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Season 2, Episode 10

The Teen Book You Should Be Reading Now

June 10, 2021

Charity welcomes Heather to discuss one of the hottest YA titles to come out in 2020. Book Recommendations for Tween and Teen Readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:01 Welcome to the Planet Book podcast. I'm your host, Charity, a youth services associate with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode, you'll hear guests talking about their favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining me today. On this episode, I'm joined by Heather, a Reference Manager with the Springfield-Greene County Library District who's talking about her favorite new tween and teen books she's read. Heather, thanks for being with me today.

Heather 0:28 Well, thank you, Charity, for having me. I'm so excited to be here and talk books with you.

Charity 0:32 I know. So Heather and I work together. We talk books all the time. So I'm excited to have her as a guest on the podcast where we get to talk books yet again. So Heather, let's just jump right into it. Start with whichever book you'd like. What did you bring for us today?

Heather 0:51 Well, I think I will start with my middle grade title. And it is called Clues to the Universe by Christina Li. And I was drawn to this book by the cover. It has a really beautiful cover kind of like looking out into space. And I really like books about space, as you know. So anytime you see a cover like that I'm really drawn in. So I checked it out. And it's different from what I thought it would be. But I really, really loved it. And it's historical fiction. It takes place in 1983, which I didn't actually catch on to at first because it doesn't really come into play much until a little bit later. But there are two main characters and it sort of alternates between them. And they're going into sixth grade. Ro is a young girl and her family is sort of reeling from her dad's death, her dad had just died a couple of months ago. And so now it's just her and her mom and they're sort of trying to figure out, you know how they move forward. And she's transferred to public schools. So she's new in school, part of with her dad's dying, she's not able to go to the school she used to go to due to financial concerns and stuff like that. So she's new and doesn't really know anyone. And so she's dealing with that. And then Benji, the other main character, has also kind of had his world a little bit shaken up. He also does not know his dad, his dad left his family, or doesn't know his dad, he left the family when he was really little. So he lives with his brother and his mom, and his best friend, his former best friend, has sort of turned his back on him and become a bully, almost started bullying him, and his other best friend just moved across the country. So now he's just sort of by himself. And they end up being row and Benji on the same science table. And they're very, very different. Ro is very scientifically minded. She is really meticulous about school and stuff like that. Benji is very artistic, he loves to draw, he's very laid back. So they're very different. But they start to realize that they kind of have some things going on dealing with their family situations, and they're in feeling lonely, like outcasts, so they kind of bond over that. And they make a deal that Benji is going to help Ro finish building a rocket that she had started with her dad. So she had started building this rocket with her dad and hasn't been able to, it's been hard for her to pick that back up again. So Benji is going to help her do that. And then she's going to help him find his dad, because he's found some things, some clues that make him think that his favorite comic books that he reads are written by his dad, that his dad's the author, and he wants to try to find him using clues in these comic books, of course. And this is where it starts to feel a little more like historical fiction, because it's the 80s, there's not, you know, now you just get, you know, you get on the internet and be searching like that. But then it wasn't like that. So they're trying to find his dad. And so that kind of goes on from there and has some twists. It still feels a little bit like a mystery, because you're not really sure, like what's going on with Benji's dad, and like if he is right about where he thinks he can find him, and that he's writing these comics, and so you're not sure what's going on with that. So it feels a little bit like, you know, you're just anxious to see what's going to happen. But then also just a really warm, but kind of bittersweet, but heartwarming story about grief and how, you know, you can honor someone's memory but still move on. And also just friendship. They both kind of learned some good friendship lessons. And that, you know, they both kind of give what they think they would want in a friendship, but then realizing that other people might not be on the same page. So sort of listening to your friends and figuring out what would actually help them rather than just what you think will help them. That makes sense. I just really liked it. I thought it had a really good kind of heart and heartwarming feel, and a good ending too.

Charity 4:31 So as you're talking, it reminded me, right off the bat, of the book, We Dream of Space. I don't know if you've read that one.

Heather 4:40 I haven't read that one. But I've seen it and it's been on my list.

Charity 4:44 So that's another middle grade title that, and it centers, it's set in the 80s and centers around a family and they're kind of going through some challenges. But the kids all go to school together, and it's right around the time that Challenger's getting ready to launch. And so the teacher ties in the launch of that. And so they're all kind of on these teams where they're kind of like mock astronauts and kind of like, how you know, what they're doing. And so it sounds similar in some ways to this one.

Heather 5:20 Well, I had seen that one and I had seen the cover, but I didn't, I hadn't read any, I didn't read a synopsis or anything. So I didn't realize that they were that similar. Did you enjoy that one?

Charity 5:28 I did enjoy it, actually. And I like that there are more books coming out for middle grade that have more of a sci-fi focus and are about space. I feel like we're seeing more of those. And that's always a popular theme. So what was your favorite part of this particular book?

