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  • July 2020
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Teen Review: Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

My name is Jenna. I go to a high school where I’m part of the marching band and the cheerleading squad. I’m pretty busy, but I always find time to read. I’m also very creative and I like doing little crafts out of random things I find.

Chain Reaction by Simone ElkelesChain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

Already a lover of the Perfect Chemistry novels, I knew I would love this conclusion to the trilogy. Keep in mind that you could understand the plot of Chain Reaction without reading the first two novels.

Luis Fuentes comes from a family of gang members. His two older brothers, Alex and Carlos, were both involved in the Latino Blood, but the LB is a Chicago gang and Luis now lives in Colorado for the sole reason of avoiding the gang. Luis thought he was safe, but when his mother forces him to move back to Chicago, Luis knows that involvement in the gang is inevitable, despite his family’s protests and his new girlfriend, Nikki’s, love.

This novel is told between two perspectives, Luis’ and Nikki’s, and readers will experience unexpected surprises in both of these young people’s lives. Nikki is falling in love again and Luis discovers the true reason why it seems he has a deep connection with the Latino Blood. The climax of this book will shock everybody. Also, if you were a reader of the previous novels, the epilogue to this book will satisfy and give closure.

If you like a forbidden love story and acceptance of others and yourself, Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles is the novel for you.

Teen Review: Samantha Reviews Border Town and Burn For Burn

Samantha – Hi! I’m a 6th grader and really excited to be blogging. I LOVE to read and write so I’m most likely going to have a lot of posts. I’ll give you the most honest reviews possible. I hope you read them!

I read two books that are very similar. The main characters in each story both want the same thing: revenge against different boys in their lives. Their relationships with each of these boys is different — whether it’s a boyfriend, just a friend or someone they barely know.

Border Town: Crossing the Line by Malin Alegria

In Crossing the Line by Malin Alegria, Fabiola is excited about having her little sister join her high school until she makes friends (and a boyfriend) with the wrong people. Fabi’s cousin is accused of robbing her father’s immigrant worker but Fabi knows who really did it, and it’s going to break her sister’s heart. Fabi wants to make things right.

Burn For Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

In Burn For Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, three girls were hurt by different people in different ways, and they go through lots of crazy things to get back at them. The three girls, Lillia, Kat and Mary, were strangers to each other at first. They bonded because they all wanted the same thing. Kat wants revenge on her best childhood friend who is now her worst enemy and making her life miserable in high school. Mary wants revenge on the boy who made her so miserable that she had to leave the island she called home. Lillia wants revenge on her best friend for hurting her little sister.

These books were amazing, and Crossing the Line even had some Spanish (which I thought was really cool), and I definitely recommend both books for readers ages 12 and up. The things in both books were so crazy that you can never really imagine them happening in real life. I don’t see things like this in my world, but it’s scary to think there are other kids who do see things like this.

Teen Blogger: Wei Interviews Jesse Andrews, author of Me & Earl & the Dying Girl

Hello, my name is Wei. (Before we go further, it’s important for you to know that it’s pronounced like “WAY.” I mean, how awkward would it be if you came up to me & called me “WEE”?) I’m a senior, a vegetarian, I read ALL THE TIME, I can lick my elbow, and I believe I am searching for a “Great Perhaps.”

Wei interviewed author Jesse Andrews at the 2012 Teen Media Awards held on August 2, 2012. Special thanks to Jesse and Wei for a great interview! (Awkward transition at about :40 is totally my fault – corey)

Teen Blogger: Outsmarting the College Salesmen

Hello, my name is Wei. (Before we go further, it’s important for you to know that it’s pronounced like “WAY.” I mean, how awkward would it be if you came up to me & called me “WEE”?) I’m a senior, a vegetarian, I read ALL THE TIME, I can lick my elbow, and I believe I am searching for a “Great Perhaps.”

A car salesman and a college tour guide are basically the same thing. They’re both trying to sell you something that’s ridiculously expensive. They’re going to show you the finer points of their wares while conveniently leaving what’s not so attractive by the wayside. Sometimes they’re bubbling with excitement to show you around. Sometimes they’re evasive. But they’re always trained in the art of selling. And there are always an overwhelming amount of them, each trying to sell you their car/college over the next guy’s.

Touring college campuses, like browsing car dealerships, should be done carefully. While everything should be taken in, it should also be done with a grain of salt. They’re a make-it-or-break-it type experience for a lot of people. You’re seeing where you could potentially be living the next few years of your young adult life. It’s scary, but it’s the most exciting feeling.

So, how do you cut through the half-truths and the pretty façade of these well-rehearsed salesmen to get to the heart of the matter to know what’s the best fit for you?

