The Book Reviews – Website

January 18, 2010

The Contender

The Contender

Author: Robert Lipstyte

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 6.1

Genre: Fiction, Drama

PLOT SUMMARY: The main character, Alfred Brooks, is a young African American man whose daily life exemplifies the struggles of urban life in the 1960s.  He lives with his caring, loving Aunt Pearl in Harlem since the death of his mother when he was 13 and abandonment of his father when he was 10. On the stoops of his neighborhood are alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless people. The plot intensifies when Alfred’s long-time best friend, James, and others try to get Alfred to rob the store at which he works. Alfred refuses but forgets to tell the others of the silent alarm. One person gets arrested and the other two get away. James turns to drugs and tempts Alfred. Through these struggles, he manages to find the will to survive and be a better person by learning to box. Boxing and his coaches provides him with the self confidence and discipline he so desperately needs to reject the temptations of drugs, robbery, and dropping out of school for good. Alfred then begins to learn that he can be a positive influence upon the community in which he lives. Alfred learns that being a contender does not necessarily apply only to boxing.

REVIEW: The Contender is an excellent book in which most reader’s can identify with the themes; that is, resisting peer pressure, trying to become a better person, and overcoming difficult situations. Robert Lipstyte, the author of The Contender, leaves the reader with a sense of hope at overcoming obstacles and moving forward rather than following the status quo. After reading the book, one believes he or she can arise from his/her surroundings of desperation if only one becomes focused upon something that is positive and maintains discipline to achieve a goal and maintain hope in a better tomorrow.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, peer pressure,  5 steps of the writing process

RELATED BOOKS: Monster by Walter Dean Myers, Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times by Russell Sullivan, Muhammad Ali, the People’s Champ  by Elliott J. Gorn,  King of the World by David Remnick, Grammar for Middle School: A… by Don Killgallon, Iron Mike: A Mike Tyson Reader by Daniel O’Connor. Books by the same author: The Brave, The Chief, Warrior Angel, One Fat Summer (Ursula Nordstrom, Raiders Night, The Yellow Flag

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Hope for the Broken Contender (2008), Kid Monk Baroni (1952), Cinderella Man (2005), Rocky Balboa (2006), Rocky (1976)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://education.yahoo.com/homework_help/cliffsnotes/the_contender/

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/The-Contender-Robert-Lipsyte-Biography-Personal-Background.id-62,pageNum-4.html

http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Contender_Lipsyte/Contender_Summary01.html

http://robertlipsyte.com/

http://english.byu.edu/Novelinks/reading%20strategies/The%20Contender/Cloze%20Test.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Contender_(Robert_Lipsyte_novel)

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/contender/

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

September 28, 2009

Harley Like a Person

Harley Like a Person

Author: Cat Bauer

Page Length: 282  

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Harley believes that she is adopted.  All of her family has blue eyes, Harley’s are brown.  Her mom told her she lost her birth certificate after she was born.  She does not relate to her alcoholic father and her bitter mother.  It seems they are always nagging her to clean her room, dust, do the dishes, and never notice her good grades or the way she helps with her younger sister. While Harley stumbles through her ninth grade year in school, she continues to research clues in finding out who her true parents are.

Harley does not deal with the conflicts in a rational way.  She hides under her bed, locks herself in her room, and refuses to talk to her parents when they make her angry.  However, she does find comfort in writing poetry, painting, and playing her oboe.  Harley not only has difficulties at home, but begins to show anger and jealousy towards her best friend.  After being treated badly by one boy she finds herself in a relationship with a fast talking, drug dealer.  Her grades begin to fall, although she is ask to complete a special art project for the school play.  Harley finds herself experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex although she knows she is making bad decisions.

She continues her quest to find her true identity but hits many hurdles on the road before finding answers to the many family questions that plague her.

REVIEW:  Harley Like a Person is a fast read with lots of drama.  Harley encounters emotional issues that cause her to question her parent’s honesty and morals and make bad moral decisions for herself. 

This book would be enjoyed by girls who face the many conflicts and issues of teens growing up in today’s world.  Unlike many books, the main character makes bad choices then is forced to answer to her parents and teachers.  In the end, Harley’s questions are answered but not before she suffers some bad experiences with her family, boyfriend, and best friend.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Conflict, Theme, Character, Cause and Effect, Point of View

TOUCHY AREAS: marijuana use- (p.172-175, 212- 216), alcohol use (212-216), and sexual situations (p. 176, 217)

RELATED BOOKS: Harley’s Ninth

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.teenreads.com/review/1890817481.asp

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Candy

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Candy

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 364  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joe is an ordinary teen age boy living outside London with his father and sister.  His parent’s are divorced although they continue to see each other.  Joe plays bass in a local rock band.  One day, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Joe encounters Candy, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen.  His conversation with her in Mc Donald’s is brief because a large black man comes in to the restaurant and forces her to leave with him.

