Monthly Archives: July 2012

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, Chris.  Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes. Greenwillow Books.  2003 (First published in 1993). ISBN 0060094893

Reader’s Annotation: Two misfits, Eric and Sarah Byrnes, banned together against the world that could be so cruel. Now Sarah has gone silent and Eric has to figure out why before both of them find themselves in even deeper troubles.

Plot Summary: Sarah Byrnes and Eric Calhoun have been friends as they bonded together as Eric was ridiculed for his weight and Sarah Byrnes for her scarred face after having a pot of boiling spaghetti fall on her when she was 3 years old. They have endured their fellow classmates scorn for years but now Sarah is in the hospital not talking or responding to anyone. Eric is determined to find out what happens but the answer may put both he and Sarah into even deeper trouble.

This is not normally a book I would have picked up but it was amazing!  Be warned going in this book will be an emotional roller coaster.  So many issues are covered in this book and yet they all work well together.  Eric has had to deal with being overweight for most of his life and even when he starts slimming down he feels the need to stay fat in order to keep Sarah as a friend.  Sarah has developed this tough facade to deal with the pain she has to face everyday when people look at her and see her scarred face.  As the story goes on we learn more about what brought about the incident that gave Sarah those scars and her relationship with her father who refused any reconstructive surgery because he felt she needed to “toughen up”.  It is horrifying to imagine anyone going through what she has and not received any help.

Though the relationship between Sarah Byrnes and Eric dominates the storyline we also see other issues teens face like teenage pregnancy, abortion and religious beliefs.  There are some situations that may be a bit intense for younger readers but still an amazing story.

About the author

Chris Crutcher has written numerous young adult books, many of which have been challenged or banned due to its contents such as focusing on abusive parents.  Crutcher’s books have been strongly influenced by his experiences as a child and family therapist as well as his role as a child protection advocate.

He has won numerous awards and has had several of his books chosen by ALA as Best Books for Young Adults.

Genre

Contemporary

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

Read the face off scene between Dale Thorton and Sarah Byrnes to demonstrate Sarah’s toughness.

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

Domestic violence, cursing, abortion, suicide.

I would have the library’s collection management policy on hand and explain that the library is not here to filter what patrons read.  If questioned about this policy I would direct the patron to the ALA Bill of Rights.  I would also have links of hand of the reviews by well known outlets such as ALA and refer to awards won.

Why did I include this book?

Chris Crutcher has been so highly suggested as a must read in young adult literature.

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Filed under Fiction, Realistic/Contemporary

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Nelson, Jandy.  The Sky is Everywhere. Dial.  2010. ISBN 0803734956

Reader’s Annotation: The death of Lennie’s older sister, Bailey, pushes Lennie into the spotlight as she must deal with her grief.

Plot Summary: Lennie has always lived in her older sister, Bailey’s, shadow and was happy with the state of things.  When Bailey dies suddenly Lennie finds herself pushed into the center of attention as she must deal with her grief as well as the attention from both her sister’s boyfriend, Toby, and a new boy in town, Joe.

This is a heart wrenching read but is written so beautifully that I highly recommend it especially for those who are dealing with grief of their own.  Lennie’s grief is so painful to read that you want to cry your own heart out and yet you get sucked into her maelstrom of feelings and won’t want to put the book down.

The story itself is so real and fascinating as we learn along with Lennie that the sister she felt so close to was hiding secrets that now come to light.  Lennie has to deal with these shocks as well as having all eyes on her including those of her sister’s boyfriend.  Their shared grief push them towards a relationship I had a harder time accepting and yet I can see why the overwhelming emotion can fool people into misinterpreting their feelings.  On the other hand, Joe Fontaine’s character is a true ray of light in the story.  His character is so much fun, energetic and as odd as it sounds just so happy that he will bring a smile to your face.

I can’t recommend this book enough times and if you can get your hands on the UK version I would highly suggest it.  It’s gorgeously designed to look like a diary and contains illustrations of Lennie’s notes on scraps of paper or whatever other material she jots her notes down on.

About the author

Jandy Nelson’s book The Sky is Everywhere was chosen as one of five best books for teens in 2010 by NPR, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book and numerous other awards.

