Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Standard

MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Charlotte Zolotow Books, 1985.  $14.99, 58 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Patricia-MacLachlan/38022587

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Sarah’s visit out West will determine if she will stay on as wife for Papa and mother for Anna and Caleb.

Summary:

Papa had put in an advertisement for a wife in the newspaper.  Sarah has answered the ad and has since exchanged letters with the family.  Now Sarah is coming to visit.  Coming from Maine, things are very different in the West.  Sarah learns about farm life and shares about dunes and the sea on the East Coast.  She sings with the children, shares her sea shell collection, and cuts their hair.  Always overhanging is the question if life in the West is enough for Sarah and if she will stay.  After a particularly bad squall, Sarah asks to learn to ride a horse and go into town by herself.  Will she return?  Or is she buying a ticket to go back to Maine?

Evaluation:

Sarah, Plain and Tall is written in a style that mimics the title: plain.  The language is simple, and the plot straightforward.  But as simple as the writing style, the story is believable for the time period and the characters are endearing.  Caleb is a believable, precocious little boy, full of questions and always speaking his mind.  Pa is hard working and reserved, but his thoughts and feelings are conveyed in his actions.  Sarah is different; she is foreign, headstrong (choosing to wear overalls when Caleb tells her that women do not wear overalls), capable (helping Pa with the roof), and compassionate (crying for a dead lamb and saving her chickens in the squall).  Anna’s constant hope that Sarah will stay echos in each scene she narrates, causing the reader to cling to the hope too that Sarah will stay.  Life in the West is clearly contrasted with life on the East Coast.  Details of the historic time period are accurate and help to create the overall atmosphere.  Though simple like its namesake, the book is a charming read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: history, romance, family relationships, life in the West

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Skylark by Patricia Maclachlan
  • The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newberry Medal

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Sarah’s letters to Pa
  • Creating dunes in the barn
  • Sarah in the squall

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Would a mail-order bride work today?
  • How is the sea used in this novel?
  • Does Sarah give any hints whether she wants to go or stay?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it is one that is used in elementary schools.  I was curious about what historical time period it portrayed and how it was portrayed.

Advertisements

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.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

Standard

Sloan, Robin.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24 – Hour Bookstore.  Farrar, 2012.  $25, 304 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Ancient codes and secret societies are no match for Clay, his ragtag group of friends, and the powers of Google and modern technology.

Summary:

Graphic designer Clay Jannon is down on his luck.  Recently let go from designing the website for a bagel shop, he starts a new position: night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore.  The weird thing about this bookstore, or rather its customers, is that no one ever buys the new books.  Instead they head to the back of the store and rent from the set of books which Mr. Penumbra has warned Clay not to read.  When his curiosity gets the best of him, Clay discovers that the books are actually written in code.  Soon Clay is applying modern technology and algorithms to solve these complex codes.  With the help of Kat, a Google employee, Neel, a technology entrepeneur, and others of the digital world, Clay sets out on a quest that pits him against the Unbroken Spine in search of the legacy left behind by sixteenth century printer Aldus Manutius.

Evaluation:

Robin Sloan’s love of technology and literature are quite clear in this novel.  Thematically, it repeats the idea that technology complements literature and vice versa.  References to modern technology and the large role that it plays in Clay’s quest firmly sets this novel in contemporary times and makes it appealing to audiences of digital natives.  The language is also contemporary and easy to understand.  The descriptions and observations are both entertaining and witty.  The plot moves at an engaging pace, with the actions and events keeping the reader’s attention.  Rather than a novel of suspense or drama, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore reads more like a fantasy-buddy quest with a motley crew of likeable characters and the treasure of self-discovery as they search for another treasure all together.

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: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction, adventure – technothriller, quest

Appeal Factors:  technology, questing, codes, secret society, Google

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Alex Award
  • LA Times – Book Prize for First Fiction Finalist

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of the bookstore and Mr. Penumbra
  • Description of the suspicious bookstore clientele
  • Clay making progress in breaking the code

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you agree or disagree with Gerritszoon’s message at the end about friendship?
  • What is the future of printed books?  Will they become obsolete like the tech at Google predicted?
  • How do technology and literature complement each other?  Or do they?

