Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

Bibliographic Information:

Asher, J. (2008). Th1rteen R3asons Why. New York, NY: Razorbill.  ISBN: 159514188X.  336 pages.

Asher, J. (2008). Th1rteen R3asons Why (unabridged audio book). Wiseman, D. & Johnstone, J. (Readers). New York, NY: Listening Library.  ISBN: 073935650X.

Plot Summary: When Clay Jenkins comes home to find a package that was mailed to him with no return address he is instantly curious.  When he opens the package to find 13 cassette tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah Baker, his mind starts to race.  Hannah recently committed suicide, and the cassette tapes list the thirteen reasons why she did it.  Clay is one of the thirteen reasons, which confuses him, as he does not know what he might have done to contribute to her taking her life.  Clay must listen to the tapes if he wants to know more, and part of him does not want to know more.  But, part of him feels compelled, for himself and for Hannah, to listen to the tapes and hear the words she intended for him and the others who got the box the box before him and who would get the box after him.

So, he started listening.  And once Clay started listening to the tapes he kept listening.  Hanna’s words directed him on a zigzagging tour across their home town where he stood and listened in the places where significant things happened to Hannah.

Critical Evaluation: Dramatic and moving, Th1rteen R3asons Why brings readers into the depths of the mind of a girl who commits suicide BEFORE she commits suicide.  Often, in the case of suicide, survivors are left with dozens of questions about why a person might have taken her/his own life.  What those around her could have done to prevent it.  Survivors also often feel guilt that they might have done something to cause the suicide or that they did not do enough to prevent it.  Hannah Baker takes the control herself by recording cassette tapes prior to her suicide that answer many of the questions people who knew her asked.  And the answers were not easy to hear.  This book has an honesty and authenticity that is likely to create empathy in its readers.  There is no one in the book who is blameless, even Hannah, and that is not the point.  The point is that life, and death, are complicated.  We all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and speak for those who may not be able to at that moment.  There is a strong and powerful message in this compelling and disturbing story.

The book’s text switches between Hannah’s voice on the cassette tapes (in italics) and Clay’s thoughts.  This is an especially good option for listening to the audio book, because listening to Hannah on the audio book parallels Clay’s listening to Hannah’s cassette tapes.  The audio book is well acted, with sincerity and feeling.

Th1rteen R3asons Why was highly praised by critics and was honored several times.  In 2008 YALSA named Th1rteen R3asons Why on the following lists: Best Books for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers,  Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults.  

Reader’s Annotation: When Clay Jenkins finds a package with cassette tapes in it he is stunned to find that they were recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate of his who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Information about the Author: Th1rteen R3asons Why was Jay Asher’s first published novel, and what a debut.  His most recent novel, The Future of Us, with Carolyn Mackler, was released November 21, 2011.

Here is the entire biography of Jay Asher from the Th1rteen R3asons Why website

JAY ASHER has worked at an independent bookstore, an outlet bookstore, a chain bookstore, and two public libraries. He hopes, someday, to work for a used bookstore. When he is not writing, Jay plays guitar and goes camping.

Thirteen Reasons Why is his first published novel. (Asher, n.d.)

The Th1rteen R3asons Why website is a place for an ongoing dialogue about the book.  It also provides suicide prevention resources.

Genre: Issues

Category: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, Behavioral Problems

Curriculum Ties: Suicide

Booktalking Ideas:

  • If your classmate committed suicide and you were somehow involved in her decision, would you want to know why?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: Suicide.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors.

Why is this book included? Based on recommendations from YALSA lists I listened to the audio book of Th1rteen R3asons Why.  While it was very intense, it also feels very important.

References:

Asher, J. (n.d.) Thirteen Reasons Why: The Author.  Retrieved from http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/author.php


Slam by Nick Hornby

Bibliographic Information: Hornby, N. (2007). Slam. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile.  ISBN: 0399250484.  304 pages.

