Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Almost Gone Twenty-Five Days and One Chance to Save Our Daughter
Baldwin, J. and Baldwin, M. (2017). Almost Gone Twenty-Five Days and One Chance to Save Our Daughter. Howard Books, Brentwood, TN.
I heard about Almost Gone from a friend who had heard about it on Kidd Craddick in the Morning on her way to work. We both work at a high school and are exposed daily to kids and their use of social media. The impact social media has on these kids lives is profound-- so profound that they don't even notice when it takes over every aspect of their every waking moment. Almost Gone is a book about that very thing, written by the people that it happened to.
Almost Gone is written by Mackenzie Baldwin and her dad, John, and chronicles their journey through a very dark and frightening period in their lives that threatened to tear their family apart. Mackenzie met and fell in love with "Aadam" on a random match site called Omegle, began following him on Facebook, and went on to Skype and Facetime over the course of 14 months. What began as a very innocent chat between two complete strangers thousands of miles apart developed into a very serious, controlling emotional and mental relationship that very nearly destroyed Mackenzie and her family. Over time, Aadam was able to worm his way into every single aspect of Mackenzie's life to the point that she abandoned the Christian faith that she was raised in and turned her back on her entire way of life. She gave up any involvement in her senior year and devoted her every waking minute to saving and planning for the day she would travel across the world to the very dangerous Kosovo, a region known for its sex slavery, kidnapping, and organized crime, to meet and marry Aadam. In an all-out effort to prevent her from going and break Aadam's hold on Mackenzie, her parents dove head-first with FBI agents into what would be the most stressful, secretive, and tentative endeavor of their lives. As a warning to others, the Baldwins detailed every aspect of their journey through the worst experience of their lives in Almost Gone.
Even though many of us, as adults, are well aware of the dangers of social media and its ability the shrink our world down to a screen and a keyboard, I think often we underestimate the power of mental and emotional control others have over our kids in spite of physical distance and in spite of our diligence in monitoring our kids. We fool ourselves into thinking that if we are careful and involved in our kids' activity on social media that they will be "safe" but this book is a very real example of just how mistaken that way of thinking can be.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
13 Reasons Why
Asher, J. (2011). 13 reasons why. New York, NY: Razorbill.
Oh, where to start...
First off, before I say anything else, let me say that I really liked this book. It was well-written, refreshingly (if that word can be applied considering the subject matter) different from any other style of writing in YA fiction at this point and it was disturbingly on-point for things that take place in high school life. Maybe not all to one girl, but then again, maybe so. But, I did like the book. I liked the story about Hannah Baker, a high school girl who seemed to be living a regular high school girl life and then unexpectedly commits suicide after interacting with 13 different individuals. Prior to her death, Hannah meticulously created a system where those 13 people would have to listen to her perspective of the roles they each played in her life and ultimately, her decision to take her own life. The way Asher intricately welded each of these people together through Hannah was intriguing, giving the reader--both adult and young adult-- a whole lot to think about.
BUT. I can't really recommend this book without addressing the elephant in the room. Netflix. I haven't watched the series and odds are, I probably won't. I have talked to many who have watched it, though. I don't like when producers and directors take creative liberties with subject matter like this under the guise of calling attention to the seriousness of such subjects as suicide. Let's be real. It's all about the dollar for them. I don't believe for a second that the writers and Selena created this series as a type of therapy (I watched an interview with Selena Gomez, one of the producers, where she went on about how it's important to talk about these things with kids as if she's an expert on kids. Who knows, maybe she is since she isn't so far from being one herself.) Having ranted about that, I think it's careless to use sensationalism as "therapy." The series sensationalized Hannah's death and to what extent? Not therapy, I must say. In conversation with some of my students who had not read the book, I found that they were completely surprised that the ACT of Hannah's death was minimalized in the book and NOTHING like what they experienced with the series. That changed their entire outlook on the story. In my humble opinion, the book was a way of revealing how others' actions affect the feelings and lives of others. It could be used as a way for someone who is struggling to see how final Hannah's actions were and that through the eyes of Clay, the one character of the 13 who Hannah didn't blame but included so that he could see that he was something good in her misery, readers can see that there are people who care that they could reach out to. This book could be used in so many ways. I'm not sure I would say that about the series and since our readers are digital natives and all about Netflix, I'm sad to say, most who have watched the series will never read the book. They've been slighted, I think.
