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.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead

cover image for Crispin: The Cross of LeadAvi. (2002) Crispin: The Cross of Lead. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

As a serf and the fatherless son of an outcast mother, Crispin’s future has never held been especially bright.  When his mother dies, and he is accused of thievery, it grows bleaker still. On the run and not even sure why he is really being hunted, Crispin sets out merely to survive but ends up unearthing the secrets of his birth.

Critical Evaluation:

This is really meant for younger readers and will appeal best to them, but Avi’s work here is engaging, dense, and layered and will work well for many older readers as well.  Crispin’s actions and thoughts are sometimes too childish for some older teens to relate to, but they are not overly simple or shallow either.  Avi also sheds light on a period of time that is rarely talked about in young adult historical fiction – especially historical fiction featuring boys.  While it generally belongs in the young reader section, it will often be a good book to pull out for reader’s advisory.

Author Information:

http://www.avi-writer.com/

while Avi does not have a twitter, blog, or facebook, he does do class visists via skype

Genre:

Historical Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a good title to ask teens to imagine themselves in Crispin’s situation and ask them what they think they would do in his shoes.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/12-15

Possible Controversy:

As this title is generally considered tame enough for elementary students, there is little here that would cause anyone to object to it being available to teens.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have been meaning to read this and figured this was as good of an excuse as any.  In retrospect, perhaps a title meant for a slightly older audience would have been better.

Mastiff

cover image for MastiffPierce, Tamora. (2011) Mastiff. New York, NY: Random House

Plot Summary:

It’s been two years since the events of Bloodhound and while Beka Cooper can not yet be considered a veteran, she’s no longer a rookie, either.   When an assignment comes up that will require all her concentration, Cooper is eager to get started and put off working through the conflicted feelings she has about her recently deceased fiance.  She and Tunstall arrive at the Summer Palace as summoned, only to find it is near ruins, the only survivors being the king and queen, and quite possibly their young son, who they believe has been kidnapped.  Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of the young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Critical Evaluation:

Like the previous two novels, Pierce’s conclusion to her Beka Cooper series is fast paced and suspenseful.  Never one to shy away from heartbreak, the conclusion is especially devastating and triumphant.  While it’s best to have read the rest of the series first, the events of the book still make sense without having done so, they just won’t have the same emotional resonance.

Reader’s Annotation:

Summoned to the Summer Palace in the wake of a devastating attack, Cooper and Tunstall set off in search of a kidnapped young prince in a journey that will not only change them both, but the entire kingdom as well.

Author Information:

http://www.tamora-pierce.com/

http://tammypierce.livejournal.com/

Genre:

Fantasy

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a difficult book to booktalk, as it’s the third in a series.  Instead, I would choose to either talk about the first book, or the series as a whole.  Pulling out a fight scene from the first book would be a great way of giving listeners an idea of both the plot and tone.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/12-17

Possible Controversy:

Pierce doesn’t shy away from having heroine’s that take charge of not just their public life, but their private life as well.  The book also spends a decent amount of time showing Beka struggling with a more restrictive religious culture that is growing in popularity.  Many conservative religious groups will (rightly) see the parallels between themselves and the religious leaders in the book, and may take offense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Pierce has never been a disappointment.

Going Bovine

cover image for Going BovineBray, Libba. (2009) Going Bovine. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Cameron has been acting odd lately – even odder than usual.  He’s also been seeing things that…aren’t exactly ordinary.  When Cameron’s parents finally decide that maybe something is wrong with him after all (that, perhaps, he’s not simply acting up) they take him to a doctor who explains that Cameron has Mad Cow Disease.  As if that isn’t enough, not long after Cameron has to be taken to the hospital a punk rock angel comes along and explains that it’s his destiny to save the world.  It’s not like Cameron has much else better to do, but with being stuck in bed and all, so he accepts the challenge.  But first…he needs to find a way to break out of the infirmary.

Critical Evaluation:

I desperately wanted this book to be half as long as it was.  Not because I don’t read thick books, but because long drawn out adventure stories in which it’s entirely likely that only one person is real do not make for terribly engaging stories.  Bray makes some clever allusions to Don Quixote and there is just enough ambiguity to make the question of what really happened an interesting one.  There just was just too little possibility that his friends really existed to make me care about anyone but Cameron; the hints that he was merely in a coma were too early and too often to let myself get invested in the fates of Balder, Gonzo, or Dulcie.  Nevertheless, it was certainly different and intriguing and worthy of reading and discussion, most especially when it comes to the question of if it even matters if none of it was real or not.  Also, it’s not as if Bray doesn’t write well.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron is off the save the world – and possibly himself as well.

Author Information:

http://libbabray.com/

http://libba-bray.livejournal.com/

@libbabray

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

This book is full of weird and odd sh-, er…stuff.  I would probably pick one of the scenes in the book (probably the Small World scene, as it’s not really a spoiler) and use that the set the tone and scene of the story.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

Drugs. Cults. Reality TV. Explicit language. Sex. There’s plenty here for people to object to, if they are so inclined.  There’s plenty to use to defend it as well, if needed – starting with the Printz seal on the cover.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty and the rest of the books in that trilogy.  So I thought I would try this one.  Wow.  No one is ever going to accuse Bray of not having range.

