Teen Ink

Bibliographic Information: Teen Ink (magazine). Newton, MA: The Young Authors Foundation, Inc.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Ink is a magazine that does not employ writers, reporters, or artists.   The content of the magazine is entirely made up of submissions from teens from all over the country.  Topics covered are diverse, from health issues to discrimination, teen activism to sports.  Teens write fiction and non-fiction and provide paintings, photographs and other forms of artwork for the magazine.  Each monthly issue contains articles written around specific themes, in the December 2011, issue the themes were “Celebrating the Season” and “Sibling Stories.”  The magazine is organized with the following “sections:” Art Gallery, College Directory, College Reviews, Community Service, Environment, Feedback, Fiction, Health, Heroes, Nonfiction, Points of View, Poetry, Pride & Prejudice, Reviews: Book, Reviews: Movie, Reviews: Music, Reviews: Video Games, Sports and Travel & Culture.  The wide range of topics covered provides a place for teens with varying interests to enjoy both reading as well as contributing to Teen Ink.

Critical Evaluation: Teen Ink is packed full with interesting and high quality writing and artwork.  The honest, authentic teen voices that can be found throughout the pages of the magazine lend it depth and significance.  The teen contributors to Teen Ink, both young women and young men, are creative and intelligent, interesting and interested.  Teen Ink provides an opportunity for teens to become published writers and artists, “Hundreds of thousands of students have submitted their work to us and we have published more than 45,000 teens since 1989,” (Teen Ink: About Us, n.d.).  Teen Ink empowers and engages, it provides an important forum for teens to exchange ideas and discuss issues important to them.  It is by teens and for teens making it a great resource for information and inspiration.  The magazine is used in English, creative writing, and journalism classrooms across the country.  Several books have been published by the Teen Ink organization, they are entitled Teen Ink and contain themed collections of essays gathered from the magazine.  The Teen Ink website contains content from the magazine as well as content unique to the web and is an additional place for teens to engage and exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young adults deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has been praised by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine and many more.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this magazine included? Teen Ink is the perfect magazine for older teens of both genders to include in a library collection.  I found it when I was in search of interesting and independent teen magazines that do not simply repeat the same beauty tips and celebrity gossip as many magazines on the market.


Precious directed by Lee Daniels

Bibliographic Information: Daniels, L. (director). 2009. Precious, Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (DVD). Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate.  ASIN: B002VECM4A.  110 minutes, Movie Rating: R.

Plot Summary: Clarisse “Precious” Jones is sixteen, pregnant, illiterate and living a life of unimaginable horror and suffering.  The physical and emotional abuse, that Precious endures at the hands of her mother is so brutally and meanly inflicted, that most viewers will wonder how a person could be so incredibly cruel.  Precious lives with her mother. Her father only appears every so often, and his visits resulted in the rape and impregnation of his daughter Precious.  The depths of abuse and cruelty leveled at  Precious might make another person crumble, but she pushes forward. She keeps trying to make a life for herself, dreaming, in beautifully filmed fantasy sequences, of being a much adored star.  When she is kicked out of her high school for being pregnant, Precious attends an alternative school. There, Precious has a teacher who believes in her students, often when they do not even believe in themselves. At her new school, Precious finally learns to read and write and she literally and figuratively finds her voice.

Critical Evaluation: This film is intense.  I expect that people familiar with the type of abuse and suffering Precious is subjected to, could experience some level of post traumatic stress.  Others, who have been fortunate enough not to have experience with this level of cruelty and brutality will likely find themselves in disbelief.  But, there is something about the acting and directing and scenery and dialogue that forces us to look at Precious’s life and recognize that there are people who suffer in similar ways.  Even those viewers who do not want to believe will be hard pressed not to, given the gritty realism of the film.  There is sadness and such devastating circumstances that viewers could become overwhelmed by emotion, but there is a tempering force.  Precious is strong, sometimes witty and often triumphant, and these moments, make worthwhile the viewer’s endurance of the suffering in the movie.