All in all, I liked the book. I think the subject matter is very real and is dealt with appropriately for high school students. But I'm not an expert either, am I? Maybe season two of the series will tank.
Kells, C. (2015). Girl underwater. New York, NY: Dutton.
Girl Underwater was recommended to me by one of my dual credit students who absolutely loved it. My first impression and an opinion I still hold but doesn't necessarily influence my overall reaction to the book is that in setting up the story, Kells leaves some holes and gaps that aren't explained anywhere in the story. After I got past that, however, I enjoyed the story about Avery Delacorte, a college swimmer whose plane goes down in a remote part of the Rocky Mountains. While hoping against hope for rescue, Avery, swim team mate Colin Shea and three little boys find themselves faced with the danger of drowning, freezing to death, starvation, and bear attacks as well various medical issues in the Rockies. Throughout this tale of survival, the reader is given crossover glimpses into Avery's life after the crash where she is forced to deal with PTSD and her re-entry into what is her new reality. Girl Underwater was an easy, uncomplicated read that was wrapped up into a neat little package leaving the reader with a feeling of finality. Overall, I enjoyed the book but wouldn't consider it one I would hang onto for multiple reads. BUT, having said that, I would definitely recommend it to patrons based on the reaction of my student.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Ruby, L. (2016). Bone gap. New York, NY: Balzer + Bray.
I have to say, Bone Gap is one of my latest favorite books! It's been out a while, but since I've been working on my master's degree, if it isn't part of a required assignment, I'm probably not going to read it. (Insert crying emoji here). But something about this book called to me and I felt compelled to read it back during the summer. I. LOVED. IT!! In a time when YA books often tend to seem like copies of one another, Bone Gap is fresh and unique. The characters are all carrying different baggage- Sean is burdened with caring for his odd younger brother, Finn, who is a dreamer and just "different" in a way most people can't put their finger on. Roza is the woman who just appears and seamlessly fills in the gap that Sean and Finn's mother left in their lives right up until she mysteriously disappears. Petey is the daughter of a single mom/beekeeper and the girl no one notices because she is not pretty but who possesses an inner strength that so few have as well as a knack for working with the bees. Even Petey's mom, a minor character, is interesting and adds depth to the story.
Bone Gap is a heartfelt, intriguing tale of mystery, fantasy, and realism all woven together to create a story that leaves you thinking about it long after it's over. When Roza appears at the O'Sullivan brother's house out of nowhere one day, she weaves her way into their hearts, then, just as suddenly, she disappears and only Finn is witness to her disappearance. No one takes Finn seriously because he has always been a dreamer who's head is elsewhere most of the time, so he makes it his mission to prove to everyone by solving the mystery that he isn't as flighty as they all believe him to be. Love plays a major role in Bone Gap as well-- true, unconditional love that touches you to the core and makes you believe that in a world where people are often hardened and cynical, that there really is such a thing.
I think for anyone who as ever felt left out or different for any reason, Bone Gap is a terrific story to read and even if you haven't experienced those things, it is just simply a wonderfully captivating story. Also, for some interesting backstory from the author herself, go on over to The Nerdy Book Club where Ms. Ruby talks about herself as an adolescent and how that played a role in the development of character in Bone Gap.
Friday, March 20, 2015
He Forgot to Say Goodbye
Saenz, B. (2008). He forgot to say goodbye. New York: Simon & Schuster for Kids.
