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

Advertisements

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/


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


Hope in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum

Bibliographic Information: Fehlbaum, B. (2010). Hope in Patience. Lodi, NJ: WestSide Books.  ISBN: 1934813419. 312 pages.

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old Ashley Asher suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  She lives with her father, David, stepmother, Bev, and little brother Ben in Patience Texas.  Before she came to Patience she lived with her mother Cheryl and stepfather Charlie in LaSalle, Texas, a couple of hours from Patience.  It was at the house in LaSalle that Ashley was subjected to repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.  Adding to her trauma was the fact that her mother did not protect her from Charlie’s abuse, even once Ashley bravely told her mother about it.  Eventually, Ashley told a trusted friend and then a teacher and then Child Protective Services got involved and Ashley came to live with her father, a man she never knew.  Ashley’s father’s family welcomed Ashley into the family with open arms, but she was not someone who could easily trust people.  As she tries to piece her life back together, with the help of her new family’s love, a no nonsense therapist, and a few close friends, Ashley realizes that she cannot ignore nor escape her past, as much as she so desperately wants to.   She fights each day against her PTSD, the trauma can get triggered at any time, and resists her inclination toward self-mutilation.  Ashley is a survivor, she’s already survived so much, but can she pull herself out of her numbness, out of the closet she has literally and figuratively been crouching in for years?  Can she learn to trust and love again?

Critical Evaluation: Hope in Patience is at once gripping and moving, disturbing and heart-wrenching.  Ashley has endured an astonishing amount of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and cruel neglect in her short life.  As Fehlbaum’s writing presents an honest, clearly authentic voice for Ashley, readers are left devastated at what she has been through.  Her reactions to the abuse she has suffered, even when safe and away from her abuser, gives readers a look at the depth of destruction the abuse has caused.  Readers who have been sexually abused may find solace in Ashley’s story, in the speaking of the truth, the “hope” in Patience.  It would be hard to find any reader who was not able to empathize and root for Ashley.  But, make no mistake, It is difficult to read this book.  And important.  It is also important that stories, like Ashley’s, get told.

Reader’s Annotation: When Ashley moves away from her abusive stepfather and negligent mother, she moves in with her father and his family and must rebuild her life from the inside out.

Information about the Author: Beth Fehlbaum was born in Dallas, Texas and currently lives in East Texas with her husband, who was her high school sweetheart.  Beth and her husband have three grown daughters.  Hope in Patience is the second book in a three-book, “Patience” series, the first is Courage in Patience and the last is Truth in Patience.  In addition to being a writer of the “Patience” trilogy Fehlbaum is a teacher who, like Ashley’s stepmother Bev, is passionate about, “teaching, social justice, and insisting upon authenticity in the classroom,” (Fehlbaum, 2011).   Beth’s writing about Ashley’s abuse and its aftermath was inspired by her “own recovery from childhood sexual abuse,(Fehlbaum, 2011), and this story opens a window into that dark world.  But this is also a story about overcoming obstacles, and accepting who you are, and courage.  “Ashley’s story is anyone’s story– anyone who has ever overcome what they thought they never could; anyone who has ever known what it is to want to be loved and accepted as-is,” (Fehlbaum, 2011).

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Issues: Life Is Hard: Sexual Abuse

Topics Covered: Sexual Abuse, Family, Friendship, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Self Mutilation

Curriculum Ties: Health Education, Family, Sexual Abuse.  A Teacher’s guide to Hope in Patience, created by the author, can be found here.

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read a couple of paragraphs from the first few pages of the book
  • Talk about mothers, what mothers are “supposed” to do compared to what Ashley’s mother was like.
  • Talk about post traumatic stress disorder, starting with soldiers coming home from war and how some people get PTSD from events in their own homes.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15-19 years

Challenge Issues: This book contains multiple graphic references to sexual abuse.  It also contains cursing and has a lesbian character.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, for example, Booklist, School Library Journal and YALSA all reviewed the book favorably.  YALSA named Hope in Patience a 2011 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  The book deals with real topics that are difficult for many people to think about, let alone explore in depth, but that is exactly why this book is important to have available.

Why is this book included? Fehlbaum has managed to put together beautiful, honest writing with a compelling, rich story about a topic so disturbing the main character often tries to hide from it.  This book is an important part of a teen collection for many reasons.  It could be therapeutic for survivors of abuse to read.  It speaks out loud about things that happen, but are often hidden and should be brought to light.  Hope in Patience, at its core, tells a story of a young woman who has to dig down deep and find the strength and courage to live and be happy, and we all can learn from that.

References:

Fehlbaum, B. (2011). Bio. Retrieved from www.bethfehlbaumya.com/bio.htm