Thursday, March 31, 2011

Theories of Relativity

"The accepted theory is that once something is sucked into a black hole, it can't escape. I have a theory that something can. Me."

Title: Theories of Relativity

Author: Barbara Haworth-Attard

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7790-2

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC

Copyright: 2003

Plot Summary: Theories of Relativity tells of the teenaged Dylan struggling to survive on the streets without taking the easy way out: joining Vulture and his gang of enforcers, drug-users, and prostitutes. His mother, who haphazardly cared for them, threw him out in order to please her latest boyfriend, a rich man who buys Dylan's brother's a Christmas tree and presents. To stay sane between begging outside an office building, Dylan talks to a newly homeless teen Jenna and also to Twitch, who cannot stand still and cannot break his drug addiction. He also befriends Glen, an office worker who doesn't give him money but buys him a hotdog now and again. Dylan's only sanctuaries are the library, where he reads Einstein, the doughnut house, and the youth center. Soon, Jenna falls prey to Vulture and starts working the streets despite Dylan trying to not only free himself from this situation, but to take her with him.

Critical Evaluation: Theories of Relativity is a heart wrenching tale of a homeless teen who does not try to dramatize his situation or asks for the readers' pity. Dylan as narrator shows his resilience despite his almost ever-present hunger and his rejection of the darker side of homeless life, through his refusal to take a street name or to join in with Vulture and his gang. Dylan's analysis of Vulture and how he works shows how Vulture preys on the newly homeless and does them favor in order to make them indebted. Throughout the novel, Dylan refuses all but a few presents, taking those from Jenna and Glen, because he is afraid of becoming indebted to anyone. The plot regarding Dylan's final encounters with Vulture was a welcomed twist and would shock most readers, especially because of Jenna's involvement. The foreshadowing of the ending of the book was done from the very beginning through Dylan's steadfast love of his brothers, his strong belief in himself, and his refusal to compromise his beliefs.

Reader's Annotation: Living on the streets because his mother kicked him out of the house, Dylan struggles to eat and avoid the roving street predators owned by Vulture. Only his encounters with Jenna, a new street kid, brightens his life even as she drags him further into the gritty and ruthless life of a homeless teen.

Information About the Author: Barbara Haworth-Attard is a Canadian born and raised author who lives in London, Ontario. She has been writing since 1995 and is a prolific children's and young adult author.
Haworth-Attard focuses on the many different struggles of growing up, from homelessness to troubles faced by historical teens. Read more about the author at her website.

Genre: Homeless teenagers; Fiction; Street Life

Curriculum Ties: National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Month (November)

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does Dylan deal with living on the streets? How does his use of theories and his refusal to take a street name, along with depending on Vulture, keep him separate from his potential friends as well as keep him sane?
  • Focus on the relationship between Dylan and Amber and how it changes throughout the book. Compare it to his feelings for Jenna.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • The drug use and violence within this book should not condone it to being banned, as it depicts how devastating life on the streets can be for people, let alone teens.
Why This Book?: CLA Book of the Year Award

Reference Page:
Haworth-Attard, B. (2003). Theories of Relativity. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.

City of Bones

"There it was spread out before her like a carelessly opened jewelry box, this city more populous and more amazing than she had ever imagined: There was the emerald square of Central Park, where the faerie courts met on midsummer evenings; there were the lights of the clubs and bars downtown, where the vampires danced the nights away at Pandemonium; there the alleys of Chinatown down which the werewolves slunk at night, their coats reflecting the city's lights."

Title: City of Bones: The Mortal Instruments Book One

Author: Cassandra Clare

ISBN: 978-1-4169-5507-8

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Copyright: 2007

Plot Summary: City of Bones begins from the point of view of a demon disguised as a punk teen entering a nightclub called Pandemonium in search of lively humans to devour. Concealing his weapon behind a glamor, he finds the perfect eye-catching victim, a girl in a floor-length white gown who beckons him into a NO ADMITTANCE section of the club. The point of view switches to Clary, a teen girl who has dragged her friend Simon to Pandemonium for a night of excitement. She spots the punk teen entering the secluded room and the shadows of two other teenages stalking him, and rushes to the rescue. Clary's selfless action leads her to entering the supernatural world of demons and Shadowhunters, of Downworlders and magic. Soon, Clary comes to realize that she has always had the power to see demons, and that it was hidden from her by her mother and the warlock Magnus Bane. Soon, she comes to realize how she feels about the wild Shadowhunter Jace, with the looks of an angel and the devil.

Critical Evaluation: The plot of City of Bones is well-paced for a multi-volume work and while it leaves as a cliffhanger in regard to the greater plot of the war between demons and Shadowhunters and between the Clave and Valentine, Clare ties it together in a satisfactory end that makes the reader want to get the next book without feeling left hanging. The dialog and characterization between the characters is witty and gritty, given the war-setting of the book, adding a nice contrast between what was left of Clary's normal life and how the Shadowhunter teens live. All of the main characters are well-rounded and Clare does not give all of the information about them up at a time, having the readers learn snippets about them as if they were actually meeting them. There was a certain amount of foreshadowing regarding the romance between Clary and Jace, as well as Alec's romantic interest, especially during their first encounters.

Reader's Annotation: Clary is a normal girl who lives with her mom and Uncle Luke, going to school with her best friend Simon and spending time together. Then, in a dingy nightclub called Pandemonium, she sees a demon for the first time and three shadowy teens who exterminate it, called Shadowhunters.

Information About the Author: Cassandra Clare's parents were abroad in Iran when she was born, a hallmark of her future globe-hopping life. She began writing in High School and worked for entertainment magazines after college.
Her first novel, City of Bones, was started in 2004 and was inspired by her favorite city, Manhattan, New York. Read more about the author and keep up with the newest releases in the Mortal Instruments series at her website.

Genre: Supernatural; Fiction; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Clary is just a normal girl who likes anime, sketching, and hanging out with her best friend Simon. One day, she drags the unwilling Simon into the nightclub Pandemonium and enters the world of demons and Shadowhunters, the Nephilim, sworn to defeat the demons that manage to enter the human world.
  • Focus on the difference in the relationships between Clary and Jace as well as Clary and Simon. How does Clary act differently with the two boys?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • While there is violence within this book, it is between teens and demons in a supernatural light. None of the violence is shown as torture, instead it is part of the war between the Nephilim and demonkind. Similarly, the character Jace's desensitization to violence makes more sense when put into the context of a war setting, as he is a soldier, not just a teen.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Clare, C. (2007). City of bones: The mortal instruments book one. New York: Simon Pulse.

Marked

"I knew that I'd had no choice even before Aphrodite tried to scratch my eyes out. I hadn't had any choice since Nyx had placed her Mark on me. As Stevie Rae and I walked together in the gaslight-illuminated richness of the night, the Goddess's words repeated over and over through my mind: You are old beyond your years, Zoeybird. Believe in yourself and you will find a way. But remember, darkness does not always equate to evil, just as light does not always bring good."

Title: Marked

Author: P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

ISBN: 978-0-312-36026-9

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Copyright: 2007

Plot Summary: Zoey Redbird was a typical high school girl who loved spending time with her ever-babbling friend Kayla and her almost-boyfriend Heath. While Kayla discusses Heath's drunken behavior after a celebratory party, Zoey focuses on her own illness and the vampyre who was standing by her locker. As the vampyre notices their appearance, it announces that the Night has chosen Zoey as hers and that she is due to join the House of the Night, upon which Zoey passes out. She awakens, realizing that the vampyre was a Tracker, sent to awaken fledgling vampyres and invite them to the vampyre finishing school, the House of the Night. Zoey tries to comprehend how her life will change but while leaving school, she bumps into Heath who also cannot grasp her change, and his friends, who pull him away from her while calling her a freak. Upon returning home, her step-father, a religious priest, and mother lock her in her room and call for a prayer session to cure her. Instead, Zoey leaves for her Grandmother's and has a vision of the vampyre goddess Nyx, saying she is unique and chosen.