Critics loudly applauded this film; it received numerous awards and nominations, fifty film organizations nominated Precious for a variety of awards, the film won several of these.  Here are some highlights:

  • The 2010 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress, Mo’Nique (Won); Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Geoffrey Fletcher (Won); Best Picture, Precious (Nominated); Best Director, Lee Daniels (Nominated); Best Actress, Gabourey Sidibe (Nominated); Best Film Editing, Joe Klotz (Nominated)
  • The 2010 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Precious (Nominated); Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama, Gabourey Sidbie (Nominated); Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture, Mo’Nique (Won)
  • Independent Spirit Awards: Best Feature, Precious (Won); Best Director, Lee Daniels (Won); Best Female Lead, Gabourey Sidibe (Won); Best Supporting Female, Mo’Nique (Won); Best First Screenplay, Geoffrey Fletcher (Won)
  • NAACP Image Awards: Outstanding Motion Picture, Precious (Won); Outstanding Independent Motion Picture, Precious (Won); Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, Gabourey Sidibe (Won); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Mo’Nique (Won); Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture, Geoffrey Fletcher (Won); Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television), Lee Daniels (Won); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Mariah Carey (Nominated) and Paula Patton (Nominated); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, Lenny Kravitz (Nominated)

An extensive list of awards and nominations for the film can be found here.

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: Abused and ignored Clarisse “Precious” Jones is sixteen, pregnant, and illiterate.  When she gets kicked out of school for being pregnant, she starts attending an alternative school, with a teacher who believes in her, and her journey toward a life of her own begins.

Information about the Author/Director: In addition to being a director, Lee Daniels is an actor and a film producer.  Notably, he produced the highly acclaimed film Monster’s Ball for which Halle Berry won the Best Actress Academy Award and which won the Best Screenplay Academy Award as well (Lee Daniels, n.d.).

Genres: Drama

Curriculum Ties: Discussions of poverty, abuse, acceptance, self-respect, self-esteem

Reading/Viewing Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to adult

Challenge Issues: Violence; Emotional Sexual, and Physical Abuse; Mature Language.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? While this movie is difficult to watch and painful at times, it also sends a message of hope and the strength of the human spirit.  It is feels frightening real and provides a voice to Precious, and other young women, who deserve to have their voices heard.

References:

Lee Daniels. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Daniels


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling

Bibliographic Information: Rowling, J.K. (2009). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.  ISBN: 0545139708.  784 pages.

Spoiler alert: This review may include information revealed in the Harry Potter books 1 through 6.

Plot Summary: In this, the last book of the wildly popular Harry Potter Series, Harry, now 17, must seek out the hidden objects that are sustaining life for the evil wizard Lord Voldemort.  Each of the books in the series has gotten more dark, Harry’s journeys more dangerous, and this one is no exception.  Harry’s quest to defeat Voldemort is more harrowing and challenging than ever.  This book contains bravery and triumph, in addition to heartbreak, sorrow and devastating loss.  In the midst of trying to save the wizarding world from unimaginable evil and to keep himself alive, Harry is transitioning from Hogwarts school boy to a full-fledged wizard and a grown man.  This is one coming of age story readers will not want to miss, full of drama, danger, friendship and love. Harry’s last book will not disappoint his fans one bit.   The only problem is, it leaves us wanting just one more…

Critical Evaluation: In this nearly 800 page finale, Rowling, astoundingly, does it again.  The elaborate, magnificent fantasy world she created in the first Harry Potter book comes alive again, with enough of the familiar to satisfy and comfort and enough new elements to thrill and engage.  This is gripping reading at its finest.  The characters are charismatic, unique, and multidimensional.  The story is riveting and unpredictable.  The book mixes the fantastical with, realistic young adult story lines of friendship and love, family and loyalty.  This mix keeps Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows grounded and believable, even as unbelievable as many of the elements are.  This is a great book for boys and girls, reluctant and eager readers alike, and, of course, fans of fantasy.

Of note, is that this book and the entire Harry Potter series are excellent choices for audio books.  The audio books are unabridged, so they take many hours to listen to, but the reader, Jim Dale is himself magical in his ability to act out each role as if a different person were performing.  Highly recommended.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was named the best book of 2007, by Newsweek‘s Malcolm Jones, was on Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2007 list, and was on the 2008 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults list, among many other honors and awards.

Reader’s Annotation: Harry Potter, now 17, must take a dangerous and circuitous journey to seek out the hidden objects that are sustaining life for the evil wizard Lord Voldemort.

Information about the Author:  J. K. Rowling started writing stories as a young child.  The idea for Harry Potter came to her while she was on a train.  She did not have a pen, so she spent the four-hour train ride just dreaming up Harry and his magical world.  She says “I think that perhaps if I had had to slow down the ideas so that I could capture them on paper I might have stifled some of them.” (Rowling, 2011).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the final book in a seven-book series, books one through six are: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,

Genre: Fantasy

Subgenre/Theme: Fantasy: Magic

Curriculum Ties: n/a

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How would it feel to be the only person who can save your world from evil and destruction?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 9 – 18

Challenge Issues: There are those who claim the books promote the occult and witchcraft.  In fact, the Harry Potter series is number one on the ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.  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, some are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? The great popularity of the Harry Potter series makes it a natural choice for a young adult collection.  Also, I really enjoyed the audio books of books one through six, so I was thrilled to get to listen to number seven.

