Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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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.

Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel

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Angel, Ann.  Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing.  

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.annangelwriter.com/index.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Follow Janis’ from life as a high school girl craving to fit in to the over-the-top rocker.

Summary:

Still remembered and celebrated decades after her untimely death at age twenty-seven, Janis Joplin’s story is told in engaging pictures, testimonials of family and friends, and other primary resources.  Not part of the popular crowd in high school, Janis always sought respite from her insecurities by eventually flaunting conventions and embracing the Beatnik philosophy of personal freedom and rejection of conformity.  Leaving her hometown in Texas, Janis soon finds herself in caught up in the flower child lifestyle of the Haight in San Francisco, California and finding a place performing with the band Big Brother.  Despite her success with the band, her continued insecurities lead her to find solace amidst the self-destructive atmosphere of the music industry.  Sex, drugs, drinking, and addiction soon became part of Janis’ life and ultimately, her death.

Evaluation:

Ann Angel compiled information from a variety of sources to create this award winning biography.  Because the information came from family and friends, the portrait that she is able to create of Janis is much more personal and shows much more than an out of control musician who flamed too brightly and too quickly before burning out.  The letters from family members and information from interviews of band mates gives a different insight into the often larger than life figure that Janis created for herself.  What’s more, is that the reader can better understand WHY she created that persona for herself.  The text is easily accessible and understandable for a variety of readers.  With a picture on almost every page, the use of images and even the more thematic graphic elements like the colors and patterns used on the pages call to mind the colors and images of the 1960’s.  There may be some concern about the subject matter, as Angel does address Joplin’s drug and alcohol addiction and abuse, her sexual promiscuity and relationships, and even abortion.  These are dealt with factually, but without glamorizing them, and without them being the focus of the biography.  Overall, the story was told in an engaging fashion accompanied by pictures and information that gives the reader an intimate view of Janis Joplin.

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: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  non-fiction, biography

Appeal Factors:  popular culture icon, music, photographs

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Buried Alive: The Biography of Janis Joplin by Myra Friedman
  • Love, Janis by Laura Joplin
  • Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Booklist’s Top Biographies for 2011
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
  • 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Janis in high school and the Beatnik philosophy
  • The description of the atmosphere and environment of California in the 1960’s
  • Description of Janis’ larger than life persona in action (speeding around in her Porsche, drinking with the Rolling Stones, calling attention to herself)

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why Janis may have created the Pearl persona
  • Why did blues appeal to Janis and how did it manifest in her work
  • Janis as a female rock star in a field dominated by males

Why I Chose This:

I chose this text because it was on a female musical figure who was influential in the rock and roll industry and remains popular to this day.  I liked the way it included anecdotes and photographs that brought her to life.  It was also interesting that she was framed by the author as a series of contradictions: a successful woman in a male dominated field, a white singer of the blues, and the indulgence in adulation which eventually lead to her demise stemmed from her need for acceptance and approval.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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Hartman, Rachel.  Seraphina.  Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012.  $17.99, 512 pages.

Links to Author’s Website:
http://rachelhartmanbooks.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Caught between a world of humans and dragons on the brink of war, Seraphina’s secret may be the key to saving the kingdom.

Summary:

Sixteen year old Seraphina finds herself as the newest assistant to the royal court’s music composer and thrust into the confusing and foreign ways of city life and court drama.  Student of the dragon Orma, Seraphina is gifted with musical talent.  However, she can never reveal her talents because of the chance of being noticed.  Seraphina has a dangerous secret that she must keep in order to protect herself and those that she loves.  A death in the royal family sets off a series of events that unexpectedly puts Seraphina in the spotlight and in the middle of a political intrigue with dragons, humans, and assassination attempts.  All the while, Seraphina must come to terms with what her secret means about who she is, and how it might help her save life as she knows it.

Evaluation:

For lovers of fantasy and the coming of age themes, Seraphina is a wonderful blend of both genres.  Seraphina’s character is mysterious and believable as a teen with a secret.  The struggles she goes through, while fantastical, can be related to many a teen who has also struggled to come to terms with who they are and how their differences may set them apart from others.  The added component of a love interest, and the suspense of the political intrigue would also appeal to teen readers.  An interesting element is the construction of family.  Between Seraphina’s mentor dragon uncle, aloof human father, missing/dead mother, and evil dragon grandfather, it is unconventional those who constitute her family and their influence on who she is and who she becomes.  The writing style is complex and detailed, lower level readers may struggle with some of the language and syntax.  There are some higher level vocabulary words and world building details that also add to the complexity.

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: 4

Genre and Subgenre: fantasy, bestiary – dragon; adventure,

Appeal Factors: dragons, mystery, political intrigue

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2013 William C. Morris Award
  • 2012 Cybils Award
  • 2013 Horn Book Award Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Seraphina’s “dreams”/visions
  • Dragons and human relationship/conflict
  • Description of other half-dragons and half-humans

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What would you do if you were Seraphina faced with her “grandfather”?
  • What human qualities does Seraphina have? / What dragon qualities does Seraphina have?
  • How would you handle the conflict with the dragons if you were Princess Glisselda?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because it was about dragons.  The idea of a half-dragon/half-human was intriguing.  I was interested in seeing what qualities Seraphina would have and how her half-dragon side would affect who she was as a person.