A novel that offers some valuable life lessons for teens, although its story and characters often feel like window dressing.

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Alexander Conquers the World

A STORY ABOUT LEARNING AND MOTIVATION

A didactic novel about a teen who has trouble finding motivation in life.

Teenage Alexander would rather play World of Warcraft than do his homework. While he plays the game, he’s motivated to keep learning, but in the real world, he’s resigned himself to not being very good at certain things, such as math and talking to girls. This changes very quickly when he meets a mysterious stranger who calls himself Chiron in a park in his hometown of Trondheim, Norway. Chiron asks Alexander to become his student so that the teen can learn how to motivate himself—even when the subject is less interesting to him than a video game. Chiron, who gradually reveals details of his world-traveling lifestyle, has a comprehensive curriculum planned for Alexander. It includes neuroscience, psychology, nutrition, and concepts such as the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset”—a lot to squeeze into a YA novel. The bulk of the story consists of chat transcripts and emails between Chiron and Alexander in which the teenager recaps the older man’s lessons and completes new assignments. As a result, the lessons are very clearly presented in a format that teens will likely identify with—whether they love World of Warcraft or not. From the book’s earliest pages, its similarities to Norwegian author Jostein Gaardner’s Sophie’s World (1991), in which a philosopher tutors a teenage girl, are hard to ignore; sure enough, in the final pages, Alexander presents Sophie’s World to Chiron as a gift. However, Lehn focuses far more on his book’s didactic mission than on storytelling and style. As a result, the characters lack individual voices, and even the teenage Alexander talks like a self-help book: “I think my low motivation is the main reason I don’t learn more in school,” he says to Chiron, just moments after meeting him.

A novel that offers some valuable life lessons for teens, although its story and characters often feel like window dressing.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502531858

Page Count: 298

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2014

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A well-crafted and engaging tale about a quartet of teens dealing with self-doubt and self-discovery in high school.

TENTH GRADE ANGST

The 10th grade brings big changes in the lives of four teenagers.

In this YA sequel, hardworking Luke—labeled poor white trash by bullies and the stern father of his supportive, caring Mexican-American girlfriend, Mia—is enjoying some academic success (although he’s still math-challenged). But his home situation with an abusive, alcoholic father and frail mother is about to reach a crisis point. While Mia is at the top of her class and is as industrious as poignant Luke, she feels even more parental pressure to excel and wonders how long she’ll be able to keep her father from finding out that the two teens are dating. Well-to-do black star athlete Marcus, after a humbling comedown in the first installment of the series, is gradually finding value in school, his teammates, and a girl who appreciates his new attitude. Bright Elly, a white girl whose parents have plenty of money, too, gains confidence in her looks, but her struggle with self-respect is evident in her choice of bad-news boyfriends. Ingram (Ninth Grade Blues, 2017, etc.), a high school English teacher, gives each of these four main characters an authentic, distinct voice, smoothly shifting back and forth among the teens’ first-person perspectives as events unfold over their sophomore year. Their experiences include parental physical abuse, bullying, alcohol-fueled partying, dating insecurities, a serious injury, deepening romantic relationships, unexpected friendships, and knowledge gained through academic and life lessons. As he did in his first book, Ingram has the teens cope with both admirable and flawed adults (including teachers) and issues involving peer pressure and support, love, and respect. There is no graphic content, but the teens, now a year older, believably wrestle with increased independence, more overt sexual awareness, exposure to risky behaviors, and thoughts of the future. As the school year ends, the author leaves the characters’ appealing and relatable stories open-ended, presumably to be continued in his next volume spanning the 11th grade.

A well-crafted and engaging tale about a quartet of teens dealing with self-doubt and self-discovery in high school.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944962-46-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A well-written, if occasionally ponderous, exploration of modern high school life.

SCHOOL TALES

Myrick’s debut novel follows several teenagers at two Virginia high schools as they find their paths.

The book opens at Hilltop Academy, a private school populated by the children of faculty at two nearby colleges. Chelsea silently critiques school policies (“So what’s inside my backpack is important, but not what’s inside me?”) and her clique-y classmates. She also connects with recent California transplant Sean, who, like her, is struggling to find his place. Sean organizes a nature walk in response to the suicide of a bullied student. Then he persuades his parents to let him transfer to the less-exclusive Stone Creek High School, where he joins Chelsea’s friends Cora, a politically active organizer exploring her biracial heritage; Jake, who wants to follow his father into agriculture despite the challenges faced by small farmers; and the gregarious Daniel, whose nickname is “Mr. Mayor.” Stone Creek’s unconventional principal, Mr. Shepherd, answers to the name “Chief” and encourages student autonomy. The book’s narration shifts among the various students as they deal with personal and academic challenges and make their ways toward graduation. Myrick is a thoughtful writer who gets deep into her characters’ psyches. That said, the teenagers’ self-centered, pseudo-intellectual voices are so accurately portrayed as to be grating at times (as when Sean describes Hilltop Academy to Daniel’s mother: “we were the fish, kept apart from the real world of natural waters, glubbing around in circles, until we almost believed it was normal”). However, the author seems determined to give full weight to her young characters’ arguments, no matter how petty they might appear to adults. This is demonstrated by how she uses the character of Chief, who repeatedly learns from the kids under his charge.

A well-written, if occasionally ponderous, exploration of modern high school life.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63152-423-3

Page Count: 303

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2018

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