Tag: teenagers


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

June 4th, 2014 — 11:26am

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction and rightfully so. It is a beautifully written novel about Theo Decker and his life after his world is changed by an act of terrorism. The_goldfinch_by_donna_tart

When Theo was 13, he and his mother visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see an exhibition of Dutch masterpieces, including Theo’s mother’s favorite work, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius. While at the exhibit, Theo gets distracted by a redheaded girl and her grandfather — he is mesmerized by the girl and follows her into a room away from his mother. It is then that a terrorist bomb hits the museum, killing many including Theo’s mother.

In the aftermath of the blast, the elderly man (Welton “Welty” Blackwell) gives Theo a ring and appears to point at The Goldfinch painting — Theo, in his confusion and panic, takes the painting out of the museum.

But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.

Theo went through some dark times after the death of his mother and his recovery from the bombing.

His father had abandoned Theo and his mother the year before, but Theo is determined to stay in Manhattan. He stays with a school friend, Andy Barbour, and his family. The Barbours are wealthy socialites with the typical WASPy problems — Mr. Barbour is medicated for a behavior disorder that is probably manic depression, Mrs. Barbour is cold and distant, the oldest son, Platt, who is away at boarding school and is a huge bully, Andy, Theo’s friend who is a genius with all of the social awkwardness that comes along with it, Kitsey, a snobbish princess, and Toddy, who is the youngest child. He gets along well with them, though he has nightmares from the post-traumatic stress disorder from the bombing.

Theo also returns the ring to the family of Welty — James Hobart, who goes by Hobie, and his redhaired granddaughter, Pippa. Pippa sustained a head injury in the bombing. Theo sits with her and his initial attraction to her grows. Unfortunately, Pippa is being sent away to family in Texas when she recovers from her injuries.

Unfortunately for Theo, his father, Larry, and his girlfriend, Xandra, show up to take him to their home in Las Vegas. Theo doesn’t want to leave the Barbours, but doesn’t really have a choice. Vegas is terrible for Theo — his father and Xandra are not good parents and his father’s source of income is not steady, since he mostly just gambles. Xandra has a Maltese puppy named Popper that is incredibly neglected, except for Theo’s attentions to him. (We’re talking super neglected, to the point where I almost felt worse for the puppy than for Theo at this point. Oops.) At school, Theo meets Boris, who is a Russian-Ukrainian immigrant and is not the best role model for Theo. Together, Boris and Theo drink a lot of alcohol, take a lot of drugs, and skip a lot of school.

Mauritshuis_Fabritius_605

The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius

Theo is haunted by The Goldfinch. He still has the painting, which was on the news as missing/destroyed in the bombing and is renowned for being one of the only works by Fabritius to survive a gunpowder explosion in 1654. He wraps the painting in bubble wrap and a pillowcase in an attempt to preserve it once he notices the wear that occurs when he looks at it. He is in constant fear of its discovery and the retribution he would face for its theft.

Theo’s dad starts getting friendlier with Theo and tells him he needs his social security number in order to open a savings account for him. He also tries to get Theo to put his money from his mother’s will in the account that Larry would have access to. Luckily, Theo’s lawyer is onto Larry and doesn’t allow for him to steal Theo’s money. It turns out that Larry is in deep with the gambling debts. In his despondency about not getting Theo’s money, he gets drunk and dies in a car accident. Theo knows that he will be sent to a state home, so he steals drugs and money from Xandra and leaves with Popper. Boris begs him to stay another day, but he leaves immediately for New York on a bus.

Once in New York, he sees Mr. Barbour on the street, but Mr Barbour is not on his medication and curses at him. The only other place Theo can think to go is to Hobie’s house, where he is pleased to find Pippa. Pippa tells him that she’s at a boarding school in Switzerland and is only visiting, much to Theo’s chagrin.

Hobie teaches Theo the art of antique restoration, and he eventually becomes a partner in what was once Welty and Hobie’s antiques business. The narrative skips forward eight years, where Pippa is living in London with a boyfriend (which tortures Theo) and Theo and Kitsey Barbour are engaged to marry. Mr. Barbour and Andy died in a boating accident, and Mrs. Barbour has pulled a Mrs. Havisham and has secluded herself in her apartment. Theo has also developed a prescription drug addiction. Theo and Kitsey have many relationship problems, the biggest of which is her continued love for her high school boyfriend, Tom.

Along with restoring antiques, Hobie enjoys creating pieces that are identical to antiques — which Theo has been selling them as legitimate pieces, unbeknownst to Hobie. One of the buyers of the fabricated pieces realizes what he has and attempts to blackmail Theo — he realizes that Theo and Welty were in the room with The Goldfinch and thinks that Theo and Hobie know the whereabouts of the painting. Theo is afraid of the financial repercussions of customers finding out about the fake antiques, the trouble he will be in when authorities discover he has The Goldfinch, and the guilt he feels in betraying Hobie’s trust.

Out of nowhere, Boris appears on the street of Manhattan. He has wealth and renown in the Russian neighborhood (which he does not explain), but he has a confession for Theo — while they were in Las Vegas, Boris stole The Goldfinch from Theo and replaced it with a textbook that was the similar size and weight; because it was so tightly sealed and Theo never looked at it, he had no idea. Over the years, The Goldfinch has been used as collateral to barter for various criminal activities and deals, but Boris feels guilty and vows to return it to Theo. At Theo and Kitsey’s engagement party, Boris approaches Theo with a planfor them to fly to Amsterdam and meet up with the men who have the painting in order to get it back. Theo is overwhelmed when the blackmailer arrives at his and Kitsey’s engagement party, and he agrees to go and leaves without telling anyone that he’s going — he leaves a note of love to Pippa.

Once in Amsterdam, Boris and assorted men take Theo to meet up with the men who have The Goldfinch, but they all have guns (besides Theo). At the meeting, they attack the men and steal the painting; however, agents fo the dealers finds them and there is a shootout, in which Boris is shot in the arm, Theo shoots a man, and the painting is stolen back.

Theo goes back to his hotel, devastated, and takes a ton of drugs. His cell phone is dead, so he can’t get in touch with Boris, he thinks he is going to be arrested for shooting and killing the agent, and he realizes that he doesn’t have his passport — he left it in the car with Boris. He contemplates suicide when, miraculously, Boris shows up at the hotel. He tells Theo that he has saved the day — he called the art recovery police on the agents, and they have been arrested and The Goldfinch has been recovered. Even better, Boris received a reward for the painting’s return and he graciously shares the reward with Theo.

Theo returns to New York and is greeted by a very upset Hobie. Hobie has been made aware of the sale of the fabricated antiques, so Theo confesses to everything, beginning with the day of the art museum and The Goldfinch. Hobie confesses that The Goldfinch was Welty’s favorite painting, too.

Theo travels the world to buy back the fabricated antiques. Pippa has told him that though she loves him, they can never be together because their character flaws and their shared experience of the bombing makes them too similar to be a safe and effective couple. Theo wonders how much of his experiences are due to fate and how much are due to his character.He realizes that “we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

The writing of The Goldfinch is beautiful. I read this book over Christmas break but have not been able to stop thinking about it. The story can be described as a bildungsroman, but it is so much more than that. The novel discusses the preservation of beautiful things, both items and people, as well as how much power fate has — as well as the power of our parents and their presence (or lack thereof) in our lives. Theo loses his mother early in his life and fourteen years later he observes that “things would have turned out better if she had lived.”

