Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Sister Went Crazy

cover image for Stop PretendingSones, Sonya. (1999) Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy. New York, NY: HarperCollins

Plot Summary:

When Cookie’s sister suffers from a mental breakdown and is sent to a hospital to recover, Cookie deals with her confusion, pain, and loss the way so many other 13 year olds do – by writing poems.  Starting from the night of her sister’s breakdown and ending with signs of recovery, Cookie chronicles the heartbreak and confusion of a family torn apart by mental illness.

Critical Evaluation:

Stop Pretending is the kind of story that is meant to be told in verse, for poetry is exactly the kind of creative outlet that a teen girl would turn to in an effort to deal with and make sense of the heartache of losing her sister to madness.  While each poem helps to move the story along, every single one could also stand alone and feels like it would be the kind of poem a teen would write.  (Readers will be unsurprised to learn that the story and poems are based on Sones’ own family’s experiences.)  None of the verse feels forced or warped in an effort to include important plot points.  Stop Pretending is crushingly beautiful and, like all good young adult books, ends on a sad but hopeful note that offers solace and understanding.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Cookie’s sister suffers from a mental breakdown and is sent to a hospital to recover, Cookie deals with her confusion, pain, and loss the way so many other 13 year olds do – by writing poems.

Author Information:

http://www.sonyasones.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sonya-Sones/175441839174257

@SonyaSones

Genre:

Realistic Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

Because the format is such a large part of the story, it would be important to incorporate into the booktalk use of the poetry.

Potential Controversy:

While some of Sones other books are often challenged because of their sexual content, Stop Pretending seems to mostly fly under the radar.  There is frank discussions of mental illness and the typical teen angst and anger at her parents and sister.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have to admit I picked this up in part because I thought it would merely be a quick read.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.

What Can(t) Wait

cover image for What Can(t) WaitPerez, Ashley Hope (2011) What Can(t) Wait.  Minneapolis, MN: Carolhoda Books.

Plot Summary:

Marisa is a good, hardworking daughter who gets good grades and gives half her paycheck from her cashier’s job to help pay the bills.  Lately though, she can’t seem to do enough to please her parents.  They want her helping out at home more and can’t understand why she would even think about not taking the promotion and extra hours at work.  Marisa’s teachers are concerned that her grades are slipping and are frustrated by her reluctance to talk about the fast approaching deadlines for college applications.  Marisa can’t figure out how to tell her parents that she wants to go to college, or how to explain to her teachers that her parents will never let her go.

Critical Evaluation:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled through much of this book.  Not because it was especially heartrending, although the story is well told and touching, but because I’ve known so many Marisas and there are so few books out there telling their story.  Marisa’s parents are never portrayed as backward or cruel, they just human – and have expectations that clash with those of the culture they have moved into.  Marisa’s teachers are kind and sometimes helpful, but their ignorance and arrogance gets in the way.  Marisa is strong and kind and talented, but still a teenager ans still without superpowers; the conflicting expectations and dismissal of her own wants and needs is often too much for her to handle.  The resolution is spot on as well, from the fights, to the running off, to the last minute blessing from her mother and reassurance that Marisa will always be family.  I want this book available everywhere because if coming across it meant this much to me, I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the girls who lives are like Marisa’s.

Reader’s Annotation:

For Marisa and her parents, family comes first; if her niece needs watching, her own school work will have to wait.  But with college deadlines approaching, can Marisa afford to put her own dreams on hold?

Author Information:

http://www.ashleyperez.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ashley-Hope-P%C3%A9rez/167177466648492

@ashleyhopeperez

Genre:

Realistic Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

One of the main strengths of the book is it’s realistic portrayal of Marisa’s relationship with her parents, so I would likely focus on that – starting by asking the teens to think about what they love and hate most about their own parents.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-19

Possible Controversy:

There’s some mild language and Marisa fights with her parents, runs away, and goes to a typical party with alcohol.  It’s all pretty mild though, largely because the narrative requires it – the point is to show how unobjectionable Marisa’s conduct is by many people’s standards.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

I’m always on the lookout for books that feature characters that reflect the diversity of my library’s patrons and this looked like a likely candidate.

Weetzie Bat

cover images for Weetzie BatBlock, Francesca Lia. (1989) Weetzie Bat. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Plot Summary:

Weetzie Bat is looking for love, friendship, and a place where she can be herself.  Luckily for her, Grandma Fifi gives her a magic lamp to make all her dreams come true – but wishes don’t always turn out in quite the way we expect them to.  From surviving high school to finding and losing love to becoming a mother of a child as unusual as herself, Weetzie Bat tells the story of a  young woman with a free spirit who creates a home that gives her just what she needs.

Critical Evaluation:

Groundbreaking when it was published, Weetzie Bat is not nearly as needed as it once was, but it is also not quite so dated as to be irrelevant.  It’s no longer unusual for characters to have close friends who are gay, and our current vice President does not wag his finger at fictional single mothers, but neither are these choices fully validated by mainstream culture. And, of course, there will always be kind, responsible young adults who nevertheless don’t quite fit the mold of what society expects.  Many teens will still find its within the pages a place that they, like Weetize Bat, can be themselves and make mistakes without being considered immoral.  The style is unusual but appropriate for the topic and characters; the words and story flit along from thought to thought like a butterfly – a sort of abbreviated third person stream of consciousness – which can come across either very fresh and satisfying or shallow and confusing, depending on the reader.

Reader’s Annotation:

Weetzie Bat is looking for love, friendship, and a place where she can be herself.  Luckily for her, Grandma Fifi gives her a magic lamp to make all her dreams come true – but wishes don’t always turn out in quite the way we expect them to.

Author Information:

Block is not quite as internet famous as John Green, Maureen Johnson, or Cassie Clare but she is very much present and accessible to her readers (unsurprisingly given the style and topics of the books she writes).

http://www.francescaliablock.com/

http://loveinthetimeofglobalwarming.blogspot.com/

http://www.myspace.com/francescalia

http://www.facebook.com/francescalia

@francescablock

Genre:

Classics

Booktalking Ideas:

I’d focus on how much Weetzie Bat does not feel like she belongs, as this is something that many teens can relate to, and try to use some of the language from the book since it is so unusual and potentially polarizing.  As much as I did not connect with this book, I think it’s an important one to booktalk.  As the multiple covers above suggest, using merely the book jacket to sell this title is problematic because what is considered edgy and fun in terms of visual style changes so quickly.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/15-19

(while the vocabulary is very low, creating lots of complaints about the reading level on Goodreads and the like, the style of writing would actually be difficult for anyone under 12 to follow)

Possible Controversy:

Dan Quayle may no longer be around to take notice of Weetzie Bat’s life choices, but plenty of other people are.  This slim novella validates many of the life choices that more conservative parents dislike and fear; the best defense is one that points to the title’s longstanding place in young adult canon and the difference between choosing for their child and choosing for all children.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I was left with mixed feelings of Block’s writing style after reading Beautiful Boys a couple of years ago and have been curious if I might like other titles any better.  I don’t really, but I think I understand better why these books are so well loved by many.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

cover image for The Perks of Being a WallflowerChbosky, Stephen.  (1999) The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  New York, NY: Gallery Books.

Plot Summary:

Charlie’s letters begin a few short months after one of his friends was found dead of suicide and the night before he begins his freshman year in high school.   Charlie survives high school, but mostly by floating along – he is hesitant to participate in his own life.  Will he ever learn to jump in and enjoy what life has to offer?

Critical Evaluation:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those novels that you either love or you hate – and I certainly didn’t love it.  I found it annoying that we never learned who the letters were addressed to (not because I hate unanswered questions, but because the letters felt like merely a convenient conceit and that lack of information did not help), and the juvenile writing style was like an itch that wouldn’t go away (I kept looking for reasons why his teacher thought he was insightful or talented and writing – and coming up short).  Charlie’s passivity did not frustrate me, but the detachment to his own life that seemed to accompany it certainly did.  Yet, this is a cult classic and well loved by many and so I would certainly still include it in any young adult collection; I am glad it speaks to many readers, I just wish I knew why.

Reader’s Annotation:

Charlie is content to watch his own life unfold from the sidelines – for now.  But what will happen when he begins to fall in love and make friends despite himself?

Author Information:

[no personal website]

Genre:

sex and sexuality

Booktalking Ideas:

If I absolutely had to booktalk this I would probably find quotes from people that do love it and mix that up with some basic plot info.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-24

Possible Controversy:

There’s sex, drugs, suicide…and that’s just the start.  While I think all this is perfectly fine, many will not and will challenge it.  There is a reason why many libraries and bookstores – despite MTV being involved in the publication – choose to shelf it among adult fiction.  In this particular case I think that’s a fine idea simply because the kids that are most likely to enjoy it are more likely to pick up a book that says it’s for adults rather than teens.  It still should be included in displays and suggested reading lists for high school students however, and may need to be defended in those instances.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve been curious about this title ever since several of my fellow booksellers at Barnes and Noble raved about it.  I was hoping to learn what the fuss was about.  Alas, I did not.

Son of the Mob

cover image for Son of the MobGordon, Korman, (2002) Son of the Mob.  New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

It’s not unusual to have siblings that sabotage your dates, that’s what siblings do.  Vince Luca is pretty sure most of them don’t do it by stashing dead bodies in the trunk of your car, however.  But, as the son of a local mob boss, that’s just the kind of unexpected gift he’s always had to deal with.  Things get even more complicated than normal, though, when Vince falls for a new girl.., whose father just happens to be an FBI agent.  And not just any agent, but the one that’s been trying to bring his dad down for years.  The one that’s bugged his house and listens to all his families’ conversations.