#1.) Visit as many campuses as you can. I have a lot of friends who have at current count, only visited one school. And then all they talk about is how much they love it and how it’s the school for them. But if you only visit one campus, how can you possibly know? It’s important to note that even if you don’t plan on going to College X, if you get a chance, visit anyway. Even if you hate it, you’ll realize what you don’t want which is at least a step better than not knowing what you want at all.

#2.) Visit with your parents. So, I know that the number one most appealing thing about getting a higher education is the fact that you can do it outside the vicinity of Mom and Dad, but seriously, think about it. It’s not just what you want, it’s what your family can afford. They should see the school that they’re sending their son/daughter to. They should see if it’s a good fit and if it’s worth the money. Plus, it’s good to get a second opinion. I mean, for the most part, they’re relatively wise. They got you this far, didn’t they?

#3.) Don’t fall for the little things. Tour guides are going to highlight the best parts such as the new renovations to the science lab, some famous band that just played on campus, the hundreds of sports and activities that they offer. That’s all great & good, but remember that every school has some award or unique feature, and all of them have clubs. Don’t fall for the little things like a Quidditch team (it’s tempting, I know); instead, look at the whole picture. What good is free Wi-fi if you’re too deep in the middle of nowhere that your phone doesn’t work? What’s the use of a new physics building if the professor still teaches like Prohibition is still a thing?

#4.) What you learn after the tour is just as useful as what you learn during it. Guides are only going to show you the best, biggest parts of campus. It might be a good idea after the tour to go walk around without a guide & try to find all the nooks and crannies and see if they have as much glimmer to them as what you saw on the tour. Also, eat in the main dining hall. Should this be the college you choose, you’ll be eating from there more often than not, so it’s good to get a sense of what kind of food you’ll be anticipating. Also, since the majority of the people there will be college kids, it’s a good idea to scope them out and try to get a feel if they’re the kind of people you want to spend the next few years with.

#5.) Make sure they know you’re coming. This should really go without saying, but schedule an appointment first. They need to know that you’re coming so that they can have a guide ready. Sometimes people will just take a look around by themselves, without the knowledge of the school. While that’s fine, it’s not really the most efficient way. Colleges keep records of all the students who visit them. When applying, if they see that you visited or met with an admissions counselor or in some way showed your interest in their school, they’ll know that you’re serious about wanting to attend. Basically, it will look better on your application.

If the last one went without saying, then this next one should go so much without saying that I’m not even going to list it as a tip: ASK QUESTIONS. Believe me, whatever it is, do not feel stupid. They have had sillier questions. Trust me.

I know it’s frightening, to do all these thing for your future when you’re not even sure what the future looks like. But it’s worth it.

Alternative Education

It’s just a fact that the traditional format of high school doesn’t work for some people. Or college, worthy as it is, doesn’t feel like a great fit (plus, the cost of college is rising rapidly, in case you hadn’t heard).

That doesn’t mean you should quit your education every time it feels challenging, but there are alternatives.  As the National Alternative Education Association’s website says:

“alternative schools, programs and classrooms are serving students who are not succeeding in the traditional educational setting.  Often this population of learners exhibits one or more of the following traits: under-performing academically, possessing learning disabilities, displaying emotional or behavioral issues, being deliberate or inadvertent victims of the behavioral problems of others, displaying a high risk of potential expulsion, suspension, or dropping out of school, and/or displaying the need for individualized instruction.  Alternative education offers innovative, non-traditional approaches to teaching this population of learners, which aides in preventing these students from becoming dropouts. “

High School:

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit runs Community Schools for students who need a smaller learning environment and more intensive counseling. Learn more here.

To read an overview of the need for forms of alternative education, go to this report done by The Urban Institute.

Education Revolution offers lists of Democratic, Montessori, Waldorf, and Public Alternative education, as well as homeschooling.

Speaking of democratic schools, the most riveting 16 minutes of radio time I’ve experienced was hearing the students of Brooklyn Free School make their own school rules in an episode of This American Life. The episode is called “Kid Politics” and you can download it for free.  Here’s their introduction to the story:

“What if you ran a school and you had the kids vote and decide on all the rules? They decide on all the discipline, decide which classes should be taught, what would happen if you don’t show up for class, can you nap in school. Not to be harsh, but what if the inmates ran the asylum?

Well, there’s a movement in alternative education called the free school movement. Typically there are no courses. Each kid studies what he or she wants independently. At The Brooklyn Free School, for instance, a teacher can offer a class, or the kids can vote for some class they want created. There are no tests, no homework, there aren’t even grade levels– you know, first grade, second grade, all that. And the kids decide everything about how the school is run.