There are plot points that are eyeroll inducing (especially the deus ex machina in the climax — Boris called the cops, really? Really, that’s how it’s resolved after an epic shootout) but the story of Theo’s decline into teenage delinquency and his fight out was mesmerizing to read. I’m also a sucker for a good mom story. I’m very close with my mother and even the thought of losing my mother, even as an adult, makes me slightly hyperventilate.

Comment » | modern

Young Adult Fiction

August 13th, 2013 — 5:13pm

…..or, How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

For years, I have turned my nose up at young adult (YA) fiction. I have been a voracious reader for my entire life, and hadn’t read young adult book since my childhood — even when I was a young adult (in this case, meant to be a teenager), I was reading books from the “adult” stacks in the library. To me, young adult meant Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret or other books I’d read as a kid.

Once I hit college and became an English major, I turned into that annoying snobby reader — I was an English major, I’m reading the classics, I don’t have time for teenager nonsense. (Harry Potter notwithstanding. I will always fight for my right to Harry Potter.) While in college, I lived with a girl who wanted to be a young adult author, so she read a lot of young adult fiction and recommended that I read a book series about vampires and werewolves that she said was SO GOOD. It was Twilight, and good it was not. The writing in that book sent me back to my college reading lists happily.

It got worse when I became a high school teacher. I spent my day surrounded by teenagers, I did not want to spend my off time reading about their problems. I got enough teenage angst in the day, thank you!

Last year, I began my masters degree in library science. In order to ease myself back into the academic life, I took a class called Literature for Youth, because it seemed easy enough — read some books, write some papers about them. And kids books, how bad could it be.

The reading list was TWENTY-SEVEN PAGES LONG, full of a combination of children, juvenile, and young adult fiction and nonfiction. As I was teaching pre-AP English 2 at the time, I chose a lot of YA books (and pawned off a lot on my students, telling them to read them and let me know if they were good). I figured it would be easy enough.

YA has come a long way since my adolescent years. For one thing, it’s a genre unto itself, which has developed over the last ten years. As much as I roll my eyes, Twilight really did change the role YA plays in the bookstore or the library. YA is taken seriously as literature now and has a lot of great books — and some not so great. There is a HUGE supernatural presence in YA (Barnes and Noble has a separate YA shelf for paranormal romance, gag), but a lot of them are very well written and very compelling, with wonderful characters and plotlines.

Not all of them focus on romance, which is refreshing. Many of them explore themes that are important to teenagers (and adults, as there is a reason that they’re called “young adult” — teenagers go through the same issues that adults go through, they’re just plagued with hormones that make the smallest problem seem like a life or death situation) and, if read with an adult that’s close to them, can open up conversations and make it easier for them to identify with the world — yes, even the paranormal romance.

There are few guides out there to understanding and writing YA fiction, but here are a few things I’ve noticed from my (limited) exposure to YA:

1. YA is predominately written in first person, which can sometimes get a little tiring (but teenagers are self centered and probably won’t notice). YA also predominately comes in trilogies or series. Be warned — when I read Libba Bray’s The Diviners, I had no idea it was the first in a series and I was PISSED to get to the end and find that it continued in a yet-to-be-published book. PISSED.
2. There’s almost always a romance. Even in books that aren’t labeled as a romance, there will be a romance.
3. About 75% of the time that romance will be a love triangle.
4. The main character will usually feel inadequate and not understand why the other person likes them. A lot of, “But I’m so hideously ugly, how could anyone ever love me!?!??!?!” to which the other person will respond, “You are so beautiful, I wish I could make you see it!!!!!!!!!!!” Which happens in adult romances, too. So maybe that’s just a romance genre thing. Whatever it is, it can be annoying.
5. There is usually a very good lesson to learn, even if it’s hidden or thematic. YA can serve as a modern Aesop’s Fable, but with a lot more pining. Some books (such as those by Laurie Halse Anderson or Ellen Hopkins) are overt in their messages, some (like Libba Bray’s The Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy which focuses on the strength of girls/women) can be more subtle.
6. The books that I find the most enjoyable are the ones that are dystopian/paranormal in nature rather than focus on a more modern world with typical teenage problems. That’s just a question of taste, however.
7. Almost every new book/series will be compared to something that has come before it. I’ve noticed this more in YA than in any other fiction category. Books will be advertised as “the new Harry Potter,” (Shadow and Bone) “the new Hunger Games,” (Divergent) “the new Twilight” (City of Bones). Ignore that and just enjoy them for what they are.
8. YA books are easy to read without being too juvenile. There is a difference between a juvenile book (meant for ages 8-13) and a YA book (meant for ages 14-18). There are different issues for these kids. Wait ’til Helen Comes is for a different audience than Divergent — there’s a different maturity (and vocabulary level) associated with each book. That being said, YA books shouldn’t send you to the dictionary to look up every other word. If it is, you may need to take an SAT vocabulary refresher.
9. YA books are the new movie craze. Think about it — Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Percy Jackson, City of Bones, Divergent, Beautiful Creatures, The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, Vampire Academy, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Unwind, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children — these are all YA books to movies that are either already out or are scheduled to come out/start production in the next year. And these are just ones that I can think of off the top of my head.
10. While YA is a good place to go to be reminded that good conquers evil, YA does not shy away from real life situations and heartache. People die, people get sick, people are victims to horrible accidents. While good does triumph, sometimes it hurts and you feel like you can’t possibly go on but you know that you have to — and that’s just literature reflecting life.

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Module 14: Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

December 9th, 2012 — 11:52am

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is a free verse novel told through five teenaged narrators, all of whom are struggling with various sexual and drug related experiences. It was published in 2009.

SUMMARY

The book follows the experiences of five teenagers and is told through free verse poetry:

Eden — Eden has been raised in a religious family, Pentecostal, by extremely religious parents. She is in love with a boy named Andrew, but she knows that her parents will not approve; not only that, but her parents won’t allow her to date until she’s ready to be married. She dates him secretly — she’s sixteen and he’s nineteen, and she knows that her parents won’t hesitate to press statutory charges against him if they find out. Andrew and Eden go out one night and Eden tells Andrew that she loves him. Andrew tells her that he loves her as well, so much so that he wants “to take from you what I’ve no right to take.”

Eden’s parents find out about the relationship and assume that Eden is being possessed by the Devil. I mean, obviously. They send her to a camp called Tears of Zion for wayward youth. It’s not a very great place and she is mistreated through work and being kept in captivity. She begins having sex with a worker named Jerome in exchange for food and shampoo, and in hopes that he’ll eventually help her escape.

She manages to escape with Jerome and while at a gas station, she ditches him. She prostitutes herself to truckers for money and rides until she gets to a youth home that serves as a refuge for kids in similar situations. She emails Andrew’s mother and Andrew is glad to hear that she’s alive, as no one has told him anything about where she’s been.

Seth — Seth is a closeted homosexual; he has always known that he’s different, but he can’t come out since his mother died of cancer a year previously; his mother also had very conservative views of sex, having once said that his sixteen year old cousin who got pregnant was “a whore.” His father has said homophobic things in the past, so Seth lives with his secret: not only is he gay, but their priest had taken advantage of him as a child.

However, Seth is lonely and a hormonal teenager, so he posts on Internet personal ad and drives to Louisville and meets Loren; he wasn’t looking for a hookup, but gets to know Loren and falls in love with him. Loren introduces him to a cultural life that Seth doesn’t experience in Indiana.

However, Loren ends his relationship with Seth at around the time that Seth’s dad finds out that Seth is gay and kicks him out of the house. He ends up moving in with Carl, a man he’d met at a bar, and moves to Las Vegas with him. While in Vegas, Seth hooks up with a guy that he met in the gym; shortly after Carl reveals to Seth that it was a test — he paid the guy to act as bait to see if Seth would fall for him and he kicks Seth out. Seth resorts to escort sites on the internet to find new guys to live with.

