The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Realm of Possibility

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The Realm of Possibility

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 210

Reading Level:

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is a collection of poems that shares the thoughts, emotions, and stories of different characters. The characters are high school age. Relationships of all types are detailed – boys together, girls together, and boy / girl. The poems cover the gamut of love from reeling elated at the possibility of a new relationship, to feeling low after not finding love, to finding harmony with each other. Some of the characters also endure hardships and discover more about whom they are and why they act as they have.

REVIEW: I did not enjoy reading this book. I find constantly assessing and deciphering the language of poetry tiresome in an entire book form. There were moments of the poems that I enjoyed; however, overall, the book was tedious.

If you love poetry, you will likely love this book and find many examples of well written poems and forms of expression that you could share with your students.

The one poem I found particularly interesting was one where a character starts writing words on the desk to express whatever comes to mind. These words have impact on the students who see them. The result of the expression – a girl who writes all over her body all of the words that define her – to others who react after reading the words – would provide for an interesting discussion of who we really are and why. See “Comeuppance” 153-163. It might even be interesting to provide students with a silhouette of a body shape and have them fill in the words that describe them before or after reading the poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjectives, description, poetic forms

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: poems about sex and love between both heterosexual and homosexual couples, a poem about visiting a sex shop (172-179)

RELATED BOOKS: Boy Meets Boy, All That Glitters, Are We There Yet?, Crush, Kissing Kate, I’ve Known Since I was Eight, Thinking Straight, Hero


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Parallel Universe of Liars

The Parallel Universe of Liars

Author: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

Page Length: 218

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Robin is 15 and has the good fortune of living next door to (Frankie) the hottest guy on the planet. Despite her good fortune, life seems to be the pits right now. Her best friend has just moved away, and no matter who she’s around sex seems to be something that everyone has in common. She’s seen the next door neighbor and his girlfriend, her mother and Dick, and even the next door neighbor and her stepmother. Unfortunately, Robin isn’t immune either. As Frankie begins to make advances toward Robin, she has a decision to make. Will she too join the parallel universe of liars? Can she resist him? What about the new relationship developing with Tri?

REVIEW: My first reaction to this book – is that there is no way I would want to use it as a classroom discussion piece. The book is frankly all about sex. Robin knows what her mother calls out during sex. She knows that Frankie and China watch pornography while having sex. She knows what Janice and Frankie do during sex. She is also propositioned by Frankie and does not effectively resist. Even her best friend, who has moved away, writes to her about being kissed by another girl. Sexuality is everywhere in this book.

The book of course does deal with the topic realistically. It might be a good book for a parent and teen to read (15 and up) to discuss how people can be used for sex, why a teen should consider their partners, how dangerous having a relationship with someone older and more experienced can be, etc.

There is also a useful discussion provided for talking about the detriments of finding worth only in one’s appearance. However, the author does fail to address the severity of the inappropriate relationship between a 22 and a 15 year old.

Exercise caution in recommending the book – parental issues could occur.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, analogies, elements of plot, author’s purpose 


 “Her naked breasts make me shivery and nervous. Frankie works them with his mouth..” (41)

“Under my hand …it begins to get bigger, then hard, and incredibly smooth” (114)

“he’s gasping and shuddering and my hand is a gushy mess” (124)

“my nipples turn into hard buttons under his tongue …his shifts to run his penis against my privates…convulsing and sending gush all over my tummy” (139)

RELATED BOOKS: Gone, Dumb Love, A Fast and Brutal Wing, Target


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Hoopster

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The Hoopster


Author: Alan Lawrence Sitomer


Page Length: 218


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Andre seems to have everything – an uncanny ability to shoot baskets, a great job at a magazine, and an awesome girlfriend. Andre is assigned the job of writing an article on racism. He begins to notice it everywhere he goes, even in his cousin Cedric’s skits. One night, Andre’s article gets written and he becomes a local celebrity; but, fame comes with a price. Race tensions are high in Andre’s town and his article is getting as much hate mail as fan mail. Andre’s own life is threatened. Will he ever reach his dreams of becoming a famous writer in the midst of so much hatred? What will reaching for his dreams cost him in the end?

REVIEW: This book has a decent story line and was actually able to include basketball without being totally focused on just the sport. As the matter of fact, this athlete has dreams of being a writer. He dates a Hispanic girl, his best friend is white, and he learns that his own father once changed his fate because of racist hatred. Faced with this knowledge and facing his own hate crime, Andre must decide if he too will enter into the cycle of violence or if he can follow a different path. Andre suffers tremendously because his views are outside the norm. The actions of the supremacist group leaves Andre emotionally and physically battered; yet, through it all, Andre prevails and continues to believe in himself and believe that he can change the racist views of the world.

