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:





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.


Across the Universe

Recover image for Across the Universevis, Beth. (2011) Across the Universe. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

When Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they know there are risks involved.  They know that when they wake up, everyone they knew will be dead – except for each other.  What they didn’t realize is that the biggest danger to their safety would be a murderer running loose, killing frozen passengers.  Or that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – without her parents and stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Critical Evaluation:

For a generation ship story, this isn’t especially complicated or deep, but it does deal with weighty issues and is a good, solid story.  The whodunit woven into a more traditional science fiction setting was well done and while the romance lacked spark, neither was it annoying.  My favorite part was how Amy’s mobile presence on the ship was clearly meant to be a counterpoint to the classic story “The Cold Equations.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Amy and her parents were cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they knew there are risks involved.  What they didn’t realize is that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Author Information:




Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

Since I think most science fiction fans will have already heard of this, I would focus on the whodunit and romance to try and draw readers in who might like it, but would never think to try it otherwise.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Possible Controversy:

There is murder and arguments for rebellion and non-conformity, but I honestly think most people bothered by that would be more likely to focus on objecting to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Generation ship! for teens!  I do not know that there are really any others, so I had to see if it was any good.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

cover image for Percy Jackson 1Riordan, R. (2005)  Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.



Percy Jackson is one of those kids that can’t seem to do anything right, but even he thinks it’s weird when he appears to to have obliterated his math teacher.  (He didn’t mean to!)  Things get even more odd when he comes home after having been kicked out of school (that part isn’t weird) and monsters start coming after him.  There’s a reasonable explanation for all this strangeness, though.  Percy is the son of a God, and Zeus (not his father) thinks he’s stolen something from him.  So all Percy has to do is find Zeus’ most powerful weapon, return it to him, and everything will be fine.   That’s it!  Easy, right?


In the first of what looks to be an incredibly entertaining series, Riordan creates a world that manages to blend Greek myths and modern life.  Percy is a great tween hero, he’s neither perfect nor overly reluctant.  While he felt like a failure before his adventure, readers know him to be a champion long before his identity is revealed.  His companions, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood, are a great match for Percy and his quest.  I look forward to reading the rest of series, and tweens will too.


Best for ages 10-15


Author website: http://www.rickriordan.com/home.aspx

Stargirl and Love, Stargirl

cover image for Stargirlcover image for Love, StargirlSpinelli, J.  (2000) Stargirl. New York, NY:  Alfred A. Knoff

Spinelli, J.  (2007) Love, Stargirl.  New York, NY:  Alfred A. Knoff


Leo Borlock, like every other normal kid in the world, knows there are things you just don’t do in high school.  Such as strutting up and down the cafeteria, singing folksy songs with your ukulele.  Or cheering for the other team.  Or going by a name like Stargirl Caraway.  Still – Leo finds himself increasingly drawn to Stargirl and her antics.  The only problem is, a relationship with her is sure to brand him an eternal outcast at school.  Which will Leo choose, Stargirl or high school popularity?

Stargirl should be nothing more than a manic pixie dream girl, but Spinelli’s sincerity and understanding of the adolescent psyche makes her as real as Leo or any of his friends.  This in turn makes Leo himself more real, his dilemma even more agonizing, and his decision all the more heartbreaking.  By not giving Leo and Stargirl a Hollywood ending he helps readers remember more than just the value of nonconformity, he acknowledges that actions have weight and consequences.

Love, Stargirl is set the following year and consists of a single run-on letter from Stargirl to Leo.   I very much enjoyed Stargirl’s companions, Dootsie Pringle, Betty Lou Fern, and Alvina Klecko; between Dootsie’s fearless joy, Betty’s fear, and Alvina’s confusion from being trapped between childhood and adolescence, they all work really well as both interesting characters and representations of Stargirl’s own predicaments.  While this sequel is even more teen (vs tween) than the original, Stargirl’s interactions with Alvina will be appreciated by older tween girls who are reluctant to leave childhood behind.

There was just a bit too much “oh Leo!” for me to enjoy it as much as the first, however.  While most  of the book was simply a sweet recounting of a girl getting over her first love, occasionally I wanted to give Stargirl a good shake and tell her to stop being such a Bella.