Critical Evaluation: The world of Marked is individual and unique from the rest of the vampire genre, in that vampyres co-exist among humans and not in silence or secrecy. In Marked, vampyres are extremely gifted individuals who make up most of the celebrities of the human world, such as actors or models. That vampyres do not make other vampyres through the act of biting, and instead are specific humans that happen to turn, is another interesting twist that the Casts add to their story, negating much of the typical vampire mythology and sexual allure (between humans and vampires). Zoey Redbird as a narrator is easy for readers to relate to and her often wild ruminations and commentaries on the story's actions will elicit laughter and sympathetic feelings. Zoey as a character is a strong willed young woman who is a good role model, while still showing her uncertainties regarding her own physical and mental changes during her fledgling time. The dialog within Marked is witty and realistic, with each character having distinct voices without resorting to the use of forced accents or jargon.

Reader's Annotation: Ever since Zoey Redbird was Marked by a vampyre tracker, her quiet high school life changed as she was shipped to the House of Night, a school for fledgling vampyres to mature into adults. Soon, Zoey realizes the perils of the House are much more than attempting to fit in as the new girl, while struggling with her own changing body and thirst for blood.

Information About the Authors: P.C. Cast is Midwest born and raised and joined the United States Air Force after high school. After completing her tour, P.C. taught High School for fifteen years before becoming a full-time and best selling writer.
Her daughter, Kristin Cast, is a current college student who is a NY Times and USA Today best selling author. Read more about the authors and follow their work at the Cast's website.

Genre: Supernatural; Vampires; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Zoey Redbird is a typical high schooler, wondering how to deal with a relationship and with a step-father and mother who are foreign and constricting to her. Then, a vampyre Tracker Marks her with a crescent on her forehead: the sign of a fledgling vampyre, turning her entire life upside down. Zoey is no longer human and not yet a vampyre and moves to the House of Night to mature. But while Zoey was a typical teen, she is not a typical fledgling, with a matured crescent Mark that draws all eyes to her, special affinities to the Spirits, and an increasing lust for blood that nauseates her...
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • While there is some level of sexual tension and mention of sexual acts, the series is quite chaste and there is only kissing involved. Zoey as narrator looks down on the openly sexual behavior of Aphrodite, her rival, as crude and desperate.
Why This Book?: NY Times Bestseller

Reference Page:
Cast, P.C., & Cast, K. (2007). Marked. New York, St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stuck in Neutral

"I try not to spend too much time worrying about how 'hard' my life is. Of course, it's kind of difficult not to think about it at least part of the time. What else is there for me to do? For the most part, though, I just live and try not to bitch to myself too much about the bad-news stuff of my life. Bitching doesn't change anything."

Title: Stuck in Neutral

Author: Terry Trueman

ISBN: 0-06-028519-2

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books

Copyright: 2000

Plot Summary: Stuck in Neutral is the story of Shawn McDaniel, a teen with the special ability to remember everything that he hears, ever since he was a kid. The downside is that he also has severe cerebral palsy and cannot control any of his muscles or bodily functions. Shawn absorbs information like a sponge and describes his intelligence as of genius quality, but due to his inability to speak, nod, or even blink as a sign of his existence, nobody, not even his family, knows he's alive within his unresponsive body. To the world, Shawn is dead. He survives off the oatmeal his mother spoons into his mouth until he swallows, reflexively. His brother and sister treat him kindly but Shawn knows he is a burden. His only respite is his seizures, in which his spirit can fly free, moving through the world in a way that Shawn never could. His father, who left them when he was a child, however, believes that Shawn is in pain, in agony, trapped in a body that he cannot control and with no way to escape the pain. Slowly, but surely, Shawn realizes that his father intends on killing him.

Critical Evaluation: Stuck in Neutral is a dramatic and painful description of how it could be to be trapped within your own body for your entire life, with only what you hear to tide you over. Shawn is an amazingly humorous and strong-willed narrator despite his situation and he pulls the reader along in his journey, whether it is following his own mental ramblings regarding his genius-level intelligence, his seizure-trips, or his feelings of powerlessness when a group of teens harass him. Similarly, the characterization of Shawn's family is realistic and gripping in their relationship to him and the world that views him. The stanzas of poetry that are included in the beginning of each chapter are beautifully crafted and provide a heading and theme for each chapter, as well as providing a complete poem if read by itself. The use of foreshadowing is done from the very start of the dust-jacket, which states "My name is Shawn McDaniel. I'm 14 years old. I think my father is planning to kill me." The beginning of the story contrasts this greatly, with him describing his amazing memory and intelligence, making the reader wonder why his father would want to kill such a gifted boy.

Reader's Annotation: Shawn McDaniel is a fourteen year old teen with amazing aural memory and an extreme case of cerebral palsy that prevents him from communicating with the outside world. While the rest of his family cares for him on a daily basis, Shawn believes his estranged father is planning on killing him.

Information About the Author: Terry Trueman grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. He has degrees in applied Psychology and Creative Writing.
Stuck in Neutral is directly inspired by Trueman's son Sheehan who is also inflicted with cerebral palsy. Read more about Trueman and his life at his website.

Genre: Physical Disabilities; Euthanasia

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Stuck in Neutral is a fictional account based in the author's reality. Shawn McDaniel is a fourteen-year-old teenage boy who has severe cerebral palsy and is trapped in a body he cannot control. His only escape is during his seizures, in which his spirit flies free and he can touch those he loves. His father, however, believes Shawn is in daily agony instead of enraptured freedom during his seizures, and begins discussing the possibility of euthanasia.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • Stuck in Neutral discusses the arguments for and against the use of euthanasia. The possibility that those who are seen as brain dead are actually trapped in their bodies, as is Shawn, is an important factor in the debate.
Why This Book?: Michael Printz Honor Award Winner

Reference Page:
Trueman, T. (2000). Stuck in neutral. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books.

Bloodthirsty

"That was it! It all made sense now! Girls loved vampires! How had I forgotten about the Twilight craze? Robert Pattinson and his pale mug everywhere? His accepting Hottest Dude award or Best Kisser awards or whatever awards Nickelodeon and MTV thought up? So that meant that the blond girl from the train car hadn't been insulting me by calling me a vampire. She hadn't thought I was a bloodsucking killer. She had thought I was a bloodsucking killer with sex appeal."

Title: Bloodthirsty

Author: Flynn Meaney

ISBN: 978-0-316-10214-8

Publisher: Hachette Book Group

Copyright: 2010

Plot Summary: Bloodthirsty begins in a dark alleyway with tall and pale Finbar Frame and petite, willing Jenny, beginning to be turned into a vampire. Finbar stares at her delicate neck and the jugular within; he dives for her neck then states that he is not a stereotypical vampire. He, in fact, turned himself into a vampire. The story then flashes back to the Frames' move to New York from Indiana and introduces Finbar and his twin brother, the star athlete Luke. After the move, the twins are sent to different schools: his popular brother to an all-boys school and Finbar to a public school, to give him a chance to open up. Coming to New York, Finbar finally gets to meet a girl he chatted with online, a gorgeous, snooty, upperclass girl named Celine, who promptly declares they should just be friends. On the heartbreaking train ride home, a girl sits next to Finbar and declares she knows his secret: he is a vampire. Finbar, thinking she is calling him an old, creepy, pasty stalker, leaves, but the idea is planted in his head. He realizes he could be a vampire and begins to undergo his damned transformation to pick up girls.

