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Best Teen Nonfiction of 2015

A triumphant story of bravery and defiance that will shock and inspire.

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SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH AND THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD

The epic tale of the siege of Leningrad and its native son, composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose seventh symphony comforted, consoled, and rallied a population subjected to years of unspeakable suffering.

Anderson vividly chronicles the desperate lengths residents went to, including acts of cannibalism, to survive the Wehrmacht’s siege, a 3-year-long nightmare that left more than 1 million citizens dead. The richly layered narrative offers a keen-eyed portrait of life in the paranoid, ruthlessly vengeful Stalinist Soviet Union, its citizens living under a regime so capriciously evil that one could be heralded a hero of the motherland one day and condemned as a traitor the next. The storytelling is captivating, describing how Shostakovich began composing the symphony under relentless bombardment in Leningrad and later finished it in Moscow, its triumphant performance in Leningrad during the siege, and how it rallied worldwide sympathy for Russia’s plight. Music is at the heart of the story. As Anderson writes in the prologue, “it is a story about the power of music and its meanings,” and he communicates them with seeming effortlessness in this brilliantly written, impeccably researched tour de force.

A triumphant story of bravery and defiance that will shock and inspire. (photos, author’s note, sources notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6818-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

A superbly told, remarkable true story and an excellent addition to stories of civilian resistance in World War II.

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THE BOYS WHO CHALLENGED HITLER

KNUD PEDERSEN AND THE CHURCHILL CLUB

A handful of Danish teens takes on the occupying Nazis is this inspiring true story of courageous resistance.

Unlike Norway, which was also invaded on April 9, 1940, the Danish government did little to resist German occupation. Some teenagers, like 15-year-old Knud Pedersen, were ashamed of their nation's leaders and the adult citizens who passively accepted and even collaborated with the occupiers. With his older brother and a handful of schoolmates, Knud resolved to take action. Naming themselves the Churchill Club in honor of the fiery British prime minister, the young patriots began their resistance efforts with vandalism and quickly graduated to countless acts of sabotage. Despite the lack of formal organization and planning, this small band of teenagers managed to collect an impressive cache of weapons and execute raids that would impress professionally trained commandos. The Churchill Club was eventually captured and imprisoned by the Germans, but their heroic exploits helped spark a nationwide resistance movement. As he did in Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (2009), Hoose tells this largely unknown story with passion and clarity, providing exactly the right background information to contextualize events for readers. He makes excellent use of his extensive interviews with Pedersen, quoting him at length and expertly interweaving his words into the narrative to bring it alive.

A superbly told, remarkable true story and an excellent addition to stories of civilian resistance in World War II. (photos, bibliography, chapter notes) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-30022-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

“We’re gonna march”—oh, yes.

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MARCH

BOOK TWO

Heroism and steadiness of purpose continue to light up Lewis’ frank, harrowing account of the civil rights movement’s climactic days—here, from cafeteria sit-ins in Nashville to the March on Washington.

As in the opener, Powell’s dark, monochrome ink-and-wash scenes add further drama to already-dramatic events. Interspersed in Aydin’s script with flashes forward to President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, Lewis’ first-person account begins with small-scale protests and goes on to cover his experiences as a Freedom Rider amid escalating violence in the South, his many arrests, and his involvement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s formation and later internal strife. With the expectation that readers will already have a general grasp of the struggle’s course, he doesn’t try for a comprehensive overview but offers personal memories and insights—recalling, for instance, Martin Luther King Jr.’s weak refusal to join the Freedom Riders and, with respect, dismissing Malcolm X: “I never felt he was a part of the movement.” This middle volume builds to the fiery manifesto the 23-year-old Lewis delivered just before Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech and closes with the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The contrast between the dignified marchers and the vicious, hate-filled actions and expressions of their tormentors will leave a deep impression on readers. Lewis’ commitment to nonviolent—but far from unimpassioned—protest will leave a deeper one. Backmatter includes the original draft of Lewis’ speech.

“We’re gonna march”—oh, yes. (Graphic memoir. 11 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-60309-400-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

Vivid details and the immediacy of Lowery’s voice make this a valuable primary document as well as a pleasure to read.

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TURNING 15 ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM

MY STORY OF THE SELMA VOTING RIGHTS MARCH

In 1965, Lynda Blackmon Lowery turned 15 during the three-day voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery.