Although the encounter was brief, Joe did get Candy’s number. He calls her and they meet at the London Zoo.  While in the Moonlight World tunnel, Candy begins to kiss Joe and a heavy make-out scene follows.  Joe is aware that Candy is taking some type of drugs but he is not sure what.  He becomes obsessed with her and writes a song about her. 

When Candy goes to see Joe at the club where his band is playing, she hears the song about her.  As the crowd applauds the performance, a fight breaks out between the black man who appears to possess Candy, and Mike, Joe’s future brother-in-law.  Joe discovers Candy is living a life of heroin drug addiction and prostitution. Determined to help her, he risks his relationship with his father and his friends and eventually his own life. 

REVIEW: The book is a narrative written from Joe’s point of view.  The characters are developed in a realistic manner in which the reader can embrace their feelings and emotions.

I would recommend the book for mature teens.  The content is heavy, but gripping, as the characters experience the tragedies of drug addiction.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Conflict, Theme, and Character

TOUCHY AREAS: Teachers should be aware that the theme of the book is about drug addiction.  Mild profanity is used throughout the book (p. 22, 30, 102, 118, 285, through the end of the book) and a heavy make-out scene is described on page 97.  There is drug use on pages: 116, 142, and 195.  Chapter 19 describes Candy’s withdrawal from heroin.  There is also physical violence included.       

RELATED BOOKS: Crank, The Beast, Slam, Charmed, Rats Saw God, No Problem, The Glory Field

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Miles from Home (2006),

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.pbskids.org/itsmylife/parents/lesson_plans/dangers_of_drug_abuse.html 

 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Heavy Metal and You

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Heavy Metal and You

Author: Christopher Krovatin

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sam loves two things – heavy metal and Melissa. He only feels complete when he’s got his music and the one girl in the world who makes him feel like he’s never felt before.

There’s only one problem, Melissa doesn’t really fit into his heavy metal world. She hates his friends and isn’t in love with his music. Sam can’t stand her friends either. Is there love strong enough to overcome the obstacles in their way? Can you truly love someone without loving their friends and their interests?

REVIEW: Unless you are a heavy metal fan – as in know the lyrics, music style, and band names of many of the top heavy metal bands –then you may find this book boring. I really couldn’t relate – but I think that a true metal head would love this story. I did not enjoy reading it because the main character’s obsession with heavy metal, what songs he liked, how he likes his music, etc. dominated the book. Once you get past the heavy metal excess, the drugs, the alcohol, and the overuse of the F word, there is a slight bit of substance to the book.

The author tackles the age old issue of love and friendship and what happens when the two clash. There are some interesting issues to ponder about relationships, acceptance, and what love (versus attraction) really means. Heavy metal lovers read on – everyone else… maybe when you’re really really bored.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: lessons about true to yourself, cause and effect, author’s purpose, dialogue, elements of plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many of them — f- – k must appear over 50 times, use of marijuana, use of alcohol (and the message that it’s ok), smoking, pg. 125 “her shirt went over her head,” pg. 95 “cocaine addicts dream”

RELATED BOOKS: Candy, Kissing the Rain, I Will Survive, Cut, Talking in the Dark

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: any appropriate heavy metal music

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.thisispush.com/voices/krovatin.htm

http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/2008/03/how-havy-metal-prepares-you-for-heavy.html

http://www.madisonpubliclibrary.org/youth/teentopix/index.php/2007/01/29/heavy-metal-and-you/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 8, 2009

Autobiography of My Dead Brother

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Autobiography of My Dead Brother

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 212

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jesse and Rise, though a couple of years apart, have been like brothers since they were young. They even made a pact once and became blood brothers. Lately Jesse’s noticed that Rise seems different. In his art work he begins to try capture what seems different about Rise. Outside, in his neighborhood, more violence is occurring every day. Drive by shootings have been happening in the area. Rise has begun to appear more violent and even talks about what it would be like to get their group, The Counts, into dealin’ drugs. Jesse’s terrified at the turn his friend’s life has taken and before he knows it, he too is in over his head. Can he save Rise and himself before it’s too late?

REVIEW: The story is filled with all the struggles of an inner city boy caught in a gang infested neighborhood. The reality of drug use, dependence, and dealing are ever present in this book. Myers describes drive by shootings and the fear present on the streets exceptionally well. The reader can feel Jesse’s pain as he sees Rise’s transformation but is powerless to stop him. The story line lends to a good classroom discussion about choices, circumstances, and reactive paths of action. I think that students would be able to relate to this story and would enjoy reading it as a class.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, foreshadowing, character traits, setting

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: firebombing, guns, drive bys, intimidation, prostitution

RELATED BOOKS: Shooter, Monster, Malcolm X, Fallen Angels, Slam!, The Beast, The Glory Field

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/006058291X.asp

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/myers.html

http://www.learningthroughlistening.org/Classroom-Teaching-Tools/Lesson-Plans/View-Lesson-Plans/463/gradeId__4/subjectId__4/lessonId__189/

http://www.classbrain.com/artteensm/publish/article_37.shtml

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Aimee

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Aimee

Author: Mary Beth Miller

Page Length: 276

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: As far as everyone else is concerned, Zoe’s guilty. She can’t go anywhere near her old friends and her parents have had to move her away to a new school. Aimee is gone, and this is what Zoe gets for “helping” her – total alienation from her friends, loneliness, isolation, parents who think she’s a murderer, and weekly visits to see a shrink. All Zoe did was try to be a friend and this is her reward??

