Shine by Lauren Myracle

This book is important. It is a book that teens need to read. So do teachers, parents, administrators, and anyone else who works with teens. It’s not an easy book to read- not by any stretch. I found myself repulsed at times, horrified by the actions of some characters. Yet it’s realistic. There are adults who will hate this book, who will call it all sorts of names and demand that it be taken off the shelf. But we must not let that happen. Shine is too important, and I hope it is able to change the way teens think and act.

Cat is damaged. Something happened to her a few years ago, and she has buried the event. However, she knows the ugly is still there and it still changed her. After the incident, she pulled away from her friends and family. She is angry at her family for not protecting her and she hopes that by pulling away from her friends she can heal. Unfortunately, all she did was become a loner.

Now, how (former) best friend, Patrick, has been beaten almost-to-death, the victim of a hate crime. Cat knows that someone in their small town almost killed Patrick and she is determined to find out who it was. Patrick’s sexuality is no secret to the rest of the town, and there is very little acceptance for LGBT people. I hesitate to tell you anymore, but just know that you need to read this book.

Lauren Myracle has crafted a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, reality-checking book. It’s graphic. It’s horrifying. And yet- it’s real. Cat lives in a small town and the people she loves are small-minded. The regularly use derogatory terms around Patrick. Heck, even his friends mock him for being gay. But how many of our teens experience the same thing every day of their lives? How many teens laugh alongside their friends and don’t realize the damage they are doing?

One of my favorite characters in Shine is Robert, a supporting character’s tween brother. Myracle does a fantastic job showing the reader how kids and tweens learn to bully, how derogatory terms become a part of their vernacular even when they don’t fully understand the implications of those words. Then those kids grow up to be teenagers and adults who share their views with their own children. It’s a vicious cycle, and Myracle is trying to show teens that it needs to be stopped.

There will be some readers who are angry about the ending. Know right now that the issues at the heart of the book don’t get wrapped up in a nice little bow. But does life ever end that way? Myracle keeps this book realistic through and through. She is dedicated to changing the culture of hate that flows through so many cliques, high schools, and this country as a whole.

Shine is important. It begs to be shared with teens and to be discussed. I can’t see it being read aloud in school (language, drug references, etc), but high school literature circles and book clubs are the perfect playground for for this book. As teachers and librarians, we need to get books like Shine into the hands of our readers. They have the power to change the world and this book is one that might help get them started.

*ARC provided courtesy of the publisher

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

For months I have been hearing buzz about Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall.  It never made it to the top of my TBR pile because I had so many middle grade books to read for my sixth graders, but the buzz convinced me to pick up an ARC of her second novel back at BEA.  So last week I grabbed my copy of Before I Fall and sat down to read it.  Boy am I glad I did! I can’t wait to booktalk Before I Fall to my new high school students.  Not only is it well-written but it is also thought-provoking, meaningful, and realistic.

Sam Kingston is popular.  She is pretty.  Her friends are pretty and popular.  Once upon a time, Sam was a loser, way back in middle school.  But now she isn’t.  Now she is one of the chosen few.  She is also pretty oblivious to how her actions and those of her friends affect her classmates.  Sam isn’t particularly likeable.  I didn’t even love her at the end of the book.  But she is realistic.  So are her friends.  Oliver has captured high school perfectly.  A lot of seniors are selfish, they do think the world revolves around them.  Being popular is important, and sometimes that means stepping on those around you, as Sam explains.

But everything changes for Sam when she hears, “a horrible, screeching sound—metal on metal, glass shattering, a car folding in two,”  and then everything turns to nothing.  The victim of a car crash, Sam is convinced she has died.  Until she wakes up again then next morning.  Only it is not the next morning.  It is the same day.  A cross between Mean Girls and Groundhog Day, Sam is forced to relive her last day over and over, changing her actions a little more each time.

Lauren Oliver takes a fascinating concept and turns it into a thought-provoking novel.  How does bullying affect our lives?  Directly? Indirectly?  How do our actions influence those around us?  Can we influence them consciously?  At first, Sam lives with reckless abandon, doing all the things she never had the nerve to do when she was alive.  But slowly she begins to realize that she is meant to do something else.

What I really liked about this book was how realistic is, despite the premise.  When Sam begins to relive her last day she doesn’t immediately transform into a perfect teen.  Instead, she rebels more than she ever did as a living teen- seducing her teacher, smoking pot, cheating on her boyfriend.  She slowly begins to realize that something has to change in order for her to move on completely.  But even at the very end of the book, she is not a perfect angel.  She does change and she matures, but she remains a teen at heart.  While some people might not appreciate this unwillingness to become perfect, I love it.  It is realistic.  And teens will identify with it.

Some people mentioned being apprehensive about reading 480 pages about the same day over and over, but the story is not redundant at all.  I found myself completely enthralled by the book, despite the fact that Sam was reliving the same day.  Each choice she makes impacts the outcome at the end of the night.

Highly, highly recommended.  Perfect for high school.

*my own copy

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown’s Hate List has been on my radar for a while. I finally got a chance to read it a few weeks ago and WOW. Why did I not pick this book up months ago? Brown has woven a powerful and intricate story of the ramifications of a school shooting that left me in tears for the last third of the book. We are talking real tears, not just a little weepy, people. I finished reading the book the night before my wedding and stayed up way too late because I couldn’t stand to put it down until I finished the story.

At the end of their junior year, Valerie’s boyfriend Nick did the unthinkable. He brought a gun to school, where he killed six students and a teacher. Valerie was hit in the leg by a bullet while trying to stop him. Nick took his own life before the shooting was over, leaving a fractured and fragile student body behind. He also left Valerie behind to answer for what he had done, and what everyone assumes she was involved in planning.

Now, it’s time for school to begin again and Valerie’s therapist thinks it’s best for her to try and go back to school. Though she could transfer, she doesn’t want to force her younger brother and her parents to start over again because of her involvement with Nick so she heads back to school. But as the killer’s girlfriend, she isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Her friends believe she knew Nick was planning to kill, her classmates blame her because she helped make the “Hate List” that Nick used to pick his victims, and even teachers and administrators have a hard time looking at her.

I’ve read other books about school shootings but Hate List is at the top of the list.  Brown presents realistic characters and draws the social archetypes of high school perfectly.  She captures the reality of the social hierarchy in American high schools to a tee.  Each and every character is well-drawn, from the main characters to the smallest secondary character.  And the sign of true realism?  I didn’t know if I believed Valerie for a good portion of the book.  No one was innocent, but no one was to blame, either.  Hate List is the most accurate look at school violence that I have ever read.  And because this looks at the aftermath of the shooting, I saw a lot of the social interaction that happens in schools.  Kids do fall back into the same routine, and adults have a hard time admitting that.  Cliques exist and you won’t ever eradicate them because cliques are friends and we want our kids to have friends.  Hate List brought up a lot of issues and I think it would make a great book to read as a school, class, or book club.  This books BEGS to be talked about.  This is an extremely powerful story and I spent the last third of the book in absolute tears.

Highly, highly recommended for teens and adults.

*my own copy

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