Teen Ink

Bibliographic Information: Teen Ink (magazine). Newton, MA: The Young Authors Foundation, Inc.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Ink is a magazine that does not employ writers, reporters, or artists.   The content of the magazine is entirely made up of submissions from teens from all over the country.  Topics covered are diverse, from health issues to discrimination, teen activism to sports.  Teens write fiction and non-fiction and provide paintings, photographs and other forms of artwork for the magazine.  Each monthly issue contains articles written around specific themes, in the December 2011, issue the themes were “Celebrating the Season” and “Sibling Stories.”  The magazine is organized with the following “sections:” Art Gallery, College Directory, College Reviews, Community Service, Environment, Feedback, Fiction, Health, Heroes, Nonfiction, Points of View, Poetry, Pride & Prejudice, Reviews: Book, Reviews: Movie, Reviews: Music, Reviews: Video Games, Sports and Travel & Culture.  The wide range of topics covered provides a place for teens with varying interests to enjoy both reading as well as contributing to Teen Ink.

Critical Evaluation: Teen Ink is packed full with interesting and high quality writing and artwork.  The honest, authentic teen voices that can be found throughout the pages of the magazine lend it depth and significance.  The teen contributors to Teen Ink, both young women and young men, are creative and intelligent, interesting and interested.  Teen Ink provides an opportunity for teens to become published writers and artists, “Hundreds of thousands of students have submitted their work to us and we have published more than 45,000 teens since 1989,” (Teen Ink: About Us, n.d.).  Teen Ink empowers and engages, it provides an important forum for teens to exchange ideas and discuss issues important to them.  It is by teens and for teens making it a great resource for information and inspiration.  The magazine is used in English, creative writing, and journalism classrooms across the country.  Several books have been published by the Teen Ink organization, they are entitled Teen Ink and contain themed collections of essays gathered from the magazine.  The Teen Ink website contains content from the magazine as well as content unique to the web and is an additional place for teens to engage and exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young adults deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has been praised by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine and many more.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this magazine included? Teen Ink is the perfect magazine for older teens of both genders to include in a library collection.  I found it when I was in search of interesting and independent teen magazines that do not simply repeat the same beauty tips and celebrity gossip as many magazines on the market.


Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia a Project of Planned Parenthood of Toronto

Bibliographic Information: Planned Parenthood of Toronto. (2004). Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia. Toronto, ON: Second Story Press.  ISBN: 1896764878.  197 pages.

Plot/Content Summary:

We all need a space to tell our stories, to be heard.  So for me being able to tell this story is an important act of resistance.  I tell my story often and loudly.  I tell it to break the silence, to educate, to inspire.  I tell my story in the hope that someone who hears me might think about the revolutionary potential of simply loving themselves and sharing their stories.

 ayden isak hoffman-scheim

Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia, pg. 51

Hear Me Out is a book of stories, teen stories, true stories by teens about themselves.  These teens are volunteers with Toronto’s Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia (T.E.A.C.H.), “a peer-based program run by Planned Parenthood of Toronto to educate and change negative attitudes about gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered [GLBTT] people.”  These teens are brave, they’ve been through a lot, and they are here to tell their stories, to educate and inform, and, perhaps most importantly, to make sure other GLBTT young people know that they are not alone.  Each chapter is written by one young person, the chapters range from coming out stories to stories about homophobic violence and bullying to stories of first love and family acceptance.  Issues of culture and race are woven throughout the book, as the teen voices come from diverse backgrounds.  Through it all, the wise, honest – and brave – voices of teens come through loud and clear.

Critical Evaluation: This book is important, as it addresses serious subjects from the perspective of the teens experiencing what is being discussed.  Hearing from the teens themselves makes this book powerful and moving as well as telling and illuminating.  One only has to read the first page to realize that reading Hear Me Out is going to be a different experience than reading any other book.  It is honest, authentic, and interesting.  Even people in GLBTT communities will learn from the diversity of experiences and voices, and people outside the community will get a glimpse into what life is like for the young people in the book, and possibly other GLBTT youth that readers may know.  Many of the teens also speak specifically about the T.E.A.C.H. program, which could be useful for those interested in starting a similar organization.  The back of the book includes a brief glossary and section of short biographies of each of the 19 teen contributors.

