Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Books for Teens in Juvenile Detention

on January 18, 2012

I am always on the look-out for books which I can share with the teens at Denney Juvenile Justice Center.  Although the teens are a captive audience, and read more than any other group of teens that I know, (books are great companions in small cells), the teens can also be a tough audience. So, the books I recommend for our workshops have to be relevant, honest, and gripping.

Sometimes I go months before I find anything which I can recommend, and other times I stumble on book after book to add to our list.  We don’t always have funding for books, so I keep a running list of YA and memoirs, and, when we get grants, I put the books together in a themed collection. Some of our themes have included:  truth and lies, addiction, and teen romance.

Once we get the grants, I teach a week-long writing workshop where we read YA and memoirs. We integrate the reading with our writing. I can always tell a big difference in the teen’s poems when we are reading novels in verse!

I usually am able to buy three or four copies of about five different titles for each theme.  So, not every kid reads the same book. It’s more like literature circles used to be when I taught middle school. This variety in titles is important because the kids come in with widely different levels of reading as well as interests. I work with both boys and girls, and their reading interest also differs.

You can see a full listing of the YA’s and Memoirs on the Denney Poetry Blog here.

Recently, I’ve read four great books which I’m adding to my list for the teens.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is a powerful story about grief and loss.  Thirteen-year-old Conner wakes up to find a monster at his bedroom window. The monster appears at the same time as his Mother starts her treatments for cancer.  He has a Father who lives far away and doesn’t want him to be a part of his new family, and a Grandmother who is grieving the loss of her daughter.  The monster walks with Conner through his stages of grief over his Mother. There is an extremely poignant scene where the monster takes over, and together, he and Conner destroy his Grandmother’s living room. It’s this scene which nailed my choice in bringing it to the kids at Denney.  Anger is a powerful emotion—expressed or unexpressed, and I felt this scene went to the heart of what anger looks like in grief.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King.  The story opens with the death of Vera’s next door neighbor and childhood best friend, Charlie.  It is told in various points of view between Vera, Vera’s Father, Charlie, and the pagoda on top of town. (Yes. The setting gets a voice). Vera’s main goal is to remain private and keep a low profile—something her family encourages as over the years, they’ve all turned a deaf ear to the abuse next door at Charlie’s house. But, this time, Vera won’t be able to remain silent as she is called upon to clear Charlie’s name for a crime he did not commit. I chose this story for the teens in detention because it’s a good one about the things we “don’t discuss,” and how keeping secrets impacts many lives.  This story was a 2011 Printz Award Honor book. http://www.ala.org/yalsa/printz

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker. This story is about Lacey Anne Byer who lives in a small town and is part of an Evangelical Church.  She is cast in the leading role of her church’s annual Hell House, but when Ty comes to town, she begins to question what she has always believed about life, religion and herself.  This is a powerful story about seeing things in shades of grey, and questioning what we’ve always been taught. I chose this story for the teens in detention because of its ability for us to discuss the role religion plays on labeling right or wrong of large issues such as teen drinking, teen pregnancy, and other “sins.”

For a great review about Small Town Sinners, see the Stacked Blog Post here.

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci. This is a story about Mal is the kind of kid that everyone at school writes-off. His Mother is alcoholic  and his Father left and is now busy with his new life and family and wants nothing to do with Mal.  Mal believes that he was abducted by aliens, and attends a support group for alien abductees. This is where he meets Hooper, who may or may not be an alien himself.  The story is told in sparse vignettes and some “chapters” are only a few sentences long. The sparse prose, family life, and theme of feeling like an outsider will appeal to the teens in detention, and is a good book for discussion.

Also, this month, in the School Library Journal, there was a great article about recommended books for teens in detention. You can see that list here.

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2 responses to “Books for Teens in Juvenile Detention

  1. Wow, this sounds like a wonderful thing you do. I’m sure these kids will remember you, and some of these stories for the rest of their lives.

  2. I will remember them! They inspire so much of what I write!

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