He Forgot to Say Goodbye is a very believable contemporary fiction novel about two very different boys. Ramiro “Ram” Lopez and Jake Upthegrove are complete opposites: Ram is a stereotypical Hispanic boy, poor, struggling, having to take on adult emotional responsibilities and Jake is a stereotypical rich white boy, spoiled, disrespectful, and entitled. Only, they share one thing in common, the one thing that has shaped who they are up to this point, and that one thing is being abandoned by their fathers at a time when little boys need their dads the most. The two boys, who go to school next door to one another, Ram at a public school and Jake at a posh private school, meet and become friends and over time, together, figure out that having a loser dad doesn’t mean they have to be losers as well, and that you just can’t help who your family is (Ram has a troubled brother and Jake has an alcoholic mother who’s married to a his cheating step-dad), but you can help who you are. Written in a back-and-forth style, He Forgot to Say Goodbye is an example of the growth of the two boys, both emotionally and socially, which makes the novel very identifiable to upper middle to high school readers.
The Juvie Three
Korman, G. (2008). The juvie three. New York: Hyperion Books.
Gecko, Terence, and Arjay are all troubled young men who are headed down the wrong path quickly. All three of the boys have found themselves in juvenile detention or in Arjay’s case, prison, when a man named Doug Healy comes along with a plan to reform them. Things don’t start off so smoothly and then go really wrong when Mr. Healy falls off the fire escape trying to break up a fight between the three boys. The boys drop off an unconscious, bleeding Mr. Healy at the local hospital but then begin to lead a model life in his absence- well, all except Terence, but even he is good for Terence, only angering the school theft-ring lord. While Mr. Healy is not only without his memory, he is also without ID, making him a John Doe. Along with Gecko’s rich girlfriend, Roxie, the three hatch a very successful plan to spring Mr. Healy from the awful psychiatric hospital where he’s been transferred and long story short, events that transpire during this escape, Roxie’s pocket-policeman and Terence’s theft-ring-king all making appearances, prompt Mr. Healy’s memory and save the day.
The Juvie Three is appropriate for 7th through 12th grades and qualifies as a good contemporary fiction novel with the boys growth toward adulthood and it also meets each of the levels of Havighurst’s developmental tasks. This novel would be an excellent choice for a middle school book talk for boys.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
Angleberger, T. (2010). The strange case of origami yoda. New York: Amulet Books.
In this cute book about a sixth-grade boy named Dwight, who uses an origami puppet named Yoda as a mouthpiece for giving others advice, readers are able to witness typical middle school behavior when the boys decide to collect different cases for the likelihood that Yoda does or does not really exist as Dwight says he does. Tommy, the boy who instigated the investigation, is interested in a girl and wants to know if he can rely on Yoda to steer him in the right direction. This is a great book for upper elementary students through middle grades because readers, especially boys, are able to identify with each of the characters, even Dwight, because, let’s face it, all middle school kids are a little odd; they can’t help it. Tommy is nervous about asking a girl out but summons the courage to do so and Dwight has a hard time talking to people but eventually starts to overcome that and I think because of the social and emotional developmental stages for middle school readers, this book is right on target for them. I would like to see this book used in a middle school art class as a lead-in to origami and of course, the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back is an excellent book to follow.
Block, F. (2009). Pretty dead. New York: Harper Collins.
Charlotte is a vampire living a lonely, idealistic human life, only she knows things are changing and she finds herself welcoming that. When Charlotte’s best friend, Emily who had been raped and was depressed, supposedly commits suicide, Charlotte grieves the loss with Emily’s boyfriend, Jared, and finds herself falling in love with him. Charlotte eventually finds out that the evil, possessive William, her maker, forced her to turn Emily into a vampire and has to defend Jared against them. While reading Pretty Dead I couldn’t help but notice the simple vocabulary and short, easy to read sentences which, while they bored me, would make this novel a great choice for a struggling female reader and because of much of the subject matter, preferably one in high school. Some aspects of the book that make it either “good” or “not so good” according to the qualities listed are things like specific references to designer names like Yves Saint Laurent and the closet full of “red-soled shoes” which eventually go out of style and are not really relevant to most of the intended audience anyway, but at the same time the use of figurative language helps beef up the simplicity of the novel. While I realize many of the fashion references are intended to establish Charlotte’s “age”, many readers won’t be able to identify with them. I must say, though, that I love the cover!
Everybody Sees Ants
King, A.S. (2011). Everybody sees ants. New York: Little, Brown.