Nelson started off in publishing as a literary agent at Manus & Associates Literary Agency before becoming an author herself.  She lives in California and is currently working on her second novel.

Genre

Contemporary

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

Talk about dealing with grief as a teenager.

Read some of Lennie’s notes and use props by actually printing them on the materials/items Lennie wrote on.

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

It was a book that was recommended to me over and over with the warning that you will cry your eyes out.  Jandy is also a local author which is also an added perk.

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Filed under Fiction, Realistic/Contemporary

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. Harcourt.  2008. ISBN 015206396X

Reader’s Annotation: Can Katsa use her Graceling skill to kill with ease and join Prince Po to help those who live under the tyranny of an evil king?

Plot summary: Gracelings are those born with an extreme skill in some area whether it be something as innocent as singing or more ominous like Katsa’s grace of killing others with her bare hands without breaking a sweat.  She loathes her skill and her life as her tyrannical uncle’s control because he is King of the Middluns and he controls the fate of gracelings.  When Katsa meets Prince Po she realizes that she can take control of her own destiny if she is brave enough to do so.

Critical Evaluation

This is a fun and quick fantasy read with a strong, kick butt female heroine.  We see her blossom from this little girl who is told she’s stupid and cursed because of her graceling into a strong woman who realizes her grace doesn’t have to be a curse.  She can use her skills to help others which is a great message to get across to readers who may not realize they have strengths hidden inside of them that makes them special.

Po is a character readers will adore.  He will catch girls’ hearts with his sexiness, confidence and kindness.  He’s comfortable enough with who he is to not feel threatened by Katsa’s skills and in fact admires her every time she bests him in a fight.

The world Cashore built is amazing and the story is filled with action and adventure.  The only minor issue was that at times the language felt too modern for the setting but otherwise a wonderful book for teens and adults alike.

About the author

On her blog Kristin Cashore talks about how when she grew up she loved to read and to daydream thus planting the seeds for her writing.  She initially did educational writing for the K-6 market and then moved on to writing novels.

Graceling was nominated for the William C. Morris awards. Her second book, Fire, was actually more of a prequel to Graceling and the third book wraps up the series.

Genre

Fantasy

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

If you could be born with any skill and be a natural master of it what would you pick?

Read Katsa’s first experience with her grace.

Reading level

Grade 8 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

It was a fantasy novel that I heard so much about and everyone I’ve spoken to loved it.

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction

InuYasha: Turning Back Time Vol. 1 by Rumiko Takahashi

Inuyasha Vol. 1

Takahashi, Rumiko. Inuyasha Vol. 1. VIZ Media LLC. 2003 (first published May 18, 1997). ISBN 1569319472

Reader’s Annotation: Modern day school girl, Kagome, and a half demon must join forces to recover the Jewel of Four Souls before a host of other demons can use it to destroy all of mankind.

Plot summary: Kagome, a modern day school girl, falls through an ancient well and finds herself back in feudal Japan.  It turns out she is the reincarnation of a woman who defeated the half demon Inuyasha.  When a host of demons try to steal the Jewel of Four Souls for their own nefarious purposes Kagome and Inuyasha must join forces to recover the shards that the Jewel has broken into.

Critical Evaluation

I can see why this series has been so popular to the point where the entire series was published again for the American market and it also spawned a tv series.  Kagome’s character could be irritating at times for being so naive and clueless and yet she shows amazing strength when she realizes the danger the world is in from these demons who want to possess the Jewel of Four Souls.  Inuyasha has enough snark mixed with a hint of inner goodness that makes the reader think he won’t turn out to be too bad of a character.

The action is almost nonstop and will keep the readers interested as the story moves from one battle to another.  During the moments between the fight scenes the arguing and snarkiness between Inuyasha and Kagome will keep the readers laughing.

About the author

Rumiko Takahashi’s works are popular world wide and Inuyasha, Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku as well as another popular series Ranma 1/2 were all translated and published in the United States.

Takahashi has won the Shogakukan Manga Award twice.  Once for Urusei Yatsura and again for InuYasha.

Genre

Manga

Curriculum Ties

N/A

Book talking idea

Talk about how would you like to go from an average school girl or boy and find out you are the reincarnation of a powerful being from feudal times who stopped a half-demon.

