The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman

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Shusterman, Neal.  The Schwa Was Here.  Dutton, 2004.  $15.99, 276 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Taking advantage of being invisible, Calvin Schwa and Antsy’s antics include profiting off of dares, a blind love interest, and finding Schwa’s mother who disappeared into thin air.

Summary:

Until Anthony “Antsy” Bonano met Calvin Schwa after attempting to destroy indestructible dummy Manny Bullpucky, no one noticed the Schwa.  Abandoned by his mother in the grocery store as a young child, forgotten by his brain damaged painter father, Schwa drifts through life invisible.  Antsy soon realizes that they could capitalize on this fact, and starts charging for the Schwa’s invisible services.  Until a dare at Mr. Crawley’s house goes horribly wrong and both boys are caught.  Faced with either the police or to be indentured dog walkers, the boys choose the dogs.  But soon Antsy is hired by Crawley to take around his granddaughter, and Antsy steels himself to be punished with the company of said granddaughter.  Except Lexie turns out to be fun and attractive, and both Antsy and the Schwa, who Lexie can “see” even though she is blind, start to fall for her.  This love triangle strains their friendship, and then the Schwa decides to find out the truth about what happened with his mother.  The Schwa is no longer invisible, but then he disappears all together.

Evaluation:

The story started off a little slow, but the characters were quirky and endearing from the Schwa to Mr. Crawley to Antsy to Lexie.  It was wonderful to see a blind character who did not struggle with being blind.  The structure of the novel was easy to follow.  The chapter titles were as quirky as the characters. The Schwa’s predicament seemed rather unrealistic, but the concept was intriguing.  In true teenage boy fashion, the two are able to get into some mischief using the Schwa’s abilities.  The plot also has some strange situations (walking 14 Afghans?, a mother running off with the Night Butcher?, buying a billboard on an abandoned freeway?).  However, the underlying story of friendship and self-discovery is one that everyone can relate to.  Feeling invisible is another point of entry for readers.  A fun read for those who enjoy a little of the strange and wonderous.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: friendship, romance, feeling invisible, teenage boys, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer
  • Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Fiction
  • ALSC Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Testing the Schwa Effect
  • Getting caught at Crawley’s
  • The Night Butcher

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Is Calvin really invisible to all these people?
  • What does Antsy learn about “truth”?
  • Has the Schwa ceased to be invisible?  Or has he learned how to live invisibly happily?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book initially for the title.  I was curious to see what the story had to do with the schwa sound.  The idea of an invisible boy was also a draw to the story.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

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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

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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.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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Yang, Gene Luen.  American Born Chinese. First Second Books, 2006.  $16.95, 234 p.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Enjoy the antics of an all powerful Monkey God, a boy trying to fit in, and a caricature wreaking havoc.

Summary:

The Monkey God happily rules over his subjects until one day when he is denied entrance to a dinner party with the gods because he is a monkey.  He then tries to master every discipline he can to demonstrate his godliness rather than his monkey-ness.  Still shunned, he is eventually trapped under a mountain of rocks by Tze-Yo-Tzuh for 500 years.  Jin Wang has faced various challenges since moving away from Chinatown.  People massacre his name, make fun of the food he eats, and his only “friend” is a bully.  He eventually befriends Wei-Chen Sun, a new student from Taiwan.  Danny is just trying to live a normal life.  He almost succeeds, until his cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit.  Danny finds himself so completely embarrassed by the stereotypes Chin-Kee embodies that he has to move schools after each visit.  The Monkey God, Jin, and Danny’s very different stories are woven together in this entertaining graphic novel about identity.

Evaluation:

Gene Luen Yang conveys a theme about identity in his graphic novel American Born Chinese.  The protagonists in the three storylines each learn something about who they are.  In the Monkey God’s storyline, the Monkey God is trapped because he has changed so completely from who he was.  He is freed, literally and figuratively, when he accepts who he is (a monkey).  As his true form he can accomplish many more things.  In Jin’s story, he is so uncomfortable being Chinese, that he is willing to sell his soul to look like his white peers.  When he does so, he becomes Danny, but is haunted by Chin-Kee a gross stereotype of Asians.  Danny is only freed of Chin-Kee when he accepts his Chinese heritage.  Jin is freed from being Danny, and can enjoy being himself.  The graphics are clean and brightly colored.  The writing style is appealing and the story line engaging.  The struggle with identity is clearly and cleverly portrayed in this graphic novel.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  fiction, graphic novel

Appeal Factors: graphic novel,Chinese identity, high school life, fitting in, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
  • One Hundred Demonsby Lynda Barry
  • The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Who by Junot Diaz

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Printz Award
  • National Book Award Nominee
  • Eisner Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Cousin Chin-Kee
  • Struggles with identity
  • Monkey King being laughed at by other gods

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does each of the three stories deal with fitting in?
  • Why does Luen use the Monkey King’s story?
  • There are many humorous parts to this graphic novel.  Is the humor an appropriate way to deal with these serious issue of race and identity?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a graphic novel.  I was also interested because I am Chinese American and was curious to see who and how the American Born Chinese of the title would be characterized and portrayed.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

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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

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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.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

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Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last.  Simon & Schuster, 2003.  $15.95, 144 pages.

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

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Instead of pep rallies and prom, Bobby deals with pregnancy cravings, prenatal vitamins, a precious new daughter, and early parenthood.

Summary:

Bobby is your average teenage boy hanging out with friends, shooting hoops, catching movies, and getting into a little trouble every now and again.  His world changes completely on his sixteenth birthday when his girlfriend tells him that they are pregnant.  Although they are encouraged by their parents and a social worker to give their baby up for adoption so that they can continue living their lives as they are used to, Bobby makes the decision to raise his daughter when his girlfriend develops eclampsia and ends up in a vegetative state.  Bobby soon faces the difficulties of parenthood and of teen parenthood, all the while falling deeper in love with his baby girl.

Evaluation:

Angela Johnson deals with the very real, very difficult topic of teen pregnancy in this novel.  Her approach, however, is different from many other novels, in that it is told from the father’s point of view.  Insight into Bobby’s thoughts, feelings, and struggles adds a new element to this subgenre of young adult literature.  Bobby’s character is believable and likeable.  He takes on the responsibility of being a parent, yet also struggles because there are times when he just wants to go to his mom for her to deal with the baby.  He is also shown as loving towards his girlfriend, indulging her pregnancy cravings and sticking by her side through the entire pregnancy.  Johnson’s writing style is almost poetic, while her language is contemporary and easily accessible for readers.  The breaking up of the story into the before and after sections (before and after Feather’s birth) also lends to the poetic feel, as the story comes full circle at the end of the 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

·       a rating scale based upon both popularity and quality  (Check out the Voice of Youth Advocates scale for popularity and quality as an example)

Genre and Subgenre:

·       the genre and subgenre of the book

Appeal Factors:

·       appeal factors

Readalike Titles or Authors:

·       readalike titles or authors

Awards Won and Book Lists:

·       awards won and lists appeared on

Booktalking Ideas:

·       booktalking ideas, or how you might approach writing a booktalk on it (This doesn’t mean write a whole talk, but jot down ideas on what parts you might use in a talk.)

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

·       book discussion questions or ideas

Why I Chose This:

·       why you chose it—as in why you were intrigued enough to pick it up.  (It looked interesting is NOT a sufficient reason, nor is that it was required or on a list.)  What hook drew you to the book?