Whitney — Whitney lives completely in the shadow of her sister, Kyra. She acknowledges that her mother loves her sister more and that Kyra does everything better. Needless to say, Whitney and her mother don’t get along. They live in Santa Cruz, California, and Whitney’s father works in San Francisco. Her family is mostly absent in her life, and she therefore seeks attention and affection from anyone who will give her the time of day.

Whitney is dating a boy, Lucas, who she’s in love with but has remained abstinent, due to the fear of venereal diseases and possible pregnancy. Whitney and Lucas meet at Kyra’s school choir concert and bond when he is the first person to ever tell Whitney that Kyra is a bitch. Lucas is three years older than Whitney — eighteen to her fifteen, and he introduces her to pot and kissing.

Whitney sleeps with Lucas and, in typical teenage boy fashion, he dumps her soon after. She moves with a friend, Bryn, to Las Vegas with his family, and soon starts sleeping with him. However, it’s soon revealed that he deceived her in order to get her to fall in love with him and starts using her for sex, forcing her to have sex with other people while he records it, and introduces her to harder drugs, to which she’s soon addicted. Whitney overdoses and lands in the hospital; her mother, father, and sister come to visit, but they’re still self-involved and don’t understand their roles in her problems.

Ginger — Ginger’s mother (though she insists on being called Iris) has had many boyfriends during Ginger’s life because of what she calls her “womanly needs” by what Ginger refers to as an “overinflated sex drive.” Iris has six kids by five different fathers and is addicted to all sorts of drugs — booze, pills, whatever. Iris supports her children through prostitution, which Ginger knows about. They’re living with Iris’s mother, Gram, for now, who is more of a mother to the kids than Iris.

One of Ginger’s brother is in a motorcycle accident and is in the hospital. While Gram goes to visit him, one of Iris’s boyfriends rapes Ginger — Ginger finds out that Iris is selling her to these men; not only is Iris prostituting herself, but her daughter now, too. This is the final straw for Ginger: she steals Iris’s money and runs away with her friend, Alex, to Las Vegas.

Alex’s aunt, Lydia, gets the two of them jobs as strippers, which soon turns to prostitution in order to make more money to survive. The Vegas police bust them and send them to a youth refuge home. Ginger calls Gram, who tells her that Iris is dying. Ginger goes home to care for her siblings while Alex stays in Vegas; when she gets home, she discovers that she’s pregnant, and she vows to be a better mother to her child and siblings than Iris or Alex’s mom were to them.

Cody — Cody doesn’t know who his real father is — he suspects that he might have raped his mother, since she’s such “a prude.” He, his mother, stepfather, and half-brother have moved from Witchita, Kansas, to Las Vegas. He lives a normal teenage life, going to school, working at GameStop, the usual. He’s always fooled around and partied under the radar, nothing too out of the ordinary for teenagers, right?

However, Cody’s stepfather, Jack, becomes sick and Cody’s brother starts getting into major trouble, and Cody’s drinking intensifies. It turns out that Jack has cancer — after he dies, it is up to Cody to help support the family. He begins online gambling and his drinking spirals into out of control territory.

Desperate for ways to make money, Cody meets Lydia, who helps set him up with men who will pay him for sex; he’s pretty sure he isn’t gay, but he’s also pretty sure that they have a lot of bills. Many of the “dates” involve Misty, as the men are interested in threesomes. During one of these nights, Misty’s boyfriend finds them naked with a client — the boyfriend is less than pleased, as he wasn’t aware of Misty’s job, and he attacks and beats them. When Cody wakes up, he’s in the hospital and is told that Misty and the client are dead. He hears his mother’s voice, begging him not to leave her, but he isn’t sure if it’s real.

IMPRESSIONS

Um. Wow. This book is nothing if not intense. It was difficult to read, for sure — I’ve been a teacher in two different schools with kids with less than desirable lives; many of the foster kids had stories similar to some of these children, especially Ginger’s.

In researching this book, I read an interview with Ellen Hopkins, who said that she wrote her books (including her prose novels about teenagers with drug addictions) to encourage teenagers to make good choices and seek help if they have problems out of their control. Many of my students saw this book on my desk and made sure to tell me how great Hopkins’ books are, so hopefully her message is working. I’m just not sure if the graphic nature and desperate circumstances are almost too unbelievable to seem real to some children.

The prose of the novel made it interesting and easy to read — at 640 pages, when I first got the book it seemed daunting, but it was a fast read. It also gave the narrators five distinct voices and poetic styles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Five teenagers from all over the U.S.—three girls, two boys, some straight, some gay—end up as prostitutes in Las Vegas in this multiplevoiced novel in verse. Among the different stories are a preacher’s daughter breaking free from abuse, a closeted gay young man who hides his love life from his widowed and homophobic father, and the lesbian daughter of a prostitute. Hopkins has never shied away from tough subjects; descriptions of sex, while not overly graphic, are realistic and will likely provoke controversy. A master of storytelling through free verse, she uses multiple poetic devices to construct well-defined, distinctive voices for the five teens. Like E. R. Frank’s Life Is Funny (2000), the multiple protagonists are easy to identify and their stories compelling, especially when they begin to intersect. Teens will queue up for this one—some, admittedly, for the sensational subject matter—and find Hopkins’ trademark empathy for teens in rough situations.
Booklist

Five teens desperately seek to find their way through the darkness in Hopkins’s latest epic novel in verse. Eden flees an evangelical household; Cody blocks out a family illness with gambling and sex; Whitney gives up her body in exchange for the love she finds so elusive; Seth struggles to define himself as a homosexual; and Ginger comes to terms with an awful truth about her neglectful mother. Burden after burden piles on the teens’ shoulders until they resort to the unthinkable in order to survive. As they near rock bottom, their narratives begin to intersect. It is only when their paths converge that a glimmer of redemption appears out of the hopelessness. From the punch delivered by the title, to the teens’ raw voices, to the visual impact of the free verse, Hopkins once again produces a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This one is difficult. I don’t see myself using this as a booktalk, as the backlash from parents might be negative and overwhelming. However, it could be used in a display, perhaps for suicide prevention or another awareness campaign.

REFERENCES

Carton, D. (2009). Tricks. Booklist, 105(22), 62.

Hopkins, E. (2009). Tricks. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Maza, J. (2009). Tricks. School Library Journal, 55(10), 128.

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Module 11: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

November 14th, 2012 — 10:48am

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow is an informative book by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. In it, she has researched the Hitler Youth and details the lives of several teenagers growing up in Nazi Germany.

SUMMARY

The book follows the timeline of the formation of the Hitler Youth, starting with Hitler’s appointment as chancellor and ending with the aftermath of World War II and the unification of East and West Germany as a democratic state in 1990. Within the information, the author uses the examples of several members of the Hitler Youth. Membership in the Hitler Youth (called Hitlerjugend for boys and Bund Deutscher Madel for girls) was compulsory for the young people of Germany. Many of the youth believed that what they were doing was for the betterment of Germany because that was what they had been taught and told for years. However, some teenagers disagreed with what was required of them and what Hitler was doing and put up active resistance, printing and distributing pamphlets telling about Hitler’s lies and the true work of the Nazis and the concentration camps. The author used both diaries and personal interviews to share the experiences of the variety of young people in Germany in the 1940s.

The book focuses solely on the events of WWII as it pertains to the Hitler Youth. It paints a grisly portrait of youth taken advantage of by their government and their leader. Hitler said about his Youth, “I begin with the young…We older ones are used up…But my magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? Look at all these men and boys! What material! With them I can make a new world.”

