The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

by David Arnold
First sentence: “I’ll hold my breath and tell you what I mean: I first discovered the Fading Girl two months and two days ago, soon after summer began dripping its smugly sunny smile all over the place.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some teenage drinking, and lots of swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The plot of this one is going to sound weird. And, to be fair, it’s not really the point of the book,  I think.

Noah Oakman is feeling a bit at sea heading into his senior year. He’s a great swimmer, but he doesn’t love it, and so he fakes a back injury to get out of spending his life in the pool. He’s thinking about college, sort of. Mostly he just wants to Think. And then, at a party he didn’t want to go to, he meets this kid Circuit, and heads to his house. It seems uneventful, but after that, everything’s slid sideways just a little bit. His best friend, Alan, used to be a huge DC fan, and now he’s a huge Marvel fan. His mother has a scar. Nothing life-shattering, but enough to throw Noah off. The only things that haven’t changed are his “strange fascinations” — little things, like the Fading Girl of the opening sentence, that have captured Noah’s interest. And perhaps by pursuing those and trying to make sense of them, he can make sense of his life.

I’m not going to give you much more than that, mostly because it’s the journey in this one that makes it such a good book. It’s populated with people that are fascinating and interesting and quirky and fun, and Noah’s journey is a strange and weird and wonderful one. I even thought that the ending explanation made sense, and made the book that much better.

I’ve liked Arnold’s books in the past, but I honestly think this is his best one so far.

The First Rule of Punk

by Celia C. Pérez
First sentence: “Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some lying (by omission) and some middle school drama. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore, though 6th-7th graders might like it too.

Mariá Luisa (call her Malú please) is NOT happy about moving to Chicago. She wants to stay where she is, in her own school, splitting her time between her house and her father’s record store. But, her mom got a job in Chicago teaching Mexican literature, so they’re moving. And so she has to start over. Which is additionally hard because she’s in a school with a large Mexican American population, and Malú is struggling to find her own identity, especially with her mother always harping on Malú’s love of punk music.

But, she slowly finds her crowd in this new school, and maybe even some friends, although she makes some enemies as well (inevitable). Maybe she can find a balance in this new place.

I loved this one! Malú is a seriously great character, and I loved how Pérez wove in Mexican culture and history through the work. I loved the inclusion of punk music (and lifestyle) and actually really liked the conflict between Malú and her mom (it’s SO hard to let kids be themselves and not what we want them to be). I loved the zines in the book, and Malú’s slow acceptance of her new school and neighborhood. It was just an excellent story all around.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green and David Levithan
First sentence: “When I was little, my dad used to tell me, ‘Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of swearing in this one. A. Lot. So, it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I think the last time I read this, four years ago, I cheated on the review. It’s like I had nothing original to say. And perhaps, because I read it when everyone else was reading it, I didn’t.

So, I decided it deserves a proper review.

Will Grayson (1) is one of those people who just kind of goes with the flow. His best friend, for better or worse, is Tiny Cooper — who is anything but tiny — and he is the sort of person who creates drama. In fact, he’s written a musical, aptly title Tiny Dancer, about his life and is staging  it.

Will Grayson (2) is on medication for clinical depression, and by any account is less than enjoyable to be with. He has exactly three friends (sort of) but is harboring a crush on his on-line friend, Isaac. So when Isaac suggests that they meet up in Chicago, WG2 jumps at the chance

Except, Isaac isn’t real. And, WG2 meets WG1 (and Tiny) instead. And, lives were changed. Mostly for the better.

A lot of what there is to be said about this book is about the format. Green wrote WG1 and Levithan wrote WG2, and at the beginning, you can tell. It’s jarring traveling back and forth between the Will Graysons, but after they meet things become easier. And more fluid. I love how Tiny goes back and forth between the Wills but still ends up being Tiny. I also love the inclusiveness of this novel. That being gay is not an Event. It’s more who you are. And that’s okay. I also love that there’s a terrific example of non-romantic love. (Watch this video for what I mean.) While it’s not my favorite John Green book, I found myself touched by the end, by Tiny’s inclusiveness, and by his friends’ ultimate desire to help him realize that he matters. And by extension, that we all matter.

I’m glad I had an opportunity to reread it.