Plot Summary: Sam Jones loves to skate, that’s “skate” using a skateboard, in case you are not familiar with the term.  His idol is Tony Hawk, shortened by Sam to T. H.  Sam has a poster of T. H. on the wall of his bedroom and often speaks to T. H., asking for life advice.  Here is how Sam tells it, “I talk to Tony Hawk, and Tony Hawk talks back,” (Hornby, 2007, p. 4).  Sam’s home life is stable, his parents are divorced, and he is being raised by a single mother, who had him when she was 16.  Sam is now 15 years old and has the youngest mother of all of his peers.  Sam’s greatest passion is skating, which he does whenever he can fit in the time for it.  And then, he meets Alicia Burns.  Alicia is beautiful and funny and she and Sam fall head over heels in love.  They want to spend every possible moment together, mostly in Alicia’s bedroom.  Their relationship becomes sexual and intense and then something happens, and it changes, and Sam no longer wants to see Alicia every possible moment of every day. In fact, he does not think he wants to date her at all anymore.  He is confused about his feelings, and while he is trying to sort them out, he gets the news: Alicia is pregnant.  This sends Sam right to his advisor, T. H., who seems to send Sam – SLAM! – on a journey into the future complete with visions of himself, Alicia, and their baby.  What is happening?  Can he get back to the present?  Does he want to?

Critical Evaluation: Slam is written in the first person from the perspective of Sam.  Sam’s honest voice, through Hornby, comes across as a confused, insecure, and, mostly likable, 15 year old boy.  Sam’s language and thoughts feel authentic for someone who is not quite yet an adult but is dealing with very adult circumstances.  The path of the novel is interesting, as it takes a twist from realistic fiction to science fiction with the element of time travel woven into the story.  At first, I found the time travel surprising and wondered if Sam was going to wake up and we would realize it had all been a dream, but then it seemed the time travel was really happening and it was up to Sam to figure out why he was being given this glimpse into his future.  Sam assumed Tony Hawk was sending him into the future to teach him something, though that thing was not always obvious.  This book contains a lot of humor. Sam’s dry wit and sarcasm will make readers smile and, possibly, chuckle.  And Sam’s eye rolling-annoyance, at certain things adults say, feels just like what a teen would do.  The text is accessible, and, as it is written from a boy’s perspective might be a great choice for male reluctant readers.

Reader’s Annotation: When 15-year-old Sam finds out he is going to be a father his life trajectory takes him into unchartered territory.

Information about the Author: British Writer, Nick Hornby has written other popular novels including Fever Pitch, About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long way Down and How to Be Good.   Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity, were all made into films (Hornby, n.d.).  Though many of his novels would be interesting to young adults, Slam is Hornby’s only novel geared to young adults.

Hornby is very interested in music, and music often plays a significant role in his novels. For example , Sam and Alicia’s baby is named Rufus, because Rufus Wainwright’s music was playing in the delivery room.  Hornby collaborates and performs with the rock band Marah (Nick Hornby, n.d.)

Genre: Issues, Science Fiction

Category: Issues: Pregnancy and Teen Parents; Science Fiction: Time Travel

Curriculum Ties: English and Health

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if you spoke to a poster of your idol and he spoke back?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: Premarital Sex, Teen Sex, Sexuality, Teen Pregnancy.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book.

Why is this book included? I was familiar with Hornby from the book and movie About a Boy, and I wanted to see what he could do in his young adult novel.

References:

Nick Hornby. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Hornby

Hornby, N. (n.d.) Nick Hornby: Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.penguin.co.uk/static/cs/uk/0/minisites/nickhornby/aboutnick/index.html


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bibliographic Information: Anderson, L.H. (2007). Twisted. New York, NY: Vicking Childrens Books.  ISBN: 0670061018.  272 pages.

Anderson, L.H. (2007) Twisted (unabridged audiobook) Chamberlain, M. (reader). New York, NY: Listening Library. ISBN:0739348841.

