With the latest in her series of teen opinions, here is guest blogger, Jess deCourcy Hinds:
For previous columns in this series (see posts from July 2011 and November 2011), I interviewed teens on their reading preferences. Although I learned a lot, I wanted to give teens even more of a chance to have their own voices.
So I invited three students in my library to review recent fiction, graphic novel and memoir releases. I placed a pile of Advanced Reader Copies on my desk and asked students to sort through them. They dove into the books like children tackling a piñata at a party, grabbing titles that caught their eye.
Here are the three top titles – and my students’ book reviews:
Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (First Second) is a graphic biography that tells the story of Richard P. Feynman’s life using mainly pictures instead of text. It fully captures the life of a hardworking scientist. Not only are readers let into his world as an icon in science, but they are also let into his social life including love and marriage, strife and failure. The novel would definitely pique the interest of an individual that enjoys science, but it is also suitable for anyone looking for a good read. Feynman is truly a feel-good book that causes us to look into our own lives. Through failure, the death of loved ones, and illness, Feynman managed to continue his work and become a success—which sparks hope for all of us.–Mamfatou, 10th grade
The Maid by Kimberly Cutter (Houghton Mifflin) tells the story of Joan of Arc (called Jehanne in this version) from beginning to end. For those unfamiliar to the story, Jehanne was born a peasant in France, and claimed to hear divine voices. Upon guidance from these voices, she led the French Army to victory in the Hundred Years War during the fifteenth century. This novel is certainly directed at mature readers—if one gets hung up on the language, curses or bloody events, they may miss the true nature of the novel—but the plot of this story is excellently portrayed, in a strange mix of confusion and fear that fits the situation as well as Jehanne’s own perspective. The novel itself is written in vivid (if slightly horrifying) detail, showing Jehanne as a leader, a patron, and a girl all at once. Though it is quite a different world from the one we live in today, the author shows each scene in a believable and detailed manner.–Emily, 10th grade
Townie (Norton) is the memoir of Andre Dubus III and his growing up in a broken family along a Massachusetts mill town. As a teenager moving from town to town, Dubus and his siblings are the target for violence and hatred from other kids their age. Tired of being bullied, Dubus learns to fight back, eventually becoming not only a boxer, but feared on the streets. Townie is not only a narrative of Dubus’ life, but the story of how writing potentially saved his life. The message behind “Townie” is inspirational for teenagers because it shows them that education really can be the way out of hardship.–Skye, Year One in the Early College program
My students’ enthusiastic responses to these sophisticated adult titles reaffirmed my belief that teenage girls appreciate challenging texts on diverse subjects—not just the fun, breezy, bubble-gum pink books marketed to girls.
Physics, Joan of Arc and boxing…I can’t wait to see what topics strike a chord next!
–Jess deCourcy Hinds is the library director of Bard High School Early College Queens and a freelance writer. Her essays, stories and reviews have appeared in Newsweek, Ms., Reuters.com, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, School Library Journal and literary journals.