Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Bibliographic Information: Crutcher, C. (1993). Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York, NY: HarperCollins.  ISBN: 0060094893.  304 pages.

Plot Summary: In Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Crutcher joins two teens together as friends, their connection?  They both have physical characteristics that make them outsiders and the recipients of much ridicule and bullying.  Sarah Byres’ face and hands are grotesquely disfigured by a burn she suffered at three years old.  She insists on being called Sarah Byrnes, not just Sarah, to cut off at the pass any comment a person might make about the irony of her last name.  Eric Calhoune, called Moby by most of the kids at school, was extremely overweight, hence the nickname Moby, until he joined the swim team where he started to lose weight.

Early in the book we find Eric in a metal ward with Sarah Byrnes attempting to talk to Sarah and bring her out of her catatonic state.  The book travels back and forth in time between the present, Sarah’s current state of not looking at or speaking to anyone, and past interactions between Sarah and Eric.  As the story unfolds between Sarah and Eric and a handful of their high school classmates in a Contemporary American Thought class the book addresses issues of religious beliefs, abortion, child abuse, and suicide.  While these issues are hugely significant to the story, at its core the book is about friendship and love.

Critical Evaluation:  Told with humor and sensitivity, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a tale of strength, loyalty, and deep commitment.  Through Eric’s voice, readers deeply feel both his outsider status and his wit, charm, and kindness.  Readers watch him make mistakes, take chances, and work to resolve problems that are perhaps too big for a teen to resolve on his own.  Crutcher, true to his style, manages to get inside a teen’s head and bring his readers there with him.  The excellence of this novel has to do with the fact that Crutcher brings his writing’s signature honesty and authenticity to a compelling, emotional, dramatic and suspenseful story.  The various other young adults: a former bully, an evangelical Christian, and others have depth and complexity not often seen in the supporting cast.  Do to its richness and multiple layers of meaning, this book lends itself well to class or book group discussions.  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has earned multiple honors,  examples are: 1994 ALA Best Book For Young Adults, 1997 California Young Reader Medal, and 1993 School Library Journal Best Book.

Reader’s Annotation: High school students Eric Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes have been friends since they were young, connected by Eric’s obesity and Sarah’s disfigurement.  During their senior year, dramatic events stir up their lives and challenge them as they have never been challenged before.

Information about the Author: Chris Crutcher is one of the most challenged authors of the past decade.  He wears his challenges as a badge of honor.  In fact, he says, “There’s only one thing to say to the censors: Shut up.”

Chris Crutcher was born in July of 1946, and has managed to accomplish a lot, and influence the lives of thousands of young adults, in his 65 years.   He started his career as a teacher, he then went on to direct a “last chance” alternative school in Oakland, CA.  After 10 years in Oakland, Crutcher moved to Spokane, WA, wrote his first book, and became a child and family therapist and child protection advocate.  Chris Crutcher has been very busy having a positive impact on the lives of young people for the past several decades.

He wrote his first book in the early 1980’s and written a total of 14 books.  He has been a very  popular YA realistic fiction author since the 1980s, and he has won several awards and honors for his books.  His writing is deeply authentic and often revolves around sports, in some way.  Crutcher himself played sports in his youth.  In 2000, Crutcher won the Margaret A. Edwards Award, for his “body of work,” and in 1998, he won the National Intellectual Freedom Award and the ALAN Award, (Crutccher, n.d.).

Crutcher still works as a therapist and child protection advocate.  He is also a columnist, a public speaker and he recently started blogging for The Huffington Post.  Check out his Huffington Post blog here

Genres: Contemporary Life, Issues, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Contemporary Life: Sports; Issues: Life Is Hard: Physical and Emotional Abuse

Topics Covered: Child Abuse, Friendship, Sports, Abortion, Religious Beliefs, Bullying

Curriculum Ties: Discussions of diversity: racial, ability, physical, religious; dealing with abuse; everyday heroes; stereotypes and assumptions (from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Teaching the Novel )

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Discuss dealing with a friend in a catatonic state
  • Discuss what friendship means

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 – 19

Challenge Issues: Discussions of abortion, an attempted suicide, premarital sex, a Christian character is portrayed as hypocritical.  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 honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? First off, Chris Crutcher is a stalwart in young adult literature, and any complete collection should include his books.  Also, this book, in its 304 pages, manages to raise many important issues for teens.  And, interestingly, several of these issues are discussed among the teens, so there are several perspectives represented.  A critically praised, awarded, and honored book, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a classic young adult novel deserving of shelf space in any young adult collection.

