Bauer, Joan. Best Foot Forward. G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2006. In this sequel to Rules of the Road, we follow Jenna Boller after she has returned to Chicago from her trip to Texas with Mrs. Gladstone. Although Mrs. G has won the first battle with her sneaky son Elden in his bid to turn Gladstone Shoes into just another rip-off joint, she and Jenna soon find that they will have to vigilant. As changes continue to come forward out of corporate offices, the two must also deal with Tanner, a petty thief who Mrs. Gladstone decides to give a second chance to. Along the way, Jenna joins Al-Anon and her newfound confidence in herself helps her open up to others: including Charlie, who just may be the guy Jenna’s been looking for. Another excellent read from Bauer: middle and high school.
Brown, Jennifer. Bitter End. NY: Little, Brown, 2011. In this strong story about a teenaged girl struggling within an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, we are confronted again with a character who knows at one level that what is happening to her is wrong but can’t bring herself to turn her back on the boyfriend she’s always wanted. The friends in Alex’s life consistently question her relationship, and they become an important impetus in forcing Alex to see Cole for who he really is. High School.
Cooney, Caroline. Burning Up. Delacorte Press, 1999. As 15-year-old Macey researches the history of a burned-out barn across the street from her grandparents’ home, she discovers that it was the home of the first black teacher in her wealthy Connecticut town and opens her eyes to racism, possibly through the actions of her own family. Middle school.
Brande, Robin. Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Mena Reece did the right, the ethical thing, but in doing so, she brought down the wrath of her church, her friends, and her parents on her. Starting again, she is befriended by Casey, who loves science and is determined that he and Mena will win Ms Shepherd’s science prize for the year. While working with Casey and meeting his mom and sister, Mena begins to find herself again, and realizes that she has to be true to herself and her beliefs. But that is made more difficult when the church group decides to make life difficult for Ms Shepherd when she starts the evolution unit in science. A wonderful book!
Crutcher, Chris. The Sledding Hill. (2005) NY: Greenwillow. When Eddie Proffit loses his dad and his best friend, Billy Bartholemew within three months of each other, he retreats into silence as he struggles to make sense of the deaths. Eddie’s musings are made more “interesting” by the fact that Billy has decided to “hang around” to watch how Eddie deals with the Reverand Tartar and his insistence on banning the Chris Crutcher book Warren Peece. This story is a wonderful blending of a young person dealing with death against the back drop of a school censorship case. While students will love this one, it feels like Chris really wrote this for the teachers who love to teach HIS books. For High school readers.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. NY: Tor, 2008. After a terrorist attack on the Bay Bridge, 17-year-old Marcus and his friends are grabbed, tortured, and threatened by Homeland Security because they were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time: close to the area where the bomb went off. Eventually returned home, Marcus is angry and frustrated at the treatment he endured; further, he has no clue where his friend Darryl is and fears that he’s been killed by Homeland. To retaliate, Marcus fosters a technological attack of his own in an effort to draw attention to the illegal acts of the U.S. Government against its citizenry. But can Marcus actually get away with this plan? A contemporary thriller for high school readers.
Draper, Sharon M. Just Another Hero. NY: Atheneum. The final book in the Hazelwood High series finds the main characters dealing with senior year and decisions about their future. As the various students confronting family, educational, emotional and personal issues, a subplot connected to school thefts pulls the plot towards something none of the students would have expected: a school shooting at the hands of one of their classmates. High School.
Flinn, Alex. Breathing Underwater. NY: HarperTempest, 2002. Nick Andreas seems to have everything: money, looks, the adoration of a beautiful girlfriend. But Nick’s father hits him, regularly, and Nick begins to take his frustrations out on Caitlin, his girlfriend. At first, Cat takes his abuse, but when he hits her repeatedly after unfairly accusing her of double-crossing him, Cat goes to the police and obtains a restraining order against him. As part of his punishment for hitting Cat, Nick also has to attend a class for men who abuse their girlfriends/wives. At first resistance, Nick begins to see his own actions more clearly and begins the road to creating the type of man he wants to be. An excellent high school read.
