Karma

cover image for KarmaOstlere, Cathy. (2011) Karma. New York, NY: Razorbill

Plot Summary/Critical Evaluation:

I am skipping ahead to the evaluation so that I can say that no one should recommend this book ever.  I’m not saying it should be banned or burned or anything, I just really think everyone’s time would be better spent on a novel that wasn’t so obnoxiously appropriative.

The genesis of the story alone is disturbing, not to mention how much it’s mentioned in the fore and afterwords.  Ostlere was on an extended tour of various parts of the world when she found herself in India during the destruction and death that followed Indira Ghandi’s assassination.  As she puts it: “My short-lived love affair with India was over.”  It is unclear whether the author was simply referring to having to go home, or if the actions of those days caused her to fall out of love with the country.  Unfortunately, the way in which she describes many of the people in India in the book – as superstitious and dismissive of the carnage that happens in their own country – suggests the latter rather than the former.

The story that Ostlere gives us is not all bad, nor is it full of nothing but racist caricatures.  Almost everyone in the book is Indian – by parentage if nothing else, such as in the case of the main character Maya/Jiva.  That’s what makes it so insidious; whether it was intentional or no, the racism is subtle and all the much more effective because of that.  Maya’s story is fairly compelling…until we get to the point where Maya gets caught up in the events of 1984 just as the author did. Suddenly the shame and heartbreak of an entire nation is all about how it affects Maya.  Despite the fact that her home still waits for her, unchanged.  (Or, at least, as unchanged as it was when she left it.)

It would be bad enough if Ostlere had simply tried to tell two stories instead of one – the suicide of Maya’s mother and the subsequent fallout being the story that the novel begins with.  Instead, Ostlere does not merely try to fit into that elegant tale another story about complex historical events and their effects on bystanders, she does so in a way that only lets us see these complexities through the eyes of someone that is a stranger to the land.  It’s not just bad writing, it’s incredibly disrespectful.

Reader’s Annotation:

Maya, barely coping with the loss of her mother, is caught up in political riots while returning her mother’s ashes to her homeland.

OR

White Canadian writes about her experiences in India through the voice of a fictional Canadian girl whose parents are Indian immigrants.

Author Information:

http://cathy-ostlere.com/author/

Genre:

Multicultural

Booktalking Ideas:

Unless the booktalk is about what not to read? Nope, not doing it. Ever.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

You mean, other than the subtle racism?  There’s violence, of course, but nothing that stands out compared to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

It sounded interesting.  And I was looking for a book about that part of the world, or kids whose families come from there, because there are a decent number where I live and work.

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.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation – Vol. 1: The Pox Party

cover image for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox PartyAnderson, M.T. (2006) The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation – Vol. 1: The Pox Party. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press

Plot Summary:

Octavian Nothing lives with his mother in Boston in a house full of philosophers and scientists.  As part of his experiments in Natural Philosophy, the head of the household, Mr. Gitney, is attempting to see if the Africans are indeed an inferior race – and Octavian is his main subject of study.  It’s a strange and uncertain life, but unlike most other black children his age he is encouraged to focus on learning his letters and music and art – all the things young gentleman are taught.  Until Mr. Gitney’s English benefactor dies and the relative who inherits his wealth turns out to have ties to influential slave owners in the colonies.  Soon, what little dignity and warmth was offered to Octavian is stripped away and he is left with nothing but the knowledge he has gained.

Critical Evaluation:

This first volume of Octavian’s story is a dense and complicated read; Anderson went to great lengths to research and recreate the language of the time and it shows, the insights into colonial life and politics are fascinating and memorable.  While many have argued that this – and the complicated plot – makes it  inaccessible to teens I disagree.  It’s no less accessible than Huckleberry Finn and easily presents a more complex view of our nation’s history of racism – and black teen’s experiences in the US – than that particular classic, as deservedly beloved and praised as it is.  Anderson refuses to pull any punches and goes to great lengths to show how ego and arrogance consistently corrupt otherwise good intentions.  It’s a thought provoking read that greatly deserves the awards and praise it has been given.

Reader’s Annotation:

At a time when most of the other black children his age are treated like livestock, Octavian Nothing has been raised as the son of a gentleman would – but when he learns the truth as to why, it tears his world apart.