Lucky is an ironically named young man who finds himself at the end of his proverbial rope due to the bullying he’s been the victim of for years at the hands of a boy named Nadar, with no relief. Lucky’s parents are ill-equipped to help him because they are dealing with struggles of their own (his dad’s refusal to deal with his own father’s disappearance during the Vietnam War and his mother’s refusal to deal with their subsequent troubled marriage) and they just do not know how to help him so they basically just tell him to suck it up until it’s better. As a method of escape, a very common theme in the novel, Lucky begins to dream of going to find his grandfather and also begins seeing the message-bearing ants. After Lucky and his mother go to Arizona to visit even more dysfunctional family members, he meets someone who helps him gain the courage to stand up for himself when others can’t or won’t. Because the reader must be able to suspend their belief in reality in order to fully appreciate this novel, Everybody Sees Ants would only be a good fit for readers who have reached that point in their mental development.
Crutcher, C. (2007). Deadline. New York: Greenwillow Books.
Deadline, a modern fiction novel about a boy named Ben Wolf, is a mix of “Friday Night Lights”, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Chocolate Wars. Ben, having gone to his family doctor for his cross country physical has discovered that he has a rare blood disease that will kill him within the year. Choosing to forego treatment, Ben proceeds to “live like he is dying” without telling anyone he is sick, and as one of the smallest guys at school, tries out for the football team and not only makes it, but excels. He brazenly pursues the girl of his dreams, Dallas Suzuki, and gets her. And he begins to question his teachers with reckless abandon much to their chagrin—he becomes that kid teachers hate to see coming. But, keeping his illness a secret is much harder than Ben thought it would be. With a dysfunctional family, a girlfriend with heart-breaking secrets of her own, and a boss who is hiding a monstrous mental/legal issue himself, Ben feels the weight and guilt of the knowledge that he is dying in secret. This novel is chock full of issues that young adult readers face today from abuse, mental illness, terminal illness, guilt, bullying, and just plain pressure of everyday life, so it is valid based not only on all the levels of Havighurst’s theory of development, but qualifies for almost every aspect of what makes a book good for young adults. I would recommend this novel for high school readers based on the complexity of most of the emotional conflicts.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Resistance, Book 1
Jablonski, C. (2010). Resistance Book 1. New York: First Second.
Paul Tessier, whose father is a German prisoner of war, lives in what has been until now, peaceful, southern occupied France where he, his mother and siblings, run a hotel until the Germans commandeer it for their own use. After this happens, Paul’s best friend, Henri’s parents, who are Jewish, are missing and Henri is forced to go into hiding. Already angry and rebellious toward the Germans and their occupation, Paul, who loves to draw and has already been posting anti-Nazi posters, and his sister, Marie, decide to join the French Resistance in order to smuggle Henri to safety. The children are successful in their mission and Henri is reunited with his parents in Paris. Written and illustrated as a graphic novel, Resistance, as is the case with many graphic novels, presents valuable information in a format that is excellent to use with struggling and/or reluctant readers. This particular novel, however, includes factual information about World War II, both before the story begins as well as in the back of the book that helps establish to the reader that the information is based on true and accurate facts. This novel would be great to use with lower high school students in a World History lesson. Further reading could include Defiance and Victory, the other two books in the trilogy.
Meyers, W.D. (1999). Monster. New York: Harper.
Monster is the story of a 16-year-old, black, male named Steve Harmon who is accused and on trial for the robbery of a local pharmacy and the subsequent death of its owner. Interestingly written in the style that would read like a script for a reality show, by Steve, and including pages from his own personal journal which he writes as a means to endure the terror and overwhelming desperation he feels about being in jail, Monster gives the reader an in-depth view into not only what Steve is experiencing from the viewers’ standpoint, but a close-up of his inner conflicts as well. We are able to witness his most intimate fears and concerns as he is “turned over” by some of the other participants to the crime and then eventually is able to establish that he was not involved. An interesting twist at what should be a happy ending is achieved when we see that Steve, because of this emotionally charged journey he has just experienced, has, along with others, begun to question who he is. He has begun to question his thoughts and decisions and how his parents and others see him as a person.