REVIEW: This book is not the average read by any means. Aimee was Zoe’s best friend. She talked often of killing herself and one night in Zoe’s presence does just that. There are issues of teen sex where Zoe had sex with Chard and took hot baths, etc. taking what she considered aggressive actions not to be pregnant. Aimee tells Zoe stories of an abusive step mother who assaults her sexually. Zoe deals with her own depression and anorexia as a result of the incident. Zoe’s parents are cracking under the stress of probation, psychiatrists, and Zoe’s erratic behavior. On the other hand, the book deals well with an extremely emotional topic – suicide. The reader experiences first hand Zoe’s pain, loss, and suffering (which might make an excellent anti-suicide teaching point). The topics covered in the book are excellent for sparking classroom discussion / debates. Should you elect to let your students read this book – it should definitely be a page turner and of high interest.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, sequence of events, flashback, depth of emotion for character development, cause and effect, comparing and contrasting

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: girl talks about slitting her wrists (p. 86), child abuse reference (p.133), suicide reference (pgs. 243-246)

RELATED BOOKS: On the Head of a Pin, Handtalk School, The Pact, Thirteen Reasons Why, Hold Tight, Teen Suicide

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Good Charlotte – Hold On, Linkin Park – Breaking the Habit

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/features/020415-aimee.asp

http://www.teensuicide.us/

http://library.thinkquest.org/12333/page2.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

January 18, 2009

Margaux with an X

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Margaux with an X

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: On the outside, Margaux’s life seems to resemble perfection. She’s gorgeous, every guy wants her, every girl wants to be within her circle of friends, and she’s smart. In reality, Margaux’s harboring a terrible secret. She’s tired of playing Sara’s popularity games with groping boys, seeing her mother engrossed in the shopping channel day after day, and hearing about her father’s latest gambling activities. Then she meets Danny who is a scrawny, anything but fashionable guy who dedicates his life to rescuing animals. Could it be love at first sight? Will Margaux reveal her terrible secret?

REVIEW: This book took an interesting look at a number of important topics. One issue addressed in the book is the price Margaux has paid for her father’s addiction to gambling. Also, Koertge teaches the reader that being beautiful isn’t as glamorous or as easy at it seems. Yet another topic presented in the book is that self-discovery can be painful but gratifying. Both Danny and Margaux have endured hardships and are discovering who they are and how their past has shaped them. Overall, the book is interesting, the plot is well developed, and the final parting message is good – the path of least resistance isn’t necessarily the best.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, sarcasm, vocabulary development

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Dad offering Margaux a joint (p.22), “he tries to feel my boobs… just a semi-slut instead of a full-on hoochie” (p.87), destroying a car out of anger (p.142), “you’d drive me over to Tony’s house and let him take pictures of me in my underpants” (p.150)

RELATED BOOKS: Where the Kissing Never Stops, Stoner & Spaz, The Brimstone Journals, Shakespeare Bats Clean Up, The Arizona Kid

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0763624012.asp

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/ron-koertge-aya/

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/gambling_addiction.htm

http://www.spca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Homepage_Template_2004

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 8, 2008

Zach’s Lie

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Zach’s Lie

Author: Roland Smith

Page Length: 211

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jack has no idea why mask men break into his house, threaten his mom, sister and him and then totally ransack the place.  In just hours, he learns that his dad has been arrested for drug trafficking and the mask men were working for his dad’s drug czar boss.  The Witness Security Program force Jack, his sister, and mom to move to Nevada and assume new names and identities.  There, Jack, now Zach, meets the school custodian.  He gets in a fight the first day of school and meets a girl of interest, Catalin.  Zach is finally getting into his new life, but finds he has been discovered by the drug boss and not only his life, but all of those connected to him are in danger, again.

REVIEW: This book is action packed from the beginning.  The characters are well developed and the plot has several subplots that keep the reader’s interest.  This is a good suspense novel that boys would especially enjoy.  It would also be a good class novel to read. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Theme, Character, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Jack’s Run, The Alex Rider Series: Scorpia, Eagle Strike, Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Stormbreaker

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.rolandsmith.com/index.php?page=curriculum

www.multcolib.org/talk/guides-zach.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 5, 2008

Learning the Game

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Learning the Game

Author: Kevin Waltman

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nate isn’t the typical teenager. His parents are loaded but never notice him, he has a popular girlfriend who is all about appearances, and his brother is one of the town druggies. Nate wants to fit in with all the guys on the basketball court. One summer day, he is tested. Will he choose the team or what he knows is right? Will he stand by his friend or be bullied by Branson? Nate’s worked super hard on his game all summer, but the terrible truth of his actions just may cost him everything. A surprise call from his brother, a guilty conscience, and a chance that his team could suffer may be too much for Nate. Will he save himself, his team, his girlfriend, or his brother?

