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Hot Summer Reads
YCteen staff
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THE GREAT GATSBY, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Written in 1925, this novel details the adventures of a young, wealthy, American gentleman named Jay Gatsby. His name is legendary in New York City because he has so much wealth and spends a lot of it on “gleaming, dazzling parties.” But Gatsby wasn’t always a millionaire. In fact, he was very poor and ran away from home when he was 16. He was a kid with big dreams.

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Gatsby always seems to be reaching for something, while at the same time he is still affected by his past—one reason why this is my favorite book. “So we beat on, boat against current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” Fitzgerald writes.

I also like that the reader learns about Gatsby’s mysterious past, but most of the other characters in the book never do. Although Gatsby rises from poverty to extraordinary wealth, the story showed me that money isn’t everything. But I can’t tell you the reasons why or that will give away the ending. Although the movie adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio is good, I like the book more because it has a stronger narrative and more details.

—Wensley Sterling


ALOUD: VOICES FROM THE NUYORICAN POETS CAFE, Edited by Miguel Algarin and Bob Holman

This book is a compilation of poems performed at the Nuyorican, an East Village café known for spoken word poetry, jazz, hip-hop, and comedy. The collection covers topics like race, gender, sexuality, and politics. One of my favorites is “Daughter,” by Nicole Blackman, because it communicates ideals that Blackman plans to teach her daughter: “I’ll teach her to develop all of her selves/ the courageous ones / the smart ones / the dreaming ones / the fast ones. / I’ll teach her that she has an army inside of her / that can save her life.”

Many of the poems changed the way I looked at the Lower East Side, and several other New York City neighborhoods that I wasn’t familiar with. Don’t let the book’s heftiness intimidate you; flip through and just read a poem or two at a time.

—Julia Smith


BELOVED, by Toni Morrison

This novel centers around a woman named Sethe who is born a slave and escapes to Ohio. She is haunted by the death of one of her daughters, who died in infancy. Sethe tries to murder her other children but we don’t know why until the end. We learn about her horrible experiences as a slave.

The story flashes back and forth from present to past although it is clearly painful for Sethe to look back. Her extreme reluctance to revisit her past is a mystery until she and her only remaining daughter, Denver, meet a young girl named Beloved. As time progresses, Beloved’s connection to both Sethe and Denver becomes scary to them because Beloved begins to feel like a family member. She also eerily resembles Sethe.

For me, the book’s dominant theme is that when you have children, you must always love and nurture them or it can come back to haunt you. That resonated with me because of my own experience: My parents gave up custody of me and were sorry. A child should never have to wait to be loved; it’s a horrible feeling that never goes away.

—Joel Rembert


THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, by Sherman Alexie, Art by Ellen Forney

This illustrated novel is narrated by Arnold Spirit Jr., known as Junior, a Spokane Indian who grows up on a poor reservation. Here is his math formula describing the worst part about being poor: “Poverty = empty refrigerator + empty stomach.”

A lot of sad events take place in his life; the first is when his dad has to shoot his beloved dog Oscar, whom he considers his best friend. “Honestly, Oscar was a better person than any human I had ever known,” he says. But when Oscar gets sick his family can’t afford the medical costs.
Fortunately, Junior also has a reliable human friend named Rowdy. Throughout everything, Rowdy is the only person who is always there for him.

The illustrations, which are presented as Junior’s own comic book-like drawings, add a lot of humorous detail. For instance, next to one drawing he describes his sister as having “acne scars that somehow make her look tough & pretty at the same time.” I could relate to Junior because he doesn’t have a lot of friends and isn’t a big talker.

This book takes you on a journey where you can picture and understand what it’s like to be a Native American growing up on a reservation.

—Wensley Sterling

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(NYC-2015-05-17)