Reader’s Annotation: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and transgendered teens tell their stories in their own words of what life is like for them.  Their stories describe adversity and struggle as well as achievement and triumph.

Information about the Author: n/a

Genre: Non-Fiction

Category: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Transgendered youth

Topics Covered: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Homophobia, Racism, Bullying, Violence, Family, Friends, Identity, Coming Out

Curriculum Ties: Gender and Sexuality

Booktalking Ideas: Read a piece from any of the essays, like the quote included above in the “Content” section.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12 -19

Challenge Issues: This book is all about GLBTT youth and sends a message of the importance of acceptance, so it could very well be challenged.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, including reviews by VOYA and Booklist.

Why is this book included? Initially found in the YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2006 list, under the GLBTQ heading, this book is included because young adult collections should address the needs and issues of the diverse communities they serve.

References:

Planned Parenthood of Toronto. (2004). Hear Me Out: True Stories of Teens Educating and Confronting Homophobia. Toronto, ON: Second Story Press.


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


The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Bibliographic Information: Hinton, S.E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York, NY: Speak.  ISBN: 014038572X.  188 pages.

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,

Booktalking Ideas:

  • 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!

References:

Hinton, S. E. (n.d.) Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.sehinton.com/bio.html


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Bibliographic Information: Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Forney, E. (Illus.). New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  ISBN: 0316013692.  288 pages.

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

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “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.

References:

Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.


Good Will Hunting directed by Gus Van Sant

Bibliographic Information: Van Sant, G. (director). 1997. Good Will Hunting (DVD). Santa Monica, CA: Miramax Films.  ASIN: 0788814664.  126 minutes. Movie Rating: R.

Plot Summary: Will Hunting, a young adult from the hardscrabble streets of South Boston, prefers street fights and drinking with his buddies to developing his semi-hidden genius.  From economics to mathematics, Will stuns snobby Harvard and MIT students at local bars who look down on him and his friends for their social status, although he meets a Harvard student who gives him her number.  Will works at MIT, as a janitor, and, while cleaning one evening, is drawn to a proof posted on a chalkboard in the hallway.  He solves the proof correctly and anonymously, and so ensues a search for the “student” who award-winning MIT mathematics professor, Gerald Lambeau, wants to praise.  After an arrest in a street fight, Will is bailed out by Lambeau who has taken note of Will’s innate math talents and wants to become his mentor.  The conditions of Will’s bail include being under Lambeau’s supervision and attending therapy, an idea Will openly laughs at, but agrees to in order to avoid further incarceration.

Critical Evaluation: Good Will Hunting is a great young adult movie.  It takes the common themes of love, friendship, and overcoming adversity and weaves them into a compelling, interesting, and moving story.  The main characters are three dimensional with strengths and flaws and, above all else, resilience.  The acting in the film is high quality, with particularly believable roles by Matt Damon playing Will and Robin Williams playing his therapist, Sean Maguire.  Will’s relationships are complicated by his troubled past, but his friends are always there for him.  His love interest, awealthy Harvard student, tries to understand who he is and where he is coming from, though he is not at all forthcoming about himself., and, in fact, lies about his past.  Those who do not care for curse words may bristle at times, but the language feels realistic, not gratuitous.  This movie deals with heavy topics with grace and beauty.  Viewers will hope for Will to triumph over all the troubles life has handed him.

Good Will Hunting was highly praised and honored.  A the 1998 Academy Awards, the movie was nominated for nine awards and won two: Robin Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won the Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).  The screenplay also won the 1998 Golden Globe award, out of four Golden Globe nominations.

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: Troubled young man, Will Hunting, works as a janitor at MIT. When his math skills seem to exceed those of any of the MIT students, Will’s life take a turn that could bring him far away from his South Boston roots, but does he want to go?

Information about the Author/Director: Gus Van Sant is an award-winning director who has directed highly acclaimed films. A sampling of his films include: Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Finding Forrester, Elephant, Paranoid Park, and Milk.  His most recent film, Restless, was released in September 2011.

Genres: Drama

Curriculum Ties: Discussion of class, emotional problems, abuse, overcoming obstacles

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 to 25

Challenge Issues: Sexuality, Language, Violence, Drinking.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? I loved it when it came out and I was a teen, and it was just as good watching it today.