If this sounds nuts, you should know that since The Brooklyn Free School was started seven years ago, nearly all its graduates have gone on to normal accredited colleges. We wanted to see what happens when the kids make all the decisions, so we headed over to The Brooklyn Free School.” (transcript)

lounge at the Inglenook Community High School in Canada. photo by flickr user cayoup

And finally, there’s a movement out there called Unschooling. Like at Brooklyn Free School, you can study whatever you want in Unschooling, but you do it at home, on your own time, through your own preferred structure.  It’s less structured than homeschooling, but still requires a portfolio to be turned in to state education authorities each year.  Families that choose unschooling say that they do it because they want their kids to have wider options in their learning and more opportunities to be responsible for themselves.

It also sounds like a path to education that requires a lot of open communication with your family and a lot of self-knowledge.

There are a bunch of websites out there to explain unschooling, including Unschoolers.com, a site to promote the movie called Unschooling, Radical Unschooling, and a Pennsylvania-based group-maintained site called Keystone State Radicals (membership must be vetted), as well as a Yahoo Group for PA Unschoolers.

If there are any homeschoolers and/or unschoolers reading this, I’d also like to say that we love to have you at the library!  Say hi to your Teen Services Librarian the next time you’re in the building.

Want to read more? Here is a list of books on unschooling compiled on Amazon.

At the library you can check out:

Real Lives: eleven teenagers who don’t go to school tell their own stories

The Teenage Liberation Handbook

The Teenagers’ Guide to School Outside the Box

Alternative Schools: A Reference Handbook


A college degree can give you a better chance in making more money and getting a better job in life. But it will also probably give you a lot of student debt, unless you can pay out of pocket or work the scholarship and grant route.  Some organizations are looking for an alternative to that debt.

Right here in Pittsburgh there’s a homegrown alternative to a private or public four-year college. It’s called Saxifrage School.  They’re just starting out, but part of their philosophy  is to

host a tight academic community that weaves into local organizations, creating a dynamic resource network that will serve students and neighbors alike.  Graduates of the Saxifrage School will leave as seasoned thinkers, skilled producers, engaged citizens, and social entrepreneurs.

They’re currently offering courses in Web Development, Carpentry, and Agriculture, and hosting talks every Tuesday.

Want to learn more about educating yourself and getting the most from your money in regards to college?

DIY U : edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education

But what if I don’t want to go to college? : a guide to success through alternative education

Whatever your educational path in life, it’s never too late to start learning.

-Tessa, CLP – East Liberty

Teen Review: The Legend of Zelda™: Symphony of the Goddesses at Heinz Hall

Hi, I’m Henry. Since I was born 16 years ago, my biggest claim to fame has been winning the state geography bee in 2009. I run cross country and track for Seton-La Salle High School. I play trombone in the school’s marching band and am a member of the Mock Trial and Academic Games teams. I like to read the Greeks and Romans, and I love opera.

Heinz Hall: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

As I arrived at Heinz Hall Friday evening, I couldn’t help noticing a number of things I normally do not see here. One of the most conspicuous of these was the select number of the audience who arrived dressed for the occasion in green caps that made them look like as if they were decorations in the spirit of the music we were to hear. All in all, the crowd generally seemed to have been drawn more by the “Zelda” in the title than the “symphony.”

The stage was dominated by a very large screen suspended over the orchestra’s chairs. When the conductor, a Ms. Eí mear Noone began the music, the screen showed screenshots from different games of the Zelda franchise. The images on the screen evoked laughter from time to time among the audience in general, but I, having never played a game in the franchise, was not sure when and why to laugh.

At the beginning of the symphony, I resented the screen as an unnecessary distraction; by intermission, I was curiously mesmerized by it. It was a very different experience from when I’ve been there for more conventional works. I think it would be detrimental to some works whose music is attractive enough to sustain interest (in my case, music of Mozart and his generation); for others which I do not care for as much (e.g., Bruckner, Debussy, Wagner, etc.) it would almost certainly hold my attention better.

The music itself presented, I think, did not need such sideshows. It was, as is much video game music, catchy and facile (in the best sense of that word). The main theme was repeated innumerable times, but not ad nauseam. The style of the music defied categorization, but I would call it modern if I had to call it anything. My personal favorites were the first two movements, which were respectively descriptive of a dungeon and a pastoral village in the universe of Link and Zelda.

In its entirety, I thought the show was better than average, and not merely for the novelty of the staging or the unusual music (or, perhaps, in spite of them). The quality of the music was overall very good, and, as usual, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra showed us the reasons why it is so highly acclaimed.

Teen Review: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

My name is Clara, and I am 14 years old. I go to Science And Technology Academy and I am in the 10th grade. In my spare time when I’m not reading a good book, I dance in competions, do cheerleading, and play sports.