Why I Chose This:

The promise of nerdy pursuits, a supporting cast of quirky characters, a quest, Google, all encompassed in a 24 hour bookstore was what drew me to this book.  A 24-hour bookstore sounded like an interesting concept.  I wondered what would go on in a bookstore at the wee hours of the morning.  The group of misfits banding together to solve a problem (or puzzle/code in this case) was also appealing, as I enjoy unconventional characters and seeing how they fit together and find or make their own place in the world.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Standard

Farmer, Nancy.  The House of the Scorpion.  Simon & Schuster, 2002.  $17.95, 400 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

When Matt realizes his sole reason for existing is to be replacement parts for a drug lord, he takes his future into his own hands.

Summary:

After Matt is successfully bred in a test tube, he goes to live uneventfully with the cook who works for El Patron.  By chance, Matt ends up at El Patron’s estate Opium, where he is recognized as El Patron’s clone.  The Alacran family treats Matt like an animal after making this discovery, however, Matt is unaware of who he is.  His only friends are Cecilia, the cook he lived with, Maria, the daughter of a senator, and Tam Lin, his bodyguard.  Matt is forced to face the truth when El Patron himself verifies that he is indeed a clone, and that he plans on harvesting his organs when his own fail.  Matt then makes the decision to escape, leaving behind everything and everyone he has known to become his own person.

Evaluation:

Being a science fiction work, this novel asks readers to stretch their imagination beyond what is viable with current technology. Despite this stretch of imagination, Matt’s character is believable as an emotional teenager who is trying to figure out who he is.  He even tests the boundaries of his own power the same way teens test boundaries.  Farmer’s writing style produces a chilling portrait of the future of Mexico and the drug trade.  She builds suspense around the discovery of Matt’s identity.  The language is contemporary but complex, painting a vivid picture of the characters and the plot.  Thematically, Farmer deals with themes of power and identity, of the ethics of cloning and slavery, and of family and belonging.  These complex themes bring up great discussion points and make the story much deeper than an interesting plot.

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:  science fiction – dystopia, bioengineering; adventure – survival

Appeal Factors: cloning, dystopia, mystery, action, adventure

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award
  • Printz Winner
  • Newbery Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The setting of Opium and the estate
  • Maria and Matt’s decision to run away
  • Confronting El Patron about his purpose in life as a clone

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Where would you prefer to live:  Opium or Aztlan?  What are the pros and cons of each?
  • Matt has a complicated relationship with El Patron.  When he leaves Opium, why might El Patron be included in the group of people Matt cries for?
  • Are clones their own entities?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because Matt’s character was compelling, as was his story.  All teenagers are searching for their identities, and Matt had the added element that he was a clone of someone else.  The setting was also interesting, as it was a real place, just set in the future.  I was also curious as to how Farmer envisioned the future of issues like cloning and drug trafficking, and even immigration that are contemporary issues being dealt with today.

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madison

Standard

Madigan, L.K.  Flash Burnout.  Houghton, 2009.  $16, 336 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

One photograph forever changes Blake’s relationship with his girlfriend and his friend who is a girl.

Summary:

Blake’s life is as good as it can be.  Even though he has supportive but weird parents who bring home death each day (his dad is a medical examiner, his mom is a chaplain), he has a beautiful girlfriend Shannon, enjoys watching Spinal Tap, making smart aleck comments, and photography, a class he shares with his friend Marissa.  Blake’s world is shaken up, however, when one of his “gritty” photographs of a homeless woman passed out in the street turns out to be Marissa’s meth-addicted mother.  When Marissa asks Blake to help her find her mother, he soon finds himself having to juggle his relationship with Shannon and his friendship with Marissa.  What once was a picture perfect life, has become overexposed in a flash burnout where all of his relationships are at risk.

