A group of teens and school librarians are devoting part of their summer to reading young adult books and discussing them at regular meetings. Why? They’re passionate about the library’s Cafe Book program--book discussion for seventh and eighth graders in area schools. These summer meetings result in a carefully balanced list of 20 titles for next year’s participants to read, then choose their favorites. Each school just finished with last year’s titles, and selected their 2012 Teen Picks creating the ultimate suggested reading list for your middle school student.
“Rot & Ruin” by Jonathan Maberry holds the distinction of being the only book chosen by every school, but considering it’s about zombies that’s no surprise. Benny Imura is fifteen and it’s time to get a job. Unfortunately, nothing seems to fit so finally his brother Tom reluctantly agrees to hire him. Benny’s excited, he idolizes the zombie hunters who end up on trading cards and after all who wouldn’t want to kill “zoms?” But things with Tom are tricky; Benny blames him for their parents transformation. Plus, Tom doesn’t seem to get it, he talks about zombies with respect and fights against Benny’s heroes. When Tom takes him out into the Rot & Ruin, Benny just wants to kill any “zom” he sees, but Tom won’t let him. Instead, he shows Benny what he does and how his hero handles things; while one's path moves him, the other makes him sick. Benny has to make a choice and it’s an obvious, but not easy one, especially when he meets the Lost Girl. This book has suspense and horror, but also depth since the zombies aren’t portrayed simply as scary monsters, but as someone’s loved one who is sick and needs help.
The teens loved “A Tale Dark & Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz which is based on Grimm’s original fairy tales rather than the watered down versions most of us know. The king is asked to repay a debt at his children’s expense and he does, saying he has no choice, but there’s always a choice. When magic undoes his harm, the king thinks that will fix everything, but anyone over the age of 10 knows that’s not true so Hansel and Gretel decide to leave home. Immediately, they are thrust into stories that are vaguely familiar, but delightfully different. The book has it’s share of grisliness, lost heads and fingers, and truly evil people, but throughout Hansel and Gretel bravely face every challenge. This middle school adventure is a story of healing and forgiveness.
“How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy” by Crystal Allen may not have made any school’s list but it was enjoyed by over half of the students who read it. Unlike his basketball hero brother, Lamar isn’t your typical athlete since his asthma keeps him from running or even going outside, but he is a bowling whiz. When bad boy Billy Jenks sees him in action, he invites Lamar to join him in hustling older players. They make so much money that even close calls don’t make him stop. Finally, his jealousy and frustration escalate while his brother is playing a championship allowing Billy to provoke him into a criminal act--pulling the fire alarm. Overwhelmed by shame and guilt he confesses, boots Billy as a friend and confronts his father about his seeming lack of pride in Lamar’s talents. Although it sounds serious the book is actually laugh out loud funny. Lamar is a sensitive underdog that the reader can’t help but root for.
Originally published in the Free Lance-Star.