March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Best Adult Books 4 Teens 2015

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AB4TiconIt’s been a crazy year for Adult Books 4 Teens. We’ve changed formats—transitioning from a blog to a column, with reviews appearing in the print magazine. Founding editor Angela Carstensen stepped down from her editorial post this year, though you’ll still see her byline on reviews from time to time. Despite all the changes, we’ve managed to read well over 150 books in 2015. Looking over a stellar year of offerings covering a multitude of genres and subject areas, the AB4T reviewers weighed in on their very favorites—from titles that have been flying off library shelves, such as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, to heavy-hitters like Jonathan Franzen’s Purity. These are all incredible works to recommend to teens. Many thanks to all of our amazing reviewers.


FICTION_pt1_586pxBlume, Judy. In the Unlikely Event. Knopf. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781101875049.

In the winter of 1951–52, three planes taking off from Newark Airport crashed into the town of Elizabeth, NJ. Fifteen-year-old Miri is gripped by the terror and sorrow of lives lost, even as she experiences first love. The story is based on Blume’s life, and demonstrates how beautifully she is able to capture the interior lives of teens.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

Campbell, Bonnie Jo. Mothers Tell Your Daughters: Stories. W. W. Norton. Tr $25.95. ISBN 978-0393248456.

If there’s one thing teens have a nose for, it’s authenticity. Campbell’s short story collection is full of some hard truths—cheating boyfriends, anxious mothers, sexual trauma, physical abuse, and hunger of the body and soul. The author’s artistry in evoking a time, a place, and a feeling on the page is astounding. Sophisticated teens will appreciate Campbell’s stellar writing and her no-holds-barred honesty about the small and large cruelties visited upon women.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Brooklyn Public Library

Capó Crucet, Jennine. Make Your Home Among Strangers. St. Martin’s Pr. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9781250059666.

Torn between two cultures, Lizet, daughter of Cuban immigrants, wins a scholarship to an elite Northeastern college. Her trips home to Miami at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter reveal the growing distance between where she came from and where she wants to go, the ties that bind her to her family, and the desires that pull her away.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library

De Robertis, Carolina. The Gods of Tango. Knopf. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781101874493.

A lush, lyrical book that combines history, music, and romance in a beautifully compelling story. Set in 1913, it explores the social history of Argentina and of tango through the experience of Leda, a young widow. Leda is forced to disguise herself as a man to avoid falling into poverty or resorting to prostitution. As she journeys from playing tango in brothels to respectable venues, she finds love and learns to understand her true self along the way.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

Franzen, Jonathan. Purity. Farrar. Tr $28. ISBN 9780374239213.

At the core of this complex drama is the plight of Pip Tyler, a college graduate living in poverty with an odd assortment of housemates. Pip’s mother is strange, and her father is…unidentified. As the cast of characters grows and the story shoots out across the globe, smart and sassy Pip remains the novel’s heart.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN.

Gipe , Robert. Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel. Ohio University Pr. Tr $28.95. ISBN 9780821421529.

Dawn Jewel’s relatives bounce between jail and the ER on a daily basis. As she observes herself spiraling downward in the same direction, she makes choices that aren’t always moral—and sometime aren’t even choices. Bravo to Gipe for creating this brave, funny protagonist who wins the staring contest between herself and her dysfunctional family, hands down.–Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martin’s Pr. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9780312577223.

Two sisters find their own ways to survive during the Nazi occupation of France. One is a young mother whose husband is in a POW camp and whose home is commandeered by the Nazis; the other is an impetuous teen who finds her true self as a member of the Resistance. This is a fast-paced read: romantic, suspenseful, heartrending, and deeply emotional.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library

Jackson, Naomi. The Star Side of Bird Hill. Penguin. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781594205958.

When two sisters—Dionne, 16, and Phaedra, 11—are suddenly shipped off by their mother in the summer of 1989 from Brooklyn to Barbados to live with their grandmother, a midwife and practitioner of obeah, they discover family secrets, are confronted with their long-absent father, and come of age in this lyrical debut. Unforgettable characters, a lush setting, and family drama will keep teens reading this deft and stunning work.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal


Johnston, Tim. Descent. Algonquin. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781616203047.

Eighteen-year-old Caitlin and her younger brother Sean head out for a run while on a family vacation in the Colorado Rockies. Sean winds up in the hospital after being struck by a vehicle, but Caitlin has disappeared. This is family drama, psychological suspense, survival, and coming-of-age, all set in an awesome, vast wilderness where anything can happen. A frightening but also life-affirming read thanks to the love, hope, and determination of wounded, imperfect characters.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library

Kells, Claire. Girl Underwater. Dutton. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780525954934.

Avery and Colin, on their way home from Stanford to Boston for Thanksgiving, survive a plane crash in the Rockies, along with three young boys. Told in alternating chapters between the events of the crash and its aftermath, focusing on Avery’s post-traumatic stress, this debut novel has the pacing of a thriller with the heart of a romance, taking readers along on one young woman’s journey of loss, survival, and recovery.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library

Kirk, Shannon. Method 15/33. Oceanview Publishing. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781608091454.