Flinn, Alex. Breaking Point. NY: HarperTempest, 2003. Paul Richmond finds himself in the unenviable position of having to start over again at a new prep school. Considered questionable because he’s not a trust-fund baby, Paul endures subtle bullying at his new school. But when Charlie Good decides to make Paul one of his inner circle—for the small price of changing one of his grades, Paul accepts, even though he questions Charlie’s friendship. Too desperate to care, though, Paul becomes a solid “hanger-on,” until the day Charlie decides to leave a bomb in one of their teacher’s classroom. An excellent high school read.
Fredericks, Mariah. Crunch Time. Atheneum, 2006. When their teacher doesn’t show up for the SAT prep course, Daisy, Max, Leo, and Jane decide to take their preparation into their own hands and decide to help each other study for the all-important test. As they get to know each better, romance, friendship and family issues complicate their lives. However, nothing prepares them for the reality of how each will be impacted when one of them reveals that s/he managed to cheat on the SAT. A great morality tale for high school students wondering just how important standardized tests are as they prepare themselves for college. An excellent high school read.
Galante, Cecilia. The Patron Saint of Butterflies. Bloomsbury, 2008. Honey and Agnes have lived their entire lives at the Mount Blessing religious compound controlled by faith leaders Emmanuel and Veronica. But Honey has never been comfortably at Mount Blessing, and since becoming a teenager, has consistently rebelled again the rules imposed by Emmanuel; this rebellion has earned Honey several trips to the Regulation Room, where she and other followers are whipped for various indiscretions. When Agnes’ Nana Pete shows up for her annual visit, Honey ends up telling Nana the truth of what goes on in the Regulation Room. Nana Pete decides to take Honey, Agnes, and Agnes’ little brother, Bennie, away from Mount Blessing for good, and in doing so, helps Honey to finally discover the truth of her parentage. A strong book about religious cults in America. Middle/high school.
Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1982. Liza discovers that her feelings for Annie go
beyond friendship. Garden sensitively describes the romantic emotions of two young girls and the resulting chaos when Liza’s private school realizes their relationship. High school.
Garden, Nancy. Endgame. Harcourt, 2006. 14-year-old Grey was victimized at his middle school; his parents move the family to a different town for a new start. However, Grey is once again chosen as victim and Zorro, his tormentor, is worse than anything he faced in middle school. Zorro trashes Grey’s drums, costs him his best and only friend, Ross, and kills his dog. So Grey fights back—by bringing a gun to school. This is a hard book for a number of reasons; Grey isn’t always the most sympathetic character because he does kill innocent people when he shoots up his high school and doesn’t seem remorseful enough. The reader can easily hate Zorro and can see the signs of Grey moving in the wrong direction. Grey’s father is clearly part of Grey’s problem, and one can see that the teachers/counselors at his school are not being proactive enough or are indulging Zorro’s bullying of the younger boy. The Columbine overtones are clear, here, and while Grey’s actions are not excused, the reasons behind his dehumanizing are apparent and easy to discuss. High school.
Gardner, Graham. Inventing Elliot. NY: Dial, 2004. Elliot, bullied mercilessly at his old school, determines that he must create a different identity at his new school so as not to draw the attention of the Guardians, a group of young men who decide who will be picked upon and who will not. Surprisingly, the Guardians, not knowing Elliot’s background, decide that Elliot should become on of them. But can Elliot really become the kind of person he has feared for so long. An excellent middle/high school read.
Greene, Bette. The Drowning of Stephen Jones. New York: Bantam Books, 1991. A female teen stands by and does not intervene when a group of young men harass and eventually kill a homosexual male; the trial that follows forces her to consider her own sense of identity as well as others. Based on a true story. High school.
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: Dell, 1967. Ponyboy tries to survive in a world of brothers and gangs and
must cope with the death of his best friend. The great classic of a boy’s world written by, at the time, a teen-aged girl. A must read.
