Monday, November 30, 2009
Mackler, Carolyn. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Candlewick Press, 2005 (c2003). 244 p. PBK $8.99 ISBN 978-0763620912
SUMMARY: "Feeling like she does not fit in with the other members of her family, who are all thin, brilliant, and good-looking, fifteen-year-old Virginia tries to deal with her self-image, her first physical relationship, and her disillusionment with some of the people closest to her."
RISKS: Descriptions of sexual activity, alcohol use, eating disorders, vulgar language
EVALUATION: Of all the "heartbreaking" teen novels out there, I think this one bears the label with more than the usual melancholy. The ending was rewarding, but I was crying through every other chapter (and I should point out, laughing a bit more often than that). There is something so endearing, so real, and so universal about Virginia's character. She gets good grades, she makes lists, she's trying to fit in and find her way through the school year without her best friend around, and she lets her impulses take over a little bit. But what makes these things endearing is the way Mackler created Virginia's voice with a little pep, a little panic, and a lot of authentic teen cynicism. The ending is rounded off with a good dose of self-acceptance and assertiveness on Virginia's part, and a lot of hope.
READER'S ANNOTATION: For Virginia, everyone seems worried about how she looks, and Virginia is starting to think they are right. But, the fight of her life comes when she realizes that the only opinion that matters is her own.
TOPICS: high schools; weight control; self-perception; family problems; date rape; depression; New York, NY;
AWARDS: ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2004; Michael L. Printz Honor, 2004; Arizona: Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominees, 2008; Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2006; Maryland: Black-eyed Susan Award Nominees, 2006; New Jersey: Garden State Teen Book Award Nominees, 2006; South Carolina: YA Book Award Nominees, 2006; Tennessee: Volunteer State Book Award Nominees, 2006; Kentucky: Bluegrass Award Nominees, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2005; Michigan: Thumbs Up Award Nominees, 2004; Washington, D.C.: Capitol Choices List, 2004
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Cormier, Robert. Fade. Delacorte Press, 2004 (c1988). 310 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 978-0385731348
SUMMARY: "In the summer of 1938, Paul Moreaux, the thirteen-year-old son of French Canadian immigrants, inherits the ability to become invisible, but this power soon leads to death and destruction."
RISKS: Graphic violence, incest, depictions of sexual abuse,
EVALUATION: Fade is one of Cormier's most fascinating and captivating novels, perhaps because he knows how to make the fantastical appear probable and feel like truth. He also knows how to present the darker side of people in a very convincing manner. Readers are left with little question that the fade, whether it is real or not, brings out an uncontrollable evil side in those it plagues, conjuring images of psychosis. This disturbing element in the book will probably deter some readers, but will no doubt intrigue others.
READER'S ANNOTATION: If everything Paul Roget wrote is true, what does it mean when he claims the power of turning himself invisible? Is it a genuine superpower or an effort to grapple with something terrifying in his life?
TOPICS: supernatural; French Canadians; historical fiction; factories; unions; death; mourning; physical abuse; murder; revenge; self-control
AWARDS: ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2003
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Scholastic, 2008 (c1988). 336 p. PBK $6.99 ISBN 978-0545055765
SUMMARY: "Seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, just out of his Harlem high school, enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam."
RISKS: Vulgar language - including racial & homosexual slurs, graphic violence, horrors of war
EVALUATION: Though not always easy to read because of the harsh, authentic content, this is a beautifully written tribute to young soldiers that have experienced war. In very much a diary style, Myers writes in the most convincing first-person voice of a young man who is continually realizing what a messy, crazy, difficult, jarring event he has volunteered to be a part of. But this book is not just the horrible. However unpleasant the realities depicted, Myers chooses just the right details and just the right humor needed to buoy both the characters in the story and the readers, for an ideally balanced reading experience. While I would not recommend this book to everyone (namely those with little tolerance for violence), I do wish everyone could read it.
READER'S ANNOTATION: Everyone knows that war is hell, but somewhere in that hell Richie has to find a way to stay human and come to terms with the horrors he sees happening to those around him.