IMPRESSIONS

The Hitler Youth was a topic that I’d never explored; I’m pretty sure I only knew they existed from watching Swing Kids. But this book was fascinating. I saw parallels between then and now — I’ve often wondered how young people in our society can be closed-minded and prejudiced, and this book showed that children are especially susceptible to propaganda and the direction and influence of adults. I say adults and not their parents because in a few instances, the youth were so entranced with Hitler that they turned in their parents to the Nazis for saying “unpatriotic” or disparaging things about Hitler or the Nazi Party. It was very 1984, where adults feared their children.

The inclusion of the interviews and personal anecdotes made the book read more like a narration and less like a textbook. It was very well put together, though at times I lost track of the timeline of the events and what was happening elsewhere in the world. The chronology was loose in the book, but it didn’t keep the information from being effective. There was also a plethora of pictures — pretty much one or two on every page — which also distracted from the chronology of the story.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Hitler’s plans for the future of Germany relied significantly on its young people, and this excellent history shows how he attempted to carry out his mission with the establishment of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, in 1926. With a focus on the years between 1933 and the end of the war in 1945, Bartoletti explains the roles that millions of boys and girls unwittingly played in the horrors of the Third Reich. The book is structured around 12 young individuals and their experiences, which clearly demonstrate how they were victims of leaders who took advantage of their innocence and enthusiasm for evil means. Their stories evolve from patriotic devotion to Hitler and zeal to join, to doubt, confusion, and disillusion. (An epilogue adds a powerful what-became-of-them relevance.) The large period photographs are a primary component and they include Nazi propaganda showing happy and healthy teens as well as the reality of concentration camps and young people with large guns. The final chapter superbly summarizes the weighty significance of this part of the 20th century and challenges young readers to prevent history from repeating itself. Bartoletti lets many of the subjects’ words, emotions, and deeds speak for themselves, bringing them together clearly to tell this story unlike anyone else has.
School Library Journal

What was it like to be a teenager in Germany under Hitler? Bartoletti draws on oral histories, diaries, letters, and her own extensive interviews with Holocaust survivors, Hitler Youth, resisters, and bystanders to tell the history from the viewpoints of people who were there. Most of the accounts and photos bring close the experiences of those who followed Hitler and fought for the Nazis, revealing why they joined, how Hitler used them, what it was like. Henry Mentelmann, for example, talks about Kristallnacht, when Hitler Youth and Storm Troopers wrecked Jewish homes and stores, and remembers thinking that the victims deserved what they got. The stirring photos tell more of the story. One particularly moving picture shows young Germans undergoing de-Nazification by watching images of people in the camps. The handsome book design, with black-and-white historical photos on every double-page spread, will draw in readers and help spark deep discussion, which will extend beyond the Holocaust curriculum. The extensive back matter is a part of the gripping narrative.
Booklist

LIBRARY USES

This, like Between Shades of Gray, would be well used for Holcoaust Memorial Day. It would also be a good booktalk for middle school students. In a school library setting, this would be a good companion piece to a class reading The Diary of Anne Frank; reading excerpts from this book and showing the pictures would help pique interest in the era.

REFERENCES

Bartoletti, S. C. (2005). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Medlar, A. (2005, May 30). Book of the week: Hitler youth by susan campbell bartoletti. School Library Journal, 176. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA604629.html

Rochman, H. (2005, April 15). Hitler youth: Growing up in hitler’s shadow. Booklist. Retrieved from http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=1180952&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

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Module 10: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

November 14th, 2012 — 8:15am

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is historical fiction about Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic region during World War II. It is narrated by Lina, a 15 year old Lithuanian girl, as she and her family are deported to Siberia.

SUMMARY

The novel opens with men from the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, taking Lina, her mother, and her brother, Jonas, from their homes on June 14, 1941. Her father, provost at the university, has already been taken. They’re loaded on a truck with some of their neighbors and a few people they don’t recognize. They’re horrified that the next stop is at the hospital, as one of the people they are scheduled to take is a woman who is at that moment giving birth; they load her and her newborn baby into the truck as she’s bleeding onto her hospital gown.

Lina’s father, Kostas Vilkas, helped his brother and his family escape Lithuania to Germany, which put him on the black list as an accessory. Lina’s mother, Elena, speaks fluent Russian, which allows her to communicate with the NKVD. He is taken to a different camp from the rest of the family. They are stuffed into a train with even more prisoners, including the Andrius Arvydas and his mother, the son and wife of an officer in the Lithuanian army. The conditions in the train are horrible and they’re travelling through Europe for three weeks without stopping. On the train, the young woman’s baby dies and she is shot by an officer when she’s overcome by grief.

The train finally stops in Siberia, at a camp where they are assigned to live in shacks and work as beet and potato farmers. They stay there for a while, and Lina finds solace in her art. She has always been an artist and she’s particularly drawn to the work of Edward Munch. She decides to draw pictures of people and events so that she can send them to her father in hopes that he will find them.

While they’re at the camp, Andrius and his mother live in the officers house, where they are fed and treated better than the others. Lina is upset with this special treatment, but when she confronts Andrius about it, he reveals that his mother is prostituting herself to the officers to keep the officers from killing him. She’s horrified by this and distraught with his anger, which makes her realize that she’s falling in love with Andrius; when they reconcile, it’s shown that Andrius has similar feelings. He gives her a special stone to bring her luck and to remind her of him.

The NKVD tries to force the prisoners to sign papers saying that they are criminals and acknowledging that they’re being sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor and that they will pay a war tax of two hundred rubles per person, which most of them refuse to sign. Jonas becomes sick with scurvy from the lack of vegetables in his diet and almost dies until Andrius steals a can of tomatoes from the officers house. Soon after he heals, the prisoners hear that some of them will be transported to a different location. Some people are fools enough to think they’re being transported to America, but Lina knows better.

The prisoners, which now include prisoners from other camps, are taken farther north in Siberia. The NKVD take them to an empty field and tell them that they will have to build their own shelter, and quickly, as the arctic chill begins in September. They suffer through the cold temperatures and hypothermia. It is here that Lina discovers why they’ve been deported and that she is being punished because her beloved cousin and best friend, Joana, was able to escape — she is dying to allow Joana to live. It also here that a guard reveals to them that Lina’s father has been killed in prison. Lina’s mother takes sick and she dies in the shack.

Lina and Jonas are able to hide her body from the officers so they can bury her properly. The other prisoners help them, as a testament to how much they have become a family within themselves — they need each other to survive and Lina’s mother in particular was a unifying force due to her calm demeanor and peaceful spirit. Lina paints a map to her mother’s grave so that she will never forget where it is. Lina is determined to survive the camp and now cares for Jonas.

The other prisoners all take their turns with illness — scurvy, dysentery, typhus, hypothermia. They’re dying more and more every day. Jonas becomes very ill and just when Lina is afraid that he won’t be able to survive the night, an inspection officer, a doctor, appears at the shack. Dr. Samodurov is to inspect all of the prisons to report that everything is fine and the prisoners are being treated fairly, but he tells Lina that is not going to submit false reports. He spends ten days at the prison; he helps the prisoners store fish for the upcoming storms and plot a burial yard for the dead. The doctor tells her that it’s possible that her father hasn’t died; the guards have told prisoners before that people have died, only to be found living somewhere.

Lina is determined to live to reunite with Andrius. When they left each other, they promised that they would meet again, and when Lina closes her eyes, she can imagine that they are together as she holds the stone.

