What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

WhatWeSawWhat We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

Rape Abuse & Incest National Network…Every 8 minutes, Child Protective Service responds to a report of sexual abuse. 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker.

When a group of teenagers get together for a high school party with lots of drinking, it’s hard to say exactly who did what and when things went so wrong. Kate knows she had too much to drink from the headache she wakes up with. She also knows she was taken care of by her best friend, and (just maybe?) boyfriend Ben. But what about the other girl? What about Stacey, the girl in a video who has no memory of the events that get posted online when all is said and done? The basketball stars are quick to deny any wrongdoing and almost everyone seems convinced that there’s been no foul play. But Katy’s not sure, and she’s not sure if she can let it go either.

This book is based on the very real Steubenville high school rape case in Ohio, 2011. It sheds light on a tragic reality of intoxicated partying that can turn girls into victims and boys into perpetrators. And then there are all of the bystanders who witness and do nothing to stop it, and those who condemn the young girl for her clothes, her poverty, and her drunkenness. Although light and romantic at times, this is a heavy fiction account of an ongoing and serious issue for the young people of today. Read it and ask yourself, what will you do when you are at the party?

Review by Sarah Rosenkrantz


Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

uses for boys

Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

This emotionally difficult book is one many teens may become involved with in a voyeuristic way.  Anna Bloom used to be her single mom’s  center of the universe.  She would tell her baby girl stories about how she wanted her daughter more than anything.  But when Anna turns eight, suddenly she is “too big for stories,” and her mother begins her endless quest for the next boyfriend, the next step-father.  She starts neglecting Anna, even to the point of leaving  the child alone for the weekend.  Anna lines up her stuffed animals and tells them her story.  “I had no mother, I tell them.  I had no father.”  In middle school, Anna realizes she can make boys into her family, if she just gives them what they want.  Now they have a use.  Sadly, the other kids mock her and the girls call her names.  Only her friend Toy, who seems to have problems of her own, is there to listen to her.  But that’s fine, because Anna has made boys her family.  By sixteen she’s dropped out of school to live with her boyfriend and work at a cafe.

I think this title is a good choice for teens who like realistic, gritty fiction.  Fans of Go Ask Alice and Ellen Hopkins’ books will be completely captivated.  The short simple chapters make the book quick to get into, and Anna’s story will sadden readers while engaging their attention.  Although the writer never gets preachy about Anna’s decisions, the bleakness of her life may turn off some readers.

Something Like Hope by Shawn Goodman

something like hope

Something Like Hope by Shawn Goodman

Locked in a detention room in a juvenile correction facility, 17 year old Shavonne dreams of a better life for herself and her daughter. Mr. Delpopolo, her new shrink, gets her thinking, which makes her angry; she deals with her physical and emotional pain by being numb. As she continues to see Mr. D., as she calls him, he gradually helps her understand that bad things have happened to her through no fault of her own. Having a crack addict mother, being abused in foster care and being raped not only were not her fault, they were the fault of adults who didn’t protect her, including some of the staff at the facility itself. She also tries to avoid both conflicts and friendships with the other girls, including her own roommate. As Shavonne begins to trust Mr. D., she starts letting in feelings other than anger and thinks about moving toward healing. She faces the dilemma of telling Mr. D her deepest and worst secret, something for which she feels personally responsible.

Shavonne grabbed me with both hands and pulled me into this book! Her character has so much personality and tells her story with so much intensity that I cared about her right away. I can’t tell any more of the plot without giving away surprises and secrets that each reader must learn in the course of reading the book. I can say that I was not at all disappointed in how the author tied all the parts of the plot together at the end.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt

my book of life

My Book of Life by Angel by Martine Leavitt

This realistically painful novel in verse will be loved by Ellen Hopkins fans and other readers of gritty, first person narratives.  The novel is taken from the incidents in Vancouver, Canada, wich began in 1983.  Prostitutes started disappearing, but the police showed little concern and little was done to find the killer(s).  Leavitt tells the story of the fictional Angel, an unhappy sixteen year old who is more interested in stealing shoes from the mall than listening to her grieving father talk about about her mother who died of bone cancer.  She meets Call at the local mall, who is kind to her, becomes her boyfriend, gives her a drug she’s nicknamed “Candy,” and eventually turns her out as a prostitute in the city’s notorious Downtown Eastside.  After nine months, Angel’s best friend Serena stops showing up on her corner one night.  Angel knows something is wrong when she finds Serena’s “running away” money still stashed under her mattress.  Call seems unconcerned, and even brings the eleven-year-old Melli to their apartment to take Angel’s place if she does not want to “earn” for him anymore.  Angel’s single-minded goal to keep Melli safe is what begins to change her life.