Plot Summary: Tyler Miller was not used to being noticed.  He had gotten through his first three years of high school as a self-described “nerd-boy,” small and wimpy, the sometimes object of bullying. But then, something changed.  He got in trouble, not just school trouble, but the kind of trouble that meant police handcuffed him and then walked him out of school into a patrol car.  That got him noticed.  And then he spent the summer doing community service, which involved assisting his high school’s janitorial staff, doing a lot of manual labor.  And all of a sudden little “nerd-boy” was strong and muscular and looking a whole lot like a man.  Tyler never thought it possible, but as the school year began, his secret crush, Bethany Milbury, actually noticed him, and she clearly liked what she saw.  Bethany Milbury was most definitely in the “in crowd;” she was the twin sister of a boy, who Tyler disliked, as much as he liked Bethany. Her father was Tyler’s father’s boss.  Complicated.  But the story gets even more twisted, as glimpses into Tyler’s family life show that Tyler has more trouble than just with the police.

Critical Evaluation: Tyler Miller has his share of problems, many of which will feel familiar to teen readers.  Whether it is navigating the complex social world of high school or dealing with a  father with anger management issues, Tyler’s troubles feel unfortunate, but not unrealistic.  Anderson has captured an authentic male voice, complete with humorous asides and sincere emotional reflections.  She does not shy away from difficult issues, nor does she shy away from realistic thoughts and dialogue that reflect a teen boy’s struggles with growing up and becoming a man.  Twisted touches on heavy issues with sensitivity and honesty, allowing readers to relate to or empathize with Tyler and root for him to be all right in the end.  Twisted is intense and deals with serious issues, it is not for the faint of heart, but, then again, not that many teens these days are faint-hearted.  This would be a great choice for certain reluctant readers.

Twisted was a New York Times bestseller, was on the 2008 YALSA Best Fiction Young Adults list , and was named to the 2009 International Reading Association’s Young Adults’ Choices List.

Reader’s Annotation: It is senior year in high school and Tyler Miller has gone from nerd-boy to buff bad boy over the summer.  When he starts getting attention from an “it girl,”  his secret crush Bethany Milbury, he starts to think maybe things are looking up, but then his life starts to get really twisted.

Information about the Author: Laurie Halse , rhymes with waltz, Anderson is a highly acclaimed young adult and children’s book author.  She is a two-time National Book Award Nominee, won an ALAN award in 2008, and won the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award, among many other honors and achievements.

Anderson “has loved writing since second grade” (Anderson, n.d.).  She has taken Virginia Woolf’s quote “A woman must have…a room of her own to write fiction” (as quoted by Anderson, n.d.) to heart and has a lovely eco-friendly, off-the-grid writing cabin in the woods behind her house.  Click here to watch a video of the cabin design and building process and, in the process, get to know a little more about Laurie Halse Anderson.

Genre: Issue

Category: Issue: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, Behavioral Problems; Issue: Life is Hard: Multiple and Unique Issues, Emotional Abuse, Kids in the System, Outsiders

Topics Covered: Social Status, Alcohol Abuse, Underage Drinking, Suicide, Illegal Activities, Emotional Abuse

Curriculum Ties: Social status, insiders and outsiders, alcohol use, suicide

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How much can one person change over the summer?
  • What does it mean when life gets “twisted?”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: sexuality, underage drinking, suicide, unlawful behavior.  Anderson has a letter to a community that removed Twisted and other books from the classroom.  Read her impassioned and reasoned letter (Anderson, 2009).  Lastly, in response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Purely on the basis of reading and being moved by and impressed with Speak, I decided to read another book by Anderson.  The audio book for Twisted was on the shelf in the teen department in my local library, so I got it.  Interestingly, I had no idea that the book was about a boy, and had assumed, prior to listening to it, that the main character was a girl.  I was particularly impressed with Anderson’s ability to write in such authentic voices for characters of both genders.

References:

Anderson, L. H. (n.d.). Officially long official biography of Laurie Halse Anderson. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/laurie/

Anderson, L. H. (2009). Censorship & Book Banning: Challenges to Twisted. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/censorship-book-banning/


Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Bibliographic Information: Leitich Smith, C. (2007). Tantalize. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763627917.  310 pages.

