“The Story of My Teeth” came into existence the way most novels do: at the behest of a Mexican juice company. But rather than merely extol the virtues of juice while spinning a tale about juice bandits who turned to a life of juice thievery due to being criminally deprived nature’s finest nectar during their formative years, Valeria Luiselli chose to tell a better, stranger tale.
The novel, in addition to being a “collaborative translation” with Christina MacSweeney, was also workshopped with workers at a juice factory. She would send a chapter, factor in their feedback, then write the next chapter. The novel’s quality makes it clear that more writers should seek the feedback of factory workers. Indeed, I’m so inspired by her tactics that I’ve taken the liberty of mailing this post to a number of factories. As you can tell, I’ve yet to hear back, but I imagine their feedback will transform this post into something nearly as magical as her novel, at which point I will use their suggested changes for the 10th anniversary edition of this blog post (“Now in 3-D and edited by factory workers!’).
“The Story of My Teeth” is mostly narrated by a man known as “Highway.” Highway opens the novel by declaring himself the world’s greatest auctioneer. He’s also capable, if given sufficient quantities of rum, of imitating Janis Joplin. Regardless of his rum levels, he’s able to balance an egg. Highway is also a fiend for collecting things. As a child, he collected over 10,000 of his father’s nail clippings, stored smartly in envelopes. If this wasn’t enough to have you hooked (I speed-read the novel hoping to find a scene featuring an upright egg), there’s also a scene in which four portraits of clowns menace poor Highway.
I may have opened the book expecting slow, laborious descriptions of teething, lost teeth and their corresponding visits from fairies, and dental procedures, but what I got was much more amusing and interesting, if significantly less fairy-laden. Highway was cursed with bad teeth, so once he has a little money in his pocket, he does what most of us would: buys Marilyn Monroe’s teeth and has them inserted. Soon after, he demonstrates his talents as an auctioneer by auctioning off his own freshly plucked and malformed teeth. He’s able to get a great price by claiming they’re from such famous mouths as Plato’s, Virginia Woolf’s or G.K. Chesterton’s. He gives each tooth its own flash fiction origin story, and the reader is left wishing he had more teeth to auction. Highway also wishes he had more stuff to auction, so he decides to auction off himself, with consequences that include paintings of clowns.
“The Story of My Teeth” does things that make book critics talk fancy. You’ll be questioning the narrator’s trustworthiness. There’s a section of the book that is a timeline. Photographs are included. Authors and philosophers are name-dropped. You’ll wonder whether G.K. Chesterton really damaged his teeth due to his affinity for chewing marbles. But ultimately, you’ll just enjoy this clever novel and redouble your efforts to keep your distance from paintings of clowns.
The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list of recommended reading sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association. Sixteen young adult book clubs from libraries across the country are responsible for narrowing down a list of nominees for teens to vote on nationwide. Below is this year’s full list of Top Ten nominations. Don’t forget that the library offers print, eBook and audiobook editions of many of the these titles!
“Alive” by Chandler Baker
Stella Cross has received a heart transplant, but it has not stopped her emotional suffering.
Then a mysterious boy named Levi Zin comes into her life. Stella’s pain goes away whenever she’s around Levi. However, Stella finds out a terrible secret about Levi. Can it be true?
“Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo
Young criminal genius Kaz Brekker is offered the chance to pull off a dangerous theft that can make him rich. He recruits a gang of six dangerous misfits to help him with the heist. The book follows the crew’s crazy adventure and features plot twists, betrayals, and schemes aplenty.
“The Darkest Part of the Forest” by Holly Black
In Fairfold, a place where both humans and Faeries live, siblings Hazel and Ben have grown up telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin in the woods. The boy has horns and ears pointy as knives, perhaps he’s a prince or a knight. Of course, they’ll never know because the boy will never wake. Then, unexpectedly, he does . . .