Howe, James. The Misfits. Aladdin Paperbacks, 2001. They are the “losers” at Paintbrush Falls Middle School, or at least, that’s how others seem them. But when Addie refuses to say “The Pledge of Allegience” and that, in turn, spawns her further interest in politics, especially the 7thgrade elections, Bobby and his friends find that there voices can be raised to create change in their school and in the lives of others. A charming middle school book, especially for teachers who want their students to discuss issues around social polarization.
Hrdlitschka, Shelley. Sister Wife. NY: Orca Book Publishers, 2008. Celeste lives in a polygamous community where, at fifteen, she will soon be expected to marry a much older man and become a “sister wife.” But Celeste has other hopes for herself: a career and a life with Jon—a young man from her community who is her own age. However, when the Prophet demands Celeste marry John’s father, she does because she has been raised to be obedient to the Prophet and to her religious beliefs. But when her mother almost dies giving birth to yet another child and her father seems indifferent to his wife’s pain, Celeste begins to realize that there must be something else for her. An excellent read for high school.
Jones, Patrick. Things Change. NY: Walker, 2005. Johanna and Paul seem to be a mismatch from the start: she’s smart, driven, and focused on college; he’s popular and not so grade driven. Paul also has a secret that drives him into rages that Johanna can’t understand; worse, when Paul’s agree, he hits. As Johanna struggles to keep Paul happy, the tension at home and school takes its toll. This is an excellent book to use when dealing with the issue of violence in dating. High School.
Kerr, M.E. Deliver Us from Evie. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Parr must cope with farm life, his own hormones, and his sister’s lesbian relationship with the daughter of the town’s most powerful family. An undercurrent throughout the book is religious intolerance. High school.
Kerr, M.E. Someone Like Summer. NY: Knopf, 2007. When Annabel meets Esteban, they fall quickly for each other. But Esteban is an undocumented alien who works for Annabel’s father, and Annabel meets resistance from her father and her brother, Kenyon, when she tries to assert her feelings for Esteban. The romance becomes even more difficult when a local veterinarian—for whom Kenyan is working—goes out of his way to make the immigrants life more difficult. The dialogue in the text is a bit stilted and formal, but the topic of the text will be an interesting one for high school students. High school readers.
Lloyd, Saci. It’s 2015 and the world has finally agreed that global warming has to be checked. For Laura Brown, life in Great Britain has taken an even weirder twist after the government offers the nation to be guinea pigs for ways to respond to global warming. So Britons have to deal with rationing of everything: water, electricity, carbon-based products and still try to keep some normalcy in their lives. As Laura and her family deal with everything from days of no electricity to sudden savage storms that leave death in their wake, they come to a greater understanding of what it means to be part of a family as well as part of a community. High school.
Korman, Gordon. The Juvie Three. NY: Hyperion, 2008. Arjay, Gecko, and Terence are all serving time in a juvenile detention center for various reasons: aiding and abetting by driving the get-away car, manslaughter, and theft related to gang activity. When the three are chosen by Mr. Healy, an idealistic social worker determined to make a difference in the lives of kids he believes can be saved, the boys are generally unimpressed but willing to give things a go. However, until Healy is injured and sent to the hospital, the boys don’t really understand the concept of team work or looking out for each other. Hoping not to be sent back to juvie, the boys trick the school and their neighbors into thinking Healy is keeping odd hours, do their homework, and find jobs to sustain them through Healy’s illness. But how long can they keep all of this up? As with any Korman book, there is definitely humor, but the book also has a serious undercurrent concerning the justice system and what happens to kids who are often pulled into a system without adequate care to send them back into society enhanced rather than damaged by the jd experience. High school.
Langan, Paul. Bluford High: The Bully. NY: Scholastic, 2007. Darrell is small for his age, but that’s never been a problem for him in his Philadelphia neighborhood. But when his mother moves the family to California, Darrell finds himself a prime target for the neighborhood bully, Tyray. Miserable at first, Darrell finally begins to come into his own when his English teacher gives him the book Hatchet to read, and within those pages, Darrell finds the courage to go out for wrestling and make new friends. A great add to the “Bluford High” series. Middle school.