With a plot that reads like something from the newspaper, Monster is easily related to with its very real characters and raw emotions and would be an excellent choice for a high school humanities class to use with all its open-ended issues.
It’s Perfectly Normal
Harris, R. (2009). It’s perfectly normal. Boston, MA: Candlewick Press.
It’s Perfectly Normal is an informational book that addresses the aspects of adolescents’ changing bodies and explains everything from puberty, sexual health, sexual identity to STD’s, pregnancy, and the responsibilities attached to the choices regarding sexual aspects of their bodies. Set up in a very easy-to-use, easy to understand format including definitions, cartoon illustrations, and sectioned according to topic. Because the average readers’ bodies begin changing somewhere in the middle grades (5th, 6th, maybe 7th grades), this book would be appropriate to have in a middle school library and would be beneficial in a health classroom as well. Parents could also find this book to be of benefit when explaining the topic of sexual health to their children and the uncomfortable parent could certainly find it to be beneficial. In addition, because there are late bloomers and those who have only learned what they have managed to pick up along the way, I also believe It’s Perfectly Normal should be included in a high school library collection.
Looking for Alaska
Green, J. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton.
Looking for Alaska is a modern fiction novel about a teenaged boy named Miles Halter who, bored and unhappy with his life in Florida decides to move to Alabama to go to the same prep school his father did in an attempt at self-discovery. Once there, Miles makes friends with some very colorful characters who add elements to his life that he has yet to encounter. Included in those friends are the beautiful, just-out-of-control, Alaska who Miles falls in love with only to lose one night in a car accident. After her death, Miles and friends struggle with the guilt of allowing Alaska to drive when she was drunk and upset, not knowing if she committed suicide or if her death was due to drunk driving. Throughout his journey to discover the truth about Alaska’s death, readers get a glimpse of the natural progression of Miles’ character development. Because we get to hear the story from Miles’ point-of-view, we are able to connect with his character more effectively, a crucial quality in realistic fiction. Last, but not least, the topics of suicide and drunk driving are major issues in schools today and something that must be talked about and dealt with, and the fact that Green deals with both of them in this novel makes it a great read for 9th through 12th grades.
The Tequila Worm
Canales, V. (2005). The tequila worm. New York: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House.
The Tequila Worm is a realistic modern fiction novel about a Catholic, Hispanic girl whose desire it is to excel in academics so that she can rise above her stereotypical station in life. Sofia, growing up in McAllen, Texas, works so hard that she earns a scholarship to a top-notch school in Austin but struggles with the decision to go because it not only means leaving her family, but her heritage and community as well, to immerse herself into a predominately well-to-do white culture. Sofia, however, makes the decision to go, and carries her values and culture with her, working hard to integrate her new life with her old one. Sofia faces struggles and tragedies on her journey, like being picked on by other kids and losing her father to cancer, but overcomes them and allows them to help shape who she becomes as an adult.
I think students of all ages could enjoy the book, but I believe students growing up and going to school in mixed cultures could truly understand the emotional struggles that are present. Also, one of the qualifications that make this book good to use with students is the fact that The Tequila Worm is realistic in the developmental tasks that Sofia is experiencing so readers can identify with her.
Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing
Angel, A. (2010). Janis Joplin: rise up singing. New York: Amulet.
Janis Joplin, as told in this unbiased, accurate biography based on interviews and accounts, pictures and stories provided by family and friends, was a tormented girl growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. As the book ranges from her childhood, throughout her career and eventually to her death at the age of 27 in 1970, we get first-hand accounts of the struggles she faced as a free-spirited child growing up in the straight-laced 50’s where she began to withdraw from mainstream society and pour herself into her art and music. This path led her to find other, like-minded people with the same interests as herself, but it also caused her to delve into the world of drugs, something that no matter how hard she tried, kept its grasp on her until it led to her death of an overdose, but not before she produced music the world had not heard the likes of at that point including her last album, “Pearl”. The book does a great job of including ephemera from her very colorful life, something that students often are fascinated by, even if they do not enjoy reading. Janis Joplin is a great book for upper middle grades on through high school in so many ways. The emotional struggle of not fitting in is a strong example of its validity as well as the indicators for being a good quality biography.