References:

Rowling, J.K. (2011). Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.jkrowling.com/en/


Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

Bibliographic Information: Perkins, L.R. (2005). Criss Cross. New York, NY: Green Willow Books.  ISBN: 0060092726.  337 pages.

Plot Summary: “She wished something would happen.  Something good.  To her.  Looking at the bright fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that.  Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one.  Hoping it wasn’t too late, she thought the word SOON.”  Young teen Debbie, keeps hoping something will happen.  Hector, Debbie’s childhood friend “felt unfinished, still in process.”  Debbie, Hector, and a group of their childhood friends are all going through the complex and circuitous journey of growing up.  Periodically, throughout the book, the friends gather on Saturdays to listen to Criss Cross, “the kind of radio show you would like if you liked Mad Magazine.  Which they all did, or had, a few years ago.”  Also, running throughout the book is the story of a necklace, that Debbie loses, that gets passed from one character to the next in a series of interesting coincidences.  Will the teens find the clarity that they are searching for?  Will they become who they think they will be? Who will they become, and how will they get there?

Critical Evaluation: Eclectic and creative, the writing in Criss Cross is mostly from Debbie’s or Hector’s perspective.  Told in a series of interrelated vignettes, poetry, questions and answers, with illustrations and a few photographs, this book is clever, witty and provides an honest portrayal of the inner thoughts and feelings of its characters.  Criss Cross is a coming of age story uniquely presented and rendered, and, though it takes place in the 1970’s, the issues and feelings that arise for the teens in the novel are fully relevant for today’s teens.  As the main characters are young teens, the book is probably best suited for the younger end of teens, ages 14-16.  The compelling story, accessible writing, and interesting presentation make the book a good choice for reluctant readers or teens reading a bit below grade level.  Poetic and charming, Criss Cross ponders some of life’s most common questions with grace, insight and wit.  Criss Cross won the 2006 Newberry Medal and is on the 2006 ALA Best Books for Young Adults list.

Reader’s Annotation: Debbie, Hector and their friends are at a crossroads.  They are growing up, trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, and searching, always searching.

Information about the Author: Author and artist Lynne Rae Perkins has written and illustrated several picture books and young adult novels.  I did not know this when I read it, but Criss Cross is the second novel that Perkins has written with the character of Debbie in it.  The first novel is called All Alone in the Universe and is about Debbie when she is thirteen years old.

In addition to words, Perkins uses art to express herself, thus, she adds a unique element to her novels.  A quote from Perkins’ website made me smile: “’Books are ideas with meat on their bones.’  I have that written down but I don’t know who said it.  It might have been me, but probably not” (Perkins, n.d.)

Genre: Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Category: Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties:  A twist on the classic coming of age novel, this novel could be compared to other more traditional coming of age novels.  Perkins also provides a few ideas for teachers interested in teaching the book here.

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Do you ever wish something, anything would happen?
  • Do you think we are ever finished?  Complete?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 16

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? It won the Newberry Medal and was on YALSA’s 2006 Best Books for Young Adults list. 

References:

Perkins, L.R. (n.d.) Activities for All Alone in the Universe. Retrieved from http://www.lynneraeperkins.com/all_alone_in_the_universe_activities.htm


Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Bibliographic Information: Leitich Smith, C. (2001). Rain is Not My Indian Name. New York, NY: HarperCollins.  ISBN: 0688173977.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Cassidy Rain Berghoff knows about loss.  Her mother died when she was eight and her best friend, Galen, just died, on New Year’s Eve, the night before Rain’s 14th birthday.    Rain is a “mixed blood” American Indian, “I’m Muscogee, Creek-Cherokee and Scots-Irish on Mom’s side, Irish-German-Ojibway on Dad’s,” (Leitich Smith, 2001, p. 20).  She lives in a small town in Kansas with her brother and his fiancée and her grandfather.  Her father is in the military stationed abroad.  Living in a small, mostly white, town, Rain has had to face prejudice and stereotyping.  She explains that in school most talk of Native Americans comes up around “Turkey Day,” as she calls it.  Her response?  “I usually get through it by reading sci-fi fanzines behind my text books until we move on to Kwanza,” (Leitich Smith, 2001, p. 13).  This is a young woman who knows who she is and does not let others define her.  With the loss of Galen, Rain has put herself in a self-imposed exile for months, but when anti-Indian prejudice is expressed around Rain’s Aunt’s Indian Camp summer program, Rain has to decide how to respond.  She does so with grace, strength, and sensitivity.

