Maybe it's the reality TV craze, but it seems that today's books for teens are less focused on moral lessons and more focused on the issues of everyday life. In honor of the American Library Association's Teen Read Week (October 19-25), we've chosen some recent books that typify this trend by reflecting the challenges and interests of a new generation of readers.
No one cuts to the heart of inner-city teen issues like Walter Dean Myers. The Beast begins when 16-year-old Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon leaves his Harlem neighborhood for a Connecticut prep school called Wallingford Academy, which he hopes will help him fulfill his dream of attending Brown University. The only thing he regrets is leaving his girlfriend Gabi, who has a real talent for poetry. At school, Spoon's classes inspire him, and he gets along with his classmates. It's only when he goes back to his old neighborhood for the winter break that he realizes how much and how quickly things can change. His best friend, Scott, has dropped out of high school. Gabi is still the sensitive poet he left behind, but the stress of family problems has pushed her into drug use. Spoon's attempt to save her will change them both.
The author of several acclaimed young adult novels, Myers grew up in Harlem, and if the disadvantaged teens seem a little too good to be true at times, knowing that Myers has been there himself allows the reader to suspend disbelief. The Beast's ultimately uplifting ending will satisfy teens.
Finding the way
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler explores the challenges faced by teens on the other side of New York City. Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves considers herself a loser in a family of winners. Her parents and older brother and sister are all thin, attractive, intelligent and fluent in French. Virginia is "larger-than-average," detests French and prefers People magazine to classic novels. Her best friend has just moved to Walla Walla, Washington, her clandestine romance with a classmate called Froggy is on the rocks, and her fitness-obsessed mother has decided that now's the time to do something about Virginia's weight problem. Confronted with the disapproval of her parents and the rude comments of the more popular students, Virginia starts a dangerous descent into starvation dieting and other self-destructive behaviors. When her brother, Byron, is suspended from Columbia, Virginia realizes that her family might not be so perfect after all—and finds a way to accept and discover herself. Mackler, whose Love and Other Four-Letter Words was an IRA Young Adult's Choice book, does an amazing job of capturing the wistful self-consciousness of teenage girls, and Virginia's transformation is inspiring.
The mature lives led by today's teens have inspired a crop of self-help and motivational titles. Mawi Asgedom, an Ethiopian refugee whose inspiring memoir, Of Beetles and Angels (2000), was a BookSense '76 pick, offers one of the best. The Code: The Five Secrets of Success for Teens tells teens how they can improve their lives through knowing their inner character and refining their outer goals. Asgedom shares many inspiring case studies as well as his own experiences of overcoming difficulties in a conversational style that will appeal to teen readers. Each chapter is devoted to one of the five secrets and ends with a short section called "Your Turn," which gives teens the opportunity to put the chapter's message to immediate use. Asgedom, a graduate of Harvard, has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, named by ESSENCE as one of the 40 most inspiring African Americans and has given the commencement address at Harvard. His practical advice will motivate teens to greater levels of success.
Nothing says "teen" like rock n' roll. The Book of Rock Stars by Kathleen Krull is the perfect volume to slide under the door of that teenager who just won't come out of his or her room (and has the music turned up too loudly to hear you knocking). The brief profiles of stars from Jim Morrison to Chrissie Hynde to Kurt Cobain are accompanied by gorgeous color art by Stephen Alcorn and full of fascinating tidbits. Can you name the only person who's been inducted three times into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame? (Eric Clapton as a Yardbird, a member of Cream and a solo artist.) Three rockers who died at age 27? (Joplin, Morrison and Cobain.) The book concludes with suggestions for further research into each star, including websites, books and albums. This compelling introduction to some of rock's major figures will interest teens and offer an opportunity for parents to reminisce about the music of their youth.