TOPICS: historical fiction; military; wars; Vietnam War; African Americans;
AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1994; Coretta Scott King Author Award, 1989; Parents' Choice Gold Award, 1988
Monday, November 23, 2009
Peters, Julie Anne. Far From Xanadu. Little, Brown, 2007 (c2005). 282 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 978-0316159715
SUMMARY: "Sixteen-year-old Mary-Elizabeth 'Mike' Szabo, struggling to understand her father's suicide and her own homosexuality, reaches the breaking point when she falls in love with Xanadu, an exotic girl who has moved to small Coalton, Kansas, from the big city."
RISKS: Homosexual characters, substance abuse,
EVALUATION: I love this book and I hate it. Though Peters is adept with her humor, it is not always easy to appreciate it amongst the sadness. Mike Szabo is dealing with enormous burdens during the course of the novel, which sometimes made it drag a little. But there are the gems that make me love the book, including the character Jamie, Mike's moments of self-confidence with softball and with plumming, as well as the mending of her relationship with her brother. Despite the novel being chock full of problems (if there were ever a quintessential problem novel, this might be one), there is a hopeful ending and a refreshing depiction of an accepting, loving small town community. In addition, this book is filling a need in teen literature with the common topic of unrequited love, but in this case, specifically between gay and straight characters.
READER'S ANNOTATION: Her father's death was complicated. Her own life is complicated. Will her new friendship with Xanadu help to clarify her feelings or only make them worse?
TOPICS: sex & sexuality; homosexuality; lesbians; suicide; death; love; obesity; alcoholism; substance abuse; depression; high school; softball; Kansas
AWARDS: 2005 Rainbow Reads, selected by the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table; Finalist for the 2006 Colorado Book Award in Young Adult Fiction; New York Public Library Books for the Teen-Age List 2006; Booklist Top 10 Romance Fiction for Youth; An American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, 2006 Nomination; An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006 Nomination
Friday, November 20, 2009
Blume, Judy. Forever. Simon Pulse, 2007 (c1975). 192 p. PBK $8.99 ISBN 978-1416934004
SUMMARY: "Two high school seniors believe their love to be so strong that it will last forever."
RISKS: Descriptions of sexual activity
EVALUATION: Though not the only book in teen literature that deals realistically, but not frighteningly, with teenage sex, it was probably the first. Katherine and Michael are authentic in their feelings, the intensity of those feelings, how they display those feelings, and the quickness with which the feelings can change. Whether readers have been there, done that, or whether they are experiencing new feelings vicariously through Blume's characters, the author does not gloss over the complexity that comes with sexual relationships and the hurt and confusion that can result from that kind of vulnerability, which is, I believe, what adds enormous value to this particular reading experience.
READER'S ANNOTATION: How can you know the way you feel right now will be the way you feel tomorrow? Katherine and Michael want to always feel the love they have for each other now, but feelings are sometimes hard to control.
TOPICS: high schools; dating; sex & sexuality; love;
AWARDS: ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2008; Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1996
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Hartinger, Brent. Geography Club. HarperTempest, 2003. 226 p. TR $17.99 ISBN 978-0060012212
SUMMARY: Russell thinks he's the only gay kid at his high school, but finds other closeted teens via chat room and in confiding to his closest friend. They decide they want to meet and so they start a secret gay-straight alliance, under the pseudonym of the Geography Club (boring enough that no one else will want to join). This club eventually fails, but at the end of the book, there is an official Gay-Straight Alliance on the school's horizon.
RISKS: Homosexual characters, descriptions of sexual activity, vulgar language
EVALUATION: Hartinger's clever and symbolic use of geography in his enchanting but gritty novel may not be what young readers catch on to, but the connection is there. The aptly but disguisedly named club is perfectly in line with Russell and his friends' effort to find a place where they can feel safe to be themselves in the shifting and complicated terrain of high school. But even without making this connection, both gay and straight readers will no doubt identify with the difficult process of learning to make one's own path to adulthood.
READER'S ANNOTATION: There's nothing worse than feeling utterly alone in a vast, and crowded world. For Russell and his friends, the Geography Club was not just another way to feel like they had a place on the map, but a secret space where they could express their truest selves.
