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.

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.

The Chocolate War

cover image for The Chocolate WarCormier, Robert. (1974) The Chocolate War. New York, NY: Pantheon.

Plot Summary:

Every student at Trinity has a quota: sell 50 boxes a chocolates.  If you don’t you’ll have to answer not just to the teachers, but to the Vigils, the not-so-secret society that lives to terrorize their fellow students.  As Jerry Renault contemplates his mother’s recent death, his father’s emotional absence, and the poster in his locker that queries: “Do I dare disturb the Universe?” he decides that his answer is “yes, I do, I do. I think.”   As Jerry’s refusal to sell the chocolates catches on among his fellow students, Jerry ends up taking on more then even he bargained for.

Critical Evaluation:

Cromier’s most celebrated novel, The Chocolate War is bleak and disturbing, much like high school itself can be.  It’s not only full of unlikable characters and impossible situations, it more notably refuses to offer hope – a choice that is still unique among young adult fiction, which tends to offer a silver lining even after the darkest of storms.  Yet it does provide inspiration and thoughtfulness, for what kind of heroes would our heroes be if they only dared to disturb the universe when they thought they would be rewarded for it?

Reader’s Annotation:

Who knew that refusing to sell candy bars would be so dangerous?

Author Information:

Cormier, sadly, is no longer with us.

Genre:

Classics

Booktalking Ideas:

This would be a good story to pose a series of questions along the lines of “have you ever…?”  While The Chocolate War is still very pertinent and popular, it’s also nearly have a century old and many students could probably use convincing that they will indeed relate to Jerry and his struggles.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/13-16

Possible Controversy:

The Chocolate War has been frequently challenged since it was first published – and was still in the top five most frequently challenged books of the last two decades. Generally the objections are too the language, violence, mentions of sex, and the incredibly depressing ending.  Thankfully, it is also now considered a classic and there are plenty of sources to use for dealing wit any challenges.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

While I reread it this time around simply because it was assigned, the first time I picked it up as a young teen I did so because I it sounded like such a “boy” story – a serious one, not an adventure story, which I read all the time – and I was curious.  And more than a little shocked at how mean so many of the boys were.  (I don’t think I had quite yet read Lord of the Flies.)

The Catcher in the Rye

cover image for The Catcher in the RyeSalinger, J. D. (1951) The Catcher in the Rye. Boston, MA: Little Brown Books

Plot Summary:

Holden Caulfield is the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.  That hasn’t kept him from failing out of three different prep schools though, and his current school, Pency, looks to be no different.  After getting into a fight with another student, Holden decides to go home to New York City early and stay in a hotel for a couple of days without letting his parents know he is there.

Critical Evaluation:

Technically speaking, The Catcher in the Rye is a very well written book and the subject matter, a disillusioned teen on a several day long spree of dissipation, was groundbreaking for it’s time.  All I kept thinking while reading it was “I can understand reading it why people say serial killers love this book.” It isn’t that Holden is particularly violent or cruel, it’s more that he is especially self-absorbed and heedless of consequences – even more than usual for a teenaged boy from wealth.

Reader’s Annotation:

Holden Caulfield thinks you’re a phony.

(with the credit for the line going to John Green)

Author Information:

Salinger died at age 91 in 2010, but his fans maintain a wiki

http://salinger.org/

Genre:

Classics

Booktalking Ideas:

For once I have an idea for a book I did not like: mention that at least two known serial killers have either been obsessed with this book or brought it with them on their murders.

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/14-24

Possible Controversy:

The Catcher in the Rye has never not been controversial, and likely will always be so.  Drinking, prostitution, disrespect for authority, violence… the list goes on.  While I may not have liked the book, many teens do connect to it and none of these topics are things that should be off limits with regards to teens’ reading materials.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

So that I could say that I had read it, and not feel like such a slacker whenever it comes up in a conversation or book discussion.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

cover image for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAlexie, Sherman. (2007) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.

Plot Summary:

Junior lives with a loving and close knit family on a reservation in Washington state, where he spends his days attempting to avoid getting picked on, messing around with his best friend, Rowdy, and drawing cartoons.  Born with persistent medical problems and into abject poverty, Junior approaches life with humor but no illusions as to what his chances are or regarding the unfair way in which he and his community have been treated.  After he punches his teacher, prompting from the teacher a confession and the advice to “go where there is hope” Junior tells his parents that he wants to transfer to the all white Reardon High.  His neighbors see the decision as an act of betrayal, but Junior is determined to go out and find hope – and possibly even find some to bring back to his community.

Critical Evaluation:

Told with elegance, humor, and wit, Alexi’s semi-autobiographical tale of one boy’s struggle to follow his dreams without losing his heritage is a must for any young adult collection and deserves all the praise it has gotten.  Alexie does not shy away from saying the truth, however hard it may be to hear.  The institutional poverty and discrimination he describes is neither downplayed nor romanticized and everyone in the book is portrayed with respect and honesty.  The balance between the difficult subject matter and Junior’s jokes and cartoons (drawn by Ellen Forney) is a delicate one and expertly done; the comedy acting as a counterpoint to the hopelessness and grief that surrounds Junior and allowing Alexie to delve deeply and often into depressing subject matter without overwhelming or losing readers.

Reader’s Annotation:

Juniors neighbor’s call him a traitor for transferring to Reardon High, where the only other Indian is the team mascot, but Junior is determined to go where he thinks he can find hope – and possibly carry some back home.