References:

Crutcher, C. (n.d.). Biography. Retrieved from http://www.chriscrutcher.com/biography.html

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Teaching the Novel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.msu.edu/user/schne138/resourcepacket/index.html

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The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bibliographic Information: Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.  ISBN: 0689849222.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bobby did not mean to become a father at such a young age, but he is, and his life will never be the same.  Switching back and forth between “then,” before the baby was born and “now,” after his daughter Feather’s arrival into the world, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby’s transition from regular old teenager to teen dad.  Before Feather is born, Bobby and his pregnant girlfriend Nia are pressured by many of the adults in their lives to put the baby up for adoption, and the young soon-to-be parents want to do the right thing for their child, but what is the right thing?  And is the right thing for their baby the same as the right thing for them?  Bobby is conflicted and confused, but when Feather is in his arms Bobby realizes that he has never seen a more perfect being and he has never felt more love for anyone.  Ever.

Critical Evaluation: The First Part Last is a touching and down-to-earth story, which starts with a beautiful front cover image depicting a young African American man gently holding an infant in his arms.  Johnson’s writing is warm and imbued with emotion.  Her ability to present an authentic perspective of an urban male teen is laudable, and her tender depictions of Bobby and Feather together are heartwarming.  Bobby is presented as a regular 16-year-old kid with friends, and school, and a girlfriend but also as a young man who is gentle, sweet, loving, and completely dedicated to his infant daughter.  Navigating his different roles and different worlds is tricky; it is hard being a teen dad.  Bobby is exhausted, staying up nights with his baby.  But, Bobby’s loving descriptions of Feather’s hands and her smell and how soft the curls on the top of her head are when he kisses her bring readers into the room, feeling what he is feeling.  Many of Johnson’s passages are poetic.  A person would be hard pressed not to empathize with Bobby and hope everything works out well for him and Feather.  Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Book Award and the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award.

Reader’s Annotation: At sixteen, Bobby goes to high school and hangs out with his good friends.  He never imagined he’d be a father already, and it’s a hard job, but when he takes his daughter Feather into his arms he realizes his enormous capacity for love.

Information about the Author: Angela Johnson has always loved books and being read aloud to, as she says, “Book people came to life,” (http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm).  So, it is no wonder that she started writing in her diary as a child and has continued writing ever since.

In 1998, Johnson wrote Heaven, a Coretta Scott King Award Winning novel that contains the characters of Bobby and Feather.  The events of Heaven, though written before, take place after the events of The First Part Last.  In Heaven, Bobby and Feather become friends with main character Marley.  Bobby and Feather’s family history is not expanded upon in Heaven, so Heaven readers who were intrigued by those characters have the chance to learn more in The First Part Last.  Likewise, readers who enjoyed The First Part Last get to see the next stage in the lives, albeit with less detail, of Bobby and Feather in Heaven.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Pregnancy and Teen Parents

Topics Covered: Teen Pregnancy, Sexuality, Parenthood, Fatherhood, Coming of Age, Growing Up

Curriculum Ties: English, Personal Narrative

Booktalking Ideas:

  • You are 16 years old and you are told that in nine months you are going to be a parent.  Pause…  What do you do?  How do feel?
  • Read one of the passages where Bobby describes Feather, ask questions about that.  Does he sound like your average 16-year-old?  Why? Why not?  Does he love her?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 -19

Challenge Issues: Teen sex, teen pregnancy, some adult language.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won two prestigious awards from the American Library Association: Coretta Scott King and Michael L. Printz.

Why is this book included? I read and enjoyed Heaven, which is for a slightly younger audience, and was excited to find that Johnson has also written this award-winning book for teens.  Also, It is important for a collection to tell many different stories from many different perspectives.  The First Part Last provides the unique perspective of a teen father raising his baby daughter.