TOPICS: high school; clubs; sex & sexuality; homosexuality; gay-straight alliances; bullying;
AWARDS: Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2008; New Hampshire: Flume Award Nominees, 2007; Tennessee: Volunteer State Book Award Nominees, 2006; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2005
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Newman, Lesléa. Heather Has Two Mommies. Diana Souza, illus. Alyson Publications, 2009 (c1989). 36 p. PBK $12.95 ISBN 978-1593501365
SUMMARY: Heather lives in a loving home with two wonderful mommies, and a dog and a cat. Mama Kate is a doctor and Mama Jane is a carpenter. One day, at her playgroup, Heather's friends are talking about their families and she realizes she doesn't have a daddy like some of them. The playgroup leader begins a sensitive discussion where the children learn about all the shapes and forms a family can come in. They learn that the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.
RISKS: Depiction of homosexual parenting
EVALUATION: This is a sweet and straightforward book with simple and beautiful black and white illustrations. The examples of different kinds of families given by Molly, the caregiver for Heather's playgroup, makes this a very affirming story for anyone with a non-nuclear family, not just those with gay parents. There is great sensitivity in this book, and the weight given to the necessity of love in a family is laudable.
READER'S ANNOTATION: Heather had never thought that she was missing something in her life, but when she realizes she doesn't have a father, how will she learn that having two mommies is just another way of making a happy family.
TOPICS: families; parent-child relationships; homosexual parents; diversity; love;
AWARDS: Lambda Literary Award Finalist, 1990
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen. HarperCollins, 1996 (c1970). 40 p. TR $17.95 ISBN 978-0060266684
SUMMARY: "A little boy's dream-fantasy in which he helps three fat bakers get milk for their cake batter."
RISKS: Illustrations depicting a nude boy
EVALUATION: Brimming with creativity and sumptuous imagery, this picture book makes a young boy's dream seem both heroic and surreal. Sendak has the unique gift of expanding on the vision of a young child with such grace and genuine wonder that children are naturally drawn to it and adults remember a little of what it's like to see the world so vast and full of possibility. The plot doesn't make much sense, but of course, neither do dreams, and so the surreal narrative that emerges in these comic book style panels is perhaps more like Dr. Seuss than Arnold Lobel. But Sendak evokes a seriousness in his magical images that the silliness of Seuss sometimes misses.
READER'S ANNOTATION: As bewildering and fascinating as a real dream - and as vivid - come follow Mickey on his fantasy adventure through the Night Kitchen.
TOPICS: dreams; cake; baking; bakers;
AWARDS: Caldecott Honor, 1971
Monday, November 16, 2009
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. Puffin, 2006 (c1967) 180 p. PBK $10.00 ISBN 978-0142407332
SUMMARY: Ponyboy is 14 years old and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his older brothers, Darrel and Soda, ever since their parents died in a car wreck eight months ago. The three brothers belong to the Greasers gang, who are rivals with the Socs (Socials), a gang made up of rich kids from the other side of town. One night Ponyboy and fellow Greaser, Johnny, are out late talking in a park when they are accosted by some Socs. They defend themselves, but one of the Socs ends up dead in the scuffle. Because of this, the Socs challenge the Greasers to a rumble. After the tragic events of that night, including the deaths of two Greasers, Ponyboy has to find his place, motivation, and his voice once again with the quiet support of his brothers as he deals with the aftermath of these events.
RISKS: Gang violence, depictions of teen alcohol and tobacco use, physical abuse
EVALUATION: The Outsiders is remarkable for so many reasons: Susan Eloise Hinton was only 17 when the novel was first published and went on to sell 13 million copies. The book also arrived in bookstores at a moment when young Americans were increasingly dissatisfied with the affluent but banal culture of their "square" parents. It's no surprise, in other words, that a book filled with teen angst, social tension, and a revolutionary ethos would go on to captivate a nation gripped by violent war, new political visions, and young bohemian teens looking for some other way to live their lives. Hinton's tale of gang violence seems dated now (some of the 1950-60s terminology may seem foreign to young readers today--how many kids today use words like "rumble" and "greaser"?), but the themes of feeling marginalized, and of struggling to contain violence are still very much with us today.