Reading level

Grade 9 and up

Challenge Issues

Violence, one instance of female nudity.

I would have the library’s collection management policy on hand and explain that the library is not here to filter what patrons read.  If questioned about this policy I would direct the patron to the ALA Bill of Rights.

If needed I would add a parental warning that there may be some cases of nudity throughout the series and there are instances of violence but it is up to the parents to filter their children’s reading if they choose to and it’s not the library’s duty.

Why did I include this book?

I was researching into which were the most popular manga series and this one came up several times and I also know it was made into a TV series.

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Filed under Fiction, Graphic Novel

Feed by M.T. Anderson (audiobook)

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Anderson, M.T.  Feed. Listening Library. 2002. ISBN 0807217735

Reader’s Annotation: Feeds are an everyday part of life and Titus along with his friends can’t imagine life without it. When Titus meets Violet, a girl who chooses to fight the feed, everything changes for him.

Plot Summary: Titus and his friends decide to spend their spring break on the Moon where he meets Violet.  Violet is different from everyone he’s ever known.  She did not receive her feed implant until much later than most kids and she chooses to fight the feed and it’s attempt to categorize her personalities, needs and wants.  Can Titus and Violet’s relationship survive their differences?

Critical Evaluation

I’ve attempted to read this book several times and finally I had to switch to the audiobook in order to get through it.  One of the bigger barriers was the vocabulary.  I understand in books that are set in the future there is the need to show that language has evolved but the slew of slang thrown in was overwhelming with all the “unit!”, “meg!” or “totally brag” added to the constant “fuck” and other cursing.  Even the slang words that we use today such as “like” was so over used that it grated on my nerves.

Each of the teens fit into some sort of stereotype and honestly none of them came across as very likeable.  Even Violet who was supposed to be the down to Earth, sensible teen was hard to like because she does come across as an intellectual snob.

The world itself is creepy in that the consumerism and the reliance on technology does not seem so far off from our current society.  With the constant funding issues in schools it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in the near future management of schools does go commercial.

About the author

M.T. Anderson is an award winning author for young adults.  Feed won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award.

Anderson has also written picture books and pre-teen books including Handel and Strange Mr. Satie.

Genre

Dystopia

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

How would you like to be online 24/7 and have any information you want at your fingertips?

Would you like it if Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch were in charge of running your school?

Reading level

Grade 9 and up

Challenge Issues

Profanity, mild use of alcohol and substance abuse.

I would have the library’s collection management policy on hand and explain that the library is not here to filter what patrons read.  If questioned about this policy I would direct the patron to the ALA Bill of Rights.  This book has won or been nominated for multiple prestigious awards and I would have a list of the awards and reviews on hand.

Why did I include this book?

With the explosion of interest in dystopian books M.T. Anderson’s book Feed comes up all the time as a major player in the dystopian genre.

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Filed under Dystopian, Fiction

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Yang, Gene Luen.  American Born Chinese. First Second.  2006. ISBN 1596431520

Reader’s Annotation: Three separate stories about a Chinese-American student, the Monkey King and Chin-Kee, Danny’s embarrassing cousin from China who visits annually all come together in the end unexpectedly.

Plot Summary: At first the three story lines seem so separate.  The first follows Jin Wang who moves to a town where he is the only Chinese-American student in his class and has to deal with the stereotypes and bullying from his fellow students.  The second story is about the legendary Monkey King who is snubbed because he is a monkey and his efforts to show his superiority to everyone else. The third story follows Danny who has to endure the annual visit of his cousin Chin-Kee who embodies every negative Chinese stereotype possible.

Critical Evaluation

This was an amusing read though be forewarned that there are several moments where you will cringe at the horrible stereotypes portrayed.  The stories do move along quickly and I did thoroughly enjoy it.  As the three stories come together in a surprising way the moral is that you should be comfortable with who you are despite what others may say.  When you start trying to change yourself to fit in that is when things start going wrong and it is hard to find true happiness.

I would have liked to see a little bit more of the Monkey King’s story.  His turn of heart seemed to come very suddenly and I wanted to see what happened after he became a disciple.  His part in the story seemed a little random to me but still I am glad that I read this book.

