7 Books for High Schoolers Recommended by Matt de la Pena

Today, we’re continuing our series of recommendations from the new library at the Community Health Academy of the Heights with a list from author Matt de la Pena! Matt is working with us and the 10th graders at CHAH who are writing short stories. Here are his suggestions.

DrownDrown by Junot Diaz:
Born and raised in Santo Domingo, Diaz uses the contrast between his island homeland and life in New York City and New Jersey as a fulcrum for his trenchant tales. His young male narrators are teetering into precarious adolescence. For these sons of harsh or absent fathers and bone-weary, stoic mothers, life is an unrelenting hustle. In Santo Domingo, they are sent to stay with relatives when the food runs out at home; in the States, shoplifting and drug-dealing supply material necessities and a bit of a thrill in an otherwise exhausting and frustrating existence. There is little affection, sex is destructive, conversation strained, and even the brilliant beauty of a sunset is tainted, its colors the product of pollutants. —Booklist

nocountryforoldmenNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy:
In 1980 southwest Texas, Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles across several dead men, a bunch of heroin and $2.4 million in cash. The bulk of the novel is a gripping man-on-the-run sequence relayed in terse, masterful prose as Moss, who’s taken the money, tries to evade Wells, an ex–Special Forces agent employed by a powerful cartel, and Chigurh, an icy psychopathic murderer armed with a cattle gun and a dangerous philosophy of justice. In a series of thoughtful first-person passages interspersed throughout, Sheriff Bell laments the changing world, wrestles with an uncomfortable memory from his service in WWII and—a soft ray of light in a book so steeped in bloodshed—rejoices in the great good fortune of his marriage. — Reed Business Information

boy21Boy21 by Matthew Quick:
Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in broken-down Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, his dad works nights, and Finley is left to take care of his disabled grandfather alone. He’s always dreamed of getting out someday, but until he can, putting on that number 21 jersey makes everything seem okay. Russ has just moved to the neighborhood, and the life of this teen basketball phenom has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he won’t pick up a basketball, but answers only to the name Boy21—taken from his former jersey number. As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, a unique friendship may turn out to be the answer they both need. —Amazon

insideoutandbackagainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai:
For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by, and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. —Amazon

jesussonJesus’ Son by Denis Johnson:
The unnamed narrator in Jesus’ Son lives through a car wreck and a heroin overdose. Is he blessed? He cheats, lies, steals–but possesses a child’s uncanny way of expressing the bare essence of things around him. The stories follow characters who are seemingly marginalized beyond hope, drifting through a narcotic haze of ennui, failed relationships, and petty crime. In “Dundun” the narrator decides to take a shooting victim to the hospital, though not for the usual reasons. Later he takes his own pathetic  stab at violence in “The Other Man,” attempting to avenge a drug rip-off but succeeding only at terrorizing an innocent family. Open to any page and gems spill forth: “I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside that we’d have an accident in the storm.” —Amazon

okayfornowOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt:
Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that some people think him to be. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, who gives him the strength to  endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival. —Amazon

antsEverybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King:
Lucky Linderman didn’t ask for his life. He didn’t ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn’t ask for a father who never got over it. He didn’t ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn’t ask to be the target of Nader McMillan’s relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far. But Lucky has a secret–one  that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos–the prison his grandfather couldn’t escape–where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It’s dangerous and wild, and it’s a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside? A.S. King’s smart, funny and boldly original writing shines in this powerful novel about learning to cope with the shrapnel life throws at you and taking a stand against it. —Amazon

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3 thoughts on “7 Books for High Schoolers Recommended by Matt de la Pena

  1. Pingback: BtB’s Top 10 Books for Middle Schoolers! – Behind the Book

  2. Pingback: BtB’s Top Titles for High Schoolers – Behind the Book

  3. Pingback: Torrey Maldonado Recommends Books for Middle and High Schoolers | Behind the Book

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