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Hello fellow readers! I just finished reading Perfect by Ellen Hopkins, and I wanted to tell you how great the book is! The book is all about the struggles that teens in everyday life face, with trying to please their parents, trying to fit in, and mostly tring to be perfect in the eyes of others.  In the story, four high school seniors struggle with trying to be perfect and the problems they encounter from these struggles.   The poetry in the book only make the book easier and more fun to read, and lets you veiw the characters through different eyes. I would recomend this book to anyone who likes reading edgy teen books, and wouldn’t mind opening their eyes to something new.

Teen Review: After by Amy Efaw

My name is Jenna. I go to a high school where I’m part of the marching band and the cheerleading squad. I’m pretty busy, but I always find time to read. I’m also very creative and I like doing little crafts out of random things I find.

After by Amy Efaw

As a reader, this novel will challenge your beliefs and your character. It has the ability to make you think twice about the kind of person you are.

After by Amy Efaw is about a girl named Devon Davenport who seemed to be perfect. She was a class A babysitter, had a 4.0 grade point average, and had insane soccer abilities that would soon take her to the Olympics. Meanwhile, Devon was holding a very big secret. She was pregnant.

Or was she holding a secret? Devon claims that she had no clue that she was pregnant. She did not recognize the symptoms and she was essentially clueless to what was going on in her body. When the baby was born, Devon stuffed the baby into a trash bag and threw the bag into a trash can outside of her apartment.

Now, Devon is in a juvenile court system, being charged with multiple offenses, but the most severe is murder.

This novel is similar to a mystery novel. Readers do not know if Devon is telling the truth or not about being oblivious to the pregnancy. Personally, there were moments in the novel that I wanted Devon to be innocent and I was rooting for her, but when you take a step back, you remember the ugly and horrific act she committed and then wonder how you could support her.

This heartbreaking novel has so many different layers that are explored from cover to cover and it is almost impossible to put down.

Teen Review: TeenBoat! by Dave Roman and John Green

My name is Jayne. I’m fourteen. I go to CAPA for Visual Arts, but I love to write so much more. Creative writing has been apart of my life for so long now; I feel lost without it. I’m obsessed with everything British, Beatles, Tim Burton movies, and Harry Potter. Oh and cats! I hope you love what I review and I hope you comment and tell me what I could do better. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman & John Green

I am absolutely in love with Teen Boat! It’s really funny and I think teens will love the weird and quirky behavior of TeenBoat (that’s his actual name!).

So Teen Boat! is about a boy who’s name is the title and can magically transform into a boat. This book is divided up into about five sections and each tale involves TB (Teen Boat!) and his friends. In the first few chapters or stories, TB is in love with this girl who has the same name as the ship that Christopher Columbus sailed. I found this hysterical because of course TB would be the one who falls in love with a girl with the name of a ship! In the next few, we are introduced to Joey, TB’s best friend who is a girl and has a secret. But I’m still guessing as to what it is. There is some Italian involved with one of the stories, when they go to Italy.

Anyway, TB gets involved with Pirates, boat-napping captains, gondolas, and angry jocks. So, if you’re a fan of graphic novels, you’ll love love love this book. And I do know that there is going to be another Teen Boat book in the distant future. So, I can tell you, I’m excited.

I was also surprised that John Green co-wrote this book* because I always took him for a more serious writer (and I didn’t want to read him because of it), but this definitely changed my mind. I hope it changes your mind about him, too.

*Librarian’s note: This is a different John Green, but don’t blame Jayne–I assumed it was THE John Green and told her so. D’oh! Still, “TB” is HILARIOUS.

Teen review: The After Life by Daniel Ehrenhaft

My name is Jenna. I go to a high school where I’m part of the marching band and the cheerleading squad. I’m pretty busy, but I always find time to read. I’m also very creative and I like doing little crafts out of random things I find.

The After Life by Daniel Ehrenhaft

The After Life is a very unique novel for many reasons. First, it is told in a 4/5 day time period. The novel also has an interesting plot which includes very heavy issues. Will, a kid who dropped out of high school is now trying to get back into school while also being an alcoholic. Will’s father abandoned him as a child and has two children of his own, who Will ends up meeting finally after 18 years. Not only is Will dealing with his uncle’s fairly recent death, but after meeting his long lost siblings…Will, Liz, and Kyle’s father suddenly dies.

Now the three siblings have to go out of state for the funeral and are forced to get to know each other when they find out they have to drive back to New York from Florida together.

The author of this novel, Daniel Ehrenhaft, used humor throughout the whole book to lighten up on the tough issues. It was very funny and easy to relate to. I would rate The After Life a 4/5 🙂

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