Plot Summary: In Ponyboy Curtis’s world (yes, that’s his real name), there are two things you can be: a greaser or a Soc, short for Social. Greasers, like Ponyboy and his brothers and all their friends, live on the east side. They are poor, they slick back their hair and are often considered “hoods” or JD’s, juvenile delinquents, by non-greasers. Socs, on the other hand, live on the west side, are wealthy, and are not considered to be hoods, but often behave like JD’s toward the greasers. It seems that when Socs get bored, they beat up greasers for entertainment. One night 14-year-old Ponyboy and his friend Johnny get jumped, not the first time either of them has been attacked by Socs, but this night things go terribly wrong. What will happen to Johnny and Ponyboy, who will help them, and how will they survive?
Critical Evaluation: S. E. Hinton was 16 when she wrote this classic coming-of-age novel in the 1960’s. The Outsiders contains universal themes relevant today. Tweens and teens struggle with fitting and not fitting in, being labeled and pre-judged, going along with or against the crowd. All of these challenges are presented in a compelling and engaging story, which is filled with narrator Ponyboy’s thoughtful reflections and raw emotions. The honest real-life situations of The Outsiders set it apart from other books, for young adults, from the 1960’s. Perhaps because she herself was a young adult, Hinton captured authentic voices and her readers responded with great delight. This classic is still meaningful and alive and well today.
Reader’s Annotation: Ponyboy Curtis lives with his two brothers on what some would consider to be the wrong side of the tracks. When a fateful event brings Ponyboy and his friend Johnny together with the rich socialites, their lives change forever.
Information about the Author: Susan Eloise Hinton was born in Tulsa, OK, in 1950. She still calls Tulsa her home. The Outsiders, which takes place in Oklahoma, was inspired by people and the social situations in her own Oklahoma high school. Her first book was The Outsiders, but she has continued writing, with her most recent book, Some of Tim’s Stories, a book of short stories, being published in 2006. (Hinton, n.d.)
In 1988, Hinton was given the first ever Margaret A. Edwards Award. She has written several novels for young adults, children and adults. Several of her novels have been made into movies, including The Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and released in 1983.
Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction
Subgenres/Themes: Issues: Social concerns: Gangs
Topics Covered: Social Status, Fitting In, Outsiders, Gangs, Violence, Love, Friendship, Family
Curriculum Ties: As The Outsiders is a classic, it could be read for an English class with lots to dissect and discuss,
- Imagine being in trouble, the kind of trouble you have no idea how to get out of…
Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 – 16
Challenge Issues: Profanity and violence. In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies. Also, the book is considered by many to be a classic and was, and still is, highly praised by critics.
Why is this book included? As a young teen, I loved this book (and the movie) so much that I decided I would memorize the book. I was a dreamer, to say the least. It took me forever to learn the first two sentences and I lost interest in memorizing after that, but not in reading it and re-reading it and re-reading it again. A classic in YA lit!
Hinton, S. E. (n.d.) Biography. Retrieved from http://www.sehinton.com/bio.html
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
- “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.
Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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
- 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.
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
- “‘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.
2007 National Book Award Finalist, Young People’s Literature. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2007_ypl_felin.html
Plot Summary: Winter was living the life! She lived with her mother, father and sisters in the projects in Brooklyn, but never wanted for anything. Her father, the leader of a prominent drug dealing operation, spoiled her with fancy jewelry, clothes, and things. The cold winter night she was born, he gave her a diamond ring. Winter’s mother was beautiful and stylish and knew how to get what she wanted from her man. Winter, was interested in boys, and she learned a lot from her mother about how the world worked. Life was going along fine in Brooklyn when Winter’s father decided they should move to a large home in the suburbs. Things changed for Winter in her 17th year. She had a new school, which she went to only when she felt like it. She missed her extended family and friends from the projects, and then things started to take a turn for the worse. Can Winter survive the coldest Winter ever? At what cost?
