The Teen Scene: GEPL High School Blog

College Essay Tips

By: Emma E., Teen Blogger

If you are one of the millions of American teenagers entering their senior year, you are likely stressing about college applications. And if you are anything like me, the most intimidating part of a very intimidating process is the essay. With three years of grades logged, standardized tests taken, and extracurricular activities participated in, the essay stands out as a new challenge for students to tackle. The most personal part of the admissions process, the essay can make or break an application, and because it’s within your control, here are some tips for wherever you are in the process.

Start early

Because it can seem daunting, starting your essay is often the hardest part. However, the advantages to starting early are numerous. Just free writing a rough draft will get you thinking about what’s important to you and thus what you want to include. By starting early, you maximize brainstorming time, so you can pick the best topic for you. You also give yourself more time to edit and proofread, creating a better, mistake-free essay. Finally, many colleges have supplemental essays on top of the usual one-page personal statement, so an early start leaves plenty of time to respond to every question clearly and thoughtfully. Even if you are feeling overwhelmed, starting will take some of the stress out of the process.

Write about genuine interests

You don’t have to cure cancer or solve world hunger to get into college. Instead of dwelling on how you should have spent your free time, consider what you did do, and choose a topic that highlights your unique experience. Rather than writing what you think an admissions officer wants to hear, a topic that you find interesting will make the entire process easier, and allow your passion and personality to show.

Avoid generic essays

The essay is one of the most personal parts of your application, and sheds a lot more light on your character than your GPA or ACT scores. Use this opportunity to offer a fuller picture of yourself and your world view by sharing personal thoughts and creatively displays parts of yourself that can’t be found elsewhere in the application. Avoid cliché statements, and do your best to show, not tell, by describing specific details or events.

Stay focused

Don’t try to jam your biography into 500 words. Instead, answer the question, and stick to a single story, theme, or topic. Some essays try to cover too much, and end up reading as a superficial description rather than personal one.


Have a parent, friend, or sibling proofread your work. Sharing your essay and getting fresh input can help you work through writer’s block. It can also help prevent simple mistakes that will leave a bad impression on an otherwise stellar essay.  Just make sure that the finished product is your own words, not someone else’s.

Obviously, there’s no simple trick or formula for the perfect essay. Instead, focus on what you are passionate about and stay personal. Don’t stress out too much, and get writing!

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

What I’m Reading Now – Three Dark Crowns

By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeOnce again, I’ve lucked into an advanced copy of a much-anticipated new book, and I can assure you that with every sentence, I’m feeling luckier about this one.

What I’m Reading Now: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

What’s It About (Jacket Description): Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Do I Like It: It’s amazing so far!

Thoughts:  Look, I’ll be honest–with the premise of this book, I was pre-disposed to love it. Three awesome and strong women, magic, politics and court intrigue, and oh yeah, a battle to the death. What’s not to love? And I am thrilled to say that Three Dark Crowns is absolutely living up to the hype in my mind. Each queen has a distinct personality, and all are likable–which promises lots of heartache when they are inevitably pitted against each other. But at least one of them is starting to show a very dark side, which makes me simultaneously sympathize with her and find her terrifying–I’m hoping for more darkness from the other two as well. Even within the first few chapters, the friendships and loyalties if all three have been well-established. None of them are isolated, and they are all part of factions and families that have their own agendas and are pushing the queens, kindly or not, to be something very specific.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the amount of political wrangling already making its way into the books. I’m a sucker for some good court intrigue, so I was delighted to realize that the queens aren’t just fighting each other, but are doing it with varying levels of protection and backing from powerful factions in the kingdom. And already, the level of darkness in the book has been steadily inching upwards. From the opening chapter that gave me some truly grotesque mental images (I expect nothing less from Kendare Blake) to the shock of reading about human sacrifice in relation to one of the queens, I’m quickly learning to be prepared for the worst in this book.

Three Dark Crowns so far has been well-paced, although the action hasn’t picked up, and completely engrossing as I learn about Fennbirn, the triplets, and the people and powers surrounding them. I can’t wait to tear through the rest of the book and see what happens when confrontation among the queens begins! If you like fantasy, sibling relationships, political intrigues, or just a healthy dose of delicious darkness, I highly recommend Three Dark Crowns.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

TV vs. Movies (Take Four)

By: Melissa G., Teen Blogger

Picture of an old TV on one side and a movie reel with film streaming off it on the other.Growing up in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries allowed me to be exposed to lots of different forms of entertainment. In particular, the compelling shows on the ever-present television in my house. Our generation grew up in homes where every Saturday morning we would rush downstairs, plop down in front of the TV, and watch Tom and Jerry while we waited for our parents to start their day.

