Tag Archives: teenagers

*** Things We Have In Common by Tasha Kavanagh

I’m going to say that Thing We Have In Common is a mystery, since it contains a crime, and a serious one, the disappearance of a teenager, but the focus is on one of her classmates, a fat, friendless, and bullied classmate who is fascinated by the popular girl and convinced that a mysterious man is watching her and may bring her harm. The action is mostly in the girl’s mind, with short interactions with her mother and stepfather — and eventually the police. The peculiar logic of teenagers is perfectly captured, all the way to the disturbing, unsettled ending.

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*** History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

History of Wolves stars a wise-beyond her years teenager living with her ex-hippy parents and often parenting them rather than the other way around. When a new family moves in by the lake where she lives, she becomes their babysitter, and eventually the helpless witness to the death of their little boy. The story captures perfectly the cruel world of high schoolers who routinely reject whoever does not quite fit in, the claustrophobic lifestyle of the newcomers, and the lost word of her parents. It meanders a bit at times but the relationships between the little boy and the babysitter and between the babysitter and the mother illuminate it.

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*** His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

His Bloody Project describes itself as a historical thriller, but one that is entirely made up — a good thing, since the author wisely avoids exposing dry trial transcripts and instead devotes most of the book to a supposed autobiography of the killer, a teenager who likely could not have written the text. The autobiography is interspersed with testimony from his neighbors, his lawyer, and a criminal psychologist who views the accused as a member of an inferior race and treats him accordingly as subhuman. Along the way we discover the tough life of sharecroppers in Scotland in the late 19th century (no wonder so many Scots emigrated to find better lives elsewhere) and the suffocating nature of village living. We will never know exactly what happened, and that’s a good thing.

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** You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

You Will Know Me and its murder will get under your skin and keep you wondering about the next plot twist to the end, while offering a well-crafted immersion into the strange world of highly competitive sport (here, gymnastics) and its crazy parents. There is also a marvelously drawn little brother who keeps spouting tender and magically appropriate comments. That said, some of the clues are a little too obvious and mar the surprise of the whodunit.

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** Project Fatherhood by Jorja Leap


Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities is the story of a group of men from a housing project in Watts who are brought together to become better fathers. It’s a harrowing story, as most of them grew up without fathers and have criminal records, most are unemployed, and they are living in a very violent environment. But there are also wonderful moments, moments when they support each other in words and in action, and when they express their concern for the young men around them in general, not just their sons.

The book is an interesting counterpoint to Ghettoside, and left me with a similar feeling of hopelessness, with just a few beams of optimism.

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* The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen


I was quite disappointed by The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults, but I also learned a lot by reading it. Let me explain.

The author is a neuroscientist, and also a mother, who tried to bring together rigorous scientific research and practical advice, but not successfully. So we get detailed descriptions of, say, cannabis activating glutamate receptors (no doubt fascinating, but not to most parents, I suspect), jumbled together with dire stories about adolescents developing schizophrenia after consuming the drug. Apart from the obvious problem that correlation is not causation, it makes the book read like a bad high-school health class, the one that pretends that one glass of wine will make you an alcoholic. It’s a pity because the book also describes important facts for parents who wonder how their almost-adult children fail to plan properly. For instance, I did not know there was such a thing as prospective memory, which allows us to hold in mind the intention of doing something at a future time — and that prospective memory does not get established properly until our twenties (I think it declines later in life, but that’s another story!)

In short, I would have liked less fear mongering and more direct links between research and the real world.

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** Nine Years Under by Sheri Booker

The author of Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home worked for nine years (of course) in a funeral home, starting when she was only 15, and recounts her experience with many details about how funeral homes work, of course, but also about the world that brought many of the dead into the funeral home, the violent Baltimore of the 1990s. She also paints a candid picture of a small business with a temperamental boss, who on the one hand gave her many opportunities but could treat his staff with sudden anger, including her.

The writing is occasionally awkward, and they are graceless repeats here and there, but the story is certainly engaging and larger than just one teenager’s adventures.

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