Heather 5:46 I think the friendship aspect of it. But also, they sort of, they also have a relationship with this neighbor, who's their neighbor, and he's an older gentleman who also has lost someone. And, you know, it's kind of that classic, like, you know, he's really gruff and you know, the kids all think he's mean, but then he ends up kind of helping them too. And so just sort of kind of the intergenerational and how intergenerational friendship and friendship between people are really different. And they're a boy and a girl. And they're just, they're so different, but they sort of realize that they can, their differences can kind of complement each other. So I think just friendship, I guess I would say in that rambling. I think the way that it focused on that and really has some good subtle lessons about not making assumptions about people, or how being a good friend is really seeing what they need, and not just like, what you need reflected on them, if that makes sense. And it's definitely not preachy at all in any way. It just, you know, it just felt very real life as far as like, when you're that age. Like I remember, it's hard to kind of figure out, like, how to be a good friend. And you know, when you're little, it's kind of like well you play together. But then you get older, and things are more, you know, they're more complicated. And I think this book did a really good job of pulling that theme in.

Charity 7:09 Who do you think would enjoy it the most?

Heather 7:12 Definitely kids who kind of like the books you're mentioning before that mentions, that like talk about science, and but really, this one is almost evenly split, there's like the science kid and then you've got the really artistic kid. And so I think, and you know, in talking about drawing and comics, and they sort of, they sort of teach each other to appreciate those things. And so I think this is a book that really any, like, artistic people who are artistic, could read it and really get a lot out of it, and kids who are really super into science. And she gets a little bit into, like the design of the rocket itself. It's not super science heavy. But I think it has enough that it would be interesting to kids who are just sort of interested in that. And then the good thing is, you know, if you get some kids who are artsy, like to read it, people who are more science oriented, but then they each could kind of get a glimpse of the other side, too. I think those are the kind of the two main audiences.

Charity 8:14 Are there any books you would compare it to?

Heather 8:17 Yeah, and this is a good question. Well that one you mentioned, which I haven't read yet, sounds really similar. But one that I was reminded of when I was reading was Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I think that was from a few years ago. And it just had a sort of similar, like, bittersweet tone, and it's a girl. And this is also a girl who's very, very smart, like in that book, and, and sort of like, you get that feeling of they want to like, you know, they're like, how do I solve this grief problem? Like, how do I fix this? That's what they do with problems, but then figuring out that it doesn't really work that way. And sort of, and then the other people like making connections with other people who help them deal with the grief that they're experiencing. So that was one that it made me think of.

Charity 9:02 Well, I think that Counting by Sevens is a good tie in. That's one that I haven't read. And so, you know, I like that you mentioned that one in comparison to this one.

Heather 9:13 So, yeah, I think that they had similar, the content itself, you know, they each that they have, they're on different paths, but that was sort of the same feeling. I really enjoyed both of them.

Charity 9:23 Awesome. What's the next book you brought for us today?

Heather 9:26 Well, my next book is quite different. This is a fantasy novel, and it's called The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. And this is definitely for YA, like older YA, I would say. And this is the first in the Deathless trilogy. So the series is called Deathless and this is the first one; it just came out, but it will be a trilogy. And the protagonist of this one, her name is Deka, and she's 16. And she lives in this mythical kingdom called Otera. And this kingdom is extremely patriarchal so women are basically excluded from pretty much every aspect of public life and don't have very many rights, basically. And so she lives in a small village in the northern part of the country. And she is black and she's one of the few black people in her village because in their country, most people who live in the north are white, most people who live in the south are black. And so she's always felt a little bit like an outsider for that. Her mother moved there when she was younger, but now her mother has recently died. So she's dealing with that. She also has been having this like, as she's gotten older, she has this like kind of a sixth sense, like she can sense when something bad is gonna happen. And then like it will happen, and it's kind of like, gotten stronger. And she hasn't told anyone because being different, especially a woman having like anything supernatural is very dangerous. They have this blood ceremony when they turn 16. I know it's crazy. So she's about to have this ceremony where you're cut, and they see if your blood bleeds red then you are initiated into the village as like a full adult. And if it's gold, that's the color of impurity, which means that basically you're seen as a demon in their culture and will be put to death.

Charity 11:16 Oh wow.

Heather 11:17 So yeah, it gets pretty crazy right at the beginning. So she's facing that, a little bit stressful.

Charity 11:23 Yeah, just a little bit.

