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/


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bibliographic Information: Anderson, L.H. (2007). Twisted. New York, NY: Vicking Childrens Books.  ISBN: 0670061018.  272 pages.

Anderson, L.H. (2007) Twisted (unabridged audiobook) Chamberlain, M. (reader). New York, NY: Listening Library. ISBN:0739348841.

Plot Summary: Tyler Miller was not used to being noticed.  He had gotten through his first three years of high school as a self-described “nerd-boy,” small and wimpy, the sometimes object of bullying. But then, something changed.  He got in trouble, not just school trouble, but the kind of trouble that meant police handcuffed him and then walked him out of school into a patrol car.  That got him noticed.  And then he spent the summer doing community service, which involved assisting his high school’s janitorial staff, doing a lot of manual labor.  And all of a sudden little “nerd-boy” was strong and muscular and looking a whole lot like a man.  Tyler never thought it possible, but as the school year began, his secret crush, Bethany Milbury, actually noticed him, and she clearly liked what she saw.  Bethany Milbury was most definitely in the “in crowd;” she was the twin sister of a boy, who Tyler disliked, as much as he liked Bethany. Her father was Tyler’s father’s boss.  Complicated.  But the story gets even more twisted, as glimpses into Tyler’s family life show that Tyler has more trouble than just with the police.

Critical Evaluation: Tyler Miller has his share of problems, many of which will feel familiar to teen readers.  Whether it is navigating the complex social world of high school or dealing with a  father with anger management issues, Tyler’s troubles feel unfortunate, but not unrealistic.  Anderson has captured an authentic male voice, complete with humorous asides and sincere emotional reflections.  She does not shy away from difficult issues, nor does she shy away from realistic thoughts and dialogue that reflect a teen boy’s struggles with growing up and becoming a man.  Twisted touches on heavy issues with sensitivity and honesty, allowing readers to relate to or empathize with Tyler and root for him to be all right in the end.  Twisted is intense and deals with serious issues, it is not for the faint of heart, but, then again, not that many teens these days are faint-hearted.  This would be a great choice for certain reluctant readers.

Twisted was a New York Times bestseller, was on the 2008 YALSA Best Fiction Young Adults list , and was named to the 2009 International Reading Association’s Young Adults’ Choices List.

Reader’s Annotation: It is senior year in high school and Tyler Miller has gone from nerd-boy to buff bad boy over the summer.  When he starts getting attention from an “it girl,”  his secret crush Bethany Milbury, he starts to think maybe things are looking up, but then his life starts to get really twisted.

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: Issue

Category: Issue: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, Behavioral Problems; Issue: Life is Hard: Multiple and Unique Issues, Emotional Abuse, Kids in the System, Outsiders

Topics Covered: Social Status, Alcohol Abuse, Underage Drinking, Suicide, Illegal Activities, Emotional Abuse

Curriculum Ties: Social status, insiders and outsiders, alcohol use, suicide

Booktalking Ideas:

  • How much can one person change over the summer?
  • What does it mean when life gets “twisted?”

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: sexuality, underage drinking, suicide, unlawful behavior.  Anderson has a letter to a community that removed Twisted and other books from the classroom.  Read her impassioned and reasoned letter (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, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Purely on the basis of reading and being moved by and impressed with Speak, I decided to read another book by Anderson.  The audio book for Twisted was on the shelf in the teen department in my local library, so I got it.  Interestingly, I had no idea that the book was about a boy, and had assumed, prior to listening to it, that the main character was a girl.  I was particularly impressed with Anderson’s ability to write in such authentic voices for characters of both genders.

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 Twisted. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/censorship-book-banning/


Testimony by Anita Shreve

Bibilographic Information: Shreve, A. (2008). Testimony. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.  ISBN: 0316059862.  320 pages.

Plot Summary:  One night can change everything.  At an elite boarding school in Vermont, students and administrators get caught up in a scandal that damages many lives.  The scandal involves sex, underage drinking, and a video camera, almost always an ill-advised combination, and this time with dramatic and devastating consequences.  When the headmaster gets the forbidden video, a sex tape involving four students: three boys on the school basketball team and one freshman girl, he struggles with what to do about it.  He knows the power it has to ruin many lives as well as the reputation of the prestigious prep school, Avery Academy.  And why did they do it?  Who is responsible?  How many people’s lives will be affected?  Told from the multiple, unique perspectives of individual players in this drama, including the headmaster, the involved students, and their families, the story unfolds to reveal secrets, lies, and the circumstances behind that ill-fated evening.

Critical Evaluation: Gripping and thrilling, Testimony is a hard book to put down.  when the teen sex tape is initially revealed, while shocking and disturbing, the depth of complexity because of its existence is not obvious at first glance.  As Shreve weaves a web of betrayal, bad judgement, shame, and regret, questions arise, about what to do with the grey area presented in the book.  Shreve’s characters are multifaceated.  This complexity does not allow the reader, for example, to simply label the freshman girl on the sex tape a victim, as, by many accounts, she seemed a consensual participant.  And yet, she was younger and outnumbered by the three basketball players on the tape, who were older and much physically larger than she.  Shreve demonstrates that questions of morality and ethics are not always straightforward or obvious, but are nuanced and dependent on an individual’s particular perspective.  She also demonstrates that a single mistake can have far reaching consequences.  Overall, Testimony is entertaining, thought-provoking and great fodder for class discussions or book group meetings.

Reader’s Annotation: High school students, underage drinking, sex, and a video camera are an ill-advised combination.  At an elite Vermont prep school these elements, in one evening, result in dramatic and devastating consequences.

Information about the Author: Award winning writer Anita Shreve has written 13 novels.  The play The Laramie Project as well as William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying inspired Shreve to use multiple perspectives in her novel Testimony (from www.anitashereve.com).

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction

Topics Covered: Alcohol Abuse, Sexuality, Infidelity

Curriculum Ties: Health Science Topics: Sexuality, Substance Abuse, Suicide

Booktalking Ideas: Sienna’s first piece, Silas’ first piece

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15-19 to Adult (Crossover)

Challenge Issues: Sexuality is discussed and sex acts are described, underage drinking, sexual abuse.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? While it is technically an adult novel, Testimony is about events that happen at a high school.  It is told from numerous characters’ perspectives, including many of the teens.  The young voices are authentic, and the novel is gripping from start to finish.

References:

(2009). Anita Shreve: Biography. Retrieved from http://www.anitashreve.com/