Britannica Online Academic Edition

Bibliographic Information: Britannica Online Academic Edition (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=2000028601&cat=6 (library card barcode and pin number required)

Plot Summary/Resource Description: Britannica Online Academic Edition (Britannica Online) is an online reference source for students and information seekers of all ages, but it is particularly well-suited for middle and high school students’ curricular needs.  Britannica Online’s content and purpose parallel the content and purpose of a set of print edition encyclopedias, except the online edition contains much more data, more updated information, more special features, and many more ways to search for needed information.  Britannica Online contains information about a huge range of subjects from history and science to current events and world literature.  The website lists additional features such as: “atlas, world data, the Classics, biographies, news, multimedia, and more.”  “The Classics” are “225 works by 140 authors [which] offer an introduction to significant works of history, literature, philosophy, and science.”  There is also access to hundreds of magazines, a media collection including long-playing videos, quotations, and ebooks.

Britannica Online contains numerous ways to search for information.  There is a search field where one can type in a query.  There is an A to Z subject guide.  There are several featured subjects on the home page, where one could search around to find a topic of interest.  One could search for a specific topic or browse by subject or alphabetically or all of the above.  Britannica Online contains unique features in addition to access to the encyclopedic information.  The Britannica Online home page includes direct access to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus, New York Times and BBC News, and a Britannica Blog.  One can also compare statistical information about two countries, look up a particular day in “This Day in History,” and view historic timelines on various broad topics including Childhood, Medicine, Science, and Religion.  There are also several “Spotlights,” which are special features, for example, Reflections on the Holocaust, Encyclopædia Britannica’s Guide to Black History, All About Oscar (the award), Guide to Shakespeare, and more.

Critical Evaluation: Britannica Online covers a wide range of topics with accuracy and intelligence.  Britannica Online would be a great resource for a student starting research on a particular topic.  The topic’s article would likely provide a useful overview of the topic and provide additional information about subtopics or related topics, as well photographs and videos.  For in-depth research, Britannica Online would not be sufficient as the only source, but would likely provide a significant amount of useful information at the initial stages of research.  Britannica prides itself on the accuracy and authority of its articles.  The website states, “Unmatched Accuracy and Unique Perspectives: Written by Nobel laureates, historians, curators, professors, and other notable experts, the Encyclopædia Britannica articles are trusted resources with balanced, global perspectives and unique insights that users will not find anywhere else.”  Britannica Online is subscription based, so it is available from Library websites that have subvscribed.  At least in San Francisco and San José Public Libraries, users must log in with a library barcode and pin number to access the encyclopedia, so a person without a library card would not be able to use this resource.  With user-friendly search functions and a huge breadth of information, Britannica Online is a practical and useful resource for young adults as well as all library patrons.

Reader’s Annotation: Britannica Online Academic Edition is a comprehensive reference source for information seeking young adults.  It provides accurate, current, and trustworthy information on a broad range of topics and themes.

Information about the Author: Written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert contributors

Genre: Non-fiction, Reference

Category: Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for all areas of the curriculum

Booktalking Ideas: Use an interesting bit of trivia as the answer to a question you formulate, something that none of the students is likely to know, then ask the students the question.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages, 5-14, Ages 15-19 to Adult

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? Middle and High School teachers often require their students to do research for reports, projects, or writing assignments.  Britannica Online is a single source that can provide information on any number of topics to assist students with their information gathering.  Additionally, sometimes young adults are seeking information and need a more trusted source than Google, or need more information than a standard web search engine can provide, so Britannica Online serves that need.


Hope in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum

Bibliographic Information: Fehlbaum, B. (2010). Hope in Patience. Lodi, NJ: WestSide Books.  ISBN: 1934813419. 312 pages.

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old Ashley Asher suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  She lives with her father, David, stepmother, Bev, and little brother Ben in Patience Texas.  Before she came to Patience she lived with her mother Cheryl and stepfather Charlie in LaSalle, Texas, a couple of hours from Patience.  It was at the house in LaSalle that Ashley was subjected to repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.  Adding to her trauma was the fact that her mother did not protect her from Charlie’s abuse, even once Ashley bravely told her mother about it.  Eventually, Ashley told a trusted friend and then a teacher and then Child Protective Services got involved and Ashley came to live with her father, a man she never knew.  Ashley’s father’s family welcomed Ashley into the family with open arms, but she was not someone who could easily trust people.  As she tries to piece her life back together, with the help of her new family’s love, a no nonsense therapist, and a few close friends, Ashley realizes that she cannot ignore nor escape her past, as much as she so desperately wants to.   She fights each day against her PTSD, the trauma can get triggered at any time, and resists her inclination toward self-mutilation.  Ashley is a survivor, she’s already survived so much, but can she pull herself out of her numbness, out of the closet she has literally and figuratively been crouching in for years?  Can she learn to trust and love again?

