Teen Picks

Books, movies, and more.

Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls 1) by Maggie Stiefvater April 20, 2014

Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, #1)When she was eleven years old, Grace was dragged off her swing by wolves into the woods nearby, but a wolf with yellow eyes saved her life. Since then, she thinks of him as “her wolf,” visiting her often in the winter months and keeping watch over her. Although she thinks of the wolves as harmless, not many in Mercy Falls do, especially after a boy is attacked. When the men from the town decide to get rid of the wolf problem, Grace finally meets her wolf in person, and repay him for saving her life. But although the two are finally together, not everything is easy for Sam, who has to struggle to stay in human form, and fight against the dangers of both humans and other wolves.

Shiver is a paranormal romance that resembles Twilight in its simplicity of plot and romance elements. Its readership also seems to be as divided in its opinions as that of Twilight. Many are enchanted by the lyrical storytelling and strong romance element, while others are disappointed by the simplicity of the book and its lack of originality. The writing is indeed lyrical and draws the reader in, making for a quick read, especially for reluctant readers. However, the story definitely lacks in any originality and substance. It is very different from The Raven Boys, which was dark, moody, and very complex. It is in fact difficult to believe that both books were written by the same author. However, it is easy to see why many readers gravitate to one series or the other. Shiver will appeal to readers who enjoy simple plots and lots romance.

Rating: 3 stars

Interest Level: Grade 9+

Similar Titles:

7488244 Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)



More Than This by Patrick Ness April 13, 2014

17262303The book starts with a boy drowning. He drowns. He wakes up in his childhood home in England, except it looks like it had been abandoned for decades. Everything is as he remembers, even the prison looming forebodingly close to his house and in his memory, but everything is covered in dust and unusable with age. He believes that he is in hell, forced to wake up every day in the house and in the country his family was more than happy to leave behind. But is there more to it than being his own private hell? When he finds out that he is not alone there, is it because he created others out of his imagination or do they exist independent of him?

More Than This is a thoughtful and entertaining dystopian adventure story that is sure to surprise its readers with its many twists and turns. It beautifully balances great realistic fiction elements with an engaging plot. It addresses the challenges and realities of being a teen and facing difficult choice, being let down and finding hope in unexpected places. It is also a page-turner than readers of science fiction and dystopian literature will devour in  a day. I would also like to note that when I first saw the book design, I was not sure what to make of it. It look cryptic and futuristic,  and does not seem to hint at the contents of the book. However, those who finish the book will join me in admitting that the book cover fits perfectly with the book, and the design is quite ingenious.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Interest Level: Grade 9+
Genre: Dystopian fiction
Similar Titles
Epic (Epic #1)The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles, #1)

How to Love by Katie Cotugno April 12, 2014

How to Love is a realistic fiction romance novel told from the perspective of Reena Montero. Reena has been in love with Sawyer LeGrande her whole life. They have known each other since they were children, with their parents being close friends, and work together in the restaurant jointly owned by their families, but Sawyer never regarded her as more than a friend. But when Reena finally gets her wish and the two start dating, it is not happily ever after. After a few brief months of dating, Sawyer disappears, leaving pregnant Reena heartbroken and alone to face the realities of raising a baby and facing her parents’ ire. But just as Reena has finally pulled the pieces of her life together, Sawyer reappears, trying very hard to make amends, and forcing Reena to face her feelings and decide whether she should allow Sawyer to enter her life again.

