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/

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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


Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Bibliographic Information: Myers, W.D. (1999). Monster. New York, NY: Harper Tempest.  ISBN: 0064407314.  281 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial, as an adult, for felony murder.  He’s terrified. The prosecutor calls him and his co-defendant “monsters.” But, is he a monster, or is he innocent, as he claims? Steve is accused of being the lookout man in a convenience store robbery that ends with the murder of the store owner. But was he there? Uniquely presented in Steve’s voice, the book consists of first person journal entries as well as a movie script-style of story telling, complete with blocking and camera directions. Steve reports on what prison is like, how his trial is progressing and he looks back on the day the events took place.  Dealing with the complexities of racism, poverty, peer pressure, and freedom, readers will experience how painstakingly difficult the jury’s job is as they try to distinguish honorable from self-serving motives and truths from lies.

Critical Evaluation: Compelling and intense, Monster paints a picture of a young boy struggling with right and wrong, prejudice, and the pressure to belong. The honest first person accounts, and movie script-style, give the book authenticity and interest and draw the reader in to the story.  Myers uses realistic language and sets the scene with honesty and integrity.  Many teens will relate to various elements in Steve’s struggles, teens who have been incarcerated or who have committed crimes will hear themselves in some of Steve’s words.  The depths of Steve’s troubles give the reader empathy for his predicament as well as ambivalence about the crimes he is accused of committing. This book is better suited to more mature teens, due to its heavy subject matter, violence, and references to sexual assault in prison.  Monster received numerous awards and honors including: Michael L. Printz Award Winner 2000, Edgar Award nomination for Best Young Adult Mystery 2000, Coretta Scott King Award Honor 2000, National Book Award Finalist 1999, ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults 2000, ALA’s Recommended Books for Reluctant Young Readers 2000.

Reader’s Annotation: The maximum length of the annotation should be no more than two sentences

Information about the Author:  Walter Dean Myers has written somewhere around 100 books, mostly young adult realistic fiction. He has also written children’s picture books and nonfiction.

He was born in West Virginia, in August 1932 and was raised in Harlem, New York.  Myers dropped out of high school, but not before a teacher who recognized his writing talent, told him to “keep writing no matter what happened to [him.]”  He also loved basketball, which plays a role in several of his novels.  He calls his teen years the most difficult years of his life, and draws his writing inspiration from these years.

Genre: Issues, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Alternative Formats, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Sub Genres & Themes: Issues: Social Concerns: Crime and Criminals; Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery; Alternative Formats: Mixed Formats

Curriculum Ties: Social Studies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Discuss Steve’s predicament, what would YOU do?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-18

Challenge Issues: Crime, Murder, 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? Hailed by critics, I chose to include Monster for its excellent writing and compelling storyline as well as several awards and nominations, as noted above.  I am also a big fan of Walter Dean Myers, so I wanted to include a title of his in my blog.  Monster was published in 1999, but the story of Steve’s struggles is timeless, and will continue to be current for many years to come. Additionally, Monster depicts an African American teen, providing much-needed ethnic diversity to the teen Mystery genre.


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


Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Bibliographic Information: Doctorow, C. (2010). Little Brother. New York, NY: Tor Teen.  ISBN: 0765323117.  416 pages.

Plot Summary: When teen techno genius Marcus gets a message that the Harajuku Fun Madness game has a new clue available, he is not going to let a little thing like school get in the way of his fun.  And, it’s only right that his friends go to downtown San Francisco with him.  But what starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge, leaving residents and law enforcement officers on high alert.  When homeland security teams swoop in to prevent any more terrorist destruction, they take Marcus and his friends into custody.  Marcus questions Homeland Security’s methods when he learns all that is happening in the name of protecting the city and its people.  Marcus, always a bit of a rebel, takes on those who would limit freedom and invade privacy for ostensible security, using his technological prowess, online connections with other hackers, and pure chutzpah.  Can one teenager really make a difference?

Critical Evaluation: Exciting, gripping, and immensely entertaining, Little Brother has cross-genre appeal.  Part science fiction, mystery, and adventure, part realistic fiction, dystopian novel and techno-thriller, this book has much to offer to many different readers.  The heavy use of technology within the plot, but just a bit more than we have access to now, gives the novel an “in the not too distant future” feel.  The book is relatively long, but maintains reader interest by being action packed and fairly fast paced.  From a lonely prison cell to a large-scale demonstration in a public park, readers take a fantastic ride with Marcus, portrayed by Doctorow as a complex character with depth.  Like many teens, his friends are of central importance to him, he falls in love, and he doesn’t tell his parents much about what is going on with him, but in other ways Marcus is quite unique.  He spends much of his free time living in a virtual world of hackers where nobody knows his real name.  Marcus doesn’t always follow the rules, and he is very adept at avoiding being caught, for example, he puts small pebbles in his shoes to throw off the school’s gait recognition software that would be able to identify him as he sneaks out during school hours.  Details like these bring the reader into the story and into the life of Marcus, who, for all his mischief, is shown to be intelligent, creative and a good person who cares about the people and world around him.  Doctorow’s opinions about freedom of speech and privacy online, he is NOT a fan of the PATRIOT ACT, for example, are obvious in the novel, but his treatment of the characters who express opposing views is not completely unsympathetic.  A New York Times Best Seller, Little Brother has won several awards and honors, for example, 2009 VOYA Science Fiction for Young Adults/Golden Duck Award, School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008, and the 2009 White Pine Award (According to Wikipedia, “The White Pine Award is an annual literature award sponsored by the Ontario Library Association (OLA) that has awarded Canadian young adult books since 2002.”).

Reader’s Annotation: What starts out as an afternoon ditching school becomes six days Marcus will never forget, when a terrorist plot blows up the Bay Bridge.  Marcus and his friends must stand up to the powers that be, who seem to value perceived security over freedom.

Information about the Author: Information about Cory Doctorow from the blog Boing Boing (http://boingboing.net/), of which Doctorow is an editor, “Cory is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger.”  Doctorow’s activism surrounds issues of free speech and privacy in online environments.   Doctorow, “has been named one of the Web’s twenty-five “influencers” by Forbes Magazine and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum,” (http://us.macmillan.com/author/corydoctorow).  Cory Doctorow was born in Canada and currently lives in London.

Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Realistic Fiction

SubGenres/Themes: Science Fiction: Adventure, Dystopia; Adventure: Espionage and Terrorism; Techno-Thriller

Topics Covered: Freedom of Speech, Internet Privacy, Online Privacy, Love, Sexuality, Friendship, Activism,

Curriculum Ties: The US Constitution, The US Bill of Rights, Government, Internet Privacy

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if every where you went someone was trying to get you?  And this wasn’t paranoia?
  • How much freedom would you give up for safety?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-17

Challenge Issues: Anti-government sentiment, sexual activity, illegal activities.  In response to any challenges, 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? Originally included as part of class readings, Little Brother adds genre diversity to a collection. Little Brother is also an exciting, entertaining, and though-provoking read.