The novel ends with an epilogue from 1995 in Lithuania. A construction crew has discovered a wooden box int he ground that contains a glass jar full of papers. The papers contain drawings and a letter:

Dear Friend,

The writings and drawings you hold in your hands were buried in the year 1954, after returning from Siberia with my brother, where we were imprisoned for twelve years. There are many thousands of us, nearly all dead. Those alive cannot speak. Though we committed no offense, we are viewed as criminals. Even now, speaking of the terrors we have experienced would result in our death. So we put our trust in you, the person who discovers this capsule of memories somewhere in the future. We trust you with truth, for contained herein is exactly that — the truth.

My husband, Andrius, says that evil will rule until good men or women choose to act. I believe him. This testimony was written to create an absolute record, to speak in a world where our voices have been extinguished. These writings may shock or horrify you, but that is not my intention. It is my greatest hope that the pages in this jar stir your deepest well of human compassion. I hope they prompt you to do something, to tell someone. Only then can we ensure that this kind of evil is never allowed to repeat itself.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Lina Arvydas
9th day of July, 1954 — Kaunas

IMPRESSIONS

This book was incredibly moving. This was a side of the Holocaust that I wasn’t very familiar with, but it was equally as horrifying — in fact, one of the characters in the book points out the similarities between Stalin and Hitler. The horrors that people can commit to others, blindly, without cause or reason, is stunning. I’ll never fail to be amazed by the deplorable ways that people treat others.

That being said, the story was effective for several reasons. Lina’s story is told through flashbacks to events in her family, adding a dimension to the story of her relationships and her life before they were taken. I enjoyed Andrius’s character because he had his own experience that added to the plot; it didn’t feel like he was added solely for a romantic element. There were so many descriptions of Lina drawing that I began to wish that there had been reproductions of drawings to add just one more realistic element to the story. The epilogue was great, because I was a little disappointed in the ending that left Lina in the camp, so knowing that they survived and she and Andrius married was cathartic.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Sepetys’ first novel offers a harrowing and horrifying account of the forcible relocation of countless Lithuanians in the wake of the Russian invasion of their country in 1939. In the case of 16-year-old Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, this means deportation to a forced-labor camp in Siberia, where conditions are all too painfully similar to those of Nazi concentration camps. Lina’s great hope is that somehow her father, who has already been arrested by the Soviet secret police, might find and rescue them. A gifted artist, she begins secretly creating pictures that can–she hopes–be surreptitiously sent to him in his own prison camp. Whether or not this will be possible, it is her art that will be her salvation, helping her to retain her identity, her dignity, and her increasingly tenuous hold on hope for the future. Many others are not so fortunate. Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, estimates that the Baltic States lost more than one-third of their populations during the Russian genocide. Though many continue to deny this happened, Sepetys’ beautifully written and deeply felt novel proves the reality is otherwise. Hers is an important book that deserves the widest possible readership.
Booklist

This bitterly sad, fluidly written historical novel tackles a topic woefully underdiscussed in English-language children’s fiction: Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror. On June 14th, 1941, Soviet officers arrest 15-year-old Lina, her younger brother and her mother and deport them from Lithuania to Siberia. Their crammed-full boxcar is labeled, ludicrously, “Thieves and Prostitutes.” They work at a frigid gulag for eight months-hungry, filthy and brutalized by Soviet officers–before being taken to the Siberian Arctic and left without shelter. Lina doesn’t know the breadth of Stalin’s mass deportations of Baltic citizens, but she hears scraps of discussion about politics and World War II. Cold, starvation, exhaustion and disease (scurvy, dysentery, typhus) claim countless victims. Lina sketches urgently, passing her drawings along to other deportees, hoping they’ll reach Papa in a Soviet prison. Brief flashbacks, seamlessly interwoven, illuminate Lina’s sweet old life in Kaunas like flashes of light, eventually helping to reveal why the repressive, deadly regime targeted this family. Sepetys’ flowing prose gently carries readers through the crushing tragedy of this tale that needs telling.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be an excellent vehicle for a book talk. I would also recommend it be used in a display for Holocaust Memorial Day on May 8; it is important that the story of the genocide in the Soviet Union be told as well as the atrocities committed by Hitler.

REFERENCES

Between shades of gray. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(2), 138.

Cart, M. (2011). Between shades of gray. Booklist, 107(11), 68. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/58626231/between-shades-gray

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York, NY: Philomel Books.

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Module 9: Double Helix by Nancy Werlin

November 10th, 2012 — 12:40am

Double Helix by Nancy Werlin is a mystery novel for young adults. It was published in 2004.

SUMMARY

Eli Samuels is a high school senior who is not going to college after graduation — instead, he has applied for a job at Wyatt Transgenics and is planning on working for a year before going to college. He has a girlfriend he adores, Viv, and a strained relationship with his father. His mother, Ava, was an economics professor at Harvard before becoming stricken with Huntington’s disease. Eli had found a letter from Dr. Wyatt, the head of Wyatt Transgenics, which inspired him to apply for the job.

In his job at Wyatt Transgenics, there a few things that strike him as odd — Dr. Wyatt takes a keen interest in him and invites him to his house to meet a young lady, Kayla Matheson. Transgenics is the act of transferring genes from one organism to the other, which this company is doing through proteins in rabbits milk. Or something, that part was confusing, but it’s Eli’s job to take care of the rabbits.

It turns out that Eli’s parents knew Dr. Wyatt because they went to him when they knew that Ava was a carrier for Huntington’s but they still wanted to have children. Dr. Wyatt harvested her eggs and performed gene therapy to be sure that Eli didn’t have Huntington’s. Unbeknownst to the Samuels, however, Dr. Wyatt kept the other eggs he harvested from Ava and had been performing genetic experiments on them; Eli finds out through seeing a picture of her mother as a teenager that one of those eggs grew up to be Kayla Matheson, and while Eli was bred specifically to be clear of Huntington’s, Kayla has not.

Eli and Kayla sneak into a basement office where Dr. Wyatt had been performing tests on the children he’d made from Ava’s eggs (the experiments were nothing of the Dr. Mengele variety, just checking their growth and how they were developing thanks to the genetic enhancements they had as zygotes). They steal all of his files and Dr. Wyatt mysteriously vanishes after Eli and Kayla call the FBI; the epilogue reveals that the company is now called General Transgenics and Eli is enrolling in school to become a bioethicist to insure that no one else can perform genetic experiments on eggs.

IMPRESSIONS

I did not particularly enjoy this book. I found the mystery aspects to be weak. The foreshadowing in the beginning is not a shadow as much as a fore-boulder that rolls through the town, smashing everything in its path. There is nothing subtle in the set-up. Eli was also a particularly unsympathetic character to the point that I wanted to stop reading the book before I was halfway finished. This is not one I’d recommend to my students, unless they were particularly interested in biology and genetics.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

In this mesmerizing novel, Werlin (The Killer’s Cousin) adapts the medical mystery genre to explore the bewildering, complex issues surrounding experimental gene therapy. Narrator Eli Samuels, about to graduate from high school, has fired off an e-mail to Quincy Wyatt, a world-famous scientist and head of a genetics research corporation–stunningly, Wyatt summons Eli and offers him a job. Eli is thrilled, but the news horrifies his father, who, without explanation, asks Eli to turn it down (Eli takes it anyway). Eli’s father’s silence on the subject of Wyatt has many precedents within Eli’s home. Eli’s mother is rapidly deteriorating from Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness. Eli has not told his girlfriend, Viv, about his mother nor even introduced Viv to his father. Eli has talents he hides, but somehow Wyatt knows of them and even takes pride in them. Meanwhile Eli knows that his father conceals other information–and that Wyatt has somehow been pivotal to his family. The characterizations feel somewhat incomplete, but the plot moves at a tantalizing clip, with secrets revealed in tiny increments, and hints and clues neatly planted. Werlin distills the scientific element to a manageable level, enough for readers to follow Eli as he ponders Wyatt’s work and his mother’s illness. As the author tackles bioethical issues, the story’s climax appeals to reason and love for humanity without resorting to easy answers. Brisk, intelligent and suspenseful all the way.
Publisher’s Weekly

