The Princess Diaries

cover image for The Princess DiariesCabot, Meg. (2000) The Princess Diaries. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Plot Summary:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – like stressing out over math tests and getting caught up in her friend Lilly’s latest scheme.  Until her dad comes to visit and confesses that he is actually royalty – and she, Mia Thermopolis, is the crown princess of Genovia.  Being a modern princess is not all it’s cracked up to be though, and Mia is not at all sure she’s ready for the attention and responsibility.  With help from her friends and family – and the best stylists money can buy – Mia finally find a way to be herself and save Genovia too.

Critical Evaluation:

Anyone who has simply seen the movie is really missing out.  Cabot’s style is unique and hilarious, making this lighthearted story not only a breezy read but an absolute delight.  Who cares how improbable it all is? As long as Cabot is snarking and cracking jokes, I’m there.

Reader’s Annotation:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – until her dad comes to visit and confesses that she, Mia Thermopolis, is actually the crown princess of Genovia.

Author Information:

http://www.megcabot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/megcabot

@MegCabot

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

The hard part with this book is getting people to forget the style of the movie, while there are similarities, that’s not going top convince people that haven’t already to read the book.  Pulling out some of the funny lines and jokes and letting them get a taste of that would be best.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/13-16

Potential Controversy:

This book is so full of fluff it practically floats.  I would seriously wonder about anyone who challenged it.

Reason for Choosing This Book:

I, like many, dismissed this series as merely being as good as the movie so why bother? – until a cousin of mine began raving about them to me.

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Crank

cover image for CrankHopkins, Ellen. (2004) Crank. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

Plot Summary:

When Kristina leaves home to try to reconnect with her absentee father, she first stumbles across love…and then meth.  Eventually Kristina has to go home and leave the boy behind, but the addiction stays with her.  Kristina tries to it together and keep her secrets hidden, but piece by piece her formerly perfect life begins falling to pieces.

Critical Evaluation:

Hopkins’ poetry is not perfect by any means, but the disjointed free verse works well for the story being told, often mirroring Kristina/Bree’s fractured sense of self and loss of control.  The story itself is compelling – when it sticks to Kristina’s interactions with her peers.  Unfortunately, I could not get past the part where Hopkins is writing about a story similar to that of her daughter’s real life experiences – and doing so in the first person.  It’s a disturbing example of co-opting another person’s experiences for your own needs and, considering that the person in question is a minor that was under your care at the time, rather silencing as well.  I’m sure Hopkins feels as though she is giving a voice where one is needed, but her skewed focus is readily apparent during the times when Kristina contemplates her relationship with her mother.  In general, the dynamic leaves me questioning the entire narrative.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Kristina leaves home to try to reconnect with her absentee father, she first stumbles across love…and then meth.

Author Information:

http://ellenhopkins.com/YoungAdult/

http://www.facebook.com/ellenhopkinsya

@ellenhopkinsya

Genre:

Realistic fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

The only time I would booktalk this book was if I was given a choice between it an Go Ask Alice.  I will provide it to teens that ask for it and books like it, and ensure its place in my collection, but I will not tell kids to go read it.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-19

Potential Controversy:

Crank is frequently challenged because it includes drug use, profanity, sex, rape, violence, and illegal activities.  Despite my misgivings about this book in particular, I believe these are all topics that should be available for teens to read about.  Hopkins is clearly trying to warn kids off of drug use in particular, however, and that should help bolster the freedom to read arguments.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This is such a popular title among teens that I would feel remiss if I did not eventually get around to at least trying it.

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.

Sloppy Firsts

cover image for Sloppy FirstsMcCafferty, Megan. (2001) Sloppy Firsts. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Plot Summary:

With her best friend Hope by her side, Jessica “Not-so” Darling can brave anything – even high school.  But when tragedy prompts Hope’s parents to move out of state, Jessica is left alone with friends she doesn’t really like, a sister who cares only about her upcoming wedding, a mother who wishes she was more like her sister, and a father who treats her like the son he had – and lost.  To make matters worse, she suddenly finds herself entangled with the boy that Hope’s parents blame for their son’s death.  Can Hope and Jessica’s friendship survive the distance and secrets?

Critical Evaluation:

Sloppy Firsts did not drive me quite as crazy as The Perks of Being a Wallflower did, largely owing to the better quality of writing and Jessica’s presence in her own life, but I had similar issues with it.  Why do we never see Hope’s letters back to Jessica? Or see Jessica mention them more than just a handful of times?  Jessica is at least more self-aware than Charlie was (to be fair, she is also older) and tries to take charge more often (although often in very passive aggressive ways) but she still lacks personality for much of the book (sarcasm is not a substitute for substance).  The story improved as it went on, but it feels like it could have been a bit shorter and still as interesting.

Reader’s Annotation:

Can Hope and Jessica’s friendship survive tragedy, distance, and secret boyfriends?

Author Information:

http://www.meganmccafferty.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Megan-McCafferty/53129595664

@meganmccafferty

Genre:

Sex and Sexuality

Booktalking Ideas:

(bang my head against a wall that I have to booktalk this book?)

