Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein  code name verity

This is a must-read for teens. And for adults. It’s no more only a ‘teen book’ than The Book Thief is a ‘teen book.’ Never mind how the publisher describes it. Read it.

Since Code Name Verity deals with espionage, it is hard to give you too much summary—this is one book that will be ruined by that. So—I want you to trust me. There’s everything to love here. Oh—trust the Printz Award Committee as well—it’s a Printz Award Honor book.

The basics: A couple of young women become great friends in World War II. They are British—but don’t call the Scottish girl English of you’re in big trouble. One is a pilot, who normally taxis planes for the male pilots, who use them in battle. The other is a telegraph operator. But both are required to serve both secretly and dangerously as the war effort becomes a struggle and Nazi Germany may well overcome all of Europe. Britain is Europe’s final hope.

In a flight over Nazi-occupied France, the fighter plane that the young women are in crashes. The survivor is held captive by the Nazis and tortured for information.  She is required to write information down, but she includes a narrative of how she and her friend arrived at the moment of the crash.

This book is about true bravery—courage in the face of incredible adversity, and not just of the two main characters, but of all sorts of ordinary British servicemen and citizens as well as ordinary French folk who aid the French Resistance. And even a few double-agent Nazis.

Sometimes we say there is a breathtaking moment in a book or a movie, and we don’t mean it literally. In Code Name Verity, think of literally sucking in your breath at the shock and being unable to let it out.

Code Name Verity deals with individual acts, courage, and moral ambiguity.

High school housekeeping: I recommend this book for all readers. You’ll learn something about WWII in Europe and the roles of both women and men. The afterword by the author, where she tells us about how she did her research, and how she decided which scenes would be credible and which scenes would have to be left out,  is great stuff. You can use this as a fictional springboard to do your own research on many issues from WW II—the Royal Air Force, the French Resistance, women in WW II, fighter pilots, Britain during the war, etc.

A little note on the use of the word ‘fag’ in the novel: As you are American teens, you may wonder at the word ‘fag’ used throughout the book—how people are trading them, giving them as gifts, etc. No worries—in Britain (and I believe this is still true) ‘fag’ is a common term for cigarette. In fact, there’s a history behind that use and the derogatory use of the word for a gay man. You could research it. Very sad.


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running dream   The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Jessica, the best sprinter on her high school track team has just broken the league record in the 400-meter, beating her cross-town rival who is narcissistic snot. But the best day of her life turns into the worst as, on the trip home, the track bus is hit by an uninsured driver. While one of her teammates is killed, Jessica loses her leg below the knee.

Even in the hospital, Jessica is told that she is recovering quickly, She’s young and in great shape. She will get a prosthetic leg and be able to walk again. And yet that is little comfort to her. Jessica is depressed because she lives to run. She can’t imagine a life without running. She dreads going back to school and facing her classmates. She repeatedly has the running dream.

Life appears to be over, but Jessica has some good luck left, particularly when it comes to good friends. Fiona is truly there for her. She convinces Jessica to go back to school. She makes sure that her transition is as easy as possible. And there is Gavin, the cute guy that Jessica has been crushing on for over a year. He’s so nice to everyone, and although he has a girlfriend, he tries to understand what Jessica is going through and help. Finally, Jessica meets Rosa. Rosa has been in Jessica’s Algebra II class all year. But Rosa has cerebral palsy, and Jessica admits to herself that until she had to sit at a table with Rosa (because she can’t use the desk with her wheelchair), Rosa was invisible to Jessica. Jessica understands that she, too, is now—paradoxically—both invisible to some and yet someone for students to gawk at when she receives her temporary leg, which looks like a pipe. She decides to really see Rosa, who is not only kind, but also a math genius and willing to help Jessica catch up.

While Jessica struggles to get back to normal, her track coach and teammates come up with a plan to help her run again with a special $20,000 prosthetic running leg, a sort of curved piece of metal that adds spring. Meanwhile, Jessica’s parents struggle with her medical bills, insurance companies and lawyers.

I’m glad I had the chance to read this upbeat novel. I loved the way that, despite a few really mean girls, the teens had the courage to help one another—and the tenacity. Nothing they plan to do is easy, and they all have to work hard. Jessica’s better understanding of Rosa and her desire to help Rosa do something she’s always wanted was inspiring.

This novel is one of three finalists for this year’s California Young Reader Medal. It’s a book for everyone. Enjoy kindness of these characters. And if you fall for it, you might love a YA classic that deals with the same disability issue—Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt. Of the hundreds of YA books I’ve read over the years, it’s one that I remember because it’s so well written and has such beautifully realized characters. Just as The Running Dream is up for the California Young Readers’ Medal this year, Izzy, Willy-Nilly won that award some years ago.

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wave warrior     Wave Warrior by Lesley Choyce

Another Orca Soundings adventure for teens working on their reading skills.

Ben Currie lives in Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia. (For those of us Southern Californians with little knowledge of geography—think far to the east, far to the north, mostly surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, in Canada—but not far from the state of Maine. As for the ocean there, think cold, cold, cold!) Ben’s always been curious about surfing, but he’s a lousy swimmer. Plus, he’d been warned away from the sea by his fisherman grandfather, who understood its dangers and its killer waves. Ben misses his grandfather, who died last spring.

