YA Nonfiction

TOMBOY by Liz Prince

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Liz is a tomboy. Not the kind of tomboy that you see on TV with braided pigtails and overalls, but the kind of girl  who gets mistaken for a boy due to the way she dresses and acts and the activities that she enjoys. In fact, Liz wishes she were a boy because then she wouldn’t have to deal with all of the double standards applied to her because she is a girl.  She is secretly pleased when people mistake her for a boy. Unfortunately, being a tomboy  seems to have doomed her romantic life.   By recounting the story of her childhood, Liz Prince explorers the idea of what it means to be a girl in a world of conflicting gender expectations.

 Although brief sections of this graphic memoir read a little bit like a sociology text, the sense of humor of the author and her relatable story about growing up, trying to fit in, facing bullying, and discovering her identity is an engaging read.   I recommend it to teens who enjoy graphic novels, memoirs, or realistic fiction.

LAST OF THE GIANTS: THE RISE AND FALL OF EARTH’S MOST DOMINANT SPECIES by Jeff Campbell

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How would you feel if you encountered a 12 ft. tall bird? Or a 6 ft. tall, 10 ft. long ox?  As strange and potentially alarming as they might sound, these and other giant creatures ruled their ecosystems until humans hastened their extinction.  In his book, Campbell describe the origins, history, role, and extinction of thirteen “giants” of nature.  Each account is incredibly interesting, but detailed and written with a sophisticated, scientific style that may not appeal to all of the teen readers to whom it is marketed.  Despite a few half-hearted and awkward references to social media, and an occasional break in tone for an attempt at teen-speak, the book reads like a scientific article.  So while it won’t attract a broad teen audience, it is fantastic for high schoolers and adults who are interested in the subject matter and looking for a well-researched, thorough narrative about the evolution, impact, and decline of each species–as well as a glimpse into the future of possible back-breeding to restore giants into the ecosystem. 

An engaging read which I recommend to older teens and adults who are interested in biology and/or history.

YOU’RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET (ALMOST) by Felicia Day

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Before The Guild” and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Felicia Day was an isolated, home schooled kid who discovered a community and her own voice on the then fledgling internet.  Her memoir goes beyond hilarious anecdotes from an unconventional childhood with the history of the Internet and online gaming from a user’s perspective, her experience with video game addiction, a glimpse into the life of an unknown actor trying to make it in LA, an account of creating a low budget Web series (“The Guild”), and her perspective on and experience with Gamergate.  A truly gifted writer, Day divides her memoir into semi-chronological sections by topic, giving each individual part its own arc in addition to the overall narrative arc of the memoir, which encourages readers to pursue their creative passions. 

I picked up this book as a Guild fan, thinking it would just be an interesting glimpse into Felicia Day’s life.  Instead I found one of the most interesting and entertaining memoirs I have ever read and a new audiobook favorite!  If you are not a Felicia Day fan already, the book may lack the “squee” factor it had for me, but if you are an Internet user who enjoys memoirs, you will probably still find her story engaging.  Definitely listen to the audiobook!

BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

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Jacqueline’s childhood was shaped by the Civil Rights movement, her grandfather’s garden, the kids playing in the streets in Bushwick, and so many other things.  She gathers her memories and turns them into poetry in this National Book Award winning memoir.  Her story is accessible and beautifully told with vivid imagery and a depth of reflection that inspires similar personal reflection from readers of all ages.  A beautiful book.  I highly recommend it!

AUDACITY by Melanie Crowder

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Clara always loved learning. But in her small Jewish community, women were not meant to be scholars. And her father was determined that not even his sons would ever learn Russian, the language of their oppressors.  Still Clara dreamed of being a doctor, and taught herself in secret how to read and how to speak Russian. When a violent pogrom destroyed their community, Clara and her family moved to America, and the opportunity for her to pursue her studies seemed more real than ever. But when the need to support her family forced Clara to work in a sweatshop, she discovered the horrible plight of the working immigrant woman – and child – and her dreams of becoming a surgeon began to conflict with her desire to pursue justice for the oppressed women around her.  Still a teenager, Clara formed a union, and endured terrible hardships as she pursued her new dream.

Inspired by Clara’s real life love of poetry, Crowder tells the true story of Clara Lemlich as she imagines Clara would have experienced it in beautiful poetic verse. The story is exciting, informative, and inspiring. Teen readers may see parallels between Clara’s struggle for justice and many injustice is in our world today. The book concludes with a detailed description of what is true and what is fictionalized in the novel, as well as interviews with Clara’s surviving relatives. I highly recommend this book to teen readers who enjoy historical fiction.

TAKING FLIGHT: FROM WAR ORPHAN TO STAR BALLERINA by Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

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As a child, Michaela DePrince witnessed terrible violence in war-torn Sierra Leone. She survived the death of both of her parents, and escaped as a refugee to Ghana, where she was adopted by an American family.  What kept Michaela’s hope alive through her years in Sierra Leone was a torn magazine cover with a photograph of a ballerina on it. It was the most incredible thing she had ever seen, and she hoped that one day she could become a ballerina too. Her adoptive parents supported her dreams, and Michaela overcame racial discrimination to become one of the world’s few black classical ballerinas. 

Young as she is, Michaela’s memoir only covers her first 17 years of life. But her story is inspiring and very well-written. I read it in one sitting. Although marketed as a young adult book, her story will be of interest to teens and adults. I highly recommend it!

THE ENDLESS STEPPE: GROWING UP IN SIBERIA by Esther Hautzig

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Esther had a beautiful childhood. She shared a large home with her parents and extended family in their Polish town of Vilna. They had beautiful garden that Esther tended with her grandfather, and she attended a wonderful school. But that all ended with the German invasion. As the Polish army fought valiantly against the Germans, the Soviets began to wage war against what they considered to be internal enemies. Labeled as capitalists, Esther, her parents, and her grandparents are shuttled into cattle cars and taken to labor camps in Siberia. From age ten to age fifteen, Esther learns to survive working in the harsh, barren landscape. But as she grows and builds friendships and a life for herself, it becomes difficult to imagine ever leaving.

Esther Hautzig tells her life story in beautiful and evocative prose. Her experiences of joys and hardships are both shocking and accessible; in many ways, childhood in Siberia is no different from childhood anywhere else.  There is sadness in this story, as you can imagine, but ultimately, Esther’s story is hopeful. I highly recommend this book to middle grade readers and teens who enjoy historical novels and memoirs and who are interested in hearing a less-often-told side of the Second World War.