Eighteen-year-old Eli Samuels, whose once-vibrant mother is losing her long battle with the ravages of Huntington’s disease, is hired at the Wyatt Transgenics Lab. Eli’s father is dead set against the job because of a secret he harbors concerning the lab’s owner, Dr. Quincy Wyatt, and Eli’s mother. Shortly after starting work, the teen meets Kayla Matheson, a beautiful girl who eerily reminds him of a photo of his mother when she was young. Slowly, Eli uncovers one layer after another of the shocking truth about Dr. Wyatt’s genetic-engineering experiments and their connection to his parents, Kayla, and himself. With the support of his longtime girlfriend and soul mate, he confronts Dr. Wyatt in a taut climax to the story. Werlin clearly and dramatically raises fundamental bioethical issues for teens to ponder. She also creates a riveting story with sharply etched characters and complex relationships that will stick with readers long after the book is closed. An essential purchase for YA collections.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This book would be a good book for a book talk, perhaps with other science fiction/medical books (Frankenstein or Unwind come to mind) or cross-curricular to introduce a unit on genes in a biology class. It could lead to great discussion about medical ethics and whether parents should be able to decide what genes their children have.

REFERENCES

DOUBLE HELIX (Book). (2004). Publishers Weekly, 251(7), 173.

Forman, J. (2004). Double Helix: A Novel (Book). School Library Journal, 50(3), 222.

Werlin, N. (2004). Double helix. New York, NY: Dial Books.

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Module 7: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

October 28th, 2012 — 7:46pm

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is a book of realistic fiction. Published in 2009, it details the horrifying world of eating disorders.

SUMMARY

Lia Overbrook is an eighteen year old senior in high school. The opening of the novel is a breakfast scene, where she avoids eating while being told by her stepmother that her best friend has been found dead in a motel. Lia lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsister. Lia has also been suffering with anorexia since she was in eighth grade.

The story is told through flashbacks and current day. The flashbacks detail how she and Cassie made a New Years Resolution/pact with each other to be the thinnest girls in the school — Lia accomplishes this by anorexia, Cassie by bulimia. They are best friends until one day their junior year, when Lia is driving them in a car and she passes out because her blood sugar is low. Lia is subsequently hospitalized for her eating disorder and she she is released, Cassie blames Lia for encouraging her own eating disorder, and they become estranged.

Lia attempts to figure out the details of Cassie’s last few days. Her body was found in a motel and she had called Lia thirty-three times on her cell phone the night she died, but Lia didn’t answer. When Lia went to the motel, an employee named Elijah asked her if she knew anyone named Lia, because Cassie had left a message for her. Lia begins to see Cassie’s ghost, who becomes more and more angry as she encounters it.

Lia has to be weighed every day by her stepmother, Jennifer, but Lia has rigged the scale and wears a robe that has weight sewed into the pockets. Her weight drops from 101 to 93. Lia’s mother, Dr. Marrigan, sees her at Cassie’s funeral and is concerned by her appearance. Lia has become estranged from her mother due to what she sees as her mother trying to control her. However, when Lia’s young stepsister, Emma, walks in on Lia cutting herself on her chest and sees Lia covered in blood, Lia’s parents agree that it would be for the best for Lia to stay with her mother for a while.

While staying with her, Lia’s mother makes a deal with her — she’ll tell Lia details of Cassie’s death if Lia eats. Cassie’s autopsy revealed that she died from Boerhaave syndrome — a rupturing of the esophagus due to repeated vomiting. She had gotten the motel room after a fight with her parents, drank a copious amount of vodka, and died when her esophagus ruptured.

Lia tells her therapist that she has been haunted by Cassie’s ghost, and her therapist tells her that this, along with her weight loss, makes her need to be hospitalized in the psychiatric institution again. Lia goes to Elijah, who she’s become friends with, and tells him she wants to run away with him when he leaves town. He tells her that she can go as long as she tells her family first — when she refuses, he tells her how lucky she is to have a family that cares and tells her that it seems like her family is trying to help her. She falls asleep and when she wakes up, Elijah and her money are gone; he’s left her a note that tells her she needs to stay and get help.

Lia is alone in the motel and is near death. Cassie’s ghost appears to her again and Cassie tells her how excited she is that she’ll be joining her soon; they also talk about the good parts of being alive. Lia manages to harness her energy to make it to a phone and calls her mother and tells her to come get her.

The last chapter opens with Lia in the hospital again. The difference this time is that Lia wants to be healed and is working toward recovery both on herself and with her relationships with her parents. The novel ends with a message of hope for Lia’s recovery and the message that help is always there for you if you can accept it.

IMPRESSIONS

This is a very powerful book. I’ve had friends struggle with eating disorders and it was heartbreaking to think that this resembled their struggles.

This is Lia’s explanation for her eating disorder:

Why? You want to know why?

Step into a tanning booth and fry yourself for two or three days. After your skin bubbles and peels off, roll in coarse salt, then pull on long underwear woven from spun glass and razor wire. Over that goes your regular clothes, as long as they are tight.

Smoke gunpowder and go to school to jump through hoops, sit up and beg, and roll over on command. Listen to the whispers that curl into your head at night, calling you ugly and fat and stupid and bitch and whore and worst of all “a disappointment.” Puke and starve and cut and drink because you don’t want to feel any of this. Puke and starve and cut and drink because you need an anesthetic and it works. For a while. But then the anesthetic turns into poison and by then it’s too late because you are mainlining it now, straight into your soul. It is rotting you and you can’t stop.

Look in a mirror and find a ghost. Hear every heartbeat scream that everysinglething is wrong with you.

“Why?” is the wrong question.

Ask “Why not?” (Anderson 2009)

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t struggle with image issues. Every person, men or women, has something about their appearance that bugs them. I am no stranger to an image issue and a certain amount of obsession with my weight.

However, the book ending on a hopeful and positive note was refreshing. Though Cassie died, Lia was able to survive, though there is an admittedly difficult road ahead. Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was that her family was there, whether Lia wanted them or not, the entire time. The relationship with the mother was also very real. What teenaged girl doesn’t think their mother is trying to control their lives? As well they should, because I’m around teenagers all day long at school and they are like naked moles. Hormonal, emotional, naked moles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

At times Lia’s narrow, repetitive mind-set makes her a frustrating narrator. Certainly her obsessional behaviors (counting calories, ritually berating herself) are central to the illness, but at such times Lia can feel more like a concatenation of symptoms than a distinct person.

This very quality, however, may make Lia recognizable to many teenagers. One issue the author must have confronted is the potential of “Wintergirls” to be a “trigger” for anorexia, as psychologists term it. Can a novel convey, however inadvertently, an allure to anorexic behavior? While to my mind there is nothing in “Wintergirls” that glamorizes the illness, for some the mere mention of symptoms is problematic. “It’s about competition,” an anorexia sufferer once explained to me. “Sometimes all it takes to get triggered is to read about someone who weighs less than you do.”

We recognize Lia, but it’s sometimes hard to relate to her. Withdrawing, she sees life as if it were a series of meals to be gotten through (“I bit the days off in rows. . . . Bite. Chew. Swallow”). Parts of her story are hurried, telescoped, and this can make it hard for the reader to feel much about what is occurring.