REVIEW: This book was fast paced and contained many important elements for teen readers: relationships, sexual tension, bullying and popularity, sports, and family. The moral to the story: telling the truth is the right thing to do – no matter what the consequences – could spark an interesting debate in the classroom – as the book is being read – what are his options? What could he (Nate) do instead? Should he tell or not?

The lessons about true friendships and relationships were important ones. I think that this book would be good for classroom study or for a small group instruction. Boys would generally be more drawn to it than girls and basketball lovers would especially understand Nate’s drive to be the best, make the Varsity starting line, and his descriptions of basketball action.

A secondary story is the disintegration of Nate’s family due to a previous event. When he was younger, he and his brother were at a friend’s house. His brother describes how they were looking at the gun, putting it away, and how it accidentally went off. His friend was dead and his life was forever changed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view, cause and effect, flow chart of decisions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accidental shooting, drugs (mild reference), drinking

RELATED BOOKS: Nowhere Fast, Push, Slam, Game, Hoops, Coach Carter, Summer in the City, Taking Sides

RELATED MOVIES: “Coach Carter,” “Believe in Me,” “Glory Road,” “Finding Forrester”            

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://content.scholastic.com/browse/contributor.jsp?id=2960

http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/book.jsp?id=4162

http://www.kidsandguns.org/study/inthenews.asp?ID=465

http://spplteensread.blogspot.com/2008/07/learning-game-by-kevin-waltman.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 2, 2008

Middle Row

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Middle Row

Author: Sylvia Olsen

Page Length: 100

Reading Level: 2.4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Raedawn (a Native American) and Vince (a white American) are dating in a town where racial tensions run high. Neither family totally embraces the couple’s bond.

When a fellow classmate, Dune, turns up missing from school, not many people are motivated to find out the truth about this boy’s disappearance. As Vince, Raedawn, and her Uncle Dave dig deeper into the disappearance of Dune, they stumble across a marijuana operation in the backwoods country. Upon their discovery, all three are chased out of the woods by gun shots and dogs. The “detectives” turn to the police to report what they have seen. As a result, Dune and his mother Ocean are forced from their hiding place in the woods to a farmhouse basement.

When Uncle Dave, who used to date Ocean, comes face to face with Ocean and Dune, it hits him that Dune is his son. Uncle Dave and Ocean make amends for their past actions, and the story closes with Uncle Dave accepting Dune into his “family”. A celebration of Dune commences at the Reservation.

REVIEW: This book was a simple story about how in the midst of racial tensions, family can transcend hatred and bigotry. The character of Dune is an outcast of mixed race, yet finally discovers his true family in his long-lost father. I enjoyed this book, however I wished that the character of Dune had some more dialogue. The lack of dialogue used by the author for Dune was probably for effect, but it would have been nice to know a little bit more about this character. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 41), characterization of Raedawn (page 71)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “beach bastards” (page 20), weed operation (page 55), marijuana mentioned (page 56), “damn racist” (page 79), racial tension throughout the book

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.orcabook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/MiddleRowTG.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_racism

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

September 23, 2008

Alex Rider Eagle Strike

Alex Rider Eagle Strike

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 322

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: In the fourth of the Alex Rider series, Alex begins another spy experience in the South of France where he is vacationing with Sabina Pleasure’s family.  Alex met Sabina in the last book, Skeleton Key, while working undercover at the Wimbledon Tennis Championship.

While relaxing on the beach, he sees Yassen Gregorovich, a hired assassin, who killed his uncle.  After a bomb goes off in the Pleasure’s dwelling, and injures Sabina’s father, Alex believes Yassen is clearly involved, and that he may be the intended target of the bombing.

Thus follows a series of action packed events including:  Alex in the arena fighting a bull, a discovery that Damian Cray, England’s most celebrated entertainer is involved, help denied by M16, nuclear missiles, a life-size video game, and the hijacking of Air Force One.   Alex is determined to stop Damian Cray and Yassen Gregorovich but comes close to losing his and Sabina’s lives.  As the book ends, Yassen Gregorovich is killed but in his last words tells Alex to go to Scorpia and find his destiny. . . 

REVIEW: As in the previous three books of the series, Anthony Horowitz pits Alex Rider in the middle of high-action, life threatening situations.  I like that Sabina has become a part of the series, and Alex is able to have a typical teen romance while in the throws of harm’s way. 

The book is filled with non-stop action.  I especially liked the detail written when Alex is going through the life size version of the video game.  Although there is a lot of background in the previous books, a reader could read and enjoy Eagle Strike without having read the others.