As young kids, we grew dependent on the TV because it was always there as a distraction. Occasionally, we would convince our parents or caretaker to take us to see a movie, but going to see a film in theaters was tough to do at the drop of a button. They were expensive, they were long, and nobody really wanted to pay for the over-priced popcorn. So, we turned to TV as our main form of entertainment instead of movies. As we’ve grown up, we got used to watching TV shows instead of movies because we generally prefer having characters that we stick with throughout countless seasons and we love the cliff-hangers at the end of each episode. Although movies can have cliffhangers, they aren’t as captivating as ones within a TV show because movies are all the same-the good side always wins. TV shows have characters that we grow to love, and even if the producer of the show continues to kill off all of our favorite characters (I’m looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy), we still continue to watch the show to make sure that whoever remains gets their happy ending.

In addition to a generation that grew up with television, the producers of each show have figured out ways to reach a larger audience. Now, with streaming apps like Netflix or Hulu, we can watch short episodes wherever and whenever we can. On the train, on the bus to school, before we go to bed, before we get out of bed in the morning, waiting in the doctor’s office, you name it. Movies, while engrossing, are too long for us to watch whenever. We need to sit down, and make the time for a movie, while TV is short enough for us to watch without us feeling as if we’ve wasted our day.

Personally, I prefer TV because there is always a new show for me to watch when I finish another one, whereas if I want to watch a movie, I have to do a little bit of research beforehand if I want to find a movie that entrances me. The television isn’t a large time commitment, and that’s why TV has become the major visual storytelling medium in our culture. We as a generation watch more TV, and more people get recognized from TV, therefore making the television the place to be if you want to become famous in showbiz.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

Saying Goodbye to a Series

By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian

That Moment When You Finish a Book, Look Around, And Realize That Everyone Is Just Carrying on with Their Lives...As Though You Didn't Just Experience Emotional Trauma at the Hands of a Paperback.As you almost certainly don’t recall, just over two years ago, I wrote a “What I’m Reading Now” post about the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I raved about the series, which combines history, action, character development, and more, plus the greatest dragons since Anne McCaffrey. This summer, after many, many long months of waiting, Novik released the ninth and final book in the series, League of Dragons. And just last month, I listened to the final chapter of Temeraire and Laurence’s story with, not surprisingly, mixed emotions.

It’s not that it was a disappointing end to the series–far from it. Like its predecessors, it was action-packed, character driven, and exciting, with wonderful moments of friendship and loyalty. But it was, no way around it, the last. After barreling through most of the series and eagerly awaiting League of Dragons, there was no way I was going to put off listening to the final book. But as I listened, I felt some bittersweet-ness as I thought back to some of my favorite moments in the series. Baby Temeraire hatching, the first moments when he and Laurence began to truly care about each other, the sadness of their separations and joy of their reunions, Temeraire’s growing social consciousness, Laurence’s exceptionally fastidious sense of honor…all those moments and character traits that I could never again experience for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of re-reading, and I fully intend to go back to this series. If nothing else, it will help me remember the characters who have already faded in my memory (nine books is a LOT, okay?). But it’s not the same, it’s never the same, as reading something for the first time.

The last time I had to say goodbye to a series this beloved was even harder–it was when the seventh Harry Potter book came out. I left a family party early to go to a midnight release, and stayed up all night reading. By 8 am the morning of the book’s release date, it was over–I had said goodbye to Harry and his world (or at least, so I thought). The combination of the excitement of reading Deathly Hallows for the first time, the sadness of saying goodbye to a world and series I had so loved, and some impressive sleep deprivation was heady. I’m pretty sure I cried, but to be honest, I was so tired and emotional that I don’t remember for sure.

No other series have been quite as hard to say goodbye to as Harry Potter, but there’s always a sadness in leaving behind a beloved world or character. I felt a tug at my heartstrings knowing I wouldn’t see Hector and Elisa’s further adventures after The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson, a loss of magic when I read the final pages of The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin, I’m already feeling some twinges of dread mixed in with anticipation for the end of the Young Elites series by Marie Lu, and don’t even get me started on the premature and heartbreaking end of Firefly.