Plot Summary: Since the death of her parents at age 13, Quincie Morris has been in the care of her uncle Davidson.  With her parents gone, the place that has felt the most like home to her is Fat Lorenzo’s, the Italian restaurant that has been in her family for generations.  And Fat Lorenzo’s chef, Vaggio, and the rest of the staff were like Quincie’s extended family.  But there was a problem, competition, from other local Italian restaurants, was cutting into Fat Lorenzo’s business. Quincie, who, at 17, helped manage the restaurant, and Uncle Davidson came up with a plan: turn the restaurant into a Sanguini’s, an Italian restaurant, with a vampire theme.  From the food to the décor to the wardrobe of the staff, everything had to be planned out perfectly.  But, in Quincie’s world, in Austin, Texas, there really are vampires and werewolves.  In fact, Kieren, her best friend since childhood, and current love obsession, is a hybrid werewolf.  So, when Vaggio is literally torn apart in a brutal murder in the restaurant kitchen, while Quincie, unawares, watches a nature special in the break room, the spotlight turns to the non-humans around her, including Kieren.  In the shadow of Viggio’s unsolved murder, Quincie must focus on Sanguini’s and get it up and running for the reopening in a few weeks.  She also must deal with the fact that Kieren is just about at the age where he will be leaving Austin to join a wolf pack, and Sanguini’s new, young, and handsome, chef seems to have more than a fleeting interest in Quincie.

Critical Evaluation: Leitich Smith manages to take a vampire story with all the fantasy and darkness that comes with vampire novels and merge it with a young adult story that feels realistic and even relatable to many teens.  After all, problems with love and attraction are universal themes, even if the one loved is not always a hybrid werewolf.  Written in first person from Quincie’s perspective, readers learn information as Quincie does.  Her voice is honest and down to earth, even while dealing with otherworldly topics.  Adding to the immersive experience, that reading this book brings, are special pages sprinkled throughout.  A restaurant critique looks like a clipping on the page, the restaurant’s menus are presented in menu style complete with fancy script.  For those who can not get enough Tantalize, Leitich Smith has written others in the series: Eternal, Blessed, and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.

Reader’s Annotation: When 17-year-old Quincie Morris and her uncle open a new vampire-themed restaurant, there are many changes afoot.  With vampires and werewolves, new love and old, will Quincie make it?

Information about the Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith writes books for all ages, from young children to young adult and adult.  She has published picture books, in addition to short stories, essays, and young adult novels.  Leitich Smith’s website (http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/) is a wonder of resources for readers and writers.  It includes recommended reading lists, advice for those interested in becoming writers, and extensive information about Leitich Smith and her writing.

Leitich Smith is genuinely interested in the world and people around her and generously shares her talents and insights.  She is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and some of her works include authentically portrayed American Indian characters, something that is unfortunately often lacking in books about American Indians.  She currently lives in Austin, Texas, the setting for Tantalize, with her husband, also a writer, Greg Leitich Smith (http://gregleitichsmith.com/).

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy

Categories/Themes: Paranormal: Werefolk and Vampires, Fantasy: Myth and Legend

Curriculum Ties: Reading comparison between this novel and Stoker’s Dracula and ancient vampire legends

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How would you feel about your love interest being a hybrid werewolf?
  • Would you go to Sanguini’s?  Which menu would you pick?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: Underage drinking, sexuality, mythical creatures.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Additionally, there are several positive reviews of the book.

Why is this book included? This book was assigned reading, which is how I learned about it, though I was already a fan of Leitich Smith.  Also, I wanted to include some novels with vampires and werewolves, as they are currently very popular among young adults.


Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., with Philippe Cousteau

Bibliographic Information: Berger, C. (2010). Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing and EarthEcho International.  ISBN: 1575423480.  128 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: “71% of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans…Our bodies on average consist of 70% water.”  From the planet to each one of our cells, water is important, essential, and under threat.  Going Blue follows a “service learning” model to provide the information tweens and teens can use to make a difference in the movement to protect Earth’s waters.  The service learning model of Going Blue is comprised of five “stages” that take its readers from where they are now to becoming stewards of the earth’s water.  The stages are:

  1. Find Out & Investigate
  2. Dive In & Prepare
  3. Get Going & Act
  4. Think Back & Reflect
  5. Tell It & Demonstrate

Each stage contains a description of the state and true stories of young people making a difference and demonstrating the actions of that particular stage.  The book is in full color and looks almost magazine-like in its design.  It includes sidebars, bios of earth scientists, charts, illustrations, and beautiful photographs.  How can we save Earth’s precious water resources?  Can you make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Beautiful, accessible and packed-full of information, Going Blue is an in-depth guide to Earth’s waters.  Dense with facts, but accessible for teens, Going Blue provides ideas, resources, and, maybe most importantly, food for thought.  The service learning model, that the book both explains and follows, creates a natural path for readers to take in order to actually be able to make a difference in their own way.  Its magazine-like appearance and beautiful colorful images and spreads make it as visually appealing, as it is informative and empowering.  Below is an example of the inside of the book.

