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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Top Teen Titles #15-19

We started this journey a year ago surveying and asking readers, teens, librarians and teachers for their recommendations. During the past year I’ve read (and sometimes re-read) titles from the recommendations. Finally I’m getting around to posting the last titles in the list.

#19 Blue Sword, The by Robin McKinley. Greenwillow, 1982. ISBN:  9780688009380, 288 pp.

Harper Collins Publisher’s Description: When Harry Crewe’s father dies, she leaves her Homeland to travel east, to Istan, the last outpost of the Homelander empire, where her elder brother is stationed. Harry is drawn to the bleak landscape of the northeast frontier, so unlike the green hills of her Homeland. The desert she stares across was once a part of the great kingdom of Damar, before the Homelanders came from over the seas. Harry wishes she might cross the sands and climb the dark mountains where no Homelander has ever set foot, where the last of the old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk, still live. She hears stories that the Free Hillfolk possess strange powers — that they work magic — that it is because of this that they remain free of the Homelander sway. When the king of the Free Hillfolk comes to Istan to ask that the Homelanders and the Hillfolk set their enmity aside to fight a common foe, the Homelanders are reluctant to trust his word, and even more reluctant to believe his tales of the Northerners: that they are demonkind, not human. Harry’s destiny lies in the far mountains that she once wished to climb, and she will ride to the battle with the North in the Hill-king’s army, bearing the Blue Sword, Gonturan, the chiefest treasure of the Hill-king’s house and the subject of many legends of magic and mystery.

Quotes from Readers:

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, and Fantasy Finder.

Awards: Newbery Honor Book; ALA Notable Children’s Book; Horn Book Fanfare; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults; Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award Nominee (1988); Iowa Teen Award Nominee (1984-1985); Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee (1983).

Diane’s note: While reading Robin McKinley’s blog (geek that I am), I saw that some reader told Robin that she was their Tolkien.  Actually she wrote “What I’m saying is, what Tolkien is to you, is what YOU are to me.”

I thought about this because I loved McKinley’s books growing up and was thrilled to read her first book “Beauty “. Beauty and the Beast had always been one of my favorite fairy tales and this added a twist to the story. When I read The Blue Sword four years later, it opened my eyes to a new style of smart fantasy with strong female characters, practicality, and romance.

Every year I am able to place a reader’s first Robin McKinley title in their hands and experience anew that first romantic encounter with fantasy. While checking TeenReads and TeensReadToo, I was disappointed not to see The Blue Sword reviewed. I understand that most of those reviews are of new titles and many urban fiction titles populate the lists, but there must be a librarian somewhere in the lives of our teens to put special titles like The Blue Sword in their hands.

#18 Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. Warner Books, 2007. ISBN: 0446528056 , 224 pp.

Publisher’s Description: An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life–until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who has captured his heart. But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else. “Dear John,” the letter read…and with those two words, a heart was broken and two lives were changed forever. Returning home, John must come to grips with the fact that Savannah, now married, is still his true love—and face the hardest decision of his life.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Awards: New York Times bestseller (Fiction, 2006)

Diane’s note: Call me jaded, but I wasn’t in a sappy enough mood to read Dear John when I first picked it up. I was so irritated with the character Savannah and found my lip snarling at her. I didn’t find it this sweeping romance that my teenage girls do. Maybe because I had two sons in the army serving and despised the idea of a woman sending a “dear John” letter.

Still, I buy Nicholas Sparks’ books and put them in the library. Suddenly I had teachers, custodians, even cafeteria workers coming to the library to check out Dear John. Opportunities for teaching them how to access the local public library’s ebook collection arose. Demand exceeded the supply I had.

