The Book Reviews – Website

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

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

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

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

Planet Janet

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Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon: Book Cover

Planet Janet

Author: Dyan Sheldon


Page Length: 221


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Janet’s lost in her own “me” world and she reveals all her thoughts, hopes, and dreams in her diary. Janet talks about the mad cow (MC), her mother, her best friend Disha who has joined her in the dark phase, her wacked out brother, and her psychotherapist father. Janet’s so lost in her own self-centered world that she fails to see the turmoil swirling around her. Events are in place that just may bring her crashing back to reality.

REVIEW: Reading Janet’s diary is interesting and revealing. She talks about everything from a crush on a guy and how she plants herself in his path to catch his attention to finding her bra in her brother’s room. The book is definitely only appropriate for older teens as she and her best friend smoke a joint and Sara Dancer talks about “doing it” and subsequently suffers a pregnancy scare. All along throughout the story, Janet’s busy being disgusted by her mother and never stops to see the pain her mother is going through. An affair is revealed at the end and both Janet and her mother discover their common strengths, and Janet discovers that she needs her mother more than she thought. I’d recommend this book to teen girls – especially the ones that tend to be more self-centered (as they might learn something about themselves along the way).

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  identifying plots, subplots, elements of plot, written response in the form of a diary, cause and effect, character traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: grandma’s disapproval of a homosexual relationship, presence of marijuana, Sara Dancer talking about doing it for the first time and what it was like

RELATED BOOKS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, My Perfect Life, Planet Janet in Orbit, Confessions of a Hollywood Star

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Here Today

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Here Today by Martin: Book Cover

Here Today

Author: Ann Martin

Page Length: 308

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Eleanor, Albert, and Marie appear to be the lucky kids to outsiders. After all, their mother is the glamorous and beautiful Doris Day Dingman. Ellie, the oldest, bears most of the responsibility around her house. Her mother, who insists on being called “Doris”, is always worried about her next public appearance opportunity or her next big opportunity. When their mother runs off to New York but promises to send for them all as soon as she makes it big, the children realize what they’ve known all along – their mother cares more for herself than she does for them. The Dingman kids and their father must come to terms with Doris’ abandonment and their feelings of being the Witch Tree Lane outcasts. Yet through their trials and journey to find happiness again, they discover strengths they never knew they had and a love for each other that is stronger than any adversity.

REVIEW: This book makes for an interesting historical companion for studying the lifestyles and changing roles of women in the 1960s. The reader will admire Ellie’s determination and spunk while sharing in her disappointment in her mother. As the Witch Tree Lane events take place, the reader discovers that its inhabitants are wonderful people and not the “freaks” the socialites at school see. In this novel, a story of love, loss, disappointment, and courage unfolds beautifully. This book would generally appeal more to girls and would be a recommended read for any females struggling with social acceptance, mother abandonment issues, self esteem, and those generally searching to find their place in the world.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, cause and effect, making predictions, character analysis, author’s purpose, making historical connections, narrative style, character traits


RELATED BOOKS: A Dog’s Life, Belle Teal, On Christmas Eve, A Corner of the Universe, Main Street, The Babysitter’s Club


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Lightning Thief

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The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series #1) by Rick Riordan: Book Cover

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan

Page Length: 375

Reading Level: 4th-6th

Genre: Fiction, Mythology

PLOT SUMMARY: Percy Jackson is a troubled kid with ADHD who has been bounced from one boarding school to another. He is the son of a mother who has been trapped in an abusive relationship for quite some time. In the beginning, the whereabouts of Percy’s real father are unknown.

When characters from Percy’s mythology textbook begin to literally leap out in front of him, Percy begins to question who he is. When he gets kicked out of his latest school, monsters chase after Percy in an attempt to kill him. Soon enough, Percy ends up at Camp Half-Blood where he learns that he himself is a “Half-Blood” (his mother is human and his father is the Greek god Poseidon). Percy also finds out that the lightning bolt of Zeus has been stolen and that he is the main suspect! At Camp Half-Blood, Percy trains for the eventual quest of finding Zeus’ missing lightning bolt and stopping an impending war between the Greek gods.

During his quest, Percy ventures to the Underworld to find out if Hades has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt. After meeting with Hades, it is discovered that not only does Hades not have Zeus’ prized possession, Hades’ is missing his helm. Hades demands that Percy hand over the lightning bolt at once. When Percy opens his backpack to show Hades he does not have it, the lightning bolt magically appears in the bag! Immediately Percy escapes the enraged Hades committed to find the god’s helm and deliver both the helm and the lightning bolt to their rightful owners.