White Cat

cover image for White CatBlack, Holly. (2010) White Cat.  New York, NY: Margaret K McElderry Books

Plot Synopsis:

 Cassel isn’t a good kid who dreams of being a hero, he’s a mundane born into a family or curseworkers that longs to be respected in the family business.  Struggling to appear normal so as not to attract attention at school, making ends meet by being a bookie for his classmates, wishing he could forget that it’s his fault his best friend is dead, and trying to remember what exactly happened that night take all he has and then some.  So he really doesn’t have time for strange white cats and odd dreams that leave him stranded on school rooftops, uncertain as to how he got there.
Critical Evaluation:
Overall this is a suspenseful tale that, like all good speculative fiction, draws enough parallels to real life to get readers thinking, but without being preachy or having an agenda.  While the worldbuilding is lacking in places, the curse magic, and it’s reliance on touch, is a welcome change of pace from more standard fare.
Reader’s Annotation:
Everyone has strange dreams sometimes, but when Cassel’s leave him stranded on the rooftop of his dorm, unsure of how he got there, he begins to worry that there is more going on than he thought.
Author Information:

http://www.blackholly.com/

http://blackholly.livejournal.com/

@hollyblack

Genre:

Mystery

Booktalking Ideas:

The whole idea of a mob run by curseworkers is incredibly intriguing.  Black has bracelets that she passes out at signings that are different colors and have the names of the types of curse workers in her books.  It would be fun to copy that and pass out something to listeners that tell them what kind of curse worker they are and then go on to set up the basic plot.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-19

Potential Controversy:

This book has murder, betrayal, persecution, and much more, but the part that will likely generate the most controversy is the use of the word “curse” to describe the magic.

 Reasons for Choosing This Title:
I love Black’s books and her Curseworker’s series intriguing, new, and appears to be well researched.

Looking for Alaska

cover image for Looking for AlaskaGreen, John. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: speak.

Plot Summary:

Miles Halter is in search of “a Great Perhaps” – his phrase, taken from the last words of the poet Francois Rabelais, for the that indefinable, pregnant possibility that adolescence so often thrives on.  He isn’t going to find it in an ordinary public school in Florida, so he convinces his parents to let him go to Culver Creek Boarding school in Alabama.  There he meets Chip, Lara, and Takumi…but most of all Alaska Young.  In which he finds his “Great Perhaps” but not in quite the way that he expected to.

Looking for Alaska is very much a deconstruction of romantic myths, but it is one that is not disdainful of hope and love.  Miles, having fallen for Alaska, keeps looking for hints that he has become as central to Alaska’s world as she has become to his.  In doing so, he overlooks much of what makes the real Alaska tick, a contradiction that Alaska herself is quick to point out.  When tragedy strikes, Miles’ grief pushes him to refocus his efforts rather than step back and examine them critically, a mistake that threatens to tear apart the friendships he has come to value.

Critical Evaluation:

Green’s (and Miles’) clever, snarky, and yet somehow mellow voice is an essential part of this book’s charm.  It is also how Green is able to make readers sympathetic to Miles’ antics while still shaking our heads at his obsession; a more reverent or less erudite approach would have made the tale overly sappy or shallow by turns, rather than acting as a counterpoint to Miles puppy dog love.  Instead, Green is able to invite us to dwell on Alaska’s many charms along with Miles, while still allowing a multi-faceted character to filter in around Miles’ rose colored viewpoint.  All of which becomes incredibly essential when Miles is finally forced to find a truthful and moral balance between his feelings and the needs of those he cares about.

Reader’s Annotation:

Love,  rivalries, and boarding school pranks -what could possibly go wrong?

Author Information:

I’m not sure it’s possible for an author to have a larger web presence than John Green and still be only a minor celebrity.  In addition the usual Twitter and Facebook accounts, Green – along with his brother Hank Green – not only have a regular vlog on YouTube, but have created an entire website/forum/movement they affectionately call Nerdfighters (nerds who fight world suck using their nerd powers, not people who fight nerds).

http://johngreenbooks.com/

http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com

http://www.twitter.com/realjohngreen

http://www.facebook.com/johngreenfans

http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers

http://nerdfighters.ning.com/

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

“Welcome to Culver Creek, Mr. Halter.  You’re given a large measure of freedom here.  If you abuse it, you’ll regret it.  I’d hate to have to bid you farewell.”  Miles Halter is pretty that pranks and sneaking out for smokes are not on the dean of students list of approved activities, but he didn’t beg his parents to let him go away to boarding school so that he could spend all his time sitting in his room!

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/ages 15-19

Potential Controversy:

The teens in this book swear get into all kinds of stuff – including drinking – and not all of not all of it comes with negative consequences and none of it comes off as an After School Special kind of lesson.  While this is essential to the book’s strength and appeal, it might also make some adults nervous.  Focusing on this title’s award status as well as it’s nuanced and hardly immoral look at teenage pranks, relationships, and rule breaking should help alleviate most concerns.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Having enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines, I was curious to see what made Looking for Alaska even more widely praised.  Green is also one of those authors with a large and devoted enough fan base that I feel I should be familiar with all or most of his works, not simply a single one or two titles.

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.

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