My mother gave me other Nicholas Sparks titles and warned me that I’d cry. She’s also the one who gave me Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice. After I bawled my eyes out, I realized that my mother tended to give me titles that made me cry. My reaction was to immediately go out and read Alane Ferguson and Kathy Reichs titles with forensic science and smart women solving mysteries. ’nuff said. Go form your own opinion. I’ll keep buying Nicholas Sparks titles and just remind myself that I read my grandmother’s Harlequin Romances while growing up. Wait! That may be what caused me to have an unrealistic view of romance. Hmmm! I need to go think about this genre again. Fortunately the Romance Writers of America have a wide-variety of titles from which to choose.

#17 Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. Greenwillow, 2001. ISBN:  9780688180191, 224 pp.

Publisher’s Description: A varsity letter jacket: it’s exclusive, nearly unattainable, revered . . . and everything that’s screwed up about Cutter High, as far as T. J. Jones is concerned. That’s why T. J. is determined to have the Cutter All Night Mermen—the unlikeliest swim team a high school has ever seen—earn letter jackets of their own.

It won’t be easy. For one thing, they don’t even have a pool. They will fight for their dignity, they will fight with each other, and sometimes they will just fight. And then they will realize that a single moment can bring lifelong heartache or lifelong friendship. For T. J. and his crew of misfits, the quest may be far more valuable than the reward.

Quotes from Readers:

I was torn between Whale Talk and Staying Fat for Sarah Burns with Deadline a distant third. Crutcher nails teenage anger.

Crutcher is one of those authors who is not afraid to show the abused teen’s experience in all its tragedy and sadness.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, TeenReads, TeensReadToo.

Awards: 2005 ALA Popular Paperbacks for YA 2002 ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award 2002 Washington State Book Award 2002 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award 2002 Outstanding Sports Book Award/YA ALA Best Book for YA TLA Tayshas List New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age ALA Top 10 Best Books for YA Book Sense 76 Pick Nominee 2003-2004 Kentucky Bluegrass Award Nominee 2003-2004 Iowa High School Book Award Nominee 2003-2004 South Carolina YA Book Award Nominee 2004 Nevada Young Reader Award Nominee Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee 2004 Pacific Northwest Young Reader Choice Award Nominee 2003-2004 Virginia Young Reader’s Program Nominee 2003-2004 California Young Reader Medal Nominee 2003 Heartland Award Nominee 2003-2004 ILF Rosie Nominee 2003 Missouri Gateway Award Nominee 2003 Pennsylvania Readers Choice Nominee 2003 Volunteer State Book Award Nominee 2003 Soaring Eagle Wyoming Young Adult Book Award Nominee 2002 Rhode Island Teen Book Awards Nominee 2002 Maryland’s Black-Eyed Susan Award Nominee 2002 Colorado Blue Spruce Award

Diane’s note: I think the YA YA YA’s review explains better than I can one reason why I like Whale Talk:

Part of what I liked best about Whale Talk is how it’s about racism, but not really *about* race. I know, this needs clarification. What I’m trying to say is that 1) while racism is an important part of the story, it’s not the only thing that’s going on; and 2) it does not provide internal conflict, but external conflict. T. J. doesn’t have a problem being mixed-race; he is who he is. Although some people have a problem with it, T. J. doesn’t allow it to define him or for others to use it as a way of denigrating him.

There are Chris Crutcher titles I love to read and others that I simply finish and put on the shelf. From the description of Whale Talk, I expected a preachy heavy issue book, but found a fresh tale with developed characters that made me care about them.

#16 Tears of a Tiger (Hazelwood High #1) by Sharon M Draper.  Simon Pulse, 1996. ISBN: 9780689806988 , 180 pp.

Publisher’s Description: After a car accident kills Robert, Andy’s best friend and teammate on the Hazelwood High Tigers, Andy doesn’t know if he can go on. He’s consumed with guilt for driving the night of the accident after a long evening of drinking and partying. With perceptiveness and compassion, Draper portrays an African-American teenager who feels driven to consider suicide in the wake of a devastating tragedy.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari.

Awards: ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, TASL Volunteer State Book Children’s Choice Award, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award.

