Teen Voices

Bibliographic Information: Teen Voices (magazine). Boston, MA. ISSN: 10747974.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Voices is not your average teen magazine.  It is a print and online magazine for teen girls, BY teen girls.  The mission: “Teen Voices supports and educates teen girls to amplify their voices and create social change through media.”  Teen Voices is not just a magazine but a non-profit organization that supports teens’ development in creating the magazine and mentors teens through the process.  Teen Voices also supports teen girls’ leadership development and social justice awareness and activism.

Articles in Teen Voices cover a wide breadth of topics, like arts and music, book reviews and author interviews, diversity and equality, food, health, the media, careers, teen activism, relationships, social networking.  The magazine also includes fiction and poetry written by teen girls.  Recent articles include:

  • Recent Events in Egypt from a Girl’s Eye View
  • Girl’s Hurt by Gang Violence
  • Got the Knowledge to Go to College? Teen Voices Helps You on Your Way!
  • When Relationships Get Tough, Can They Be Too Rough?
  • Got the Facebook Blues?

Critical Evaluation: The content of Teen Voices, like the voices it represents, is diverse and intelligent.  Since teens are creating content, the magazine is highly relevant and authentic.  Articles cover real-life issues and, while there is always room for fun, the magazine addresses young women as competent, intelligent people with the ability to think and analyze and question the status quo.  Other teen magazines, with their emphasis on appearance and social status, do not compare to the depth and strength of the content in Teen VoicesTeen Voices and its staff have received awards and honors, that acknowledge the important and life-changing work that the organization does.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young women deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has won awards and has a positive review in School Library Journal.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Juno directed by Jason Reitman

Bibliographic Information: Reitman, J. (director). 2008. Juno (DVD). Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox.  ASIN: B000YABYLA.  96 minutes. Movie Rating: PG-13.

Plot Summary: Sixteen and pregnant, Juno MacGuff, has a lot to figure out.  First, she must tell her dad and stepmom the news; they are supportive.  She knows she is not ready to be a mother, so she has some decisions to make.  She discovers that she does not want to have an abortion.  The option she chooses?  Adoption.  She then sets out to find the perfect parents for her as yet unborn child.  She finds what she deems to be the ideal couple in Mark and Vanessa Loring and she begins to establish a somewhat awkward but honest relationship with them.  She is also not quite sure how she feels about the boy who fathered her baby, Paulie, who has been her close friend for years and has had a crush on her for a long time as well.  While she remains somewhat coolly distant from him, Paulie and many viewers suspect she feels more than she is willing to admit.

Critical Evaluation: Juno is a charming movie.  The dialog is witty, straightforward, and intelligent and the characters possess a truthfulness not always found in movies.  The storyline and the characters are compelling, making viewers care about what happens to the young protagonist and her friends and family.  The movie demonstrates that  a person does not have to be a grown up to become pregnant, but becoming pregnant, as least for Juno, can make a person grow up.  Her obvious caring about the life of her soon to be born child and her decisions around that demonstrate that her pregnancy forced her to grow up fast.  Her teen angst and insecurities demonstrate that she is not all grown up yet.  With its humor and warmth, to some extent, this movie romanticizes teen pregnancy, but the honesty and integrity of the movie as well as the fact that it is highly entertaining make it worth a watch.  “The film received four 2008 Academy Awards nominations: Best Original Screenplay, which Diablo Cody won, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Ellen Page” (Juno, Wikipedia).

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: When sixteen year old Juno MacGuff discovers she is pregnant she realizes she is not ready to be a mother, so she goes in search of the perfect parents for her as yet unborn baby.

Information about the Author/Director: When asked in an interview about his first reading of Diablo Cody’s Juno script, director Jason Reitman stated, “Page One and I was just like, it was instantaneous. I was like “Oh my god, this girl can write.” Then it just becomes a question of, “Well she can write, but is there a story here?” then about halfway through, by the time we got to the ultrasound scene, I was pretty confident that if I didn’t direct this movie I would regret it for the rest of my life [emphasis mine].” (Douglas, 2007).

Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Curriculum Ties: n/a

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 to 19 to adult

Challenge Issues: Premarital sex, teen sex, sexuality, teen pregnancy.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? It is a great movie, and with its humor and honesty, I believe  it is destined to be a teen classic.