Best for ages 12-16, 13-17

Author website: http://www.jerryspinelli.com/newbery_002.htm

Series website: http://www.randomhouse.com/teens/stargirl/home.html

The Circuit and Breaking Through

cover image for The Circuitcover image for Breaking ThroughJimenez, F. (1997) The Circuit. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Jimenez, F. (2008) Breaking Through. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin


When Francisco was little and he had only two brothers, his family lived across la frontera, in Mexico, and he dreamed of moving to California, like his papa always talked about. After his family finally made that dangerous journey, Francisco did not find money in the streets, as the stories said, instead he found hard work and long days working the circuit picking strawberries, cotton, grapes or whatever else was in season, wherever in California it may be planted. Francisco was still happy, though, despite always moving and never having enough money for doctors, toys, or warm jacket. Because in California, Francisco and his sibling are able to spend their weekdays attending school instead of working, at least some of the time.

In a series of stories, Jimenez tells the true story of how his family came to live and work in California, and what life was like as the child of migrant farm workers over half a century ago in California. The stories are slightly disjointed, in that large chunks of time pass between each without this being mentioned, but not so much so that young readers will have difficulty following the tale. Jimenez tells his story in a very matter of fact way and with a voice that is both distinctive and fitting. Not every tween will enjoy this book, but those that do will be captivated by Francisco’s struggles and spirit.

Breaking Through picks up where The Circuit left off, with Francisco in eighth grade and his family in trouble with la migra. It follows him through his high school years, where he flourishes, despite prejudice, poverty, and other obstacles. Where The Circuit leaves readers fascinated by Francisco’s struggles, Breaking Through is nothing less than inspiring. Matching Francisco’s growing maturity, the reading level is slightly above that of The Circuit, but the voice is still clearly the same.

Younger tweens are less likely to find the stories of the sequel in particular to be of high interest, but many who came to admire Francisco in The Circuit will still find much to keep them turning the pages in Breaking Through.

Best for ages 9-14, 12-16

Author website: http://www.scu.edu/cas/modernlanguages/facultystaff/jimenezhomepage.cfm

Warriors: Into the Wild

cover image for Warriors: Into the WildHunter, E. (2003) Warriors: Into the Wild.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.




Rusty lives the pampered life of a kittypet, fed and cared for by two-legs.  He has been warned by the other kittypets to stay out of the woods and away from the cats who live there. Rusty, longing to hunt, ignores the warnings and ends up having a dangerous encounter with on the fierce warriors who live in the woods, without the help or hindrance of any twolegs.  However, the meeting ends with an intriguing offer to join the ThunderClan and live his days not as a kittpet, but as a warrior.  Will Rusty choose to leave the safety of being a kittypet in order to enjoy the adventure of being part of a clan?  How will a kittypet survive amongst the danger and intrigue of clan life?


This is one of those books that was an occasional chore to get through, but that I can totally understand why so many tweens love it.  It’s all the make-believe adventure games you used to play when you were kids brought to life through cute litte kitty-cats.  What I did admire about the series – and I think is the reason for a lot of its appeal – was how practical the story was at times.  It’s pure fantasy, clearly, but Hunter doesn’t shy away from mentioning (albeit sometimes in code) topics like birth, death, and even neutering pets.  Altogether this gives the series a level of sophistication that tweens are usually unable to create for themselves but very much appreciate.  It also provides a softer introduction to issues that many tweens would find more difficult to deal with in realistic fiction.

Best for ages 8-13


Series website: http://www.warriorcats.com/warriorshell.html

Walk Two Moons

cover image for Walk Two MoonsCreech, S. (1994).  Walk Two Moons.  New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.




Salamanca Tree Hiddle is on a trip with her grandparents, driving all the way from Ohio to Idaho to find her mother. To keep everyone entertained, Sal tells Gram and Gramps all about her friend Phoebe. Although Phoebe, as Grams puts it, lives in her own “wild, pepped-up world” very different from Sal’s way of seeing things, her story begins to sound a lot like Sal’s.

As Sal herself explains, Walk Two Moons is a story within a story, which ends up allowing for a lot of literary tricks that might be hard to do with such a young audience otherwise. It was neat to see how Sal could see what was going on in Phoebe’s life more clearly than Phoebe could and much more clearly than Sal could see what was happening to her own family. That this allowed Sal to understand her own family better gives extra weight to the title and one of the main themes of the book.

This was certainly a nicely written story and a very sad story – but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t started off this semester by reading Love, Aubrey – and if I hadn’t read what feels like several dozen other stories about lost or neglectful mothers in the meantime. (No, I’m not sure how that happened. Although it does seem to be a common theme in realistic fiction for 12 year old girls, which doesn’t terribly surprise me.) As it is, I can intellectually understand why it’s award winning, and it’s certainly wasn’t forgettable, but I’m not sure how I’m going to face all my friends and family who adore it to pieces.


Best for ages 10-14


Author website: http://www.sharoncreech.com/index.html

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