Slam by Nick Hornby

Bibliographic Information: Hornby, N. (2007). Slam. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile.  ISBN: 0399250484.  304 pages.

Plot Summary: Sam Jones loves to skate, that’s “skate” using a skateboard, in case you are not familiar with the term.  His idol is Tony Hawk, shortened by Sam to T. H.  Sam has a poster of T. H. on the wall of his bedroom and often speaks to T. H., asking for life advice.  Here is how Sam tells it, “I talk to Tony Hawk, and Tony Hawk talks back,” (Hornby, 2007, p. 4).  Sam’s home life is stable, his parents are divorced, and he is being raised by a single mother, who had him when she was 16.  Sam is now 15 years old and has the youngest mother of all of his peers.  Sam’s greatest passion is skating, which he does whenever he can fit in the time for it.  And then, he meets Alicia Burns.  Alicia is beautiful and funny and she and Sam fall head over heels in love.  They want to spend every possible moment together, mostly in Alicia’s bedroom.  Their relationship becomes sexual and intense and then something happens, and it changes, and Sam no longer wants to see Alicia every possible moment of every day. In fact, he does not think he wants to date her at all anymore.  He is confused about his feelings, and while he is trying to sort them out, he gets the news: Alicia is pregnant.  This sends Sam right to his advisor, T. H., who seems to send Sam – SLAM! – on a journey into the future complete with visions of himself, Alicia, and their baby.  What is happening?  Can he get back to the present?  Does he want to?

Critical Evaluation: Slam is written in the first person from the perspective of Sam.  Sam’s honest voice, through Hornby, comes across as a confused, insecure, and, mostly likable, 15 year old boy.  Sam’s language and thoughts feel authentic for someone who is not quite yet an adult but is dealing with very adult circumstances.  The path of the novel is interesting, as it takes a twist from realistic fiction to science fiction with the element of time travel woven into the story.  At first, I found the time travel surprising and wondered if Sam was going to wake up and we would realize it had all been a dream, but then it seemed the time travel was really happening and it was up to Sam to figure out why he was being given this glimpse into his future.  Sam assumed Tony Hawk was sending him into the future to teach him something, though that thing was not always obvious.  This book contains a lot of humor. Sam’s dry wit and sarcasm will make readers smile and, possibly, chuckle.  And Sam’s eye rolling-annoyance, at certain things adults say, feels just like what a teen would do.  The text is accessible, and, as it is written from a boy’s perspective might be a great choice for male reluctant readers.

Reader’s Annotation: When 15-year-old Sam finds out he is going to be a father his life trajectory takes him into unchartered territory.

Information about the Author: British Writer, Nick Hornby has written other popular novels including Fever Pitch, About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long way Down and How to Be Good.   Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity, were all made into films (Hornby, n.d.).  Though many of his novels would be interesting to young adults, Slam is Hornby’s only novel geared to young adults.

Hornby is very interested in music, and music often plays a significant role in his novels. For example , Sam and Alicia’s baby is named Rufus, because Rufus Wainwright’s music was playing in the delivery room.  Hornby collaborates and performs with the rock band Marah (Nick Hornby, n.d.)

Genre: Issues, Science Fiction

Category: Issues: Pregnancy and Teen Parents; Science Fiction: Time Travel

Curriculum Ties: English and Health

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if you spoke to a poster of your idol and he spoke back?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: Premarital Sex, Teen Sex, Sexuality, Teen Pregnancy.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book.

Why is this book included? I was familiar with Hornby from the book and movie About a Boy, and I wanted to see what he could do in his young adult novel.

References:

Nick Hornby. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Hornby

Hornby, N. (n.d.) Nick Hornby: Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.penguin.co.uk/static/cs/uk/0/minisites/nickhornby/aboutnick/index.html

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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


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.


Juno directed by Jason Reitman

Bibliographic Information: Reitman, J. (director). 2008. Juno (DVD). Los Angeles, CA: 20th Century Fox.  ASIN: B000YABYLA.  96 minutes. Movie Rating: PG-13.

Plot Summary: Sixteen and pregnant, Juno MacGuff, has a lot to figure out.  First, she must tell her dad and stepmom the news; they are supportive.  She knows she is not ready to be a mother, so she has some decisions to make.  She discovers that she does not want to have an abortion.  The option she chooses?  Adoption.  She then sets out to find the perfect parents for her as yet unborn child.  She finds what she deems to be the ideal couple in Mark and Vanessa Loring and she begins to establish a somewhat awkward but honest relationship with them.  She is also not quite sure how she feels about the boy who fathered her baby, Paulie, who has been her close friend for years and has had a crush on her for a long time as well.  While she remains somewhat coolly distant from him, Paulie and many viewers suspect she feels more than she is willing to admit.

