Here are four books that will be great additions to high school libraries and classrooms. Each can work as independent reading or as texts shared by a larger number of students. If you’re making a list of summer reading suggestions, these are excellent titles to include.
When Denver Reynolds goes to an illicit party at a Malibu beach house to meet a boy who might actually like her, she finds herself amidst popular people who angrily tell her she shouldn’t be there. Then the earth rolls and a giant tsunami wave strikes the coast, sending Denver and four other party-goers out to sea grasping what is left of the beach house’s roof. Pretty Little Life of Pi? That’s pretty close.
I first discovered author Kathy Parks more than ten years ago through her early novels written under the name Kathy Hepinstall. Those books—especially The Absence of Nectar—were great reads because of their quirky characters, snappy dialogue, and engrossing plot lines. When I learned that Kathy Hepinstall and Kathy Parks, author of the just published The Lifeboat Clique, were the same person, it was #mindblown time. I’m glad (but not surprised) to say that Kathy Parks has delivered a YA novel many young readers are likely to devour this summer.
But back to those kids afloat on the roof! They do not like or trust each other, for the most part. Denver’s former friend Abigail is there, along with Sienna, meanest of the mean girls, and Hayley, who maintains her popularity by being bland and beautiful. Trevor, a stoner who constantly drums on whatever is handy, is the only boy among the castaways. Luckily, they soon come across a boat. The boat is rudderless but water-tight, and that becomes their home for a long time.
The Lifeboat Clique, as they eventually call themselves, must figure out not only how to survive but also how to co-exist. As the adventure unfolds, Kathy Parks gives us drama and humor, both on the boat and in flashbacks that show us how the characters’ past interactions led to later complications, as well as important insights into how crisis brings out our most dominant personality traits.
Because I like you, I will not reveal here which of the Lifeboat Clique members actually survive the experience. All I’ll do is say that readers will want their friends to also get this book, and those who finish first will definitely tell the others to hurry up and get to the end so they can talk about it!
In a voice brashly proud of its vulnerability, Sierra DeMulder’s absorbing new collection Today Means Amen will help readers appreciate a world that lets us claim higher ground if we have known and moved past mistakes, miscalculations, and imperfections. And that includes pretty much all of us.
Each of these poems is grounded in a recognizable reality and then tears a hole in it to reveal a larger truth: a stop at a country cemetery, visits to a grandfather living with dementia, a drunken father talking to another father about his daughter’s suicide, a boyfriend who is “an emotional robot.” DeMulder writes about children, the elderly, and past lovers who rough up and then heal our hearts.
I’m hesitant to quote the poems because I want readers to savor each line for the first time in its intended context. But there are so many good lines! OK, just one: “Sweetheart, shame has been / bound in your basement too long.”
If there is any justice in the poetry world, Today Means Amen will receive a lot of awards this year. Please read it, share it, and let me know your thoughts.
Although I found much to admire in All American Boys, I couldn’t quite give it five stars. Yes, it deals with an important topic. Yes, I think many young people would benefit from reading it. But as a novel, it has some problems. One of the alternating voices is much more compelling than the other. I found myself wishing that the sections with the weaker voice would go by more quickly.
This other issue is borderline-trivial. The “Family Circus” comic plays a role in All American Boys. Rashad tells how his father gave him the Sunday comics, and he was enthralled with how “Family Circus” was presented as a circle. Nope. “Family Circus” is a circle Monday through Saturday, but the Sunday version is almost always a wide rectangular panel. A realistic novel needs to be realistic, and this factual error took me out of the realism.
All American Boys is definitely a worthwhile, important book, but it’s not a great novel.
Steve Sheinkin once again finds the dramatic heart of a historical story and provides young readers (and not-so-young readers) with a tension-filled political thriller. Daniel Ellsberg’s metamorphosis from government insider to government whistle-blower plays out against the extensive background of the Vietnam War. Sheinkin’s portrayals of presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon are especially fascinating as we see how each tries not to lose the war. Sheinkin also helps readers understand how Nixon’s frustrations with the war led to the Watergate scandal and his eventual resignation.
Thanks for reading here, and I welcome your comments on these books!