Kidnapped, close to death, and about to give birth, this thriller’s brilliant and slightly sociopathic protagonist is determined not only to save herself and her baby, but also to exact a horrible revenge on her captors. She is strong, purposeful, smart, and introspective. Teens know from the get-go that she has survived the ordeal, but that won’t stop readers from believing that anything could happen along the way. A gripping, unsettling work with a young woman who is unrelenting in her single-minded pursuit of her mission.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Macallister, Greer. Magician’s Lie. Sourcebooks. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9781402298684.

As Ada tells the story over one tense night of how she became known as The Amazing Arden, readers will be at the edge of their seats. With a detailed setting taking place in the first decade of the 20th century, intriguing characters, and a well-paced plot, this work will appeal to young feminists and anyone who enjoys a good illusionist story.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

Moran, Michelle. Rebel Queen. Touchstone. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476716350.

Sita, a female warrior in Queen Lakshmi’s private guard, has a bird’s-eye view of the British Empire attempting an easy conquest of Jhansi, an Indian kingdom, in 1857. This work is historical fiction at its best—court intrigue, gorgeous clothing, the horrific caste system, and powerful women who challenge the status quo in a world determined to see them fail.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Oates, Joyce Carol. The Sacrifice. Ecco. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062332974.

Written in Oates’s always vivid prose, this seemingly timely novel—recounting a young black woman’s rape accusation against white police officers and the ensuing media storm in the community—tacitly comments on the heartbreaking fact that it is in fact not timely at all, as it is based on true events that happened almost 30 years ago.–Mark Flowers, Rio Vista (CA) Library

Park, Patricia. Re Jane. Viking/Pamela Dorman Bks. Tr $27.95. ISBN 97805 25427407.

Dutiful Jane Re, a half-Korean/half-American orphan living in Flushing, Queens, and working in her strict uncle’s grocery store, tries to escape her lot in life by becoming the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys. She soon falls in love with Mr. Farley, but an emergency trip to Seoul pushes her to consider her choices. This fun, contemporary, and moving retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre offers an honest look at life between two cultures and living for oneself.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

Reardon, Brian. Finding Jake. William Morrow. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062339485.

A parent’s biggest fear is hearing that there is a shooting at his or her child’s school. Jake is missing after his best friend shoots and kills some of their classmates, and the news is more than his parents and neighbors can bear. This is a compelling look at how well parents know their children and how a tragedy can bring out the worst in people.–Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT

Renehan, John. The Valley. Dutton. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780525954866.

Debut novelist Renehan introduces readers to Lieutenant Black, a disgruntled Army officer who is sent to a remote valley in Afghanistan to investigate a report of shots being fired into the air by Army infantry members. Shootings, soldiering, military intrigue, betrayal–everything needed to cause nightmares about modern warfare.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL


Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. We Should All Be Feminists. Anchor. pap. $7.95. ISBN 9781101911761.

A personal essay adapted from the author’s TEDx talk of the same name. Adichie offers a more inclusive definition of feminism, one that strives to highlight and embrace a wide range of people and experiences. Drawing on anecdotes from her adolescence and adult life, the celebrated author attempts to strike down stereotypes and unpack the baggage usually associated with the term. Eloquent, stirring, and a must-read for budding and reluctant feminists.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau. Tr $24. ISBN 9780812993547.

In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. Required reading for all high school students and adults alike.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

Hayes, Leah. Not Funny Ha-Ha: A Handbook for Something Hard. Fantagraphics. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781606998397.

A tender, difficult, and, frankly, fascinating nonfiction book in a graphic novel format about getting an abortion. The stark simplicity of its language and artwork contrasts elegantly with its accessible and nonjudgmental, anecdotal, instruction-manual feel. Hayes covers everything from the shock of finding out about an unwanted pregnancy and the options patients have to the waiting room to the weeks after the procedure and recovery. The author does so in a tone that is reminiscent of someone speaking to a younger sister or friend. A much-needed resource on reproductive health choices that should be accessible in every library where teens are served.–Meghan Cirrito, formerly at Brooklyn Public Library

Krakauer . Jon. Missoula: Rape and Justice in a College Town. Doubleday. Tr $28.95. ISBN 9780385538732.

For two of the girls in Krakauer’s latest, the risks of newfound independence as undergrads seemed typical of college life: party hard and then pass out. But as these young women lie in a semi-comatose state of inebriation, they are raped by football players. Krakauer’s in-depth investigation of rape culture and injustice in a Montana college town will haunt readers. It’s a must-read for all incoming college freshmen.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

LEERHSEN, Charles. Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty. S. & S. Tr $27.50. ISBN 9781451645767.

A startlingly well-written biography of baseball’s enigmatic first superstar. Leerhsen gives readers a look at how history is constructed, meticulously picking through the layers of myth surrounding Cobb’s life to remove many of the most egregious stains from Cobb’s legend, while never shying away from the repellent qualities of his hero.–Mark Flowers, Rio Vista (CA) Library

Flowers-Mark_Contrib_WebMark Flowers is the editor of SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens column and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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