I am not an avid romance reader, although I enjoy romance elements that are secondary to the main plot. What I liked about this book was that even though romance is the primary element, the book deals with many themes like teen pregnancy, drinking, drug abuse, and death. What might seem like a lighthearted romance is actually quite a dark and serious book that will nevertheless appeal to many teen romance readers. However, there are some things that I did not like, perhaps due to the fact that I am not a teenager anymore and may be somewhat judgmental of the mistakes that teen girls make in their first relationships. But I was glad to see that other reviews also shared my misgivings about Sawyer.  As Reena recounts the story of her relationship with Sawyer before he leaves, it becomes obvious that no girl  should ever have to put up with being treated like she was, no matter how hard she tries to convince herself that her feelings for him will never change. It is impossible to read about each escapade, and not think “And she still did not break up with him?” Instead, she constantly used his “bad boy” behavior as an excuse to be  verbally abusive to him, and still allow him to sweet-talk her into forgiving him. I noticed that throughout the book,  Reena barely says a nice thing to Sawyer, even though she professes to be so in love with him. This is, however, not a caution against reading the book, because I think that readers should judge for themselves, and there will be many who will enjoy this book  and think about what it means to be in love and be faced with tough decisions.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Interest Level: Grade 9+
Genre: Romance, realistic fiction
Similar Titles

The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys Book 1) by Maggie Stiefvater March 28, 2014

Blue grew up in a family of psychics in Henrietta, Virginia, also home to the prestigious Aglionby Academy. She tries to stay away from Agionby students – the rich and privileged Raven Boys, until one day her fate becomes intertwined with a group of Raven Boys. Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah form a close circle of friendship, united in their quest to find the dead Welsh king Glendower. Gansey is charming and refined, and obsessed with the quest for Glendower. Adam is a scholarship student from Henrietta, and he is as devoted to Gansey as he is to his own reasons for finding Glendower. Ronan is wild and unpredictible, still unable to recover from the effects of a family secret that changed his life forever. But the four are not alone in their search for Ley Lines – powerful lines that connect spiritual points, that will lead them to the dead king. Their quest leads them to a world full of beauty and danger that will bring them closer to their quest but also jeopardize their friendship.


Maggie Stiefvater wrote a book that is as difficult to describe as it is beautiful. The story is ingrained in myth and magic, and although it can be called a paranormal romance, the paranormal part figures more strongly than the romance element. The story is more creative and original than anything I have read in the teen paranormal and urban fantasy genre in a long time. The writing is also admirable, with sentences that had unexpected twists and turns that would catch me off guard and showing Stiefvater’s skill for writing that was not as evident in The Wolves of Mercy Falls. However, the most amazing thing about this book was the character development. Stiefvater imbued her characters with so much lifelike reality that it is impossible to not fall in love with the Raven Boys despite their shortcomings and imperfections. The beauty of the writing and the character development are magnified by Will Patton’s astounding narration, which heightens the books mystical and gothic feel. This book is not a light and flighty book to go through in one sitting, but one to dive into and enjoy slowly.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Interest Level: Grade 9+
Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Similar Titles

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan March 14, 2014

The Panopticon is an adult novel that could also be enjoyed by daring teens. It is the story told from the perspective of Anais Hendricks, raised in foster care since she was born, and a multiple juvenile offender by the age of fifteen. The novel starts with Anais moving into the Panopticon, a social works department home for juvenile offenders, while she is under investigation for the beating and attempted murder of a police woman, PC Craig, who is currently in a coma. Anais was found with blood on her school uniform, and although she remembers little from the drug-addled day, Anais knows in her heart that she did not harm the officer. The Panopticon is an experiment, in which the residents are being watched at all times, but are free to go to school and outings. Although Anais is not very fond of the Panopticon and its staff, she finds unlikely allies in Angus, her social worker, and fellow residents like Isla, Tash, Shortie, and John. While she is waiting for the police investigation to decide her faith, Anais has to come to terms with her identity and the power of her own decisions over her life.

The Panopticon is a harsh, dismal novel full of explicit language, drug use, and violence and little hope for salvation of its characters, but it was not an unpleasant read. Anais is a character who can be endearing at times and disappointing at others, but her voice can really enthrall the reader. The way the audience sees her and her friends might also be contingent on their age and current degree of rebelliousness. This is not a story of good and evil, as it might seem from the summary, with downtrodden children taken advantage of by adults, who band together  to fight for their freedom. Just as the youths in the book are disappointed in the adults in their lives, it is easy how hard the adults are trying their best to save these children from a determined path of self-destruction. Although the reader can see the potential in Anais, her strong values and intelligence, it is frustrating to see the appallingly short-sighted decisions she makes on a regular basis. In the end, a book like this can either be a disturbing tale of depravity and destruction, or a similar ending to A Clockwork Orange, where a character seeming beyond hope finally decides to grow up and put an end to the destructive spiral.

