Posts Tagged ‘books for teen boys’

Two brother books are haunting me today.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley and Stick by Andrew Smith are each their own story and yet, having read them one after the other, they are getting kind of wrapped up in my head with each other.

Each one is very much its own self – there is no confusing or blending the two – but I would think they’d appeal to the same readers. Anyone looking for beautifully written realistic fiction with interesting formats and written about, and for, teen boys should check these books out.

Where Things Come Back, the 2012 Printz Award winner is primarily Cullen Witter’s story, focusing on the sudden disappearance of his younger brother Gabriel. The anxiety, worry and grief are deftly handled so that we feel Cullen’s pain, but it never sinks into unbearable angst and is never melodramatic. (Incidentally, Cullen’s friend, Lucas Cader, is of a Samwise Gamgee calliber). A second part of the story twists and intertwines around Cullen’s summer on a seemingly unrelated path told through the eyes of various other characters. Cullen often drifts into reveries… but I do hope the ending was real.


Stick is told by Stark McClellan, aka Stick. He is missing an ear – altering his hearing and perception of the world shown by effective spacing and pauses in the text. Stick and his brother Bosten lean on each other to survive the vicious abuse they suffer at the hands of their parents. Each boy is learning about love in his own way – Stick with Emily, and Bosten with Paul. A visit with their aunt Delia in southern California provides a taste of what life without fear could be and opens their eyes to options. When the beatings get worse and Bosten runs away, Stick steals his father’s car to follow him and to search for a brighter future.

In both these books, the relationship between the brothers is quite moving, and crucial to the plot.

It makes sense that a brother is significant person to a boy. Brothers often measure themselves against each other. They expect to always know each other. Brothers share a common history. They share intimate moments – both good and bad – and share secrets. A boy can feel secure in loving his brother whole-heartedly.

And, as both of these books show, a brother leaves a big hole when he’s gone.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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I wanted to be writing a “Book Thoughts” post today, but I haven’t quite finished The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X Stork.

Oh my. This is a book to savor. Gorgeous, evocative, and worrisome. Plus, I am dragging my heels (eyes?) a bit – I am worried about the ending. I’ve been worried about the ending for quite a while. So much that I am actually NOT reading the last page/chapter before I get there – which I have been known to do.

The other night we had a critique group meeting and one of my brilliant fellow critiquers made an off-hand remark that dialogue should reveal emotion more than plot. And that the action/story needed to be told outside of dialogue. It was in the midst of another important discussion and not long after we were booted from our spot, so I didn’t tackle her and force her to tell me more, but this comment has stuck with me the last few days.

Well, the dialogue in The Last Summer of the Death Warriors is brilliant.

Because so much of the story is based on the developing friendship between tough guy boxer Pancho and philosophical and frail D.Q., there are a lot of conversations between the two of them as they journey out into the world – and also inward, into their hearts and souls.

Book Description: When Pancho arrives at St. Anthony’s Home, he knows his time there will be short: If his plans succeed, he’ll soon be arrested for the murder of his sister’s killer. But then he’s assigned to help D.Q., whose brain cancer has slowed neither his spirit nor his mouth. D.Q. tells Pancho all about his “Death Warrior’s Manifesto,” which will help him to live out his last days fully–ideally, he says, with the love of the beautiful Marisol. As Pancho tracks down his sister’s murderer, he finds himself falling under the influence of D.Q. and Marisol, who is everything D.Q. said she would be; and he is inexorably drawn to a decision: to honor his sister and her death, or embrace the way of the Death Warrior and choose life.

Nuanced in its characters and surprising in its plot developments–both soulful and funny–Pancho & D.Q. is a “buddy novel” of the highest kind: the story of a friendship that helps two young men become all they can be.

Some ways dialogue is used to enrich this story:

  • Early in their relationship, Pancho and D.Q. talk, except that each boy is talking about something different. There is a gap of disconnect between them.
  • While traveling in the car, Pancho sits in the back seat and listens to a conversation between D.Q. and Father Concha – there are few to no dialogue tags and yet we don’t need them. And, even though Pancho is mostly silent, he’s a part of the conversation through his inner thoughts.
  • What is NOT said between the two friends is often as important as what IS said.
  • Later in the book, when their friendship is more solid, there is a conversation between them as they lay in their beds in the dark. There are no fillers here – no action, no inner thoughts, no sensory reminders, just talk. As it would be in the dark. Intimate, straight conversation.

And any writer needs to read this post by Francisco X. Stork.

Dole out gentle mercy to yourself…

Sarah Wones Tomp


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The use of second person point of view narrative is unusual; and yet, I’ve recently read two books (Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones and Stolen by Lucy Christopher), using this technique. But not in the same manner. In fact, the intent and meaning behind the use of “You” is quite different in each of these books. I’m not entirely sure they are true representations of this point of view style.

Prior to reading these books, I’ve understood the second person point of view to imply that the reader is the “you” in the story. The logic behind this is shaky – and perhaps opens philosophical questions of reality and existence and meta-fiction and such. But neither of these books employs that perspective.

First, Blink and CautionFor a review, check out this one by Elizabeth Bluemle – I agree with her review, especially the part about Tim Wynne-Jones being a genius. He truly is one of the most amazing people – who also happens to be a writer – that I have ever known. I worked with him one tremendous semester at VCFA.

This is a complex and plot-driven novel — I’ve included the summary below — But I love the voice of the story. The narrative switches between the two self-named main characters, Blink and Caution. Caution’s story is told in the more traditional, but very intimate third person point of view. Blink is the “you” in his part of the story.

For me, this perspective was incredibly effective at showing Blink’s fragile psyche. Having been forced on the streets after prolonged abuse at the hands of his step-father, I’d say he is suffering from PTSD except that he hasn’t really gotten to the POST part yet. He isn’t yet strong enough to have his own voice.

From his POV:

You slip the money out of the wallet and shove it into your pocket. You close the wallet and lay it down, just so, beside the loaded toothbrush. Then you breathe a bit, like you’re remembering how. You pick up the wallet again and take out the picture of the girl with the lake behind her, so much lake it might be an ocean. You’re greedy son. Who can blame you? There is so much you want…

Blink is desperately lonely and scared. He doesn’t have anyone to tell his story to – so he has to tell himself. As the story goes on, it’s as if he is coaching himself. Telling himself to keep going – despite the fear and desperation and the ever-present threat of Captain Panic blowing everything.

I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

For those of you wondering what I am babbling on about, here’s the summary from goodreads: Boy, did Blink get off on the wrong floor. All he wanted was to steal some breakfast for his empty belly, but instead he stumbled upon a fake kidnapping and a cell phone dropped by an “abducted” CEO, giving Blink a link to his perfect blonde daughter. Now Blink is on the run, but it’s OK as long as he’s smart enough to stay in the game and keep Captain Panic locked in his hold. Enter a girl named Caution. As in “Caution: Toxic.” As in “Caution: Watch Your Step.” She’s also on the run, from a skeezy drug-dealer boyfriend and from a nightmare in her past that won’t let her go. When she spies Blink at the train station, Caution can see he’s an easy mark. But there’s something about this naïve, skinny street punk, whom she only wanted to rob, that tugs at her heart, a heart she thought deserved not to feel. Charged with suspense and intrigue, this taut novel trails two deeply compelling characters as they forge a blackmail scheme that is foolhardy at best, disastrous at worst – along with a fated, tender partnership that will offer them each a rare chance for redemption.

Highly recommended.

Tomorrow, Stolen by Lucy Christopher.

Sarah Wones Tomp


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