by Jeff Zentner
Three misfits find friendship and avert loneliness in a rural southern high school where their peers revere football and demand conformity. Dill sees no future for himself. He dreads the life laid out before him, one where he works at a dead-end job to help his mother make ends meet and pay the legal bills his father accrued prior to being sent to prison. Dill’s mother is understandably depressed and discouraged, but she is in no way a sympathetic character. She uses her religion as a weapon against anyone, including her son, who does not completely agree with her point of view. Dill has talent for playing the guitar and song writing which offer him solace in his otherwise bleak situation.
Dill’s best friend Travis is obsessed with a series of fantasy books which allow him to escape from his abusive household. His father’s alcoholism has escalated since his brother was killed in Afghanistan. Travis wasn’t the favorite son to begin with, and he knows that in his father’s eyes he will never fill his brother’s shoes. Working part-time and living with his father is nearly impossible and Travis uses strategies that will be familiar to any child of an alcoholic. Travis retreats into his books which provides his peers with more reason to bully him.
Lydia, the toughest of the three, is the kind of girl who would thrive in an urban high school. She has her finger on the pulse of popular culture, possesses a snarky sense of humor, and a cutting-edge fashion sense. She outwardly dismisses the small town attitude of her peers who relentlessly make fun of her carefully crafted thrift shop ensembles. At the same time, her fashion blog is wildly popular and Lydia sees it as her ticket to go to NYU. While her loyalty to Dill and Travis is one of her best qualities, it is also a source of pain. She frequently lashes out at those who mistreat her friends.
Jeff Zentner understands the impact of religion, alcoholism, incarceration, and bullying on teens and handles the issues with sensitivity.
The Serpent King is Jeff Zentner’s first book.
by Michael Rubens
The Bad Decision Playlist is realistic teen fiction at its best! Michael Rubens provides us with characters who are multidimensional not mere stereotypes. The main character, Austin is a stoner whose consistently bad decisions frustrate his mother, his teachers, and the reader. But when we begin to understand his motivations it is impossible not to root for him. The most difficult character to warm up to is Todd, a bully who is horrible, until we find out why he acts as he does and then we can’t help but care deeply for him. Josephine is an aloof brainiac who would normally never find herself in the company of Austin and Todd. But in her highly structured life where appearances are everything, these two are exactly who she needs in order to break down the protective barriers she has built around herself.
During difficult times in our lives we’ve all been told, “It will all work out for the best” and when this book concludes things do work out for the best, but not necessarily from the perspective of the characters. Omniscient, as only a reader (and often a narrator) can be, we can see that what happens turns out for the absolute best. Many of us like our books and movies – any story really, to have a tidy ending that leaves the characters happy and the reader satisfied. But, we’re talking about realistic fiction and to be truly satisfying the story should come to a realistic (not necessarily unhappy) end and this book does just that.
Other books by Michael Rubens include: Sons of the 613 (Teen – Fiction) and The Sheriff of Yrnameer (Adult – Fiction).
by Matthew Quick
High school senior, Nannette is the quintessential “good girl”. She doesn’t drink and party or engage in other risky behaviors like many of her friends and classmates. These kids consider her odd and tell her that she is missing out on all the fun. They seem to think that their behavior, in some way, makes them rebellious and edgy. The fact is, they are the opposite of rebellious. They participate in behaviors not because they necessarily want to but because of group expectations and their desire to remain in good social standing. Nannette fails to see the appeal of drunken hookups and longs for something deeper and more meaningful. Upon reading an out of print book, The Bubblegum Reaper, she identifies so strongly with the characters that she does rebel! She quits the soccer team, questions whether or not she wants to go to college, and stops hanging out with her life-long friends. Nanette eventually meets and bonds with other devotees of the book as each tries to understand its message.
Other books by Matthew Quick include: Boy 21 (Teen – Fiction), Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (Teen – Fiction), The Silver Linings Playbook (Adult – Fiction), Love May Fail (Adult – Fiction), The Good Luck of Right Now (Adult – Fiction).
by Bill Konigsberg
Carson is bored with Montana, and resentful that he has to help his mother take care of his father, a dying alcoholic whom he has not seen in years. But then he meets Aisha, a beautiful African American girl who has her own difficult family, and together they embark on a journey of discovery that may help them both come to terms with their lives.
by David Arnold
After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland. So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way.
by John Corey Whaley
Cullen’s summer in Lily, Arkansas, is marked by his cousin’s death by overdose, an alleged spotting of a woodpecker thought to be extinct, failed romances, and his younger brother’s sudden disappearance.
This 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 playing with her dogs and keeping up with her two adventurous sons. If you have suggestions for future book reviews, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.