Critical Evaluation: Hope in Patience is at once gripping and moving, disturbing and heart-wrenching.  Ashley has endured an astonishing amount of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and cruel neglect in her short life.  As Fehlbaum’s writing presents an honest, clearly authentic voice for Ashley, readers are left devastated at what she has been through.  Her reactions to the abuse she has suffered, even when safe and away from her abuser, gives readers a look at the depth of destruction the abuse has caused.  Readers who have been sexually abused may find solace in Ashley’s story, in the speaking of the truth, the “hope” in Patience.  It would be hard to find any reader who was not able to empathize and root for Ashley.  But, make no mistake, It is difficult to read this book.  And important.  It is also important that stories, like Ashley’s, get told.

Reader’s Annotation: When Ashley moves away from her abusive stepfather and negligent mother, she moves in with her father and his family and must rebuild her life from the inside out.

Information about the Author: Beth Fehlbaum was born in Dallas, Texas and currently lives in East Texas with her husband, who was her high school sweetheart.  Beth and her husband have three grown daughters.  Hope in Patience is the second book in a three-book, “Patience” series, the first is Courage in Patience and the last is Truth in Patience.  In addition to being a writer of the “Patience” trilogy Fehlbaum is a teacher who, like Ashley’s stepmother Bev, is passionate about, “teaching, social justice, and insisting upon authenticity in the classroom,” (Fehlbaum, 2011).   Beth’s writing about Ashley’s abuse and its aftermath was inspired by her “own recovery from childhood sexual abuse,(Fehlbaum, 2011), and this story opens a window into that dark world.  But this is also a story about overcoming obstacles, and accepting who you are, and courage.  “Ashley’s story is anyone’s story– anyone who has ever overcome what they thought they never could; anyone who has ever known what it is to want to be loved and accepted as-is,” (Fehlbaum, 2011).

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Issues: Life Is Hard: Sexual Abuse

Topics Covered: Sexual Abuse, Family, Friendship, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Self Mutilation

Curriculum Ties: Health Education, Family, Sexual Abuse.  A Teacher’s guide to Hope in Patience, created by the author, can be found here.

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read a couple of paragraphs from the first few pages of the book
  • Talk about mothers, what mothers are “supposed” to do compared to what Ashley’s mother was like.
  • Talk about post traumatic stress disorder, starting with soldiers coming home from war and how some people get PTSD from events in their own homes.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15-19 years

Challenge Issues: This book contains multiple graphic references to sexual abuse.  It also contains cursing and has a lesbian character.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, for example, Booklist, School Library Journal and YALSA all reviewed the book favorably.  YALSA named Hope in Patience a 2011 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  The book deals with real topics that are difficult for many people to think about, let alone explore in depth, but that is exactly why this book is important to have available.

Why is this book included? Fehlbaum has managed to put together beautiful, honest writing with a compelling, rich story about a topic so disturbing the main character often tries to hide from it.  This book is an important part of a teen collection for many reasons.  It could be therapeutic for survivors of abuse to read.  It speaks out loud about things that happen, but are often hidden and should be brought to light.  Hope in Patience, at its core, tells a story of a young woman who has to dig down deep and find the strength and courage to live and be happy, and we all can learn from that.

References:

Fehlbaum, B. (2011). Bio. Retrieved from www.bethfehlbaumya.com/bio.htm


Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Bibliographic Information: Desai Hidier, T. (2003). Born Confused. New York, NY: Scholastic Paperbacks.  ISBN: 0439510112.  512 pages.

