Books That Are a Breath of Fresh Air

I’m 33 weeks into my pregnancy, so I’m entering the lovely stage where I’m uncomfortable all the time and am finding it difficult to breathe. I was sitting on the couch reading my book, taking yet another deep breath, and thought, “I should write a post about books that are a breath of fresh air.” Since I’m often winded, I think it’s fitting 😉

I’ve included these books for a variety of reasons. I considered the way topics were approached, the way characters are written, the way authors deviated from the norm, etc. Which books would you add to this list?

Winger by Andrew Smith–Ryan Dean’s story was the first book I thought of because of how Andrew Smith wrote him. I’ve taught quite a few fourteen-year-old boys over the past seven years. Ryan Dean is written exactly like a fourteen-year-old boy and I love that. Too often characters are written with adult voices and that’s not the case for Ryan. I think it’s one of the many reasons why Winger has been such a hit with both my underclassmen and upperclassmen.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White–Paranormal YA is nothing new and Kiersten White’s debut has been out since 2010, but I still think it’s a nice change from the typical paranormal fare. Evie, the main character, isn’t busy pining away over some guy in her biology class. She’s working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency and prides herself on doing her job well. She’s pretty and girly and there is a love angle to the story, but it’s also funny and witty and original.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray–I’m more than halfway through the audio and can’t begin to explain how much I love this book. I’m purposely taking my time listening to it because it’s that good. And honestly, I could go on and on about why this book is such a breath of fresh air. The satire is spot on. The list of big issues being tackled in a very smart way is impressive. It’s simply a great book.

Party by Tom Leveen–By no fault of their own, teenagers are very self-centered. Yes, they think about others and do amazing things for others, but much of being a teenager is about figuring out who you are and worrying about yourself. The reason I say this, and I don’t mean any of that in a negative way, is because I don’t think a teen will necessarily think about every single person at a party (or in a classroom) and what their individual story is. Or how stories and paths might cross. Tom Leveen addresses this in Party. We are taken to a party and see that party through the eyes of eleven characters. We see how their paths cross and what’s really going on with each individual. It’s eye-opening for many of my students and has made them think more about others and what other people are going through.

I Know It’s Over by C.K. Kelly Martin–There are plenty of YA books that deal with teen pregnancy, but not many that I  know of–other than Jumping Off Swings and Living With Jackie Chan–that are told from the father’s perspective. I had mixed feelings overall about this book, but it was still refreshing to read about how Nick deals with the unsettling news that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and what she plans to do about it. This is also a book that I’ve had to replace every year since I originally bought it three years ago.

But I Love Him by Amanda Grace–Another common story told in YA is about abusive relationships. When my students read books about that they often tell me when they would leave and how they would never put up with a relationship like that. I’m always happy to hear that, but I also know from other students that it’s not always that simple. What I love about this book is that it isn’t told in chronological order. Because of this, there isn’t an easy spot for a reader to say, “I would have left him then.” It’s given a number of my students pause after reading it.

Every Day by David Levithan–I don’t know if I really need to explain why I’m including this book. I haven’t read anything else like it which makes it really difficult to help my students find a new book to read when they finish this and want something else like it.

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi–Jessica Verdi’s debut made the list because of the topic she wrote about. For some this may be a spoiler, but like I stated in my review, I think it will draw in more readers if you know what the character’s dilemma is. Lucy, the main character, contracts HIV. I haven’t read or heard of any other YA novels that feature a character getting or living with HIV, so that’s why I included this title.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon–Cancer books. There are SO MANY. And they often make a reader ugly cry which is one of the reasons I typically avoid them. This is not that book. Hollis Seamon’s debut made me snort with laughter and look at hospice and cancer in a very different way. One of my seniors read this and told me that he felt guilty for laughing so much. I laughed quite a few times, although a few scenes invoked tears. But would else is there to expect from a book about a teen who has terminal cancer?