Yet the book deepens. Where Lia had been hiding the extent of her illness before Cassie died, pretending to eat, playing the part of the “good girl,” increasingly, as her self-destruction gathers force, the truth emerges; the surface placidity of her life begins to crack.
Feinberg 2009

The intensity of emotion and vivid language here are more reminiscent of Anderson’s Speak (Farrar, 1999) than any of her other works. Lia and Cassie had been best friends since elementary school, and each developed her own style of eating disorder that leads to disaster. Now 18, they are no longer friends. Despite their estrangement, Cassie calls Lia 33 times on the night of her death, and Lia never answers. As events play out, Lia’s guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. The text is rich with words still legible but crossed out, the judicious use of italics, and tiny font-size refrains reflecting her distorted internal logic. All of the usual answers of specialized treatment centers, therapy, and monitoring of weight and food fail to prevail while Lia’s cleverness holds sway. What happens to her in the end is much less the point than traveling with her on her agonizing journey of inexplicable pain and her attempt to make some sense of her life.
Edwards 2009

LIBRARY USES

I would anticipate this book to be used in a booktalk with a teenaged audience, but I think that it’s very important to introduce this book for parents to use to have discussions with their teenagers. This book would be a good conversation starter for parents.

REFERENCES

Anderson, L. H. (2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.

Edwards, C. (2009, January 14). Wintergirls by laurie halse anderson. School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6628521.html

Feinberg, B. (2009, May 8). Skin and bone. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/books/review/Feinberg-t.html?_r=0

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Module 7: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

October 21st, 2012 — 11:27pm

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is realistic fiction about a girl, Mia, who is in a horrific car crash with her parents, who die on the scene, and her younger brother, who dies in the hospital. The story is told through flashbacks as well as the present, where she is witnessing the events from outside of her body and deciding whether she wants to stay alive or die with the rest of her family.

SUMMARY

Mia is 17 and a senior in high school; she is also a star cellist, who has auditioned for and is awaiting acceptance to Julliard. She has super cool punk rock musician parents, an adorable younger brother named Teddy, and a rock musician boyfriend, Adam. All is going swimmingly in Mia’s life until her family decides to drive to visit their family friends, Henry and Willow and their new baby, and are hit by a four-ton pickup truck. Mia is amazed to see herself standing on the side of the road, witnessing the devastation of the car and the carnage — pieces of her father’s brain are on the asphalt, her mother died of internal bleeding that has caused her eyes to turn red, and she’s horrified to see the hand of what she thinks is Teddy but soon realizes is her own hand. She’s in a coma and is having an out of body experience.

She’s taken to the hospital and operated on, and she watches the nurses and surgeons interact. She watches her grandparents arrive at the hospital, which is when she realizes that Teddy has died as well. She watches as her best friend, Kim, arrives with her mother, and finally, who she’s been waiting for, Adam arrives. He tries to get to her room but one of the nurses stops him. He and Kim come up with a plan to cause a distraction with the lead singer of the famous band that Adam’s band is opening for on their concert tour, but nothing works until Willow, her family friend that works for the hospital, gets them to allow Adam to visit Mia.

All of this is interspersed with flashbacks detailing Mia’s childhood, her relationship with her parents, her relationship with Kim, playing the cello and excelling, auditioning for Julliard, her relationship with Adam, the difficulties of falling in love as a teenager and having life take you in separate directions.

One of the nurses tell Mia’s grandparents that they need to give Mia reasons to want to stay here, that it is all up to her, so her family and friends come to talk to her. It is finally Adam who plays cello music in her room and speaks to her:

“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would just be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

Then it is Adam who lets go. His sobs burst like fists pounding against tender flesh.

Mia finally makes her decision and feels all of the physical and emotional pain of her body as she wakes up. The novel ends with Mia squeezing Adam’s hand and Adam saying, “Mia?”

IMPRESSIONS

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever read. My students would enjoy this book, however. Mia’s life seemed just a bit too perfect for me: she has the coolest parents, her boyfriend is a rock star, she’s a musical prodigy on the cello, she and her boyfriend are so in love, blah blah blah. The writing was good, and I appreciated all of the musical terms that were included in different aspects of the book — the car doesn’t just crash, there’s “a symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees.”

The book raised some very interesting questions, most importantly, “what do you live for?” I can’t imagine losing my entire immediate family at once. However, I was glad that Mia decided to stay, because she and I were going to have some strong words if I read the entire book and she decided to die. Strong words.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Forman creates a cast of captivating characters and pulls readers into a compelling story that will cause them to laugh, cry, and question the boundaries of family and love. While out on a drive with her family, 17-year-old Mia is suddenly separated from her body and forced to watch the aftermath of the accident that kills her parents and gravely injures her and her younger brother. Far from supernatural, this shift in perspective will be readily accepted by readers as Mia reminisces about significant events and people in her life while her body lies in a coma. Alternating between the past and the present, she reveals the details and complexities of her relationships with family and friends, including the unlikely romance with her punk-rock boyfriend, Adam. An accomplished musician herself, Mia is torn between pursuing her love for music at Julliard and a future with Adam in Oregon. However, she must first choose between fighting to survive and giving in to the resulting sadness and despair over all she has lost. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Mia’s struggles and will race to the satisfying yet realistic conclusion. Teens will identify with Mia’s honest discussion of her own insecurities and doubts. Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
School Library Journal

When snow cancels school, Mia and her family pile into their beat-up station wagon for a drive. Unlike most 17-year-olds, Mia is secretly enjoying hanging out with her quirky family until an oncoming driver shatters their lives, leaving the gravely injured Mia with the ultimate decision: Should she stay or go? As a spirit-like observer, Mia narrates the next 24 hours, describing how her medical team, friends, boyfriend and extended family care for her each in their own way. Woven into her real-time observations are powerful memories that organically introduce Mia’s passion for classical music, her relationship with her boyfriend and her bond with her parents and brother. These memories reinforce the magnitude of Mia’s decision and provide weight to both sides of her dilemma. Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout, including the realistic sounds, smells and vocabulary of a hospital, which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings.
Kirkus Reviews

LIBRARY USES

This book would be good for a book talk with teenagers; it would also serve as a good display for warnings against drunk driving or safety while driving.

REFERENCES

Forman, G. (2009). If i stay. New York, NY: Dutton Books.

IF I STAY. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(7), 382.

Rashid, L. (2009). If i stay. School Library Journal, 55(5), 106. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/39142151/if-stay

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Module 5: Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

October 15th, 2012 — 6:21pm

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is a children’s book that details the life of Esperanza Ortega, a 13 year old girl growing up in post-Revolutionary Mexico. It won the Pura Belpre award in 2002.

SUMMARY

Esperanza Ortega is the daughter of a ranch owner; her father, Sixto, owns El Rancho de las Rosas and produces grapes. However, Mexico after the revolution is unsafe and Esperanza’s father is murdered by bandits and robbers the night before Esperanza’s thirteenth birthday. Esperanza’s uncle, who is the mayor of their town, offers to marry her mother to save them from poverty — when her mother hesitates on the offer, a fire mysteriously burns down their house. In order to escape the marriage, Esperanza and her mother travel to California with a few of their friends, who also served as their servants on the ranch. Esperanza is devastated, not only to leave her life and the land that knew her father (Esperanza and her father could both hear music in the land by lying down on the ground; at one point, Esperanza feels herself physically rising while listening to the hum of the earth), but because they have to leave her grandmother, Abeulita, behind.

