March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Non-Nonfiction: Harry Potter and Hamilton | Adult Books 4 Teens

I once wrote in this space that when I rule the library world, plays and poetry will be immediately freed from the shackles of “nonfiction” and Dewey numbers, but I can’t seem to find where I wrote it right now, and the point bears repeating anyway. Plays are obviously just as fictional as novels and short stories, after all, and I can’t see how poetry is closer to informational books than fiction. For that matter, essays and humor probably deserve better than the 800s, too.

I offer the above prelude to explain the strange hodgepodge of reviews below. Of the seven reviewed titles, six will be labeled nonfiction and one will be a graphic novel. Strangely, the graphic novel is a nonfictional account of the author’s life, while one of the nonfiction titles is a purely fictional play script, and another nonfiction title is an amalgam of a play based on history plus a nonfiction account of its creation. In all honestly, I actually love the blending of genres and styles on display. I just wish we librarians had a better way to present them to the public than our generally binary distinction of “fiction” and “nonfiction.”

In any case, teens should love all of the below books, starting with the obvious blockbuster of the bunch (and the most obviously fictional), Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’m not sure that there is much I can add to the onslaught of news, opinion, and reviews about the newest entry in the apparently unending world of Harry Potter. My younger brother was 13 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, making him one of the first teenagers to know who Harry Potter was. Now he’s 32 and our 10-year-old niece has just finished reading the original series. Having now made it through an entire generation and, with The Cursed Child, an author change, Harry Potter has gone beyond beloved series to cultural icon for the ages.

Moving on to another blockbuster, let’s talk Hamilton. Long before the musical, I wrote a review of Jean Fritz’s children’s biography of Alexander Hamilton:

When choosing one’s favorite founding father (as we all, eventually must) liberals could do a lot worse than Alexander Hamilton—a genuine war hero, who was nonetheless very thoughtful about whether the Revolution was the right thing; a virulent opposer of slavery; the primary author of the Federalist papers; a proponent of a strong central government, and founder of the Federalist party; creator of the national bank; and a generally honorable man who accepted his duel with Burr but refused to return fire.


So I felt vindicated when Lin-Manuel Miranda turned my personal favorite founder into a national rock star (and more than a little satisfied when his renewed fame saved Hamilton’s place on the 10 dollar bill, to the detriment of one of his biggest detractors, Andrew Jackson). The book reviewed below contains the libretto, as well as annotations from Miranda, a set of gorgeous photographs, and more. It’s a treat for anyone who loves the musical already but also a great introduction for newbies.

Of course, the aspect of Hamilton that has resonated most strongly for many viewers and listeners is Miranda’s reappropriation of the founding moment for people of color——through his multicultural casting, use of hip-hop music, and emphasis on our most antislavery founder. This ties the musical neatly with our next book, Mychal Denzel Smith’s Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education. Smith’s memoir adds another important voice to our national discussion, and it’s an eloquent one.

Our two “purest” nonfiction titles address two more hot-button current issues——feminism and nerd culture——through the lens of history. If you don’t know why nerd culture is such a thorny issue, google “Ghostbros” or check out this incredible article by Devin Faraci over at (plus its follow-up). In short: our culture, especially movies, has been taken over by the properties that were once the cult objects of outcasts and nerds——and a minority of those outcasts and nerds haven’t handled the move to prime time too well. Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade takes us back to that long ago time when not every child (and adult) in America (and the world) could recite Batman’s origin story like biblical verse. Weldon uses Batman specifically to track the history of nerd culture and the ways it has crossed paths with mainstream culture over the past 80 years. It’s a great read that puts much of contemporary culture into its proper context.

A much narrower history, Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls addresses feminism—specifically the role of women in the workforce—by focusing on the female “computers” who helped put a man on the moon. Back before the machines on your desk, lap, and pocket were called “computers,” that word was used for a person who calculated (computed) numbers. And starting in the 1940s, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, began employing women as the computers who powered their research. A thought-provoking book, especially for the budding young feminists (male and female) of today.

Finally, we have a pair of memoirs. Nicolaia Rips’s Trying To Float is mainly comic, telling of her quirky upbringing in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. A great read on its own, it should be an easy sell when teens learn that Rips wrote the book as a teen herself. Evie Wyld’s Everything Is Teeth is the graphic novel referred to above, and despite the format, it is much darker, dealing with Wyld’s obsessive phobia of sharks and the anxieties this fear comes to stand in for.

I warned you this lot was a hodgepodge, but together they offer a huge cross-section of “nonfiction” that should give teens plenty to think about, and maybe inspire them to write some of their own.



Harry_Potter_and_the_Cursed_Child_Special_Rehearsal_Edition_Book_CoverTHORNE, Jack & John Tiffany. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. 320p. ebook available. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Jul. 2016. Tr $29.99. ISBN 9781338099133.