In this vibrant memoir, Lowery’s conversational voice effectively relates her experiences in the civil rights movement on and before that march. The youngest person on the march, she’d already been jailed nine times as a protester, once for six days and once in a hot, windowless “sweatbox” where all the girls passed out. At a protest on “Bloody Sunday,” earlier in 1965, a state trooper beat her so badly she needed 35 stitches in her head. The terror of that beating haunted her on the march to Montgomery, but she gained confidence from facing her fear and joining forces with so many, including whites whose concern amazed her after a childhood of segregation. Lowery’s simple, chronological narrative opens and closes with lyrics of freedom songs. Appendices discuss voting rights and briefly profile people who died on or around “Bloody Sunday.” Double-page spread color illustrations between chapters, smaller retro-style color pictures and black-and-white photographs set in generous white space will appeal even to reluctant readers.

Vivid details and the immediacy of Lowery’s voice make this a valuable primary document as well as a pleasure to read. (Memoir. 11-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4123-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

In stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character, Manzano paints a poignant, startlingly honest picture of...

BECOMING MARIA

LOVE AND CHAOS IN THE SOUTH BRONX

Actress Manzano, best known as Maria from Sesame Street, provides a lyrical and unflinching account of her tough Nuyorican upbringing in the South Bronx.

Split into three parts, this touching memoir is a chronological series of vignettes in the author's life, starting with her earliest memories as a diaper-clad toddler witnessing her father's drunken outbursts and meeting a mysterious "dark little girl," who turns out to be her older half sister. The author doesn't give many dates or ages; her memories are fragments of her Spanglish-filled life in a large, poverty-stricken Puerto Rican family. She writes about the fear and confusion of having an abusive father and a battered mother doing the best she could with four kids to clothe and feed. She describes the communal shame of cousins and friends "ruined" by teen pregnancies. But her childhood isn't all grim. Manzano lovingly details life-changing moments: seeing West Side Story with a teacher and two other Latina classmates; visiting Puerto Rico, the place her parents fled but cherished; listening to a record of Richard Burton playing Hamlet; and later successfully auditioning for a spot in Manhattan's illustrious High School of Performing Arts. Life is full of tragedies and triumphs alike, and Manzano shows how both helped her become the actress that generations of children grew up seeing on Sesame Street.

In stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character, Manzano paints a poignant, startlingly honest picture of her youth . (Memoir. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-62184-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers.

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MOST DANGEROUS

DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR

Following his award-winning World War II–era volumes Bomb (2012) and The Port Chicago 50 (2014), Sheinkin tells the sweeping saga of the Vietnam War and the man who blew the whistle on the government’s “secret war.”

From 1964 to 1971, Daniel Ellsberg went from nerdy analyst for the Rand Corp. to “the most dangerous man in America.” Initially a supporter of Cold War politics and the Vietnam War, he became disenchanted with the war and the lies presidents told to cover up the United States’ deepening involvement in the war. He helped to amass the Pentagon Papers—“seven thousand pages of documentary evidence of lying, by four presidents and their administrations over twenty-three years”—and then leaked them to the press, fueling public dissatisfaction with American foreign policy. Sheinkin ably juggles the complex war narrative with Ellsberg’s personal story, pointing out the deceits of presidents and tracing Ellsberg’s rise to action. It’s a challenging read but necessarily so given the scope of the study. As always, Sheinkin knows how to put the “story” in history with lively, detailed prose rooted in a tremendous amount of research, fully documented. An epilogue demonstrates how history repeats itself in the form of Edward Snowden.

Easily the best study of the Vietnam War available for teen readers. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59643-952-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

A luminescent memoir not to be missed.

HONOR GIRL

A GRAPHIC MEMOIR

Thrash chronicles one monumental summer at an all-girls' camp where she experienced her gut-wrenching first love.

Every summer, Maggie, an Atlanta native, attends Camp Bellflower, an all-girls' camp in Kentucky, complete with tents, shooting, and Civil War re-enactments that have been a camp tradition for nearly 100 years. The summer that she turns 15, however, she falls in love for the first time. She meets Erin, a 19-year-old counselor who studies astronomy and plays guitar. Her summer is filled with the usual camp melodrama, although along with the everyday banalities, Maggie must try to hide what she's feeling toward Erin. Rumors thrum throughout the camp about girls who are whispered to be lesbians, leading to their eventual ostracism; Maggie, though honest with both herself and a confidante, tries to avoid her own social exile. Thrash perfectly captures all the feelings of an adolescent first love: the insecurities, the awkwardness, and self-doubts along with the soaring, intense highs of proximity. Thrash's remembrances are evinced with clear, wide-eyed illustrations colored with a dreamily vibrant palette. She has so carefully and skillfully captured a universal moment—the first time one realizes that things will never be the same—that readers will find her story captivating.

A luminescent memoir not to be missed. (Graphic memoir. 13 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7382-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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