New books for teens feature fantasies, real stories informative reads

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Reading for pleasure is often not the top priority for teens.

This age group tends to live busy lives. Many are immersed in a variety of after school activities that consume much of their time.

Others hold down part-time jobs. And then, of course, there’s homework. And for those taking heavy academic loads, studying consumes a big chunk of time. With such jammed-pack schedules, it’s no surprise that reading is relegated to the bottom of the heap.

"There’s usually a drop-off in reading around 12 or 13 years old," says Pam Hunter, teen services librarian at Woodinville Library.

"Teens are busy people and reading is such a solitary activity. When they do have free time, they want to be with their peers. Then there’s the lure of technology, which is very strong and continues to get stronger."

According to Hunter, when teens do read, they gravitate toward a few types of books with manga, or graphic novels, being most popular. They also enjoy books that reflect experiences they can relate to – stories about characters dealing with an array of problems commonly faced by this age group.

"And don’t forget the whole paranormal fantasy books," adds Hunter. "The ‘Twilight’ novels really brought about that phenomenon."

New titles for this season reflect a continued interest in fantasy, as well as reality-based fiction.

In "What Happened to Goodbye," by Sarah Dessen, McClean is an expert at reinventing herself, having moved frequently. But at the most recent place she and her father have settled into, she decides to actually use her real name and even considers creating emotional attachments — something she has always avoided doing before.

"Sarah Dessen’s books are always favorites of teen readers," comments Hunter, "and I’m sure this one will be no different. Dessen deals well with the details of growing up and going beyond the easy answers about discovering oneself."

For another interesting take on self-discovery, there’s "Flip," by Martyn Bedford. The author creates a character in 14-year-old Alex, who goes to sleep one night only to wake up six months later in a stranger’s body.

As he realizes he is in a race against time to figure out what happened, and tries desperately to get back into his own body, Alex must deal with some of life’s big questions concerning personal identity.

Then there’s "Compulsion," by Heidi Ayarbe, featuring 17-year-old Jake, the star of his high school soccer team, who has a secret that he is keeping from his teammates.

Jake’s obsession with prime numbers gives him his "magic," but the reality of dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder threatens to overtake his life.

In "Ok for Now," award-winning author Gary Schmidt creates a realistic world in which a young boy experiences both the comedy and tragedy of life. Fourteen-year-old Doug is a stranger in a new town, saddled with an unlovable older brother and abusive father.

Things aren’t looking too good for Doug until he meets an unlikely friend and they both find a safe haven – at the local library – and in each other.

In the fantasy genre, Hunter recommends "Entwined," by Heather Dixon.

Based on "The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes, by the Brothers Grimm, this fairy tale takes the reader to a world in which Princess Azalea and her 11 sisters join "The Keeper" in his nightly dance.

By encouraging the sisters to break the strict rules of mourning, following their mother’s death, this creature’s invitation to dance becomes much more sinister and dangerous than it originally appears.

Also on her list is Veronica Roth’s "Divergent."

In a dystopian society set in a future Chicago, all 16 year olds must choose to devote themselves to one of five factions, based on five virtues.

Beatrice Prior will have to decide whether she will choose Candor (honesty), Abnegation (selflessness), Dauntless (bravery), Amity (peacefulness), or Erudite (intelligence), but it is a tough decision because it will define who she will be for the rest of her life.

For new nonfiction reads, Hunter suggests "To Timbuktu," by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg.

Scieszka, the daughter of author Jon Scieszka, met and fell in love with fellow student and illustrator, Steven Weinberg, while they were studying abroad in Morocco.

"To Timbuktu" is the end result of their decision to travel overseas and to explore their respective creative interests in writing and illustration.

For teenage girls, there’s "Ask Elizabeth: Real Answers to Everything You Secretly Wanted to Ask About Love, Friends, Your Body – and Life in General," by Elizabeth Berkley.

The author, an actress and writer, follows up her very successful workshops for teen girls with this non-judgmental advice book.

On the subject of addiction, there’s "We All Fall Down: Living with Addiction," by Nic Sheff.

The author’s first memoir, "Tweak," detailed his descent into addiction to heroin and crystal meth.

In this follow-up, he continues with the narrative of his life, including bouncing from rehab to rehab, and relapsing to uncontrolled alcohol and pot use.

"What may be most interesting to the reader," notes Hunter, "is learning how the mind of an addict works, and how easy it is to rationalize when promises to family, friends and self, go unrealized."

For the non-squeamish reader, there’s "How They Croaked: the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous," by Georgia Bragg, a "happy" little volume detailing the demise of 19 famous people, including Henry VIII, Napoleon and Mozart. There are many more choice reads geared towards teens.

According to Hunter, the number of authors who now write for this age group continues to grow.

She says, "Years ago, libraries didn’t have an area designated for teens. Now, we have a specific section with a good selection of titles."

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