But ultimately, this sadness is the price we pay for love. I would name any one of these series as among my favorites, and all of them are series I want to re-visit, if I haven’t already. They contain characters and world-building that have seeped into my consciousness (and occasionally my subconsciousness–dragon dreams FTW!). It’s a testament to the authors and the series that I am so affected when I have to say goodbye. And despite some sorrowful goodbyes to beloved series and characters, I’ve never once doubted that it’s worth it.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

Enjoying the Application Process

By: Elizabeth A., Teen Blogger

A Pie Chart of the College Admissions Process

With the start of this school year, many teenagers are beginning their senior year of high school, which often brings up different thoughts and emotions.

While some people are counting down the days until graduation, others are hoping that the remainder of their high school days will go by slowly because that means more time for college applications. Senior year is definitely a busy year that helps to transition into a new and exciting stage of life. One thing is for sure, the application process can be daunting and stressful for many people.

As my older sister was in the middle of the college application process two years ago, I remember her spending many late nights working on her application and countless essays for the 11 schools she was applying to. Going into my senior year, I’m hoping that my college application process is not as exasperating as hers was, and I hope that by being the second child in my family to go through the application process, it will be less daunting. Like many of my friends and other incoming seniors I’ve talked to, I’m looking forward to the college application process, and I’ll be excited when I start to hear back from the schools that I’ve applied to. I’ve gone on a few different campus visits, including Notre Dame, Miami of Ohio, and Northwestern, and I am just beginning to seriously work on the Common App and the essays that go along with the application.

Looking back at the various campus tours I’ve done, I would definitely recommend that you start touring colleges relatively early in your high school career. I think end of sophomore year or junior year is definitely the prime time to begin college tours because that way you can look at schools with an open mind that is not too overwhelmed with ACTs and other standardized tests. It’s also important to make sure you visit different sizes and locations of campuses because that will allow you to get an idea of what you actually want by seeing different options.

I know for me it is important for schools to be strong in academics, and being a competitive figure skater, it is a requirement that any potential schools have an ice rink that is easily accessible or on campus. By making a list of my priorities, such as these, which I have for colleges, I feel that it’s easier to pick schools to look at and apply to. After visiting schools, I would recommend making a list of the pros and cons of the different campuses because it’s often difficult remembering specifics about schools when you’ve visited lots of various colleges. Even perusing through books and college websites can help to begin the college search process for those wanting to start early or anyone looking to work on the college process from the comfort of home.

As you get started with the application process, it’s extremely important to be proactive in asking questions to the right people, so you have time to get the right answers. Don’t procrastinate in filling out applications and writing scholarship essays because you’re going to have to do them eventually. In fact, your senior year will probably be more enjoyable and slightly more relaxed if you’re proactive and zealous with the entire application process. After completing the applications and waiting to hear back from schools, take the time to think about and prioritize what you’re really looking for in a school. Talk with current students or alumni of the various schools you’re looking at, and work with family, friends, and teachers to help you make a decision once you’ve heard back from all of your schools.

To sum up, I believe that the college search and application process can be stressful, but it’s important to prioritize your time and reflect on what you envision for yourself in the future. Although I haven’t had the perfect moment on a college campus, I think it’s exciting to realize that all of us will have that moment where we discover where we will spend the next years of our lives. Take the time to enjoy your application and searching process while having a successful and fun senior year of high school.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

“Music People”

By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian

Revolution Radio by Green DayA couple weeks ago, the band Green Day released their first new music in about four years, the single “Bang Bang,” along with information about a new album that will be released in October. I listened to the song at least fifteen times the day it came out (I stopped counting after that), and have had it on pretty heavy rotation ever since then.

Green Day has been my favorite band since I was 13, and I have had similar excited freak outs relating to pretty much all the new music they’ve put out since then. I’ve seen them in concert during every tour they’ve had, went to New York to see American Idiot when it premiered on Broadway (and caught it again when it came to Chicago), and have memorized a pretty hefty quantity of their songs. I am, if it weren’t clear, a huge fan.

What’s interesting though is that generally speaking, I don’t consider myself a “music person.” I love plenty of music, sure, but I sometimes go days without really listening to music. I don’t seek out new bands or new acts. As a general rule (Green Day and a few other bands excepted) I’m not really in to seeing live music. But there are still artists, bands, composers and songs that have the capacity to inspire a level of devotion that almost nothing else does.

And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I know from talking to you all when you visit the library, as well as what I see in the world at large, that music is a huge part of most of your lives. While everyone has different tastes, there does seem to be something about music that reaches in to a deep part of us and engages us in a way that nothing else does. I’m not sure why this is, but I’m sure smarter people than me have spent years trying to figure it out.