Plot Summary: Dimple Lala was born in America to Indian immigrant parents.  Somewhere between her Indian ancestry and her New Jersey upbringing Dimple seeks answers about who she is and who she wants to be.  Dimple’s best friend, Gwyn, does not seem confused at all about who she is and where she belongs.  When Gwyn enters the room, people notice; she is blonde, blue-eyed, outgoing, tall, and strikingly beautiful.   Dimple would not use any of those words to describe herself.  Dimple goes along for the ride with Gwyn, and sometimes gets noticed for her proximity to Gwyn, but rarely does she feel seen herself.  In fact, she spends a lot time alone seeing others through the lens of her much-loved camera that she has named Chica Tikka.  Dimple and Gwyn have been best friends since they were little, and their love for each other is strong.  But this summer, the one when Dimple turns seventeen, things begin to get complicated.  Dimple starts to unravel the complexities of her identity and her feelings toward Karsh, “ a suitable Indian boy” her parents try to set her up with.  Before she meets him, she rejects even the possibility of liking Karsh, as she does not want her parents picking her boyfriend for her.  But, slowly, she realizes, to her pleasant surprise, that Karsh may not be quite as “suitable” as her parents think, and she starts to have feelings for him.  Karsh is also the object of Gwyn’s affection, who, unaware of Dimple’s feelings, asks Dimple to help her get Karsh’s attention by wearing Dimple’s Indian clothing and jewelry.  Can their friendship endure the strain?  Told in the self-deprecating, witty, and charming voice of Dimple, Born Confused provides an authentic look at life from the perspective of one young woman ABCD (American Born Confused Desi).

Critical Evaluation: The themes in Born Confused feel comfortingly familiar for a teen novel: friendship, first love, and identity.  But the book is anything but typical.  Woven throughout her journeys into her teenage life is Dimple’s deep connection to Indian culture, the traditions, the food, the people.  Desai Hidier’s Dimple will make readers smile, as she is sarcastic and quick witted and at the same time caring and sensitive.  Readers will be moved by Dimple, will lament her failures and cheer her successes.  Born Confused, a Larry King pick of the week, an ALA Best Books for Young Adults book of the year, and a Sunday Times (Times of London) book of the week, is a great addition to a multicultural teen collection.  Teen children of Indian Parents living in American will likely find some, if not many, of their experiences reflected in Dimple, and American teens with immigrant parents or whose parents were born in the US will have the opportunity to see the world through Dimple’s eyes and discover the similarities as well as differences in their experiences. Though the book might benefit from a bit of editing to shorten and focus the story, it is nonetheless well worth the read.

Reader’s Annotation: Born in America to Indian immigrant parents, Dimple Lala is caught between two worlds, never feeling like she quite fits in to either one.  The summer she turns seventeen is an eventful one, as she traverses the complex worlds of identity, friendship, and first love.

Information about the Author: Though the book Born Confused is not autobiographical, author Tanuja Desai Hidier drew from her family’s history and her personal experiences to create Dimple Lala.  She, like Dimple, grew up in a South Asian home in a town with very few people of color.  She says that she wrote Born Confused, “To make sense of things, to shape a period of cultural confusion and cultural exhilaration—which can be one and the same thing at times! What does it mean to be Indian? To be South Asian? And, at the heart of that: To be American? And at the soul within that heart: To be yourself?” (www.thisistanuja.com, FAQ’s).

Born Confused is Desai Hidier’s first book, but she has published several short stories, made a short film, and is a singer and songwriter as well.  She has adapted Born Confused into screenplay and it is in development with IndieVest Pictures.

Genre: Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Topics Covered: Identity, Race, Immigrants, Friendship, Love, Music, Indian Americans, Bhangra, Family

Curriculum Ties: Immigrants, children of immigrants, family, race in the United States, social studies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Talk about being in between two worlds
  • Talk about Dimple and Gwyn’s relationship as things start to tense
  • Discuss Gwyn’s appropriation of Dimple’s culture
  • Read Dimple’s description of how good she feels being in her dark room

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15 – 19 years

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? Originally, I found the book while researching the journal, MultiCultural Review, which critically praised the book, as did reviewers from VOYA, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.  Born Confused portrays a unique perspective, that of an American Born teenage girl of Indian ancestry.  While there are excellent books about South Asian young adults, these books are not abundant.  But, South Asian American teens, like all teens, deserve to have their stories told and to see themselves reflected in the books they read.  Additionally, Dimple Lala has important things to share with teens from all backgrounds

References:

Ringler, R. (2003). Born Confused (Book). Multicultural Review, 12(3), 103.

Makhijani, P. (2010). More than Monkeys, Maharajahs, and Mangoes: South Asian Literature for Your Readers. Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(1), 14-17.


Tyrell by Coe Booth

Bibliographic Information: Booth, C. (2006). Tyrell. New York, NY: Push Fiction.  ISBN,  9780439838801.  310 pages.

