Teen Biographies

Here are a few inspirational stories from teenagers that I have enjoyed recently!

taking flightTaking Flight
by Michaela DePrince

The memoir is easily my favorite genre – I find the lives of other people endlessly fascinating. Some stories seem to stay with me long after I’ve turned the last page. Taking Flight is one of those stories. To say that Michaela DePrince is an extraordinary young woman feels somehow inadequate; there don’t seem to be adjectives strong enough to capture the strength, courage, and determination that is revealed in her story.

Michaela, born in war-torn Sierra Leone, was an only child. She lost her father in a rebel attack where he worked in a diamond mine, and her mother died only months later due to an untreated illness. At only three years old, she found herself alone in the world and living in an orphanage after her only relative, an uncle, rejected her. At the orphanage she wasn’t called by name, but by number. There was very little food and no medical care. She quickly learned to adapt to this situation. For a small child to be able to maintain her sense of self and any level of personal value is truly remarkable.

Michaela was one of the fortunate orphans to be adopted. Upon arrival in the United States, she was diagnosed with a severe case of tonsillitis, “The doctor told my mother that if I had remained in Africa another day or two, the infection would have spread through my body, causing sepsis. I surely would have died.” Michaela’s parents saw not only to her basic needs but also supported and encouraged her intellectual, athletic and artistic growth – especially her love of ballet.

Michaela’s passion for dance and her talent promise a bright future. Although she is faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, she rises above the limitations others try to place on her again and again. To read this compelling story of her journey through the world of professional ballet is to be inspired.

Note: Michaela DePrince is one of six dancers featured in the documentary First Position, available at the library.

popularPopular: A Memoir
by Maya Van Wagenen

Maya Van Wagenen bravely, though unconsciously, conducted a middle school social experiment in her quest for popularity. While helping her parents clean their garage, she finds a copy of “Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide”, published in the 1950’s. She wonders if the advice from over fifty years ago would hold true today. She decides to follow everything the book instructs her to do and see if she sees a change in her social status. Her parents have significant struggles with money but are very supportive and do everything possible to provide her with the material needs, but, more importantly, they help her swim in the emotional soup that is middle school – occasionally throwing in a life raft.

The desire to be more popular might not, at first glance, be one we would want to embark on ourselves or see our daughters undertake. For Maya, it was about taking control of her life and not “following the crowd” to get noticed. However, get noticed she does.

At first, the kids don’t know what to make of her clothes and hair but eventually she notices small changes, like the goth girls start wearing pearls – and we all know that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Maya doesn’t become the most popular girl at school, but she does get attention and respect for being herself.


LisaBlogThis Youth book review was brought to you by Lisa Q. Harling. When not conducting Story Times or reading the best that kids’ authors have to offer, Lisa enjoys writing witty PSAs on Facebook, playing with her dogs and keeping up with her two adventurous sons. If you have suggestions for future book reviews, email her at lqharling@cityofportsmouth.com.

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