Critical Evaluation: Leitich Smith lets us enter Rain’s world via Rain’s witty, sensitive, voice, and through journal entries at the start of each chapter, that add authenticity to the novel.  The writing is warm and appealing and the story deals with complex real-life issues for which there are no easy answers.  Readers may take the journey with Rain, as she attempts to figure out who she is and what her culture means to her.  This novel gives reader,s who are not familiar with contemporary Native American lives, a window into one family, dealing with every day life, facing anti-Indian prejudice, and celebrating the richness and gifts of their cultures.  Many novels with Native American characters are historic novels, keeping Native Americans locked in the past.  Beverly Slapin of Oyate sums up the book’s coverage of Native American issues, “Smith (Muscogee/Creek) deftly tackles such dominant icons and artifacts as football mascots, fake dreamcatchers, Elvis, and Anime and places them in a contemporary Indian cultural context alongside fried bologna sandwiches, two-steps, and star quilts,” (Slapin, 2001, p. 116).  This book was an Oklahoma Book Award Finalist; for this title Smith was selected to be part of the 2001 Writers of the Year in Children’s Prose by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Reader’s Annotation: Six months ago, Rain’s best friend died and she’s been in a self-imposed exile ever since, but when anti-Indian prejudice is expressed regarding her Aunt’s Indian Camp summer program, Rain has to decide how — or IF — to respond. 

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 with her husband, also a writer, Greg Leitich Smith (http://gregleitichsmith.com/).

Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Issues, Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Multicultural Fiction: Multicultural Americans: Native Americans; Issues: Social Concerns: Activism, Racism; Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Civil Rights, Discrimination

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Identity Development
  • Young Adult Activism

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 17

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? This book is included because of its critical praise as well as its subject matter.  There are not that many books for young adults about contemporary American Indian life.  And, though the main character is fourteen years old, the content is relevant for older teens as well, and the writing is accessible for older teens at a lower reading level.

References:

Leitich Smith, C. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name.  New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Slapin, B. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name. MultiCultural Review, 10(3), 115-116.


The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

Bibliographic Information: Plum-Ucci, C. (2000). The Body of Christopher Creed. New York, NY: Volo Books.  ISBN: 0152063862.  276 pages.

Plot Summary: Christopher Creed has gone missing, leaving only a mysterious note via email. Did he kill himself?  Or run away? Or, was he kidnapped or murdered? Christopher was not what one would call popular. Though he was well known to students throughout the school, he was considered weird and annoying, and was a frequent recipient of violence at the hands of his peers. Torey Adams is a popular football player, boyfriend of the prettiest girl in school, and in Chris’ eyes, one of the “perfect people.” But is Torey’s life perfect? Why does he feel so angry when his friends make derogatory remarks about Chris after his disappearance? Torey, along with Ali, Chris’s neighbor, and Ali’s boyfriend, Bo, investigate what really happened to Chris, ending up, themselves, knee deep in the mystery. Along the way Torey discovers his own empathy, what it really means to “fit in,” and that people are not always what they seem.

Critical Evaluation: This suspenseful book will keep readers hooked, anxiously awaiting the answer to: what happened to Christopher Creed? Written in the first person voice of 16-year-old Torey Adams, the narrative flows with Torey’s realistic reports and reflections. Addressing the universal teen concepts of intolerance of difference, adults’ lack of understanding of young people, and the difficulty of finding one’s place in the world, this book has staying power.  Plum-Ucci’s first person account from the perspective of Torey allows readers to enter the world of a teenager and join him in his difficult struggle to realize that the thoughts he had always had about the world and people’s places in it might not be accurate.  This book has won numerous awards and honors: Michael L. Printz Award Honor 2001, Edgar Award Nomination for Best Young Adult Mystery 2001, Children’s Book Council’s Children’s Choice List Honor 2001, ALA and YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults Honor 2001, ALA and YALSA’s Most Popular Paperbacks 2004.

Reader’s Annotation: When Christopher Creed goes missing, popular football player Torey becomes an unlikely ally in the search for what happened.

Information about the Author: Carol Plum-Ucci lives in Southern New Jersey.  Plum-Ucci grew up on a New Jersey Barrier Island and often uses the south Jersey shore as the backdrop of her novels.  She was raised in a funeral home, but interesting trivia about Plum-Ucci does not stop there.  For years she worked for the Miss American organization, including being assistant to the producer of the pageant.  Also, “Plum-Ucci has ghost written for six Miss Americas, two CEOs and others who are nameless by discretion. “ (Plum-Ucci, About, n.d.).