Reader’s Annotation: Beautiful, accessible and packed-full of information, Going Blue: A Teen Guide to Saving Our Oceans, Lakes, Rivers, & Wetlands is an in-depth guide to Earth’s waters.

Information about the Author: Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A. is an expert in service learning, civic responsibility, and student leadership.  She consults internationally about service learning and is a former classroom teacher.

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction

Themes: Science, Water, Environment, Environmental Stewardship, Service Learning

Topics Covered: Environmentalism, Water Pollution, Oceans, Rivers, Wetlands, Lakes, Trash, Habitats, Conservation, Wildlife

Curriculum Ties: Science, Earth Science, Earth’s water systems, Civic Responsibility

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “71% of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans…Our bodies on average consist of 70% water.”  From the planet to each one of our cells, water is important, essential, and under threat.
  • If you could maybe make a difference, would you try?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: No obvious challenge issues.  In the event that the book is challenged, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? The environment is getting a lot of attention these days, and it is important that there are books accessible for teens that can give them some information and perspective on environmental issues.  This book specifically talks about the various waters of the earth, an important topic within environmental discussions.  Additionally, this book introduces the concept of civic responsibility and taking action to make the world a better place, something many teens are interested in, but may not necessarily know how to accomplish.


Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

Bibliographic Information: Felin, M. S. (2007). Touching Snow. New York, NY: Atheneum.  ISBN: 1416917950.  240 pages.

Plot Summary: “The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone,” and thus starts the novel Touching Snow. Part thriller and mystery part coming-of-age and love story, Touching Snow details the struggles of 13-year-old Karina and her family.  Born in the US, to a Haitian immigrant mother, Karina lives in a town she calls “a place full of white folks.”  Being a racial and cultural outsider, as well as a bit quirky makes school socially AND academically problematic.  She might even be put in special education classes, if her grades and behavior don’t improve!  But these challenges are nothing compared to the horrific physical abuse Karina and her sisters suffer at the hands of their stepfather: “The Daddy.”  One misstep, and “The Daddy” could leave them bruised, broken, and bleeding…or worse.  Karina’s honest, riveting voice tells the reader, almost as a friend, of the brutal abuse she and her sisters suffer.  Karina is a member of a large extended Haitian immigrant family, but no one, not even the law, seems to be able to protect her and her sisters from the “beat-ups” that sometimes leave them just this side of dead. In addition to the extreme violence she is forced to withstand at home, outside of the home she is confronted with racism, and xenophobia. It is under these circumstances that Karina, prone to crushes on girls and fainting spells, struggles with schoolwork, making friends, and figuring out who she is.  Karina has dreams for a better future, but can she survive?

Critical Evaluation: Gripping from its first line, Touching Snow leads the reader on a disturbing, yet engrossing, journey into the life of Karina. The writing compels the reader to feel what Karina is experiencing, and to cheer for Karina’s survival, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Karina’s voice is honest and authentic as she describes the sometimes funny sometimes horrific events in her life.  Though the novel is set in the 1980’s, the characters grapple with issues that are present today and will, unfortunately, be present in the future. With complex and multi-faceted characters and disturbing violence, this book, though about a 13-year-old, is better suited to teens or more mature tweens. Karina’s brutal honesty and strong spirit will captivate readers in Felin’s compelling and gripping Touching Snow, an Edgar Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Mystery, a National book award finalist, and an honoree for ALA and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults.

Reader’s Annotation: Karina and her sisters live in constant fear of their angry and violent stepfather.  Confronting terror at home and racism from the outside world, Karina’s life is hard.  Will she and her sisters all make it out alive?

