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.
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.
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
- 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.
Draper, S. M. (n.d.) Biography: Sharon M. Draper. Retrieved from http://sharondraper.com/formal-biography.asp
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
- 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.
Gantos, J. (n.d.). Jack Gantos’ Bio & Photos. Retrieved from http://www.jackgantos.com.vhost.zerolag.com/bio-photos/