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DJ Rising, by Love Maia
 



 

The Story:

Marley Johnnywas Diego-Dylan is sixteen years old, solely responsible for his junkie mother, and aspires to be a great DJ. Music is what motivates him, keeps him going, and fuels his dreams of spinning music at the best club in town, Fever. When Marley gets a break and starts making a name for himself as a DJ, and when the girl of his dreams actually starts to look in his direction, things start looking up. When tragedy strikes though, does Marley have what it takes to stay on track and keep his eyes on the prize?

The Scoop:

Both hopeful and heartbreaking, DJ Rising is an engaging, edgy, urban read. Reluctant teen readers who love music and can appreciate a "root for the underdog," triumph over adversity type of story will be hooked from the first page. Subject matter is very mature, with lots of graphic language, drug use and behavior, wild parties and drinking, some heavy family drama, and a tragic character death that make this story most appropriate for older teens. Marley is an endearing and admirable character--a sixteen-year-old boy who works hard to keep his scholarship at the elite prep school he attends, and spends most of the rest of his time busing tables in order to make ends meet and taking care of his drug addicted, neglectful, and irresponsible mother. Even when he is surrounded by drugs and alcohol, Marley continues to drink root beer and walk the straight and narrow. Extremely focused and driven to achieve in the music world, his work ethic is admirable and it does pay off. There is a devastating death that rocks Marley's world, but with the support of some wonderful friends and a few family members that he didn't even know he had, Marley picks himself back up and carries on. Marley is an excellent example of a strong, persevering young man of character, and his story is a very well-written and poignant one.
 

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Boy 21, by Matthew Quick

 



 

The Story:

Finley is focused. Basketball is his ticket out of Bellmont--the broken, oppressive, Irish mob-ruled town he lives in. The only white player on his high school varsity basketball team, he practices and practices, knowing he has to "outwork talent." Finley is challenged when his coach asks him to take a new student under his wing--a new student who has is dealing with personal tragedy, who is convinced he is from outer space and insists on being called Boy21, and who is apparently an all-star basketball player.

The Scoop:

Boy21 is a poignant and heartbreaking story. Basketball is central to the storyline, as Finley and his girlfriend Erin practice constantly to prepare for basketball season since they know the sport is the only way they will get out of their town. The introduction of Russ, aka Boy21, changes everything for Finley. Russ' parents have been murdered, he is suffering some serious post traumatic stress, and his outer space obsession is pathetic and disturbing. His childlike needs and communication style are strange coming from a fully grown, man-like teenage boy. Subject matter is heavy, as bullying, racial tension, mob violence and retaliation, character death, drug dealing, and kidnapping are all part of the story. Language is strong (a-s, cr-p, c-ck, d-mn, bad-ss, sh-t) and some steamy making out takes place. A devastating hit and run accident leaves a main character seriously injured. Finley's past, which was clearly traumatic, remains unknown until the end of the story, when it is discovered that the reason his grandfather lost his legs and the reason his mother is dead are related to the Irish mob and one poor decision his grandfather made. The story ends on an upswing, with a ray of hope in an otherwise dismal life, and the character evolution of Russ (Boy21) is fascinating. This story is a rough one, and readers need to be prepared for some heavy and painful issues, but the writing is exceptional, and the characters and their relationships are beautifully developed.
 

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Rock On, by Denise Vega
 



 

The Story:

Ori Taylor and his band (The Band To Be Named Later) are gaining momentum, getting more gigs and gearing up for the Battle of the Bands. Ori is looking forward to being his own person, no longer stuck in his brother's shadow. Things seem to be falling into place, with a girl in his life and everything, but when Ori's older brother Del comes home from college, the tension between the two builds to a boiling point.

The Scoop:

Rock On is an extremely engaging and relatable story. The competition, tension, and underlying anger between two brothers is palpable and anyone who has had sibling issues will be able to relate in some way. Some parts of the story are told through comments on the band's website and blog. Characters who in the beginning are simply commenters make appearances and become more important to the story later on. The complicated brother relationship reaches the point of fist fighting, girl stealing, and their rift becomes almost irreparable. Much growing and reflection has to take place before a truce can be reached. These high schoolers perform in and attend many clubs, and underage drinking does take place. Language is strong (cr-p, a-s, a-shole, sh-t, godd-mmit) and kissing takes place. A main character is deaf which makes the fact that she is a talented musician interesting and noteworthy. This story has a happy ending, with loose ends neatly wrapped up and main character Ori does end up with a girl, a gig, a guitar, and a newfound relationship with his brother.
 

