Tag Archives: good books for teen boys

Free Reading Friday: Call Me By My Name

Call me by my nameI am not generally the kinda person to pick up a book about football. Scratch that, I’m not the kinda person to pick up any book about sports. It’s nothing against sports or the people who like them, but sports have never been my thing. I don’t like to watch them or talk about them. And I certainly don’t like to read about them.

However, Call Me By My Name┬áby John Ed Bradley is on the Eliot Rosewater nominee list for 2017, so it means it’s also on my must read list. It’s actually one of the last books I had to finish off the list and I might have left it at the end of my list because it’s a sports book.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for all things sporty, I did enjoy this book. Bradley manages to make a topic I find uninteresting, actually interesting to me through his character driven narrative. I liked the characters of Angie, Tater and Rodney, and because I liked them, I wanted to read about what they went through, even if that was football practice or football games. Bradley manages to create believable, empathetic characters whose literary lives mattered to me and made a real impact on me.

I’ll admit it, when I read about the final football game in the book, my eyes started to well up. Since I was in the middle of class (it was silent reading time), I knew I couldn’t cry. My seniors would NEVER let me hear the end of it, but I wanted to and I was in serious danger of letting it happen.

Although I thought a few of the character’s had pretty sudden “epiphanies” about their former notions on race and race relations, I’m glad that Bradley didn’t let every character be completely won over by Tater as it would have made the story unrealistic given the time period. However, I will admit that despite what I consider a pretty decent grasp on American history, I couldn’t help but be repeatedly shocked at the amount of overt racism found in the town Bradely created. Not because I didn’t realize such overt racism existed, but because the book takes place in 1970/1971, only five years before I was born. I’m sure it came as such a shock to me since the book is set in Louisianna and most of my childhood was spent in Southern California, which is quite a different atmosphere. Still, it is so insane to me to believe that so much still had to be fought for by Tater and Angie. It broke my heart and was very sobering.

Not long before I finished this book, one of the teachers in my department commented that she needed more book suggestions to give to her male students who were struggling to find good books to read. She was a bit disappointed that John Green’s latest protagonist was female as she admires Green and was hoping for a male narrator. Even before I finished Call Me by My Name, I added it to a list I created of quality books for teens, especially boys who are struggling to find male protagonists to relate to. While I believe this book is a good read for any teenager, I think it may have a bigger impact on teenage boys who often struggle to find their voices in the books they read.

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Free Reading Friday: Kindness for Weakness

Even if KKindness for Weaknessindness for Weakness wasn’t one of the Eliot Rosewater nominees for 2107, I’d want to read it because Ruta Sepetys, one of my favorite new YA authors (who also has a book on the Rosie list) has a cover blurb claiming this book is a meeting between Monster and The Catcher in the Rye. To me, this is an intriguing combination, so I snapped it up.

I found the story of James, a 15 year old kid who has been abandoned by his father, neglected by his mother, abused by her boyfriend and all but forgotten by his older brother who was supposed to look out for him, compelling. Even though he knows his brother is not on the level when he asks him to deliver “packages” for him, James agrees in hopes that they can be closer. Plus, he’s so used to being so severely deprived, that the pittance his brother throws him for helping out is enough to make him nearly giddy. For the first time in a long time, his belly is full. It’s hard not to sympathize with a kid like James.

James becomes an even more sympathetic character when he gets busted while on a drug run with his brother. Despite the fact that Louis, his brother, takes off and leaves James totally alone to face the consequences, James doesn’t rat him out. He doesn’t want to be perceived as a cry baby weakling. He wants to show his brother that he is strong and can do his time at juvie. After all, he had an idea of what he was getting into and he made a choice.

His understandably bad decision lands him in Morton, the one place he’s warned he doesn’t want to end up. Unlike many juvenile facilities, Morton tends to resemble jail more than a rehabilitation facility. James spends much of his time in Morton trying to figure out what true strength means. Most of his peers believe any sort of kindness is weakness. They believe they have to step to someone, even if it means more time in Morton, the hospital or the morgue. In one scene, Mr. E, who is leading a group session asks what they’d do if someone stepped on their squeaky clean Jordans without apologizing. Everyone except James believes a beat down is in order. Even when Mr. E tells them that their response will be the difference between them being part of the 86% who end up back in lock up and the 14% who make it out, few are willing to let the “slight” go because it would show too much weakness.

This book is a great look at the toxic culture that exists which forces boys and men to be “strong,” no matter what the cost. I think this is a really important book for teenagers, especially teenage boys to read. The amount of time James and Shawn Gooodman, the author, spend exploring what strength really means is important.

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