Juno (film).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_%28film%29

Douglas, E. (2007). Jason Reitman Tackles Teen Pregnancy in Juno. ComingSoon.net. Retrieved from http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=39765

The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

Bibliographic Information: Souljah, S. (1999). The Coldest Winter Ever. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.  ISBN: 7671400799.  413 pages.

Plot Summary: Winter was living the life!  She lived with her mother, father and sisters in the projects in Brooklyn, but never wanted for anything.  Her father, the leader of a prominent drug dealing operation, spoiled her with fancy jewelry, clothes, and things.  The cold winter night she was born, he gave her a diamond ring.  Winter’s mother was beautiful and stylish and knew how to get what she wanted from her man.  Winter, was interested in boys, and she learned a lot from her mother about how the world worked.  Life was going along fine in Brooklyn when Winter’s father decided they should move to a large home in the suburbs.  Things changed for Winter in her 17th year.  She had a new school, which she went to only when she felt like it.  She missed her extended family and friends from the projects, and then things started to take a turn for the worse.  Can Winter survive the coldest Winter ever?  At what cost?

Critical Evaluation: Souljah captures the language and the feel of the streets in this honest and frank novel.  Winter minces no words when she speaks of her life and her desires, and Souljah does not hold back in her dramatic and sometimes shocking portrayal of Winter in this coming of age novel.  Souljah has a definite message in this book; she advocates self respect, respect for one’s body, one’s family, one’s community.  She wants young people to recognize the dangers of drugs and violence and stay away from them.  She packages her message in a story using language that many young people can relate to, the gritty vernacular of urban Brooklyn and beyond.  Those offended by expletives should stay away, but without the raw, real language this novel’s authenticity would be potentially suspect.  Throughout it all Souljah’s message, which she espouses both as an author and a real-life activist, remains strong and steady.  As evidence of its longevity and appeal, this book is on the ALA’s 2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list.

Reader’s Annotation: Seventeen year old Winter lives a life of excess, thanks to the many material possessions provided to her by her father, a prominent drug dealer.  When her life gets turned upside down, Winter must figure out which direction to go.

Information about the Author: In addition to being an author, Sister Souljah is a hip hop artist, an activist, an educator, and a powerful speaker.  She grew up in the projects in Bronx, New York, and “is a fighter who came up from the bottom.”  Some credit Souljah with reviving the Urban Literature genre in 1999 with The Coldest Winter Ever, as the genre had been in some decline in the late 1980’s early 1990’s.  Some believe that hip hop music was becoming the expression of choice for urban youth, thus pushing urban fiction aside, but The Coldest Winter Ever has sold over a million copies all over the world and, though it is over 20 years old, is still being sold today.

Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Category: Issues: Social Concerns: Crime and Criminals

Topics Covered: Drug Use, Illegal Activities, Sexuality, Family, Incarceration, Violence, Socio-economic status, Friendship

Curriculum Ties: Health Education, Social Studies, English

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of Winter’s lavish lifestyle from the beginning of the book
  • Character analysis of Winter

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15-19

Challenge Issues: Sex, Drugs, Violence, Explicit Language.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? This book speaks to young people, and it speaks the language of young people.  The young people who hear their voices or lives reflected in The Coldest Winter Ever are underrepresented in novels.  A good collection includes a diversity of voices and perspectives for those reflected in a work and those learning a new perspective from a work.  This work is a classic in urban fiction, and is still very popular today.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information: Doctorow, C. (2010). Little Brother. New York, NY: Tor Teen.  ISBN: 0765323117.  416 pages.

