Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Standard

·

Halse Anderson, Laurie. Speak. Square Fish, 2011.  $9.99, 224 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://madwomanintheforest.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Outcast because she called the cops to a party over the summer, Melinda doesn’t even have anyone to tell what happened even if she could.

Summary:

Melinda Sordino enters Merryweather High School friendless and alone.  She has been outcast because she called the cops at a party over the summer which resulted in many of her friends being busted for underaged drinking.  Since then, she’s been spiraling downward into depression.  She says very little and bites at her lips until they are scarred and scabbed.  Her parents are always busy with work, communicating in short bursts via post-it notes mostly about dinner.  She has a half-hearted friendship with an annoyingly driven new girl named Heather.  Her teachers are after her to bring up her grades.  And she’s tasked with creating a tree in her art class.  Not to mention IT is still at her school, an everyday reminder of that horrible night at the party.  Can Melinda find her voice in time to save herself?

Evaluation:

Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak is a powerful story.  The characters are realistic, as is the plot itself.  The complex themes about friendship, interpersonal relationships, and finding one’s voice after trauma are implied through the characters’  actions and the events that occur in the novel.  The structure of the novel is mostly chronological.  There are flashbacks to the night of the party and the date rape which make the structure more complex.  The language of the text is contemporary and easy to understand. The point of view is from Melinda’s point of view.  However, she does not reveal what happens even to the reader when she herself cannot deal with what happened.  This builds up the tension and suspense as the reader tries to figure out why Melinda is in the situation she is in.  Dealing with as serious an issue as rape, Anderson does a beautiful job of portraying Melinda, her state of mind, and how she deals with this horrific event.  The readers sympathize with Melinda and cheer her on as she finds her voice and overcomes a second attack.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: date rape, high school life, fitting in, feeling like an outcast, art, facing fears, dealing with trauma

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Burns by Chris Crutcher
  • Loesrs by Matthue Burns

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Best Books for Young Adults
  • Printz Award honor
  • National Book Award finalist

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Melinda’s talk with Mr. Freeman
  • The way other students treat Melinda
  • Melinda trying to warn Rachel

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does art help Melinda get her voice back?
  • What is the relationship between Melinda’s inability to speak and the lack of anyone to listen?
  • Why does Melinda choose to stay separate from others?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of the controversy that sometimes surrounds it.  I was curious to see why it is protested.  I wanted to see how the date rape and after effects.

Advertisements

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Standard

Anderson, M.T. Feed. Candlewick Press, 2002. $16.99, 240 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://mt-anderson.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

What if technology could tell you everything you ever wanted or needed before you even knew you wanted or needed it?

Summary:

Titus and his friends are ordinary teens on spring break to the moon.  They are constantly inundated with information from their “feeds,” devices implanted into their brains that customizes and personalizes information about anything from music to fashion to food to international news.  Using their feeds, Titus and his friends can even send each other chats and do not have to communicate using speech!  Spring break is rather disappointing for Titus until he meets Violet, a girl unlike any he has ever known before.  Her father teaches dead languages and wears an outdated feed, she has not always had a feed, she thinks and talks about things other than what the feeds tells them, she even resists the feed and practices delayed gratification, unheard of in their society of instantaneous purchase and consumption.  While Titus enjoys this novelty, Violet also enjoys being a “normal” teenager, going to parties and on dates with Titus, who fills the role of the boyfriend she met on spring break.  A wrench is thrown in their romance when they are hacked at a club and their feeds disabled.  Titus soon resumes life as normal, but the effects of the hack are more severe for Violet.  Titus is forced to face the harsh reality of life where customer service doesn’t save the day, where buying a thousand pairs of pants can’t fix all problems, where sickness is debilitating, and where the feed does not overcome all.

Evaluation:

In a digital world where technology is ever present, this book foreshadowed the dangers of over-reliance and overindulgence with technology.  The writing style is used to symbolize the breakdown of relationships and communication by the difficulty with physical speech.  Statements end with question marks, implying that they are questioning their own thoughts.  Blocks of speech longer than one sentence that occur outside of the chat are conveyed with a few key phrases between “da da da.”  Characters seem to have a hard time finding words to say, using placeholders like “like,” “uh,” and “things” while they are searching for the right words, which, ironically, are often suggested by the feed.   The detachment of the characters is terrifying but believable.  In a world that is increasingly plugged in and obsessed with possession, the plot is also quite viable.  This chilling portrayal of a future society is no doubt why it was nominated for so many awards.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  science fiction, sociological science fiction

Appeal Factors:  technology, relationships, being constantly plugged in

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Orleans by Sherri Smith
  • Proxy by Alex London

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award finalist
  • Boston Globe Horn Book Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of what the teens experience through their feeds
  • The novelty of a tree in the park
  • The crash after the virus

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How has Titus changed by the end of the novel?
  • Is there a danger of overpersonalization of technology?
  • Was it worth it for Violet to get the feed to fit in?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because of the idea of constantly being plugged in.  I thought that this is quite relevant to the youth of today.  It also had interesting commentary on consumerism, social class, and the control of the flow of information.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Standard

Myers, Walter Dean.  Monster.  Harper Collins Books, 1999. $14.95, 240 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://walterdeanmyers.net/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Steve Harmon’s future hangs in the balance as he is put on trial to determine if he is a monster.

