to his crush (Simon’s friend Abby). Incredulous that he is being blackmailed and excited that his email correspondence is heating up, Simon begins to realize that it just might be time to acknowledge his own sexual identity. Narrated by the protagonist in a teen-savvy voice that blends humor with genuine emotion, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (HarperCollins; Gr 8 Up) relates a tale of self-discovery and the earth-shaking fallout of first love. Becky Albertalli presents a multicultural cast of characters that are well drawn, multifaceted, and believable, including Simon’s joke-loving but somewhat clueless family and his tight-knit group of friends. The emails are interspersed throughout, depicting a relationship that gradually deepens in intimacy; Simon is more than ready to take things to the next level, but Blue is reluctant to reveal his name. Thankfully, love will find a way. Emotionally erudite, endearing, and consistently funny, this novel will resound with starry-eyed romantics.

Publication Information

ALBERTALLI, Becky. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-234867-8; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-06-234869-2. Downloadable Audio File. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-241150-1.

CONNOLLY, Tina. Seriously Wicked. Tor Teen. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7653-7516-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9781466880740.

EASTON, T. S. Boys Don’t Knit. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-250-05331-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 9781250066558.

KATCHER, Brian. The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06227277-5; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-227279-9.

NIELSEN, Susin. We Are All Made of Molecules. Random /Wendy Lamb Bks. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49686-4; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49687-1; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49688-8.

RUBIN, Lance. Denton Little’s Death Date. Knopf. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49696-3; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49697-0; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-553-49698-7.

SMALE, Holly. Geek Girl. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-233357-5; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-233358-2; ebook $10.99. ISBN 978-0-06-233359-9; Downloadable Audio ed. $21.99. ISBN 978-0-06-236798-3.

SPAULDING, Amy. Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys). Little Brown/Poppy. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 978-0-316-37152-0; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-316-37151-3; Hatchette Downloadable Audio ed. $22.98. ISBN 978-1-4789-0349-9.

YEE, Lisa. The Kidney Hypothetical, or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-23094-0.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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