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Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley

 



 

The Story:

Senior year has ended, Lucy and her friends are looking for a way to celebrate. Jazz wants to find adventure and really LIVE so she'll have something to talk about in her drama class and Lucy has the perfect idea. Tonight will be the night she finds Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. His pieces speak to her in a way that she can't make her friends understand, and she just knows that when she meets him, he'll be someone she could really fall for. Unfortunately, Lucy is stuck with Ed, a guy she's been trying to avoid since the most awkward date of her life. She'd have no trouble ditching him outright except that Ed tells Lucy he knows where to find Shadow, and suddenly the two of them are off on an all-night odyssey around the city experiencing Shadow's work all over again. The only thing Lucy can't see tonight is what is right in front of her eyes.

The Scoop:

Graffiti Moon is a page-turning speed read of a romance that will keep readers glued tight until the last page. This Australian award-winner is set over the course of one night in Melbourne on the last day of school for a handful of high school seniors in search of all-night adventure. It is told from Ed and Lucy's alternating points of view, with the author using the neat trick of frequently beginning a chapter in one character's point of view by repeating the end of the last chapter from the other's point of view, so that the reader sees the same conversation from both directions, a fascinating reminder of how two people can experience the same event in very different ways. There is tension and anticipation throughout because the reader knows from the beginning a secret that Lucy does not know, and there are raw and honest (and sometimes cringe-worthy) moments as she unknowingly reveals deep bits of her psyche to Ed. Ed and Lucy both express themselves best through art, and in Ed's case, this is a lifeline as he has dropped out of school because he struggles with an unnamed and undiagnosed learning disability. Ed and Lucy both come from loving, if unconventional families. Ed is a loyal son and friend, though without a father, he has been navigating without a rudder since his boss-mentor passed away before the beginning of the story. Over the course of the evening, Ed and his friends wrestle with the ethics of a decision they made to commit a robbery to help repay a friend's debt. What previously seemed like a good idea to desperate boys suddenly takes on a new look as they see their potential actions through the eyes of girls they've begun to care about. There are brief mentions of other kids drinking at a party, vague sexual references and some graphic language (f-ck, sh-t, d-ck). This is a rich and thought-provoking book for teens looking for a tense, intelligent love story.
 

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Black Heart, by Holly Black

 



 

The Story:

After the realization that his own brothers forced him to to perform deadly transformation curses and then altered his memories to him make him forget, Cassel Sharpe is trying to go legit. Now, the boy whose family views the government as the enemy is a trainee for the FBI. But being one of the good guys doesn't come easy for Cassel. And when the head of a crime family--who just happens to be the love of his life's father--threatens to kill Cassel's mother unless he finds an important artifact, being good gets even harder. Then when the Feds want to turn him into an assassin again, Cassel has trouble figuring out who the good guys are and if they even exist. Once again, Cassel has to outsmart both sides, each of which are fighting for a piece of him.
The Scoop:

 

Just like the first two installments in The Curse Workers trilogy, Black Heart is engrossing, entertaining, and unpredictable. The plot is as spirited and intelligent as is its protagonist, who has just the right mix of irreverence, street-smarts, and sarcasm to appeal to teen readers. Part of Cassel's charm is that he is acutely aware of his own weaknesses, and the reader will identify with him as he struggles against his nature to do the right thing. Once again, Cassel is forced into impossible situations from which he uses his wits to emerge triumphant, without becoming a pawn for those who want to take advantage of him. While the premise of the story is fantasy, some content is mature, including murder, organized crime, one episode of underage drinking, and implied teen sex. Language is relatively mild (b-tch, b-stard, a-s, h-ll, d-mnit, sh-t). Fans of this fast-paced and suspenseful read will be left completely satisfied by the trilogy's conclusion.
 

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