Critical Evaluation: Juno is a charming movie.  The dialog is witty, straightforward, and intelligent and the characters possess a truthfulness not always found in movies.  The storyline and the characters are compelling, making viewers care about what happens to the young protagonist and her friends and family.  The movie demonstrates that  a person does not have to be a grown up to become pregnant, but becoming pregnant, as least for Juno, can make a person grow up.  Her obvious caring about the life of her soon to be born child and her decisions around that demonstrate that her pregnancy forced her to grow up fast.  Her teen angst and insecurities demonstrate that she is not all grown up yet.  With its humor and warmth, to some extent, this movie romanticizes teen pregnancy, but the honesty and integrity of the movie as well as the fact that it is highly entertaining make it worth a watch.  “The film received four 2008 Academy Awards nominations: Best Original Screenplay, which Diablo Cody won, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Ellen Page” (Juno, Wikipedia).

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: When sixteen year old Juno MacGuff discovers she is pregnant she realizes she is not ready to be a mother, so she goes in search of the perfect parents for her as yet unborn baby.

Information about the Author/Director: When asked in an interview about his first reading of Diablo Cody’s Juno script, director Jason Reitman stated, “Page One and I was just like, it was instantaneous. I was like “Oh my god, this girl can write.” Then it just becomes a question of, “Well she can write, but is there a story here?” then about halfway through, by the time we got to the ultrasound scene, I was pretty confident that if I didn’t direct this movie I would regret it for the rest of my life [emphasis mine].” (Douglas, 2007).

Genres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Curriculum Ties: n/a

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 to 19 to adult

Challenge Issues: Premarital sex, teen sex, sexuality, teen pregnancy.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? It is a great movie, and with its humor and honesty, I believe  it is destined to be a teen classic.

References:

Juno (film).  Wikipedia.  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_%28film%29

Douglas, E. (2007). Jason Reitman Tackles Teen Pregnancy in Juno. ComingSoon.net. Retrieved from http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=39765


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


The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bibliographic Information: Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.  ISBN: 0689849222.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bobby did not mean to become a father at such a young age, but he is, and his life will never be the same.  Switching back and forth between “then,” before the baby was born and “now,” after his daughter Feather’s arrival into the world, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby’s transition from regular old teenager to teen dad.  Before Feather is born, Bobby and his pregnant girlfriend Nia are pressured by many of the adults in their lives to put the baby up for adoption, and the young soon-to-be parents want to do the right thing for their child, but what is the right thing?  And is the right thing for their baby the same as the right thing for them?  Bobby is conflicted and confused, but when Feather is in his arms Bobby realizes that he has never seen a more perfect being and he has never felt more love for anyone.  Ever.

Critical Evaluation: The First Part Last is a touching and down-to-earth story, which starts with a beautiful front cover image depicting a young African American man gently holding an infant in his arms.  Johnson’s writing is warm and imbued with emotion.  Her ability to present an authentic perspective of an urban male teen is laudable, and her tender depictions of Bobby and Feather together are heartwarming.  Bobby is presented as a regular 16-year-old kid with friends, and school, and a girlfriend but also as a young man who is gentle, sweet, loving, and completely dedicated to his infant daughter.  Navigating his different roles and different worlds is tricky; it is hard being a teen dad.  Bobby is exhausted, staying up nights with his baby.  But, Bobby’s loving descriptions of Feather’s hands and her smell and how soft the curls on the top of her head are when he kisses her bring readers into the room, feeling what he is feeling.  Many of Johnson’s passages are poetic.  A person would be hard pressed not to empathize with Bobby and hope everything works out well for him and Feather.  Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Book Award and the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award.

Reader’s Annotation: At sixteen, Bobby goes to high school and hangs out with his good friends.  He never imagined he’d be a father already, and it’s a hard job, but when he takes his daughter Feather into his arms he realizes his enormous capacity for love.

Information about the Author: Angela Johnson has always loved books and being read aloud to, as she says, “Book people came to life,” (http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm).  So, it is no wonder that she started writing in her diary as a child and has continued writing ever since.

In 1998, Johnson wrote Heaven, a Coretta Scott King Award Winning novel that contains the characters of Bobby and Feather.  The events of Heaven, though written before, take place after the events of The First Part Last.  In Heaven, Bobby and Feather become friends with main character Marley.  Bobby and Feather’s family history is not expanded upon in Heaven, so Heaven readers who were intrigued by those characters have the chance to learn more in The First Part Last.  Likewise, readers who enjoyed The First Part Last get to see the next stage in the lives, albeit with less detail, of Bobby and Feather in Heaven.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Pregnancy and Teen Parents

Topics Covered: Teen Pregnancy, Sexuality, Parenthood, Fatherhood, Coming of Age, Growing Up

Curriculum Ties: English, Personal Narrative

Booktalking Ideas:

  • You are 16 years old and you are told that in nine months you are going to be a parent.  Pause…  What do you do?  How do feel?
  • Read one of the passages where Bobby describes Feather, ask questions about that.  Does he sound like your average 16-year-old?  Why? Why not?  Does he love her?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 -19

Challenge Issues: Teen sex, teen pregnancy, some adult language.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won two prestigious awards from the American Library Association: Coretta Scott King and Michael L. Printz.

Why is this book included? I read and enjoyed Heaven, which is for a slightly younger audience, and was excited to find that Johnson has also written this award-winning book for teens.  Also, It is important for a collection to tell many different stories from many different perspectives.  The First Part Last provides the unique perspective of a teen father raising his baby daughter.