SUGGESTED TEACHING AREAS:  Leisure reading, Sequence of Events, Drawing Conclusions, Predicting Outcomes, and Making Generalizations, and Descriptive Writing

RELATED BOOKS: Point Blank, Stormbreaker, Skeleton Key, Scorpia

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker” (2006), “Mission Impossible l, ll, and lll”, “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “The Bourne Supremacy” (2003), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.anthonyhorowitz.com/alexrider/books/eaglestrike.html

www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0399239790-excerpt.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_Strike

http://turnpaige.com/2008/02/07/eagle-strike-by-anthony-horowitz

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008

Losing is Not an Option

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Losing is Not An Option

Author: Rich Wallace

Page Length: 127

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ron is an athlete who longs for the next running competition and can’t stop dreaming about coming in first. After each defeat, he intensely trains for the next meet. In between meets, Ron is the average high school guy who hangs out with his friends and longs for a girlfriend. He excels as a teenage poet and works hard on the basketball court tool. This book chronicles his crushes, friendships, hardships, and training in nine short stories.

REVIEW: Honestly, the first half of this book I wasn’t making the connection between the same character and the all the short stories. However, in the last half of the book the author seemed to do a better job of tying the stories together. The language in the book ranges from the f word to other frequently used curse words. The main character and his friend are propositioned at a carnival; the girls offer sex for money.  Underage drinking is present, drug use, and sexual innuendos. I would be careful in recommending this book; on the other hand, the Ron does a good job of remaining true to himself and his sport.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, making predictions, chronological ordering, textual support

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: page 60 – “closet masturbator”, page 86 – “Ziploc bag of pot”, page 79 – “asshole”

RELATED BOOKS: Curveball, Wrestling Sturbridge, Shots on Goal, One Good Punch

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.answers.com/topic/rich-wallace

http://www.loveland.k12.oh.us/district/technology/ITech/LES/Reading/L.htm

http://www.authors4teens.com/introduction.jsp?authorid=rwallace

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 23, 2008

Crossing the Wire

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Crossing the Wire

Author: Will Hobbs           

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction   

PLOT SUMMARY: Victor Flores is a 15-year-old boy trying to support his family by farming corn in Mexico.  The prices have fallen so much that Victor and his mom realize they will not be able to survive in their home much longer. 

Victor’s neighbor, Rico, has received money from his brother in the U. S. to pay “coyotes” (illegal transporters of Mexican immigrants) to get him across the border (wire).  Victor has no money, but decides with his mother, that he must, too, leave Mexico and “Cross the Wire” to find work to support the family.

The story is of the long and grueling journey, which Victor endures to get north of the border.  He meets with others moving northward and they help Victor with food and travel.  He learns a lot from Miguel who has been to the U. S.  many times, but they eventually get separated.  When Victor gets caught and is sent back to Nogales, he runs into Rico.  Together the two of them do “cross the wire”.

REVIEW: This book is a relevant realistic fiction book that I believe would be of interest to the large Hispanic population in Texas schools today.  It tells of the hardships of living in Mexico, that make its residents long to move to the United States to have the chance to make a life on their own.

It also addresses how hard it is to immigrate into the U. S. since the 9/11 attack.  Hobbs uses many similes in his writing, which could be used as examples for teaching in writing.  He did an extensive background study of the area and the people before writing the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Compare/Contrast, Character, Setting, Cause/Effect, Historical Context, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: The Crossing by Gary Paulsen, Coyotes, The Devil’s Highway, Tunnel Kids

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.willhobbsauthor.com/bookspages/crossingthewirepage.html

www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0060741392.pdf

www.ssymborski.edublogs.org/2008/05/15/crossing-the-wire-by-will-hobbs

www.secondaryenglish.com/crossing the wire.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

July 1, 2008

The Glory Field

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The Glory Field

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This novel tells the story of generations of the Lewis family. The story begins in West Africa in 1753 when Muhammad Bilal is captured, bound, and taken on a ship. Young Muhammad longs for his family, watches many of his shipmates die, and wonders what his own fate will be. He longs for his freedom. Next we meet, Moses and Joshua Lewis on a South Carolina plantation in the year 1864. They too are on a dangerous quest for freedom no matter what the cost. The story continues across the family tree in each generation concluding in modern times. The Lewis family must summon all of their strength and courage to overcome hardships that continue to present themselves in different forms to each generation.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the historical perspective this book provided. Myers did an exceptional job of helping the read feel the struggles of each generation. He truly relays how arduous the struggle for equality has been for African Americans. Different generational stories are told by both the males and females of the family – making the book equally appealing for all students. The novel is rich with historical connections and would make an excellent teaching tool.

