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January 1, 2011

The Road of the Dead

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The Road of the Dead

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 339

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ruben has always been different. He can sense what others are thinking or feeling even when they’re not near him. One night he senses that his sister Rachel is in pain and is gripped by fear. The next day, his family finds out that Rachel was murdered. He and his older brother Cole set out on to avenge her death and find out who killed her. Before long, they are themselves victims of violence. Trapped in a web of deceit and surrounded by people who want to silence them permanently, Cole and Ruben must fight their way out. Their only goal is to take Rachel’s body home for a proper burial... if they can make it back alive.

REVIEW: Typical Kevin Brooks book – edgy, violent, dark, foul mouthed, violent… To some teens though – this might be interesting. I found the book to be a little shallow and unrealistic – 2 boys taking on an entire town – what are the chances? The fact that the girl has been raped and murdered is a little dark (not something the teenage mind always needs more of). The review on the back of the book mentions “brutal, vivid violence” – I totally concur. I would not read this book as a class. On a historical note, the road of the dead was a passageway, funeral processions walked along to arrive to the final resting place of the body many years ago.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: imagery, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many – violence, shooting, torture, rape, dead bodies, etc.

RELATED BOOKS: Lucas, Candy, Being


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor


What They Always Tell Us

What They Always Tell Us

Author: Martin Wilson

Page Length: 288

Reading Level: 4.8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Career Connection: None

PLOT SUMMARY: James and Alex have grown up together as close siblings. People often considered them twins because they were similar in many ways. James and Alex are one grade level apart. The book takes the reader through an entire year of high school – James’ senior year and Alex’s junior year.

The school year begins with a big party at which time Alex chugs down a bottle of Pine Sol. He is rushed to the hospital where he fortunately recovers. However no one, not even his once close brother, knows why Alex attempted suicide.

Alex’s beginning junior year is filled with studying, visits to his therapist, and avoidance from former friends such as Tyler. Alex becomes an isolated homebody, a recluse.

James’ beginning senior year is filled with questions about his brother’s suicide attempt and daily “weird” behavior.

When James’ friend, Nathen, befriends Alex, Nathen encourages Alex to try out for the cross-country team. To prepare, Nathen and Alex begin a training workout together and develop a close friendship. At first, James is glad that his brother is out of the house and doing something “normal”. However, little does he know that the side activities that Nathen and Alex engage in are more intimate than mere cross-country teammates.

REVIEW: This is a beautifully written coming-of-age story for both Alex and James – two brothers that were once close and have now grown apart due to lack of communication. The reader will discover the character of Alex as one who is caught in the confusing maturation process during high school – cut off from his friends because he is “not acting like them” – not dating, not chasing girls. Alex’s cry for attention during his suicide attempt backfires for him as he experiences increased bullying from former friends. However, once James realizes his brother’s “true feelings”, the two grow closer together once more.

This is a great story of brotherly bonding. The story works because this is the central theme of the story – not the supplemental gay themes. However, both are intertwined. The gay relationship and intimate scenes between Nathen and Alex are maturely written in context of the plot.

Any male who has a brother struggling with a part of themselves as they mature will understand this story. This story contains characters with fresh voices. It is a book that is calmly written and one that will take many readers with siblings on a trip down memory lane.  

There is also an intriguing subplot in this story that deals with a young boy named Henry in search of his real father.

This book is written in third-person point-of-view. Odd-numbered chapters focus on Alex while even-numbered chapters focus on James.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, text to world, compare/contrast, prediction

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: there are several pages that list words such as “gay, faggot, queer”, a few scenes depict intimate scenes between two teenage males, and page 120 depicts one of those scenes

RELATED BOOKS: Crush by Carrie Mac, Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan, Big Guy by Robin Stevenson, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher, Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters

RELATED WEBSITES: (GLBTQ book discussion guide) (author’s website) (podcast)

REVIEWED BY: K. Stratton

August 30, 2009

Private Peaceful

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Private Peaceful

Author: Michael Morpurgo

Page Length: 202

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Charlie and Thomas Peaceful are brothers growing up in a rural setting living in the house the Colonel so graciously provided for the family in exchange for their father’s work. A tragic accident occurs for which Charlie feels responsible and the circumstances of the family change. Yet, Charlie and Thomas still enjoy an adventurous childhood. War has begun and Thomas is made to enlist. Charlie won’t be left behind and the two brothers embark upon the horrific and devastating journey across the seas as they serve their country in World War I. Can they make it back home alive? Will they ever see their brother, mother, or their precious Molly again?

REVIEW: Morpurgo delivers another excellent war story with such depth of characters, motives, and emotions that teachers have a wide range of discussion points and readers have many opportunities for connecting to the text. This book would make a great classroom novel. The novel isn’t just about the war. It details the childhood of the two young brothers including their protection of their mentally challenged brother, their love of the same girl, and their escapades to keep the family fed and survive their “loveless” grandmother. It’s a beautifully told story of sacrifice and tragedy.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, setting, conflict, resolution, historical connections, theme

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: young woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock, thieving to feed the family, war deaths

RELATED BOOKS: Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, Dolphin Boy, Why the Whales Came, Kensuke’s Kingdom, My Friend Walter


Private Peaceful – theater production


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

January 18, 2009

Are We There Yet

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Are We There Yet

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 215

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Although they were once close, Elijah and Danny have drifted apart. Danny is grown and away in the “real world” wrapped up in carving out a corporate career. Elijah is finishing his last year of high school and hasn’t even bothered to apply to college yet. Suddenly, Elijah and Danny find themselves on a trip to Italy together. They are reluctant participants in a parental ploy to bring them back together again. Adventure, discovery and maybe love awaits. Will they leave Italy as distant as when they landed?

REVIEW: If you love art, museums, artifacts and Italy then you will love this story. If however you get bogged down by excessive descriptions of art works and buildings, then you may find the book tedious – especially in the first half. The book does pick up plot towards the end. The reader experiences the nostalgia of the boys’ childhood through their flashbacks. The very different personality styles of the characters give them a more universal appeal to readers.

The author does make 2 good points: about finding more things in common with people than we expect sometimes and about defining who we are. The references to common marijuana use bothered me (in terms of it being portrayed as acceptable). Also, I was hoping for more closure in the end.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, sequence of events, flashback technique, cause and effect, making predictions, compare and contrast character traits, connecting text to social studies and the arts

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: marijuana use

RELATED BOOKS: The Realm of Possibility, Boy Meets Boy, Marley’s Ghost, Wide Awake, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, Likely Story

ART CONNECTIONS: Italian Renaissance Artists and art styles, David, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

October 30, 2008

Cruise Control

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Cruise Control

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 149

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Paul McDaniel is a star athlete in high school. His life seems perfect, but it isn’t. Paul keeps bottling up his rage over his family situation; unfortunately, when he lets his rage out he is in danger of completely losing control. On the one hand, Paul loves his brother and longs for a typical relationship; on the other hand, he hates the conditions having his special needs brother in his life has created for his family. Paul’s dad left the family and now he’s the man of the house – unwanted responsibilities that are affecting his future. Will Paul ever break free and can he ever forgive his father?


REVIEW: This book takes a real look at what life might be like for a family with a severely handicapped child. Through Paul’s emotions we experience his anger at not having a normal life, his disappointment in his father’s inability to be the man of the house and handle the situation, and his anger with himself over not being a better brother and ever even thinking about wishing that his brother didn’t exist. Powerful and raw — this book is moving and very real.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Foul language interspersed throughout the story


RELATED BOOKS: Stuck in Neutral, Inside Out, No Right Turn


RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” “Touched by Love,” “Door to Door”





REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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