Tag Archives: First person narrative

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

 

boy nobodyBibliographic Information:

Zadoff, Allen. Boy Nobody. New York: Little , Brown and Company, 2013 (978-0-316-19968-1).

Genre:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Spy thriller

 

Plot Summary:

When a young assassin is given an assignment to kill the father of a girl he is falling for, he begins to reconsider the choices he made in his past.

Critical Evaluation:

Zadoff has created a likeable and realistic character in his teenage killer. Unlike many spy thrillers, Zadoff takes the time to explore Benjamin’s past and the decisions he made to bring him to this point. But, the author doesn’t wallow in the past. He keeps the plot moving with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing with just a drop of romance for some spice.

I am looking forward to the sequel.

Bottom Line:

Worth adding to a high school library collection. Likeable main character struggling with his choices. Full of action and twists and turns.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Young Adult

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

this dark endeavorBibliographic Information:

Oppel, K. (2011). This dark endeavor. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. (978-1442403154)

Sequel: Such Wicked Intent

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother, Konrad, share everything. But Victor is more driven and feels the need to be better at everything. Which is why is finds it difficult to understand why his beautiful cousin, Elizabeth, may prefer his brother to himself. The three of them and their friend Henry do everything together.

The Frankenstein family wealthy and titled so Victor is used to getting what he wants with a limited amount of work. Then Konrad becomes very ill. When the friends come across the secret room, the Dark Library, Victor knows that he must make the Elixer of Life to save Konrad’s life.

Critical Evaluation:

Victor is the focus of this gothic tale. Oppel decided to use him as the narrator and as a result, the reader lives through his dark passions and confused motives. His feelings for Elizabeth and his jealous of her budding relationship with his brother creates a strained underlying current in his relationships with both Elizabeth and his brother.

His love for his brother is strong and bright but the Elixer of Life and the Dark Library are forbidden for a reason. The novel explores how one can choose a dangerous path with all the best intentions.

Reader’s Annotation:

Victor Frankenstein will do anything to save his brother from death. “Anything” means creating the Elixer of Life, if he can.

Information About the Author:

Kenneth Oppel was born August 31, 1967 on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. He completed a BA in English and cinema studies at the University of Toronto. He wrote his second children’s book in his final year at university.

Kenneth Oppel says he started writing stories when he was twelve. When he was fourteen he started his first short novel which was passed to Roald Dahl through a family friend. Dahl liked the story and passed it to his literary agent. His first novel was published in 1985.

Since then, Oppel has written a number of award winning books including the Silverwing trilogy, Airborn, and Half Brother (About the author).

Genre:

  • Horror fiction
  • Mystery fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Prequels to classcis

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Talk about Frankenstein and discuss what would motivate a scientist to try to create life.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 4.3

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Kenneth Oppel is an author that has success at the elementary and middle school levels. This Dark Endeavor is appropriate for a high school audience and is an author the students have enjoyed in the past.

Awards:

  • 2012 Libris Award (Canadian Booksellers Association)
  • Honour Book, Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award
  • A 2011 Quill & Quire Book of the Year
  • A 2011 London Times Best Children’s Book

Shortlisted for:

  • Governor General’s Literary Awards
  •  Red Maple Award (OLA)
  • Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award

Reviews:

  • This dark endeavor: The apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(14), 1261.

“Victor too often describes himself in relation to Konrad, but he develops into a complex and troubled character as the inevitable conclusion draws near. A subplot involving a crippled alchemist and his pet lynx steer the story more toward horror and fantasy than Enlightenment-era science fiction.

A dark and dramatic back story for Shelley’s tormented creator.”

  • Campbell, H. M. (2011). This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. School Library Journal, 57(10), 144.

“Many details remain the same as in the original work; for instance, Victor’s arrogant desire to overcome the power of illness and death makes him a slightly unlikable protagonist. But here’s a sign of a good storyteller: readers may not like Victor, but they will certainly want to find out what happens to him.”

  • Ritter, C. K. (2011). This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Horn Book Magazine, 87(4), 155.

“Written from Victor’s perspective and filled with his believable internal moral struggles, Oppel’s novel is a gripping tale of undying devotion, mixing hope with foreboding.”

References:

About the author. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2013 from http://www.kennethoppel.ca/pages/biography.shtml

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

hold me closerBibliographic Information:

McBride, L. (2012). Hold me closer, necromancer. New York: Square Fish.