READER'S ANNOTATION: There's a rumble coming between two gangs, the Socs and the Greasers. When things get violent, will Ponyboy get caught up in the scuffle, or find a way to make peace with the tragedies and inequalities of his own life and the community around him?
TOPICS: family life; gangs; violence; friendship; loyalty; death; Tulsa, Oklahoma; socioeconomic classes;
AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1988; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2006
Ages 12 & up
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thomas, Rob. Rats Saw God. Simon Pulse, 2007 (c1996). 202 p. PBK $6.99 ISBN 978-1416938972
SUMMARY: "In hopes of graduating, Steve York agrees to complete a hundred-page writing assignment which helps him to sort out his relationship with his famous astronaut father and the events that changed him from promising student to troubled teen."
RISKS: Descriptions of and references to marijuana and teen alcohol use, descriptions of sexual activity, vulgar language
EVALUATION: The writing in this memoir-style novel is perhaps too articulate and mature for a teenager to have written on his own, but the author manages to introduce a few important plot elements to account for the brilliant prose. Specifically, the narrator, Steve, is endowed with a kind of genius vocabulary and remarkably mature voice (his SAT score, we are told, is incredible). Once one decides to go along with that assumption, the apt descriptions and engaging plot are very entertaining. The adult language also seems to match some of the adult themes of the novel, including the drama of Steve's relationship with his father, which is complicated by his father's inability to express his emotions.
READER'S ANNOTATION: For Steve and his friends, is starting an art club devoted to Dadaism, where everything means nothing, just an attempt to cover up the search for a meaningful relationship with those closest to them?
TOPICS: divorce; high school; family relationships; sex & sexuality; substance abuse; philosophy; writing
AWARDS: Retro-Printz Award for books published in 1996, 2003; ALA Best Books For Young Adults, 1997; School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, 1996
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Giles, Gail. Shattering Glass. Simon Pulse, 2003 (c2002). 215 p. PBK $7.99 ISBN 978-0689858000
"Rob, the charismatic leader of the senior class, provokes unexpected violence when he turns the school nerd into Prince Charming."
SUMMARY: Rob is the new kid and an instant hit with everyone - charming, good-looking, sensitive, fun...a real people person. It's his idea to make the school dork, Simon, into the popular kid - but his goal to get Simon voted as "Class Favorite" at the end of the year turns out badly. There are all kinds of mind games going on along the way. Young, the narrator, and his group of friends are entwined in the middle of a business much more sinister than they could have predicted, and see their worst selves come out as a result, in hatred and violence.
RISKS: Violence, descriptions of sexual activity, sexual abuse, vulgar language
EVALUATION: In this suspenseful, psychological thriller, readers are gradually led through the story of a high school con man, Rob, and his innocent friend, Young, and the school outcast, Simon, who are both manipulated by his disingenuous actions. Constructed in a unique montage-type blending of past, present and future, Giles' novel shifts between multiple perspectives. More sophisticated readers may detect a subtle, political critique woven into the strands of Giles' narrative: do the ends justify the means? Rob, in other words, seems like nothing so much as a corrupted political leader, someone who has gained the trust of those around him only to exploit those relationships for the sake of maintaining his power. The manipulations are sometimes hard to read, but viewed in the context of larger societal problems, Shattering Glass begins to take on a special kind of cultural relevance.
READER'S ANNOTATION: In trying to help out the least popular kid in school, Rob seems to be doing something very noble. But when his methods become controlling and manipulative, Rob's friends have to decide just how much they'll let him get away with.
TOPICS: high schools; popularity; bullying; manipulation; sexual abuse; friendship; sex & sexuality; violence
AWARDS: California: Young Reader Medal Nominees, 2007; California: Young Reader Medal Winners, 2007; Illinois: Lincoln Award Nominees, 2007; Indiana: Eliot Rosewater Award Nominees, 2007; Virginia: Readers' Choice Award Nominees, 2007; Georgia: Georgia Peach Award Nominees, 2006; Maryland: Black-eyed Susan Award Nominees, 2006; ALA Popular Paperbacks, 2005; South Carolina: YA Book Award Nominees, 2005; Texas: Tayshas Reading List, 2004; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2003; ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2003
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. HarperTempest (Greenwillow Book), 2003 (c1993). 295 p. PBK $8.99 ISBN 978-0060094898
SUMMARY: "The daily class discussions about the nature of man, the existence of God, abortion, organized religion, suicide and other contemporary issues serve as a backdrop for a high-school senior's attempt to answer a friend's dramatic cry for help."
