Social media is a huge part of the lives of most teens. Naturally, this is being reflected in young adult books. While platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to name just a few, are hugely popular, the magnetism they develop can have serious consequences when intentions are unethical or downright sinister. The following selections serve as fascinating yet cautionary tales of sorts due to cyberstalking, catfishing, cyberbullying, and the exposing of deep secrets. The following nominees for Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers 2018 all explore how social media can effect the lives of teens.
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
May 30, 2017
Five teens show up for detention after school, but only four make it out alive. Simon Kelleher, the creator of a malicious gossip app targeting his classmates, dies of an allergic reaction during detention. Somehow, his epi pen has gone missing, in addition to the unaccounted for stash of them kept in the school nurse’s office. When police discover peanut oil was in Simon’s water, the facts start adding up that this was no accident.
Cover image is intriguing with the four suspects depicted as faceless inside a yearbook type layout with contrasting red title. The fast-paced first chapter snags the reader’s attention right away, and the plot intensifies throughout the book as more secrets are exposed. Each chapter consists of brief points of view from the detention survivors, unfolding the menacing tone Simon has created via social media in a disturbing and twisted way. Diversity in ability, culture, and LGBTQIA are present amongst the characters. Some results in bullying and threats of exposure as the gritty app reveals secrets the survivors, now suspects, want kept under wraps. The social media aspect, diverse character representation, and suspenseful plot will appeal to a broad range of teens.
Characters considered the Brain, the Beauty, the Criminal, and the Athlete are reminiscent of The Breakfast Club, with a modern day mystery twist. Fans of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars series or books featuring social media/internet bullying such as Nerve by Jeanne Ryan or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli are ideal readers.
Bombshell by Rowan Maness
July 4, 2017
Online, Joss can be anyone she wants, so she is a lot of different people. Rosie restores art in NYC, Emma is a lonely Southern beauty queen, and Anna’s a jet-setting international model, just to name a few of the people Joss pretends to be, and each has their own distinct identity fabricated entirely by Joss on the Internet – identities she uses to meet people and to escape the drudgery and boredom of her regular life. Unfortunately, someone has figured out what she’s up to and is threatening to reveal her secret on a website called josslies.com to the people she’s met by pretending to be Emma, Anna, Rosie, and all the others. When “Believer” really starts to close in on her, Joss has to decide whether to give up her catfishing and be herself or run away and try to make a life as someone else.
Bombshell is a fast-paced mind game of a novel that is utterly relevant to teenagers today. Full of gritty language, constant revelations, and an intense level of suspense, readers will be hooked by this story’s deeply flawed protagonist. Joss’s conversations as her “characters” are mostly represented in texting format, and the rest of the writing is quick and to-the-point. Joss is witty, and way too smart for her own good. The character development in the book of Joss’s online identities is deeper sometimes than that of her real-life friends and family, and it can at times be difficult to keep all the different personalities straight. Her potential mental illness and unreliability as a narrator adds another layer of confusion that doesn’t resolve itself until the very end (although the book does have a very satisfactory ending). Fans of books with unreliable narrators (think Stephanie Kuehn’s books or E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars) and the MTV show Catfish will eat this one up.
— Allie Stevens
Kale, My Ex, and Other Things to Toss in a Blender by Lisa Greenwald
May 30, 2017
Mia and Justine’s summer plans take an unexpected turn when Mia’s boyfriend dumps her, so they make a plan for revenge using a fake social media presence. Out of the blue, their summer job selling snow cones evolves into something better than expected. They launch their own uber-popular smoothie business from the food truck, and meet some new friends along the way.
Reluctant readers will adore the witty chapter titles featuring smoothie recipes at the onset of each brief chapter, which are unique attention grabbers. The character driven storyline is told in alternating viewpoints of the two girls, where readers gain insight into their emerging perceptions as they begin to focus on other things and regret their mischievous revenge plan. Though clearly misguided in their revenge attempt and dieting strategies, Mia and Justine have an offbeat quirkiness that maintains their likeability, and their entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring to teens. Amusing encounters with customers at the food truck may result in belly laughs while reading.
Readers who enjoy some teen angst with a lot of humor thrown in will regard this book as a fun twist on teen problems. Hand this one to fans of Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green, Winger by Andrew Smith, or selections by Jenny Han.
Worthy by Donna Cooner
March, 28, 2017
Linden Wilson, aspiring author and junior at Sam Houston High School, decides to test her writing chops by volunteering to be in charge of publicity (which is mostly just creating content for social media) for the prom planning committee. It’s also starting to look like she just might have a date for the prom – with adorable baseball star Alex Rivera, of all people. Meanwhile, a new app has surfaced and is spreading around the school like wildfire. It’s called Worthy, and provides a platform for students to vote on whether or not a girl is worthy of her boyfriend, with a new couple chosen for scrutiny each week. Both Nikki (Linden’s best friend) and Linden herself end up on the app, and the ramifications of trial in the court of public opinion threaten to destroy their friendship, to say nothing of their relationships. Who is behind all this and how can Linden make them stop before the app ruins everything?
Despite tackling big-ticket issues like self-esteem, teen social media consumption, and cyberbullying, Worthy also holds onto its light, sweet romance feel by virtue of the easy writing style, simple language, and prom-centric plot. Linden’s best friend, Nikki, is a budding fashion designer, and there is no shortage of discussion about clothes, hair, and makeup in this title. The culturally diverse cast of supporting characters (Alex is Mexican and Nikki is Filipina) are believable but not overly complex, and the linear plot and shorter, broken-up chapters make for a quick read.
Readers who enjoy cute, quirky, and clean contemporary romances will be thrilled with this book. Give this one to teens who enjoy Sarah Dessen, Kasie West, and Stephanie Perkins (also great for Mean Girls fans!).
— Allie Stevens