“The Witch Hunter” by Virginia Boecker
Elizabeth Grey is a witch hunter who is suddenly accused of being a witch. She is arrested and sentenced to burn. The only way for Elizabeth to avoid this fate is to help out her former enemy Nicholas Perevil, the most dangerous wizard around. The book is filled with magic and adventure, action and mystery and features a world full of witches, pirates and ghosts.
“The Game of Love and Death” by Martha Brockenbrough
Set in Seattle in the 1920s, a romance develops between Flora, who is African American, and Henry, who is white. Despite some differences, the pair has much in common, including a shared love of jazz music. However, it turns out that Flora and Henry actually are pawns in a game played by two other characters – Love and Death. This book is full of intrigue and is, at times, heartbreaking, and will have the reader racing to the final pages.
“Powerless” by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs
In a world full of powerful heroes and villains, Kenna is just a regular, powerless teenager who works in a lab. Then, three villains break into the lab, and Kenna decides to fight back. In the midst of this battle, Kenna is saved by a villain. Suddenly, she is forced to rethink her beliefs.
“Mechanica” by Betsy Cornwell
A new take on the classic story of Cinderella. Mechanica uses her wit and her mother’s old engineering textbooks to try to escape her stepmother and stepsisters. Mechanica is a strong, smart, and capable character in a book that has an inspirational message for teenage girls.
“You and Me and Him” by Kris Dinnison
Maggie is overweight. Nash is out of the closet. They are the best of friends. But that friendship is tested when they both develop feelings for the same boy, a new kid named Tom.
“The Summer After You & Me” by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
Lucy Giordano lives on the Jersey Shore and has a crush on a boy named Connor Malloy, whose family spends many summer weekends at the home next door. The pair eventually shares an unexpected romance. Then, Super Storm Sandy hits and alters Lucy’s life dramatically. Lucy and Connor go their separate ways. But several months later, Connor is scheduled to return to The Shore, which should definitely make for an interesting summer.
“The Devil You Know” by Trish Doller
Arcadia, or Cadie for short, is 18 years old and has been longing for something more in life ever since her mother died. Then she meets two handsome boys, cousins to one another, and they invite her and a friend on a camping trip. What seems like innocent fun takes a negative turn when Arcadia discovers one of the boys is hiding a terrible secret.
“Charlie, Presumed Dead” by Anne Heltzel
Charlie Price is presumed dead after his plane crashes. However, his body is never found. At his funeral, Lena and Aubrey meet and discover both were his girlfriend. Lena believes Charlie is still alive, and she and Aubrey set out on a journey across Europe and Asia to expose Charlie’s deceit. The girls try to work together, but the secrets they hide could prevent them from finding Charlie.
“Illuminae” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Kady and Ezra have just broken up, and then their planet is bombed by a megacorporation. The pair escapes to a government ship, but must put their differences aside in order to survive and stop a plague that has resulted from the use of a bioweapon.
“When” by Victoria Laurie
High school junior Maddie Fynn has special powers that allow her to see numbers above a person’s forehead, which she soon discovers are death dates. She identifies the death date of a young boy, but is unable to prevent his disappearance. Then, Maddie becomes a suspect in a homicide investigation.
“The Novice” by Taran Matharu
A blacksmith’s apprentice named Fletcher discovers he can summon demons from another world. He soon gets chased out of his village for a crime he did not commit, ending up at an academy for adepts, where he is trained to serve as a Battlemage in the Empire’s war against the savage Orcs. Eventually, Fletcher discovers the fate of the Empire is in his hands.
“Mark of the Thief” by Jennifer. A. Nielsen
Set in Ancient Rome, a young slave named Nic finds an amulet that gives him magic powers usually reserved for the Gods. After discovering a conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and start a war, Nic is forced to use the magic within to defeat the empire’s most ruthless leaders and save Rome.
“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven
Death plays a big role in the lives of high schoolers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. He is constantly on the verge of suicide, and she is battling grief after her sister’s death. The Indiana teens come together to work on a project and soon develop a bond, showing each other what it’s like to live.