This book had a basic plot and an easy story line to follow. This book would work well as a classroom read for students with a lower reading level.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, imagery, elements of plot, stereotypes

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: racist remarks, hate crime –  Andre is physically assaulted with the intent to permanently maim him, his father tells of a white man relieving himself on his boots and of being hit over the head with a bottle

RELATED BOOKS: Hip-Hop High School, Paulsen’s Nightjohn, Draper’s The Battle of Jericho, To Kill a Mockingbird, Richard Peck’s The River Between Us

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Dead Poets Society (1989), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 19, 2010

The Dark Side of Nowhere

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The Dark Side of Nowhere by Neal Shusterman: Audio Book Cover

The Dark Side of Nowhere


Author: Neal Shusterman


Page Length: 185


Reading Level: 7


Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

PLOT SUMMARY: Jason’s anxious to shake the small town dust off his feet. Having everyone know everything about him just gets to be too much sometimes. Lately, everyone’s begun to act strangely — a weird encounter with the school janitor and now there’s a secret to protect. What’s going on in Jason’s town? Who’s involved in the cover up and what exactly are they hiding? Will Jason be able to save Paula in time?

REVIEW: This was an interesting book for teaching compositional risk (a great way to achieve a 4 on the TAKS writing). The story seems to be along the usual plot lines until Jason discovers the unthinkable — that everything isn’t what he thought it was; and, that even he isn’t who he thought he was. Once their true selves are revealed no one will ever be the same again. Paula, Jason’s crush, is in grave danger. Jason believes that change is possible, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it. The story is entertaining from a science fiction perspective. Great student responses of their own “what if” stories could occur after reading this novel. This book is good for whole or small group discussion.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: plot, sequence, journal response, character traits, making predictions, generalizations and conclusions


RELATED BOOKS: Everlost, Unwind, The Shadow Club, The Eyes of Kid Midas, Dread Locks, Red Rider’s Hood, Full Tilt, Scorpion Shards, Thief of Souls, Shattered Sky

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: War of the Worlds (2005), Men in Black (1997), Race to the Witch Mountain (2009), Return to Witch Mountain (1978)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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Impact by James C. Dekker: Book Cover


Author: James C. Dekker

Page Length: 94

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Fiction

Career Connection: Police officer, pathologist, lawyer, detective

PLOT SUMMARY: As Jordan’s dad speaks to the court about his son who was murdered, Jordan recalls the events that led to his older brother, Mark’s, death. Jordan’s mind wanders as the judge listens to the impact each of the boy’s had on Mark’s death.

Mark was the dream guy – good looking, athletic, intelligent, and outgoing. Jordan was more on the shy, introverted side. Jordan had seen a girl, Shannon, at school and wanted to ask her out. When he talked to Mark about asking a girl out, Mark encouraged him. However, he did not get the nerve up when he saw her in the hall. When he arrived at the football game, he saw his older brother Mark, arm in arm with Shannon. It hit a nerve. There was no way that Mark knew Shannon was the girl Jordan had wanted to ask to the game, but he was with her.

Shannon’s boyfriend, Tony was jealous and wanted to get Mark to stay away from her. Kyle, a neighbor of Jordan’s, saw Jordan on the street and showed Tony who he was. When Kyle approached Jordan and asked him where Mark worked, Jordan knew it was to gain information for Tony. Jordan told him where Mark worked.

At the end of the trial, Jordan wonders what impact he may have had on his brother’s death.

REVIEW: Impact is an easy, independent read and would be good for the reluctant reader to try as a first book. The interest level is high with the action in the courtroom and the details Jordan remembers that lead up to Mark’s murder.


TEACHING AREAS: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Scum, Spiral, First Time, Learning to Fly



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

My Life and Death by Alexandra Canarsie

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My Life and Death by Alexandra Canarsie

Author: Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

Page Length: 255

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Alexandra, with her mother, has just returned to her mother’s home town, Nickel Park. Alexandra has had trouble in every school she’s been to lately, she and her mother are always on the move, and she already hates life in this little town trailer park. The only pastime Allie enjoys is attending funerals – even of complete strangers. This time Allie makes a new friend, find a teacher who believes in her, and uncovers a mystery – it appears that Jimmy was murdered and Allie intends to find out who did it.