Critical Evaluation: As a parody book, Bloodthirsty does an excellent job in imitating others works without relying on them for plotline and characters. Drawing on popular culture and the current trend of vampire popularity, Meaney writes a book that is easy to relate to for readers as well as able to elicit laughter from others. The main character and narrator of Finbar Frame is an individual and distinct character who both male and female characters can relate to and empathize with, especially anyone who has felt different and left out from society. His thought processes and off-hand comments contain popular culture references that readers will recognize, and hopefully will not become dated too rapidly. Finbar's slow transformation into a vampire is more realistic than most stories in which the character evolves, as it is a mental change rather than a physical. As he says to Jenny, "Turn yourself. Just decide that you are someone else. Decide that you are a vampire. If you believe you're a vampire, everyone will believe you're a vampire." In other words, Finbar tells the readers that they can be whatever or whoever they want, as long as they have the willpower to make the change themselves rather than depending on an exterior (and vampiric) force to do it for them.

Reader's Annotation: Some vampires are good; some vampires are evil. Finbar Frame is a vampire to get girls.

Information About the Author: Bloodthirsty is Meaney's debut novel. Meaney graduated from Notre Dame and currently is a graduate student at Hunter College in New York City.
Meaney is currently working on her second book which is due out in fall 2011. Once her website is fully functional, follow Meaney here!

Genre: High school life; Romance; Self-acceptance; Parody

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Finbar Frame, a 16-year-old teen, curses his luck. Next to his fraternal twin brother Luke, who is tall, athletic, and popular, Finbar can only be described as tall, lanky, and pasty with creepy pale eyes. Withdrawn and isolated, everything changes when a girl on the subway calls Finbar a vampire. Then, he realizes that vampires are popular and when vampires are popular, thin, pale teens like himself could also be popular! Finbar does a mental remake of himself, molding his personality into a bloodthirsty vampire who can lure all number of willing victims into his clutches...
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • While there is some language within this book, it would not equal more than a PG-13 rating in a movie house. Similarly, Finbar's descriptions and thought processes are no more explicit than other books with teen narrators.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Meaney, F. (2010). Bloodthirsty. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ten Things I Hate About Me

"So far, I've figured that dyeing my hair blonde, poking my eyes with contact lenses, and living a lie at school all guarantee me a share in the Australian property market. But I'm starting to realize how empty my bit of 'place' is. It's got no soul. The cosmetics are fantastic and would look great on domain.com. But you can't smell life. It tastes like stale cookies and sounds like socks on carpet."

Title: Ten Things I Hate About Me

Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah

ISBN: 978-0-545-05055-5

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

Copyright: 2006

Plot Summary: Jamilah hides her Lebanese Muslim background every day at school, changing into Australian Jamie, with blond hair and blue eyes (dye and contacts). She does this to avoid the racist teasing and bullying from the popular group in her class, Peter and Chris, who verbally attack anyone who has a hint of foreign birth. She guiltily stands by as they ridicule Ahmed, who stands up for himself, and Timothy, the odd boy in the class. Her lack of spirit and self esteem catches Peter's eye, as he dislikes girls who are too forward. At the same time, Jamilah starts talking to to Rage_Against_the_Machine about her predicament and continues to go to her madrasa, Arabic class. Everything begins to spin out of control when her band is nominated to play for the school formal, a dance where Jamilah cannot even participate.

Critical Evaluation: Jamilah is an intriguing narrator who struggles against her heritage despite thoroughly enjoying her own culture. Lacking the spirit to fight daily against the popular bullies in her class, she instead converts herself into a wallflower who does not fight back, does not stand out in any way, and just moves with the popular theme of the day. That she is so much more vibrant as herself, as Jamilah, is an important theme that takes part of the book for her to realize. While the readers compare her feeling uncomfortable and left out at school versus throwing her all into playing with her band, they can see the positive side of her that she is embarrassed of. Similarly, teens often see the positive aspects of others while feeling worthless, possibly allowing readers to realize that they, too, may be different but instead should embrace this difference and form stronger bonds with their friends.

Reader's Annotation: Jamilah is a Lebanese Muslim Australian who struggles against her father's strict rules and society's view on Muslims. While she hides her heritage at school with bleached hair, blue contacts, and the name Jamie, when this shade of her true self catches the eye of the popular Peter, everything starts coming undone.

Information About the Author: Abdel-Fattah is a Sydney-born Muslim author of Palestinian and Egyptian heritage. She is an advocate of human rights and all faiths.
When Abdel-Fattah is not writing, she works as a litigation lawyer. Read more about the author at her website.

Genre: Self-identity; High school; Racial integration

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Have you ever held a part of yourself secret from those at school? Jamilah does. She hides her entire heritage at her Australian school. Pretending to not be a Lebanese Muslim Australian by dying her hair and wearing blue contacts, Jamilah, or Jamie, to her schoolmates, is just another Australian girl, a two-dimensional version of Jamilah lacking all the brilliance and exuberance of her true self. It only is when Jamilah embraces her heritage that she truly enjoys herself and makes good friends.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • While Ten Things I Hate About Me depicts racism within a classroom setting, it also shows how a girl overcomes her own self-racism and proudly embraces herself. The characters who say and do racist things are accepted as thoughtless and hurtful, despite their popularity and good looks.
Why This Book?: Kathleen Mitchell Award winner in 2008

Reference Page:
Abdel-Fattah, R. (2006). Ten things I hate about me. Australia: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Girl Parts

"She was unbelievably, unspeakably hot. David had taken Sakora's online personality test -- favorite movie, most embarrassing memory, even really private stuff like 'How many times a day do you masturbate (on average)?' But there'd been no 'Do you prefer redheads?' or 'Are you a tits man or an ass man?' The Companion wasn't just beautiful; she was his kind of beautiful."

Title: Girl Parts

Author: John M. Cusick

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4930-2

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Copyright: 2010

Plot Summary: Girl Parts begin with a teenaged girl setting up a web camera, consuming a large amount of sleeping pills, and going to bed, in effect, committing suicide and capturing it on her video blog. This online death affects the entire community, especially the life of David Sun, one of the most popular kids in school. David's family believes he has a dissociative disorder due to his lack of real emotion regarding a fellow teen's death, and order a Sakora Companion for him. When she arrives, Rose is gorgeous despite her robotic and jerky motions. Soon, she becomes more lifelike, despite her ability to deliver electric shocks if David is inappropriate. While he first is wary of Rose, he soon comes to love her and spending time with her, rushing home from school to be with her. It only is when they go to a party when he realizes something about Rose, and leaves her alone, going home with another girl. Rose, with nowhere to go, is saved by Charlie, another boy with dissociative disorder, but, unlike David, a social outcast. Rose and Charlie soon bond as Rose starts becoming her own person.

Critical Evaluation: While the ending of Girl Parts is quite lacking, the book itself covered an intriguing number of themes pertinent to today's society. Dissociative disorders due to the isolating aspect of the internet is important, despite the craze of social networking and websites that promote friendship. Another important theme is the relationship between individuals, whether they are between humans and robots or humans and humans. That there are steps one must take and time that must pass is another important lesson that readers could pick up. The writing style of Girl Parts is fast paced and snappy, due to the rotating third person narrators (the focal point changes from the girl who commits suicide, David, Charlie, and Rose). Being able to see the points of view of all of the main cast is an interesting choice instead of the typical young adult first person point of view, and allows the reader to understand all sides of the story. The dialog within Girl Parts is realistic and often entertaining, including text and instant messages.

Reader's Annotation: After seeing a fellow high schooler kill herself online, David Sun's parents order him a gorgeous female Companion bot, to treat his dissociative disorder and teach him how to form human bonds.

Information About the Author: Cusick grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and graduated from Wesleyan University. He is a writer and literary agent who currently lives in Brooklyn.
While Girl Parts is his first book, Cusick is a prolific blogger. Follow him on his blog!

Genre: Science fiction; Robots; Dissociative disorders

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Focus on the different relationships within the book, from the human-robot relationships (David and Rose; Charlie and Rose) to the human relationships (David and Willow; Charlie and Rebecca). How do they differ and was it only through Rose that David and Charlie could actually have relationships with other humans?
  • Describe the changes that Rose undergoes from the beginning of the book to the end. How is she, a Robot, more fluid of a character than David or Charlie? Is her role truly that of just a catalyst that encourages change, or is she a character in her own right?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • There are many disturbing themes within this book, as it covers teens and dissociative disorders caused through the isolation of the internet and virtual reality overall. However, the similarities between the world of Girl Parts and modern society is already there. Suicide is not validated but shown in a realistic manner, via the teenage girl committing suicide and capturing it on webcam. The teens who watch it are disassociated from her death and this could be seen as a warning to maintain relationships.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Cusick, J. M. (2010). Girl parts. Berryville, VA: Candlewick Press.

Candor

"That's when I decide. It only takes a second. I want her here with me. She doesn't have to leave. I can teach her how to pretend -- let them think she's Candor perfect, like me. We'll know different. We can hide is plain sight together."

Title: Candor

Author: Pam Bachorz

ISBN: 978-1-60684-012-2

Publisher: Egmont USA

Copyright: 2009

Plot Summary: Oscar Banks, son of the town founder, lives in a perfect house, in the perfect town of Candor, Florida. A closed community segregated by money, Candor's population are, as a whole, kind, generous, and hardworking individuals. There is no crime, no vandalism, no violence. The dark side of Candor's utopia is that it is all controlled, every individual's actions are turned to that of a model citizen via the music piped all through the town, and the subliminal messages that it carries. Oscar is the epitome of a model citizen: all the kids at school look up to him, ask him to join their clubs, sign their petitions, but underneath, Oscar is the only person who can think for himself through resisting the Messages. Enter the newest addition to Candor: Nia, a skater girl who refuses to wear the pastels and polos of the town, who steals a can of orange spray-paint to add some color to the sidewalks. Oscar immediately becomes enthralled by this girl who resists the Messages and he begins risking his public persona to be with her.

Critical Evaluation: Candor is an intriguing novel reminiscent of utopia novels such as Brave New World, in which people live without fear or lacking basic needs, but without the freedom to do as they will. The first person narration from the view of Oscar Banks is the only logical choice, unless the story were to be told from Nia's point of view. Seeing her slowly change throughout the book would have been intriguing, but in comparison, seeing the last person "alive" go through the motions of being the best citizen in town is also interesting. Through the first person point of view of Oscar, Candor shows how he resists the Messages and how, at times, he picks another battle to fight and allows the Message to come out. This is quite similar to when people pick their own fights in real life, whether to complain about something small or an overarching problem in the system, and could be analyzed and treated as such. The theme of brainwashing is reoccurring but connecting it to music is a way to make Candor modern and applicable to modern readers.

Reader's Annotation: In Candor, everyone is a model citizen due to subliminal messages transmitted through music. In Candor, only Oscar Banks, the son of the town founder and epitome of perfection, can think for himself.

Information About the Author: Pam Bachorz grew up in the Adirondack foothills. While growing up, she participated in as many performance groups as possible before going to college and earning FOUR degrees (a BS in Journalism, a BA in Environmental Science, a Masters in Library Science, and a MBA)!
Bachorz's writing draws upon her own experiences, with Candor influenced by her stint in a planned community. Read more about the author at her website.

Genre: Science Fiction; Suburban; Brainwashing

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • In the small town of Candor, everyone is a model citizen. All the teens dress neatly, do their homework, help around the house, and believe in sex after marriage. But behind this clean-cut vision of Americana lurks the ominous use of subliminal messages that snare inhabitants through the ever-constant background music, telling them to be good, productive, and caring individuals. In this controlled utopia, only the town founder's son, Oscar, is free to think as he likes. But he too, has a facade of perfection that he must perfect in order to avoid the Thinking Room, where all his thoughts would be wiped clean.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: YALSA 2011 Popular Paperback

Reference Page:
Bachorz, P. (2009) Candor. New York: Egmont USA.

Center Field

"People always say Billy Budd's a natural, like he was born a center fielder, like it's all muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, but I know how much work went into it.... It's like being on top of the world. Seeing everything spread out in front of you. Coming at you. It's all up to you, you're the last chance and you've got all this green room to run down the ball. It's open and clean, no foul lines or crazy angles or base runners, just you and the ball."

Title: Center Field

Author: Robert Lipsyte

ISBN: 978-0-06-055704-1

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright: 2010

Plot Summary: Mike Semak is a high school senior in a year where everything seems to be going perfectly. He has a great chance at becoming captain of the Rangers, bagging center field position, has a great girlfriend and a team who are not only team mates but friends. Then, Oscar Ramirez joins the team, a hard-hitting, fast-running, great outfielder who turns Mike's life upside down. The center field position suddenly seems unreachable and when Zack, a geeky classmate gets in Mike's face, he pushes him down. Coach Cody, Vice Principal of the school, breaks Mike a deal in the face of a possible lawsuit from Zack's parents: spy on Zack's Cyber Club and he'll let Mike stay on the team, and maybe even make him team captain. A member of the Cyber Club is Kat, an ex-track team star whose blunt and ever-changing personality catches Mike's eye. Soon, Mike is unsure where his loyalty lies. Is it with Coach Cody and a chance for team captain or with Zack, the Cyber Club, and Kat, who are slowly unearthing a counter-movement against Cody's iron rule of the school?

Critical Evaluation: Center Field is centered around baseball and Mike Semak's idolization of Billy Budd, star baseball player. Lipsyte does not limit the themes to baseball, however, and discusses immigration, friendship, relationships, the need to tell the truth, and standing up for what is right. Mike Semak as narrator could be seen as a typical teen jock who compares everything to a baseball game, but will surprise the reader when he uses math problems in almost the same manner. The writing style within Center Field is highly impacted by Mike as narrator and has a terse, snappy manner to it that mimics sports announcers: concise and unpretentious. Similarly, the dialog and dialog tags within Center Field are not complex and often choppy, including the pauses and natural breaks in conversation that would happen in real conversation. The dialog tags, however, are often lacking and because many of the characters speak in a similar fashion, it is difficult for readers to keep track of who is speaking.

Reader's Annotation: Mike Semak never saw himself as a dumb jock, but when the center field is suddenly taken from him and he is asked to choose between his team and the truth, he wishes everything could be as clear as a ball game.

Information About the Author: Robert Lipsyte is a popular journalist and fiction writer. He alternates between sports writing for the New York Times and writing award winning young adult literature.
Lipsyte writes his books based on his own personal experiences with sports and illness. Read more about Robert Lipsyte at his website.

Genre: Baseball; Fiction; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • All Mike Semak wants out of his senior year is the center field position on his team the Rangers. When Coach Cody offers it to him, but at a price, what else can he do but agree to spy on the Cyber Club? Everything falls out of place when Mike can't keep his eyes off of Cyber Club member Kat and he starts wondering what the club members are up to.
  • Mike Semak is a senior on the baseball team, a shoe-in for the center fielder position until Oscar Ramirez joins the team. Not only does he hit better than Mike, he runs faster and fields effortlessly. Mike, and the rest of the team, realize that Oscar is different from them, joking that he's an illegal. When Mike sees Oscar hop into a van with out-0f-state plates, he realizes it is not a joke, and that the guy who stole his position had no right to play at his school. But can Mike say anything if it would result in Oscar being deported?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • Center Field could easily be PG-13, with no foul language and glossed over sex. While Mike is an older teen narrator, his musings and observations are not obscene and his thought process and how he thinks through the issues of immigration, friendship, relationships, and what is right and wrong, is an important guideline for teen readers.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Lipsyte, R. (2010). Center field. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gone

"He was scared. And he was mad, too. Where were the people who were supposed to do this? Where were the adults? Why was this up to him? He was just a kid. And why hadn't anyone else been crazy enough, stupid enough to rush into a burning building? He was mad at all of them and, if Quinn was right and this was something God has done, then he was mad at God, too. But if Sam had done this...if Sam had made all this happen...then there was no one to be mad at but himself."

Title: Gone

Author: Michael Grant

ISBN: 978-0-06-144878-2

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: Gone takes place in a small town in California and centers on teen surfer-boy Sam, his friend Quinn, and Sam's love interest Astrid. One day in the middle of class, their teacher disappears, along with another student. The school breaks into chaos, kids breaking vending machines for candy, while Sam slowly realizes that all people over the age of fourteen have disappeared. When a building starts to burn down and all the kids do nothing, Sam organizes them into an impromptu fire brigade and rushes into the building to save a child. When Sam comes upon the child, he discovers she started the fire by blasting flames from her hands. His own power materializes, a light so bright that it knocks her out. Worshiped as a hero once more, having saved his school bus after the driver had a heart attack, kids start looking up to Sam, who flees the responsibility and goes with Quinn and Astrid to look for her autistic little brother, Little Pete. Soon, the trio discover an energy barrier encircling the city, school bullies have taken over, and that the Coates Academy kids have come down from their campus to take control of the entire town.

Critical Evaluation: Gone carries the theme of children left alone without adult supervision which is famous in Lord of the Flies, and is also worthy of being included in high school reading lists. Sam is a reluctant leader who carries within him the guilt of leadership, not believing he can care for himself, let alone the community who looks up to him. When Caine arrives and recruits Orc to lead his reign of terror, Sam does stand up and tries to solve the problem by getting rid of the barrier. It is only when he realizes the true horror of Caine that he realizes he must fight him. The lost brothers theme is somewhat clich├ęd, especially both having super powers that outshine everyone else's. The Caine and Able theme is visible from Caine's point of view, discovering the truth about Sam and wanting to kill or shame him in order to prove that he was superior, despite their mother giving him up. The dialog and narration in Gone is witty and realistic and the banter between Sam and Quinn and Sam and Astrid is well-written and elicits laughter as well as seriousness as the teens attempt to grasp an imposing situation.

Reader's Annotation: In a small town in California, everyone over the age of fourteen disappears without a trace, suddenly and horrifically, leaving empty cars to crash and buildings to go to ruin. Out of those who are left, Sam is a reluctant hero who lacks the courage to take responsibility for all of the teens, kids, and infants left, but there is no one else, other than the ruthless and power-hungry Caine.

Information About the Author: Michael Grant is a California born and raised author who started writing late. To make up for it, he and his wife co-wrote the long-lived Animorphs children's series, writing 150 books in total.
After finishing the Animorphs series, Grant then went on to write the Gone series, which he wrote "to creep you [the reader] out." Read more about Michael Grant at his website.

Genre: Supernatural; Dystopia; Good versus Evil

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • In a small Californian town, everyone over the age of fourteen suddenly disappears without a trace, in an instant. Now, the elders of the town are fourteen-year-olds and bullies start to use their might to rule over the other kids. A mysterious barrier covers the town, trapping everyone, while kids being to gain supernatural powers. Everyone struggles to maintain order amidst the new rulers.
Reading Level: 14+

Challenge Issues:
  • Almost a modern-day Lord of the Flies where the kids have superpowers, Gone is a story about what would happen to kids and teens if there were no adults. A common theme, it shows the good and the bad of each individual, as people step up to lead for the good of the community and those who lead for power and domination over others. While targeting teens, this book could easily be read by adults, much like Lord of the Flies.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Grant, M. (2008). Gone. United States of America: HarperCollins Publishers.

Slam

"I wasn't stupid. The chances of staying together weren't that good, really.... What it felt like was, there was this big hump in the road coming up, i.e. the baby. And we needed a bit of a push to get us over the hump. And maybe getting back together would do it. The things about humps in the road, though, is that you go up and then you come down again, and you can coast down the other side."

Title: Slam

Author: Nick Hornby

ISBN: 978-0-399-25048-4

Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons

Copyright: 2007

Plot Summary: Simply put, Slam is the story of a 16-year-old skater boy named Sam, how he got his girlfriend Alicia pregnant, and how he talks to his Tony Hawk poster for advice. The difference is, Tony Hawk talks back through snippets of his autobiographical book. Slam hops about in time, beginning when Sam meets Alicia for the first time and they end up having sex without a condom. They soon find out that Alicia is pregnant and when Sam asks Tony Hawk for advice, TH flings him forward in time, when Sam is living in Alicia's room in her parents' house with the baby in a cot nearby. Alicia, looking older and more haggard, asks him to change the baby. Sam is naturally terrified and by the time he wakes up in his normal time, Sam flees to the coastal town of Hastings. He soon realizes his running away was not the best idea and returns home. Soon, Alicia and Sam confess to her parents that she is pregnant and that they want to keep the baby.

Critical Evaluation: The use of time travel, courtesy of Tony Hawk, within Slam is intriguing and done in a manner that differs from the usual time travelling books. Sam travels ahead in time and is, understandably, terrified at the situation: instead of his girlfriend just becoming pregnant, the baby is there, living and soiling its diaper and changing lives. He learns of his child's name and of his living situation. When Sam finally reaches the time when he is living with Alicia and the baby, Ruth, it has become normal for him and the leap in time has met up with real time. But what is different is him, he has been changed because of all the living he did up until that point, in that it is the journey not the end points of life that are important. The dialog and very distinct voice of Sam, is an intrinsic part of the story, especially as Sam is the narrator and he talks as if chatting with a friend, hopping about in the conversation and changing the subject.

Reader's Annotation: Sam is a normal boy who loves skating and Tony Hawk, a boy who can't believe his luck that a girl as amazing as Alicia could actually fancy him. When she gets pregnant, however, everything in hi slife changes.

Information About the Author: Nick Hornby is a bestselling author who is famous for his insight into the male mind and his gripping writing style. His books often revolve around adult men dealing with rather childish obsessions, such as About a Boy. Hornby's books have won numerous awards.
Nick Hornby currently lives in North London. Read more about him at his website.

Genre: Teenage parents; England; Romance; Realistic fiction

Curriculum Ties: Parenting

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Sam loves Tony Hawk and tells his TH poster all his problems. Thing is, TH speaks back to him, quoting portions of his book to give advice. When Sam's girlfriend gets pregnant, Sam has more to worry about than just skating and classes. And suddenly, TH's advice doesn't seem all that helpful, but TH does have the ability to throw Sam forward in time, to see his baby son....
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • Slam deals with the issue of teen pregnancy and, while Sam and Alicia aren't the most mature teens, they eventually deal with the issue well. It is not a fairy tale book with them living happily ever after in their own home. They rely on their parents and try to live their own lives, with Sam and Alicia going to college classes while raising their son.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Hornby, N. (2007). Slam. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hunger Games

"Suddenly I am furious, that with my life on the line, they don't even have the decency to pay attention to me. That I'm being upstaged by a dead pig. My heart starts to pound, I can feel my face burning. Without thinking, I pull an arrow from my quiver and send it straight at the Gamemakers' table. I hear shouts of alarm as people stumble back. The arrow skewers the apple in the pig's mouth and pins it to the wall behind it."

Title:
Hunger Games

Author: Suzanne Collins

ISBN: 978-0-439-02348-1

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian world where twelve districts border the Capitol where the rich and powerful live in plenty and the districts struggle daily with starvation. Every year the districts have to send one boy and one girl, picked by lots, to the Capitol to participate in the vicious Hunger Games: twenty-four teens enter a pre-determined landscape and only one returns home in glory. In the twelfth district, Katniss Everdeen puts her name into the Hunger Games lot multiple times to feed her mother and younger sister, their father having been killed in a coal mine explosion. She augments their food with hunted and gathered game from outside the district with her friend Gale, learning how to survive and live off the land. When her sister is chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, Katniss quickly volunteers herself instead. Peeta, a baker's son is chosen as the male tribute, a boy who saved Katniss in the past when her and her family were starving. Peeta and Katniss are swept to the Capitol for preparation and soon the Hunger Games begin, where only one can survive and Katniss cannot risk leaving her family alone, even if Peeta saved her life once.