Lecesne, James. Absolute Brightness. NY: HarperTeen, 2008. When Leonard shows up to live with her family, Phoebe is less than impressed with her cousin. His effeminate manner causes issues for her at school, and interest in her mother’s hair salon diverts her mother’s already limited attention away from her. But when Leonard disappears and his body is finally found weeks later, Phoebe comes to understand how important Leonard was in her life. Determined to find his killer, Phoebe finds herself in the middle of the investigation; it is she who figures out that the seemingly gay-bashing guy she’s dating is Leonard’s killer. But is that really the truth? An interesting take on perceptions. Definitely a high school read.
Levithan. David. Love is the Higher Law. NY: Knopf, 2009. This book focuses on three teens and their individual reactions to 9/11. At first, like many around them, they’re simply aware of the other two. But the World Trade bombings change that as each teen looks frankly at his or her own life and considers how one moves forward after such a tragedy. High School.
Levithan. David. Wide Awake. NY: Knopf, 2006. When the first gay Jewish president is elected, Duncan is elated: gay and Jewish himself, Duncan has campaigned religiously for Abraham Stein and his running mate, Alice Martinez. But when the governor of Kansas calls the votes from his state into question and Stein encourages his supporters to go to Kansas, Duncan has to decide how far he’s willing to take his beliefs. When his boyfriend, Jimmy, insists they go, Duncan is torn: his parents aren’t thrilled about this trip and he’ll certainly miss school. When he does finally make the decision to go, he finds that maybe he and Jimmy aren’t as solid as he thought they were. This is a wonderful story about political activism, love and romance, and friendship. High School.
Lyga, Barry. Hero Type. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. When Kevin Ross accidentally saves Leah Muldoon from a serial rapist, he is immediately hailed as a hero by everyone in his community. But when a newspaper reporter starts to dig into Kevin’s life and family situation, things get stirred up in such a way that the hero becomes a zero very quickly. The rollercoaster of emotions that Kevin is forced to respond to makes him more aware of the impact of the media, family, friends, school culture, and war on an individual’s life. A strong high school read.
Minchin, Adele. The Beat Goes On. NY: Simon and Schuster for Young Readers, 2004. Emma seems the least likely person to come down with AIDS, but when she does, she turns to her cousin Leyla for support. Thus, this becomes the story of how teens support other teen friends and family in the face of AIDS, and this book provides a clear human face to all those involved. Leyla becomes a stronger character throughout the book as she defends Emma against other family members and townspeople who simply don’t want to know the truth about teenage sex and AIDS. High School.
Nolan, Han. If I Should Die Before I Wake. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994. Hilary Burke is a member of a neo-Nazi gang; but when she is injured after her biker boyfriend crashes his motorcycle one rainy night, Hilary is transported into the mind of Chana, a Jewish girl forced into the Lodz ghetto in Poland. Hilary, at first unwillingly, follows Chana’s memories as Chana’s family is moved from Lodz to Auschwitz. High school.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl. NY: HarperTempest, 2003. When Matt Donaghy is arrested under suspicion of attempting to bomb his school, only two people seem willing to talk about the truth of the situation: one is Matt, who knows he hasn’t done anything, and the other is Ursula, the girl who seems unafraid of anything in her life. Ursula’s very public support of Matt, who she really doesn’t know, takes everyone by surprise, but the bigger surprise is how friends, family, and classmates respond to Matt and Ursula in the wake of the police finally admitting that maybe there wasn’t anything to the bomb threat. A strong book for teens on the power and abuses of language.
Pennebaker, Ruth. Don’t Think Twice. NY: Henry Holt, 2001. Anne Harper, popular and now pregnant, has been sent by her family to live in a home for unwed mothers. Alone and angry at her parents and at her ex-boyfriend, Jake, Anne is determined that her life will not be ruined by this mistake. The story is at its best when Anne interacts with the other girls who are in similar situations, especially because each of them reacts to the situation in slightly different ways. A strong read for young women in high school.
