Ms. Bartels Recommends
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
I read quite a bit this summer between graduation and the first day of this school year, and by far my favorite novel was Beartown by Fredrik Backman. Students in Lit Chat know that I loved A Man Called Ove (and so many friends and family have read it and loved it, too, on my recommendation). When I read Backman, I feel like he is writing about some aspect of my life – his character Ove felt like my own father, the curmudgeon who complains about the idiots around him even as he is bending over backwards to help them. And Beartown felt like my own small town and the pressures exerted on teams in a small town to carry the weight of the entire town's future on the shoulders of the boys and girls playing. I was a wreck reading this as I watched the familiar small-town story unfold, and I could feel myself cringing inside as the events of the book played out even as I marveled at Backman's humor and heartfelt prose; he writes the kind of lines you want to remember, lines you find yourself jotting down so you can think about them later. When I emailed my Lit Chat group that they had to "run, not walk, to the nearest bookstore and pick up Beartown," one graduated Senior wrote back: "Thank you so so so much for recommending Beartown – it was incredible. I have been crying all day (in a good way)." My sentiments . . . exactly.
"The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream – and the price required to make it come true.
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Ricker Recommends
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
You're going to love Simon. He's such an honest, lovable narrator who wears his heart on his sleeve. It's refreshing to read about a gay character who generally will be supported by friends and family but still thinks a lot about what a big change it is to come out – and yet it shouldn't be. "Don't you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default?" Simon is so relatable and his email romance with a mysterious classmate is so exciting that – gay or straight – you can easily put yourself in Simon's shoes. I would recommend this to fans of realistic fiction who like a little bit of romance. Hand this to fans of John Green or e. lockhart; this specifically had a similar feeling to Will Grayson, Will Grayson by Green and David Levithan.
"Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: If he doesn't play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone's business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he's been emailing with, will be jeopardized.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon's junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated.
Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out – without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he's never met." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 8+
Ms. Kazan Recommends
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Born in 1986, Tara Westover was raised in rural Idaho by survivalist parents who shunned modern medicine and held a deep distrust of the government. She had no formal schooling – not even consistent or remotely thorough homeschooling – but miraculously was able to get herself accepted to Brigham Young University. From there, Westover went on to study at Cambridge and Harvard, and ultimately received a PhD from Cambridge. Westover's recollections of her upbringing and her family are both heartbreaking and gripping. Once you've finished reading this incredible memoir, you will find yourself Googling the author for more information about her astonishing journey. This clip from PBS NewsHour is a good starting point.
"Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes from severing one's closest ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes, and the will to change it." ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+
Ms. Matlin Recommends
The Darkling Bride by Laura Andersen
I'm not a huge fan of summer weather; by the time we get to the middle of August, I'm longing for November weather: cold, windy and rainy. Darkling Bride delivers big on the kind of gothic atmosphere that seems to belong to autumn. The plot adheres to many thriller archetypes – a family history of unsolved deaths, a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere, oddly spooky family members – while simultaneously poking fun at those very conventions. Carragh is an enjoyable heroine; she's not bumping through the story idiotically unaware of everything going on around her, nor is she masterfully in control of the story. The family ghost story is more interesting than I had expected; my brain went down an entirely different track than the actual solution, always a plus for me. Given that this is a novel that's spooky but not slasher, full of atmospheric ruins and centers around a library, it was inevitable that it would be a hit for me. I think fans of Jane Eyre, Rebecca and dark mystery shows will enjoy it, too.
"The Gallagher family has called Deeprath Castle home for seven hundred years. Nestled in the Wicklow Mountains of Ireland, the estate is now slated to become a public trust, and book lover and scholar Carragh Ryan is hired to take inventory of its historic library. But after meeting Aidan, the current Viscount Gallagher, and his enigmatic family, Carragh knows that her task will be more challenging than she'd thought.
Two decades before, Aidan's parents died violently at Deeprath. The case, which was never closed, has recently been taken up by a new detective determined to find the truth. The couple's unusual deaths harken back a century, when twenty-three-year-old Lady Jenny Gallagher also died at Deeprath under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind an infant son and her husband, a renowned writer who never published again. These incidents only fueled fantastical theories about the Darkling Bride, a local legend of a sultry and dangerous woman from long ago whose wrath continues to haunt the castle.
The past catches up to the present, and odd clues in the house soon have Carragh wondering if there are unseen forces stalking the Gallagher family. As secrets emerge from the shadows and Carragh gets closer to answers-and to Aidan-could she be the Darkling Bride's next victim?" ~from the publisher
Recommended for: Grades 9+