  • Sequel: Necromancing the Stone

Plot Summary:

Sam is a university drop-out flipping burgers in a fast-food restaurant.  When he catches the attention of Douglas, his ordinary, going nowhere life suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Because Douglas is a powerful necromancer who recognizes the Sam is also a necromancer with latent powers.

When Sam declines Douglas’ offer to train him, Douglas decides to send him one of his friend’s severed head to explain that his offer was not optional. Soon, Sam finds himself locked in a cage with a powerful werewolf in Douglas’ basement. Then, things get interesting.

Critical Evaluation:

This is a book that does not take itself too seriously. The characters banter and spar with each other. Sam (Samhain Corvus LaCroix) is sarcastic and confused. He has a Harbinger that is trying to help him in return for waffles. One of his friends is a talking head. His mother is an earth witch.

The story is told primarily from Sam’s point of view. But, McBride does switch to other character’s point of view when convenient for plot development.

There is a dose of the horror element in the plot. Douglas is evil. There is blood and torture and lots of action. But there is also humour – and that is what makes the novel refreshing and quirky. If you are looking for hard-core horror, this is not the book for you. But if you want a fun romp through the supernatural, it will not let you down.

Reader’s Annotation:

Sam is having a tough week. His dead friend’s head is talking to him, he is stuck in a cage, and a powerful necromancer is teaching him to raise the dead. On the plus side, he is in the cage with a beautiful werewolf. Maybe he will ask her for a date – if they get out alive.

Information About the Author:

Lish McBride has a tongue-and-cheek biography on her site that is much more interesting than the one below. I’ve included just the facts. Visit her site to get the good stuff.

Lish McBride grew up in the Pacific Northwest. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of New Orleans. She currently lives in Seattle,

Genre:

  • Fantasy, Fiction
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Paranormal fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Minor violence
  • sex

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the boo
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection polic
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

It is a fun, quirky twist on a horror book.

Reviews:

  • Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. (2010). Booklist, 107(6), 36-37.

“With fine writing, tight plotting, a unique and uniquely odd cast of teens, adults, and children, and a pace that smashes through any curtain of disbelief, this sardonic and outrageous story’s only problem is that it must, like all good things, come to an end.”

  • Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(17), 862.

“Despite uneven pacing and abandoned plot threads, this quirky urban fantasy will compel fans of horror and supernatural romance–and heroic skateboarding slackers.”

Awards:

  • William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist
  • 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

References:

Home. (n.d). Retrieved May 2, 2013 from http://www.lishmcbride.com/

All Good Children by Catherine Austen

all good childrenBibliographic Information:

Austen, C. (2011). All good children. Victoria, B.C: Orca Book Publishers. (978-1-55469-824-0)

Plot Summary:

When Maxwell Connors returns home after his aunt’s funeral he notices that the kids at school are acting strange. It turns out that the students were given a treatment while he was away that has turned them into obedient, well-mannered citizens.  His sister Ally notices it first. She says that the other kids are “are fuzzy and slow. They just go along.”

Middletown is special walled community that protects the inhabitants from the terrorism and disasters that are happening throughout the world. The whole community works for the same corporation, Chemrose International. As a result, the corporation controls everything that happens in the town. When Max’s class is vaccinated he has to pretend to be a “zombie” too. It is time for the family to leave Middletown but that may prove more difficult than one would expect.

Critical Evaluation:

Catherine Austen has created a multi-dimensional wise-cracking teenager as her protagonist in the dystopian world of All Good Children. A wise choice since young adults are very interested in developing their individuality at this stage. Max’s sarcasm and “tell it like it is” attitude will resonate with readers. These characteristics also infuse some humour into an otherwise stark plot.

Max’s development from a kid who accepts the way his world operates to one who is willing to give up all the nice toys for freedom is realistic. At first, Max is pretty comfortable with his situation. He lives in a safe community that has a good standard of living and the newest technology toys. He knows that he is smart enough to be successful. So, he is okay with the security. He likes that the city is clean and secure.

The novel, told from Max’s point of view, follows his dawning awareness that the New Education Support Treatment is stripping children of their individuality and making them into good workers with no emotions who are willing to do what they are told.

Reader’s Annotation:

In a world with terrorism and disasters, what would you be willing to give up for security?

Information About the Author:

Catherine Austen is an awarding-winning author of children and young adult fiction. All Good Children was her first young adult novel.

