- Rebecca Purdy
There is no higher praise for a book than an award from its target audience. Each school year, seventh and eighth grade students from thirteen area middle schools, read from among twenty recently published young adult books and vote on those they feel merit a Café Book Top Teen Pick award. Chosen titles are displayed at local libraries where they fly off the shelf even before summer fun officially begins.
Some of the books that make the Teen Picks list are no surprise. These are usually fantasy, dystopian fiction or horror, and have most of the components of successful teen literature: action, a touch of romance, and a fast-moving plot . However, every so often a title is chosen that doesn’t fit the mold. This year, that book is “A Monster Calls” by Patrick Ness. Ever since his mother started cancer treatment for, Conor has had a recurring nightmare. One night though it’s different, as dream becomes reality and the monster manifests. “The uppermost branches...gathered themselves into a great and terrible face...thin, needle-like leaves...make a green, furry skin that moved and breathed.” This horrible creature bears a promise that feels like a threat. It will come three more times, bearing a story from when it walked before; when it has finished, Conor must tell a story of his own and it must be the truth. The monster keeps this vow, and in between visits, Conor deals with the terrible reality of his mother’s illness, his estranged father’s lack of interest and the growing realization that his looming fate necessitates getting along with a grandmother he barely knows. Sorrounded by all of this, Conor’s own story grows and the truth that the monster demands becomes harder and harder to ignore. Ness’ text is accompanied by illustrations from Jim Kay, textured black and white drawings filled, not with the kind of horror that goes bump in the night, but that of loneliness and impending loss.
In “Sweet Venom” by Tera Lynn Childs three very different teenage girls tell their stories in alternating chapters. The first, Gretchen, is the only one in the know. She is trained to be a very skilled monster killer, Grace is new to the big city and sure she won’t fit in and Greer knows exactly where she belongs--a fabulous mansion dating a gorgeous rich boy. Their worlds collide and, unavoidably, everything they’ve known about themselves and believed about who they are is turned upside down in this exciting action novel with a mythological bent. A colleague described the book to me as Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) meets Medusa and that was all of the convincing it took! This action adventure with a touch of humor is a lot of fun and a great read.
Imagine if you could see ghosts and one of them was a Jack the Ripper copycat? In “The Name of the Star” by Maureen Johnson, Rory Deveaux arrives in London a normal teenager, but quickly learns she is something more. She bumps into a gentleman and excuses herself, but her friend sees no one. Too late, Rory realizes she’s just become interesting to a cold-blooded murderer. In a historic city like London, they’re used to the unbelievable and a special task force led by a handsome detective, is ready to protect Rory. from the invisible menace that pursues her.