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.


Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

Bibliographic Information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genre: Issues

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

Curriculum Ties: Suicide

Booktalking Ideas:

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

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

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

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

References:

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


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


Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bibliographic Information: Anderson, L.H. (1999). Speak. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  ISBN: 0374371520.  208 pages.

Plot Summary: At the end of the summer before her freshman year in high school, Melinda Sordino and her friend Rachel attended a party.  At that party, Melinda called 911. This resulted in the party breaking up, some students being arrested and Melinda’s social status going to zero.  Her friends abandoned her.  People she did not even know hated her.  It was pretty much the worst way to start high school.  And then something strange started to happen.  Melinda’s throat seems to always be sore, her lips are badly chapped and she is often unable to speak, “It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis,” (Anderson, 1999, p. 51).  Something is wrong, but when her parents try to ask her about it, Melinda cannot seem to get the words out.  Soon she is almost completely alone, preferring to spend time in an abandoned janitor’s closet than her classes at school.  Can she ever get out of her isolation and depression?  What happened, and will she ever SPEAK?

Critical Evaluation: Moving and intense, Speak has a lot packed into its 208 pages.  Part mystery, part issue novel, Speak tells Melinda’s story with attention to detail, reminding us that the little things are often very important.  Melinda’s voice is clear and authentic, and resonates with honesty.  Melinda’s dry commentary on the superficiality and ironies of high school will ring true for many a teen.  Anderson delivers a novel that brings its readers in and does not let them go even after the last page have been read.  Readers will root for Melinda, as she tries to find her way out of her quiet isolation.  Speak, Anderson’s first young adult novel, was highly praised by critics and won numerous honors.Ffor example, it was a National Book Award Finalist, a Printz Honor book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and an Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist.

Reader’s Annotation:  The events at an end-of-summer party create havoc for Melinda’s freshman year in high school.

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: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Suspense

Category: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Problems; Issues: Life Is Hard: Sexual Abuse, Outsiders

Curriculum Ties: Sexual Assault, Underage Drinking

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What might happen to you, that would leave you unable or unwilling to speak?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 18

Challenge Issues: Underage drinking, sexual assault, rape.  Anderson has a piece on her website with specific information to respond to challenges to Speak. (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, four are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Both the honors it has received and word of mouth from classmate,s as well as the mother of a teen I know, led me to choose to this book.

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 Speak. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/censorship-book-banning/


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Bibliographic Information: Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Forney, E. (Illus.). New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  ISBN: 0316013692.  288 pages.

Plot Summary: “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.” Fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr., called Junior by his friends and family, lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His best, and only, friend Rowdy protects him from kids on the “rez,” who use Junior as a punching bag. He is teased and picked on because he’s skinny, he wears glasses, he lisps, and, according to him, “Everyone on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day.” But, Junior is smart and thoughtful, he’s an aspiring cartoonist, and he has managed to eke out a small amount of hope for his future. He makes the life-changing decision to leave the rez school to attend Reardon, a school 22 miles from the reservation, with only white students in a wealthy, all-white town. Students at Reardon are high achievers, both academically and in athletics. Will Junior’s Indian community feel betrayed by his decision? Will the kids at his new school open their hearts to him? Readers will root for this unassuming, honest, witty and smart protagonist, as he makes his way through the murky waters of growing up and self-discovery.

Critical Evaluation: Alexie’s honest, authentic writing tells Junior’s story with intimacy and feeling.  And while this book reads like a memoir, it is fiction, but heavily based on Alexie’s own life.  Readers get the opportunity to be present for day-to-day life as well as some of the more dramatic moments of Junior’s life, and through it all Alexie’s dry wit and social commentary are meaningful and not at all didactic. The complex issues of race and class intersect, intertwine, and give readers plenty to think about.  Part devastatingly sad, part funny, and part hopeful, this coming of age story provides pause for thought about life’s complexities, as well as some of its most simple, and basic, pleasures.  Alexie’s is an important voice in young adult literature, as there are very few books depicting contemporary Indian Reservation life.  Though Junior is fourteen, the novel’s content is mature enough to keep older teens engaged.  In fact, the many levels of this book would likely be best understood by teens older than the main character.  While the content is often heavy, the writing is accessible for a wide range of reading levels; this book, with its many cartoon illustrations, is enjoyable to read, and could be a great choice for reluctant readers.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award

Reader’s Annotation: Junior’s life takes a dramatic turn when he decides to leave the Spokane Indian Reservation school for an all-white school in an affluent town 22 miles away from his reservation home.

Information about the Author: Sherman Alexie is an author, a poet, and a filmmaker.  He has written 22 books, and has received numerous honors for his creative works.  Alexie has a strong voice and does not shy away from controversy (see “Challenge Issues” below). He is a frequent public speaker and an advocate for Native American Youth.

Genre: Issue, Realistic Fiction

Category: Issue: Social Concerns: Racism; Issue: Life is Hard: Multiple and Unique Issues, Outsiders

Topics Covered: Growing up, American Indian, Indian reservation, racism, poverty, discrimination, Bullying

Curriculum Ties: This book would provide plenty to talk about for a high school English or social studies class

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “I think Rowdy might be the most important person in my life. Maybe more important than my family. Can your best friend be more important than your family?” (p. 123)

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to 19

Challenge Issues: This book contains a lot of cursing and references to sexuality.  It also exposes readers to poverty, racism, hatred, sadness and grief, things that some adults feel they need to protect young people from.  Alexie’s own experience of hearing from teens that this book speaks to them and they appreciate its honesty is discussed in his Wall Street Journal Blog piece, entitled Why the Best Kids’ Books Are Written in Blood.  More information about censorship of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian can be found in the Blog of The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

Why is this book included? This book is included for several reasons.  1) Authentic American Indian voices are underrepresented in American literature in general, and in young adult literature in particular, so it is important that Alexie’s voice is heard and available for young people to read. 2) It is a great book, funny, poignant, and gives us all a lot to think about.  I enjoyed it a lot and think you will too.  3) Related to #2, it won the National Book Award among other honors and was highly critically acclaimed.

References:

Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.


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/


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