Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THE DEAD INSIDE by Cyndy Etler

The Dead Inside: A True Story

THE DEAD INSIDE is the true story of Cyndy Etler's experience in a drug rehab facility called Straight, Inc. Centers for drug rehabilitation are necessary and useful facilities in battling today's drug and alcohol abuse, however, the cult-like, brainwashing methods of Straight, Inc. no doubt leave its residents scarred for life.

Cyndy begins her story with her fourteen year old attempts to survive the advances of her step-father while trying to fit in and be popular at school. Desperate for friendship, Cyndy made numerous poor choices that landed her in a group of older teens into drugs, alcohol, and sex. Cyndy wasn't tempted by the weed, pills, and alcohol and mostly faked her way through the parties where everyone was either high or drunk.

Sex was a different story. Fearful and disgusted by her step-father's advances, Cyndy found something comforting and also powerful about the effect she had on the older teen boys. Thinking she was forming real relationships, she gave herself completely to the attention.

When Cyndy's mother discovered her daughter's activity, she needs a way to get rid of the competition for her own husband's attention. She bought right into the ministry of Straight, Inc. and didn't mind that her daughter ended up there for over a year.

Cyndy reveals the helplessness and frustration of being pushed and shoved and ordered to perform senseless rituals for hours and hours at a time. Straight, Inc. eventually wears down its clients without truly treating their addictions. As the cover states, "The only way to get out is to give in." 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

STICK by Andrew Smith


Thirteen year old Stark McClellan is tall and skinny. That's why most people call him Stick. Another thing about Stick that catches the eye is the fact that he was born with only one ear. Most of the time he wears a cap since growing his hair long enough to cover it up isn't an option Stick's dad will allow.

On the outside Stick's family looks normal. Most people believe that Stick and his older brother Bosten live in a loving home with parents who are happily married. People don't know about the spare bedroom that serves as a torture chamber of sorts for Stick and Bosten if they break any of the crazy rules created by their parents. Not even Emily, Stick's best friend, or Paul, Bosten's best friend, know what life is really like for the two brothers.

When Stick and Bosten are sent to stay with their aunt over spring break, they learn that life can be very different. Their aunt takes them shopping so they can dress like normal teenage boys hanging out at the beach. She lets them sleep in and relax and introduces them to two friendly teens, Evan and Kim.

During their week with Aunt Dahlia, Stick and Bosten learn to surf. Wearing their wetsuits and learning the surfing lingo give the two a sense of what life is like away from their controlling parents.

Returning home, they find themselves in a new situation. Their parents have decided to divorce so the boys will now be living with their father. When it is discovered that Bosten has been living with a secret, he runs away. Stick feels his only recourse is to follow, but even though things at home are horrible, life on the road proves to be even worse.

STICK is a true page-turner by author Andrew Smith. Stick and Bosten grabbed my heart right from the start. I found myself cheering for them even when their choices were questionable. Their grit and determination are sure to inspire anyone lucky enough to pick up a copy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

MERCY RULE by Tom Leveen

Mercy Rule

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, this new release by author Tom Leveen provides a powerful read that should be shared with teens and adults alike. The story it tells reinforces the fact that every school is made up of a vast variety of individuals each with their own backgrounds and issues. As human beings we need to be more conscious of our interactions as we go about our daily lives. One supposedly innocent comment or act could be the trigger for someone dealing with more than we could ever imagine.

MERCY RULE takes readers into a typical high school. The students come in all shapes and sizes with a multitude of personalities. The jocks or athleaders as they are known in this particular school are looked up to as role models, but some of them are anything but. There are students striving to be at the top academically no matter who they have to trample on to get there. There are the lowly freshmen longing to find their niche or at least someone to invite them to sit at their lunch table. The stoners, the drama nerds, the misfits, and all the rest combine to make up a world in which nice words and respectful behavior are not the norm.

This reader was drawn immediately into the lives of the characters as view points switched every few pages. For some characters there was instant understanding and for others instant dislike. Knowing that tragedy was eventually going to strike, judgements were made about who was who and the role each would play, but Tom Leveen's plot doesn't always follow a predictable course which elicited a significant number of surprised gasps as I read.

Overall, I believe this is the most powerful YA novel involving a school shooting that I have read. Leveen captures the normalcy of the school setting and the naivety of many of the players when it comes to predicting a tragedy of this kind. No one ever imagines that someone they know could be capable of this horror, but therein lies the problem that we must somehow solve.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

SPEAK THE GRAPHIC NOVEL by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

Speak: The Graphic Novel

I have always been a fan of SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson. Many of my students have benefited from reading it and discussing it with friends. The arrival of the graphic novel is thrilling! This new format will extend Anderson's message to readers less comfortable with the printed word. I can't wait to share it with even more readers in the future.

Melinda's story remains true in this illustrated version. In fact, the message is even more powerful and stirring. Images that struck me were her report cards with the sinking grades, the angry faces of her parents, and her increasing isolation as she hides in her clothes and the shadows.

This graphic novel truly exemplifies the power of this genre in the future of YA literature. It's a must have for every location serving teen readers.

BEFORE I LET YOU GO by Marieke Mijkamp

Before I Let Go

It seems like living in a small town in Alaska would be idyllic and peaceful, and it may have seemed so at first for best friends Corey and Kyra. The two girls were inseparable. Corey was an average, everyday kind of girl, but Kyra was different, special in her own unique way.

The town of Lost Creek included the girls as small towns do, but Kyra's uniqueness was lost on most. What came across as the annoying highs and lows of her personality, were really the symptoms of her disease. Kyra was bipolar. 

Corey had always been there for Kyra, ready to fly with her during her manic periods and stay close by to support her when she fell into the depths of depression. At least Corey was there until her mother decided it was time to move. Corey began attending a boarding school far from Lost Creek, but she promised that if Kyra would just hold on and wait for her, she would return.

Before Corey could keep her promise, Kyra took her own life in the lake. When Corey returns for Kyra's funeral, she can't believe the natives of Lost Creek are telling her Kyra's death was meant to be.

Author Marieke Mijkamp, known for her riveting novel THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, has hit the mark again. Friendship, mental illness, and people desperate for a better future combine to create a mysterious tale about two teens separated by tragedy.