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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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.


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.


American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Bibliographic Information: Yang, G.L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second.  ISBN: 1596431520.  240 pages.

Plot Summary: In three concurrent story lines, American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes who, when he comes to visit, humiliates his popular, all-American-looking cousin, Danny.  Jin Wang is picked on by bullies, falls in love with an “all-American” girls, and is an all-around sympathetic and likeable character.  The Monkey King’s tale is reminiscent of ancient fables.  And Chin Kee is so over the top, he just might make readers squirm.  Using illustrations with clean lines and a cool, earthy color palette, Yang raises issues of ethnicity, race, identity, and self-acceptance.  Each story gives readers lots to think about.  Are they really separate stories, or is there a connection between them?

Critical Evaluation: Expressive illustrations and carefully chosen text make this graphic novel sophisticated and intelligent.  Yang uses some over-the-top characters, as well as more relatable ones, to demonstrate the complexities of identity and being comfortable in one’s own skin.  His prose is humorous and poignant, entertaining and thought-provoking.  His illustrations work hand in hand with his prose to create a visual story with depth and emotion.  His weaving of the book’s elements into a whole that is so much more than the sum of its excellent parts is what makes Yang a master at his craft and highly praised by critics and award committees.  American Born Chinese has earned many awards and honors, what follows is a selected list: 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, Winner of the Printz Award, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens – Top Ten List, 2007.

Reader’s Annotation: In three concurrent story lines, colorfully and expressively illustrated American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes.

Information about the Author: Gene Luen Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area; he started writing comic books in 5th grade.  For his Master’s in Education at Cal State Hayward, he wrote his thesis on using comics in education.  He has written several comic books; the highly praised American Born Chinese was his first graphic novel.

Yang is playful and has a great sense of humor, as is demonstrated by his books as well as the following answers to eight questions (as quoted from his Macmillan biography page.

EIGHT QUESTIONS from GENE LUEN YANG

What’s your favorite book that wasn’t written or drawn by you?

I have to pick only one?  I’m gonna say Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. If it weren’t for that book, I wouldn’t be a cartoonist.

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what one piece of media would you take with you?  If it isn’t your favorite book, explain how you came to this peculiar decision. 

A picture of my wife.  Or maybe the Bible.  No, a picture of my wife.  Because she’s so pretty.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

I love all flavors of ice cream, but I’m lactose intolerant so I’ll have to say Rainbow Sherbet.  Not as yummy as Mocha Almond Fudge, but so much better for my stomach.  And for the folks sitting next to me.

How are you planning to survive the zombie apocalypse?

I’m gonna develop a taste for zombie flesh.  Then I’m gonna go buy a large carving knife and lots of hot sauce.

What’s your favorite word?

“Moded.”  Remember when junior high kids used to use that word to diss on their friends?  So fun.  We gotta bring that back.  A whole generation is missing out on getting “moded.”

If you suddenly fell into a dimensional vortex and ended up in 1529, what profession would you adopt?

Ninja assassin!

Black or white?  Cats or dogs?  Apples or oranges?  Robots or vampires?

Black vampire apple-dogs

What’s the worst fortune cookie advice you ever got?  Did you take it? 

You take advice from fortune cookies?  Seriously?  We invented those things as a gimmick to sell you more moo shu pork.  You’re not actually supposed to run your life by them.

Genre: Issues, Humor

SubGenre/Themes: Issues: Racism,

Format: Graphic Novel: Real Life Themes

Topics Covered: Race, Racism, Outsiders, Fitting In

Curriculum Ties: Race in America, Stereotypes

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Thinking about being the only one in your school that…

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 to 19 to adult

Challenge Issues: Stereotypes.  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 numerous awards and honors, four are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Graphic novels are very popular and often reach out to reluctant readers.  With an enthusiastic endorsement from YASLA and its numerous awards, this book is a great choice for adding diversity to a collection’s formats.

References:

Yang, G.L. (n.d.). Gene Luen Yang. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/geneluenyang


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


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