Costa Reading

One girl with too many books.

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The Problem Novel

Teen suicide is something that should not be happening as much as it does. There are so many teens that haven’t even started their lives yet they’re in so much pain that they’re willing to cut them short. Some of these teens suffer from severe mental issues such as depression yet many are simply pushed beyond the limits of what they can deal with. Whether they’re being bullied or the victim of some other sort of abuse, these teens aren’t able to stand anymore of it.

What Thirteen Reasons Why teaches teens is that they just might have the power to save the life of someone. It might be somebody they’re close to or it might be a complete stranger. We don’t know the power of a few kind words or a smile might have on somebody. Books like TRW are here to bring this message to as many people as possible.

TRW is told from two different points of view. One of these is the pov of Clay, a nice guy who receives an innocuous looking package in the mail. The other pov is of Hannah, the girl who sent the package. The package is full of tapes that Hannah made that are being sent to very specific people. The tapes are full of the story of why Hannah killed herself. As Clay listens he learns that Hannah has sent the tapes to the people responsible for her suicide. However, he can’t figure out what role he played in her death. In fact, he had always had a crush on her. Yet, as he gets deeper and deeper into Hannah’s story, he realizes the many different times he and others might have been able to save Hannah just by being kind or being her friend.

Many times I found Hannah to be too angsty, too ready to find fault in others, and not very likeable. The reader never gets a chance to really know Hannah beyond her reasons for committing suicide. This was hard for me but then my professor pointed out that author Jay Asher might have kept her such a blank to show that she could be anyone you know. We don’t get to see anything beyond the way people treat Hannah and how she reacts. That could be how this book shows teens that anyone could be Hannah, anyone could need a kind word or smile. It’s a book that teens can learn empathy from. It just might open their eyes to how others might be screaming silently for help. And it just might give them the strength to offer a helping hand.

Additional Information:

To hear Hannah’s tapes click here.

To submit your own review of Thirteen Reasons Why and visit the book’s website click here.

To find help for someone you feel might need it click here.


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The Living by Matt de la Pena

The Living by Matt de la Pena tackles many issues that teens deal with on a day-to-day basis. His characters are usually working class and are of mixed race. They deal with racism and unfair societal disadvantages that they must rise above. The books are contemporary and are for the multicultural teens that don’t see many books that are written for them specifically.

Matt de la Pena tackles these same issues in a completely new way. The main character in The Living is Shy. He’s working on a cruise ship for the summer to make some money. His family is struggling to make ends meet in Otay Mesa, a small neighborhood outside of San Diego. His grandmother recently died of a new disease that proves fatal and is sweeping through the poorer parts of California. Shy connects with another employee, Carmen, on the ship because of his grandmother’s death. He feels she’s the only one he can truly connect with because her father died of the same disease. Shy has feelings for her but she’s engaged to another guy. He also has some people investigating and interrogating because he was a witness to some rich guy’s suicide. The company the man worked for is very interested in what this man’s last words were to Shy. Shy can’t even imagine why. But these problems all seem so small and unimportant when the cruise ship receives word that most of California has been devastated by a disastrous earthquake. People are in shock that many of their loved ones are most likely dead. Then a tsunami bigger than any in recorded history sinks the ship. After a heart pumping series of events, Shy finds himself on a lifeboat with a teenage girl named Addie.

Shy has met Addie before and they did not get along. She’s a rich girl who was on a cruise with her rich father and girl friend. Now she’s no better off than Shy. Due to their circumstances the previous class lines are gone and now they both just need to survive. They are trying to get to the Hidden Island that her father works on as it is the nearest haven they can think of and they get to know each other in the process.

I really liked how Matt was able to combine so many different genres into one book. He has an adventure, contemporary fiction, disaster, romance, and coming of age. I like that it was so easy to get inside Shy’s head even though it was written in the third person. There were plenty of times when I was surprised to hear “Shy” instead of “I” or “me”. The narration flowed so well that I completely forgot that it wasn’t Shy who was actually talking. This is definitely a novel that will entertain all readers while connecting with the multicultural teens in a special way.

On a side note, there was one thing that did irritate me with The Living. It has a love triangle like so many teen novels today. I wonder if this is because Matt isn’t used to writing romance into his fiction and he’s just taking a cue from many of the popular teen novels of today, Hunger Games just for an example, or if this will come into play later in the series and couldn’t be avoided. Either way, I did roll my eyes a little when I realized Shy was going to be torn between Carmen and Addie. However, I really liked how Matt could portray a teenage male protagonist so realistically. Shy has the normal hormonal lusty feelings of a teenage boy but he also shows the depth of emotions and intelligence that most boys also have. He doesn’t always act like a sex crazed boy that we’re used to seeing. Shy has these feelings but he doesn’t always act on them. Matt de la Pena did a great job in not writing a stereotypical teenage boy.

Additional Information:

Follow what he’s doing on Matt de la Pena’s website.

Read/listen to an interview with Matt de la Pena on NPR’s website.

For a list of multicultural books written for kids and teens compiled by experts in the field click here.