The one thing I found hard to follow at times – or really that I wish he had done differently would have been to follow one specific family line all the way through instead of taking different characters along the way. However, the stories are woven together well; sometimes, just glancing back at the family tree diagram helps the reader keep it all together in their mind.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: author’s purpose, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, compare/contrast, sequence of events, symbols (shackles),  point of view, causes and effects

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: whippings, slavery, prejudice, cruelty, drugs

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple, Gone With the Wind, Up From Slavery, If You Lived When There was Slavery in America, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

RELATED MOVIES: “Gone With the Wind,” “Roots,” “The North and the South,” “The Color Purple,” PBS – “Slavery and the Making of America”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.classzone.com/novelguides/litcons/glory/guide.cfm

http://www.glencoe.com/sec/literature/litlibrary/pdf/glory_field.pdf

http://tc.education.pitt.edu/library/Clusters/GloryField.html

http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schooladventures/slavery/

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 25, 2008

The Beast

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 5:26 pm
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The Beast

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 170

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Anthony “Spoon: Witherspoon is different than many of the kids in his Harlem neighborhood. He sees the chance for a brighter future. Spoon is offered a chance to attend an elite New England Prep School. Although he’s torn between leaving his home and exploring new possibilities, he know this is a once in a lifetime chance. After four months away, Anthony returns to find that home isn’t the same as it was when he left. His girlfriend, Gabi, has changed. Something dark and elusive haunts her. Spoon spots Gabi’s brother out on the streets. Illness plagues Anthony’s own family. Just when his world seems to be crumbling, Anthony has to find the strength to keep it all together. Can he keep his eyes on the future and still help the ones he loves? Or will Harlem life swallow them all and take their dreams away?

REVIEW: Myers writes a moving story about the struggles of a young man in Harlem. Anthony has gone away to an exclusive school and sees that there is a better life outside of Harlem. He’s still tied to his past and his love for Gabi. Gabi has turned to drugs because her dreams keep slipping farther away. Her mother is dying, her ailing grandfather is in her care, her little brother has turned to the streets and dealing, and her boyfriend is out of reach. Anthony slowly realizes Gabi’s addiction and works to help her. When she hasn’t returned for days, he visits the drug house and brings her home. Although this book dealt with the realities of drug use and the reasons why people turn to them, I do not feel that Myers adequately addresses the problem. Realistically, Anthony’s chances of bringing Gabi out of the drug house all on his own would be slim. I feel like the adults in the story should have been included in saving Gabi. At the same time, Anthony is fantasizing over his attraction to Chanelle.

The harsh realities of what drugs can do to a life are detailed well. On the other hand, the plot seems a little shallow. I would like to have seen more depth and intervention. Gabi’s love of poetry would lead to an interesting classroom discussion of poetry (its emotions and feelings). Overall, the book is appealing because of the love between the two characters and the hardships they endure. It is also valuable as a tool for teaching survival and overcoming harsh circumstances.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: context clues, figurative language, theme, setting, conclusions, predictions, climax, resolution, mood, tone

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drug use – pg. 161 “a needle still in his arm,” pg. 120 “skin surfacing, smoking…”

RELATED BOOKS: Slam!, Fallen Angels, Go Ask Alice, Beauty Queen, My Brother’s Keeper, Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich

RELATED MOVIES:  Little Fish, 28 Days, Permanent Midnight

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://shepherdingthought.com/2008/04/08/the-beast-by-walter-dean-myers/

http://www.drugfree.org/Parent/Resources/resources.aspx?ResourceType=Movies&page=2&Language=English

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/teendrug.html

http://www.scholastic.com/titles/features/fiction/thebeast_rrr.asp

http://litplans.com/authors/Walter_Dean_Myers.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Slam

Filed under: S — thebookreviews @ 5:22 pm
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Slam

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 266

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Greg Harris, aka Slam, is an outstanding basketball player. He has just recently transferred from his Harlem high school team to a magnet school. The pressure is on to perform in the classroom and on the courts where Slam has to learn to be a team player. All around him struggles are taking place. Life in Harlem is far from easy. Grandma is ill and in the hospital, Derek is following his lead. Ice may be dealing, and he can’t seem to get Mtisha off his mind. As the pressure mounts, Slam has to make some difficult decisions and dig deeper than he ever knew he could. Can he keep it all together and still prevail on the courts or will the pressure be too much?

REVIEW: Myers writes a moving story about the struggles of a young man in Harlem. Slam has talent, but he has to learn how to balance the demands of life without giving up or giving in. Slam! is a compelling story and a must read for basketball fans. This book would be good in an audio version. In general, the book would appeal more to boys. High school students can relate to Slam’s relationship issues, worries about his best friend’s new choices, and the pressure of making the grades and finding a path for the future. This book contains strong characters and play by play descriptions at times of basketball games and moves (which could bore students who do not understand the game of basketball). Great book for an African-American male who loves basketball to read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, causes of Slam’s difficulties – effects of his choices, setting, theme, conflict, writer’s motive, context clues (about Ice)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: allusions to drugs

RELATED BOOKS: Basketball by Mike Kennedy, The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, How to Be Like Mike: Life Lessons about Basketball’s Best, Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, The American Dream, The Beast

RELATED MOVIES:  Hoosiers (1986), Hoop Dreams (1994), Above the Rim (1994), Finding Forrester, Coach Carter (2005), Glory Road (2006)

RELATED MUSIC: Shaquille O’Neal – Respect, Hit Em High – Space Jam Soundtrack, We Are the Champions – Queen

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://faculty.salisbury.edu/~elbond/slam.htm

http://litplans.com/authors/Walter_Dean_Myers.html

http://www.bookhooks.com/detailed.cfm?Report_number=4652

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/

http://aalbc.com/authors/walter1.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 21, 2008

Charmed

Filed under: C — thebookreviews @ 9:47 pm
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Charmed

Author: Carrie Mac

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Izzy is a teenage girl growing up in a broken-home. Her mother has a live-in boyfriend whom Izzy does not get along with. While Izzy’s mother is away for several months, trouble begins – Izzy gets kicked out of her own house for stealing from her mother’s boyfriend.