“I Am Princess X” by Cherie Priest
When they were young, best friends Libby and May created a comic character named Princess X. Then Libby was killed in a car accident. Lonely and grieving, May soon discovers an underground culture centered around a web comic at IAmPrincessX.com. The similarities between those stories and Libby’s own stories are striking. Could her friend still be alive?
“Hold Me Like a Breath” by Tiffany Schmidt
Penelope Landlow has an autoimmune disease that forces her to remain indoors. She is also the daughter of a notorious crime family that is involved in the black market for organ transplants. Penelope soon gains her independence and is forced to survive on her own in the big city. She learns about love, loss and how to survive in an often dangerous world.
“Con Academy” by Joe Schreiber
Will Shea (aka Billy Humbert) is a con man who has scammed his way into Connaughton Academy, an exclusive school for the American elite. He soon meets Andrea Dufresne, who also has conned her way into the school. The pair soon makes a bet to see who can con the school bully, Brandt Rush, out of thousands of dollars.
“The Ghosts of Heaven” by Marcus Sedgwick
An epic story about the journey of discovery told in four episodes. The first, takes place during prehistoric times, as a girl picks up a stick and creates some of the first cave drawings. Next, we visit the 17th century and a girl named Anna, whom many believe is a witch. Episode three is set in a Long Island mental institution and features a mad poet who watches the ocean. Finally, a trip to the future, as a spaceship travels to settle another world.
“The Glass Arrow” by Kristen Simmons
Set in the future, Aya is a 15-year-old girl who has spent her life hiding in the mountains in order to avoid the fate of most women, who are treated like property and auctioned off for breeding. Then, she is caught. Desperate to escape, she relies on the assistance of a wolf and a mute boy in her search for freedom.
“Black Widow Forever Red” by Margaret Stohl
Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, is one of the world’s most lethal assassins, and she once rescued young Ava Orlova from being subjected to a series of military experiments. Now, Black Widow and Orlova, who is 15 years old and living in Brooklyn, team up again to stop Widow’s former teacher, the evil Ivan Somodorov, from wreaking havoc on the children of Eastern Europe.
“Every Last Word” by Tamara Ireland Stone
Samantha McAllister seems to have it all: she is beautiful, bright and part of the popular crowd in high school. But looks can be deceiving, and she is hiding the fact she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Samantha’s life changes after she visits a place at school called Poet’s Corner and she begins hanging out with new friends like Caroline and AJ.
“Zeroes” by Scott Westerfeld
Six California teens have special powers that aren’t always welcome. Like Ethan, known as Scam, who has a voice inside of him that will sometimes speak out when it’s not the right time to do so. When that “power” gets Ethan in trouble, the other Zeroes are the only ones who can rescue him. However, the members of this group are not exactly the best of friends.
“Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls” by Lynn Weingarten
June and Delia were best friends who grew apart. Then, Delia commits suicide. Or, at least that’s what others have been told. June believes her former best friend has been murdered, and she goes on a quest to find the truth . . . which, it turns out, is very complicated.
“Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon
Maddy is a teenager with a serious autoimmune disease that prevents her from leaving the house. Yet, she seems content to stay home and read books. That is until a boy named Olly moves in next door. The two meet, and their quirky relationship is chronicled through emails, journal entries, IMs and old notes.
Originally published at 2016 Teens’ Top Ten Nominees.
The winners for the Gateway and Truman Readers Awards have been announced! The recipients for these book awards are chosen each year by Missouri high school and junior high students, respectively. This year, over 8,000 votes were cast by students in grades 6-12.
Gateway Reader Award Winners
- 1st Place: “The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey
- 2nd Place: “The Naturals” by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
- 3rd Place: “The Program” by Suzanne Young
Truman Reader Award Winners
- 1st Place: “Prisoner B-3087” by Alan Gratz
- 2nd Place: “The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die” by April Henry
- 3rd Place: “The Testing” by Joelle Charbonneau
Originally published at 2016 Gateway & Truman Award Winners Announced.