As much as he loves his grandfather, you know from the book’s title that Ben isn’t going to be able to stay away from the water. When he tries to surf—renting a shortboard with a V tail ( a ‘fish’), the reader knows he’s in trouble—he wants to imitate the truly experienced surfers on his first day out. So it isn’t just the freezing cold water that gets to him—it’s his naïveté that that nearly kills him as he struggles to paddle, takes off from the wrong spots, has a great chance to be mowed down by other surfers, gargles saltwater, and face-plants into the bottom of waves.

Bloodied, bruised, and broken, Ben probably would have given up if he hadn’t met an old dog named Mickey D, and then the dog’s owner, Ray. Ray is a veteran surfer from Santa Barbara, California, who has driven all the way to Nova Scotia in an old, junker van. Ray is willing to teach the ‘gremlin’ Ben. “‘Fight your inner demons.’ . . . ‘Be  a warrior. Don’t ever let the suckers get to you.’”

The surf action at Lawrencetown Beach is hyper competitive and violent as guys like Gorbie and Genghis would as soon cause someone to drown or ram him with their surfboards than share waves. Yet Ben finds one more friend in Tara, who is a beautiful and graceful surfer, but knows how to stay cool. Ben will need to learn to survive, deal with loss and death, choose whether or not be a hero—all while learning to sense the rhythms of the ocean and respect its power.

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Riley Park by Diane Tullson   riley park

Here’s another super-quick Orca Soundings novel that I liked:

Corbin and his best friend Darius are both attracted to the same girl, Rubee, who works at the local Safeway grocery store as a checker. But after Rubee appears to have broken up with her boyfriend, Corbin hesitates to ask Rubee out. So Darius does, making Corbin jealous and angry. Still, they are friends and Corbin loves the way Darius is a risk-taker. He gets Corbin to go along with jumping off a high cliff into the local river. It’s times like this when Corbin feels most alive.

After the jump is over, the two guys argue about Rubee, who has come to the outdoor party near the Riley River to see Darius. Later, when the crowd is gone and just Darius and Corbin are left, they are savagely attacked by three guys with a tire iron. In the hospital before Corbin passes out, he hears Darius’s heart monitor become quiet and flat line. He awakes to brain damage and the question of who attacked the two friends—and why?

This story is an interesting look at what is worth fighting for and what has to be let go

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  Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“’I’m taking that cat. I want the black one. You can’t talk me out of it, so don’t even try.’ I was already starting to understand him. To feel for him. Or maybe even to feel with him. He was scared. He was not cuddly. He was not beautiful. If I didn’t take him, he was as good as dead. He was about to be given the death penalty for not being beautiful. Someone had to come along and love him just the way he was. I was that someone.”

Elle’s mom has fallen for her new boyfriend Donald. He’s moving in and Elle’s moving out. Into her own apartment. Just before her sixteenth birthday. Because, after all, Donald doesn’t want her around. So, pretending that she is worried about Elle’s loneliness, her mom wants to buy her a cat. Elle decides to get one from a shelter instead. And then to pick one that’s been through some serious fighting—his eye, a piece of his ear and patches of his fur are missing. He’s broken.

Like Elle.

In a bit of grace, when Elle is moving in to her new apartment, she meets her neighbor Frank. He’s small for a man, but kind and good looking and Elle has an immediate crush on him although he’s living with a woman (also kind) named Molly.

I wouldn’t say that Elle’s lived a sheltered life—her mother is much too self-centered to be nurturing. But Elle is not entirely in tune with others because she hasn’t had that nurturing she needs. Her new friends at her new school—outcasts all—know immediately what Elle hasn’t seen. That Frank is transgendered.

This tightly-written novel is so sweet and compassionate, I want to recommend it to everyone. I know I harp on how much I hate it when young adult books have repetitive scenes or action; when they redescribe all the dialogue by adding tags with adverbs. (The last one I read had something like this: ‘I wish I really was a vampire because at least then I would be understood,’ Helen thought miserably, feeling totally misunderstood.” Really?) I’m trying to stop complaining, but it does bother me because I feel like the authors and editors are disrespecting teens, who they think are so clueless that everything must be repeated. And then repeated.

Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of Jumpstart the World respects you. She’s a wonderful writer. (Adults will remember her bestseller of a decade ago—Pay It Forward—which was made into a movie.) The breathless pace of Jumpstart the World is perfect. As are Hyde’s protagonists and their respect for one another.


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The Orca Soundings series books are really just books that are not connected to one another, but are all published by a company whose mission is to provide interesting books to teens who are improving their reading skills. I’ve enjoyed those that I’ve read,and they are pretty popular in our library, so we’ve got some new titles for you. Check these out:

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Last Ride by Laura Langston

Tom Shields killed his best friend, Logan, in a street-racing accident a year ago. While he tries to make amends to Logan’s girlfriend and keep his promise to never race again, he’s haunted by his dead friend.

Fallout by Nikki Tate

After the death of her sister, Tara struggles to deal with her guilt through slam poetry.

Shattered by Sarah N. Harvey

After March shoves her boyfriend and he ends up in a coma, she tries to figure out what it means to have a perfect life.

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