REVIEW: This book was an “ok” read. It deals with some of the typical issues of teenage rebellion and general discontent. The one notable subject matter was that Allie constantly blames her mother for the disappearance of her father – and in her mind she romanticizes the reasons why she hasn’t heard from him – only to later come to terms with the crushing reality that he’s started a new life and doesn’t want her included in it. There are many likable characters for readers to relate to. However, the plot isn’t as well developed as it could be, and Allie’s counter bullying of Dennis and the consequences isn’t adequately addressed.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: bullying issues, funeral descriptions, suicide due to parent acceptance issues

RELATED BOOKS: Death by Eggplant, Christmas Gifts


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Home of the Braves

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Home of the Braves

Author: David Klass

Page Length: 355

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joe Brickman is a senior and the captain of the less than stellar Lawndale soccer team. But, he’s hoping for a transformation this year on the soccer field and in his friendship with Kristine. Suddenly, the school social structure is in an uproar. The new student, who looks like an ad for a modeling magazine, is a Brazilian soccer player who becomes known as the “phenom.” Soccer becomes the in sport at school and the football players have issues. Violence breaks out and the soccer stars are threatened by the football team. Ed McBean has been marked and he refuses to bow. When some members of the team take matters to far, Ed’s life is in danger. Ed is tired of being the victim; he becomes angry and withdraws. Joe’s afraid that all out war or a violent outbreak at school is brewing. Can he stand tall and stop it all before it gets out of hand, or is he stuck with the cycle of violence that existed when his own father was in high school?

REVIEW: This is another good book about the dangers of bullying. The fear of violence and the damage done to the people involved is well presented. Students will be able to identify with and analyze the actions of the characters. Joe is an excellent character to study – he doesn’t let his father define him, he overcomes the past cycle of violence, and he isn’t afraid to stand up for his friend. The book also presents interesting points for discussion about how the administration at Joe’s school handled the hazing and violent incidents – whether or not that was effective and what could be done differently or more effectively. 

Joe also develops from a character with substandard academic performance to one who finally does apply for college and who finds a program that builds on his strengths. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, sequence of events, question the test, compare and contrast text to self and world, character analysis, bubble map – descriptive adjectives

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: student is wrapped completely in athletic tape and stuff in a dark equipment closet (222-223), fighting, brawl at the community meeting, degrading and inciting remarks made by bullies

RELATED BOOKS: You Don’t Know Me, Dark Angel, You Don’t Know Me, Buddha Boy, Crash

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Mighty Ducks, Heathers, Chicken Little, Ice Princess, Sky High


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love

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The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love

Author: Rosie Rushton

Page Length: 325

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ellie, Abby, and Georgie have always lived a comfortable life. They have plenty of money, attend a well known school, and live in a large home passed down by their ancestors. Most of the time the girls are worrying about going out, dating, and what exciting adventure they’ll choose to participate in next – until tragedy hits a little too close to home! It’s when everything changes and the girls are on the brink of losing everything that they learn what really matters to themselves and each other.

REVIEW: This book was ok. It is interesting from the stand point of being told through the interests of three very different sisters: the tomboy, the socialite, and the practical one. Most girls will be able to identify with predicaments and feelings that at least one of the girls share. A real life look at what matters most is brought about in the story line when their father is taken from them. The girls must learn to come together and find their strengths outside of their former fortune. Students might also identify with the father leaving the family to take up with a younger woman who seems to have “taken over” their dad. One of the girls falls for a young man who appears to be taken and keeps promising to break it off with the other girl (another issue many girls will be able to relate to).

Overall, it’s not a bad book. I did find the first half of the book confusing because I kept trying to backtrack and remember which girl was which. The book cover cites the book as “an engaging homage to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.”

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, elements of plot, comparing and contrasting the characters, comparing text to self, point of view, effective use of dialogue in writing

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: lying to sneak out to a club, vicious controlling games the girlfriend plays to keep her man

RELATED BOOKS: Summer of Secrets, Secret Schemes, Daring Dreams, What a Week to Risk it All, The Secrets of Love, Looking for Billie

RELATED WEBSITES:                    

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

January 18, 2009

Son of the Mob

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Son of the Mob

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 262

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Vince Luca appears to be a normal teenage guy. His best friend is always trying to outdo him, his brother drives him crazy, and his father wants him to choose a path. And then there’s the famous gandland assassination of Mario Calabrese the cops wanted to pin on his father. Vince’s dad just happens to be the head honcho of the mob. Life is strange in a house that’s bugged and always full of uncles. It doesn’t get any better when Vince falls for Kendra Bightly – whose father just happens to work for the FBI.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed this book! The story line is interesting, humorous, and adds just the right touch of romance. Korman intersperses bits of good advice, the importance of family (no matter how crooked they are), and the idea that love prevails against the odds. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book.