Plot Summary: When teen techno genius Marcus gets a message that the Harajuku Fun Madness game has a new clue available, he is not going to let a little thing like school get in the way of his fun.  And, it’s only right that his friends go to downtown San Francisco with him.  But what starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge, leaving residents and law enforcement officers on high alert.  When homeland security teams swoop in to prevent any more terrorist destruction, they take Marcus and his friends into custody.  Marcus questions Homeland Security’s methods when he learns all that is happening in the name of protecting the city and its people.  Marcus, always a bit of a rebel, takes on those who would limit freedom and invade privacy for ostensible security, using his technological prowess, online connections with other hackers, and pure chutzpah.  Can one teenager really make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Exciting, gripping, and immensely entertaining, Little Brother has cross-genre appeal.  Part science fiction, mystery, and adventure, part realistic fiction, dystopian novel and techno-thriller, this book has much to offer to many different readers.  The heavy use of technology within the plot, but just a bit more than we have access to now, gives the novel an “in the not too distant future” feel.  The book is relatively long, but maintains reader interest by being action packed and fairly fast paced.  From a lonely prison cell to a large-scale demonstration in a public park, readers take a fantastic ride with Marcus, portrayed by Doctorow as a complex character with depth.  Like many teens, his friends are of central importance to him, he falls in love, and he doesn’t tell his parents much about what is going on with him, but in other ways Marcus is quite unique.  He spends much of his free time living in a virtual world of hackers where nobody knows his real name.  Marcus doesn’t always follow the rules, and he is very adept at avoiding being caught, for example, he puts small pebbles in his shoes to throw off the school’s gait recognition software that would be able to identify him as he sneaks out during school hours.  Details like these bring the reader into the story and into the life of Marcus, who, for all his mischief, is shown to be intelligent, creative and a good person who cares about the people and world around him.  Doctorow’s opinions about freedom of speech and privacy online, he is NOT a fan of the PATRIOT ACT, for example, are obvious in the novel, but his treatment of the characters who express opposing views is not completely unsympathetic.  A New York Times Best Seller, Little Brother has won several awards and honors, for example, 2009 VOYA Science Fiction for Young Adults/Golden Duck Award, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008, and the 2009 White Pine Award (According to Wikipedia, “The White Pine Award is an annual literature award sponsored by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that has awarded Canadian young adult books since 2002.”).

Reader’s Annotation: What starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge.  Marcus and his friends must stand up to the powers that be, who seem to value perceived security over freedom.

Information about the Author: Information about Cory Doctorow from the blog Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/), of which Doctorow is an editor, “Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger.”  Doctorow’s activism surrounds issues of free speech and privacy in online environments.   Doctorow, “has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum,” (http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow).  Cory Doctorow was born in Canada and currently lives in London.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Realistic Fiction

SubGenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Espionage and Terrorism; Techno-Thriller

Topics Covered: Freedom of Speech, Internet Privacy, Online Privacy, Love, Sexuality, Friendship, Activism,

Curriculum Ties: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, Government, Internet Privacy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if every where you went someone was trying to get you?  And this wasn’t paranoia?
  • How much freedom would you give up for safety?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-17

Challenge Issues: Anti-government sentiment, sexual activity, illegal activities.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Originally included as part of class readings, Little Brother adds genre diversity to a collection. Little Brother is also an exciting, entertaining, and though-provoking read.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bibliographic Information: Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.  ISBN: 0689849222.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bobby did not mean to become a father at such a young age, but he is, and his life will never be the same.  Switching back and forth between “then,” before the baby was born and “now,” after his daughter Feather’s arrival into the world, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby’s transition from regular old teenager to teen dad.  Before Feather is born, Bobby and his pregnant girlfriend Nia are pressured by many of the adults in their lives to put the baby up for adoption, and the young soon-to-be parents want to do the right thing for their child, but what is the right thing?  And is the right thing for their baby the same as the right thing for them?  Bobby is conflicted and confused, but when Feather is in his arms Bobby realizes that he has never seen a more perfect being and he has never felt more love for anyone.  Ever.

Critical Evaluation: The First Part Last is a touching and down-to-earth story, which starts with a beautiful front cover image depicting a young African American man gently holding an infant in his arms.  Johnson’s writing is warm and imbued with emotion.  Her ability to present an authentic perspective of an urban male teen is laudable, and her tender depictions of Bobby and Feather together are heartwarming.  Bobby is presented as a regular 16-year-old kid with friends, and school, and a girlfriend but also as a young man who is gentle, sweet, loving, and completely dedicated to his infant daughter.  Navigating his different roles and different worlds is tricky; it is hard being a teen dad.  Bobby is exhausted, staying up nights with his baby.  But, Bobby’s loving descriptions of Feather’s hands and her smell and how soft the curls on the top of her head are when he kisses her bring readers into the room, feeling what he is feeling.  Many of Johnson’s passages are poetic.  A person would be hard pressed not to empathize with Bobby and hope everything works out well for him and Feather.  Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Book Award and the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award.

Reader’s Annotation: At sixteen, Bobby goes to high school and hangs out with his good friends.  He never imagined he’d be a father already, and it’s a hard job, but when he takes his daughter Feather into his arms he realizes his enormous capacity for love.

Information about the Author: Angela Johnson has always loved books and being read aloud to, as she says, “Book people came to life,” (http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm).  So, it is no wonder that she started writing in her diary as a child and has continued writing ever since.