Critical Evaluation: Souljah captures the language and the feel of the streets in this honest and frank novel. Winter minces no words when she speaks of her life and her desires, and Souljah does not hold back in her dramatic and sometimes shocking portrayal of Winter in this coming of age novel. Souljah has a definite message in this book; she advocates self respect, respect for one’s body, one’s family, one’s community. She wants young people to recognize the dangers of drugs and violence and stay away from them. She packages her message in a story using language that many young people can relate to, the gritty vernacular of urban Brooklyn and beyond. Those offended by expletives should stay away, but without the raw, real language this novel’s authenticity would be potentially suspect. Throughout it all Souljah’s message, which she espouses both as an author and a real-life activist, remains strong and steady. As evidence of its longevity and appeal, this book is on the ALA’s 2010 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list.
Reader’s Annotation: Seventeen year old Winter lives a life of excess, thanks to the many material possessions provided to her by her father, a prominent drug dealer. When her life gets turned upside down, Winter must figure out which direction to go.
Information about the Author: In addition to being an author, Sister Souljah is a hip hop artist, an activist, an educator, and a powerful speaker. She grew up in the projects in Bronx, New York, and “is a fighter who came up from the bottom.” Some credit Souljah with reviving the Urban Literature genre in 1999 with The Coldest Winter Ever, as the genre had been in some decline in the late 1980’s early 1990’s. Some believe that hip hop music was becoming the expression of choice for urban youth, thus pushing urban fiction aside, but The Coldest Winter Ever has sold over a million copies all over the world and, though it is over 20 years old, is still being sold today.
Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction
Category: Issues: Social Concerns: Crime and Criminals
Topics Covered: Drug Use, Illegal Activities, Sexuality, Family, Incarceration, Violence, Socio-economic status, Friendship
Curriculum Ties: Health Education, Social Studies, English
- Description of Winter’s lavish lifestyle from the beginning of the book
- Character analysis of Winter
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15-19
Challenge Issues: Sex, Drugs, Violence, Explicit Language. In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.
Why is this book included? This book speaks to young people, and it speaks the language of young people. The young people who hear their voices or lives reflected in The Coldest Winter Ever are underrepresented in novels. A good collection includes a diversity of voices and perspectives for those reflected in a work and those learning a new perspective from a work. This work is a classic in urban fiction, and is still very popular today.
Plot Summary: Maleeka Madison’s life is not easy. Her mother has been mourning the death of Maleeka’s father for the past two years, leaving Maleeka, a seventh grader, responsible for more than someone her age should be. Her dark skin; tall, skinny frame; and homemade clothing are fodder for the harsh critics that are her school classmates. And her small group of “friends,” lead by the most popular and feared girl in school, are only there due to Maleeka’s book smarts that help them pass their courses. And then comes the new teacher, Miss Saunders, an African American woman with a large white birthmark across her face. Miss Saunders seems to see Maleeka for who she really is, a sensitive, intelligent girl doing the best she can in difficult circumstances. But, Miss Saunders expects great things from Maleeka, and will not settle for less, she encourages Maleeka to write and express herself. “Miss Saunders loves the skin she’s in. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?” (from The Skin i’m in, back cover).
Critical Evaluation: Maleeka’s struggle to accept herself and find her place in an often cruel world is authentic and moving. Through Flake, Maleeka’s voice is sensitive and strong and draws the reader in to her complicated world. The Skin i’m in is Flakes first book, and she has gone on to write other well-received and significant works. Highly praised by critics, The Skin i’m in’s many awards and honors include: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, Publishers Weekly Author to Watch, New York Public Library Top Ten Book for the Teen Age, YALSA Best Books for Young Adult Readers, YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. This book provides an important perspective and voice that is often underrepresented. The book not only addresses on racism and bullying, but also brings up the issue of colorism or skin tone bias within the African American community. Providing hope without being trite, The Skin i’m in would provide substantial subject matter for both classroom and book group discussions.
Reader’s Annotation: Maleeka is considered to tall, skinny, and dark-skinned by her classmates. When Miss Saunders, the unlikely new teacher, comes to Maleeka’s school she has something to teach Maleeka that she will not find in her school books.
Information about the Author: Sharon Flake is an acclaimed and celebrated author of young adult literature, but she is so much more. She wants young people to learn to love themselves for who they are, to dream, and to follow their passions. Here is the text from the page on her website entitled “4U” from (http://www.sharongflake.com/4u/).