In September of this year (2011) a follow-up novel to The Body of Christopher Creed was published; it is entitled Following Christopher Creed.  Plum-Ucci is dedicated to interacting with and helping out her readers.  Her website has a page entitled, “Students” where one can find several sections, below is an example of some of the links she offers.

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

Categories/Themes: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery, Issues: Life Is Hard: Outsiders and Missing Teens

Topics Covered: Bullying, Intolerance, Stereotypes

Curriculum Ties: Discussion of stereotypes, outsiders, assumptions

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use the mystery aspects of the book to draw potential readers in

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 17

Challenge Issues: This book was challenged in the Appleton Area School District in Appleton, Wisconsin.  It was challenged by several parents for “innappropriate words in the book” and one parent critic stated, “The Body of Christopher Creed is not a book to motivate and entice kids into reading.”    In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Additionally, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors.

Why is this book included? Initially chosen for its multiple awards and nominations, The Body of Christopher Creed is a fresh, relevant, intelligent addition to a teen collection.

References:

Plum-Ucci, C. (n.d.) Carol Plum-Ucci: About. Retrieved from http://carolplumucci.com/About.html


Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Bibliographic Information: Gantos, J. (2002). Hole in My Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).  ISBN: 0374399883.  208 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: Sometimes a person does not realize that he is making a huge mistake until it is too late.  Sometimes a person forgets to think about the consequences of his actions.  Jack Gantos, now an accomplished author of books for pre-teens (including the Joey Pigza series), was in his late teens when he made a mistake that would change his life.  In the early 1970’s $10,000 could buy even more than it can now, and that it what Gantos was promised as a payment if he could help a man sail a boat full of hashish from The Caribbean island of St. Croix to New York City.  “I didn’t think of the danger involved with braking the law.  I didn’t even consider that I had no idea how to sail a large boat…that anything bad could possible happen.”  But we know something bad did happen, because Gantos opens the book with a discussion of his time in prison and the fear of random violence he lived with every moment of every day.  Always interested in becoming a writer, but never following through, Gantos also started writing in earnest while he was in prison.  This memoir was not his first or even second book, it was published over 30 years after he started his life in prison, but his words describe his past life as if the visceral memories or not, in any way, forgotten.

Critical Evaluation: Gantos’ voice is honest and frank.  He manages to tell his story with a careful balance to the point of almost being objective.  He’s not self-aggrandizing or egomaniacal nor is he overly self-deprecating, all traps into which memoir writers can fall.  Gantos’ story is compelling, and though, as mentioned above, readers know from the start (the front cover shows his mugs hot) that Gantos will end up in prison, the path to get there take enough twists and turns that the story is still suspenseful and engaging.  There are parts of the story that could probably have been edited a bit to speed up the pace, it felt a little long at times, but overall this book is well worth the read.  There are many episodes from Gantos’ life that could inspire interesting and exciting class, book group, or family discussions.  There are lessons to be learned from Gantos, not because he preaches and not because he feels sorry for himself, but because he earns his readers’ respect through sometimes brutal honesty and his willingness to make himself vulnerable and open for to truly see him and learn from his mistakes.

Reader’s Annotation: In the early 1970’s, Jack in Gantos was an aspiring writer who didn’t have the money he needed to attend college, and he was in a job he hated.  So, when he was offered $10,000 to help sail a shipment of drugs from the Caribbean to New York City he said, “Count me in.”

Information about the Author: Jack Gantos is an award-winning author of children’s, tween young adult, and adult books.  As a child he wanted to become a writer, in fact, according to his website, “The seeds for Jack Gantos’ writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could.”

It was in college that Gantos published his first children’s book; he received a BA and an MA from Emerson College in Boston.  At Emerson he became an instructor in children’s book writing and eventually created a masters program in children’s book writing.  Gantos also taught at Vermont College in the M.F.A. program for children’s book writers.  “He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking.” (Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos)

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction, Coming of Age, Suspense, Crime

Topics Covered: Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, Illegal Activities, Incarceration, Growing Up, Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Health, Responsible Decision Making, Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The immense and intense fear Gantos felt in prison
  • Can one mistake ruin your whole life?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues: Drug Use, Alcohol Abuse, Drug Selling, Illegal Activities.

Why is this book included? Hole in my Life won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors; it is a compelling and moving story of a young man facing himself and not liking what he sees sometimes.  It is non-fiction with all of the drama of fiction and the emotional honesty only a memoir can provide.  In other words, it’s a great book, and a great addition to a non-fiction section for young adults.

References:

Gantos, J. (n.d.). Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos.  Retrieved from http://www.jackgantos.com.vhost.zerolag.com/bio-photos/