Diane’s note: Sharon Draper reaches my African-American teens who want realistic drama and issue titles. I love the moment that I can place one of her books in any of my students’ hands – regardless of race. In fact, I just unpacked an order from Follett with replacement titles of EVERY Sharon Draper novel.

They never made it to my new book display because I set them on the counter in a stack while I checked out two students and the class snatched them away. I’m going to start taking photographs of my new book displays just so I can have proof that I DID TOO buy all of the books. Fortunately, my TLC Library-Solution catalog displays covers of the new books so they can see them online and put holds on the books.

Tears of a Tiger is used in many classrooms and by many teachers to talk to students about drinking and driving. The depression and contemplation of suicide is such an important part of this book that I hope more teachers do take time to talk to their students about Tears of a Tiger. Guilt and having to go on with life are issues my students face. This series helps explore these “issues” and themes and serves as a bridge when students have finished all of the Bluford High titles.

#15 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows #7 by J. K. Rowling. Scholastic, 2007. ISBN: 9780545010221, 759 pp.

Publisher’s Description: It all comes down to this – a final faceoff between good and evil. You plan to pull out all the stops, but every time you solve one mystery, three more evolve. Do you stay the course you started, despite your lack of progress? Do you detour and follow a new lead that may not help? Do you listen to your instincts, or your friends?

Lord Voldemort is preparing for battle and so must Harry. With Ron and Hermione at his side, he’s trying to hunt down Voldemort’s Horcruxes, escape danger at every turn, and find a way to defeat evil once and for all. How does it all end? Find out in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Quotes from Readers: The best wrap up to a series. This series grew as did the readers who followed along during the writing. The last book in the series was far more sophisticated than the first as our readers grew in their  sophistication.

Online reviews: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari,  TeensReadToo Review #1 explaining why the deaths were necessary, #2 explaining how this won the reader back to Harry Potter, #3 noting Harry Ron & Hermione are the kind of friends every teen wants , and Betsy Bird’s #24 review as part of the Top 100 Children’s Novels.

Awards: Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adolescent Literature (2008), Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction, Books I Loved Best Yearly (BILBY) Awards for Older Readers (2008), ALA Teens’ Top Ten (2008), Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010) Teen Read Award Nominee for Best All-Time-Fave (2010), Puddly Award for Fiction (2008) SF Site Editor’s Choice (2007) Time Magazine’s Best Books of the Year (2007.13|Fiction (8), 2007) Carnegie Medal Nominee (2008) Locus Nominee (Young Adult, 2008, 12) New York Times Notable Book of the Year (Fiction & Poetry, 2007) ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2008) SF Site Reader’s Choice (2007) Whitcoulls top 100, 2008 (5) Geffen Award (Best Translated YA or Children SF&F Book, 2008) Public Libraries’ Chart Toppers (Fiction, 2007 – 2008) ALA Notable Children’s Book (2008) Whitcoulls top 100, 2010 (11) Booksellers Association Independent Booksellers’ Book Prize Shortlist (2008)

Diane’s note: Before I wrote for SLJ on Practically Paradise, I wrote my blog called Deep Thinking. I noted where I was on July 21, 2007 at 12:01 a.m. So I freely admit I was scared to read the final Harry Potter book because I didn’t want to close the book on this collection of characters. I stay tuned to the MuggleNet (The World’s #1 Harry Potter Site) as well as J.K. Rowling’s official site. I even watched the auto-tune version for the Academy Awards on Four years later I still love helping students navigate the world of Harry Potter.

I cannot imagine the pressure JK Rowling was under to wrap up this series and as many loose ends as possible. With the final movie part 2 being released this summer, I expect box sets of all of the DVD’s and the books to be released in December so we can relish introducing Harry Potter to a new group of students. Some librarians tell me that they are waiting for this Harry Potter craze to disappear. I think this is short-sighted because the impact Harry Potter had on people was amazing. They read more. They talked about it. They stood in lines to get each new book in a series. It was a phenomenon that will be remembered and shared with our grandchildren.