As you read my novels, believe that you can do and accomplish more than you know. After all, you have so many gifts, so many talents, so many opportunities to accomplish what you will. You’re human, so you’ll make mistakes along the way. We all do. But don’t you dare give up on you. Forget the haters. Forgive yourself and others. Brush yourself off and start over again if things don’t work out the way you planned.
I felt scared and little most of my life, so I know what it feels like to push past your fears and learn to see yourself differently. If I can do it, so can you. After all, you are the hope for the future, the promise that everything will be okay if we just don’t quit on ourselves or one another.
Hope. Dream. Believe.
Laugh a little.
Work hard (nothing gets accomplished without hard work). And watch what happens: you’re begin to see what many of us have known about you all along—you can do incredible things and have a remarkable life.
Just Hope. Dream. Believe. I do.
Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction
Category: Issues: Social Concerns: Racism
Topics Covered: Racism, Colorism, Bullying, Friendship, Family, Sexual Harassment
Curriculum Ties: English, Social Studies
- Describe Maleeka’s friendship with Charlese
Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 – 16
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? Authentic multicultural portrayals have an important place in a library’s collection. Though this book is about a seventh grader, the topics are relevant for younger as well as older readers. The reading level is appropriate for older readers and reluctant readers who need more accessible books with interesting and relevant subject matter. The book is also an excellent piece of literature, was well-reviewed and received several awards (see above “Critical Evaluation”).
Shea, L. (2004). Editors shelf. Multicultural Review, 13(4), 14-24.
Bibliographic Information: Carvell, M. (2002). Who Will Tell My Brother? New York, NY: Hyperion. ISBN: 0786808276. 160 pages.
Plot Summary: Evan Hill was born to a white mother and Mohawk father. Unlike his brother, Evan looks more like his mother than his father, so has to claim his Mohawk identity more explicitly. His concept of his identity is confusing and complex, particularly because Evan is an artistic, sensitive, and thoughtful teen. He is a senior in high school and decides to stand up and speak out against the racist and stereotypical Indian school mascot. His brother, before him, tried to get the Indian mascot removed, but did not prevail, and Evan has taken up the torch. Evan talks to teachers and students and attends school board meeting after school board meeting to express his point of view. Those who want things to stay just the way they are are far less civilized in expressing their dissent. Evan is harassed and even physically threatened by students, and then his family’s beloved dog is killed by people trying to send a message. Evan wonders who will tell his brother about the dog’s untimely and undeserved death.
Critical Evaluation: Who Will Tell My Brother?, beautifully written in free verse from Evan’s point of view, is touching and inspiring. It is accessible, even for reluctant readers, because, being in free verse, it makes its point eloquently, but with fewer words than many novels. Addressing issues of anti-American Indian racism, stereotyping, bullying, and bystanders this book has a lot going on in it. But, life has a lot going on in it, and this book makes these complex topics accessible through poetic free verse and deeply expressed emotions. American Indian students who have felt this very injustice or other students who have experienced similar injustices will likely find strength and inspiration in Evan. Students who have not been exposed to these issues will gain insight and empathy due to Evan clearly articulated outrage at an American Indian being used as a school mascot. This book provides a great opening for discussion on racism, bullying as well as the roles and responsibilities of bystanders to bullying.
Reader’s Annotation: Evan Hill must face strong opposition from bullies and an unsympathetic school board when he fights to have his high school’s Indian mascot removed.
Information about the Author: Carvell says that Who Will Tell My Brother? was, “inspired by the experiences of my two sons.” Carvell’s sons, like Evan and his brother in the book, have a white mother and their father is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Carvell’s books are well regarded by American Indian reviewers for their authentic portrayals of Indians.
Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Social Concerns: Activism; Multicultural Fiction: Native Americans
Format: Free Verse Novel
Topics Covered: Racism, Violence, Bullying, Bystanderism, American Indian, Stereotypes, Family, Identity, Social Justice
Curriculum Ties: English, Social Studies, History
- What would YOU do? If you saw bullying…
- What would YOU do? If your ethnic group was being used as a mascot…
Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-18 years
Challenge Issues: There are those who believe that Indian mascots should be allowed, but I doubt that would make them challenge this book. 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 a high quality book in a unique format, that might have particular appeal for some teens. It was well received by reviewers and covers an important topic not often addressed in literature.
Slapin, B. (2003). Who will tell my brother?. Multicultural Review, 12(2), 98.