If students have never seen any movies or read anything at all about the mob, then they might not grasp the humor and situations presented in the novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  conflict, resolution, author’s purpose, cause and effect, character traits, problem resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: threats of mob violence, talks of missing appendages

RELATED BOOKS: No More Dead Dogs, Swindle, The Search, Kidnapped, Rescue, One False Note, The Juvie Three

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: The Untouchables, The Sopranos


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

January 17, 2009

The Girlfriend

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The Girlfriend

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Scotty and Lora are the perfect high school couple. She is a cheerleader and he is the star quarterback. They are seniors and plan to attend Princeton after graduation.  When Lora leaves town for a week to visit Paris, Scotty is attracted to Shannon, a girl he gives a ride to after the game on Friday night. Shannon lures Scotty into her home after a secret date on Saturday night.

On Monday, Scotty realizes he doesn’t want to see Shannon anymore, and he certainly doesn’t want anyone to know about the date.  However, Shannon has other ideas.  She feels that Scotty is now “her baby”, and begins to stalk him not only at school but at his home, too.  She warns him not to leave her or her brothers will come after him.  In a series of tragic events, Scotty learns that a one-night stand is not worth the heartache and pain it causes to him and all of his friends and family.

REVIEW: R. L. Stine has written another suspenseful, intriguing book for young teens.  Although parts of the book are predictable, there is a surprise ending relating to Shannon’s past.  Readers who enjoy suspense and romance will enjoy this easy to read horror novel.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause and Effect, Making Predictions, and Compare and Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, Hit and Run, The Dead Girlfriend, Beach Party

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Play Misty For Me (1971)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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



REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

August 6, 2008

Girl Coming in for a Landing

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Girl Coming in for a Landing

Author: April Halprin Wayland

Page Length: 129

Reading Level: 6.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a book written entirely in poems. From the first day of school through the end of the year, the main character, a teenage girl, details her life at school and at home in poems. From the classroom to dating and parties she shares everything – her emotions, her thoughts, her hopes, and dreams. She offers authentic teenage emotions and insight – you will finish the book wishing for more.

REVIEW: This was an interesting book. It reads quickly because of the brief poems on each page (although many of the poems are worth more than one read). I think that this book would be a wonderful teaching tool for poetry. Students can see how poems can (and do) tell a story and the many forms they can take. Teachers could discussion the emotion and insight the author can convey with few but powerful words within a poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: poetic forms, voice

RELATED BOOKS: Braces, Bras, and Bellyrings, Lines in the Sand, The Night Horse


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

July 29, 2008

Probably Still Nick Swansen

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Probably Still Nick Swansen

Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff

Page Length: 152

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nick is sixteen and in high school. The problem is that he is in Room 19 (a special education class), doesn’t get to drive a car yet, and can’t decide whether or not he should ask Shana to the prom. Shana was in room 19, but she had her going up celebration and went to regular ed. Nick can remember things in science others can’t even say right, but all the other facts in life seem to get jumbled up in his head. He misses Dianne terribly and keeps flashbacking to memories of their childhood. He knows that if Dianne were still there she would know just what to tell him to do. A series of unfortunate events, push Nick too far and he sinks into a deep depression. One day, Nick decides to run around the track after school. He finds Shana there and he discovers that everything isn’t always as it seems.  

REVIEW: I really didn’t enjoy reading this book because of the jumbled together nature of Nick’s thoughts. However, since the book is depicting a student with presumably a learning disability, the constant changing thought process seems in line with what one would expect with a learning disability. In that regard, it sheds a whole new light on thinking about students with learning disabilities as sometimes needing a way to organize and help maintain consistency with information (maybe a the need for an even bigger tie to prior learning). Of course this is a fictional story, examining Nick’s struggles and learning that things aren’t always as they might seem is a valuable lesson for any teenager.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, characters, cause and effect, purpose, word choice, sequence of events

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drowning described

RELATED BOOKS: True Believer, The Mozart Season, Make Lemonade


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 25, 2008

The Beast

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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


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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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


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

June 2, 2008

Yellow Line

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The Yellow Line

Author: Sylvia Olsen

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 2.4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Vince lives in a small town divided by a yellow line. Indians stay one side of the town (and the street) and whites stay on another. Despite the fact these students ride the bus and are schooled together, racial tensions prevail everywhere. Vince becomes involved when his cousin Sherry begins dating one of the “other kind.” Vince’s parents are enraged and want Vince to tell Sherry’s parents what he’s seen. Vince himself is finding that he’s changing. That cute girl on the bus with those mesmerizing eyes won’t leave his mind, hanging with his friends isn’t that fun it used to be, and dealing with the taunting and threats of the Indian crowd is getting him down.