Catherine grew up in Kingston, Ontario. She studies political science at Queen’s University and environmental studies at York University. After, she worked in the conservation movement. While a student, she wrote short stories, which she published in small literary journals. She started writing stories for children in 2003 but her first children’s book, Walking Backwards, was published in 2009.

When she became a parent, she decided to become a freelance writer so she could be home with her family.

She currently lives in Aylmer (Gatineau), Quebec. She says she lives in a little house with a big yard (About the author, 2013) with her family.

For more information please visit her website.

Genre:

  • Survival fiction
  • Science fiction
  • Dystopian fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social Justice
    • Behavior modification in schools
  • English program
    • Companion book to Brave New World

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Austen is a Canadian author who wrote a great book with a theme that is very popular with young adults currently.

Reviews:

  • Wiersema, R. (Ed.). (2011, October). Book review: All good children. Retrieved
  •      May 11, 2013, from Quill & Quire website: http://The Canadian Library
  •      Association’s 2012 Young Adult Book Award Winner.

Awards:

  • Canadian Library Association Young Adult Canadian Book Award, 2012.
  • The 2012 Sunburst Award (for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic) Young Adult Winner.
  • A YALSA Teens’ Top Ten nominee and a YALSA 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults nominee.
  • A Forest of Reading 2013 White Pine Nominee.

References:

About the author. (2013). Retrieved 15 March 15, 2013 from http://www.catherineausten.com/contact_author.html

White Cat by Holly Black

white catBibliographic Information:

Black, H. (2010). White cat: #1 of The curse workers. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. (978-1416963974)

Curse Workers, 2: Red Glove

Curse Workers, 3: Black Heart

Plot Summary:

Cassel Sharpe is an ordinary teenage boy and that’s the problem. In a family of curse works he is expendable. It does not matter that working people is illegal and that everyone wears gloves because it takes skin contact in order to for someone to “work” you. What does matter is that he even without the talent he killed the girl he loved when he was 14 and his family covered it out.

He has the genes for crime so he is the school bookie and can run a con as well as anyone in the family but he is not a worker. So, at school, even though he is as normal as any other kid at school, he still has habits and connections to the Zacharov crime family that he needs to keep hidden. As a result, he really cannot fit into either world.

When he starts having dreams about a white cat and ends up sleep walking he starts to wonder if maybe something is not quite right with his view his world. Could it be that he has been worked? And if so, what possible reason could there be?

Critical Evaluation:

White Cat told from Cassel’s perspective. As a result, the narrative feels slightly jaded and often reads world-weary. Cassel has difficulty making friends because he does not want anyone to know about his connection with organized crime. Besides, it is embarrassing for a guy to admit that his mother is in jail for working a millionaire. Through Cassel’s eyes, the reader can also understand how it feels to be the nobody in a family of talented workers.

Cassel’s reminiscing about his past also provides a detailed backstory that provides the clues for the action of the present. The character of Cassel is one of the greatest strengths of the story. He is a complex character; both bad – he commits crimes and runs a bookie operation – and good. He is sensitive and protective of his friends. He wants to do the right thing but he also has to protect his family. He is both the crook and the victim.

Black has always melded reality with fantasy in her writing. In this series, the two are so intertwined that the magical is just part of the reality. She has created a complex reality where workers suffer discrimination and that discrimination has pushed workers into a world of crime ruled by crime lords.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cassel Sharpe is a con man with a sarcastic wit but he is non-magical and is definitely not a worker. So why is he having crazy dreams and sleepwalking on roofs? It is possible that the con man is being played?

Information About the Author:

Holly Black is a well-established, prolific author for children and young adults. Her bibliography includes The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale and Zombies vs. Unicorns. She has also written poetry and short stories.

Black was born in New Jesey in 1971. She graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1995. She then worked as a production editor and attended graduate school at Rutgers (Biography Holly Black).

For more information please see her website.

Please check out Scholastic site for a video interview with Holly Black.

Genre:

  • Science fiction
  • Urban fantasy

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Include in booklist of the best of the good bad guys.
  • Read one of the sleepwalking scenes.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

The Curse Workers series are not likely to be challenged in high schools because there are not graphic descriptions. However, it is possible that the actions of the characters may be objectionable to some.

    • drinking, gambling, stealing, drug use

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection.
  3. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion document.
    • Provide school’s selection policy.
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  4. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I decided to include White Cat because my students will love Cassel’s irony and dry humour. It is dark enough to border on horror without stepping over that line.

Reviews:

  • Sparks, L. J. (2010). White Cat. School Library Journal, 56(6), 94.

“Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel’s desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy.”

  • White cat: The Curse Workers, Book 1. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(7), 302.

“Forget fairy tales. The first in Black’s new series is a dark, complex Chinese puzzle box, full of cons, criminals and curses–a denigrating term for magic in a world where it’s outlawed.”

“Urban fantasy, con story, coming of age–whatever you call it, read it.”

References:

About Holly Black. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.blackholly.com/biography.html

Biography Holly Black. (2013). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/holly-black

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

DanteBibliographic Information:

Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York: Simon & Schuster BFYR. (978-1442408920)

Plot Summary:

Two lonely young men become friends over a summer when Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. Aristotle (Ari) likes to be alone and is very comfortable with silence but uneasy with the secrets in his family. Dante is a reader, artistic, and appears to be comfortable with himself and his loving family. Together they share the awkward moments and the experimentation that goes along with being sixteen.

Critical Evaluation:

There is so much to talk about in this book; the poetry of the prose, the multidimensional characters; the different relationships of the young men with their parents, their relationship with one another.

To begin with, the pacing is an important aspect of this novel. Ari wants to understand his father and what happened to him in Vietnam. He wants his parents to talk about his brother who is in jail. He needs to understand himself and who he wants to be. This takes time and introspection and Sáenz gives him that. He allows the characters to walk in the rain, laugh about their names, read books, and write letters to each other and to themselves in a journal. There is action in the novel but allowing the reader to breathe and take in the imagery strengthens the emotion and reaction from the reader.

The theme of identity is also prevalent in the novel. The two boys are Mexican but they are not always aware of what that label should mean to them. At times, it appears to be a negative. Dante’s mother wants him to wear shoes so he does not look like a poor Mexican. At other times, the characters wear their heritage proudly and even worry that they are not Mexican enough. Ari particularly struggles with his identity. He tells his mother, for example, that he wants to be a bad boy – to the point that he convinces a drunk to purchase beer for him. But, he will not drink and drive and he refuses to do drugs when he is offerred them. He has conflicted feelings towards his father and cannot decide if he should force the conversation about his brother who is in jail that his parents appear to have forgotten.

Reader’s Annotation:

Ari and Dante are very different young men. Ari is dark and quiet. Dante is sensitive and artistic. Together they are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in their world.

Information About the Author:

Benjamin Alire Saenz surrounds himself with writing. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas in El Paso and is a poet and author of books for teens and adults. He has won several awards for his writing including the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his short story collection, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, and a young adult novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood.

Born in 1954 in Old Picacho New Mexico, he grew up in “a traditional Mexican-American Catholic family” (Benjamin Alire Sáenz). He took theological studies at the University of Louvain and was later ordained a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood, however, three years later. At 30, he returned to school. In 1988 he received the Wallace E. Stegner Followship in poetry from Stanford University. In 1993, he returned to the University of Texas in El Paso to teach.

For more information please visit his page at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Genre:

  • Realistic fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social justice
  • English
    • Stereotypes
    • Character development
    • Coming of age

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Make a booklist of the books that are referred to in the novel
  • Read from p. 83 when Ari is talking about writing in his journal and rules
  • Make a journal booklist

Coming of age, family, friendship
Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Homosexuality

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
    • Provide school’s selection policy
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

http://www.npr.org/2013/02/20/172495550/discovering-sexuality-through-teen-lit

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Awards:

  • 2013 Printz Honor Award
  • 2013 Stonewall Award
  • 2013 Belpré Award
  • Top Ten choice for the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list

Reviews:

“This poetic novel takes Ari, brooding and quiet, and with a brother in prison, and Dante, open and intellectual, through a year and a half of change, discovering secrets, and crossing borders from which there is no return.”

“Sáenz does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other.”

“Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author’s gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships.”

References:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz. ( 2013). Retrieved from http://www.cincopuntos.com/authors_detail.sstg?id=3

The Almost Truth by Eileen Cook

Almost truthBibliographic Information:

Cook, E. (2012). The almost truth. New York: Simon Pulse. (978-1442440197)

Plot Summary:

Sadie has a plan. She has saved her money, filled out the forms, and she is ready to leave Bowton Island and start her real life at the University of California in Berkeley. Or she was, until she finds out that her mother has taken all of her money from her account to pay for her father’s lawyer bills and fix the bathroom.

It had taken a lot of small cons for Sadie to raise the four thousand dollar deposit needed for university. Her waitress job would never bring in enough money on its own.

With one big con, however, she still might be able to live her dream. Luckily, she is a better con artist than her father – and she looks just like an age enhanced computer-generated picture of a long lost heiress.

Critical Evaluation:

From the cover of the book one would think this novel will be a typical romance novel. It is a romance but romance is definitely not the focus of the plot. Cook is an experienced author who knows the importance of developing a character. Sadie is a well-developed character with a few quirks to keep her interesting and a complicated living situation. In the end, the book is really about personal identity and choice.

Like Ally Carter’s successful Heist Society, The Almost Truth’s heroine as is a good girl living a life on the wrong side of the law. Also like Carter’s Heist Society, humor plays an important role in keeping the plot fun and light.

Cook has also created an interesting set of secondary characters from Sadie’s con artist father to her long-time friend and current boyfriend, Brendan who willingly helps her with her cons.

The Almost Truth is a fun read that does not take itself too seriously. In a teenage market filled with dystopias it is a refreshing change.

Reader’s Annotation:

Sadie needs just one big con to change her life forever. All she needs to do is convince everyone she is a long-lost heiress. If she fails, she may end up in a cell by Daddy. The stakes are high and she can’t afford to fail.

Information About the Author:

Eileen Cook is an accomplished writer with several books to her credit including Unraveling Isobel and The Education of Hailey Kendrick. She completed high school and university in Michigan. She has a degree in English and in counseling (Eileen Cook Revealed). Currently, she lives in Vancouver.

For more information please visit Cook’s website.

Genre:

  • Chick lit
  • Romance fiction
  • Mystery fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read the section where Sadie finds out her mother took her money
    • Ask if her mother had the right to do so
  • Create a book list of thieving heroes

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Sadie is a con artist

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?:

I read The Almost Truth for a book committee and thought it was fun and a nice change from the darker themes found in dystopias and the teen problem novels.

Reviews:

References:

Eileen Cook revealed. (n.d.). Retreived from http://authors.simonandschuster.ca/Eileen-Cook/47825204/author_revealed

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

SweetnessBibliographic Information:

Bradley, A. (2009). The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. Toronto: Anchor Canada. (978-0-385-66583-4)

Flavia de Luce series, bk. 1

Plot Summary:

Flavia de Luce is having an interesting day. First, she escapes from being blindfolded and tied up in her closet by her sisters. Then she is present to see the fear on her father’s face when he finds a dead bird with a postage stamp in its’ beak on their doorstep. Later, she overhears her father arguing with a mystery man in his study – only to find this same man dead in their cucumber patch the next morning.

And so, a new detective is born. As she says, “I wish I could say I was afraid but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” But it will not be her last. In her investigations she will search a man’s room, climb a tower, be kidnapped, and of course, perform some chemistry. In the end, will it be enough to save her father from prison or will she find herself sharing the cell beside him?

Critical Evaluation:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent example of how a character comes from a certain place and time. In this case, Flavia needs to come from a home where she has a great deal of freedom so she can investigate the crime but also so she can do her chemistry experiments. Further, she comes from a world where girls are not expected to be adventurous or interested in worldly matters. Much of the humor of the novel comes from Flavia’s unconventional responses or her reactions to people’s expectations of her. Part of this can be attributed to her age. She is young enough at eleven to still be outspoken and be a hoyden. These behaviors may not have been as believable in a heroine at sixteen, for example.

Flavia’s ongoing spates with her sisters and irrepressible personality add a level of normalcy and humor to her character. As a result her character is Anne of Green Gables meets Sherlock Holmes.

Reader’s Annotation:

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce decides she must solve the murder of the man found in her cucumber patch to save her father from prison.

Information About the Author:

Born in Toronto Ontario in 1938, Alan Bradley has had a long and varied career as a writer, teacher and media technologist. After attending Ryerson University, Bradley worked as a television engineer in Ontario and Saskatoon (Jessop, 2012). Later, he served for 25 years as the Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Bradley has written screenplays and short stories and has taught Script Writing and Television Production Courses at the University of Saskatchewan. He has been involved in the local literary scene. He was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He is also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, “a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings” (Author’s bio, 2013)

Alan Bradley was 70 when he wrote the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The story started out as a 15-page excerpt that he had written and submitted to The British Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award, which he won in 2007.

Interestingly, although the novel is set in England, Bradley had not been to England himself until he went to receive his award in 2007. But, he says, he grew up submersed in the English culture through his English grandparents and the English books and magazines he read. He also credits his wife, Shirley, with helping him research the subject (Catto, 2009)


Click here for an interesting conversation between Alan Bradley and Shelagh Rogers about Flavia de Luce and his newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones.

Genre:

  • Mystery – detective stories
  • Historical fiction
  • Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

  • Chemistry
  • English
    • Mystery novels
    • Character development

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read from page 11 as Flavia adds poison ivy oil to her sister’s lipstick
    • Talk about pranks between siblings
  • Read from page 24 when she eavesdrops on her father to finding the dead man

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I do not read detective stories very often but this series has received a lot of press lately. I heard an interview with Alan Bradley a few weeks ago and decided to read it. It was funny, smart, and had a good mystery.

Reviews:

Coon, J. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Booklist, 105(17), 35. (star review)

 “Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book.”

Goldsmith, F. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. School Library Journal, 55(5), 140.

“Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying.

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(5), 49.

Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.

Awards:

  • 2007 Debut Dagger Award
  • 2009 Agatha Award, Best First Novel
  • 2010 Amelia Bloomer List, Young Adult Fiction
  • 2010 Alex Award nominee
  • 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards, Best First Novel
  • Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel
  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults

References:

Author’s bio.(2013) Retrieved from http://www.flaviadeluce.com/view-authors-bio/

Catto, S. (2009). Alan Bradley: The old/new face of fiction. Quill & Quire. Retrieved from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=10492

Jessop, P. (2012). Alan Bradley. In The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/articles/alan-bradley

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

scorpio races

Stiefvater, M. (2011). The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic Press. (978-0-5422-490-1)

Plot Summary:

Puck Connolly knows where she is from and where she belongs; she is a Connolly and she belongs with her brothers on Thisby Island. But, the family is having a hard time making ends meet and her older brother is threatening to leave the island. So, Puck decides to ride in the Scorpio Races; the first girl ever to do so.

Sean Kendrick, on the other hand, has been riding and winning in the races for years – but always for someone else. This year, if he wins, he will get the most important thing in the world for him – his freedom. Sean admires Puck’s grit and determination to win but he knows that the best he can do is help her train; not so she will win but so she will survive.

Critical Evaluation:

An interesting trend I am enjoying is the recycling of the old monsters, characters of folk tales and mythology, and bringing them into the modern world. In our throw-away society, I believe that too often authors forget the rich and diverse traditions available to them. Stiefvater’s treatment of the water horse, or capall uisce, stays true to its origin thus introducing elements of the story to a new generation of readers. In so doing, she is encouraging readers to dive into the rich literary history that is foundational to today’s culture. But, at the same time, she is adding another layer to the tradition of the water horse.

Further, Stiefvater has successfully created a place for this mythical creature to live. It may seem pedantic to point out that setting is an essential component in creating a believable tale but I believe it is particularly true in this story. Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly have been shaped into the people they are by the loneliness of the island, by the elements, by the insular island culture, and by the beautifully alluring danger lurking in the water. The setting is a secondary character in Scorpio Races.

Finally, by allowing Puck and Kendrick to tell their own stories with their own voice, the reader is able to see the differences and similarities between these two interesting people.

Reader’s Annotation:

Only one can win the Scorpio Races but many can die. The horses are killers and the sea is calling. Is it worth the risk?

Information About the Author:

Maggie Stiefvater is a musician who plays several instruments including the bagpipes. She is also an award-winning colored pencil artist and a calligraphy instructor. She is now a full-time writer.

Maggie is the mother of two children and, as she says on her website, “four neurotic dogs who fart recreationally.”

Although Stiefvater gained a loyal following with her Shiver trilogy and Books of Faerie, but she started receiving literacy accolades with the publication of Scorpio Races and Raven Boys.

Please see her website for more information: http://maggiestiefvater.com/

Genre:

  • Magical realism
  • Adventure
  • Fantasy

Curriculum Ties:

  • Myths foundational to literature today

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 5.5

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book?:

Reviews:

  • Kirkus starred review
  • School Library Journal starred review
  • Booklist, starred review
  • Horn Book, starred review

Awards:

  • Michael L. Printz Award Honor, 2011
  • Odyssey Honor Audiobook (audio book), 2012
  • Notable Children’s Recording list, 2012 (audio book)
  • ALA Notable Books for Children, 2012
  • The New York Times Notable Childrens’ Books of 2011
  • Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of 2011
  • Amazon’s Best Books for Teens 2011
  • School Library Journal‘s Best Books of the Year
  • Kirkus’ Best Teen Books of the Year (2011)
  • Horn Book Best Books of 2011
  • YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012
  • YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2012

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

leverageBibliographic Information:

Cohen, J. (2011). Leverage. New York: Dutton Books.(0525423060)

Plot Summary:

Danny has a plan to get to college and away from the life he hates. To succeed, he has to focus on his gymnastics; despite the fact that gymnastics falls far down the totem pole of school funding. Football is the program that garners all the community support and, therefore, all the money. It’s tough enough being the underdog. Being a target for the football team’s bullying just comes with the territory.

In fact, that football money is what has brought newcomer, Kurt, to the school. Kurt has a history that he wants to hide and he, too, hopes to gain a future for himself through a sport – football. Kurt soon realizes that getting his dream may mean stepping on some other students who are weaker and more vulnerable.

When a series of escalating pranks end in a suicide, Danny and Kurt have to decide what happens now.

Critical Evaluation:

Cohen has done a credible job in creating two distinct voices in his characters of Danny and Kurt. Kurt’s history of abuse provides a strong foundation for explaining his grim focus on football as well as his admiration for the smaller and equally talented gymnasts. Danny’s backstory underscores his determination to get as far away from his hometown that he can.

Cohen has provided an interesting juxtaposition of strong and weak within both of his main and secondary characters. Indeed, Danny and Kurt are excellent examples of the flawed hero. For example, although physically strong with an impressive football build, Kurt has been emotionally and psychologically scarred because of the abuse he suffered in his past. Although intelligent, he appears to be slow because of his stutter and lack of social skills. Despite of growing up in poverty and abuse, Kurt has a strong moral code that he must struggle to reconcile with the realities of his situation.

The reader is led to compare Kurt and his flaws to the other football stars who have been made into heroes by a community steeped in a winning football tradition. These secondary characters by all appearances are strong, successful and popular. But, as the story progresses, the reader is introduced to the ugly world of bullying, steroids, and ego.

Although similar in their focus on escaping their respective situations, these two main characters have very distinct voices and through their respective lenses, the underbelly of competitive sports is revealed. Ultimately, this is a story of personal responsibility, choice, and accountability.

Reader’s Annotation:

When an escalating series of pranks and bullying causes the death of a student, two students have to decide whether the truth is more important than their future dreams.

Leverage is a gritty and violent tale full of the glory of football and the fear of being the underdog; where the good guy does not always win and right is relative.

Information About the Author:

Joshua C. Cohen played many sports while he was growing up in Minnesota. His favorite sport was gymnastics but he did not have the right body type to perform at an elite level. Instead, he was able to take his training in a different direction and became a dancer.

Cohen stared writing Leverage when he read about an attack on a group of underclassmen by their senior teammates. He says that when the victims came forward, they were verbally attacked by the community for “sullying the reputation of the school and causing a cancellation of the football season” (Cohen)

For more information about Joshua Cohen, visit his website http://www.leveragethebook.com/

Genre:

  • Realistic
  • Sports

Curriculum Ties:

  • Identity
  • Character development, voice
  • Choice

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Rape
  • Bullying
  • Suicide

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    1. Ask if he/she has read the book
    2. Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
    1. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion       documents
    2. Provide school’s selection policy
    3. Provide list of reviews/lists
  3. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this book?:

In all honestly, I do not like this book. I appreciate the different voices of Kurt and Danny. I also believe that Cohen has told a story that needs to be told. His focus on football and the hype and pressures young men are under to succeed – even to the detriment of their health – should be told.

Awards:

  • Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fiction (2011),
  • YALSA Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults (2012)
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults

Reviews:

  • Kraus, D. (2010). Leverage. Booklist, 107(8), 45.
  • Leverage. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(24), 1265.
  • Wilson, B. (2011). Leverage. Booklist, 107(18), 5