Heather 11:25 So yeah, you can see why anything that's like sort of supernatural is seen as very suspect. So she's never told anyone that she's sort of having this feeling. And so she's very, very anxious. And as you can imagine, when she has her ceremony, that yes, her blood is gold. So basically everyone she knows turns against her immediately. Like, they say that, you know, she's been taken over by a demon, it's not her, and they try to kill her. But this mysterious woman shows up and gives her an offer that she can go with her to the Capitol, and they're basically creating this army of girls like her who are, quote unquote impure, but they will develop their supernatural abilities and they will fight for the Emperor. So she goes with this with this person and goes to the Capitol, and she begins training and sort of starts to question everything that she's just sort of taken, you know, has been told to her her whole life. She's, you know, thinking, you know, maybe something isn't wrong with us, maybe these are gifts and kind of learning more about her gifts. And she starts to learn a little bit about her mother's past and like how that might tie in to everything that's going on and meeting other people like her and just sort of growing her abilities. And then they start going out to battle these things called deathshrieks and they are terrifying kind of grotesque creatures that are outside their kingdom but are trying to encroach on their kingdom. So, and they're getting they seem to be getting stronger and like more of them so that's what they are being trained to do. And so that's kind of the setup. It's quite a setup, but it takes the craziest turns, like, I must have gasped out loud reading this like five or six times just like, oh my gosh, like crazy turns. Yeah, just like things I did not see coming. There are some kind of clues that you can tell. It's like you're waiting, you know something big is happening. And then yeah, it's just a wild ride. The ending was really good I thought and it really does leave it wide open for the next books in the series. So I was like, I mean, I'm really anxious now for those next books to come out.

Charity 13:35 That sounds fascinating. Was it a page turner or was it more of a slow build? How would you describe that pacing?

Heather 13:43 I would describe it as a page turner. I think the first part it was a little slower. I would definitely call it high fantasy. It really does a lot of world building and it kind of, the first like 10% is a little bit of world building. You're kind of learning about this world and, you know, new words and new terms and things like that. But then it gets in pretty quickly where you're just kind of flying through. I think this is the author's debut novel but she has been a screenwriter so she's written for movies and TV and things like that. And I could kind of see that like she was good at, I would say, pretty action packed but she does a really good job also of like putting characterization in there where you still feel like you really are getting, the characters are getting developed, but it is pretty fast paced. And you know, it might have a little, you know, might have a calm time, but then there'll be another crazy time. So it moves, itt moves pretty quickly once it kind of gets that world set up after the beginning.

Charity 14:46 Let me ask you this, for readers who maybe aren't big fans of fantasy do you think they would still enjoy this story?

Heather 14:55 You know, I think I think that they would, because I wouldn't say, I would think, I think I'm kind of a casual fantasy reader. I don't read a lot of like really big epic fantasy. And I admit when I first started, I was kind of like, well, this might be a little bit, you know, too much more than I like. But then once I got, you know, once I got past that first bit, where it sort of built the world, I was hooked, I was in. And I think it's action packed enough. You know, I don't think you necessarily have to be a fan of high fantasy. And I saw somewhere in like a review, or I can't remember where it was or blurb or something. But someone mentioned it as a read alike for Black Panther.

Charity 15:37 Oh, okay.

Heather 15:38 And I was like, I never would have thought of that. But then when I thought of it, I thought this makes so much sense because, well, first of all, that you can kind of see the like West African inspiration throughout the story. The author is from Sierra Leone. And I think she lives in the US now, but she grew up there. So you can kind of see elements of like that kind of folklore work in there. But also, you kind of see, like, I think her background of like writing for film and for movies, kind of makes it really feel like quick paced, and kind of like, here's an episode, here's an episode. She leaves the characterization in there. I never really, like, correlated it before. I think that makes sense that people who like comics, it's sort of the same kind of pacing, I guess.

Charity 16:20 Maybe has that similar kind of feel?

Heather 16:23 Yeah, same kind of feel and same kind of pacing. And I don't think I ever would have like thought of that before. But when I saw someone mention Black Panther, I was like, oh, that that really does make sense. And I think that is a good read alike for it. It just has kind of a similar feel and a similar pacing.

Charity 16:36 Well, that sounds like an amazing title. I'll admit, when I asked that question about fantasy fans, like I'm not a huge fan of fantasy, but so much of what you described in that summary is right up my alley. So I'm definitely going to add that one to my to-read list.

Heather 16:54 Yes, I think it has enough fantasy that fantasy fans will like it. But it also could have broad appeal too. And this has some really, really great themes. I mean, some really great feminist themes. There's a lot of really good, strong female friendships that she forms, and I just really loved it. I got so sucked into it and just the twists, the turns. I mean, if you like to be, like, shocked and be like what now, you know, Oh, my gosh.

Charity 17:22 Who doesn't like a good, suspenseful story?

Heather 17:25 Yes. Yeah. And I just think it was just really good world building just the right amount for, say, me. Yeah, like, when you kind of like a little fantasy, but you know, you don't want an 800 page.

Charity 17:39 Right. Well, Heather, these were two amazing choices that I will be adding to my to read list. I just want to thank you so much for being with me today and closing out season two.

Heather 17:50 It's so exciting. Well, thank you so much for having me. I always love talking about books with you.

Charity 17:55 Well, thank you. This was a lot of fun. So we will definitely do it again. Sometime in season three probably.

Heather 18:02 That sounds awesome.

Charity 18:03 Thanks, Heather.

Charity 18:04 Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at for these and other great book recommendations and follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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