Interest Level

Older teen/adult

Similar Titles

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh


What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton September 18, 2013

Sixteen-year-old Sid Murphy’s life changes drastically after she meets a mysterious older guy named Dax Windsor on a school ski trip. When he invites her to a party, Sid feels like her dreams are coming true. Against the advise of her friends, Sid decides to sneak out at night and go to the party. But Dax is not who he says he is, and when Sid wakes up in the morning much later than when she was supposed to be back, with no recollection of the night before, she finds herself in trouble with her school and family. After the disastrous ski trip, Sid loses everything that made her happy, like her two close friends, her position on the cheerleading team, and her self-esteem. Now Sid runs four hours a day and cannot sleep, and finds it difficult to make friends at school. But hope materializes in the last place she expected, in the school’s AV room with Corey Livingston, or the “Living Stoner,” who might also not be what Sid and everyone expects. As Sid and Corey’s friendship deepens, it might become Sid’s road to salvation, if only she allows it.

What Happens Next is a smart and engaging novel in many ways similar to Speak. Though not a tour de force like Speak, and much less popular, this novel has many merits of its own. While it talks about difficult issues, it is not meant to be a tearjerker. It chronicles an average girl’s struggle and recovery after a terrible incident. For Sid is an average girl with good and bad things in her life. She is a cheerleader, but she feels insecure about her voluptuous figure. She has a strong support system in her friends and family, though she is being raised by a single mother. The author aims to show that while things might seem pretty bad and unbearable for a while, there is always a chance that things will get better again, but not on their own, and while people can make their predicament worse by self-destructive activities, there is always a way out.

However, the book, like its heroine, is a little too average. While a good and enjoyable read, the book does not have any particular characteristics that would raise it above other realistic books for teenage girls (Sarah Dessen and Lurlene McDaniel, to name a couple of obvious ones). While there is nothing pedestrian about the issues Sid has to deal with, the book lacks that emotional power to burrow into the readers’ hearts and make them fall in love with the characters. Although many reviewers fall in love with Corey’s character and think of him as the perfect sensitive guy every girl should find, I found him to be somewhat lackluster. While the character development for Sid is great, Corey’s character is not fully developed. While he says and does the right things, he only seems like a one-dimensional character whose only purpose is to calm Sid’s emotional outbursts.
The unexpected verdict: Read it. It might not be a work of genius, but it is an enjoyable read, and its lack of emotional punch and optimistic outlook might make it easier for those who aren’t necessarily looking for a tear jerker.


Realistic Fiction

Reading Level

Grade 9+


3.5 Stars.


The Waiting Tree by Lindsay Moynihan September 16, 2013

Eighteen-year-old Simon lives with his three brothers after the death of their parents and works in a grocery store to support his family, especially his mute twin Jude. But his life gets even more complicated when his church community and his older brother ostracize him because of his love for Stephen. When Stephen’s parents send him to a “Christian Center,” he loses the only person who can help go through the tough times. But he still haves his coworker Tina and his twin Jude, who understands more than he lets on, and gives Simon a purpose in life.

The Waiting Tree was like Meg Rosoff and Benjamin Alire Saenz combined into one. I thought that Saenz’ Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was one of the best books ever written, and shared some similarities in the LGBTQ theme and the friendship and love between two boys, as well as the lyrical writing style. My feelings for Meg Rosoff are more mixed, since most of her books start really great and draw me in, but ultimately leave me feeling disappointed by the story itself. This was the case with The Waiting Tree. The first half of the book was amazing, but the overall story and the ending were disappointing. Even though the story was developed and complex enough, the ending might leave the reader pondering the overall message of the story. However, I still really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to readers of LGBTQ and realistic fiction.


Realistic Fiction

Reading Level

Grade 10+


3.5 stars.



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