Music NotesOne of the beauties of music is that there is so much of it, such a wide range of styles, and so many ways of interacting with it. You may not appreciate catchy pop music, but you could love 40s classics or Bach. Or you could love all of it–despite the massive differences among types of music. Maybe you don’t play an instrument but you love live music, or possibly blasting headphones is your preferred method of engaging with your favorite songs and pieces.

No matter how or why you love it, music has something for everyone. Those of you who are music people probably have a lot of music that speaks to you. But even for those of you who don’t feel like you’re “music people,” take a second look. Maybe there’s music you associate with your favorite memories. Maybe you have a song you can’t get out of your head. Maybe you’ll learn to play an instrument that will change your life. Maybe you just have one band that you can’t get enough of. But deep down inside, I think we’re all music people.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

The Feared Back-to-School Week

By: Ally K., Teen Blogger

Good Luck on the Transition from Doing Nthing at Home to Doing Nothing at School.Back to school week. The week that every teen dreads and every parent diligently waits for. As a teen I can tell you that back to school week is not something that I am particularly excited for. Just the idea of upcoming homework, tests and essays gives me a headache.

However, the idea of seeing all my friends is something that I do look forward to. The excitement of finding out your new schedule and the rush to see if your friends have class with you is a feeling that I have experienced first-hand.

It is no secret that the main stressor in most teenagers’ lives is school. With the combination of never-ending homework, weekly tests and huge projects it is a wonder that teens have any free time at all. Not to mention, all the sports teams require a major commitment from the players. Practices every day and games every weekend leave kids sweaty and tired, only for them to get home and need to complete a mountain of homework. The reason why stress levels in teens are surpassing those of adults is not some hidden mystery. School and the stressors of teenage social life put a ton of pressure on kids, so it is no wonder that they are not very eager to get back to it after a leisurely summer break.

I just made school seem like the bane of every teen’s existence, which in some ways it can be, but for every reason that there is to hate school there is a reason to love it. School is the glue that holds many friendships together. It allows you to meet new people and gives you something to talk (or complain) about with other people. School literally forces people to hang out with their friends every day, therefore strengthening friendships and keeping people in touch. As someone who is fairly antisocial, I can tell you that without school I would not have many of the friends that I have today because school is what introduced me to all of them.

Friends are wonderful, but people don’t only go to school for their friends, they go to learn new things. After all, learning is the whole reason that schools exist. Almost no teen will admit it, but they all love to learn new things about what they are interested in. School is how they learn about these things and a gateway to find their passion. With all of the classes and extra-curricular options that students are able to take, everyone has something that will pique their interest. Exploring new opportunities is made possible by everything school offers to students.

All in all, while school does have many of its downsides and stressors, it is something to look forward to rather than dread. The promise of knowledge and new friendships await students who walk the locker-lined halls. Why go into it with a bad attitude, when there are plenty of silver linings to find.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

New Schools and Next Steps

By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian

First Day At A New School And Trying To Make Friends? Scream And Run Away Every Time Someone Says Hi.As August draws to a close, it’s back-to-school for everyone (ugh.) While many of you are returning to the same high school you were in last year, for many of you, this month heralds a new beginning.

Maybe you’re an incoming ninth grader and getting your first taste of high school life. Maybe you’re moving in to college over the next couple of weeks. Maybe you moved, or transferred, and have to integrate into a whole new environment midway through high school.

And no matter who you are, a new school is probably some combination of exciting, scary, fun and nerve-wracking. How could it not be?

But even for those of you who aren’t starting at a new high school or college, you probably have some transitions on your horizon. You could be heading off to study abroad. You could be deciding what to do after high school–college?  No college? Which college? What will you do if it’s not college? Whatever is changing in your life, the end of August certainly seems like an appropriate time to contemplate the next steps.

In this month’s display, New Schools and Next Steps, located just outside the Teen Scene room, you’ll come across main characters facing all sorts of transitions, fresh starts, and yes, new schools. In Look Both Ways by Alison Cherry, Brooklyn is off to a theater camp that she hopes will transform her into the performer she’s always wanted to be. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Junior is leaving the reservation to start at a new–mostly white–school and facing the unfamiliar. Cath from Fangirl is nervous not only about starting college, but about doing it more separated from her twin than she has ever been.