In 1998, Johnson wrote Heaven, a Coretta Scott King Award Winning novel that contains the characters of Bobby and Feather.  The events of Heaven, though written before, take place after the events of The First Part Last.  In Heaven, Bobby and Feather become friends with main character Marley.  Bobby and Feather’s family history is not expanded upon in Heaven, so Heaven readers who were intrigued by those characters have the chance to learn more in The First Part Last.  Likewise, readers who enjoyed The First Part Last get to see the next stage in the lives, albeit with less detail, of Bobby and Feather in Heaven.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Pregnancy and Teen Parents

Topics Covered: Teen Pregnancy, Sexuality, Parenthood, Fatherhood, Coming of Age, Growing Up

Curriculum Ties: English, Personal Narrative

Booktalking Ideas:

  • You are 16 years old and you are told that in nine months you are going to be a parent.  Pause…  What do you do?  How do feel?
  • Read one of the passages where Bobby describes Feather, ask questions about that.  Does he sound like your average 16-year-old?  Why? Why not?  Does he love her?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 -19

Challenge Issues: Teen sex, teen pregnancy, some adult language.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won two prestigious awards from the American Library Association: Coretta Scott King and Michael L. Printz.

Why is this book included? I read and enjoyed Heaven, which is for a slightly younger audience, and was excited to find that Johnson has also written this award-winning book for teens.  Also, It is important for a collection to tell many different stories from many different perspectives.  The First Part Last provides the unique perspective of a teen father raising his baby daughter.

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Bibilographic Information: Shreve, A. (2008). Testimony. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.  ISBN: 0316059862.  320 pages.

Plot Summary:  One night can change everything.  At an elite boarding school in Vermont, students and administrators get caught up in a scandal that damages many lives.  The scandal involves sex, underage drinking, and a video camera, almost always an ill-advised combination, and this time with dramatic and devastating consequences.  When the headmaster gets the forbidden video, a sex tape involving four students: three boys on the school basketball team and one freshman girl, he struggles with what to do about it.  He knows the power it has to ruin many lives as well as the reputation of the prestigious prep school, Avery Academy.  And why did they do it?  Who is responsible?  How many people’s lives will be affected?  Told from the multiple, unique perspectives of individual players in this drama, including the headmaster, the involved students, and their families, the story unfolds to reveal secrets, lies, and the circumstances behind that ill-fated evening.

Critical Evaluation: Gripping and thrilling, Testimony is a hard book to put down.  when the teen sex tape is initially revealed, while shocking and disturbing, the depth of complexity because of its existence is not obvious at first glance.  As Shreve weaves a web of betrayal, bad judgement, shame, and regret, questions arise, about what to do with the grey area presented in the book.  Shreve’s characters are multifaceated.  This complexity does not allow the reader, for example, to simply label the freshman girl on the sex tape a victim, as, by many accounts, she seemed a consensual participant.  And yet, she was younger and outnumbered by the three basketball players on the tape, who were older and much physically larger than she.  Shreve demonstrates that questions of morality and ethics are not always straightforward or obvious, but are nuanced and dependent on an individual’s particular perspective.  She also demonstrates that a single mistake can have far reaching consequences.  Overall, Testimony is entertaining, thought-provoking and great fodder for class discussions or book group meetings.

Reader’s Annotation: High school students, underage drinking, sex, and a video camera are an ill-advised combination.  At an elite Vermont prep school these elements, in one evening, result in dramatic and devastating consequences.

Information about the Author: Award winning writer Anita Shreve has written 13 novels.  The play The Laramie Project as well as William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying inspired Shreve to use multiple perspectives in her novel Testimony (from www.anitashereve.com).

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction

Topics Covered: Alcohol Abuse, Sexuality, Infidelity

Curriculum Ties: Health Science Topics: Sexuality, Substance Abuse, Suicide

Booktalking Ideas: Sienna’s first piece, Silas’ first piece

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15-19 to Adult (Crossover)

Challenge Issues: Sexuality is discussed and sex acts are described, underage drinking, sexual abuse.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? While it is technically an adult novel, Testimony is about events that happen at a high school.  It is told from numerous characters’ perspectives, including many of the teens.  The young voices are authentic, and the novel is gripping from start to finish.


(2009). Anita Shreve: Biography. Retrieved from http://www.anitashreve.com/