Anderson, L.H. (1999). Speak. New York: Penguin.
Melinda Sordino, raped at a party by a popular jock from school, begins her freshman year as an outcast because she had the courage to call the police when the rape first took place. Because of the backlash she experiences for speaking out, Melinda, who has lost even her best friend, retreats into herself to the point that she does not even speak much. However, she has one place where she feels peace and that is in her art class where she is able to work through the trauma of not only being raped, but how she has been treated because of it. When Melinda’s former best friend begins dating Andy, the boy who raped her, Melinda summons the courage to speak out against him only to incur further abuse from him. When he corners Melinda in the janitor’s closet, she reaches an emotional and mental breakthrough and fights back, drawing the attention of others and is defended, finally, by Andy’s peers and others see him for what he really is, allowing Melinda the emotional freedom to talk about the rape with her art teacher—the first step toward healing for her.
I believe mature upper middle grade students on up through high school can appreciate Speak for its emotional content as well as its real-life, real-world conflicts. While not every girl will be raped, many will and it is important for all of them to be able to identify, even if it is through vicarious experience.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. New York: Little Brown.
In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Arnold (Junior) is a young Native-American boy growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. In this coming-of-age novel, Arnold realizes that life as he knows it on the reservation is not the way it should be, and makes a conscious decision to change his stars by transferring to a nearby, all-white school. He is then ostracized by his friends living on the reservation, including his best friend Rowdy, as well as the white kids at his new school. Arnold is also faced with multiple other personal conflicts and struggles like the death of family members due to alcohol, his parents’ own alcoholism, his own medical issues, bullying, stereotyping, racism, and poverty, not to mention the normal, natural development teens go through. In spite of all that, Arnold maintains his determination to change his life and begins to realize that just because things are the way they are, doesn’t mean he has to maintain the cycle—especially since it isn’t right for him. Ultimately, Arnold begins to come into his own as a budding adult and he does so with humor and grace.
Because of the themes and conflicts involved, this book lends itself especially to boys and could easily be enjoyed by those from middle grades on up due to the emotional development as outlined by Havighurst.
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Ness, P. (2008). The knife of never letting go. Massachusetts: Candlewick press.
With its interesting character dialog, vocabulary and dialog, The Knife of Never Letting Go, book one of the Chaos Walking series, brings readers 13 year old Todd Hewitt who, at the age of 14 should become a man because in Prentisstown, that’s just the way it is. In a town where no one’s thoughts are private and people’s thoughts are scrutinized, Todd exhibits typical adolescent feelings of resentment and frustration, especially once he discovers the pocket of silence in the swamp where thoughts are private and then eventually that there is more to the world than what he has always been taught. When his guardians, Ben and Cillian, realize Todd has made this discovery, they become frightened for his safety and encourage him to escape. Todd also meets a girl named Viola, and girls are something else Todd has not ever encountered. As the two embark on their journey, they are constantly faced with obstacles all while being pursued by an “army” from Prentisstown. Because the book ends with Todd trying to save Viola’s life after Mr. Prentiss shoots her readers will want to read book two in the series. Because of Todd’s developmental stage, readers from middle grades on up can easily identify with his character, but a more reluctant reader may shy away from the number of pages this book has.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Yancey, R. (2010). Monstrumologist. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Monstrumologist was my first exposure to Rick Yancey and I’ve been hooked ever since! Will Henry is a poor orphan who has been taken in and apprenticed to Dr. Warthrop, who has a bit of a monstrous personality which we see in his maniacal tangents when he’s in the midst of his research. Often abused by the doctor by today’s standards, Will is ever-faithful to him anyway and does his bidding, no matter how terrifying or dangerous, without question. When Will finds himself knee-deep in a monster-hunt for a pack of man-made monsters who have begun terrorizing the area where he and the doctor live. Will eventually finds himself on the monster-hunt to end all when he has to go to what seems to be the middle of the Earth to find the monster’s nest and kill them. Being a little claustrophobic, I found myself urging Will to get the heck out of dodge! Gothic fiction is usually not my cup of tea, but I found myself obsessed with this book—it’s THAT good!! Junior high students on up to adults will enjoy this book as long as they can suspend their ties to reality, and Yancey went on to write an entire series based on Will and his life (which I look forward to reading) as well as many of the other characters introduced in book one. Also, the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series is very similar to this book.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Annie on My Mind
Garden, N. (1982). Annie on my mind. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
For starters, Annie on My Mind is a very difficult book to locate. Whether this is because it is a controversial novel, especially for the time it was written, or because it was written so long ago, I had a difficult time getting my hands on it. Having said that, Annie, somewhat ahead of its time, is about two girls, Liza Winthrop and Annie Kenyon, who meet at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and find themselves drawn to one another and ultimately get caught together, and reported to Liza's school board, while pet-sitting for a gay teacher/couple. In the meantime, Liza confesses her homosexuality to her parents while at the same time defending herself at her private school for not tattling on a classmate after she witnesses something that is against the rules. Ultimately, the girls have the freedom to express themselves but the reader doesn’t know if they find their happily-ever-after. Because Annie deals with such an emotionally charged social issue, I think the book would be appropriate for upper middle and high school students. As a contemporary fiction novel, I feel that students today, especially those who share some of the same conflicting issues such as sexual identity, can easily identify with the novel, in spite of the fact that it’s an older book.
Stiefvater, M. (2009). Shiver. New York: Scholastic.
Shiver, along the lines of Twilight, is a romantic fantasy about a girl, Grace, who falls in love with a boy named Sam who is a werewolf. Attacked at the age of 11 by a pack of wolves, Grace was saved by a white wolf with yellow eyes, who she later meets in boy-form as Sam after he is shot when another young man, Jack, is assumed to be killed by the same wolves and then later becomes a wolf himself. For whatever reason, Grace, who is not able to “turn”, but is immune to wolf-bites, is caught in between the worlds of her human friends and her love for Sam. In an effort to find a “cure” for Sam, Grace and others who are also caught up in the supernatural phenomenon experiment on Jack and Sam. When Sam runs off and Grace doesn’t see him for some time, she assumes he is dead, only to discover not only is he alive, but he is alive in human form at the time of year when he is normally firmly a wolf. Shiver is a typical love story with the usual plot twists and turns and is appealing to most teenage girls. The characters are believable with the exception of those that change and there are multiple other aspects that make this modern fantasy “believable”. Naturally, Linger, would be an excellent follow-up.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Shelf Life: Stories By the Book
Paulsen, G. (2003) Shelf life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Shelf Life is a compilation of short stories ranging from science fiction to historical fiction, written by a collection of well-known authors, and published in one book by another well-known author, Gary Paulsen. Paulsen published this collection of stories to benefit the charitable reading organization, ProLiteracy Worldwide. In his introduction, Paulsen details how and when books became such an important aspect of his life and how that prompted the need for him to write. All of the short stories, in spite of having very different elements, shares one thing in common and that commonality is a book. Each story contains characters who have either experienced a traumatic event or some type of developmental struggle, from Katie’s father suddenly dying at the age of 41, Georgie’s grandmother being diagnosed with cancer while she is living on Mars, to Henrietta’s father being held prisoner on suspicion of being a spy, to Jolene and Karly having a typical girl spat, and each of the major characters finds resolution or experiences a shift because of a book—a different book for each story with each book used in a different way. Also included in Shelf Life are short snippets about each author which include other titles by the authors as well as awards they have won. Because the stories are so varied and the vocabulary is very basic, readers from middle grades on up to grad students J can enjoy and learn from this book.
Smith, A. (2013). Winger. New York: Simon & Schuster.