About the author

Gene Yang has won multiple awards for his graphic novels and comics. His father emigrated from Taiwan and his mother from Hong Kong and strongly instilled a sense of their Asian culture in him.  He started off as a computer engineer but in 1996 he began to self-publish his own comics.

Yang published American Born Chinese in 2006 which became the first graphic novel to be chosen as a finalist for the National Book Award and was also the first graphic novel to win the Michael L. Printz Award in 2007.

Genre

Graphic Novel

Curriculum Ties

N/A

Book talking idea

Embrace who you are and your differences.

Monkey King’s journey to impress those around him.

Reading level

Ages 12 and up.

Challenge Issues

Ethnic stereotypes, mild sexual references

I would have the library’s collection management policy on hand and explain that the library is not here to filter what patrons read.  If questioned about this policy I would direct the patron to the ALA Bill of Rights.  This book has received several highly rated reviews from notable sources such as School Library Journal and Booklist so I would have those reviews on hand.

Why did I include this book?

After hearing about it during the genre presentations it piqued my curiosity so I had to check it out and thought it would be a great addition.

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Filed under Fiction, Graphic Novel

Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Changeling

Gregory, Philippa.  Changeling. Simon Pulse.  2012. ISBN 1442453443

Reader’s Annotation: Luca is a 17-year-old orphan recruited by a secret sect commissioned by the Pope to investigate reports of evil that may mark the end of days. Isolde is the 17 -year-old abbess of a nunnery that is experiencing unusual occurrences & Isolde is suspected of witchcraft. What happens when the two meet?

Plot Summary: It’s 1453 in Italy and Isolde’s father has died.  According to her brother their father changed his will that force Isolde to choose between marriage or entering a nunnery.  Soon after her arrival the nuns start having visions, outbursts and stigmatas appearing on their bodies. Isolde is the prime suspect of bringing witch craft to the nunnery.

Luca is a 17-year-old orphan who has been selected to join a secret sect appointed by the Pope to investigate reports of evil that may indicate the End of Days.  He is sent to investigate Isolde.  Soon Luca finds himself in the middle of plots between nuns and laymen, reports of werewolves and accusations of witchcraft.  Will Isolde be found guilty and what will Luca do?

Critical Evaluation

This was quite a disappointment for a book coming from Philippa Gregory who is known for her adult historical fiction books.  Instead of one story it almost feels like it should be a collection of short stories.  The mystery of what ails the nunnery is not much of a mystery as it’s obvious who the culprit is from the beginning.  Luca’s investigation did not seem to involve much and he suddenly reveals this epiphany at the end from out of the blue as to how he figured out the guilty party.  The second mystery regarding a werewolf is also very obvious and wraps up with no help from Luca’s supposedly acute intellectual abilities that is emphasized at the start of the book and never revisited again.

Isolde and Luca both came across as very flat characters and there was not a single thing that made me relate or want to get to know either character any better. Yes, Isolde has a douche bag of a brother but other than that she doesn’t show any of the leadership skills her father supposedly instilled in her or strength that she is supposed to have.  Luca is touted as a highly intellectual young man with this keen mind for numbers but other than the introduction to the book we never see him utilize this skill.  In fact, other than being bossed around or being ran around by his servant, Freize, the doesn’t do much at all.

The only characters that did grab me were the two loyal servants, Freize and Ishraq.  They both have smart mouths and have the best lines in the book.  When it comes to making any discoveries and solving any mysteries it basically falls to these two to do the leg work and then whack the others in the head with the answers.

The other issue I had with the book was that the book is called Changeling but other than the fact that Luca is accused of being a Changeling because he’s so good-looking compared to his parents this doesn’t come into play at all throughout the book.

About the author

Philippa Gregory is well-known for her books about the Tudor period and in particular The Other Boleyn Girl.  She currently has written twenty-five books though Changeling is her first young adult book.

Besides writing she is also passionate about the charity she founded twenty years ago, Gardens for the Gambia, which raises funds to build primary schools in Gambia and teaches the students about market gardening.

Genre

Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties

English/History

Book talking idea

Secret societies and sects throughout history.

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

Philippa Gregory is such a well-known historical fiction author that I was hoping to include a great young adult historical fiction book.  I did not realize the book would be so light on any historical aspects that it was difficult to even really consider it a historical fiction novel.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical