Friday, April 29, 2011

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

"When lunchtime rolled around, Macey strolled over to our table, and I braced myself for what was going to happen. If the Communists and the Capitalists could fight together to take down the Nazis...I told myself. If Spike and Buffy could fight alongside Buffy to rid the world of demons... If lemon could join forces with lime to create something as delicious and refreshing as Sprite, then surely I can work alongside Macey McHenry for the cause of true love!"

Title: I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

Author: Ally Carter

ISBN: 1-4231-0003-4

Publisher: Hyperion Books

Copyright: 2006

Plot Summary: The first of a Gallagher Girl series, I'd Tell You I Love You begins with the start of a new school year at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. As daughter of the headmistress, Cammie Morgan is the epitome of a Gallagher Girl, skilled in spy-craft, intelligent, and well-mannered. The beginning of the new year is a good one for her, in that she is reunited with her two best friends Liz and Bex. On the other hand, there is a new girl in the Academy, Macey McHenry, a glamorous heiress whose enrollment in the Academy is her last chance at schooling, having being kicked out of multiple other schools. Standing out like a sore thumb amongst the sophomore spies, Macey's true strengths are shown when the similarly new teacher gets all the girls flustered: the handsome new Covert Operations teacher Joe Solomon. For their first CovOp test, the girls are thrown into the most difficult mission ever: stalking their highly paranoid teacher and discovering what sort of carbonated beverage he enjoys. Macey's fashion tips grate against Cammie's spy-morals as the girls doll up for the test, but little does Cammie know that despite her great Chameleon skills and her drab clothing, she catches the eye of a normal boy, one who will change her life...

Critical Evaluation: The first of a multi-volume series, this novel is an amusing introduction into the world of teenage spies and the relationship issues that they have, among the difficulties of training and missions that prepare them for the stressful and potentially fatal hazards of espionage. The variation of tension between mission scenes and teenage girls frantically deciding what to wear adds humor to an already humorous writing style and characters. Cammie is a sympathetic narrator who is the wallflower of spy-life, which in her line of work, is a good thing, despite how the blatant beauty of Macey irks her. Similarly, the dialog within the story is witty and the only issue is the use of the many varied languages without including a translation. Showing the importance of being multilingual as an international spy is one thing, but not providing a translation while being in Cammie's point of view could make readers believe that Cammie, like them, do not know what is being said.

Reader's Annotation: Cammie Morgan is the epitome of a Gallagher Girl, enrolled in an elite school for girls that secretly hides an intensive spy-training center. During a Covert Ops test, Cammie bumps into a boy who notices her, when all her training has led her to hold the nickname Chameleon, and suddenly everything changes for Cammie....

Information About the Author: This is Carter's first book out of the Gallagher Girls series of young adult spy novels. Carter has also written the Heist Society series.
Carter lives in the Midwest United States with degrees from Oklahoma State University and Cornell University. Read more about the author at her website.

Genre: Spies; Fiction; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • What sort of protagonist and narrator is Cammie Morgan? How does her ability to blend into her surroundings belie her inner strength and spy-abilities compare to the glamorous new girl Macey?
Reading Level: 14+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: Staff Recommendation

Reference Page:
Carter, A. (2006). I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You. New York: Hyperion Books.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

American Born Chinese

"From then on, she became a tangible presence in my life. Whenever she entered the room I was aware of her, even if I wasn't looking directly at her. I would lie awake late at night analyzing my feelings for her. She wasn't exceptionally beautiful and she spoke with a slight lisp. But when she smiled..."

Title: American Born Chinese

Author: Gene Luen Yang


Publisher: First Second

Copyright: 2006

Plot Summary: American Born Chinese is a set of three short stories, centering around the Monkey King in Heaven, a boy named Jin, and an American boy and his cousin Chin-Kee. While seemingly unrelated, the three short stories have common themes and their plots become intertwined by the end of the collection. The Monkey King in Heaven rules the monkeys and trains himself in the martial arts, becoming a Divine Being by skill if not by appearance. When the other Divinities call him a common Monkey, he is enraged and defeats them all. Soon, after more training, the Monkey King perfects his ability to transform into a more human-like being. Jin is a second generation Chinese boy who does not relate to his Chinese heritage and tries to avoid befriending a "fresh-off-the-boat" new student from China. Jin's sudden crush on a girl in his class leads him to start changing his physical appearance as he believes she is attracted to an American boy. Chin-Kee and his American cousin Danny's short story centers around Danny's complete embarrassment over his cousin Chin-Kee, who is the worst version of a Chinese stereotype ever, both in speech, appearance, and behavior.

Critical Evaluation: American Born Chinese uses the format of a graphic novel to its greatest strength by covering the theme of self acceptance, whether of physical appearance as the Monkey King disliking his monkey form, Jin and him perming his hair to appear more American, or Danny who cannot tolerate his cousin's behavior and becomes ashamed of him to the point of hatred. This common theme was easily depicted through Jin's change in hair and the Monkey King's transformation into his more human, upright form, the description of which could have been awkward or felt forced if described in prose. The main protagonists were all sympathetic including the Divine Monkey King whose powers may have incited awe but his insecurity in himself that caused him to lash out at the other Divinities is familiar to many readers. The plot twist at the end of American Born Chinese was unpredictable but worked extremely well, tying in together the three very different stories. Instead of writing a "happily ever after" epilogue, Gene Luen Yang ends with a single panel that sums it up succinctly through showing the reader without even including descriptive prose or dialog.

Reader's Annotation: The Monkey King, a second-generation Chinese boy named Jin, and an American boy named Danny with a horribly stereotypical Chinese cousin Chin-Kee all have their own seemingly unrelated stories and lives. But when they cannot accept themselves for who they are, their stories all come together.

Information About the Author: Gene Luen Yang has been publishing graphic novels since 1996 and has won multiple awards for his work. His other popular titles are Gordon Yamamoto: King of the Geeks, which was awarded the Xeric Grant, and The Eternal Smile.
Yang's newest upcoming project is another graphic novel called Level Up, which is due out in June of this year. Read more about the author/artist at his website.

Genre: Graphic Novel; Asian Americans; Cultural Identity

Curriculum Ties: Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does the format of the graphic novel impact and change the storytelling technique that Gene Luen Yang uses for his three stories? Do you believe that it could have been told in another manner without losing any of the impact of the story, especially near the end?
  • How do the three protagonists differ from each other and how are they similar? How is the theme of self-acceptance reinforced by the fact that they are so different and yet none of them can accept how they are?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: Michael L. Printz Award Winner

Reference Page:
Yang, G. L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Terrier: A Tortall Legend

"The Lower City is mine, its people are mine. If I find them that's doing all this kidnapping and murdering, they'd best pray for mercy. Because once I get my teeth in 'em, I will never let them go."

Title: Terrier: A Tortall Legend

Author: Tamora Pierce

ISBN: 978-0-375-81468-6

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Copyright: 2006

Plot Summary: Terrier is the tale of Beka Cooper, a Lower City kid rescued by the Provost of Tortall, and her initiation into the Provost's Guard, or as they are more commonly known, as the Provost's Dogs. Her initiation period results in her being called a Puppy and being assigned to the two most famous Dogs of their time: Tunstall and Goodwin. Slowly, a devious plot unfolds as Beka, Tunstall, and Goodwin uncover clues that are linked together by their detective work, the Dogs' birdies, and Beka's own magical ability to hear the souls of the dead inhabiting pigeons and dust spinners. While adjusting to her whole new life, Beka also has to deal with her siblings growing up in the Provost's house and looking down upon her new job, as well as the appearance of three new Rogues who threaten to unbalance the entire underworld of Tortall. It doesn't help that one of the newcomers is a handsome Rogue who catches her eye...

Critical Evaluation: The format of Terrier is of journal entries written by Beka as part of her Dog training at the end of each day's shift. While this format slightly puts off readers due to its storytelling technique instead of putting the readers straight into each day in the life of a Dog, it is a different format that was perhaps used simply to be different. Pierce misses the gripping immediacy of police and detective novels by making each chapter reminiscing about the day, rather than being able to include the details that would truly grip a reader. Regarding the plot itself, it unfolded itself in a intriguing manner, giving up details and planting red herrings like a true detective novel. The ending was surprising as well despite small hints that were slipped into the action. The characters of Terrier, especially Beka, are strong, but the side characters could have had more back story and development.

Reader's Annotation: Beka Cooper grew up in the Lower City of Tortall, a rough neighborhood where people disappearing is often overlooked. Once she enrolls as a Provost's Guard, Beka will hunt down those responsible for harming her fellow Lower City citizens, wherever they go.

Information About the Author: Tamora Pierce was born in Pennsylvania in 1954 and grew up reading everything she could get her hands on. After moving to California in 1963, Pierce started writing and has not stopped since.
Pierce is the author of an extensive amount of books for children and young adults. She has written fourteen novels set in the world of Tortall, of which Terrier also takes place. Read more about the author at her website.

Genre: Fantasy; Police Fiction

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How is Beka Cooper a strong protagonist and narrator, other than her physical abilities that surpasses that of the normal Puppy? How do her morals and her loyalty tie into this?
Reading Level: 14+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Pierce, T. (2006). Terrier: A Tortall Legend. New York: Random House Children's Books.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blood and Chocolate

"I do believe they have a beast within. In some it's buried so deep they'll never feel it; in others it stirs, and if a person can't give it a safe voice it warps and rots and breaks out in evil ways. They may not be able to change, but they still can be the beast of their own nightmares. It's our blessing that we can exorcise those demons. Sometimes it's our curse."

Title: Blood and Chocolate

Author: Annette Curtis Klause

ISBN: 0-385-32305-0

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Copyright: 1997

Plot Summary: Blood and Chocolate begins with Vivian Gandillon and her mother Esme as they adjust to their new life in the suburbs of Maryland. Not only new to the town, Vivian has to deal with the amazing change that all loups-garoux deal with, the Change between her human form and her wolf form, for the Gandillons are werewolves. The pack previously lived in New Orleans but were uprooted after Vivian's yearmate killed a human and the pack were torched from their home. Vivian's father died in the fire, causing yet another uproar in the pack hierarchy as the males vie for the position. Vivian herself only wants to avoid pack violence and live in the manner she choses, without having to chose a mate from her yearmates, the uncontrollable Five. She dabbles in art and when one of her drawings is shown in the school magazine, she is ecstatic, even more so when she reads the poem accompanying it. Tracking down the poet, Vivian is instantly attracted to the meat-boy who wrote hauntingly of her experience as a loups-garoux and sets her mind on seducing him.

Critical Evaluation: Blood and Chocolate is a refreshingly dark supernatural romance that does not ridicule its characters and instead makes the idea of werewolves its own by creating a culture. Vivian is a strong female lead character who does not shy from her own strengths and wants to share every part of herself with her love interest Aiden. She also does not want her mate chosen for her nor her own freedoms limited by those who the pack accept or not. The interaction between members of the werewolf pack is written in a way that reminds readers of wolves rather than humans in wolfskins, which may or may not please readers. Descriptions of loups-garoux snarling or swishing their hips as if wagging a tail were often overdone unless the reader imagines humans melded to wolves, inheriting some of their behavior, rather than a caricature of a werewolf as a human with dog habits. The dialog within the book is also well done and realistically blunt, especially in the portions in which the teens banter back and forth. The relationships between characters are also realistic and develop naturally.

Reader's Annotation: Vivian is a loups-garoux, a werewolf whose pack was pulled up from their original home. Still unsettled by the changes occurring to her pack and her year-mates, Vivian suddenly and shockingly becomes attracted to a human male, a meat-boy.

Information About the Author: Annette Curtis Klause was born in England but now lives in Maryland with her husband and their cats. Klause, along with being an author, is a librarian and currently works as a material's selector for the children's collection for the Montgomery County Public Libraries.
Klause has published four novels targeted toward teens. Her first novel was The Silver Kiss which, like Blood and Chocolate, added a twist to the supernatural horror genre.

Genre: Fantasy; Romance; Werewolves; Supernatural

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Vivian is a gorgeous loups-garoux, a werewolf, coming into her prime and adjusting to a new life in a new town after her pack being burned out of their last home. Her five year-mates, The Five, all clamor for her attention, but she is attracted to a human boy, a meat-boy, who the pack view as prey. Vivian struggles with her wolf side while adjusting to the differences between loups-garoux romance and human romance.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • The amount of violence within the book is written in a dark manner and while adult readers may view it as inappropriate for teens, the violence is not glorified and the narrator Vivian is equally as horrified by the violence within herself and her pack.
Why This Book?: YALSA Award for Best Books for Young Adults (1998)

Reference Page:
Klause, A. C. (1997). Blood and Chocolate. New York: Delacorte Press.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tell Us We're Home

"She hated self-pity. She hated people who gave up, slumped against life. Just like her father, wrapped in his shawl of surrender. Everything was fate, he said. What about second chances? she wanted to shout. Isn't this why we came here? You haven't even tried! But Mr. Svetloski was deaf t o the noise and hope of her sister, Nadia. That's why Lola loved holing up in her bedroom and reading about the American Revolution. She admired those rebels. How they were loud and pushy, how they could make something completely new. "

Title: Tell Us We're Home

Author: Marina Budhos

ISBN: 978-1-4169-0352-9

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Copyright: 2010

Plot Summary: Tell Us We're Home alternates points of view between three teenage immigrant girls: Jaya, Maria, and Lola. Each chapter presents a narrator and the world that she lives in, including their mothers, the homes that they clean, and the families that they live with. Each girl has similar issues that they have to deal with, such as feeling out of place in a rich suburb and going to school with the girls who see their mothers cleaning the floor. Each girl is unique, however, and struggle through their lives in different manners, dealing with the problems in their own way. Jaya loves Mrs. Harmon, an elderly lady who hired her mother to tidy up, and has struggles with herself when Mrs. Harmon has a stroke and is hospitalized. When the house is put up for sale, a broach and earrings are discovered missing and the blame is immediately laid upon Jaya's mother. Turning to her friends, Jaya realizes that they also have their own issues, such as Maria's budding romance with a white boy and Lola's hatred of her father who struggles with depression and her mother who is working herself sick.

Critical Evaluation: The use of multiple points of view to weave together a storyline that is coherent and richly detailed. The very different lives of Jaya, Maria, and Lola are done in a manner that allows readers to understand the glimpses that they catch as well as realize that there are cultural differences that need to be experienced in order to fully appreciate them, such as when Maria interacts with her love interest. With three narrators, it allows readers of all types to find someone that they relate to the most, whether it is the fiery Lola who is not afraid to pick a fight for something she believes in, quiet and faithful Maria, or strong-willed Jaya. The use of flashbacks to show how the three girls first met could have been written in a less confusing manner, as there was nothing used to denote a change in time and space, nor were there great differences in the characters that would show a younger. The dialog within the story was entertaining but the use of language could have been increased instead of brief Spanish phrases.

Reader's Annotation: Three immigrant teens meet up in a single suburban neighborhood and instantly bond, as their mothers are all maids and nannies for the rich families that they go to school with. When one of their mothers is accused of stealing a piece of jewelery, everything, including their friendship, threatens to go up in flames.

Information About the Author: Budhos usually writes for adult audiences in fiction as well as nonfiction. Tell Us We're Home is her first Young Adult novel and she enjoys to delve into the complexity of cultures thrown together.
Budhos has also written the books Ask Me No Questions and Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers. Read more about the author at her website.

Genre: Suburban Fiction; Friendship; Immigrant Teens

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does the use of three protagonists allow for the best glimpse into the varying cultures within American society? Would the novel have been as strong if it stayed with a single immigrant teen and her perception of her neighborhood and her friends?
  • How do the three girls change throughout the book? Compare and contrast their original personalities and then how they end up by the end of the book.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Budhos, M. (2010). Tell Us We're Home. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Generation Dead

"All I know is that I want to go to the dance with her, and actually dance. I know this because I know that when I am with her, there are times, even if they are brief, when I no longer feel like a zombie. There are times when, for an instant, I forget that I've died and I no longer breathe and my heart no longer pumps blood throughout my body.
I forget these things when I'm with her. I think that if I could dance with her, just once, I might feel like I was alive again."

Title: Generation Dead

Author: Daniel Waters

ISBN: 978-1-4231-0921-1

Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: Generation Dead begins with the premise of American youth who die returning to life to live once more, as the strange generation of dead teens. Generation Dead switches between Phoebe, Adam, and Pete's points of view. Phoebe Kendall is a goth girl who, along with her best friend Margie and her childhood friend Adam, struggles to deal with the sudden inundation of undead teens coming to their town. Not only does she have to come to terms with the death, and reanimation, of her friend Collette, but she also has to deal with her strange feelings regarding the differently biotic boy Tommy. Adam, a great football player, has changed since his summer of karate and attempts to change his previous bullying participation in the Pain Crew. He also tries to control his new feelings for Phoebe and with his family situation. Peter, the antagonist of the series, is the leader of the Pain Crew and has a painful past of his own to deal with. As feelings regarding undead teens rise and murders of the risen-again teens start multiplying, Phoebe, Adam, and Pete have to deal with the situation.

Critical Evaluation: Generation Dead continues the supernatural romance genre that has been made famous by Twilight. However, unlike the romantic Twilight series, Generation Dead's supernatural phenomena is American-wide and known to the general public. Much of the book contains the discussion of these undead teenagers and whether or not they have rights as human beings, or if they lost those rights upon their first death. The uproar about undead teens being a sign of the upcoming apocalypse is a realistic enough reaction and the diversity itself of the reactions will make readers compare discrimination in the real world to the discrimination faced by undead teens. The use of multiple points of view, primarily that of the protagonists Phoebe and Adam and the antagonist Pete, is a rather original technique that is usually not found in young adult literature. Allowing multiple points of views, and with that, sympathy for all the characters, was done well and let readers understand the reasoning behind each character's actions. It also allowed for a more fleshed out story line that could have been limited by narration by a single character or changed through a third person omniscient view.

Reader's Annotation: Phoebe Kendall was a goth girl even before American teens started coming back to life, a change that disturbs the entire American way of life. Soon, her interest in the differently biotic Tommy starts waves that threaten not only her but her friends and her town.

Information About the Author: Generation Dead is Daniel Water's first young adult novel and he has written Kiss of Life and Passing Strange that take place in the same world. Waters lives in Connecticut with his family and is still writing.
Follow Waters by visiting his blog. His lengthy biography states that he is a male novelist in the United States who likes sandwiches.

Genre: Fantasy; Suburban Fiction; Romance; Zombies

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does Phoebe change throughout the novel? Does her interest in Tommy and his interest in her differ? And how is she different from the stereotypical views of goths?
  • How does including the antagonist's point of view in the novel allow for a more sympathetic character in Pete? Why do you think that Waters did this? Does knowing Pete's back story change your perception of him as a character or are his actions still unforgivable despite seeing his obvious disorientation?
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • The gruesome descriptions of the differently biotic teens and how they died could be disturbing to some readers. However, it is a part of understanding how the DB teens behave and it is intriguing to see how each copes with their problems. It is quite similar to teens who have been abused and written in a manner which is believable.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Waters, D. (2008). Generation Dead. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


"Fire looked at the captain of her guard and laughed, because she wasn't Cansrel--she wasn't anyone but herself. She had no one's path to follow; her path was her own to choose. And then she stopped laughing, because she was terrified of the path she suddenly knew herself to be choosing."


Author: Kristin Cashore

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3461-6

Publisher: Dial Books

Copyright: 2009

Plot Summary: Fire takes place before Cashore's first book, Graceling, and tells the story of the Dells, a distant and secluded land teeming with monsters. These monsters have breathtaking beauty and the ability to manipulate the minds of humans and range in physical form from mouse monsters, bug monsters, bird monsters, and great cat monsters. There is only one human monster in the Dells, a female human monster the daughter of Cansrel, a male monster who committed suicide. She lives under the wing of Archer and his father Brocker, the former Army Commander of the kingdom. Fire, Archer, and Brocker live in relative peace, dealing with the monsters that attack Fire for her delicious human monster flesh. When the son of the King, the Army Commander Prince Brigan comes to Brocker's home requesting Fire's assistance, her life is turned upside down as she leaves the only home she has ever known to the capital. There, Fire will use the power she uses only in self defense to control and manipulate people in order to save the kingdom.

Critical Evaluation: As a companion novel to Graceling, Fire plumbs the depths of Cashore's world and views it from a totally different perspective. Introducing readers to the strangeness of monsters and their power in comparison to Graced individuals is done in a manner that previous readers will enjoy and new readers can also understand. The choice of a human monster as narrator rather than a human protagonist is not surprising and Fire as a narrator is the most sympathetic manner for readers to learn about their world. Similarly, by delving into Fire's character, teen readers can sympathize with how strange she feels in comparison to everyone else, how she does not fit in anywhere and how she is afraid of her own powers. Her attraction to Brigan and Archer may not draw in male readers but the romance within the story will entertain female readers. The main use of foreshadowing within Fire is visible to those who read Graceling, as the character Leck appears as a child. Other foreshadowed events such as the relationship between Fire and Brigan are predictable but occur in a natural manner.

Reader's Annotation: A young girl in the Dells, Fire is a monster whose gorgeous exterior hides her ability to manipulate and control humans. Living relatively peacefully, it is only when the Prince Brigan visits when Fire realizes the strength of her power and what it can do.

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; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How is Fire a strong protagonist and how does she differ from the males in her life? How does her relationship with her father affect her own behavior as well as the behavior of those who act with her? In comparison, what does Archer's father pass down to him?
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • While there are disturbing themes within Fire, the protagonist herself deals with them as best as she can and her growing control over her increasing powers. Fire is a sympathetic narrator who does not abuse her powers and attempts to live peacefully with the humans around her, as well as find personal happiness and save the kingdom.
Why This Book?: ALA Best Book for Young Adults

Reference Page:
Cashore, K. (2009). Fire. New York: Dial Books.

Friday, April 15, 2011

First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants

"What I have can never -- and should never be -- copyrighted. What has been passed on to me is harder than any hardware, softer than any software. A series of words, a sequence of movements -- a story, a dance, these things Grandma passed on to me, these things that are almost sacred in their simplicity. And they are mine, yet they belong to me only as much as the flame of a candle belongs to its wick. When the candle is melted away, the flame is passed on -- that's all."

Title: First Crossing: Stories About Teen Immigrants

Editor: Donald R. Gallo

ISBN: 978-0-7636-3291-5

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Copyright: 2007

Plot Summary: Each of the short stories within this collection tell the story of an immigrant teen with a problem. The problems vary from a Mexican teen trying to cross the border with his father to get work in the United States, an adopted teen trying to find her birth-parents, a Russian teen fighting for a normal life in the wake of strict parents, and a Chinese teen attempting to explain the nuances of her culture to an American friend, and failing. After struggling with their problems, the teens each reach some sort of resolution and continue to an outcome that varies between the positive and negative, depending on each short story. However, within each story the characters change and grow individually, especially in their regard to the culture that they live in and the people that they deal with.

Critical Evaluation: Each author of First Crossing's short stories weave a brief and yet gripping and well-rounded web of characters and plot within their low word count stories. The narrators are, for the majority, sympathetic and understandable fears and problems that they have to deal with, problems that many teen readers will understand. The variety of their ethnicities is important and also allows insight into different cultures, as well as the ability for teens of that culture to find a guide / protagonist that will connect to them the strongest. As a whole, the stories all shared the theme of teens trying to fit into a situation that they find strange or different from what they are used to, which is a universal coming-of-age theme. While the cast of characters within each short story is limited, the protagonist is almost always fleshed out with enough detail to be connectible.

Reader's Annotation: First Crossing is a compilation of immigrant teen lives, from teens crossing the Mexican-American border to Cambodians who help in their parents shop and footballers facing racism and discrimination.

Information About the Editor: "Donald R. Gallo is one of the country's leading authorities on books for teenagers and is a recipient of the ALAN Award for Outstanding Contributions to Young Adult Literature....
A former junior high school teacher and university professor of English, he currently works as an editor, writer, English Journal columnist, workshop presenter, and interviewer of notable authors" (Biography taken from First Crossing).

Genre: Immigration fiction; Immigrant teens; Prejudice

Curriculum Ties: Social Studies and Immigration

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How do the trials and struggles of the teen narrators in this collection of short stories mirror the coming of age issues that non-immigrant teens have?
  • Compare and contrast two very different teen narrators from the short stories, such as a teen who sneaks across the border for work with his father and a Cambodian teen who helps her parents in all matters English.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: Library book list recommendation

Reference Page:
Gallo, D. R. (2007). First Crossings: Stories About Teen Immigrants. Massachusetts, Candlewick Press.

Something like Fate

"Jason gets his serious look. His eyes go dark green. I press my fingers against my tourmalinated quartz. It hangs from a silver chain I always have on, even if I'm wearing other necklaces. Tourmalinated quartz has balancing powers. It grounds me when I'm feeling unstable. Freaking busted tourmalinated quartz."

Title: Something Like Fate

Author: Susane Colasanti

ISBN: 978-0-670-01146-9

Publisher: Penguin Group

Copyright: 2010

Plot Summary: Something like Fate begins with Lani and Blake interpreting their horoscopes and Lani desperately trying to persuade her disbelieving friend that they are indeed true. Later, Lani realizes her best friend Erin is deeply in love and by the time she and Blake meet Jason, trouble starts to brew, for they share a connection deeper than Lani has ever had before. They finish each other's sentences, share the same odd habits, and can talk to each other for hours. Lani struggles with this sudden connection since he is dating her best friend. It is only when Erin goes to summer camp after their junior year that Lani and Jason start hanging out, at her wishes. Almost predictably, sparks fly but it is only until after Jason breaks up with Erin through a letter that Jason and Lani start dating. Once Erin returns, everything is turned upside down as Lani attempts to reconcile her best friend with the newest love of her life.

Critical Evaluation: Among entertaining dialog and Lani's belief in the mystical aspects of Fate, including astronomy, horoscopes, and the healing power of stones, is a story that is unapologetic about a difficult subject. There are many unspoken rules in the lives of dating teens and that Lani dates her best friend's ex and does not attempt to hide it shows the strength of the protagonist, as well as the importance she sets on her friendship. Unlike other romance protagonists, she does not throw away everything for love and instead attempts to salvage her friends at the risk of losing her love. The foreshadowing within the novel were predictable but were written well enough that by the time that the event came, it is not noticed as an anticipated event. The main characters within Something Like Fate were well-fleshed out and a suitable amount of time was devoted to each of them.

Reader's Annotation: Lani and Erin have been best friends for forever and even though Lani feels they've been drifting apart lately, she knows they'll always be friends. Meeting Erin's new boyfriend, Jason, however, threatens to pull the friends apart.

Information About the Author: Susana Colasanti grew up in northern New Jersey, surrounded by trees, farms, and more trees. After a tough time in middle school being an outsider, Colasanti discovered her true love of books.
Colasanti taught in New York and started writing while teaching until she decided to carve out her sole career with her pen. Read more about Colasanti at her website.

Genre: Interpersonal Relations Fiction; Friendship; Romance

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does Lani's friendship with Erin change from the beginning of the novel to the end? How does it mirror the natural changes childhood friends have as they grow up and how does the plot itself change it? Compare how Lani and Erin's friendship changes to that of Lani and Bianca.
Reading Level: 14+

Challenge Issues N/A

Why This Book?: Staff Recommendation

Reference Page:
Colasanti, S. (2010). Something Like Fate. New York: Penguin Group.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Catching Fire

"By the end of the tune, I have found the whistler, a wizened old man in a faded red shirt and overalls. His eyes meet mine. What happens next is not a n accident. It is two well executed to be spontaneous, because it happens in complete unison. Every person in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand against their lips and extends them to me. It's our sign from District 12, the last good-bye I gave Rue in the arena."

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

ISBN: 978-0-439-02349-8

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Copyright: 2009

Plot Summary: Catching Fire begins where the first book of the Hunger Games leaves off: with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark returning to District 12 and adjusting to their new lives. As winners of the Hunger Games, they and their families are moved to the Victor's Village and Katniss' mother and sister rejoice in their newfound position. Katniss' personal relief about shedding her false romance with Peeta is shattered by a visit from President Snow of the Capitol before the victory tour, in which he reminds her of her importance to the situation in the districts and how the girl who was on fire could be a spark that would incite riots across the districts. If she fails to smother the spark, her whole family would be killed. The victory tour begins and at the first stop, in District 12, the crowd salutes her in honor of their dead tribute Rue. Peacekeepers immediately shoot one instigator in the head and others from the District are shot. During the remainder of the victory tour, Peeta proposes to Katniss and says that she is pregnant. To counter the embers of rebellion in the districts, the Capitol proclaims the next Hunger Games is a Quarter Quell, the 75th Hunger Games in which the tribute pool is created from previous victors. This round, Katniss swears to protect Peeta even if she loses her own life in the process.

Critical Evaluation: As in the previous book of the trilogy, Catching Fire is tersely written and the characters return to much acclaim and welcome. Katniss and Peeta's relationship at the forefront is dynamic and her confusion is palpable in her behavior towards him as well as towards Gale. The use of foreshadowing within the book and even from the title of the book shows the growing impact of the previous book and Katniss and Peeta's rebellion against the Capitol by refusing to kill each other. Catching Fire shows the sparks that have been lit under the Districts who have been starved, tormented, and ground down by the Capitol, sending their children year after year for 75 years to kill each other. The pace of the book picks up rather swiftly after the victory tour's first stop, flying through Districts and then the Quarter Quell is almost brutal in its speed and in the deaths of its tributes. This depicts the speed in which ideas can spread and rebellion can catch.

Reader's Annotation: By winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta have threatened the Capitol's rule and raised sparks of rebellion in all twelve districts. Thrown once again into the Hunger Games' Quarter Quell, Katniss swears to sacrifice herself in order to protect Peeta, the boy who has helped her again and again.

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:
  • How has Katniss changed since the first book of the Hunger Games? How has her relationship with Peeta and Gale also changed?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • As in the previous book, the level of violence is quite powerful and in the Quarter Quell, the traps created are almost sadistic in nature, most likely due to the format of and the political situation at the time in the book. However, it still is written from a survival standpoint in which the characters do whatever they can to survive in a warzone.
Why This Book?: #1 from YALSA's Teen Top Ten booklist

Reference Page:
Collins, S. (2009). Catching Fire. New York: Scholastic Press.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little Brother

"I learned that they can't be trusted. That if you're not fighting them, you're helping them. That they'll turn this country into a prison if we let them. What did you learn, Van? To be scared all the time, to sit tight and keep your head down and hope you don't get noticed? You think it's going to get better? If we don't do anything, this is as good as it's going to get. It will only get worse and worse from now on. You want to help Darryl? Help me bring them down!"

Title: Little Brother

Author: Cory Doctorow

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2311-8

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: Little Brother tells the tale of Marcus Yallow, a San Franciscan teen hacker who is a genius with technology, and his friends, as they sneak out of school one day to follow clues from an online game. Thus, they are outside when a bomb blows up the Bay Bridge and their friend Darryl is stabbed on the way to the fallout shelter. To find help, they leave the shelter and are swept up by Homeland Security and psychologically tortured for information. After Marcus and his friends give up the information the DHS want, including the encryption codes for his phone, they are returned home, but without Darryl. The DHS moves into California, cracking down especially on San Francisco and installing observation cameras and gait readers, as well as vans that track shareware and the underground system that Marcus installs in order to freely search the internet and communicate with people. Marcus declares war on the DHS for this governmental crackdown on his basic right to freedom as well as for capturing his friend.

Critical Evaluation: Little Brother is a striking and often grim image of a world not that different from our own, a world in which government and technology can get out of hand and take over the normal day-to-day lives of thousands of people. The characters within Little Brother and the main character of Marcus may be more technologically advanced and more socially and politically active than many readers but they do so in an inspirational manner that will perhaps get the readers interested in technology, the idea of freedom and if it is being taken for granted, and the world events around them. The plot of Little Brother was fast paced and riveting in its detail and its unapologetic explanation of the events unfolding. Marcus' torture is not avoided and the readers experience it as he does, the horror of the situation despite his bravado, and his personal decision to never give up his fight against the DHS and to free his friend Darryl.

Reader's Annotation: Marcus and his gang of friends are mistakenly apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security after the bombing of the San Francisco Bay Bridge; all but their friend Darryl is returned safely. Now, Marcus has to fight against the DHS who has turned his city into a Police State in order to protect his own personal freedom and the freedom of everyone who is a citizen.

Information About the Author: Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger. He is also the co-editor of Boing Boing (
Doctorow's latest novel is FOR THE WIN, a young adult novel based on online MMO gold-farming corruption and his latest short story collection is WITH A LITTLE HELP. Read more about Doctorow, included the expanded version of his biography, and follow his exploits at his website.

Genre: Terrorism; Police State; Teen Resistance; Technology; Civil Liberties

Curriculum Ties: Declaration of Independence; 9/11

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Imagine a world in which every action, every text message, every email you send and every website you browse is scanned and recorded by the Department of Homeland Security. Your basic freedom to information and free speech is taken away, as anything that could be viewed as anti-government or anti-American can result in you disappearing. Just like that. Marcus Yallow and his friends disappeared after the bombing of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and were released after psychological torture, humiliation, and the release of their personal codes for their mobile devices. Their friend, Darryl, was not released. Marcus takes it upon himself to fight back against the DHS for the freedom of all his fellow SF residents and to free his friend.
Reading Level: 16+

Challenge Issues:
  • The level of violence and torture within this novel can be harsh to readers, but the topics that it covers and the realism within it make it necessary to be read. Like many books on school reading lists, it may show the darker side of life that teachers may not want their teens to see, but in a world where information is so easily available, teens need to be informed about such issues as human rights.
Why This Book?: New York Times Bestseller; Hugo Award for Best Novel Finalist

Reference Page:
Doctorow, C. (2008). Little Brother. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Dead and the Gone

"God save their souls, Alex prayed. God save ours. It was the only prayer he could think of, no matter how inadequate it might be. It offered him no comfort, but he repeated it unceasingly. As long as he prayed he didn't have to think. He didn't have to remember. He didn't have to decide. He didn't have to acknowledge he was entering a world where no one had laid out the rules for him to follow, a world where there might not be any rules left for any of them to follow."

Title: the dead & the gone

Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer

ISBN: 978-0-15-206311-5

Publisher: Harcourt Books

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: The dead & the gone begins with the narrator Alex Morales working at his part-time job for a local pizza joint in New York City and returning home to find the power is out. He comforts his two sisters Julie and Briana and the siblings manage to fall asleep despite their parents not being home, as their mother is at work and their father is out of the United States for a funeral. In the morning, their Uncle Jimmy tells them that an asteroid has crashed into the moon, moving it closer to the earth and changing the tides and weather. Alex and Julie help Uncle Jimmy pack the food from his bodega into crates and bags, as he anticipates food shortages and rioting. They receive food in return. Soon, the full extent of the moon sinks in as the subway tunnels flood, food shortages begin, people being to flee the city and sickness sets in. Alex, who only had to worry about good grades and saving up for college, now has to fight to keep his sisters alive in a city that is slowly dying, without knowing whether his parents are alive or not.

Critical Evaluation: This novel is a well-crafted piece of apocalyptic fiction with a sympathetic narrator who is self-sacrificing and extremely strong-willed. The entire novel is pulled along by Alex Morales and his ability to survive as a teen in New York City while taking care of his two sisters. The difficult situations and decisions that he has to make are dealt with in a sympathetic manner and his reactions as the events unfold are akin to that of the readers. For example, when Alex first encounters a dead body, he can barely stand it and skirts around it, feeling horrible for being unable to do anything. By the time he and his friend Kevin are looting bodies to trade for food, he has become desensitized but only because he is trying to provide for his sisters. His decision for Bri to be taken care of is a very adult decision that puts her wellbeing over her or his own happiness. Julie and Briana are also strong characters who may have begun as weak or complaining but as the story continues, they both develop into survivors.

Reader's Annotation: In a world where the moon has been moved closer to the earth, Alex Morales has to do whatever necessary to keep his two sisters alive in an apocalyptic vision of New York City.

Information About the Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer has always wanted to write since she was a child. Now, she is a popular teen author who lives in Middletown, New York with many books under her belt.
Pfeffer also writes helpful articles for struggling writers covering the topics of theme, plot and shaping stories. Follow the author at her blog.

Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction; Survival

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • One of Alex's teachers describes him as a teenaged saint. How does Alex fulfill this description despite his desensitization to the death of others?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • The vast amount of loss of life within this book is expected of an apocalyptic era. Alex is a sympathetic narrator who becomes desensitized to the death that he encounters as he tries to care for his two younger sisters.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Pfeffer, S. B. (2008). The Dead & the Gone. Florida, Harcourt Books.

Far from Gringo Land

"The bell he hears, its single note rolling over the town, leaves him hypnotized. Somehow it captures each moment, traps it, and preserves it like a bug in amber. Rick finds that he can't imagine doing anything but what he's doing now; he doesn't want to do anything else, and he can't believe he ever has. He has always sat up here, feeling the warm breeze on his neck, smelling the aroma of tortillas wafting up from Emiliana's kitchen, feeling the crinkle of the newsprint and the grain of the wood at his fingertips, hearing the endless toll of that lone, low, slow bell."

Title: Far from Gringo Land

Author: Edward Myers

ISBN: 978-0-547-05630-2

Publisher: Clarion Books

Copyright: 2009

Plot Summary: Far from Gringo Land begins with Rick sitting in the town square in Santo Domingo, where he is to spend his entire summer polishing his Spanish and helping the Romeros build a new house on their property. Already exhausted, he wanders down the streets, asking for directions while pulling his luggage along behind him. When he finally finds the right house, the Romeros welcome him warmly and Rick realizes he has nothing to worry about. Other than the enormously back-breaking work, as the Romeros consist of the father Julio, the mother Emiliana, and the son Francisco. Julio, Francisco, and Rick have to haul all the raw materials down the narrow lane leading to the home from the main road before even starting the construction. Each step results in Rick's body aching from exhaustion but energizing his spirit as the house slowly takes shape. He bumps into an American girl who lives in the rich side of Santo Domingo and tries to court her even as la obra struggles through bad weather, low funds, and dangerous accidents.