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


Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Bibliographic Information: Gantos, J. (2002). Hole in My Life. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).  ISBN: 0374399883.  208 pages.

Plot/Content Summary: Sometimes a person does not realize that he is making a huge mistake until it is too late.  Sometimes a person forgets to think about the consequences of his actions.  Jack Gantos, now an accomplished author of books for pre-teens (including the Joey Pigza series), was in his late teens when he made a mistake that would change his life.  In the early 1970’s $10,000 could buy even more than it can now, and that it what Gantos was promised as a payment if he could help a man sail a boat full of hashish from The Caribbean island of St. Croix to New York City.  “I didn’t think of the danger involved with braking the law.  I didn’t even consider that I had no idea how to sail a large boat…that anything bad could possible happen.”  But we know something bad did happen, because Gantos opens the book with a discussion of his time in prison and the fear of random violence he lived with every moment of every day.  Always interested in becoming a writer, but never following through, Gantos also started writing in earnest while he was in prison.  This memoir was not his first or even second book, it was published over 30 years after he started his life in prison, but his words describe his past life as if the visceral memories or not, in any way, forgotten.

Critical Evaluation: Gantos’ voice is honest and frank.  He manages to tell his story with a careful balance to the point of almost being objective.  He’s not self-aggrandizing or egomaniacal nor is he overly self-deprecating, all traps into which memoir writers can fall.  Gantos’ story is compelling, and though, as mentioned above, readers know from the start (the front cover shows his mugs hot) that Gantos will end up in prison, the path to get there take enough twists and turns that the story is still suspenseful and engaging.  There are parts of the story that could probably have been edited a bit to speed up the pace, it felt a little long at times, but overall this book is well worth the read.  There are many episodes from Gantos’ life that could inspire interesting and exciting class, book group, or family discussions.  There are lessons to be learned from Gantos, not because he preaches and not because he feels sorry for himself, but because he earns his readers’ respect through sometimes brutal honesty and his willingness to make himself vulnerable and open for to truly see him and learn from his mistakes.

Reader’s Annotation: In the early 1970’s, Jack in Gantos was an aspiring writer who didn’t have the money he needed to attend college, and he was in a job he hated.  So, when he was offered $10,000 to help sail a shipment of drugs from the Caribbean to New York City he said, “Count me in.”

Information about the Author: Jack Gantos is an award-winning author of children’s, tween young adult, and adult books.  As a child he wanted to become a writer, in fact, according to his website, “The seeds for Jack Gantos’ writing career were planted in sixth grade, when he read his sister’s diary and decided he could write better than she could.”

It was in college that Gantos published his first children’s book; he received a BA and an MA from Emerson College in Boston.  At Emerson he became an instructor in children’s book writing and eventually created a masters program in children’s book writing.  Gantos also taught at Vermont College in the M.F.A. program for children’s book writers.  “He now devotes his time to writing books and educational speaking.” (Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos)

Genre/Category: Non-Fiction, Coming of Age, Suspense, Crime

Topics Covered: Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse, Illegal Activities, Incarceration, Growing Up, Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Health, Responsible Decision Making, Drug Abuse, Alcohol Abuse

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The immense and intense fear Gantos felt in prison
  • Can one mistake ruin your whole life?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues: Drug Use, Alcohol Abuse, Drug Selling, Illegal Activities.

Why is this book included? Hole in my Life won the Michael L. Printz and Robert F. Sibert honors; it is a compelling and moving story of a young man facing himself and not liking what he sees sometimes.  It is non-fiction with all of the drama of fiction and the emotional honesty only a memoir can provide.  In other words, it’s a great book, and a great addition to a non-fiction section for young adults.

References:

Gantos, J. (n.d.). Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos.  Retrieved from http://www.jackgantos.com.vhost.zerolag.com/bio-photos/


Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Bibliographic Information: Myers, W.D. (1999). Monster. New York, NY: Harper Tempest.  ISBN: 0064407314.  281 pages.

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

Booktalking Ideas:

  • 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.


Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

Bibliographic Information: Felin, M. S. (2007). Touching Snow. New York, NY: Atheneum.  ISBN: 1416917950.  240 pages.

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

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “‘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.

References:

2007 National Book Award Finalist, Young People’s Literature. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2007_ypl_felin.html