Vince faces difficult decisions. Will he rat Sherry out to her parents? Should he tell someone what he knows about the assault? How can he ease the tensions all around him?

REVIEW: This book is written on a low reading level and is a quick read. However, its briefness does not allow full development of the story line and often issues are introduced and dismissed more quickly than they should be. Sometimes it seems as if the Orca books try to address too many issues at once. For struggling readers, the story line is engaging and the length of the book motivating. This book examines racial tensions and just how difficult but rewarding overcoming them can be. The character also faces difficult decisions and learns that taking a stand for what is right is often difficult but always essential.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, cause and effect, writer’s motive, audience, purpose, tone, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: an assault takes place – but the details provided are sketchy

RELATED BOOKS: Death Wind, One More Step, Grind, Tears of a Tiger, The World According to Dog, Maniac Magee

MOVIE CONNECTIONS:  Crash, Freedomland

MUSIC-SONG CONNECTIONS: Black or White by Michael Jackson, Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney, Drowning by Hootie and the Blowfish, Free Your Mind by En Vogue


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

Visions 19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults

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Visions 19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults 

Editor: Donald R. Gallo

Page Length: 229

Reading Level: 7


PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Visions is a collection of short stories by 19 different authors. The book is divided into themes: figments, adjustments, conflicts, choices, illuminations, and kinships. Each short story ends with the author biography.


“Shadows” by Richard Peck is the story of a teenage girl who encounters a ghost. Her time spent with her spinster aunts progresses and she discovers that the ghost she had once taught to write returns before she leaves for college.


“Saint Agnes Sends the Golden Boy” is a thriller about a young woman waiting for Saint Agnes to reveal her destiny. Maddy discovers the short comings in her boyfriend and dreams of Golden Boy.


“Dream Job” is the story of young woman paid to smile and greet clients for $6.25 an hour. She dreams of one day being a fabulous writer. Her dreams lead the reader on a wild ride.


“The All American Slurp” is the story of an American and Chinese family each inviting the other to dinner. Their understanding and concerns over eating customs within each culture. The humor comes into play in the slurping of soup and ultimately milkshakes – to which Meg declares “all Americans slurp.”


“Jason Kovak, The Quick and the Brave” is a seemingly real tale set amidst the horror of a hold up in a Wendy’s restaurant. Jason is an employee working the day of the hold up. He has always been mild mannered and somewhat timid. Through Jason’s struggle to maintain composure and hope in the midst of danger, he gains courage and strength. Later, Jason is called to go to the police station and identify the potential robber in a line up. Although he is afraid, he does not falter. Jason’s bad experience turns out to teach him that he is stronger and more capable than he believed.


“What Happened in the Cemetery” is the story of young Fan. Fan is a teenage girl struggling foremost with her father’s disability. Once a robust, athletic man, Fan’s father is suffering from heart ailments that are have disabled him from working. Sinking further into depression every day, Fan’s father sits around the house drinking and watching television. Fan has her own growing pains and long for a different life. When she ends up in the cemetery with Richie, she finds herself again and refuses to compromise.


“Amanda and the Wounded Birds” is the story of a young woman named Amanda. Amanda’s mother is a famous radio personality known for solving everyone’s problems and offering comforting advice. As her mother gets syndicated and becomes even more swept in her career, Amanda finds that she needs her most. With her mother always being busy on the radio, Amanda resorts to becoming one of her callers. The story concludes with a touching reconnection of mother and daughter.


“Playing God” begins with an angry Josh who is running away. He can never please his parents and his girlfriend will be moving soon. Josh’s believes it’s better to run away than let others hurt and disappoint him. Laurel, the girlfriend, watched Josh cross the bridge to leave town. It’s then that hears yelping and discovers a box of five abandoned puppies near the river. Laurel convinces Josh to save them. He returns to town to give them away. Josh finds good homes for the puppy and even returns home himself.


“The Fuller Brush Man” is a story of survival and courage. Donald sells brushes and other items throughout the neighborhood and surrounding areas. Often the door closes in his face, yet Donald persists. At home his mother’s condition is worsening daily. Donald doesn’t want to face the inevitable; yet, he’s missing out on precious time with his mother. Donald must learn to be brave and visit his mother too.