And even characters in speculative fiction face the same transitional challenges–from Dove in Karen Bao’s Dove Arising who embarks on a tough military training program to help her family, or Iolanthe from The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas who comes from a magical world and must pretend to fit in to a boarding school in our world. So whether you’re struggling with keeping a secret from your new school like Amanda in If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, or feel a kinship with Marcelo’s struggles to move into a world that doesn’t understand him in Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, or are moving to a new place and the new school that goes with it like Lea in Juniors by Kaui Hart Hemmings, you’ll be able to find a character going through the good and the bad of transitions similar to your own in our New Schools and Next Steps display.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

TV vs. Movies (Take Three)

By: Ashley H., Teen Blogger

Picture of an old TV on one side and a movie reel with film streaming off it on the other.I love storytelling. I love the concept of creating characters that are relatable to an audience and plots that keep everyone on their toes. As time and people change, the presentation of these stories evolve. From cave paintings to campfire stories, storytelling continues to adapt.

In today’s society we see storytelling in books, graphic novels, movies and TV. Though all are great ways to portray engaging stories to an interested audience, it has been brought to my attention that for visual storytelling one method is gaining more popularity with the public.

Typically, we assume that movies are the visual outlet for great storytelling given that Star Wars, Titanic and Pirates of the Caribbean are household titles. But recently it seems that television is becoming the greater storytelling medium. Personally I can understand why TV is becoming the more popular style of visual storytelling because it can reach a wider audience (depending on if they have cable or not) without the cost of movie tickets or the need to leave one’s home.

TV also offers longer screen time to develop plot and show character development, which is not always possible in 2 hour movies but is common in twenty-four 40-minute episodes. Though it has the possibility of having more to develop and explore, television does not offer the same budgets or popular actors that can be found in movies. But this doesn’t mean that television does not create stories that are addictive to watch. From the viewpoint of a 17 year old fangirl, I love TV. It is our generation’s way of sharing stories in the digital era. Yes, movies create stories that will become legends, but television creates stories with characters that we can relate to and see grow within their own crazy environments. For me, TV is the way to make stories come to life.

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School

What I Just Read – A Torch Against the Night

By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian

Check Out A Torch Against The Night Usually when I talk about books I’ve read on this blog, I stick with the first book in the series, or a whole-series review. But I’ve been fortunate enough to get an advanced reader copy of a much-anticipated sequel, and I am way too excited not to talk about it! Warning, Spoilers Ahead for anyone who hasn’t read An Ember in the Ashes.

What I Just Read: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

What’s It About (Jacket Description): A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.

In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her, instead.

Do I Like It: Loving it so far!

Thoughts: After I read An Ember in the Ashes last year, I was recommending it far and wide. It was exciting, gritty, pulse-pounding fantasy with dystopian elements, and I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t a perfect novel – few debuts are – but I enjoyed it and saw a ton of promise for expanding on the world-building, delving deeper into characters and relationships, and giving the incredibly evil, awful, hate-able villain more room to make readers cringe. So it will come as no surprise to anyone that when I had a chance to read an advance copy of the sequel, I jumped on it. And I am thrilled to say that A Torch Against the Night is not only meeting my expectations, but I’m finding that so far, I’m enjoying it at least as much if not more than the first novel.

The sequel takes us on a trip through the Empire, with our main characters Elias and Laia running from the terrifying new Emperor and of course, the ice cold, cruel, and brilliant Commandant. I love the chance to see more of the Empire, and so far the pacing in this book seems even better than An Ember in the Ashes. I definitely enjoy watching Elias and Laia’s friendship – and more? – develop now that they are on more equal footing. Laia’s increase in leadership and power make her more of a match for Elias (and eliminates the creepy slave dynamic from the first book), and that power extends to her other relationships as well. Even the hints of a love triangle are bothering me less than they usually do, since both love interests have a good mix of swoon-worthy qualities and serious faults. And because I’m a sucker for friendships, I’m excited about the return of Izzi, who like Laia, is growing in strength and confidence, and promises to be a wonderful friend and foil for the main character.

But while all of this is great and wonderful, I think my favorite parts of A Torch Against the Night are Helene’s points of view. I found Helene one of the most interesting and fascinating characters in the first book, and getting to see her suddenly gifted with newfound power as she struggles with her warring loyalties to Elias, her family, and the empire, is incredibly compelling. Helene isn’t a “good guy” by a long shot, but she’s also not the same style of heartless villain as we get in the Commandant and the Emperor. She is flawed and fascinating, with her own moral code, and promises to grow a lot as a character in this installment of the story.

On top of all this, I can’t put it down – I read the first 150 pages of this book in two sittings, and am eager to gulp up the rest of it. For fast-paced, dark fantasy, this series is an easy winner. Add in some of my favorite book elements in any book like strong women characters, great friendships, and complicated morals, and it’s easy to see why A Torch Against the Night is keeping me glued to the page!

Posted in The Teen Scene: GEPL High School