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old Tyrell does not have what anyone would call an easy life.  His father is in prison for illegal activities he participated in trying to earn money to pay the ret and put food on the family’s dinner table.  His mother seems unable, or unwilling,  to provide for or even take care of either of her two sons; Tyrell seems to be the only one looking out for his seven-year-old brother, Troy.  The family’s financial problems are so dire that they can’t make the rent payments on their apartment in the projects, and, so their shelter is being provided by the New York City Emergency Assistance Unit.  Tyrell calls it “the E-A-U,” and it is not a place he or anyone he knows wants to be living.  But, living there, Tyrell is, in the roach-infested Bennett Motel, “The place look like a bombed-out building from the outside, like something you see in them war movies.  Inside it ain’t no better.  The place stink like old sneakers, probably ‘cause there ain’t no fresh air in here,” (Booth, 2006, p. 19).

At the EAU Tyrell meets Jasmine, a teenage girl in an equally difficult family situation.  Tyrell and Jasmine hit it off, they can understand each other in ways Tyrell’s other friends cannot, and Tyrell finds Jasmine extremely attractive.  But this attraction is complicated by the fact that Tyrell loves his girlfriend, Novisha, very much and has his whole future planned out with her.  Confused by his feelings and living in chaos, Tyrell has a lot on his mind, too much, in fact, for him to bother going to school, a place that he feels is useless.  But, even with all of these obstacles, Tyrell comes up with a plan to make some money and get his family an apartment.  Is Tyrell a survivor?  Will his plan work?

Critical Evaluation: Written in the language of the streets, Tyrell, portrays a stark and harsh world, where a fifteen-year-old is left with way more responsibility than he should have.  The indignities and difficulties of homelessness are palpable and Booth’s descriptions of settings provide realistic and disturbing images of the reality that families like Tyrell’s face daily.  The story was born of Booth’s experiences as a caseworker, helping families in crisis in New York City, lending it authenticity and veracity.  Tyrell’s voice is strong and presents his conflicts in a such a genuine way that readers will likely feel connected to Tyrell and those who have been where he is will hear themselves in his voice, and readers who have not experienced what Tyrell is going through will wonder, “what would I do in that situation?”  The words in this novel are carefully chosen and put together.  The characters are multi-dimensional, their complexity parallels the complexity of Tyrell’s world, a world beautifully and painfully rendered in Booth’s novel.  My one concern about the story is that Tyrell’s mother is portrayed in a stereotypical way as lazy and neglectful and someone who takes advantage of the system.  While I do not doubt that there are people who fit this description, it is important to point this out, to make sure that a collection contains a diversity of books that portray urban life, so readers have a chance to see a variety of characters and situations.  Additionally, this issue, as well as many of the books’ themes, would make excellent class or book group discussion topics.

Reader’s Annotation: Homeless and broke, fifteen-year-old Tyrell doesn’t have it easy.  With his father in prison and his mother is in denial, it seems up to him to care for his seven-year-old little brother and navigate New York City’s social services agencies.

Information about the Author: Coe Booth grew up in the Bronx, NY, and held several jobs working to help families in crisis in the Bronx.  The story of Tyrell was inspired by real teens Booth knew and helped, and the book Tyrell grew out of a writing assignment for a creative writing class.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Issues: Life is Hard: Homelessness and Foster Living

Topics Covered: Homelessness, Poverty, Truancy, Love, Racism, Incarceration, sexuality

Curriculum Ties: Social Science

Booktalking Ideas: The description of Tyrell’s anger, conversation between Tyrell and his mother where she suggests he should sell drugs to support the family.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15-19

Challenge Issues: Sexuality, sexual activity, language, smoking, drug use, truancy, illegal activities

Why is this book included? Tyrell was well received by critics and won The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Young Adult Novel.  It is included in this blog because of its excellence as a novel and because it provides a unique and often underrepresented perspective to a young adult collection.

References:

Jones, P. (2007). Tyrell. Multicultural Review, 16(1), 94.

Margolis, R. (2007). A Bronx Tale. School Library Journal, 53(2), 32.

Prince, J. (2009). Keeping It Real: An Interview with Coe Booth. Teacher Librarian, 36(4), 62-3.

Soriano, C. (2006). Tyrell. School Library Journal, 52(11), 129-130.