“The Good Girls” is a heart wrenching story of two lives damaged by sexually abusive fathers. Frances lives alone with her drunken and abusive father. Her escape is the ballet classes that she teaches nearby. When a new student moves slowly and seems withdrawn from the other children. It doesn’t take Frances long to figure out what is going on. Together the two give each other strength and find freedom from their abusive fathers.


“On The Bridge” is a classic tale of wanting to be popular and thinking that “bad” looks cool. Adam and Seth are hanging out together on the bridge. Adam decides to have a little fun by throwing rocks of the bridge onto the cars down below. One car gets hit by the rock and comes back up on the bridge. Three men get out and demand to know who did it. Adam fingers Seth  who is beaten by the group. Seth learns the hard way what friendship and being cool are not.


“Great Moves” details the dating adventures of two girls. One seems to be the pampered popular sought after girl, Annie, while the other a more ordinary girl, Brenda. The two most eligible young men in the grade, also friends, go to great lengths to get Annie to take one of the them to the dance. The competition is fierce and before long they are even fighting over Brenda. The girls reunite when the realize that all the boys want is competition.


“A Hundred Bucks of Happy” is the story of a teenage boy who finds a one hundred dollar bill on his way home from school. He’s ecstatic and insists despite his brother’s comments and his mother’s economic status that the money is his to spend. Yet, when he goes to the mall, nothing seems to suit him. Torn between his desires and his sense of right and wrong, Chris even returns to the spot where he found the money hoping someone will claim it and relieve him of the necessity of  decision.  In the end, Chris splits the  money with his brother and mother and harmony and relief follow.


“Cousin Alice” is the story about Fern’s visit to stay with her aunt. Her mother is in a coma and Fern has nowhere else to go while her father looks after her mother. Fern’s aunt is her mother’s twin sister. Fern uncovers the tensions among members of the town and her aunt. Her young cousin had died when she fell into a well in the neighbor’s backyard years ago. Tensions have been running high ever since. As the towns people band together against Fern’s aunt an interesting turn of events take place. A fire erupts and old scores are settled.


“Words of Power” is told much like a traditional Native American tale. Late Blossoming Flower is a young Native American woman who descends from a woman of power. When puberty arrive, she must set out to find her power word. She is not to speak but must embark upon her journey with silence until she finds what she is searching for. Following a butterfly that seems to take her away from the path of light, Late Blossoming Flower discovers her power and passes the test of restraint.


“The Sweet Perfume of Goodbye” is a Bradbury like science fiction story. Caroline is a seventeen year old scientist sent to another planet to gather data for two years. The planet is devoid of any smells except for the alluring and exotic smell of the death – to which the inhabitants rejoice and smile about – after all death is inevitable. Caroline becomes the outsider “freak show” who makes the rounds talking about Earth and its fabulous smells. She’s received with humor and polite tolerance of her wild ideas. Caroline’s ship arrive to return her to Earth; but, Caroline realizes she’s in trouble when Dr. Orr, her ride, arrives but begins talking about the lovely overwhelming fragrance.


“Jeremiah’s Song” is the story of the death of a grandfather. Ellie having gone off to college has her own views of the ways things should be. Emphasis is given to the importance of Grandpa’s stories and listening to what he has to teach. Grandpa reveals that his stories are like a bridge connecting us all to others who have experienced hardships too.


“The Boy with the Yellow Eyes” is a story of two very different boys – a bookworm, Norman and a budding athlete, Willie. Both boys meet up in an abandoned train yard. A stranger is in another box car setting up his equipment. The boys hear tapping sounds and run to investigate. Norman decodes the tapping and realizes the man is a spy. The boys are caught and Norman is captured. Willie saves the day with a well timed and placed baseball swing. The boys become heroes and even receive a visit from the Vice President.


“The Beginning of Something” tells the story a teenager, Roseanne, and her mother. One night her mother receives a call that her Cousin Jessie has passed away from complications of diabetes. Melissa, Cousin Jessie’s daughter, is suffering without her mother.  Roseanne visits and compares herself to her beautiful cousin Melissa. The two girls bond and begin to see the strengths within each other. Amidst a funeral and grieving a new adventure begins for Roseanne as she goes a double date with a childhood friend. As Melissa and Roseanne grow closer together, Roseanne reflects on how their friendship and dating secrets mirror those of their mothers.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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