Author Information:

http://www.fallsapart.com/

@Sherman_Alexie

Genre:

Multicultural

Booktalking Ideas:

Alexie’s voice is so very distinctive and engaging, I would be tempted to just read the first chapter straight through.  Although I may need to edit for time and add some of the basic premise afterwards.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has unfortunately already been banned from many schools and has made the ALA’s top ten challenged book list several times.  While the sex and masturbation discussed in the book are often given as the reason, it’s clear that many people are disturbed by the frank discussion of poverty and racism.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

When I read Alexie’s response to the New York Post article about young adult books being to dark I knew I had to read his novel.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You

cover image for I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You

Carter, Ally. (2006) I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children

Plot Summary:

Most everyone in town thinks that the girls that attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women are nothing but a bunch of spoiled snobs.  That’s the way they like it though, because when the truth is that your school is training you to become a spy, it’s always good to know your cover story is holding up.  But when an ordinary boy starts to notice Cameron Morgan (nickname, the Chameleon) she’s suddenly not so sure that she wants to keep hiding in plain sight.

Critical Evaluation:

There’s no denying that Ally Carter’s excessively popular Gallagher Girls series is stuffed to bursting with silliness and absurdly improbable scenarios – like schedules printed on evapopaper and field trips that involve “borrowing” delivery trucks.  It also has a lot more depth than it often gets credit for.  Snuck between the slapstick comedy and preciousness are some interesting questions about identity, sacrifice, and who heroism is really for.  When Cammie’s new teacher questions if her father should have gone on the mission that ended up being his last, he isn’t just talking about skills, but rather asking if it was worth it.

The text does not provide neat answers to these questions, but neither does it dwell on them; rather than challenging anything head on or at length, it tends to come at things sideways and then quickly move onto more diverting topics.  Complexity is often dismissed in favor of humor and happy endings.  I think it is this, as much as the trappings of the book, that causes some to dismiss the series.

That’s alright though, because, like the Gallagher Academy itself, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  While others may roll their eyes at the silliness of it all and dismiss their fannishness as rooted in finding shiny! happy! preppiness appealing, the fans themselves know what their plaid skirts really represent.

This isn’t a series specifically for older teens, although many may like it and it’s a respectable inclusion in any young adult collection.  The audience it will most appeal to are younger teen girls, who are just beginning to be pressured to hide their passions and intelligence; the girls who are in the process of losing the fearlessness of girlhood for the insecurities and self-consciousness of adolescence.  [Unfortunately, I also need to add the qualifiers of “white, straight, middle class” younger teen girls, for while it could be worse in terms of inclusiveness, it could also do much better.]

For the girls that come to signings decked out in Gallagher Girls plaid, the series clearly offers them a way to hide in plain sight, just like Cammie does.  Readers are not necessarily challenged by the series, but it does offer much more than comfort or amusement– it offers a path for subversion that may perhaps be too safe to be effective in changing things now, but yet still gives girls the strength to stay true to themselves until they feel more confident in speaking their minds publicly.  The high expectations that Cammie and her classmates have for themselves, and the knowledge that failure means more than just some red marks on a page, also give voice to the pressures of perfection that many girls feel without requiring that they directly question the institutions they take part in. In short, it gives them a way to make a show of embracing compulsory femininity while not feeling ashamed of their complicated and less than perfect inner selves.   It is this, I think, that is the secret to the series success – and the reason why it is only occasionally brilliant and yet also cleverer than it often gets credit for.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cameron “Chameleon” Morgan gets top marks in her covert ops classes, so why is it that an ordinary boy with no spy training at all notices her?  And what will happen if Cammie decides that she no longer wants to stay hidden?

Author Information:

http://allycarter.com/blog/

@officiallyally

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

Most everyone in town thinks that the girls that attend the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women are nothing but a bunch of spoiled snobs.  That’s the way they like it though, because when the truth is that your school is training you to become a spy, it’s always good to know your cover story is holding up.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade / 10-16

Potential Controversy:

I honestly cannot think of any.  Not so much because there is nothing for anyone to object to – because there is always something someone will find objectionable – but because the series does such a good job of hiding from the people who would object to it.

Reasons for choosing this title:

I was curious by the age levels suggested in Teen Genreflecting 3 because the girls I saw lining up at a signing two years ago were all very young.  I also wanted to see for myself what makes the series so appealing.

Dragonbreath

cover image for DragonbreathVernon, U. (2009) Dragonbreath. New York, NY: Dial Books.

 

Review:

 

Danny Dragonbreath may be a dragon, but he can’t breathe fire.  Yet.  At the moment, though, he has bigger problems, like the F his teacher gave him on his report on the ocean.  Apparently it’s not acceptable to turn in an essay on the fictional Snorklebats and pretend it’s a scientific research paper.  Now Danny has just one day to make up his missed assignment or his mom’s going to kill him.  So he drags his best friend Wendell to the pier to visit his Uncle Edward, a sea serpent.  Perhaps Danny should be more worried about something other than his mom wanting him dead?

 

With Vernon as the author, a big part of Dragonbreath’s appeal is, of course, the illustrations, which are sprinkled throughout the book.  Some appearing where they would in more classic children’s novels, others going on for pages and including comic style speech bubbles.  That’s not all this book has to recommend it though, the story was entertaining, the humor spot on, and the characters likable.  Personally, I also loved the science information Vernon seamlessly added into her story.  You wouldn’t think that a humorous tale about a dragon, an iguana, and a sea serpent would try to include educational, scientific information, but Vernon has a keen understanding of what younger tweens know to be fantasy and a respect for their ability to separate likely fact from clear fiction.

Best for ages 6-10

 

Author website: http://ursulavernon.com/

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