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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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Bibliographic Information: Crutcher, C. (1993). Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York, NY: HarperCollins.  ISBN: 0060094893.  304 pages.

Plot Summary: In Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Crutcher joins two teens together as friends, their connection?  They both have physical characteristics that make them outsiders and the recipients of much ridicule and bullying.  Sarah Byres’ face and hands are grotesquely disfigured by a burn she suffered at three years old.  She insists on being called Sarah Byrnes, not just Sarah, to cut off at the pass any comment a person might make about the irony of her last name.  Eric Calhoune, called Moby by most of the kids at school, was extremely overweight, hence the nickname Moby, until he joined the swim team where he started to lose weight.

Early in the book we find Eric in a metal ward with Sarah Byrnes attempting to talk to Sarah and bring her out of her catatonic state.  The book travels back and forth in time between the present, Sarah’s current state of not looking at or speaking to anyone, and past interactions between Sarah and Eric.  As the story unfolds between Sarah and Eric and a handful of their high school classmates in a Contemporary American Thought class the book addresses issues of religious beliefs, abortion, child abuse, and suicide.  While these issues are hugely significant to the story, at its core the book is about friendship and love.

Critical Evaluation:  Told with humor and sensitivity, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a tale of strength, loyalty, and deep commitment.  Through Eric’s voice, readers deeply feel both his outsider status and his wit, charm, and kindness.  Readers watch him make mistakes, take chances, and work to resolve problems that are perhaps too big for a teen to resolve on his own.  Crutcher, true to his style, manages to get inside a teen’s head and bring his readers there with him.  The excellence of this novel has to do with the fact that Crutcher brings his writing’s signature honesty and authenticity to a compelling, emotional, dramatic and suspenseful story.  The various other young adults: a former bully, an evangelical Christian, and others have depth and complexity not often seen in the supporting cast.  Do to its richness and multiple layers of meaning, this book lends itself well to class or book group discussions.  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes has earned multiple honors,  examples are: 1994 ALA Best Book For Young Adults, 1997 California Young Reader Medal, and 1993 School Library Journal Best Book.

Reader’s Annotation: High school students Eric Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes have been friends since they were young, connected by Eric’s obesity and Sarah’s disfigurement.  During their senior year, dramatic events stir up their lives and challenge them as they have never been challenged before.

Information about the Author: Chris Crutcher is one of the most challenged authors of the past decade.  He wears his challenges as a badge of honor.  In fact, he says, “There’s only one thing to say to the censors: Shut up.”

Chris Crutcher was born in July of 1946, and has managed to accomplish a lot, and influence the lives of thousands of young adults, in his 65 years.   He started his career as a teacher, he then went on to direct a “last chance” alternative school in Oakland, CA.  After 10 years in Oakland, Crutcher moved to Spokane, WA, wrote his first book, and became a child and family therapist and child protection advocate.  Chris Crutcher has been very busy having a positive impact on the lives of young people for the past several decades.

He wrote his first book in the early 1980’s and written a total of 14 books.  He has been a very  popular YA realistic fiction author since the 1980s, and he has won several awards and honors for his books.  His writing is deeply authentic and often revolves around sports, in some way.  Crutcher himself played sports in his youth.  In 2000, Crutcher won the Margaret A. Edwards Award, for his “body of work,” and in 1998, he won the National Intellectual Freedom Award and the ALAN Award, (Crutccher, n.d.).

Crutcher still works as a therapist and child protection advocate.  He is also a columnist, a public speaker and he recently started blogging for The Huffington Post.  Check out his Huffington Post blog here

Genres: Contemporary Life, Issues, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Contemporary Life: Sports; Issues: Life Is Hard: Physical and Emotional Abuse

Topics Covered: Child Abuse, Friendship, Sports, Abortion, Religious Beliefs, Bullying

Curriculum Ties: Discussions of diversity: racial, ability, physical, religious; dealing with abuse; everyday heroes; stereotypes and assumptions (from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Teaching the Novel )

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Discuss dealing with a friend in a catatonic state
  • Discuss what friendship means

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 – 19

Challenge Issues: Discussions of abortion, an attempted suicide, premarital sex, a Christian character is portrayed as hypocritical.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? First off, Chris Crutcher is a stalwart in young adult literature, and any complete collection should include his books.  Also, this book, in its 304 pages, manages to raise many important issues for teens.  And, interestingly, several of these issues are discussed among the teens, so there are several perspectives represented.  A critically praised, awarded, and honored book, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a classic young adult novel deserving of shelf space in any young adult collection.

References:

Crutcher, C. (n.d.). Biography. Retrieved from http://www.chriscrutcher.com/biography.html

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Teaching the Novel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.msu.edu/user/schne138/resourcepacket/index.html