Critical Evaluation:

Son of the Mob is not a serious or realistic book, far from it.  What it is is irreverent and downright hilarious. Despite being so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh, there’s also some interesting hearts to hearts between Vince and his dad about the ways that Vince has benefited from his dad’s business sense, so to speak, and whether that makes him a hypocrite for wanting no part in the family practice.  While most teens don’t have mob bosses for parents, many have ideals that their parents realities do not live up to and in between the laughter, Korman does provide some food for thought.

Reader’s Annotation:

It’s not unusual to have siblings that sabotage your dates, that’s what siblings do.  Vince Luca is pretty sure most of them don’t do it by stashing dead bodies in the trunk of your car, however.

Genre:

Humor

Booktalking Ideas:

I think it would be funny to comapre Vince and Kendra to other famous star crossed lovers.  The trip would be to try to be funny, like the book, which is often the most difficult thing to do.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-16

Potential Controversy:

While there is violence, is all of screen and very tongue in cheek.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

Recommended in on of the class textbooks.

The Great Wide Sea

cover image for The Great Wide SeaHerlong, M.H. (2008) The Great Wide Sea. New York, NY: Viking Juvenile

Plot Summary:

While Ben and his younger brothers are still recovering from their mother’s death, their father sells their home, buys a boat, and takes them sailing in the tropics.  The normal tension between a teenage boy and his father is intensified to the breaking point by grief, the father’s increasingly erratic behavior, and the lack of places to escape to for solitude or peer companionship.  Just when Ben is convinced nothing could get worse, his father disappears overnight, leaving Ben alone in the middle of the ocean, uncertain of where he is, and with his brother’s lives depending on him.

Critical Evaluation:

Herlong writes a compelling story of grief, conflict with parents, and caring for younger siblings – and it does so in a way that feels both honest to boys’ experiences (at least, as far as I can tell) and with a respectable about of depth.  The survival story and the main character’s growing conflict with his father were each enough to keep me turning the pages.  Together, they were simply excellent.  Unfortunately, the ending felt out of place with the rest of story, leaving a bit of a sour aftertaste

Reader’s Annotation:

Whe his mother died, Ben didn’t think it was possible for live to ever get any worse – until his grieving father disappears overnight while on a sailing trip, leaving Ben stranded in the middle of the ocean with his two young brothers.

Genre:

Adventure

Author Information:

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/m-h-herlong/

Booktalking Ideas:

Survival stories are always good for asking “what if?” and “what would you do” and this is no exception.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/12-16

Potential Controversy:

Parents acting in a way that means their children can’t depend on them tends to bother many people, but since this is an adventure story for boys, likely less so than with other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I thought the premise sounded fascinating and wondered if the book would live up to it.  I also thought the cover would catch the eye of a lot of teens, especially boys.

Whatever Happened to Goodbye

cover image for Whatever Happened to GoodbyeDessen, Sarah. (2011) Whatever Happened to Goodbye. New York, NY: Viking

Plot Summary:

McLean doesn’t mind moving yet again, she’s used to it by now.  She looks forward to reinventing herself yet again, creating a persona to match her mood, knowing that she can be someone else in another few months or a year.  But when MacLean starts putting down roots – and falling in love – she suddenly realizes that she’s not sure who she is anymore.

Critical Evaluation:

An utterly enjoyable read full of small moments rather than big events, Whatever Happened to Goodbye demonstrates all the characteristics that have made Dessen’s work a staple of any young adult collection.  The focus on handling change, human frailty, forgiving adults for being human, and being ready to take risks should appeal and speak to many teens. The ending was perhaps a bit too neat, not in that everything worked out in the end but that everything was resolved in a timely manner, leaving the story at merely good and not great.

Reader’s Annotation:

McLean doesn’t mind moving yet again, she’s used to it by now.  What she isn’t so sure about it staying in one place and putting down roots.

Author Information:

http://sarahdessen.com/

http://sarahdessen.com/blog/

http://www.facebook.com/sarahdessenbooks

@sarahdessen

Genre:

Realistic Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

I’d start by asking listeners to imagine who they would be if they could reinvent themselves and then launch into the setup for the book.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/15-19

Possible Controversy:

Sad as it is that normal teen mistakes can make a book controversial, but MacLean runs away and several of the kids meet because they have to do community service and that might suggest endorsement to some parents.  Generally though, it’s a sweet book and probably won’t be challenged.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

How in the world did it come to pass that I had not read anything by Dessen before this? I do not know, but that’s fixed now. And I will likely be reading more soon.

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