Readers looking for this type of story will love this book.  It’s written in the form of a journal that Angel keeps for herself, and while it is explicit about her life, it won’t leave readers feeling like Peeping Toms. I highly recommend it to Ellen Hopkins fans and readers who like books like Go Ask Alice and A Child Called It.

impulse     crank     identical

Click HERE for our reviews of some of Ellen Hopkins’ books.

The Believing Game by Eireann Corrigan

believing game

The Believing Game by Eireann Corrigan

When Greer Cannon’s parents finally gave up and sent her to a rehab center, she had no idea what was in store for her.  Her parents were fed up with her constant shoplifting, promiscuous sex and drug abuse and hoped that the strict regime at McCracken Hill would teach the high school junior some important life skills.  The last thing Greer expected was to meet Addison Bradley– the gorgeous, smart practically perfect boy she fell head over heels for.  When he introduces her to his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Joshua, she is at first calmed by his nonjudgemental and supportive manner.  But Greer shortly begins to realize that Joshua has an agenda of his own, and seems to hold an inordinate amount of influence over Addison.  As she begins doubting everything Joshua says, her life begins to crumble, especially her relationship with Addison who is still devoted to Joshua.

I liked this book a lot.  Corrigan deals with lots of hot topics: cults, teen addiction, and peer pressure.  I think readers who like Ellen Hopkins’ books would like this novel, as well as people who are interested in cults or charismatic leaders (Jim Jones, Charles Manson, etc.)


Click HERE for our review.

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Shine by Lauren Myracle

In a departure from her usual style, Myracle takes readers into a community rife with poverty, methamphetamine abuse by both teens and adults, and a Southern, small town culture that has its own set of rules and mores.  When seventeen-year-old Cat’s estranged best friend is brutally beat up in a violent hate crime, she becomes determined to discover the perpetrator.  The “good old boy” sheriff believes the crime was committed by some out-of-towners, but Cat suspects otherwise, especially when her brother and his friends begin acting secretive and suspicious.

This was an amazing book that kept my interest from beginning to end.  Myracle perfectly captured the small town, Soutern dialect, without making it sound phony or overdone.  I especially appreciated that the book presented o simple answers, as readers watch Cat struggle with issues of friendship, physical and sexual abuse, poverty and intolerance.  I would recommend this book to students looking for a coming of age story, a thoughtful plot about homosexual bigotry or simply a mystery.

Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick

Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick

Sixteen-year-old Jenna has just been released from a psychiatric ward into the custody of her “psych dad” as she calls her father and her alcoholic mother.  It’s probably a good thing when they neglect her since at least then she has some peace and quiet.  Her father is a surgeon who’s having an affair with one of his nurses, and bursts into abusive temper fits with little or no provocation.  Her mother runs a failing small town bookstore and hides her misery in a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka.  Is it any wonder that Jenna was hospitalized for cutting herself while her older brother Matt joined the military and got sent to the Middle East?  In addition to all this, much of Jenna’s body is covered with scarring from a fire at her grandfather’s house from which she was rescued by Matt.

But now her protector is gone overseas and her dad has relocated her to a new school for a “fresh start.”  Jenna is very shy, and the only person she allows even close is her chemistry teacher, Mr. Anderson.  What will happen when she realizes her feelings for this charismatic might be reciprocated?

I liked this book a lot and found it hard to put down.  Bick paints her characters in shades of gray, so it’s hard to tell who is being truthful and who is the monster, if anyone.  The story is revealed slowly, by Jenna telling her recollections into a mini-recorder given to her by a police detective.  This slow reveal will keep readers on the edge of their chairs, while showing them Jenna’s personality and inner trauma at the same time.  I would recommend this title for fans of realistic fiction and readers who enjoy books like Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl and Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin.


Other books by Ilsa J. Bick