The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith
Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Fourteen-year-old Bun O’Keefe lives in isolation with her neglectful hoarder mother in rural Newfoundland, Canada, until one day her mother tells her to get out, and so she does. Bun leaves their overstuffed, suffocating house and hitchhikes to St. John’s, the nearest city. Once there, she is lucky to run into Busker Boy, a young man who recognizes her vulnerable naivete and offers to take her in to his “temporary accomodations”, a rented room in a house he shares with a loveable ragtag group of young people, from drag queen Cher to Chef to Big Eyes, a former Catholic schoolgirl rebelling against her strict upbringing. Surrounded by a semblance of family for the first time in her life, Bun slowly adjusts to the feeling of being loved and cared for; but with every step she takes forward towards acceptance into her new makeshift family, the ugliness of life threatens to pull her a step backwards. Weighty issues such as sexual abuse, parental neglect, racism, homophobia, and suicide feature in this story but never overwhelm it, as the warmth of the characters and the love they share for one another ultimately lifts them up each time despair threatens to overwhelm them in turn.
Bun is the star of this ensemble piece, a quirky, singular character who is both younger and older than her years. Having grown up virtually devoid of human contact and fed on a steady diet of old books, films, and encyclopedias that her mother dragged home, she has a tendency to say whatever pops to her mind, which is typically disarmingly honest and insightful, and often funny. The eclectic cast of supporting characters is no less well-drawn, each of their colorful personalities bursting fully formed off the page. This slim volume packs a powerful punch; hand it to readers who enjoy stories featuring memorable, larger-than-life characters and lots of heart.
The Disturbed Girls Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos
Carolrhoda Lab / Lerner Publishing Group
Publication Date: February 1, 2018
Fierce in her perseverance and flawed in nature, Macy’s ability to survive in her toxic environment has secured her the label of the disturbed girl at school. She documents her experiences in her self-made dictionary that shows the toxic and tragic events that have shaped who she is today. Macy struggles to keep her family intact after Child Protective Services has taken her brother (and wants to take her), her father is incarcerated, and her mother uses her body to pay the bills. Despite the awful treatment she receives at home, all she wants is for her family to be together again. Through all this, Macy’s best friend Alma is by her side. What Macy doesn’t fully understand until it is too late, is that Alma, caretaker to her mother’s numerous children, has become a shadow of the girl Macy once knew.
With a skillfully written nonlinear timeline, this gritty and sometimes hard to stomach novel provides a window into a set of life circumstances that no teen should ever have to endure. Macy’s unique voice is gritty and visceral but ultimately heartbreakingly authentic. Macy’s strength in this powerful and thought-provoking story will resonate with teen readers who have had similar experiences. The vernacular, journal/dictionary style format, and authenticity make it accessible to teens who need it most.
Trigger Warnings: Abuse and assault
Fans of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero will find similar emotional intensity. Readers who enjoyed the compelling and dark writing style of The Truth Beneath the Lies will find parallels in this story of survival.
–Kimmie DePinto & Carol Maples