Playwright Thorne and director Tiffany (who previously collaborated on Hope and Let the Right One In) worked with J.K. Rowling to extend the Harry Potter universe with an eighth “installment” in the form of the script from the new West End production. The book starts where the last chapter of Deathly Hallows left off—19 years after the main events of the series—with Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione all saying goodbye to their children as they leave for Hogwarts. As Albus, Harry and Ginny’s youngest son, attends Hogwarts, he is plagued by the Potter legacy—something he never wanted—and, as he’s sorted into Slytherin, is terrible at Quidditch, and constantly compared to his famous father, he becomes reclusive and angsty. His sole friend is Scorpius Malfoy, the only son of Draco Malfoy—prompting further separation from his father. When Albus hatches a plot to go back in time to save the life of Cedric Diggory—what Albus views as the biggest mistake his father made—time becomes distorted and Harry is left to examine his own life, his relationship with his son, and how love can sometimes be much more complicated than it seems. This is an interesting extension of the “Harry Potter” universe, but readers should go into it knowing that it’s its own beast. Rowling didn’t write it (much to the fury and vitriol of many fans), and it is in script form, so it loses some of the magic that won over millions of readers back when it all began. However, many of the themes that made the original series great are still in abundance—love and friendship conquering all, facing your flaws and accepting them—so that it simultaneously still feels like a “Harry Potter” tale while remaining its own story. VERDICT It is unlikely that the script will create new Potter followers, owing to its format (reading a script vs. reading a novel is a whole other ballgame), but it’s a well-crafted and enjoyable read.–Tyler Hixson, School Library Journal


EverythingIsTeethWYLD, Evie. Everything Is Teeth. illus. by Joe Sumner. 128p. Pantheon. May 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781101870815.

Wyld’s graphic memoir reflects on her youthful fascination with and horror of sharks and reveals glimpses of her adult life. Much of the work takes place at her family’s summer home in rural, coastal Australia. Here young Evie senses sharks everywhere—in the river and ocean but also swimming next to the truck or through the crops. She finds a book called Shark Attack and idolizes Rodney Fox, a survivor whose wounds are graphically depicted. Back in Peckham, England, Evie fears sharks in her bath and while on the sofa or in her bed. Her brother starts coming home with signs of being beaten, and he takes comfort in the stories, real and imagined, that Evie tells him of shark attacks. She watches Jaws with her father as he drinks glass after glass of wine. Back in Australia, the young woman has some shark-themed excursions with her family and experiences more shark worries, including imagining her brother and mother being killed by one. Throughout, these animals are a source of dread as well as stand-ins for other anxieties. While the other members of her family display a broad range of emotions, Evie almost always looks concerned, fretful, trepidatious in the illustrations. The beak-nosed people and sparse landscapes are in stark black-and-white, with color appearing only rarely, notably in the various sea creatures depicted. VERDICT Evie’s youth as well as the lure of sharks may help this title appeal to teens, though the overarching tension and the final scenes of her father’s death may speak to a more mature or adult audience. For any collection where graphic memoirs are popular.–Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids 


RiseHOLT, Nathalia. Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. 352p. ebook available. Index. notes. photos. Little, Brown. Apr. 2016. Tr $27. ISBN 9780316338929.

We take so much for granted now, but in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, women who wanted a career other than homemaker were mostly limited to becoming teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and there was no such thing as maternity leave. However, a few smart young women who loved math were hired to be human computers for the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. What we think of as computers now hadn’t been invented yet. These women spent their days writing equations and computing numbers with pencils, paper, and slide rules to give the male engineers the information they needed to build rockets, satellites, and space shuttles. This selection will surprise and thrill teens not only because it honors the crucial work of these female scientists but also because it shows their individual humanity—their favorite fashions, their personal relationships—within the broader context of the international space race, changes in American society brought about by feminism and integration, and transformations in American daily life brought about by evolving technology. Teen book clubs will enjoy discussing the pros and cons of all-female work groups, the costs and benefits of space exploration, and more. Readers will want to search online for information about the Juno probe, mentioned in the “1970s–Today” section as orbiting Jupiter in July 2016. The extensive notes section details the many first-person interviews conducted by the author, plus the archival materials she used. VERDICT An engaging, inspiring offering that will appeal to fans of history, science, and feminism.–Hope Baugh, Young Adult Services Manager, Carmel Clay Public Library, Carmel, IN

HamiltonMIRANDA, Lin-Manuel & Jeremy McCarter. Hamilton: The Revolution. 288p. illus. ebook available. notes. Grand Central. Apr. 2016. Tr $45. ISBN 9781455539741.

