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

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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/


Teen Voices

Bibliographic Information: Teen Voices (magazine). Boston, MA. ISSN: 10747974.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Voices is not your average teen magazine.  It is a print and online magazine for teen girls, BY teen girls.  The mission: “Teen Voices supports and educates teen girls to amplify their voices and create social change through media.”  Teen Voices is not just a magazine but a non-profit organization that supports teens’ development in creating the magazine and mentors teens through the process.  Teen Voices also supports teen girls’ leadership development and social justice awareness and activism.

Articles in Teen Voices cover a wide breadth of topics, like arts and music, book reviews and author interviews, diversity and equality, food, health, the media, careers, teen activism, relationships, social networking.  The magazine also includes fiction and poetry written by teen girls.  Recent articles include:

  • Recent Events in Egypt from a Girl’s Eye View
  • Girl’s Hurt by Gang Violence
  • Got the Knowledge to Go to College? Teen Voices Helps You on Your Way!
  • When Relationships Get Tough, Can They Be Too Rough?
  • Got the Facebook Blues?

Critical Evaluation: The content of Teen Voices, like the voices it represents, is diverse and intelligent.  Since teens are creating content, the magazine is highly relevant and authentic.  Articles cover real-life issues and, while there is always room for fun, the magazine addresses young women as competent, intelligent people with the ability to think and analyze and question the status quo.  Other teen magazines, with their emphasis on appearance and social status, do not compare to the depth and strength of the content in Teen VoicesTeen Voices and its staff have received awards and honors, that acknowledge the important and life-changing work that the organization does.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young women deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has won awards and has a positive review in School Library Journal.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.


Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

Bibliographic Information: Draper, S. (2006). Copper Sun. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.  ISBN: 0689821816.  302 pages.

Plot Summary: “Amari shuffled in the dirt as she was led into the yard and up onto a raised wooden table, which she realized gave the people in the yard a perfect view of the women who were to be sold.  She looked at the faces in the sea of pink-skinned people who stood around pointing at the captives and jabbering in their language as each of the slaves was described.  She looked for pity or even understanding but found nothing except cool stares.”  Fifteen-year-old Amari lives in the rural village of Ziavi, in western Africa, with her mother, father and little brother, until one day everything changes.  White slave traders from America, accompanied and assisted by members of a neighboring village, murder much of Amari’s community, including her family.  Amari survives.  The invaders then take Amari and others who were not too young and not too old with them for a long, arduous, and often deadly, voyage to Charles Town, South Carolina.  Amari lives through the journey, many of the captives did not.  Once in America, Amari is sold and brought to live on a plantation where she meets many other slaves and Polly, a white indentured servant, who is also fifteen.  Will the horrors of slavery make Amari wish she too had died?  Could Amari and Polly ever become friends?  Can Amari find any hope for the future?

Critical Evaluation: Brutally real and disturbingly detailed, Copper Sun tells a story about slavery that is more personal than what young people learn in school or read in a history book.  Though the book is a fictional account, Amari comes to life on the pages as a real person that the reader can relate to and feel for.  The multifaceted characters have depth and readers can see how complicated their lives are.  The story provides insight into the depth of racism, inequality, and inhumanity surrounding slavery.  The African characters demonstrate a variety of responses to their horrific circumstances, including astonishing strength of character and spirit, despite horrific treatment and conditions.  Draper’s writing is so descriptive that sights, smell, and sounds come to life.  Draper’s extensive research into the history of the slave trade lends a good deal of realism to the story, making it both unsettling and important.  The writing flows well and the reading level is accessible for teens, though this book contains intense subject matter, in particular the descriptions of frequent physical and sexual abuse.  Some of the many awards and honors Copper Sun has received include: 2007 Coretta Scott King Literature Award, Booklist’s Top Ten Historical Fiction Books for Youth, School Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year.

Reader’s Annotation: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives in a rural West African village with her family, until one day everything changes.  Amari watches as slave traders from America murder much of her community, including her family; she survives, but what is in store for her makes her wish she had not.

Information about the Author: Sharon Draper has written more than two dozen book,s including a mystery series for grade schoolers and novels for tweens and teens.  In addition to being a writer, Draper is a professional educator.  She has received many awards and accolades for her writing as well as her teaching, including being honored as National Teacher of the Year and winning the Coretta Scott King Literature Award five times.

“Her book Copper Sun has been selected by the US State Department and the International Reading Association as the United States novel for the international reading project called Reading Across Continents. Students in the US, Nigeria, and Ghana are reading the book and sharing ideas-a true intercontinental, cross-cultural experience.” (Draper, n.d.)

Genre: Historical Novel

Subgenres/Themes: Historical Novel: American History: Nineteenth Century: Slavery; Historical Novel: African History

Topics Covered: Slavery, Africa, African-American History, American History, Friendship, Survival, Racism, Race, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Violence

Curriculum Ties: American History, African History, Slavery

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Imagine watching the murder of your family and many others in your village, as Amari did.
  • How would it feel to be sold?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to 17

Challenge Issues: Physical and Sexual Abuse and a great deal of violence.  Response: 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 and honors, as mentioned above in the critical evaluation.

Why is this book included? This book is well written and relevant as historical fiction about a teen in almost unimaginable circumstances.  Though this book is fiction, it gives a voice to the experience of a slave and to slavery, a sometimes pushed aside, but important to remember, piece of American history.

References:

Draper, S. M. (n.d.) Biography: Sharon M. Draper.  Retrieved from http://sharondraper.com/formal-biography.asp


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


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