Evaluation:

LK Madigan’s characterization of Blake and his friends is spot on and believable.  Told from Blake’s point of view, Flash Burnout provides a view right into a teenage boys head.  From the language used, to the sarcasm, lust, insecurities, doubts, struggles, and confusion, Blake is a realistic teen.  The portrayal of his relationships is also realistic.  Neither Shannon nor Marissa is painted as the “bad guy.”  Shannon struggles to be accepting of Blake and Marissa’s friendship and not to be jealous.  Marissa has no designs on Blake, and is not trying to break him and Shannon up.  The language used in the novel is contemporary, with liberal use of slang and other vernacular terms to make the characters and story even more realistic.  The quotes about photography and terms used throughout the novel, bring attention to particular aspects of the story.  Madigan beautifully explores the delicate balance of boy-girl relationships (romantic and platonic) in this novel.

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: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction, romance, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  relationship drama, photography, high school protagonists, mystery, friendship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge
  • Paper Towns by John Green
  • Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults
  • 2010 William C. Morris Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Presenting the picture of Marissa’s mother to his photography class
  • DJ Cappie’s gossipy broadcast about Shannon being jealous
  • Gus and the Hurtle

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Are the portrayal of Blake’s relationships with Shannon and Marissa realistic?
  • How are the photography quotes at the beginning of each chapter significant?
  • Compare and contrast Blake and Marissa’s parents and the influence they have on their children.

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the potential for drama between Blake’s two relationships with girls, one romantic and the other platonic.  The picture on the cover drew me in with a boy with his eyes closed, holding two pictures of two different girls.  Then there was the mystery of what Blake and Marissa would do about Marissa’s mom.  Would they be able to find her?  Clean her up?  How would an experience like that change their friendship?  Would it bring them together and at what cost to Blake’s relationship with Shannon?

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Standard

Marchetta, Melina.  Jellicoe Road.  Harper Teen, 2008.  $17.99.  432 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://melinamarchetta.wordpress.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Amidst territory wars, suspicious adults, and a serial killer on the loose, can Taylor discover the truth to her past?

Summary:

At the age of 11, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother at a gas station.  Brought to Jellicoe School by Hannah, the woman who found her, she is now the leader representing the school in the underground war games for student territory.  The other two players in the games are the Townies and the Cadets.  While a fierce battle for territory is being fought between these three groups, Taylor must also deal with the apparent abandonment by Hannah.  On the brink of graduation from everything that she has known and everything that is familiar, Taylor also resumes her search for her mother, and the truth to her own past so that she can make a future for herself.  Aided by her few friends and some surprising allies, Taylor’s journey to find the truth sets her on a path of self-discovery that will change who she is forever.

Evaluation:

I loved the way this novel was written.  Marchetta weaves what seems like two completely different stories together in a heartbreaking tale that offers hope at the end for its survivors.  Finding out the relationship between the characters from Hannah’s “manuscript” was one story.  How they related to Taylor was another.  And finally, Taylor’s self-discovery was the third and ultimately the one that offered the most hope at the end.  I also loved the way that the different stories tied together in the end to save Jessa and Chloe in the fire.  The fact that this next generation banded together and also brought the wounded members of the older generation together was poetic.  While Marchetta’s characters are not totally believable (how can teachers or other adult leaders be that obtuse to the territory wars?), her writing style and the beauty of the story itself allowed me to suspend my disbelief.

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:  realistic fiction

Appeal Factors:  mystery, groups warring for territory, romance

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  • Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2009 Printz Award
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Opening scene from Hannah’s manuscript
  • Description of the three warring groups
  • Negotiation between the three groups

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What clues foreshadowed that Hannah’s manuscript was actually a true story?
  • Why does the author choose to end with the scene of Webb thinking of the house on Jellicoe Road?
  • How have Tate, Jude, and Narnie changed from the teens in the story?  How have they stayed the same?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the plot description that there were different groups “warring” for territory.  This made me think of Divergent or The Hunger Games and other dystopian novels.  I also was drawn in by the protagonists search to solve the mystery of her past.