This glorious, oversize testament to the multiple Tony Award–winning musical Hamilton is a joy to anyone who loves the sound track or who has been lucky enough to score tickets to the show. Miranda’s annotations are in the margins of the lyrics, which are usually overlaid on full-spread photographs of the cast. He explains the many homages to rappers of his youth, as well as why he used literary devices, changed music tempos, and added fiction when Ron Chernow’s biography couldn’t fill in the gaps. Thirty-two essays offer teens even more background knowledge of how the show was created and often include lyrics that were cut from the final show. Through interviews with cast members and mentors, readers will be engrossed in the narrative and listening along to the sound track. The line “Immigrants: We get the job done,” from “Yorktown (the World Turned Upside Down),” stirs rousing applause during performances, and the revolutionary twist of multicultural Americans portraying the Founding Fathers will be inspiring to young people. VERDICT An uplifting, gorgeous, diverse, and emotional libretto that will be performed in high schools as soon as the rights are available, and a must-have for initiated and uninitiated alike.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

TryingRIPS, Nicolaia. Trying To Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel. 272p. Scribner. Jul. 2016. Tr $25. ISBN 9781501132988.

Rips’s delightful memoir will amuse readers of all ages. Her eccentric childhood, spent growing up in an apartment in the famous Chelsea Hotel on West 23rd Street in Manhattan, is described with wit and humor. Spanning from preschool entrance to the end of eighth grade, her work addresses her struggle to make friends and fit in at school. The insightful anecdotes are so well-done that readers will assume that Rips is an adult, but the teenage author graduated from high school in 2016 and this is her first book. Young adults will hope that a sequel covering her years at La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts is forthcoming and wonder if she is as funny in person as she is on the page. The tenants of the Chelsea are not the famous ones of the past, but those portrayed were important for the young girl, whose parents did not arrange the usual playdates. Rips’s parents are depicted as creative optimists from the Midwest, and, fortunately for readers, her father tired of her troublesome tales about school and suggested that she write them down instead of complaining. VERDICT This hilarious selection will make readers laugh and could encourage young people to keep a diary and try their own hand at writing.–Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library

InvisibleredstarSMITH, Mychal. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education. 240p. ebook available. Perseus/Nation. Jun. 2016. Tr $24. ISBN 9781568585284.

Smith picks up the conversation started in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Spurred by the pain surrounding recent shootings of young black males, he dissects white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class-based elitism, self-hatred, violence, and untreated mental illness. If it sounds like a lot, it is, but don’t be dissuaded; Smith is in control and delivers the message in short chapters, each with personal revelations and current cultural references. Young people will relate to his examination of Kanye West, LeBron James, Dave Chappelle, and Frank Ocean. Smith’s honesty is raw and often funny (“I visited the campus once before deciding Hampton would be it, based on my highly sophisticated decision-making rationale: it just felt right, ya know?”), and his punches land squarely. Teens can’t help but ponder the inequality of our nation’s policies while also examining their effects on personal life. Smith challenges readers to ask the questions that will allow us to restructure, rephrase, and reconsider what we are ashamed of. What if we shifted our language to “invite in” all that is different from us? What if we no longer placed the burden of bravery on the marginalized, the people who try to fit into a hostile world? “Change is not inevitable, and building a world of true justice and equality will not happen if we don’t commit to building those new selves.” Smith will continue to be a voice for our nation in years to come. VERDICT This is a commanding read that deserves a place in all libraries. It will make a great book group discussion, especially when paired with Coates’s memoir.–Pamela Schembri, Horace Greeley High School, Chappaqua, NY

BatmanWELDON, Glen. The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. 336p. S. & S. Mar. 2016. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476756691.

By studying Batman’s fan base over the superhero’s 80-year history, Weldon, a devotee himself, arrives at an interesting theory: the Batman brand exploded when marketers figured out how to appeal to both “nerds” and “normals.” The key to Batman’s survival has been his mutability. First appearing in 1939, he appealed to boys. A decade later, the censorship of comics pushed Batman underground, where he was picked up by rebellious teens; by the 1960s, pop culture, spearheaded by fan Andy Warhol, had transformed him into campy fare. These boys, teens, and men took from Batman’s iconography their own definitions of what it meant to be male, and to be a hero, in distinctly changing times. (Female admirers are few, although Weldon does include them when he can.) Batman’s competing identities threatened his future as a character and an industry. Over the last five decades, young artists from three media—print, TV, and film—achieved a synthesis of Batman iterations while reestablishing his core persona as a childhood survivor of violence who swears to avenge his parents’ death by fighting crime. Comics began to reference the pointy ears and slick capes of the first comics, and nerd culture was born. Today Batman is grim but not nihilistic, obsessed but not crazy, and as a hero, he resonates. Weldon puts all this together in an analysis enhanced by beautiful color plates of Batman comics dating back to the hero’s inaugural year. VERDICT A must for comics fans who will be first in line for a go at this dense but readable text.–Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY



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Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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