Izzy is infatuated with a high school drop-out named Cody Dillon. Cody has a reputation for hanging around hookers and drug dealers. Izzy at first is unaware of this. Her mind is only on Cody’s looks and personality. At first, Cody showers Izzy with gifts and attention and Izzy begins to feel quite comfortable “leeching” off of Cody. She does not ask where the money comes from for all she is being provided.

Just as Izzy feels that her relationship to Cody is growing more serious, Cody reveals to Izzy that he owes his “dealers” $5,000. It is then that Izzy realizes that she is going to be pimped out to collect the debt. Izzy’s entrance into a “prostitution ring” has begun. Excessive drug use, drinking, and sexual/physical abuse ensue as Izzy feels trapped in a world that is all too real and all too horrifying.

As time passes, Izzy finds out that Cody’s “sweet actions” toward her in the beginning were all an act. Cody has treated other girls/prostitutes in the same manner. This realization is the last straw for Izzy. With the help of another prostitute, Izzy escapes “the ring” and returns home.

The story ends with Izzy and her mother moving to a new town, without the mother’s boyfriend, to begin anew.

REVIEW: I felt the basic story line was interesting, yet I believe the author over-used some curse words to the point where the story line felt less authentic. I wish the author had used some more description in her writing in dealing with the setting and emotional states of the main characters. Simply jotting down the names of drugs and curse words did not do it for me. I was looking for more! I believe that a struggling reader’s attention would be maintained with this book, yet I caution anyone from assigning it as to the mature content it contains.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions & foreshadowing (pages 40-41), use of capital letters for emotional effect (early chapters), conflict (page 80)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: CAUTION!!! – Every 3-4 pages contain references and words that relate to prostitution, sex, violence, drugs, abuse, body parts, diseases, and/or drinking. The references are too numerous to list all the page numbers, yet some pages you can refer to for a brief over-view are – 8, 22, 25, 36, 38, 51, and especially page 66! The book’s cover is even a little risqué.

This is the first book that I have previewed in which I have thought about not keeping out for all students to access. Please preview this book before letting others read it!

RELATED BOOKS: Sold by Patricia McCormick (prostitution from another cultural perspective), Go Ask Alice

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.google.com/books?id=JQ-mPhN2ph8C&dq=charmed+carrie+mac&pg=PP1&ots=7WLx5jj-ui&sig=S16C8rxxFnz3CCJSxZcOpl6p4SI&hl=en&prev=http://www.google.com/search%3Fhl%3Den%26q%3Dcharmed%2Bcarrie%2Bmac%26btnG%3DGoogle%2BSearch&sa=X&oi=print&ct=title&cad=one-book-with-thumbnail

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/CharmedTG.pdf

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

April 2, 2008

Rats Saw God

Rats Saw God

Author: Rob Thomas

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 6

REVIEW: This is the story of a high school senior, Steve York, who is called to the counselor’s (Mr. DeMouy) office to discuss how Steve, an underachieving merit scholar, can make up an English grade he failed his junior year in high school. Steve lives in San Diego with his newly remarried mom and sister. He has received a possession and three under the influence citations since the beginning of his senior year.  But Mr. DeMouy, a 30 year old counselor, wants to give Steve a second chance.  He tells Steve he can make up the failing grade by writing a 100 page essay.  He promises Steve no one else will read the essay but him.  Steve decides to take the challenge and titles his essay, “Roads Scholar”.   

The story begins in Houston, the summer after Steve’s sophomore year in high school. Steve is living with his father while his mom and sister move to San Diego after their divorce.  The book is written in two settings.  The first is Steve’s essay, a recollection of the past three years; the second is Steve’s present life, a senior in San Diego.   

Through Steve’s essay, the reader becomes familiar with the strained relationship Steve has with his father. Steve dons large hooped earrings and a bandana in an act of deviance to his Vietnam vet and astronaut father.   He admits loathing his dad as he states on page 110, “ is in better shape than me, buys American, watches CNN nonstop, drinks bottled water, reads the entire newspaper, works 16 hours a day, and has never air-guitared the Rolling Stones.”  The essay also describes the formation of the “Grace Order of Dadaists,” a club Steve and an obscure group of students charter at the high school.  From this group, Steve experiences his first love and loss of virginity.  

As Steve works through these memories in his writing, he works through feelings and relationships he has experienced.  He has both rewards and disappointments.  However, in writing about his past, Steve realizes where he needs to go and what he needs to do. 