Review: Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

Somebody Up There Hates YouTitle: Somebody Up There Hates You

Author: Hollis Seamon

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Release Date: September 3rd, 2013

Interest: Debut author / Contemp

Source: NetGalley

Summary (From Goodreads):

Chemo, radiation, a zillion surgeries, watching my mom age twenty years in twenty months: if that’s part of the Big Dude’s plan, then it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Somebody Up There Hates You.

SUTHY has landed me here in this hospice, where we—that’s me and Sylvie—are the only people under 30 in the whole place, sweartogod. But I’m not dead yet. I still need to keep things interesting. Sylvie, too. I mean, we’re kids, hospice-hostages or not. We freak out visitors; I get my uncle to sneak me out for one insane Halloween night. Stuff like that. And Sylvie wants to make things even more interesting. That girl’s got big plans.

Only Sylvie’s father is so nuclear-blasted by what’s happened to his little girl, he glows orange, I swear. That’s one scary man, and he’s not real fond of me. So we got a major family feud going on, right here in hospice. DO NOT CROSS line running down the middle of the hall, me on one side, her on the other. It’s crazy.

In the middle of all of this, really, there’s just me and Sylvie, a guy and a girl. And we want to live, in our way, by our own rules, in whatever time we’ve got. We will pack in some living before we go, trust me.

I was hesitant to read Somebody Up There Hates You because its main character, Richard, has terminal cancer.  I don’t do well with “cancer books.”  Hollis Seamon’s debut, however, was worth stepping out of my comfort zone.

This may not be the case for everyone, but Somebody Up There Hate You didn’t make me overly emotional while reading.  Sure, a couple scenes made me teary, but I never actually cried.  And I teared up over the most unexpected scenes.  For instance, there’s a scene that involves a nurse getting Richard a can of Coke, and Richard realizes that the nurse bought it for him.  I couldn’t believe it made me teary, but it did.  I actually think I laughed more than I teared up.

Speaking of that nurse, who’s name is Edward, I love his character.  He and Richard have a strong relationship even though it’s a nurse/patient relationship.  It’s obvious that both characters care for each other.  I’m sure if I were in Edward’s position I would grow attached to Richard as well.  What I like most about Edward is that he really takes on the role of responsible adult, but he also knows when to bend a little and help Richard when he needs it.

Something about Somebody Up There Hates You that I liked but also think needs a little work is the addition of characters throughout the story.  Edward is a constant character, so I felt like I knew him pretty well by the end, or as well as I could get to know a secondary character. We meet a few different secondary characters that stick around for a couple chapters, but then they’re gone and we don’t “see” them again. I enjoyed the chapters with Richard’s uncle, but once those are done he doesn’t return.  There are reasons why he doesn’t return, but it still felt like there were loose ends to tie up.  He served the story to add some excitement to Richard’s life and that was about it.  Most of the secondary characters added to the story mostly seem like they were included to make things conveniently work out for Richard and/or add some excitement to his life and to the story.  I enjoyed it, but I would have appreciated it more if more was offered.

Another piece that left me feeling conflicted is all the drama towards the end of the book.  I won’t go into too much detail because I don’t want to spoil anything, but a lot of it felt over the top.  Emotions run high in the hospital, especially in hospice, but the scenes become a little dramatic.  I’m sorry that I’m not explaining this well.  I was having a hard time figuring out how I was going to put it into words when I was reading it and now that I’m done, I’m still having a hard time.  Again, I still enjoyed these parts, but I shook my head a little while reading them.

I don’t know if I’d recommend this to middle school students.  Richard is a teenage boy and therefore thinks about sex pretty often.  There are even a few sexual scenes that might be questionable for middle school students.  I have no issues with my high school students reading this, but if you’re working with middle school students I recommend reading this first.  I do want to add, however, that the scenes are not grotesque. One of the scenes towards the end is written quite well, actually.  I’m confident that plenty of my guys in class will connect with Richard and enjoy Somebody Up There Hates You.

Hollis Seamon has written an entertaining debut.  I think fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, and Gae Polisner’s The Pull of Gravity will enjoy Somebody Up There Hates You.  Richard has a unique way of looking at life and a solid voice.  I’m looking forward to reading more of Seamon’s books.

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