Category Archives: Realistic/Contemporary

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Brown, Jennfier.  Hate List. Little Brown Books for Young Readers.  2009. ISBN 0316041440

 

Reader’s Annotation: Five months after Valerie’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire in their school cafeteria Valerie must now return to school. She’s haunted by the guilt of the part she played in the tragedy and can she overcome it to move on with her life?

Plot Summary: Valerie and her boyfriend Nick made a list, a hate list, of people they hated but Valerie never expected things to go beyond that.  Then Nick opens fire one day in the school cafeteria using the hate list to pick his targets.  After a summer away from school Valerie must return to school for her senior year and face those who blamed her for playing a part in this tragedy.  Can Valerie find a way to make amends and move on with her life?

Critical Evaluation

Upon finishing this book I sat there feeling stunned by how disturbing this book was and yet how touching it was.  Each chapter of the book opens with pieces of news articles talking about the shooting and the reader has to put together these pieces to figure out what happens.  At the same time we read about Valerie’s recovery from being shot while trying to stop Nick during his shooting spree.  It’s heartbreaking reading about how Valerie was picked on and teased to the point where she made this list with Nick.  I know there are many teens out there who live in this situation almost every day.  They are the outcasts, the nerds, the rejects, etc.  This story shows that these teens have feelings to and other teens need to realize this when they choose to bully or ridicule someone else.

The reactions of those around Valerie are frustrating because we see what Valerie is feeling and yet it’s so realistic that you can see why they behave that way.  The mix of feelings the book evokes will leave you feeling like you have been on an emotional roller coaster but I feel like the message this book delivers is so important.

About the author

Jennifer used to write a weekly humor column in The Kansas City Star for over four years until she quit to focus on writing full time.  Hate List was Jennifer’s debut book and was a big hit.  It was chosen for ALA’s Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA “Perfect Ten” book and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

Jennifer’s second book, Bitter End, that came out in 2011 deals with another difficult issue about a young girl and her abusive and controlling boyfriend.  It also received many positive reviews and made the YALSA’s 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

Genre

Fiction

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

Have you ever said something hurtful to someone else that you regretted afterwards?  Did you ever approach them to say you were sorry?

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

Shootings in school are unfortunately becoming much more common these days and often time boil down to the shooters feeling alienated, bullied or relentlessly teased by their classmates.  I felt like this book would make a great read to see the consequences and reactions on all sides to such an emotional event.

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13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Johnson, Maureen.  13 Little Blue Envelopes. HarperCollins Publishers.  2006. ISBN 0060541431

Reader’s Annotation: Ginny receives a package from her aunt containing 13 blue envelopes and a set of directions that will lead her across Europe.  The only thing is her aunt is dead and apparently had kept a number of secrets from her beloved niece.

Plot Summary: Ginny and her aunt Peg were always very close and Ginny felt like she was a different, more adventurous person while with her aunt.  So when her aunt up and moves to Europe without any warning or even letting the family know where exactly she is Ginny is hurt.  Then her aunt dies but leaves Ginny with a package containing 13 blue envelopes with instructions and tasks to complete.  The adventure will lead Ginny across Europe, reveal secrets Peg kept from the entire family and perhaps introduce Ginny to a bit of romance.

Critical Evaluation

My first thought when I started reading was what in the world was Ginny’s parents thinking?  It sort of reminds me of Dora in which you have this young girl traveling the world and in Ginny’s case having no contact whatsoever with her family and no set itinerary.  I can’t think of any sane parents who would let their teenage daughter go on such a trip but once you suspend the disbelief over this it was an interesting story.

While I didn’t dislike Ginny I never truly came to love her.  It was her travels throughout Europe that entranced me.  Like many people I’ve always dreamed about being able to backpack through Europe, visit these famous sites and maybe even have a few flings or romances with European men.  This aspect will really draw in the teenage audience who wants to convince their parents to let them have an after high school adventure before heading off to college.

About the author

Maureen’s first book, The Key to the Golden Firebird, came out in 2004 and 13 Little Blue Envelopes came out in 2005.  In 2007 her book, The Bermudez Triangle, was challenged by a parent in Oklahoma.  Johnson immediately replied and called for more transparency in the school’s challenge process.  In the end Maureen’s book was not banned but was put in a restricted part of the school’s library.

The sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Last Little Blue Envelope, was published in 2011.

Genre

Contemporary

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

Have a series of instructions on where to pick this book up, read it, discuss it, etc. blue envelopes to fit in with the theme of the book.

If you received a set of instructions and tasks from someone you were close to but who was no longer alive would you follow them?

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

Maureen Johnson and this series in particular has come highly recommended.

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ttyl by Lauren Myracle

TTYL by Lauren Myracle

Myracle, Lauren.  ttyl. Harry N. Abrams.  2005 (First published April 1, 2004). ISBN 0810987880

Reader’s Annotation: Follow the ups and downs of BFFs, Zoe, Maddie and Angela, as they traverse their sophomore year through a series of instant messages between the three.

Plot Summary: Zoe-zoegirl, Maddie-mad maddie and Angela-Snow Angel have been BFFs for years and are each facing their own “crisis” as they navigate their sophomore year of high school.  Through a series of instant messages they relay their loves and heartbreaks, crisis between Zoe and the guy who is hitting on her and also happens to be her teacher and Maddie’s one moment of horrible judgment that is emailed to the world (or at least her high school classmates).

Critical Evaluation

This is a cute and fun read for younger teenage girls.  The entire book takes place through a series of instant messages between the three girls.  The format works well as we follow the girls deal with crushes, break ups, personal crises the possibility that they are just growing apart.  The three crises that the girls face all were very realistic.  What girl doesn’t have her heart crushed when the boy she was crushing on ends up going out with another girl?  This is what happens to boy crazy Angela and she has to learn how to deal with heartbreak and move on.  Zoe’s issue with an overly friendly teacher may not be an everyday situation but it’s not unheard of and Maddie’s poor judgement calls in the name of gaining popularity is all to common.

One downside is that we don’t get to see much of what goes on in each girl’s head but I still felt like we get to know each girl pretty well.  The other more serious issue I had with the book was how the relationship between Zoe and her teacher was handled.  As a reader we obviously know that what the teacher is doing is wrong but the resolution was so vague.  It doesn’t deal with how Zoe deals with the aftermath or what happens to the teacher.

All in all this is a quick read for the younger girls but not one I would suggest as a guide to dealing with tough situations.

About the author

Lauren Myracle is the author of a number of young adult and tween books including several that take place through instant messages.  Her first book, Kissing Kate, was also selected by ALA as one of their “Best Books for Young Adults” back in 2004.

Her recent book, Shine, is set in North Carolina and deals with the controversial topic of a girl seeking out the perpetrators of a hate crime against her gay friend.  Her books have been among the most challenged books due to scenes about sexuality, homosexuality and alcohol use.

Genre

Fiction

Curriculum Ties

N/A

Book talking idea

Carry out a conversation about what the book is about in a chat format by using chat lingo or cards with IMs written on them.

Reading level

Ages 12 and up.

Challenge Issues

Inappropriate teacher/student relations, sexually explicit content.

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 point out that it does not glorify any of the behaviors in question and serve as a warning against such behaviors.

Why did I include this book?

I’ve always heard about how controversial Myracle’s books have been and since this book is the first to take place all in instant messages my curiosity was peaked.

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The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (audiobook)

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

Cabot, Meg.  The Princess Diaries. Listening Library.  2005. ISBN 0307243265

Reader’s Annotation: What teenage girl doesn’t dream of being a princess? Mia Thermopolis for one who thinks this is her worst dream come true.

Plot Summary: Mia Thermopolis lives in New York with her mother and bemoans her life as the unpopular girl with the bad hair and lack of breasts.  She’s also in love with the most popular guy in school, Josh Richter, who is dating Mia’s nemesis, Lana Weinberger.  Things only get worst when her father delivers the news that he cannot have any more children which makes Mia the heir to the throne of Genovia.  What more can go wrong?

Critical Evaluation

This was a perfectly charming book and was narrated by Anne Hathaway.  Anne did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life and I highly suggest the audiobook.

