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Oct. 13, 2011 at 11:31am Teen Read Week... let's be rock stars!

Next week is Teen Read Week - it's a time to celebrate just how amazing teen literature is right now.  It's kind of funny, but books written specifically for teens didn't always exist.  After all, we didn't always recognize that there was a phase between childhood and being an adult.  It was in the early 1800s that the term "young adult" was coined.  And as we moved into the 20th century many novels written for adults appealed to these so-called young adults - Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Lord of the Rings, but they weren't marketed or necessarily written with teen readers in mind. 

It was in the 1980s that we first saw a strong push to write and print books for teens, with teen protagonists.  And this was kind of a mixed bag.  Writing for and about teens may be one of the hardest things to do - how do you capture the language and feelings of adolescence (ugh, what a blah word!) without sounding dated or like you're trying to hard?  In the 90s, we saw a real boom in the teen lit market - because hey, teens do read!  And they like to read about other teens, whether they're living in a fantasy world, traveling back in time, journeying amongst the stars, or right next door to us.  Now we see adults and kids clamoring for teen books like The Hunger Games, The Ranger's Apprentice series, The Book Thief, Going Bovine, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

This year, for Teen Read Week, we're having a book discussion group. The book is Sorta Like a Rock Star, by Matthew Quick. We're giving away a limited number of copies to teens who sign up ahead of time and, on October 19th (3 - 5 pm), we'll meet to discuss the book and talk with the author. We'll be doing a Skype interview with Matthew Quick and teens will have a chance to ask questions about the book, being writer, and whatever else is on their mind!

There are still books available if you'd like your own copy of Sorta Like a Rock Star. But maybe you'd like to hear a little more about the book first.  A few weeks ago, I visited the junior high schools and booktalked Sorta Like a Rock Star.  Here's my booktalk - I hope you like it.

My name’s Amber Appleton. Ever since my mom’s last boyfriend kicked us out, we’ve been camped out in the back of Hello Yellow.  That’s the school bus my mom drives. It me, her, and my totally loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy.  I found him in a shoebox half-starved, no tags. No lie. He looked like a sock that had been flushed down the toilet, only to be spit out of some sewer grate into a wet orange Nike box.  I keep him fed and clean and he has been my companion ever since.

My mom’s working hard and trying to save up some dough so we can get four walls of our own. But she’s also out there looking for the right guy to take us in. Sometimes I think about how much she sucks at being a mom. Emphatically. She drinks, she doesn’t eat, and she has terrible taste in men. But even so, I love my mom. Most of the time. True? True.

I’m sure there are people in town who would let us crash at their house, because the town of Childress is full of good-hearted dudes and dudettes. Word. But charity’s not for us and Mom is sure to come through one of these days. I still have Bobby Big Boy and she has her job and we’ve got all of our clothes and stuff in the storage bins of Hello Yellow, so it’s all good.

You see, I learned a long time ago to not sweat the bad stuff life hands you. There are lots of people out there who have it worse. True? True. Like my favorite teacher, Frank, who lets us play video games before school and is master of the secret art of marketing. He may lose his job because of budget cuts. Or my friend Ricky, who has autism. Or Joan of Old, an ancient woman at the nursing home where I volunteer. She is sure that there is nothing good in this world, nothing to be happy about, and she works every week to make me cry.

But she won’t do it, because I am Amber Appleton, princess of hope and unyielding optimist. I know that things will get better. They’ve got to. The world is my stage and I’m… well, I’m sorta like a rock star. True? True.

It’s really hard not to like Amber. The way she talks and what she believes – they get the better of you. It’s like she’s a very real person – and so that makes it all the more difficult when a fatal tragedy destroys Amber’s life. Suddenly she has no hope left. This is a story that’s going to break your heart. But it’s also about helping other people out and giving each other hope. I bawled like a baby when I read this book, but it’s also one of my favorite reads this year.

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