Critical Evaluation: Far from Gringo Land is an interesting look into a topic that teens have heard about but provides them with an easy-going narrator and a first-hand account of what life could be like in other countries and how much it varies from life in the United States. As far as the plot line goes, Myers deviates from the typical fish-out-of-water story, continuously throwing new setbacks and problems in Rick's path. Even when he feels like he is stronger and his Spanish improved, he still is not accepted by the other Mexicans in the town. Even romantically, he does not immediately ensnare his love interest's heart and has to struggle to do so. Regarding his construction abilities and strength, Julio and Francisco are both superior to him. The dialog within the novel was entertaining but could have included more Spanish phrases for the reader to learn. The supporting characters were all detailed and their interaction with Rick were well-done and realistic.

Reader's Annotation: Rick Dresner is taking his summer vacation in Mexico with family friends. In return for helping him polish his Spanish skills, Rick will help them build a house on their property and throw himself into the life in a small Mexican town.

Information About the Author: Edward Myers is mainly known for his children's books. Myers has published twenty-six titles, ten of which are for children. He was born into a multicultural family and grew up between Colorado, Mexico, and Peru.
Myers currently lives in northern New Jersey with his wife and children. Read more about the author at his website. (Biography taken from Far from Gringo Land's dust jacket).

Genre: Fiction; Romance; American-Mexican relations; Mexico

Curriculum Ties: World Habitat Day (Habitat for Humanities, first Monday in October)

Booktalking Ideas:
  • How does Rick's generosity show throughout the novel? This can include his generosity with his time and body, offering his last summer vacation to help out a family, as well as his monetary generosity that he offers without being condescending.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Myers, E. (2009). Far from Gringo Land. New York: Clarion Books.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

City of Ashes

"Jace had wanted the oblivion of fighting, the harsh diversion of killing, and the distraction of injuries. And knowing he wanted it, they'd gone along with it, crawling through filthy deserted subway tunnels until they'd found the Dragonidae demon and killed it. The three of them working together in perfect unison, the way they always had. Like family."

City of Ashes: The Mortal Instruments Book Two

Author: Cassandra Clare

ISBN: 978-1-4169-1429-7

Publisher: Margaret K. MacElderry Books

Copyright: 2008

Plot Summary: City of Ashes begins with the summoning of the Greater Demon Agramon, the killing of the warlock boy who summoned him, and Valentine seizing control of demon through the Mortal Cup. After this ominous beginning, the scene switches to Clary and Simon, whose deepening relationship is shown through a shared kiss. This new turn of events cannot change the fact that Clary's mother still has not recovered from her coma nor that Clary has to deal with Jace being her brother. Jace, on the other hand, is kicked out of the Institute by his step-mother and goes to see Luke, picking a fight with his werewolf pack in the process. Clary and Luke manage to persuade Jace to return home in order to prove he is not a traitor planted by Valentine in the Clave and, more importantly, that the time he spent as a Lightwood was not feigned. Instead, Jace meets the Clave's Inquisitor and is thrown in the Silent City for his rude behavior. This puts Jace right in the path of Valentine when he, along with Agramon, invade the City to retrieve the second Mortal Instrument: the Soul-Sword.

Critical Evaluation: As the second book in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Ashes continues the plot of the war between demons and the Shadowhunter Clave, as well as the relationship developments between Clary, Jace, and their father Valentine, as well as between Clary and Simon and Clary and Jace. The foreshadowing regarding Simon's character development has been in place since the first book but comes in much stronger by the beginning of City of Ashes regarding his transformation. The development of the main characters (Clary and Jace) was done well, especially regarding Clary's continued entry into the Shadowhunter world and her developing abilities. Similarly, Jace's emotional changes and ability to depend on his family and Luke were shown in a manner that contrasts with his superior mask. The more minor characters, such as Alec, Isabelle, Luke, and Simon also change but not enough time is allotted to make them appear as important as they should. The dialog within City of Ashes seems even wittier than the previous installment which is perhaps due to the author coming to terms with the characters as well as the increasing plot-tension which would lead the characters to using fewer pleasantries in conversation.

Reader's Annotation: Clary is still trying to come to terms to the Shadowhunter world while juggling what she has learned about Jace and her boyfriend Simon. When she discovers she has a new ability that no other Shadowhunter has, Clary realizes she may play a larger part in the war against Valentine and the demons than she thought.

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; Urban Fantasy

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Focus on the newest developments between Clary and Jace and Clary and Simon. How do the latest plot twists affect their relationships?
  • Describe how Clary is a strong protagonist, focusing on the discovery of her special ability to create new and more powerful runes. How does this compare to Jace's near superhuman physical abilities? Why do you believe the author divided the powers this way?
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • While City of Ashes does discuss some difficult topics such as when an individual loves the wrong person (forbidden love), the characters deal with it in a realistic fashion and attempt to follow the conventions of society.
  • As in the first book of the Mortal Instruments, there is violence which is suited to the battlefield which is the lives of the Shadowhunters. In City of Ashes, however, Downworlder teens are murdered and the violence is darker as the stakes in the war increase. Still, the violence is not sadistic nor are the murders written in gory, bone-crunching detail and the deaths are mourned.
Why This Book?: Staff recommendation

Reference Page:
Clare, C. (2008). City of ashes: The mortal instruments book two. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.