RISKS: Graphic violence, sexual activity, physical abuse, vulgar language, abortion
EVALUATION: With some knowledge true-life horror stories to work with, Crutcher is pretty good at making them seem authentic. I would say he has a knack for addressing very serious and difficult issues in his novels, and with a very believable teen voice. Sarah Byrnes and the protagonist, Eric, have a convincing friendship - one that is not perfect and developed from being the pair being equally outcast, though for different reasons, at school. In this story, as with Chinese Handcuffs, the ending seems far-fetched in its closure and completeness of revenge against the villian, but not without reason. I think Crutcher can't resist tying up a pretty neat ending. But it does make you feel better after all the hurting that goes on in the story. Endings that play out the fantasies of readers who are well-invested in the protagonist's plight can be extremely cathartic.
READER'S ANNOTATION: Both outcasts, Eric and Sarah, have had to rely on each other. But when Eric discovers the crimes of her father, will he be able to protect her?
TOPICS: friendship; bullying; physical abuse; swimming; high schools; violence
AWARDS: Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2000
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Brannen, Sarah. Uncle Bobby's Wedding. Putnam, 2008. 28 p. TR $15.99 ISBN 978-0399247125
SUMMARY: "Chloe is jealous and sad when her favorite uncle announces that he will be getting married, but as she gets to know Jamie better and becomes involved in planning the wedding, she discovers that she will always be special to Uncle Bobby--and to Uncle Jamie, too."
RISKS: Homosexual marriage
EVALUATION: While the idea of using guinea pigs (or is it gerbils?) as allegorical stand-ins for such a heavy topic (homosexual marriage) might seem incongruous at first, it's a rather common tactic used by authors of books for younger audiences. There are very few titles that cover homosexual issues for the preschool audience, and Brannen has recognized a gap that needs to be filled and is catering to her audience. The story makes homosexuality merely a fact of life and the real issue is friendships and how they change because of a marriage. For readers horrified by the mere thought of homosexuality, this book will seem like only so much propaganda. For those committed to fighting sexual discrimination, this early lesson in tolerance will be a welcome addition to a rapidly expanding corpus.
READER'S ANNOTATION: Chloe is afraid her uncle's marriage will jeopardize their friendship, but soon she discovers how much fun it is to have two favorite uncles!
TOPICS: families; uncles; homosexuality; marriage; weddings; jealousy;
AWARDS: ALA Rainbow List, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Dahl, Roald. The Witches. Quentin Blake, illus. Puffin, 2007 (c1983). 206 p. PBK $6.99 ISBN 978-0142410110
SUMMARY: "A young boy and his Norwegian grandmother, who is an expert on witches, together foil a witches' plot to destroy the world's children by turning them into mice."
RISKS: Cigar smoking, occult
EVALUATION: Part of what I admire about Dahl's writing is how he mixes fun, mischief, quirkiness, and humor, with a dash of horror and somehow creates fascinating and well-balanced storytelling. The Witches may be one of his best examples of this. Another part of the formula is that all the adults are unlikeable in some way, except for the one good, trusted adult who aids the child protagonist, and is much of the time a part of the mischief, in this case, the boy and his grandmamma share this adventurous bond. And finally, as Erica Jong put it so well, The Witches is "a curious but honest tale which deals with matters of crucial importance to children: smallness, the existence of evil in the world, mourning, separation, death" (from "The Boy Who Became a Mouse" in The New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1983).
READER'S ANNOTATION: What does a witch really look like? Are witches walking among us? For the hero in The Witches, these are deadly serious questions to be answered, and not without a price.
TOPICS: magic; witches; grandmothers; storytelling; mice; adventures; love;
AWARDS: Whitbread Children's Book Award, 1983