Information about the Author: M. Sindy Felin herself grew up as the first member of her family born in the US.  She was raised, like Karina, in suburban New York by Haitian immigrant parents, was the first girl to attend college in her family, and her inspiration for Touching Snow came from social issues she observed in the Haitian immigrant community, including the resilience and resourcefulness of the families.

Felin now is a single mother to triplets!  Read about her experience here.

Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction,

Sub Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery; Issues: Social Concerns: Racism; Issues: Life Is Hard: Physical and Emotional Abuse

Curriculum Ties: Immigration, Health, English, Domestic Violence

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “‘The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone.’  And so begins the novel Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin.”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19

Challenge Issues: Budding lesbian romance, violence.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included?  Critically praised and award-winning, Touching Snow is beautifully and authentically written.  Its protagonist, a teen girl of Haitian descent, in a budding lesbian relationship, brings an underrepresented, and authentic, voice to teen mysteries.  The mystery genre is surprisingly un-diverse, so this book, and others with characters of color, are especially important include in a collection for teens.

References:

2007 National Book Award Finalist, Young People’s Literature. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2007_ypl_felin.html


Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too by Cait Irwin

Bibliographic Information: Irwin, C. (1998). Conquering the Beast Within: How I fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too. New York, NY: Times Books.  ISBN: 0812932471.  105 pages.

Plot Summary: Cait Irwin was no typical thirteen-year-old.  Every minute of every day she had a constant companion — the beast – her name for her depression.  At first, partially due to the nature of the disease, she kept it to herself.  She isolated herself and “the beast” was able to exert a lot of influence over her.  But, eventually she sought and received help, and fought the beast, and won.  Part memoir, part self-help book, part how-to book, and part comic book, Irwin takes readers on her journey through her words as well as her cartoon-like drawing of the beast and his teen victim.  Not only does Irwin give practical suggestions for steps to take for teens struggling with depression, she most decidedly wants to offer those teens hope.  The book ends with letters to the reader from some of Irwin’s family members about how they supported her and, in some cases, how they would have behaved differently.

Critical Evaluation: Depression is a real disease, but sometimes we do not want to acknowledge it.  We do not want to look at it.  We do not want to deal with it.  We want to pretend it is not there.  People with depression as well as those around them are sometimes more comfortable pretending “the beast” is not there, BUT, Irwin warns us, when “the beast” is ignored he grows.  Telling her story, while at the same time speaking in general terms, could really help a depressed teen both not feel so alone and find ways to cope with her/his illness.  In a dramatic, but straightforward and not overly emotional, way, Irwin paints a picture of depression as an illness.  In fact, Irwin compares depression to a broken leg, both takes a teen out of full functioning, they might miss school time, sports practices, afterschool activities, even socializing with friends, but when the healing begins, these things can start to come back into a teen’s life again.  Wise beyond her years, Irwin clearly wants to help other teens battle the beast of depression.

Reader’s Annotation: Thirteen-year-old Cait Irwin fights and conquers, “the beast,” depression and wants others to learn from and be inspired by her journey.

Information about the Author:  At 13, Cait Irwin’s life was devastated by depression, but she fought her way out and shared her story with the world in Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too.  In 2006, Irwin co-wrote Monochrome Days: A First-Hand Account of One Teenager’s Experience With Depression with two psychology experts.

Cait Irwin, now 31, is a working artist who expresses herself in many ways, including painting, wall murals and stenciling an original piece of artwork the side of a barn silo.  She continues to be a strong suicide prevention advocate.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Issue, Illness, Mental & Emotional Problems

Format: Graphic Book

Category: Non-Fiction

Topics Covered: Depression, Suicide, Mental Health

Curriculum Ties: Health, Mental Health, Biology

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use one of the graphics from the book
  • Talk about just how down Irwin became

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources

Why is this book included? Many teens suffer from depression.  This book gives teens hope as well as concrete suggestions for fighting depression.  As the author, when she wrote it, was a teen herself, teens (and their parents) reading the book will be able to feel its authenticity.  This book’s unique format makes it a great choice, as providing books that speak directly to depressed teens would be an excellent service for the library to provide

References:

Cait’s website: http://sites.google.com/site/realityimpairedartworks/Home