Author Information:

http://www.mt-anderson.com/

@Manderson_Rules

Genre:

Historical Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

The hardest part about convincing kids to read this is to convince them that the effort is worth it.  I would focus on painting a dramatic overall picture of his life before all the changes start happening to help get them invested in him as a character as well as ease them into the language throughout the talk.

Reading Level/Target Age:

9th grade/ 14-19

Potential Controversy:

Like real life – and history – this is a very messy book at times, so to speak, and could definitely offend anyone who was expecting a more sanitized look at that period in time.  Worse yet, it suggests that the US and it’s citizens have not always been on the correct side of history.  It will get challenged, although it remains relatively obscure enough for challenging it to not be overly popular.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

I thought it sounded like it would be very different from the normal fare – and I was not disappointed.

Flygirl

cover image for FlygirlSmith, Sherri. (2010) Flygirl. New York, NY: Speak

Plot Summary:

There’s a war on, and the United States Army is looking for pilots.  Ida Mae Jones knows she’s the woman for the job; back when her daddy was alive and she was allowed to fly, she was the best pilot there was – except for maybe him.  But in 1941 no one is going to let a woman fly for the army.  Or so she thinks.  When she spies an advertisement for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, Ida Mae knows this is her chance.   She has more to worry about than just passing the grueling training though – Ida Mae’s biggest worry is whether or not she will manage to pass for white in a segregated army that isn’t at all interested in recruiting colored women for anything, much less letting them fly Army planes.

Critical Evaluation:

Smith does not constrain herself to the typical tale of a plucky young idealist triumphing over sexism and bigotry, rather she weaves a complicated story about the realities of pervasive and institutional discrimination.  Flygirl is full of celebration, hope, danger, and loss – and it’s dealt with in a way that asks readers to not only root for Ida Mae, but to ponder her choices as well.  Ida Mae does more than attempt to shatter barriers in pursuit of her passion, she also has to decide whether achieving her dream is worth compromising her own values, distancing herself from her family, and lying to the friends she now depends on.  With it’s depth of plot and nuanced characters, Flygirl steadfastly refuses to fall into the trap of presenting racism as a Thing of the Past or Someone Else’s Problem.  While the specific barriers that Ida Mae faced no longer exist in that same form, her experiences speak clearly to modern audiences as well.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Ida spies an advertisement for the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots, she knows this is her chance to be what she has always wanted to be and she’s determined to take it – even if it means lying about who she is.

Author Information:

http://middlehundred.blogspot.com/

Genre:

Historical

Booktalking Ideas:

I think most readers that would enjoy this book would be pulled in by the premise.  The historicalness of it may turn off some potential readers though, so I might bring in more of the actual plot so they have an idea of what it is really about.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

Being against this book would be like being against kids learning history.  That said, sad stuff happens and not everyone who is a “good guy” is very nice or really all that good all the time.  Pointing out how balanced the book is, as well as all the research that went into it, would be the best defense.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

I first heard heard about this book when Smith was on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books [if I was writing this database by hand, I’d need that as a stamp] and I was hooked from the moment I heard the premise.

Death Cloud

cover image for Death CloudLane, Andrew. (2010) Death Cloud. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux



Plot Summary:

Young Sherlock Holmes is looking forward to going home after another semester away at school. Instead, he has been shipped off to his aunt and uncle’s country estate.  Sherlock resigns himself to a long summer spent in the non-bustling village of Farnham, but instead finds himself mixed up in all kinds of mysterious occurrences, from deaths of unknown origins to black clouds that seem to have a mind of their own.  Now it’s up to Sherlock to stop a plague and save the British army.

 
Critical Evaluation:

The flap copy highlights that this is “the first teen series endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate,” suggesting that this particular story has something special to offer. Sadly, this is not the case.  It’s a perfectly passable story that manages to be odd enough to avoid predictability despite the plot not being terribly well thought out.  While the time spent reading it was not exactly a waste, I think most teens that might enjoy this novel would get more enjoyment out of the original stories, despite it featuring an adult rather than teen protagonist.

Readers’s Annotation:

Sherlock Holmes may be only [age] – but that doesn’t mean he’s not on the case!

