The Book Reviews – Website

August 8, 2009

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

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47

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47

Author: Walter Mosley

Page Length: 232

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: 47 is the slave number given to young boy on the Corinthian Plantation when he was determined to be off age. Branded with that number on his left shoulder, 47 must spend his days working the field picking cotton and his nights chained up in a group bunk house. The overseer is a constant threat who often tortures slaves, kills them, or even hangs them from the hanging tree. 47 has all but lost his way until Tall John arrives. Tall John inspires and is inspired by 47 – who one day he says is destined to lead the masses to break the chains of slavery and be free.

REVIEW: The story was riveting in terms of its depiction of plantation life in the south. The horrors and detrimental effects of slavery were well portrayed – for this reason alone the book is an excellent source for making connections with students and history. The idea that any one person could be the chosen one who has a destiny far greater than he or she can comprehend is a beautiful theme. This theme can reinforce for students their own potential and the need to question their “place” in society. The spiritual aspect of the book and the other worldly origins of Tall John were more difficult to grasp – as well as the idea that demon spirits were capable of taking over other people’s bodies. The truth about how dark skinned people were treated inhumanely is accurately portrayed in the book. Even if the whole class didn’t read the book certain excerpts would be excellent for classroom examination and discussion. Overall the book was interesting and unique.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, compare and contrast, character traits, timeline, cause and effect, historical connections

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: language – “niggahs” (page 155), “dragged to the wagon wheel and chained to it hand and foot” (page 154), and many more language issues

RELATED BOOKS: Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, Black Betty, Little Scarlet, The Long Fall, Fortunate Son

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

RELATED WEBSITES:

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

www.waltermosley.com

http://www.guyana.org/features/guyanastory/chapter26.html

http://cghs.dadeschools.net/slavery/antebellum_slavery/plantation_slave_life/health.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk

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

January 17, 2009

You Don’t Know Me

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You Don’t Know Me

Author: David Klass

Page Length: 344

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The reader has the unique opportunity to get to know 14 year old John. Reading this book is like being inside John’s head – he shares his every thought about everything from playing the tuba, to being harassed by teachers, to admiring Glory Hallelujah from across the room. John claims that no one really knows him – after all he doesn’t even know himself. Throw in a manipulative girl, an abusive step father, a mother who is trying to make ends meet, and a band director who might know too much and life couldn’t get much more complicated.

REVIEW: I found this novel interesting and insightful. Who doesn’t want to understand teenagers (teenage boys) better? This book is a great look (fictional but realistically so) inside the mind of a teenage boy. I would recommend this book for parents and teachers – just to understand the perspective. It’s very powerful – the reader feels the fear of the step father with John. We also understand his cynicism about the world. The book is also humorous (outrunning an angry father)…

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, character analysis, sequence, use of dialogue (internal and external), elements of plot, suspense

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: abuse, theft, violence

RELATED BOOKS: Dark Angel, Home of the Brave, Wrestling With Honor, Danger Zone, The Caretaker Trilogy

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Radio Flyer”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0374387060.asp

http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/21174/David_Klass/index.aspx

http://www.childabuse.com/

http://www.preventchildabuse.org/index.shtml

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

May 21, 2008

Charmed

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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 12, 2008

Stepping on the Cracks

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Stepping on the Cracks

Author: Mary Downing Hahn

Page Length: 216

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical-Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Stepping on the Cracks is about the childhood adventures of two girls – Margaret & Elizabeth. They live in the small town of College Hill during the 1940’s. At this time, World War II is in full force. While the girls are attending grade school, their brothers are overseas fighting the German and Japanese forces. While the war sets the mood for much of the story, the girls try to maintain their childhood laughter and sense of fun.

Margaret and Elizabeth, as noted on the back of the book, are fighting their own personal war with Gordy – the town’s bully. Little do they know that under Gordy’s thick skin lie several secrets. Gordy’s father is physically abusive to his family and Gordy’s brother (Stuart) has run away from his military duties and is hiding out in the nearby woods.

When Magaret and Elizabeth discover Gordy’s brother, they at first use this knowledge as leverage against Gordy. However, the girls later decide to do something useful and help Gordy’s brother who is sick with pneumonia. The children keep Stuart a secret for as long as they can until Stuart’s sickness becomes too severe to manage on their own. As time elapses, members of the town become aware of Stuart’s presence. Later on, Stuart confronts his abusive father who in turn almost beats Stuart to death.

The story wraps up with Gordy and his family moving away from their abusive father and Stuart marrying one of the town’s widows, Barbara.

REVIEW: The story gets it’s title from a simple childhood game of “step on a crack, and break your mother’s back”. In this book, it’s “step on a crack, break Hitler’s back”. This highlights one way in which the war has infiltrated the world of children.

On page 113, there is a poem that hits at the heart of much of this story. Enemies are all around the world from far distant countries to local small towns, and given the right circumstances, enemies can turn into friends. 

I enjoyed this book as it was an easy read. It cast a different perspective on the sometimes over done and dry topic of war. The link between “war at home” and “war abroad” is a strong one. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: One could use this story to teach the TEKS of conflict, historical context, compare/contrast (between Margaret & Elizabeth), characterization (of Gordy), and theme (of enemies & war at home & abroad).

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Even though the reader can infer that physical abuse occurs in this story, there are no graphic scenes to mention.

RELATED BOOKS: Summer of My German Soldier

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.carolhurst.com/subjects/bullies.html (bullies in Children’s Literature)

http://www.csicop.org/superstition/library/cracks.html

http://www.ncsu.edu/midlink/bkfair/dms/dms.bks/Stepping/index.htm (powerpoint)

http://www.maslibraries.org/infolit/samplers/stepping.html

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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