Critical Evaluation: The writing style of the Hunger Games is brisk and blunt, especially through the narrative view of Katniss. She does not waste words describing the situation or her district but focuses on the important and overarching things, quite as she, as a hunter, views the areas outside of the district boundary. Similarly, the dialog within the novel is not flowery and, while plain, is brisk and could easily be made into script form. Katniss as narrator is a very strong character who is thrown into a life or death situation, which some readers would see as horrendous at her age, but which is her actual everyday situation, as living in District 12 is only a meal or two away from starvation. Katniss, a strong female lead character who does not fall in love with either of her costars (Gale or Peeta) and instead plays along with the star-crossed lovers image, is a refreshing change from the young adult novels where the female lead's only thought is romance. Katniss is a survivor, who may have moments of bleakness, but knows how to handle herself and protect others at the same time. She plans and thinks while simultaneously being headstrong and able to lose her temper, which is quite representative of many teens who can vary between very adult behavior and impulsive action.

Reader's Annotation: Struggling against a dark future, Katniss Everdeen leaps into the Hunger Games to protect her sister, joining in the battle to the death against teens twice her size and doubly well-fed, all to survive and return home to her family.

Information About the Author: Suzanne Collins began her writing career writing for children's television shows on Nickelodeon and Kids WB since 1991. Some of the titles that she wrote for are Clarissa Explains it All, Little Bear, Santa, Baby! and Clifford's Puppy Days.
Her first book series was Gregor the Overlander which was based off her ruminations on the setting of Alice in Wonderland. Read more about Collins at her website.

Genre: Science Fiction; Dystopia; Survival

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Katniss Everdeen is a survivor, hunting outside the poor District 12 to protect her family from starvation. At sixteen, she is talented and tough and caring. When her sister is nominated to join the Hunger Games, a horrific and cruel competition where tributes from all twelve districts fight to the death until only one teen is left standing, Katniss volunteers herself instead. She is flung into a world where teens fight teens with brutal efficiency.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • While the Hunger Games contains violence between teens, it is written in a sympathetic manner that shows the ridiculousness and horrific effects that violence does to people. Katniss does not glorify the ability to kill that she has and instead, like the narrator of Graceling, sees it as the ability to survive. It shows the importance of using your abilities and powers in a controlled fashion.
Why This Book?: School Library Journal Best Books of 2008

Reference Page:
Collins, S. (2008). The hunger games. New York: Scholastic Books.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cycler

"Honestly, the fact that 'Mom' (and, believe me, I use the term loosely) never came after me with a scalpel is a small miracle. That woman is nuts. You should have seen her reaction on the day I finally woke up. No, not the day Gail Girliepants grew a dick. I'm talking about the day the dick developed an autonomous sense of self."

Title: Cycler

Author: Lauren McLaughlin

ISBN: 978-0-375-85191-9

Publisher: Random House

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: Cycler begins with Jill's cycle, the excruciating time when she changes from female Jill to male Jack. Usually, she is asleep and misses the whole mess, but this time she feels every bone-grating change. Jill is now almost used to losing four days of her life each month to Jack, an inexplicable entity that is part of her that she blocks out through meditative yoga. Jack on the other hand, can delve into Jill's every action. Jill counts down the days until the prom and her new love interest Tommy, plotting with her best friend Ramie on how to attract his interest and catch herself a prom date. Jack, on the other hand, other than wanting new porn, is in love with Jill's friend Ramie and rails against his imprisonment within Jill's room. When Jill pretends to be an ice-queen to lure Tommy, Jack escapes and climbs the tree outside Ramie's window and they promptly make out, despite Jack being in touch with his 'feminine side.' While the pressure builds higher and higher between Jill and Tommy and Jack and Ramie, the prom looms ever closer and Jill's mother loses any sympathy she may have had for the boy hiding within her daughter.

Critical Evaluation: Cycler is written from two points of view with two narrators: Jill and Jack, two sides of the same physical coin who slowly blend together by the end of the novel, with Jill reading Jack's emotions, thoughts, and memories, and Jack having a similar experience. By having two alternating narrators who have such a strong relationship, let alone the physical body they share, is well done and the contrast catches the reader's attention even in the word use and sentence structure. That Jack's portion is written in bold text and Jill's is not is not necessary as they are easily distinguishable as separate entities. The symbolism between the two characters, regarding the male and female sides of every individual is intriguing, as it acts out a division between the sexes in a physical form. Not only are they both extremely individual, both Jack and Jill manifest the worst traits of the sexes even when delving into that of the opposite: Jack is a porn fiend and Jill can't get past Prom night and popularity contests. It is only near the end of the book when they start to bleed into one another and the next book in the series should be even more intriguing.

Reader's Annotation: Jill is a regular girl, or a girl who wishes she were normal, as for four days out of every month her body undergoes an excruciating transformation into Jack, a teenage boy who their parents trap at home for the duration. Between Jack requesting porn through written messages and leaving her stinking horribly after the transformation, Jill has had enough dealing with her masculine side.

Information About the Author: Lauren McLaughlin grew up in a small town in Massachusetts with an all-together too smooth life that resulted in no childhood traumas to draw upon for her writing. McLaughlin began her career in film, writing and producing for ten years and working her way up to line producer.
Cycler began as a screenplay and after completing her first novel, McLaughlin rewrote Cycler into a young adult novel. Read more about McLaughlin at her website.

Genre: Fiction; Gender-bender; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Jill is a normal teen girl who counts down the days until Senior Prom. Most of the month, at least. For four days of that month, she has to take off of school for her blood transfusions, when in reality, Jill becomes Jack, a teenage male version of herself with a raging libido. How can two people live in one body, let alone two of the opposite sex?
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • While Jack's chapters are quite descriptive in his sexual urges, they are applicable and symbolic of the hormone-driven sexual drive of teenagers. This novel is no more explicit than popular movies or television and makes the more important points of sexuality, gender divides, and friendship.
  • Cycler portrays both male and female thinking and the contrasting relationship between the two. Especially through Jack and Jill, how they feel about each other's existence and deal with coexisting in a single body.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
McLaughlin, L. (2008). Cycler. New York: Random House.

Graceling

"Katsa didn't think a person should thank her for not causing pain. Causing joy was worthy of thanks, and causing pain worthy of disgust. Causing neither was neither, it was nothing, and nothing didn't warrant thanks."

Title: Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore

ISBN: 978-0-15-206396-2

Publisher: Harcourt Books

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: Katsa is a living weapon with the Grace of killing, used by her uncle King Randa to strike fear and terror into his subjects. Her Grace manifested itself when she was a mere child, killing a court guest when he attempted to touch her. The majority of Randa's court is fearful of her, except for a select few, such as his son Prince Raffin and the two men Katsa works with: Giddon and Oll. The only way Katsa can continue to be herself under King Randa's rule is through the Council: a counter government that attempts to do good even under the poor rule of the current kings. Graceling begins with Katsa, Giddon, and Oll sneaking into a castle to free a Lienid Prince. Katsa knocks all the guards unconscious but bumps into a Graced stranger with silver and gold eyes, who also was a Lienid. She knocks him out as well but does not kill him. They return to Randa's castle with the freed Lienid Prince and hide him, before encountering a silver and golden eyed Lienid visitor to the court: Prince Po, who is searching for his grandfather, the Lienid Prince. Katsa allows Po to see his grandfather and they soon become close friends: training together as only Graced ones can, and working together to find out why his grandfather was kidnapped.