This story, about a 14-year-old junior boy named Ryan Dean West who attends a private school called Pine Mountain, is humorous while, at the same time, highlighting common, very serious, and very real struggles of the adolescent male today. Ryan Dean is academically gifted which explains his current standing in high school and is also fairly athletically gifted since he is fast enough to play on the school varsity rugby team with boys much bigger (and more intimidating) than him. BUT, he is, after all, just 14 and therefore, still not as emotionally developed as the other boys that he is around. He’s considered the “cute” kid to Annie and Megan and that’s certainly not how he wants to be seen by the girls, especially Annie who he considers himself to be in love with. Winger, as he is known by his teammates, is often the easy target of the older boys, but he is also sometimes seen as sort of the little brother. One twist that I was very shocked about was Ryan Dean’s friend Joey, was not only gay, but ended up murdered. This novel is spot on in the way Smith portrays the relationships among all of the characters and even though it deals with very graphic content, would be suitable for readers in their teens and up because, in spite of language and content, it DOES address subjects inherent to young adults and in a way most of them can identify with.
I know this is going way over the word limit, but the art teacher in me would be remiss if I didn't speak to the wonderfully entertaining illustrations included in the novel that can only add a healthy dose of enjoyment for the reader. :)
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
TenNapel, D. (2011). Bad Island. New York: Scholastic.
Bad Island just seemed to grab my attention quickly with its parallel stories of young adult “boys”, both human and alien, struggling to find their own independent footing in the world as Reese and his family embark on a boat trip that is intended to bring them closer together. When Reese’s family becomes shipwrecked on what appears to be an island, they quickly realize they are targets of strange inhabitants on the island. They soon find themselves literally fighting for their lives and making discoveries about themselves and each other along the way. One of Reese’s struggles, and one so common to young adults, is to be trusted enough to be treated like the adult he is becoming, and likewise, his father is struggling with trusting him. As the family works together to overcome the aliens, the reader discovers that the island is not an island after all, but some sort of alien-machine disabled years ago and together, they provide the piece that restores it to life. There is a happy ending for all (except the bad guys, of course) and readers leave off with closure. Bad Island would be a great read for upper elementary readers all the way through reluctant 12th graders as the reading is easy and the content has emotional depth that younger readers can understand and older readers can relate to. I enjoyed Bad Island so much (surprisingly!) that I’m tempted to read Ghostopolis.
The First Part Last
Johnson, A. (2003). The first part last. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Growing up in the city, sixteen year old Bobby is a typical teenage boy with great friends, a girlfriend he is really into, and a family who loves and cares for him while teaching him the responsibilities of life until he finds out that his girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant. Life comes crashing down almost immediately—his mom is angry, his friends seem alienated, Nia’s parents are judgmental and controlling, and Bobby is confused. As the novel flashes back and forth between the time prior to “Feather” being born and the time after, we get a bird’s eye view of the complexity of Bobby’s thoughts and emotions as a young father-to-be/father. Because of Feather’s traumatic birth which renders Nia incapacitated, Bobby is forced (literally by his and Nia’s family) to deal with his situation as an adult and then, eventually, leads him to move with Feather to a slower paced life with his brother and family. The content of The First Part Last would not be emotionally appropriate for readers younger than 14 but would be a great source to use in a child development or health class as I think boys and girls alike could benefit from the angst and emotional twists and turns caused by the physical and emotional involvement of the characters in the book.
Anderson, M. T. (2002). Feed. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.
Feed is a futuristic novel where space travel is a common thing and manners are not. People’s brains are implanted, most of the time at birth, with a direct feed which can be compared to the way Google tracks our interests and then displays ads suited to them. Titus and Violet are teenagers from very different backgrounds—Titus is the typical privileged kid whose life IS the feed and Violet is not. Violet is the girl from “the wrong side of the tracks” and was raised by a father who is the futuristic version of the anti-establishment type and didn’t allow Violet to have her feed installed at birth, both because they couldn’t afford it and because he didn’t believe in them. When their feeds are hacked by a lunatic, Titus and Violet find themselves on a path that both drives a wedge between them and pulls them closer together with Violet constantly questioning the feed and its effects and ultimately causing Titus to question everything he’s ever been comfortable with. For multiple reasons, Violet’s feed is killing her and Titus is incapable of dealing with her situation until the very end. While I did not care for Feed, it does deliver a strong message about the need to question and think for ourselves and points out the reality of our culture today. Readers would need to be able to delve into the unknown and think abstractly in order to appreciate Feed.