Mia is a quirky character who is both likeable and yet irritating at times.  Any girl who is the wallflower or the unpopular girl can related to Mia’s obsessing over the cute guy in school and  why don’t people like her more.  Her whining about being a princess does get to be a bit much at times especially since I did not understand why she thought it would be such a bad thing to have her classmates find out.  It doesn’t seem like she’s as upset over the idea of having to move to Genovia at some point or worrying over her classmates fawning over her. Instead she thinks she will be ridiculed which doesn’t seem like a natural response.  I also wanted to shake her for her obliviousness over her best friend’s brother, Michael’s, feelings toward her. Still her humor saves her from being totally unlikeable.

The story is told through a series of diary entries made by Mia chronicling her failing algebra grades, her mother’s relationship with her algebra teacher, her romantic issues as well the ups and downs of learning to be the princess of Genovia.  The format works well as she writes in a manner that echoes how teenage girls would think and react to situations.

About the author

Meg Cabot is the author of almost 50 books for both adults and young adults.  One of her most well-known series is The Princess Diaries series which currently has over a dozen books making up the series and has also been made into a motion picture featuring Anne Hathaway.

Her most recent young adult series is the paranormal series Abandon and her Airhead trilogy.  She currently resides in Key West with her husband and two cats.

Genre

Contemporary

Curriculum Ties

English

Book talking idea

What would you do if you were princess for a day?

In the book Mia, her best friend Lily and Lily’s brother, Michael play a Who Would You Pick game. For a book talk play a similar game with movie stars or even young adult book characters.

Reading level

Ages 12 and up.

Challenge Issues

N/A

Why did I include this book?

Meg Cabot is such a major name in young adult books and with this being such a popular series I had to include it.

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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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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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After by Amy Efaw

After by Amy Efaw

Efaw, Amy.  After. Viking Juvenile.  2009. ISBN 0670011835

Reader’s Annotation: A baby is left for dead in a trashcan and a teen who claims not to have known she was ever pregnant.  Is it attempted murder or something more?

Plot Summary: Devon, a star soccer player, straight-A student and responsible has her world collapsing around her after a baby is found in the trash can behind her apartment.  Devon denies that she was ever pregnant despite being found by police still bloody and with the umbilical cord attached to her.  She is arrested and now faces the prosecution trying to get her tried as an adult for premeditated murder attempt.  Can Devon and her lawyer prove that she truly never realized she was pregnant and she panicked when she gave birth?

Critical Evaluation

This book is not for the faint of heart as Devon initially shows little to no remorse about the horrifying crime she committed of throwing her baby away in an apartment building trash can.  Devon is a difficult character to like as what we mostly see is someone so listless and defensive that you want to shake her until she gives some straight answers.  As the story goes on Efaw does a great job of demonstrating just how a person can go through an entire pregnancy in state of denial and even commit such a horrid act without truly realizing what they are doing.  In the end I still did not truly “like” Devon but I understood how she could behave the way she did.

This is a great book for teenage girls who have an unplanned pregnancy in that it shows that though they may feel ashamed, scared and like they have no one to turn to they may have more support than they realize.  During Devon’s hearing people involved in Devon’s life show that they wouldn’t have criticized her or turned away in disgust.  If she had only let them in they would have wanted to help Devon make it through this situation and avoided such a tragedy.

About the author

Amy is a busy mother to five kids as well as being the author of two books, After and Battledress.  On her website FAQ she says she gets her ideas for her books from all over the place from stories her kids bring home from school, her husband’s law cases or even something on TV.

Amy is a graduated of the military academy at West Point and is a former Army officer and said that Battledress was a sort of autobiographical book. She was writing about a girl who went through basic training at West Point and had to go through many of the things Amy herself went through.

Genre

Contemporary

Curriculum Ties

English/Sexual Education

Book talking idea

Talk about the dilemma in believing that Devon could truly go through an entire pregnancy without realizing she was pregnant.

The turmoil Devon faced with unplanned sex and the consequences.

Reading level

Ages 14 and up.

Challenge Issues

Graphic nature of Devon’s reaction to her pregnancy may be challenged by some parents.

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 also serves to show teens that they can and should reach out for help in these types of situations.  They do not have to face it alone.

Why did I include this book?

Teen pregnancy has always been a major topic among teens and I found the idea of Devon’s casual abandonment of her baby in a trash can so horrifying I had to find out what happened.  It seemed like a situation any teenage girl might find herself in and they need to know there is help out there.

 

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