Critical Evaluation: Graceling's plot is well-thought out and strongly paced, moving from action-packed scene to scene, all the while building Lady Katsa's character all the more concretely. Katsa as narrator allows the readers to view her world from her point of view, not only in the brief description of the different kingdoms and their rules, but in their unfair rulings and her creation of the Council to help the people. Katsa finally breaking free of Randa's rule and fleeing alongside Prince Po frees her spirit as well, which was kept captive, allowing her to blossom as a real person instead of an instrument of fear. The dialog and dialog tags within Graceling were concise, realistic, and easy to understand, making the novel a fantasy series that can easily be transposed onto a modern setting, despite the kingdoms and Kings and Graces. The use of Graces and their tell-tale physical manifestation in the form of mismatched eyes is an interesting choice of magical power for Cashore to choose. Graces cannot be hidden, except in the form of one-eyed people, and they are easily recognizable as resources to their Kings. Symbolically, Graced ones' mismatched eyes could show that despite their amazing gifts, they are still human, instead of having all Graced ones with inhumane eyes.

Reader's Annotation: Living in a court who fears her, Katsa, a girl Graced with the ability to kill, struggles to maintain her own identity under the thumb of her cruel uncle, King Randa. When Katsa meets a Graced Lienid fighter with mesmerizing gold and silver eyes, she slowly starts to come to know herself better, even the secret behind her own Grace.

Information About the Author: Kristin Cashore grew up in Pennsylvania while reading everything she could get her hands on. Along with reading, reading and reading, Cashore spent her time daydreaming about other worlds and strange powers.
After finishing graduate school for Children's literature, Cashore could not stop writing even though she switched from formal essays to fiction. Read more about Cashore at her website.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Katsa is a Graced one, with mismatched eyes that cause fear wherever she goes, for she has the Grace of killing and under her uncle King Randa's power she does not lack people to harm. All of Randa's court fear Katsa, all except his son Prince Raffin and Katsa's two accomplices, Oll and Giddon. It is only when Katsa meets Prince Po, a strange foreign boy with silver and gold eyes, that she meets someone who can truly understand her.
  • Afraid of harming other humans with her Grace, Katsa was able to kill a full grown man as a child. Now, as one who punishes those who disobey her uncle, King Randa, her Grace has been put to use for torture and bullying. To free herself from the horror of her own life, Katsa leads a second one, working for a Council of well-meaning people from throughout the land who try to circumvent the power-hungry Kings.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • Katsa is a smart young woman with an amazing gift, one which she misinterprets at the time. Katsa's Grace of survival being misinterpreted as one of killing is quite similar to those who come into their physical strength at adolescence but use it for the wrong means. Katsa's realization that she can do what she want and not listen to King Randa's threats is a show of her independence from his tyranny and her coming into her own as a person.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation; ALA Best Book for Young Adults

Reference Page:
Cashore, Kristin. (2008) Graceling. USA: Harcourt Books.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gifts

"II felt an unusual assurance as I spoke to him. He had seen me show the gift of our lineage, and heard me spoken of as a potential bridegroom. It didn't surprise me when he said I could ride the colt, without reminding me to keep him from shying at cattle and to walk him after I let him run, as he would have reminded me when I was a boy of thirteen, instead of a man of thirteen."

Title: Gifts

Author: Urusla K. Le Guin

ISBN: 0-15-25123-6

Publisher: Harcourt Books

Copyright: 2004

Plot Summary: Gifts is a story woven from tales and memories, revolving around a boy named Orrec and a girl named Gry, who are both gifted with the powers of their bloodline. Orrec can unmake things with his eyes and his will, unraveling knots or destroying entire hilltops. Gry can listen and talk to animals and summon them to her side. The plot wanders from Orrec, who is blindfolded, and Gry talking to Emmon, a well-bred and well-traveled man who ridicules the Upland villagers and witch-like abilities. Orrec, the narrator, begins by reminiscing about his favorite stories, including how his father Canoc, the leader of the village, met his mother, and that of his ancestor Blind Caddard. The story then goes back in time to before Orrec's Gift materialized itself, before he lived with a blindfold, and how Orrec's father worried if his power would ever run true, due to his mother's Lowlander blood. When Orrec's power finally manifests itself by killing a dog, he is terrified of using it again without controlling it. Orrec and his father decide to blindfold him, which leads to the villagers fearing his power. Orrec's blindness becomes a weapon that frightens even the neighboring leader Drum, who can cause people to wither and die. Soon, Orrec and Gry come to realize the depths of their power and what it means to have a gift.

Critical Evaluation: While the pacing of Gifts may not be for all teens, the story it tells within the fables and Orrec's recollected thoughts are easily for teen readers to relate. Orrec as narrator is weak in the beginning of the story as it begins within the middle of the plot. After the reminiscing is past, Orrec's uncertainty regarding his powers and his adolescent feelings is synonymous with adolescence itself. Orrec does not know how to control his Gift of unmaking no matter how much his father wills it and instead shies away from trying to control it and locks it away. The power he gains from his blindfolding is helpful for his father but takes away his gift of sight, allowing him to see the world and his own feelings, such as for Gry, clearer. The dialog within Gifts is more formal than most teen literature but contains all the lyrical and distinct word use that links it to the highland culture that is mentioned otherwise in physical descriptions and world creation.

Reader's Annotation: With the unstable power to unmake things, a young boy called Orrec decides to wear a blindfold rather than risk harming another living being. It is only through his friendship and love with Gry, a girl who can communicate with animals, that he realizes the truth behind his Gift and himself.

Information About the Author: Born in Berkley, California, Ursula K. Le Guin is a famous fantasy author who reigns among Tolkien and the other literary greats. Having published twenty-one novels and almost as many of other literary formats, Le Guin continues to spin breathtaking tales of wonder and realism.
Le Guin's most famous series is Earthsea, of which millions of copies have been sold and a movie adaptation created. Read more about Le Guin at her website.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Rather than risk harming his loved ones, the young Orrec decides to wear a blindfold, taking away his eyes and his Gift of unmaking. It is only through his best friend and love interest Gry, who can communicate with animals, that he realizes the truth behind his Gift, the truth behind his family and the neighboring rulers, and the truth behind his feelings.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • While there is violence described in the use of the Gifts, it is written in a horrified manner and shows true repugnance towards misuse of Gifts and, simultaneously, the use of violence as torture and power.
  • Orrec discovers his true self through friendship with Gry and has a strong relationship with his mother and learning, even if he is rather distant with his father after his blinding.
Why This Book?: PEN/USA Award winner

Reference Page:
Le Guin, U. K. (2004). Gifts. Florida: Harcourt Books.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Uglies

"Every day of her life she'd insulted other uglies and had been insulted in return. Fattie, Pig-Eyes, Boney, Zits, Freak--all the names uglies called one another, eagerly and without reserve. But equally, without exception, so that no one felt shut out by some irrelevant mischance of birth. And no one was considered to be even remotely beautiful, privileged because of a random twist in their genes. That was why they'd made everyone pretty in the first place."

Title: Uglies

Author: Scott Westerfeld

ISBN: 978-0-689-86538-1

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Copyright: 2005

Plot Summary: Uglies begins with Tally sneaking out of her technologically advanced room to New Pretty Town to meet her best friend Peris, who had turned pretty before her. In Tally's world, once teens hit sixteen, they receive a special surgery that turns them into a default definition of pretty, morphing from Uglies to Pretties. After the surgery, they leave the Ugly dorms and move into New Pretty Town, where their only responsibility is to have fun and party. Tally sneaks into a Pretty Party disguised in a pig mask and bumps into Peris, whose beauty stuns her and they pledge once more to meet once Tally undergoes her surgery. After escaping dramatically, Tally meets another Ugly girl, Shay, and they soon become good friends despite Shay's reluctance to discuss her upcoming surgery and her belief that she isn't ugly. Before Shay's surgery on her birthday, she disappears, telling Tally that she is leaving for Smoke, a city where Uglies live free, and David, a mysterious leader. She leaves a cryptic handwritten note behind as Tally refuses to come along. When Tally's birthday finally comes, she is taken to Special Circumstances, where she meets a cruel Pretty who says she will withhold Tally's makeover unless she finds Smoke and activates a tracker that will allow Special Circumstances to hone in on their position. Tally embarks on a quest with the motive to betray her friend, all in the name of ridding herself of her horrific features and finally becoming Pretty with Peris.

