The Book Reviews – Website

September 28, 2009

Haunted Schools

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Haunted Schools

Author: Allan Zullo

Page Length: 128  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Non-Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a collection of nine stories of ghosts and spirits who are haunting schools.  The first begins with two teen-age boys, Troy and Cody, coming in contact with a former teacher of a school.  Next, a new girl on the playground turns out to be a former classmate of the current teacher.  When a boy dies from a heart condition, his football team goes undefeated with a little help from the twelfth man. After two girls break a school rule by bringing an Ouigi board into their room, students start getting mysterious kisses.  An unknown drama student and graduate appear in two of the stories and in almost every story there is an eeriness that the reader cannot fully comprehend.

REVIEW: It is hard to believe that all of these stories are true. The plots of each of the stories would make a good horror movie, because the events are unbelievable. This book could be used as a unit study during October.  Then, on Halloween the students could dress as their favorite “ghost”. I thought the stories were entertaining and would appeal to the reluctant reader because they are short and easy to read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Character, Setting, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Haunted Kid Series: The Haunted Graveyard, The Haunted Shortstop, Haunted Kids, More Haunted Kids, Haunted Teachers, Haunted Animal, Haunted Campus, Totally Haunted Kids

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Haunted School (2007- Chinese)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Funny Little Monkey

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Funny Little Monkey

Author: Andrew Auseon

Page Length: 298

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Arty Moore is a fourteen-year-old boy with a growth hormone deficiency which has stifled his growth to a mere 4’ 2”. Arty has a twin brother, Kurt, who has seemed to get all of the growth hormones of the two and towers more than 6’ tall. 

Kurt has tormented Arty most of their adolescent life, and when Arty hears of an “underground misfit group” in his school, he employs them to sabotage his brother.  When the school mascot is stolen, Kurt becomes a prime target of accusation. 

While the underground organization mounts evidence against Kurt, Arty becomes infatuated with Leslie Dermott, the new, rich girl in town.   Arty doesn’t really know why, but Leslie seems to enjoy his company, also. A series of events follow that make Arty question his feelings about his brother, mother, Leslie, and the underground misfits.

REVIEW: Young teen boys would enjoy this book as it deals with many of the feelings they experience in the years of puberty and early maturity. The book had several subplots that kept the story line interesting. However, the book focuses on many negative behaviors and feelings and the author does not end it with any strong socially redeeming conclusion.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity, some underage tobacco, alcohol, and drug use


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Author: Vickie Grant

Page Length: 101

Reading Level: 2.8

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chris is tired of his life of growing up on the bad side of town. One day, he finds a wallet lying in the street. Chris matches the physical description of the guy and assumes his identity. The money and credit cards inside the wallet help finance Chris’s new life as Andrew Kirk Ashbury. Although, Chris means to stop by and give the wallet back, events keep occurring that distract him. Will Chris really be able to become Andrew or will his true identity be revealed?

REVIEW: This is the typical Orca book. The sentences are short. The lesson taught in this book is that there is no real right or wrong here. The character’s only remorse is that he almost got away with it. The story lacks depth and never really explores the consequences that Chris will face. The story ends with Chris being arrested as Andrew for a long list of crimes. Perhaps the only good lesson to teach from this story are the philosophical statements about the “grass being greener” and things not always being as they seem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: subject of theft, smoking, drinking, language

RELATED BOOKS: Dead-End Job, Pigboy, Quid Pro Quo

RELATED MOVIES: “Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

How I Live Now

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How I Live Now

Author: Meg Rosoff

Page Length: 194

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Daisy leaves behind her father and his new wife in New York in search of a sense of family. Daisy’s English cousins take her in with open arms and so a life of love, family, and adventure begins. Her Aunt leaves on a trip leaving the children all alone, and then their lives are irrevocably changed. War has erupted. There are no communications and that’s just the beginning. The children must survive occupation, no food, no medical help, and even separation. The world as Daisy knew it no longer exists. Can she persevere despite the hardships? Is there life after war?

REVIEW: The ideas presented in this book were fascinating. The reader catches a glimpse of the harsh realities of war and the backward trend society is forced to take because of it. With no electricity, supplies, or communication, and not enough weapons, the children must become resourceful and inventive. The characters are realistic and the story line is believable. Who ever stops to consider what we’d do if all our modern conveniences were suddenly non-existent? How would surviving anything so horrific alter the course of your life – if you survived at all? Rosoff tells a beautiful story etched with pain and suffering but enveloped in love and courage. This is a great thinking story and therefore a wonderful discussion piece.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, realism, first person narration

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: violence – p. 108 enemy attack, p. 105 “brains splattered everywhere,” p. 141 “birds were pecking at the dead face in front of me”

RELATED BOOKS: Dies the Fire by Sterling, 1632 by Flint, Islands In the Sea of Time by Sterling, War of the Worlds, Life of Pi, Hatchet by Paulsen

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964), War of the Worlds


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Big Guy

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Big Guy

Author: Robin Stevenson

Page Length: 106

Reading Level: 2.9

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Derek is trying to get through high school and work. His favorite pastime is hanging out online. He meets someone special there and they talk everyday. When the guy asks for a photo, Derek sends him one. The problem is that photo was taken when he was pounds lighter. As their anticipated meeting date draws near, Derek can’t decide what to do. He’s trapped within the web of his own deceit.

REVIEW: The book details a gay online relationship as well as Derek’s father’s negative reaction to having a gay son. Mixed among the homosexual issues is a great story line about believing in yourself and being strong. Derek works with disabled and elderly clients where he meets a woman who avoids living a full life because she is disabled. Derek and the woman become friends and find strength through their friendship with each other.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits, dialogue, cause and effect, point of view

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: gay relationship, absent mother, alcoholism

RELATED BOOKS: Out of Order, Dead in the Water, Impossible Things

RELATED MOVIES: “Freedom Machines”, “The Christopher Reeve Story”, “Rain Man”, “Radio”, “Forrest Gump”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Burn Journals

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The Burn Journals

Author: Brent Runyon

Page Length: 327

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Memoir

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the true story of Brent Runyon – a 14 year old comical class clown whose mental state is all too dark. One day, he enters his bathroom shower wearing a robe, douses himself in gasoline, and then lights himself on fire! This story is told through the eyes of Brent himself years after his recovery from his suicide attempt.

Brent’s suicide attempt resulted in 3rd degree burns over 85% of his body and months of hospitalization and rehabilitation. During this time, Brent does not seriously question the motives of his suicidal thoughts and actions. Rather his mind is on healing his body and moving on to a better life. However, those around him struggle to maintain their composure and offer as much love as they can to Brent.

REVIEW: The story, even though written years after the author’s teenage years, reflects the voice of a young person struggling with his identity and place in the world. Teenage humor, sadness, immaturity, depression, and sarcasm are all present in this memoir. In the early stages of recovery, the author describes his time in the hospital in great detail – the feeling of bathing his wounds, the relief of eating ice cream, the annoyances by the staff psychologist, and the attraction towards nurses and therapists. Because it is a memoir, it is hard to judge the quality of the work because it is all true to the author.

There is no usual sense of closure to this story – only the fact that the author does physically recover from his injuries. I do not feel all students should read this book due to the sensitive subject matter. There are several passages which would make for good writing topics and discussion points.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: the art of the memoir, writing, voice, dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS: the subject of suicidal thoughts and actions, cursing, sexual references

RELATED BOOKS: Running with Scissors, Girl Interrupted

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Girl, Interrupted” (1999)

RELATED WEBSITES: (reader’s guide with discussion questions)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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