The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

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:

http://www.randomhouse.biz/booksellers/childrens/files/2010/08/GLBTQ_DiscGd_BIZ.pdf (GLBTQ book discussion guide)

http://martinwilsonwrites.com/ (author’s website)

http://www.readwritethink.org/parent-afterschool-resources/podcast-episodes/lesbian-characters-young-adult-30329.html (podcast)

REVIEWED BY: K. Stratton

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August 30, 2009

Postcards from No Man’s Land

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Postcards from No Man’s Land

Author: Aidean Chambers

Page Length: 312

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jacob’s grandmother is ill, and Jacob must take a trip to Amsterdam in her place. The purpose of Jacob’s journey to Amsterdam is to see his grandfather’s (a World War II veteran) burial site. Jacob meets the elderly ailing woman who nursed his grandfather during the war and learns much more than he was expecting about his family’s past. Along the journey, Jacob discovers new friends and new feelings he never knew he had. Geertrui shares with Jacob the secrets of his grandfather’s past as she weaves the tales of their adventures during World War II. 

REVIEW: Chambers wrote a masterful story that was outside the realm of the “normal” historical fiction novel. The author does a wonderful job of blending past and present events as the chapters shift from Geertrui in the past to Jacob in the present. In the end, it is revealed that Geertrui has recorded the story for Jacob in her journal – her last act before her assisted suicide is scheduled to take place. Be warned that the book addresses Jacob’s developing awareness of his sexuality and his attraction to both men and women. Bisexuality becomes a topic among more than one of the characters. The story of the war and Geertrui’s love for Jacob’s grandfather is wonderfully told. The reader gets a realistic sense of the urgency and danger present during the war.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, historical connections, character traits, methods of writing, compare and contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: topic of bisexuality, pages 199-200 sex between Geertrui and a married soldier

RELATED BOOKS: Breaktime, Dance on My Grave, Now I Know, The Tollbridge, The Diary of Anne Frank, Four Perfect Pebbles

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Diary of Anne Frank

ART CONNECTIONS: Amsterdam – Dutch Resistance Museum online

http://goamsterdam.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?zi=1/XJ&sdn=goamsterdam&cdn=travel&tm=12&gps=117_2_1419_706&f=00&su=p531.50.336.ip_&tt=3&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//

www.dutchresistancemuseum.nl/museum/en/museum

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Hit Songs from World War 2

http://nfo.net/usa/ww2.html

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.worldwar-2.net/

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

http://www.annefrank.org/content.asp?pid=1&lid=2

http://www.aidanchambers.co.uk/

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Breakout

Filed under: B — thebookreviews @ 6:12 pm
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Breakout

Author: Paul Fleischman

Page Length: 137

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Breakout, on the surface, is a story about a young girl stuck in a major traffic jam on the freeway of Los Angeles. The traffic jam is symbolic of Del’s search for identity and purpose. As a 17 year old girl, Del has faked her death and has run away from her latest foster home. Stuck on the highway, she meets a number of individuals whom she has conversations with. Over the course of several hours, Del changes her name, her voice, her background, and the facts about her life as she speaks with the others stranded on the freeway. Del has no clear sense of identity, hence the motivation for her to strike out on her own path.

Flash forward 8 years to Del’s one woman stage show about a traffic jam. Del is now Elena Franco performing a host of monologues about a traffic jam. Both “traffic jam stories” are slightly similar, yet reveal that as Del has aged 8 years, her recollections of the Los Angeles traffic jam are more positive and accepting. With her success on the stage as Elena Franco, Del has found her identity and place in the world.

Those who enjoy theater and monologues will find this story a great resource. There are some precious nuggets in these pages. As far as a basic story for pleasure reading, this book would not appeal to the masses. It may be too confusing for a struggling reader to understand and follow.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: monologue, drama, script, setting, flash-back, flash-forward, humor, voice

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.simonandschuster.com/Breakout/Paul-Fleischman/9780689871894/reading_group_guide

http://www.adlit.org/adlit_guided_disc/28146

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

Airborn

Airborn 

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Page Length: 501

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Adventure, Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After saving the life of a man stranded in a lone balloon, Matt Cruse returns to his duties as a poor but faithful cabin boy aboard the magnificent passenger airship, Aurora. The rescued man later dies but leaves his notebook of various sketchings and notes. Months later, Matt comes in contact with the granddaughter of the man he saved, the rich Kate DeVries. Kate has come aboard the Aurora for the sole purpose of finding out what her grandfather saw in the air on his last balloon adventure. According to her grandfather’s sketchings and notes, he came in contact with a glorious, unrecognizable, bird-like creature.

Well into the Aurora’s trip over the seas, pirates take hold of the airship, steal a number of valuables, and render the ship useless. Unbeknownst to the pirates who have fled, the Aurora crash lands on a remote island. The ship’s crew begins to repair the vessel in hopes of saving themselves. Kate takes this time to explore the flora and fauna of the island. During this time, she comes across the bones of the great winged animal her father came in contact with. This wets Kate’s appetite even more to capture additional evidence of the undiscovered creature. Since, during this time period, females were not regarded as being true explorers and scientists, Kate sets out to prove society wrong. It is also her mission to prove that her grandfather was correct in what he saw before he died.

On another venture into the island woods, Matt, Kate, and Bruce come in contact with one of the living bird creatures. Matt and Kate call the creature “cloud cat” based on its appearance and temperament. When the “cloud cat” attacks the three, they run away. Bruce is injured in the escape while Matt and Kate take off in a different direction. Then Matt and Kate come upon the same pirates that attacked the Aurora several days ago. After being captured by the pirates and sentenced to their death, Matt and Kate escape and hook back up with Bruce at the Aurora. It is here that they discover that the pirates have taken the ship hostage again. Matt, Kate, and Bruce set out to take back control of the ship and dispel the pirates. In successfully doing so, Bruce is killed.

The story then flashes forward six months. Kate is seen at a museum with the bones of her “cloud cat” on display. She hopes to settle at a university possibly in Paris. Matt has entered the flight Academy in Paris in hopes to one day return to the Aurora – his home.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book a lot. Several chapters into reading, I felt as if it were a blend of Lord of the Flies and “Titanic”. The story was action-packed and the setting of both the giant ship, Aurora, and the island were vividly painted.

The themes of rich vs. poor, air vs. land, good vs. evil run throughout the book.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, comparison and contrast, pair this book with a reading of Lord of the Flies and a viewing of the “Titanic”.

RELATED BOOKS: Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel – sequel to Airborn

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Titanic” (1997), “Cast Away” (2000)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.airborn.ca/airborn.htm (animated informational website about the book and author)

http://www.kennethoppel.ca/novel%20studies/Airborn%20Novel%20Study.pdf (123 page literature unit packet of activities)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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