Author Information:

Andrew Lane does not have a site, but the series does:

http://www.youngsherlock.com/

Genre:

Mystery

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/12-16

Booktalk:

(Wait…you aren’t supposed to book talk books you didn’t like, right? Does that mean I can skip this part? No?)

It’s tempting to use the popularity of the recent TV series in order to get teens interested in reading this particular novel, but they are very dissimilar in terms of style and I think many fans of the BBC adaptation show would be disappointed in the book if I did that.  Rather, I would focus on the more fantastic parts of the plot.

Possible Controversy:

Unless mediocre prose and absurdly unlikely plots and characters are going to start being a reason to challenge teen books, I think this title is safe.  There is violence, but nothing that stands out in comparison to the rest of young adult literature.

Reason for choosing this title:

I promise I did not read this because of Cumberbatch of Moffet, I hadn’t seen the tv show when I started reading it.  I just thought a story about a teen-aged Sherlock Holmes would be interesting and the cover looked like it was something that might catch teens’ attention.

Outsiders

suggested cover for The Outsiders

Hinton, S. E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York, NY: Speak
Plot Summary:

Ponyboy’s life isn’t the stuff of dreams- but it’s not all bad either.  He’s got his brothers still, if not his parents, and while he may have the occasional run in with the preppy socs, he also has the rest of the greasers to back him up.  For the times when even all that is not enough, Ponyboy can always escape into movies and books.   But when the unthinkable happens, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny find themselves on the run from both the socs and the law, and in more danger than they ever thought possible.
Critical Evaluation:
Nearly half a century after it was first published The Outsiders has lost some of the freshness that made it so unique and trailblazing back in the day.  That is the price of being the kind of story that other authors aspire to write.  What it has not lost is its appeal and ability to speak to teens about their experiences.  While the specific language, weapons, and consequences have changed, the underlying themes of class conflict, friendship, loyalty, and hope (or lack thereof) still rings true for modern teen readers.
Reader’s Annotation:

When trip to the movies with his best friend ends in disaster, Ponyboy finds himself on the run and running out of luck.
Author Information:

Like a lot of young adult authors who began to make their mark decades ago, S. E. Hinton doesn’t have much of an online presence.  She can be found/contacted at:
http://www.sehinton.com/

sehinton@sehinton.com

Genre:

Classics

Booktalking Ideas:

This is such a beloved book that I might be tempted to steal from (better written) amazon and goodreads reviews by teens themselves.  Talking up the fact that Hinton was a teen herself when she wrote the book would be a good angle as well.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade / 12-16
Potential Controversy:
While there might be objections to the language and activities in the book, and the title is in fact still often challenged, it’s longstanding status as a beloved story and a required reading title in schools across the nation makes such challenges easier to refute than they are for many other books.
Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I somehow missed reading The Outsiders as a teen myself and never really had any intention of correcting that until I got to hear Ms. Hinton speak at a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books.  Hearing her talk about writing in general, and specifically this story, made me curious about her work.

Ever

cover image for EverCarson Levine, G. (2008) Ever. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers

 

Review:

 

Kezi enjoys living with her parents in the city of Hyte and spending her days weaving magnificent rugs – and dancing, when she can.  Olus, the Akkan god of the winds, is not quite so content.  At only 17, he is hundreds of years younger than anyone else on Enshi Rock and longs for companions his own age.  While pretending to be a mortal in a neighboring country, he spies Kezi and falls in love.  But Kezi’s days are even more numbered than most mortals, for a terrible twist of fate has destined her to be a sacrifice to her own god.  Now Olus is determined to save her, he just has to figure out how.

Aside from the usual conceit of writing choppy, short sentences in order to convey a time before writing was commonplace, this was a fairly enjoyable book.  Some parts were a little slow, and the lack of resolution regarding the existence of Admat may frustrate some, but Kezi and Olus’ solution to her problem was intriguing, and Kezi’s heroism in particular will delight readers.  Some readers – adults especially – may not agree with Kezi’s conclusions, but I think that stories about questioning authority  – peacefully even! – are liked and needed by tweens.

Best for ages 11-15

 

Author Website: http://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/

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