Critical Evaluation: While the jargon used within the novel is often jarring and seemingly childish (Pretties, Uglies, littles), it reflects the childish world that Tally grows up in, in which teens are coddled and treated as princes and princesses in New Pretty Town. Tally as the narrator imbues all of this childishness even as she incorporates all of its beliefs regarding beauty and self-hatred of her physical appearance. The whole topic of beauty becoming attainable to all but only in the form of like-beauty, lacking individuality, is one that interests Westerfeld and is pertinent to modern society. Tally's narration could often run contrast to the beliefs of the reader, as she is so deeply steeped in her world and views anything outside of her small city as foreign and ugly. This makes her a rather unlikeable character, especially as she is willing to betray her friend Shay for her operation. However, even as readers come to dislike Tally, once she realizes that she is in the wrong and starts to see the world from Smoke's point of view, she becomes redeemed and her relationship with the readers is almost stronger than if she had had doubts from the start. For readers who may have similar thoughts to Tally, regarding beauty and self-hatred of their own appearance, they will have doubts regarding their previous thoughts after Tally lives in Smoke. Similarly, if Uglies had been written from Shay's point of view instead, it would have firstly been a very different book and secondly may not have had such a dramatic change in characters. Tally as narrator was a good choice as readers are dragged along with her as the plot zips forward, not quite unlike a hoverboard.

Reader's Annotation: Born into a world where everyone younger than sixteen is automatically Ugly, Tally can't wait until her sixteenth birthday where she will become a new, more beautiful person. Until she meets Shay, a girl who doesn't think she is ugly, a girl who flees the city rather than undergoing the surgery, and until Tally is sent after her.

Information About the Author: Scott Westerfeld is famous for writing science fiction novels for adults. Westerfeld also ghostwrites, which he describes as like "driving someone else's car really, really fast for lots of money."
Along with the Uglies trilogy, Westerfeld has also written the Midnighters, So Yesterday, Peeps, and The Last Days for young adults. Read more about Westerfeld at his website.

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does Shay's character develop throughout the novel and through the reader's perception of her? How does what happens at the end to Shay affect Tally?
  • How does the city of Smoke function and how do Tally's feelings about it change throughout the novel? Is the change too rapid or do you think that it reflects the ease of adaptation that many teenagers have?
  • While Westerfeld divides Pretties into multiple categories (Middle Pretties, old Pretties, and the hawkish special Pretties), there are only two categories for children and teens: littlies and Uglies. Do you think that this lack of categorization within the formative years is reflective of how society itself views children and teens?
Reading Level: Freshman+

Challenge Issues:
  • While this novel divides the world into Uglies and Pretties, Tally, Shay, and David, as well as the others in Smoke all shatter the categorization. Tally changes from a shallow teen with her only thoughts revolving around her operation and the limitless partying that would occur after to an adult who cares more about making amends and saving her friends, whether she receives her operation or no.
  • Tally is a prime role model due to her aforementioned evolution. The theme of focusing on exterior beauty is easily applicable to readers.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation; New York Times bestseller

Reference Page:
Westerfeld, S. (2005). Uglies. USA: Simon Pulse.

Walking Naked

"I watched Perdita as I was packing my bag. She was smart. I had never thought of her as being smart. I hadn't thought about her at all, really. I was in all the top classes and Perdita wasn't in any of them. I wondered why that was. Walking towards the door, I noticed the piece of paper that Perdita had thrown away. I stopped, picked it up, and unrolled it. Perdita had written:
Supercicilous: Megan Tuw and her friends."

Title: walking naked

Author: Alyssa Brugman

ISBN: 0-385-73115-9

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Copyright: 2002

Plot Summary: Walking Naked begins with Megan and her friend Candice being thrown out of class for talking, which soon results in Megan receiving a week's worth of detention. At detention, which is hosted by a variety of teachers, Megan bumps into Perdita Wiguiggan, the girl who everyone calls a Freak due to her appearance and odd behavior. Perdita's intelligence, apparent even in the mindless exercises one teacher proscribes, and blatantly obvious when they are told to make up words and poems, intrigues Megan, even as her still odd behavior and leering actions still push her away. While Megan is busy in detention she misses her group meetings with the other girls, distancing herself from the group. When Candice starts a campaign for a nude protest run, Megan finds the idea ridiculous and refuses to participate. Instead, Megan starts spending time with Perdita, sneaking around the forbidden library, sword-fighting in the forest, and skipping school to visit a college campus to listen to a professor lecture. Megan slowly realizes that Perdita's home life is very different from her own, with her two deeply-in-love parents, that Perdita is adopted and she is hunting for her real parents. Soon, the clique learns of Megan's friendship with Perdita and Megan is forced to make a decision: Perdita the Freak, or her best friends.

Critical Evaluation: The plot was the most outstanding thing about Brugman's novel, as it deviates from other popularity and brand name novels by taking a drastic turn to the worst and showing how it impacts everyone else in that situation. Along the same lines, having the main character waver as Megan does, without having any input on Perdita and her thought process (unlike the popular Clique series in which readers hear from both the popular Massie and the new girl Claire), is a unique choice that lead to a very different and easily distinguished novel. Megan's point of view and the decisions that she makes within the novel are difficult to agree with, especially as she is so steeped in her clique culture, but as Perdita slowly becomes more human to her, Megan becomes more human to her readers. The use of literature and analyzing symbols along with the quoted poems and poem excerpts are intriguing and also add a twist to the novel. The theme of analyzing poetry relates to looking past physical appearance and behavior to the people within.

Reader's Annotation: Megan is your typical clique girl who believes the school revolves around her and her friends and being able to ridicule the girl they call the Freak, Perdita Wiguiggan. When detention throws Megan and Perdita together, Megan soon realizes that Perdita is just as vulnerable a human as she.

Information About the Author: Alyssa Brugman is an Australian born and raised author who has won multiple literary awards for her young adult novels. Brugman has also tutored Aboriginal children, taught management, accounting and marketing, worked for a home improvement company and worked in public relations.
Brugman's books are Finding Grace, Walking Naked, and Being Bindy. Read more about Brugman at her website.

Genre: Fiction; Friendship; Cliques; Self-Perception; Suicide

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Walking Naked challenges the idea of popularity in school, with Megan Tuw as the narrator as she participates mindlessly with her clique of friends in bullying the Freak, Perdita Wiguiggan. It's only when Megan is thrown into detention with Perdita when she realizes how smart the other girl is and how differently she thinks. Soon, Megan wants to find out more about the mystery girl who is so hated at school.
  • Have you ever been bullied? Or bullied someone else? Walking Naked is a story about girls bullying other girls and how it affects both parties. Megan starts off as a typical popular girl who wants to get straight As and spend time with her friends, especially her best friend Candice. Whenever they see Perdita the Freak, they chant her nickname and leap away to avoid bumping into her. As if she were contagious. It's only when Megan starts spending time with Perdita that she realizes what her words and actions are doing to the other girl.
Reading Level: Freshman+

Challenge Issues:
  • While Megan is not a sympathetic character for the majority of the novel, her relationship with Perdita is painted in a realistic fashion, containing both the curiosity and horror that Megan has towards the other girl. The ending is a warning of readers who can relate to both girls and who have had to deal with similar issues.
Why This Book?: Victorian Premier's Literary Award (shortlisted)

Reference Page:
Brugman, A. (2002). Walking naked. New York: Delacorte Press.