Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf


de Graaf, Anne.  Son of a Gun. Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2006.  $8.00,

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Reader’s Annotation: “Crazy mad and armed with an AK-47” describes Liberian child soldier Lucky and his sister Nopi.


Snatched from their village school meeting, two Liberian children Nopi (10) and Lucky (8) are given guns and trained with other children to do the tasks that adults were too smart or to scared to do.  After Nopi is deafened defending her brother, they escape following other children.  They return to their village and home, which have been destroyed.  So they make their way to Monrovia to their grandparents, where thankfully they are reunited with their parents.  Trouble arises again later when then their parents and grandmother are taken to search for diamonds, leaving the children again on their own.  Nopi ends up being captured by rebel forces, becoming a third wife for a colonel.  Lucky is caught by the government army.  Both have to learn to fight to survive.  With nothing left, Lucky firmly becomes entrenched in the soldier mentality.  After five years of fighting, Lucky realizes the emptiness of his existence and returns home.  Nopi has been surviving in a refugee camp after her escape.  She, amazingly, finds her parents.  Soon the three are also reunited with Lucky, who turns in his gun to go to school.


Written in alternating point of view, Son of a Gun tells the hopeless story of child soldiers forced to fight in the Liberian wars.  The language is simple and straightforward.  The bloody details are glossed over, but both children experience horrific violence and are expected to carry out terrible tasks.  De Graaf does a good job of showing how the child soldiers find a place and purpose in fighting which exists in a vacuum of opportunities and family.  The alternating points of view of children, as well as the shifts in time, does make the story confusing at times.  The plot is not linear, but circles back to similar events throughout the story.  This book shows a glimpse into the lives of child soldiers that is not so widespread.  Its message about the importance of education and options is clear.  It also does a good job of showing how and why the child soldiers are so firmly entrenched in the fighting.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, Liberian wars, child soldiers, promise of a future

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The capture at school
  • Meeting James in the midst of battle
  • Lucky’s frame of mind as a soldier

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Lucky get comfortable in the life of a soldier?
  • What message does Lucky have for James?
  • Why do Lucky and James have such different views about being a soldiers at the end of the novel?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was about child soldiers in Liberia.  I was interested in this subject because I have never read much about the topic.


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rowell, Rainbow.  Eleanor & Park.  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.  $17.99. 320p.

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Reader’s Annotation:  While cassette tapes and The Smiths might be from another time, first love and the horrors of high school are timeless.


They call her Big Red because of her size and her flaming red hair.  She wears clothing from the thrift shop and covers holes in her jeans with pieces of fabric safety pinned on. She acts as if she does not care what they say and as if they can never break her.  Living with her mother, four younger siblings, and sleazy stepfather, Eleanor also has a less than ideal home life.  Books, writing, and music are her escape.

He comes from a solid family with a Korean mother who runs a hair salon out of their garage; a white, ex-military father who is horrible at teaching driving; a younger brother who towers over him; and grandparents that live next door.  Park keeps his head down on the bus, reading comics or listening to his music.  He gives up his invisibility when he reluctantly allows Eleanor to sit next to him on the bus ride to school one day.

A tentative connection over comic books and music soon blossoms into first love.  And like all first loves, family, friends, and various other obstacles loom in the distance.


This novel was a beautiful and realistic portrait of first love and all the awkwardness and challenges of it coming to fruition.  The characters are unique and well-developed in their insecurities, inner thoughts, feelings, questions, and concerns.  The dual point of view from both Eleanor and Park allows the reader to really empathize with both protagonists.  The first person point of view does, however, prevent the reader from learning some details that the narrators either do not understand themselves or choose not to acknowledge.  This adds to the tension and the conflict of the story.  The setting in the 1980’s is chock full of details straight out of the time period.  Rowell uses beautiful figurative language in her descriptions of the characters and events throughout the book.  Besides the theme of first love and its challenges, she also deals with other issues that are pertinent to teens:  family dynamics and relationships, poverty, being different, finding ones’ self and identity, and even abuse.

Rating Scale:·

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 5
  • Quality: 5

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction

Appeal Factors:  first love, pop culture references, humor, witty dialogue

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • I Am J by Chris Beam
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Awards Won & Book Lists:

  • 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Fiction Book
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2013
  • New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2013
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013 An NPR Best Book of 2013

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The part where Park and Eleanor first meet
  • The part where Eleanor goes over to Park’s for the first time
  • The part where Eleanor goes through her grapefruit box

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Described as “star-crossed lovers,” in what ways are Eleanor and Park doomed to fail?
  • How do Park and Eleanor’s families form who they are as people?
  • What would you have done to help Eleanor after she discovers it is Richie who has been writing obscene things on her textbooks?
  • (spoiler) What does the post card from Eleanor say?

Why I chose it: 

I chose this novel because of a review that I read by John Green.  It also hooked me because of the time period it was set in, as well as the music references.  The cover art was also a hook because of the girl and boy connected by headphones.  I was also drawn by the theme of struggling to overcome obstacles of first love.