It’s difficult for Esperanza to acclimate to the her new station in life. The first time she goes to bathe, she prepares the way she’d been used to — for Hortensia to undress and bathe her. However, she quickly becomes aware that she has to get used to her new life; her mother falls ill with “Valley Fever,” a lung infection that afflicts workers in dusty environments. In order to pay for her mother’s hospital stay, Esperanza has to work in the fields. She works for her mother and grandmother — she is putting away money to send for her grandmother back in Mexico.

Some of the workers on the farms talk about striking. The conditions, while not abysmal, are not fair to all of the workers — even among migrant workers, there’s racism and unfair treatment. Esperanza and her friends and family avoid the strikers, and eventually immigration forces come in and wipe out the striking Mexican workers.

Esperanza reveals to Miguel, the son of her family’s servants and friends, that she has been saving money to bring her grandmother to them and is devastated when she wakes up one morning and discovers that Miguel and her money are gone. Her mother is released from the hospital and Miguel arrives on the train; he took Esperanza’s money and went to Mexico to bring Abeulita to her.

IMPRESSIONS

This book won the Pura Belpre award, which is awarded to Latin American authors whose work portrays and celebrates the Latin American culture. This book is wonderful in presenting the Mexican side of the Great Depression and migrant farmers in America. Before reading this book, my sole literary encounter with this era was Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Esperanza is a wonderful character (and was actually based partially on Pam Munoz Ryan’s grandmother, Esperanza) because she is childlike without being naive. The “rising” of the title is a metaphor for the rising she accomplishes from difficult circumstances, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. My only disappointment was that I wanted to know more about Esperanza’s life (mainly because I really wanted Esperanza to marry Miguel).

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Moving from a Mexican ranch to the company labor camps of California, Ryan’s lyrical novel manages the contradictory: a story of migration and movement deeply rooted in the earth. When 14-year-old Esperanza’s father is killed, she and her mother must emigrate to the U.S., where a family of former ranch workers has helped them find jobs in the agricultural labor camps. Coming from such privilege, Esperanza is ill prepared for the hard work and difficult conditions she now faces. She quickly learns household chores, though, and when her mother falls ill, she works packing produce until she makes enough money to bring her beloved abuelita to the U.S.. Set during the Great Depression, the story weaves cultural, economic, and political unrest into Esperanza’s poignant tale of growing up: she witnesses strikes, government sweeps, and deep injustice while finding strength and love in her family and romance with a childhood friend. The symbolism is heavy-handed, as when Esperanza ominously pricks her finger on a rose thorne just before her father is killed. But Ryan writes movingly in clear, poetic language that children will sink into, and the books offers excellent opportunities for discussion and curriculum support.
Booklist

Ryan uses the experiences of her own Mexican grandmother as the basis for this compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class. Esperanza’s expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them, and go so far as to burn down the family home. Esperanza’s mother then decides to join the cook and gardener and their son as they move to the United States and work in California’s agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker. Set against the multiethnic, labor-organizing era of the Depression, the story of Esperanza remaking herself is satisfyingly complete, including dire illness and a difficult romance. Except for the evil uncles, all of the characters are rounded, their motives genuine, with class issues honestly portrayed. Easy to booktalk, useful in classroom discussions, and accessible as pleasure reading, this well-written novel belongs in all collections.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This would be a great introduction for Hispanic Heritage Month or in an introduction for a unit on the Dust Bowl and migrant workers. The book cover is bold and vivid and would make a great display.

REFERENCES

Engberg, G. (2000). Books for youth: Books for middle readers. Booklist, 97(7), 708. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/3840940/books-youth-books-middle-readers

Goldsmith, F. (2000). Esperanza rising (book review). School Library Journal, 46(10), 171. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/3646672/esperanza-rising-book-review

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic.

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Module 4: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

September 29th, 2012 — 10:09am

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was published in 2008. It, like many of Gaiman’s other books, is a fantasy book that presents the supernatural as completely natural and present in the world — in this case, a boy is raised by ghosts and lives in a graveyard. The plot is enhanced by illustrations by Dave McKean. The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal in 2009.

SUMMARY

The book opens with the murder of a family: a mysterious man Jack has been sent to kill an entire family, but one member escapes — the toddler boy of the family manages to leave the house and find his way to a nearby graveyard. The ghosts that inhabit it hold a council and decide that they need to save the boy (as the man Jack is still trying to find him) and so give him the freedom of the graveyard and swear to protect him. Two ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, agree to adopt him and Silas, a mysterious figure who is suggested to be a vampire, agrees to serve as his guardian, as he can leave the graveyard and get food and clothes for the boy. The ghosts christen him Nobody Owens, Bod for short.

Each chapter serves as a different time period and adventure in Bod’s life, from meeting a human girl who is visiting the graveyard and discovering that he has powers that she doesn’t, befriending the ghost of a witch, and taking lessons and meals from a werewolf. The denizens of the graveyard strive to protect Bod from the man Jack who is still searching for him and trying to kill him.

IMPRESSIONS

The Graveyard Book was a fun book, though I felt that the development of Bod’s character was a little weak. I was more interested in the “people” in the graveyard and found that Bod sometimes was a minor character in my mind. Though he aged in the book, there wasn’t a lot of growth — he acted pretty much the same through the entire plot, from age five to eighteen. I enjoyed the fantasy aspects and felt that each chapter both fit in with the action as well as stood apart. It had a nice amount of weirdness without an overwhelming amount of frightening moments and gore, which is impressive considering that the book opens with a serial killing. It seems perfect for the Newbery award, which I associate with younger readers.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

A lavish middle-grade novel, Gaiman’s first since Coraline , this gothic fantasy almost lives up to its extravagant advance billing. The opening is enthralling: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Evading the murderer who kills the rest of his family, a child roughly 18 months old climbs out of his crib, bumps his bottom down a steep stairway, walks out the open door and crosses the street into the cemetery opposite, where ghosts take him in. What mystery/horror/suspense reader could stop here, especially with Gaiman’s talent for storytelling? The author riffs on the Jungle Book , folklore, nursery rhymes and history; he tosses in werewolves and hints at vampires—and he makes these figures seem like metaphors for transitions in childhood and youth. As the boy, called Nobody or Bod, grows up, the killer still stalking him, there are slack moments and some repetition—not enough to spoil a reader’s pleasure, but noticeable all the same. When the chilling moments do come, they are as genuinely frightening as only Gaiman can make them, and redeem any shortcomings.
Publishers Weekly 2008

And it is appropriate too. Don’t let the fact that the first sentence in the book (“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife”) put you off. The murder of Bod’s family is swift, immediate, and off-screen. What remains is just a great fantasy novel that has the potential to appeal to both boy and girl readers. Kid wants a ghost story? Check. Kid wants a fantasy novel set in another world appropriate for Harry Potter fans? Check. Kid wants a “good book”. That’s my favorite request. When the eleven-year-old comes up to my desk and begs for “a good book” I can just show them the cover and the title of this puppy and feel zero guilt when their little eyes light up. A good book it is.
School Library Journal 2008

LIBRARY USES

Halloween time, definitely. I think the best use of this would be a book talk with middle school aged kids, paired with Gaiman’s other book for young adults, Coraline. Those two books paired together would be good for both boys and girls — I would present the chapter about the ghost of the witch as the hook.

REFERENCES

Bird, E. (2008, August 6). Review of the day: The graveyard book. School Library Journal. Retrieved from SLJ.com website: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production/2008/08/06/review-of-the-day-the-graveyard-book-by-neil-gaiman/

Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Publishers Weekly. (2008, September 29). Children’s review: The graveyard book. Retrieved from PublishersWeekly.com website: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-053092-1

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