Since it’s not a good idea to booktalk books you don’t like or connect to, I would probably focus on the part I did like and connect to the most, which was Jessica’s use of running at night to find peace and her relationship with her parents, especially her father and how he communicated by focusing on her running.  I would likely start by asking teens to imagine sneaking out to run like she did.  I would then include enough of the rest of the plot so that potential readers don’t get the wrong impression about the book’s focus.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/15-24

Potential Controversy:

I’m not sure there is anything in this book that wouldn’t be controversial to someone, which is a large part of why it is often shelved with the adult fiction even though it will interest many teen readers.  Unfortunately, it may also be difficult to defend it’s placement in a teen collection, rather than adult collection, because of that precedent.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This is one of many crossover books that I have heard a lot of buzz about, but had never read.

Forever

cover image for ForeverBlume, Judy (1975) Forever.  New York, NY: Antheneum

Plot Summary:

Girl meets boy.  Boy and girl fall in love.  Girl goes to Planned Parenthood.  Girl and boy have sex.  Girl and boy are separated.  Girl falls in love with new boy.  Girl breaks up with old boy.  Boy is sad, but moves on.  Girl is sad, but happy with new boy.  At no point during the story does the girl get pregnant, catch a disease, or die.

Critical Evaluation:

This is perhaps the least inviting plot summary I have ever written, but to be perfectly honest Forever was one of the least interesting teen books I have ever read.  It is possible that at one point in time Katherine and Michael both felt real and modern, but that time is no longer.  Most of the prose is the opposite of compelling (“On Friday, right after school, I washed my hair.  I couldn’t eat any dinner.  My parents gave me a couple of funny looks…”) and what little personality comes through feels dated and forced. Without any emotional attachment or investment in either character, their romance and break-up failed to move me in any way.

I applaud Blume for her intentions and what she accomplished by writing a story about teens having responsible sex and not getting punished for it by fate or society.  Yet, as sad as it is that such a story was and still is groundbreaking, and as much as I would include it in a young adult collection, I must admit I would have a hard time recommending this novel to any teens.  It reads like a lecture; the fact that it is one I agree with does not by itself make it a pleasurable or worthwhile read.

Reader’s Annotation:

Katherine and Michael are in love, that part they know.  Now the question is: should they or shouldn’t they?

Booktalking Ideas:

I would never book talk this title if I could help it.  But if I absolutely had to, I would focus on the parts that make it revolutionary – the fact that the teens in the story decide to have sex and survive doing so.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14 -19

Potential Controversy:

[Pardon me a moment while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.]

Sadly, even unmarried adult women admitting to having sex is so controversial that public figures have no problem labeling law students “sluts” for speaking about birth control.  So, needless to say, a book about an unmarried teen girl deciding to have sex? And going to Planned Parenthood?  And not being punished for it?  And then being the dumper not the dumpee?  Yeah. This is the kind of title that has always been frequently challenged and sadly will continue to be challenged for quite some time.  While its age and the popularity and respectability of its author cushions it from some criticism, they are by no means an impenetrable armor.

The one positive thing about the dry tone of the book is that is hampers its popularity and therefore also how much of a priority people make to challenge it.  It also assists in combating accusations of luridness or obscenity.  (Which, to be fair, was likely part of the reason it was written they way that it was.)  When a challenge does come up, the best thing would be to focus on the fact that the teens in the story have responsible sex, that it is the right of individual parents to help their own children make reading choices, and that many parents and health professionals believe that it is extremely appropriate and useful for older teens to be reading stories about other teens sexual choices and exploring such ideas theoretically before making real life decisions about their own lives.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have a bad habit of getting into arguments about Twilight.  (You know what it’s like when people are wrong on the internet.)  A lot of times people in these discussions say things like “kids should be reading Forever instead!”  Now that I have read it, my answer will be: NO.  Teens deserve books that have plots like Forever’s and yet are interesting reads and address desire like Twilight.  Until we have more (any?) books like that, I’m not going to judge any teen for reading either.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

cover image for Nick and Norah's Infinite PlaylistCohn, Rachel and Levithan, David. (2006). Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Plot Summary:

Asking someone to be your girlfriend for five minutes is not the most suave pick-up line ever. Nick isn’t actually trying to hit on Norah, however, he just wants look like less of a loser in front of his ex-girlfriend, who is headed his way. Norah is tempted to tell him “FUCK, NO!” but she decides instead that kissing a cute boy – however random – is her best shot at avoiding a frenemie who just happens to be walking right towards them.  Neither of them expected a chance encounter to turn into something much more.

Critical Evaluation:

As improbable as this set-up is, Nick and Norah themselves feel honest and believable as characters. Their motivations may be unhealthy at times, but as the story unfolds we begin to understand the internal logic, hopes, history, and fears that drive them to do what they do. Told in alternating third person point of view chapters, the plot of Nick and Norah takes place all in a single night. Although the characters do spend much of the night falling in and out of love, tt is more a story about learning from relationships – and allowing room for both yourself and your partner to be flawed and human – than it is about the start of a romance. This is not a particularly memorable book in terms of craft, but it was enjoyable and will speak strongly to teens and their experiences in learning how to relate to peers romantically.

Reader’s Annotation:

Asking someone to be your girlfriend for five minutes is not the most suave pick-up line ever.

Author Information:

http://www.rachelcohn.com

http://www.davidlevithan.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Levithan/139042149485971

Genre:

Sexuality and Gender

Booktalking Ideas:

Despite the title, I would not try to come up with a playlist and center the talk on that.  I would begin by talking about Nick and Norah’s break-ups and ending with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/15-19

Potential Controversy:

Nicks and Norah and their friends stay up all night in New York and spend a decent amount of time partying at clubs.  Nothing really risque happens, but many parents would not approve.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I must confess I saw the movie first, and was told the book was better, of course.

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.

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