Summary:

Steve Harmon is on trial for his part in a drug store robbery that ended with the owner being killed.  To distance himself from the horrific events of the trial and the time he spends in jail, Steve writes about it as a screenplay, something he learned about in his classes at the high school.  The prosecutor accuses him of being a monster, and Steve spends the remainder of the trial examining his motivations and his person to determine if he really is a monster.  He writes his thoughts in a diary, and describes the trial as if he were directing a show.  Besides the time spent in court, Steve also spends time with his lawyer, who is trying her best to fight overwhelming odds, and spends time in his jail cell, with bored and cynical prison guards looking on.  Will the jury find him guilty of being a monster and sentence him to life in prison?

Evaluation:

Walter Dean Myers writes about the realistic situation of young black males in Monster.  Through Steve’s eyes, the reader views the things that have lead up to the robbery and to the trial and to who he is today.  The series of events are bleak and unpromising, creating a dark and hopeless atmosphere that hangs over the entire story.  The presence of gangs and the realities of these hard lives are brought into the spotlight as the story continues.  Another dark theme in the novel has to do with race and the legal system.  Steve’s accounts are terrifying, as he seems to be considered guilty until proven innocent.    It is a horrendous feeling of hopelessness and despair.  In the end, although the trial is done, Steve still questions who he is and if he is a monster.  The writing style is innovative with the use of both the screenplay and the diary.  This does make it more complex for readers to understand.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: realistic problems, screenplay writing style, drama, suspense

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Life in Prison by Stanley Williams
  • Durango Street by Frank Bonham
  • When I was Joe by Keren David

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award nominee
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Printz Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of the crime
  • Screenplay of Steve’s verdict coming in
  • Steve’s lawyer doubting Steve’s innocence

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does the screenplay format affect the way the story is told?
  • Would you believe that Steve was innocent based on the evidence and witness testimony?
  • What does the book say about the state of the justice system?  Do you agree or disagree with what it says?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it dealt with an African American youth in prison.  It also appealed because of the writing style used in this novel.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Standard

Lowry, Lois.  The Giver.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 1993.  $13.95, 208 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.loislowry.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Jonas is given a gift that changes the way he sees his world.

Summary:

Turning twelve is a big deal in the community where Jonas lives.  It is at the Ceremony of Twelves that children find out the track that they will follow for the rest of their lives.  In a strange twist, Jonas receives a special assignment, to be the new Giver.  It is through training with the Giver that slowly he is given the memories of the community.  These memories are withheld from the populace of the very controlled community.  As Jonas receives more memories, he realizes horrible things about the way that his community is run.  Although all the needs are provided for, people’s choices are taken away from them.  To exacerbate the situation, the newborn that Jonas’ father is charged with taking care of will be “released” because he is not developing well.  Jonas cannot let this happen to Gabe, and so plans an escape.  This story ends with Jonas and Gabe’s future uncertain.

Evaluation:

This is a classic and timeless award winner.  It fits well with the dystopian trend of late.  Jonas’ coming of age story takes the loss of innocence of childhood to a whole new level, with the knowledge that Jonas learns turning everything he knows about himself, his family, and his community on its head.  It is masterfully written with the realization coming slowly for the reader as it does for Jonas.  The world that Lowry builds is amazingly detailed, from the nuclear family unit and the way they are assigned children, to the yearly ceremonies and the uniform milestones, to the adult assignments, pills citizens are required to take, and the releasing of nonconformists. Even the fact that the people in the community cannot see color creates this spookily controlled dystopia.  Jonas’ plight is sympathetic, and the reader roots for Jonas as he makes his decision to leave his community.  The complexity of the plot does make this a challenging read, but the language and the writing style are more easily accessible.

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: 4
  • Quality: 5

Genre and Subgenre: science fiction, dystopia, future world, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  dystopian novel, coming of age, adventure,

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Diary of Pelly D
  • Armageddon’s Children
  • Gossamer

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 1994 Newbery Medal
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book
  • Notable Children’s Books
  • Best Books for Young Adults

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Ceremonies and milestones
  • Jonas’ assignment
  • Receiving a memory

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What clues show that Jonas society might be one found in the future?
  • Is it better to live in a community like Jonas’s or to have freedom to choose and feel, even if it includes painful feelings?
  • What other options does Jonas have at the end of the novel?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because it is a classic read in many classrooms.  I was also surprised to learn that it is one of the most challenged books!  I also enjoy dystopian novels, and wondered how it would compare to similar titles written today.  The world that Lowry created really amazed me and pulled me in.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Standard

Vanderpool, Clare.  Navigating Early.  Delacorte Press, 2013.  $16.99, 320 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.clarevanderpool.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:
What do pi, two boys, and a search for the Great Appalachian black bear have in common?  The adventure of a lifetime.

