Gossip Trap

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu shows the impact rumors and gossip can have on all involved.

Chapters alternate among various teen characters’ points of view. There is the popular one, the popular friend who used to be an outcast at her former school, the nerd and the jock. And then there’s Alice. Alice had friends and was doing fine until a terrible rumor began that she slept with two guys. It gets even worse when she is blamed for one of their deaths.

The aftermath brings us into the mind of each character. We come to understand their thoughts and actions. Alice endures terrible treatment, but has the support of one new friend.

There is a strong lesson about the toxicity of gossip and the value of kindness.

Small Town Feeling

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is the first of a trilogy that I hope to continue reading. I finished this first book a couple weeks ago, so names are fuzzy.

Beartown is very good at one thing: hockey. Events build toward a huge championship game. We meet several important characters, including various townspeople, team coaches, the club manager and his family along with many of the players. Each has their own important part to play.

When the club manager’s daughter accuses the star player of rape, the entire town seems to turn against her and her family. Events unfold leading to the court’s decision. The town may not ever be completely the same.

I couldn’t help but connect certain parts of Beartown to my own small town, and I am compelled to find out what awaits each character.

Renaissance Man

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood is another 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee.

Danyal may be extremely handsome, but he has several struggles to overcome. Danyal is known for being a low-achieving student, so it is a major problem when he is chosen to represent his history class for the upcoming Renaissance Man competition. In this competition he will need to present a final essay on his teacher’s topic of choice- Winston Churchill. He must decide whether to tell the truth about Churchill’s part in the Bengal Famine. Doing so may jeopardize whether he passes the class, and also will prevent his lifelong crush, Kaval, from seeing him as a marriage match.

Another conflict is his choice to go against his Muslim upbringing by getting friendly with a marriage prospect who was involved in a sex tape. There is also Danyal’s love of cooking, which is considered a poor future prospect by both his dad and his crush, Kaval.

Danyal is able to navigate all these troubles with support from very different friendships, and with his own heart and mind’s guidance. East Indian religion, history and culture are important parts of this story. It also includes topics such as being true to oneself, forgiveness and standing up for what is right.

Human Being

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King is a beautifully expressive novel. It approaches depression, mental illness, marital issues and abuse with a sensitive touch.

Sarah decides to stop going to school. The reason for her abrupt decision is slowly released, and it’s much deeper than the school bullying incident which acted as a catalyst. Sarah has been settling into a depressive state since she was ten. Spoilers are ahead.

Sarah interacts with herself at various ages: ten, twenty three and forty to name a few. Each age imparts some hidden truth, but ten is most important. This is when she first witnessed her father’s physical abuse of her older brother. She hasn’t had contact with her brother since.

Sarah begins slowly confronting her various selves as she wanders her town, spends time “in school” at an abandoned building, follows a homeless artist and interacts with her parents. Ultimately she is able to reach out to her estranged brother and speak about her pain. Gradually, she is able to return to one of her true loves, art, and find comfort with her brother and mother.

This is often a heavy read that reveals the powerful depth of human emotion.

Camp Week

Flamer by Mike Curato is a coming of age graphic novel. It is another 2023 high school Nutmeg nominee.

The story is set in 1995 during one week of boy scout camp. Aiden is fourteen years old, and is about to change to the public high school after years in a parochial school. At school, Aiden was bullied for behaving differently, and for being biracial. Camp is similar, although he does have a few friends, and a devoted pen pal.

During the week, Aiden realizes that he is attracted to his bunkmate Elias. Situations at camp force him to face his bullies, his feelings for Elias and an attempt to harm himself. He learns lessons about being yourself and never giving up.

Note: There are a few scenes involving either sexual language or masturbation.