I enjoyed this book immensely.  What I thought started off slowly, gripped my attention and I completed the book on an airplane ride to San Diego. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The book has mature content about drugs and sex.  On pages 150-154 is a graphic picture of Steve’s first sexual experience.  It is not inappropriate for mature high school students but teachers should be aware of it. I would suggest this book for junior and senior students and any adults in the education field. 

RELATED WEBSITES: 

www.bookrags.com/studyguide-rats-saw-god/

 

www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Rats-Saw-God.html

 

http://bfgb.wordpress.com/2007/08/21/rats-saw-god-by-rob-thomas/

 

http://moorebrarians.blogspot.com/2007/12/rats-saw-god-by-rob-thomas.html

www.powells.com/biblio/62-9781416938972-0

 

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Someone Like You

Filed under: S — thebookreviews @ 12:36 am
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Someone Like You

Author: Sarah Dessen

Pages: 281

Reading Level: 6

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Someone Like You is the story of two teenage girls, Halley and Scarlett, who have been best friends for the past five years. The story begins with Halley away at some teen adjustment camp her therapist mother made her attend. It’s the middle of the night, and Scarlett has called to ask her to come home because “he’s dead.” Halley and Scarlett weather the storm of Michael’s death and funeral together. Scarlett, who had just begun dating him that summer, is heartbroken. Meanwhile, Halley befriend Michael’s best friend, Macon. Macon and Halley begin dating and the battles between the properly raised and well grounded young woman Halley is and the more adventurous girl she wishes she were begins. Macon is dashing and exciting; yet, deep inside, Halley knows that he isn’t her type. She struggles with Macon’s disappearing acts, his non-existent home life, and defying her parents to see him. Drugs and sex enter into the picture and it becomes even more complicated.

 

Scarlett has issues of her own to navigate when she discovers that she is pregnant with Michael’s baby. Her eccentric mother, Marion, demands that she have an abortion. Scarlett has other ideas. With Halley by her side, they learn about pregnancy, deal with the social repercussions at school, and prepare for childbirth. Marion still insists on an adoption. Will Scarlett keep the baby? Will Halley make the right decision, or will she lose a part of herself trying to be what Macon wants? Will the rift between her and her mother mend?

 

REVIEW: I would recommend this to all teenage girls. It is very well written. Halley’s handling of the pressure to have sex and her internal struggle with being the good girl versus the adventurous “bad girl” is something most young women can relate to. I also like the way Dessen portrays the head cheerleader, who let herself go to easily, as washed out and unhappy. Dessen does an excellent job of examining the gravity of the decision to have sex and the repercussions that can follow.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: In the classroom, I would use the novel for small group reading for individuals.

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.sarahdessen.com/

  

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=58756739

 

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-someone-like-you/

 

http://www.smith.edu/ourhealthourfutures/teenpreg.html

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

February 28, 2008

No Problem

Filed under: N — thebookreviews @ 7:14 pm
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No Problem

Author: Dayle Campbell Gaetz

Page Length: 87

Reading Level: 2.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Curt is a high school student facing the pressures of academics, work, girls, friendship, and his parents. Curt is a talented baseball pitcher; his father dreams of Curt making it to the big leagues. Having almost made it to the major leagues himself, Curt’s dad puts pressure on him to achieve perfection and dedicate himself completely to the sport. Curt tires of the constant criticism and pressure. His coach notices him tending his arm and offers a bottle of muscle relaxers to take only when he really needs them. Curt’s world begins a downward spiral. Under extreme pressure, he begins to take the pills to sleep or relax. While working his part-time job, he meets and becomes enamored with Leah, a girl who is herself struggling with an issue (an alcoholic father). He falls for Leah but finds himself pursued relentlessly by Rachel, an older, flirtatious girl. Rachel offers Curt a ride home and before he knows it, he has taken his first hit of cocaine. As Curt’s addiction grows, his world falls apart. Coach takes him out the game and he storms off the field. He alienates his parents and his friends. Leah finds about his time with Rachel and his drug habit. Mom and dad are suspicious. A confrontation is coming. A choice has to be made. Will Curt come clean about his drug habits and seek help or will his life spin further out of control?

 

REVIEW: This story follows the traditional ORCA book format. The sentences are simple, the chapters short, and the subject level is high interest. As a reader, I dislike how briefly such important and vast subjects are touched upon and dismissed.  Even though some students are lower level readers, they can appreciate the depth and emotional dimensions of the issues presented in these books. I wish that they delved a little deeper and really examined the causes and effects of such issues.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: These books would work well for independent reading. In addition, teachers could have students analyze the causes and effects of Curt’s drug use and addiction. Students will likely be able to relate to many of the issues addressed in these novels. 

 

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/NoProblemGuide.pdf

 

http://teens.drugabuse.gov/

 

http://www.teendrugabuse.us/teendrugstatistics.html

 

http://www.helpforteens.net/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

 

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