Summary:

At 13, Jack has just lost his mother and his father has just returned from World War II.  Unable to cope with his wife’s death and his son, his father sends Jack to a military boarding in school.  There Jack is an outcast until he befriends Early Auden, the weird kid obsessed with pi, who listens to Billie Holiday in the rain, and who lives in an old custodial closet.  When both boys find themselves left at the school over the holidays, Jack agrees to go on a quest with Early to find the legendary great black bear.  After hijacking a boat from the school, they encounter pirates, volcanoes, a hundred year old woman, secret caves, and more amidst the forests of Maine.  Along the way, both boys deal with their individual losses that they may not have realized they were feeling.

Evaluation:

Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early is a wonderful story of two boys searching for a way to deal with their losses.  Although Jack seems  more mature than other 13 year old boys, he is a likeable character who is struggling to deal with the loss of his mother.  Early’s character is also different from other characters being on the autism spectrum.  His earnestness and faithfulness to the belief that his brother is alive is endearing.  The additional story of Pi was a little confusing initially.  But it was understandable how Vanderpool was using it to mirror the boys’ adventure or to bring attention to certain aspects of their experience.  The other characters and how they are related to each other and the boys also make the story more complex.  The language and the writing style of the story are also more complex.  The ending of the story is tied up very nicely, with all the characters accounted for and each boy finding the closure that he has been searching for.

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: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, coming of age adventure, quest, magical realism, historical fiction

Appeal Factors:  adventure, friendship, buddy quest, story within a story, mystery

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Three Times Lucky
  • Tangerne
  • The Sea of Trolls

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2014 Printz Honor Book
  • 2014  Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • 2014 Notable Children’s Books

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Early’s story about Pi
  • The boys’ run in with the pirates
  • Early’s confrontation with his dad

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Gunnar talks about how people searching for something are sometimes running away from something.  What are Early and Jack running away from?
  • The author has described Early as being on the autism spectrum.  How does this affect his character and the story?
  • Why does Pi’s story seem to match so well with Early and Jack’s adventures?

Why I Chose This:

The title and the cover of this book caught my eye.  With the picture of the two boys in their boat look like they are about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.  I was curious to see who or what Early was.  To be navigated, I thought it was a place.  But knowing that Early is a person, it is an interesting title because to navigate Early is to make sense of his thoughts and emotions, which is made especially difficult being on the autism spectrum.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Standard

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

Author’s Website: http://rainbowrowell.com/blog/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Online Reviews:

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

Summary: 

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.

Evaluation:·

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.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Standard

Setterfield, Diane. The Thirteenth Tale.  Atria, 2006.  $26.00, 406 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:

http://www.dianesetterfield.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

A writer with a mysterious past, an amateur biographer with a love of books, the missing story that brings them together and reveals all the dark secrets.

Summary:

When Margaret Lea gets the summons from novelist Vida Winters to write her biography, she is hesitant to accept.  Winters’ past has always been shrouded in mystery, as she has either evaded questions from the press or made up wild stories that are later proven to be untrue.  After reading a rare copy of Vida’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, and realizing that there are only 12 tales, Margaret decides to meet with Vida.  Vida intrigues Margaret to write her biography with the promise of the missing thirteenth tale.  What starts out as a story of two twins becomes a tale of the dysfunctional Angelfield family and their secrets that ultimately destroy the family members and those unfortunate enough to become entwined in their lives.  Along the way, the truth about Vida and the truth about Margaret, herself, comes to light.

Evaluation:

Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale has all the elements of a classic Gothic novel with dark, brooding characters; an isolated mansion; a young, naive heroine; and mystery and death.  It is elegantly written with beautiful descriptions and language.  The language itself is accessible, written in contemporary terms.  The characters are complex and many parallels can be drawn between the multiple stories that are told.  The complexity of the story is heightened with the multiple points of views and means of storytelling: Margaret as narrator, Vida as storyteller who has forbidden questions, and even Hester’s diary.  Thematically, the novel is rich with symbolism, foreshadowing, and well-crafted suspense and plotting.  There are references to Jane Eyre, which may help the reader better understand some of the Gothic elements of the story.

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: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:

realistic fiction, mystery, modern Gothic

Appeal Factors:

mystery, family relationships and drama

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
  • Ghost Writer by John Harwood
  • The Unburied by Charles Palliser

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2007 Alex Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Reading Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation and deciding to meet with Vida Winters
  • The characterization of each twin
  • The “ghost child” story

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • (Spoiler) Which twin survived the fire?
  • How does the Gothic style of this novel add to the overall tone and mood?
  • What clues are given along the way that point out who Vida Winters really is?

Why I Chose This:

The mystery aspect of this novel was what drew me in.  I thought it was very clever to title it The Thirteenth Tale and that the story that was told was actually the thirteenth tale itself.  The mulit-person point of view was also compelling, in that each new character to tell the tale added another element to the mystery and to its solution.