Reynolds, Marilyn. Love Rules. Buena Park, CA: Morning Glory Press, 2001. Kit and Lynn have been spirit sisters for years, which means they have no secrets from each other. When Kit tells Lynn that she’s a lesbian, Lynn accepts Kit after a bit of self-doubt, and the two work together to make sure that Kit feels comfortable with her decision to not only share this information with Lynn, but also with other high school students making the same realization. When a group of homophobic football players decide to play rough with Kit, all of the students involved must comes to terms with the prejudice and mistrust that surrounds them. A powerful story of how two girls can make a difference in their school with the support of positive, proactive teachers. A very worthwhile read for high school students.
Rottman, S. L. Out of the Blue. NY: Peachtree, 2009. Stu and his family have been committed to the U.S. Air Force for Stu’s entire life, so he handles moving from base to base without too much thought. But this move, to Minot, ND without his brother—headed off to college—and his dad—his parents need “space”—creates problems for Stu, especially when, shortly after getting to Minot, Stu’s mother is told that she’ll be deployed to a war zone. Although his mother arranges for supervision, Stu is forced into his own decision-making when he realizes that the little boy across the street, whose father was also deployed, is being abused by his mother and old stepbrother. High School.
Tashjian, Janet. The Gospel According to Larry and Vote for Larry. NY: Random House, 2002, 2004. Josh Swenson uses his computer expertise and his amazing views on consumer life and social issues to change his community and the country at large. Under the pseudonym of Larry, Josh provides his gospel on everything from consumerism to war to the environment. But when Larry is “outed,” Josh has to face the wrath of his stepdad, his best friend, and all those hundreds of thousands of people who have looked to Larry for guidance. In book two, Larry runs for president, with amazing consequences. Excellent books for impressing upon the students the need to be politically active.
Tashjian, Janet. Faultline. NY: Henry Holt, 2003. Budding stand-up comic Becky meets Kip a true rising star in the San Francisco comedy club scene. At first, they simply support each other’s good work, but when the relationship moves into romance, Becky begins to realize that Kip has a troubled side. As Kip’s verbal and physical abuse of Becky escalates, Becky must find it within herself to stop him, before it’s too late for both of them. A remarkable story for high school readers.
Taylor, Theodore. Lord of the Kill. NY: The Blue Sky Press, 2002. 16-year old Ben is left in charge of Los Coyotes Preserve, the wild game preserve created by his father to protect exotic animals confiscated from zoos or crime syndicates involved in illegal poaching of big game animals or in the manufacture of “tiger medicines.” Ben must choose at times, between his own life and future and the ethical choices made by his father on behalf of the big cats he has sworn to protect. Great high school read.
Vaught, Susan. Big Fat Manifesto. NY: Bloomsbury, 2008. Jamie writes a weekly column for her high school newspaper that focuses on what it means to be a fat girl. Written with sharp humor and an “I dare you to take me on” spirit, Jamie is very comfortable with her stance until her boyfriend, also fat, decides to have bariatric surgery—stomach stapling. As Burke gets thinner, Jamie is forced to confront her own stance on health, beauty, self-identity, and constructive journalism. A great read with wonderful humor throughout. High school.
Vaught, Susan. Exposed. NY: Bloomsbury, 2008. Chan Shealy seems to have everything going for her except the perfect boyfriend. So when she goes on-line and finds him, everything seems to be lining up the way she wants. But when her on-line dreamboat starts to make some strange requests of her—topless photos--and her little sister starts to act out in weird ways, Chan has to deal with the possibility that isn’t all she thought. This is a strong book about on-line predators and teenaged girls looking for romance in the wrong place. High school.
Yolen, Jane & Bruce Coville. Armageddon Summer. NY: Harcourt Brace, 1998. As the Millenium draws near, Marina’s mother and Jed’s father decide that they must bring their respective families to Reverand Beelson’s sanctuary where the “lucky 200” will watch the end of the world and then be ready to follow God’s instructions on starting anew. But as Marina and Jed find each other, two non-believers surrounded by zealots, they come to realize that Beelson’s peaceful paradise is not all that it seems. Middle and high school.