After Percy finds Hades’ helm, the god Ares turns up. Both begin to battle. It is discovered here that Ares, under the spell of Kronos, has plotted to start a war between the gods and has used Percy as the catalyst for the war. Ares, defeated by Percy for now, vanishes. Afterwards, Percy ensures the delivery of both the helm to Hades and the lightning bolt to Zeus.

In the end, Percy discovers that he has been betrayed by one of his friends at Camp Half-Blood, Luke, who has teamed up with Kronos to reek havoc on the gods. This realization is the catalyst for the next story in the Percy Jackson series.

REVIEW: After a few chapters I really got hooked on this story. I enjoyed how the author creatively blended elements of Greek mythology with a basic story line of a boy on an adventure to prove his father right. However, if one is not familiar with mythology, it would be beneficial to brush up on some of the basic points (ie. the names of the gods and their basic characteristics). This will help with the understanding of the story as a whole.

Some may find the topic of mythology boring, however this fictional story is a great way to “spice up” the study of the Greek gods. I found it interesting that non-mythological elements were infused in the story-line (e.g., Empire State Building, Santa Monica Pier, Shakespeare, George Washington, ADHD, etc.).

AREAS FOR TEACHING: mythology, humor, foreshadowing, setting

RELATED BOOKS: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series (#1-5)

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief” (pre-production – 2010)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

June 5, 2010

The Last Book in the Universe

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The Last Book In The Universe

Author: Rodman Philbrick

Page Length: 223

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Science Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  A young boy, Spaz, finds himself fending for himself in the Urb, where all the normals live, after being kicked out of his foster home for having epilepsy. Charley, his foster dad, feels that Spaz’ illness will cause harm to his foster sister, Bean. Spaz steals from Billy Bizmo, the latch boss, to get food and protection. Everyone in the Urb mindprobes but Spaz can’t because he has epilepsy and can’t put a needle into his brain. Little did Spaz know that when sent to steal from Ryter, a gummy (or old person) per orders of Billy, Spaz’ life would change forever. On the way to steal from Ryter, Spaz meets a very young boy named Little Face who leads him to Ryter’s stack. Ryter is waiting for Spaz providing all his valuables except a book that he has been writing. Spaz does not understand the importance of the book and passing down stories from the Big Shake but he lets Ryter keep it. Little Face guides Spaz through the stacks on the promise of a choxbar since Spaz has been ordered to steal more items. Spaz befriends Ryter during these robberies. Then a runner comes with bad news of his sister Bean. Spaz must get to Bean as quickly as possible. But this isn’t as easy as it may seem. Spaz must sneak out of the latch, cross two others, and reach his sister hoping to save her. Ryter helps Spaz develop a plan to travel through The Pipes to get through the latches. On their journey, Spaz meets a Proov, a genetically altered person, who is giving away edibles, Ryter saves her life at the end of one of the latches that is on fire. Lanaya, the Proov, decides to help Spaz reach his sister. So Spaz, Ryter, Little Face, and Lanaya set out in search of Bean. Once they locate her they find that she is very ill. Ryter and/or Spaz (depending upon who you ask) decide that the only way to save Bean is to take her to Eden, where the Proovs live. The only problem is that normals aren’t accepted in Eden so Lanaya has to sneak them into Eden passing through The Forbidden Zone which is full of mines. Do they make it? Do they save Bean? If so, how do they save her? What happens to Little Face? Do the Proovs accept the normals? What happens to Spaz and Ryter? What happens to the last book in the universe?  What happens to the writer?   

REVIEW:  From the very first sentences in The Last Book In The Universe “If you’re reading this, it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore. Why bother, when you can just probe it?”, the reader’s attention is grabbed immediately. This science fiction book is excellent. Rodman Philbrick creates an alternate futuristic world with invented vocabulary to describe this new world, the people, and the items used in it. From the Urb, to the Proovs, to the Takvees, to the latches, this new world comes alive. The reader finds oneself transformed into this new world. One part of the new world is the burned- out Urb and the other part is the perfection of Eden. Both the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds are noticed. The themes of addiction, abandonment, poverty, environmental concerns, and violence of the 21st century are still prevalent in The Last Book In The Universe’s new world of the future. However, Spaz, Little Face, Ryter and Bean capture the reader’s heart evoking a sense of empathy and possibly sympathy for one if not all of these characters. One realizes that we all have a story to tell. Those stories need to be protected and passed along to future generations so that they may learn from our mistakes.  At the end of the book is a list of “New Words for a New World”.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea and supporting details, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, sequence of events, inference, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, voice, mood, tone, 5 steps of the writing process.

RELATED BOOKS: The Giver by Lois Lowry, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Books by the same author: Freak the Mighty, Max the Mighty, The Young Man and the Sea

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Mighty (1998), Back to the Future (1995), The Incredibles (2004), War of the Worlds (1960)


REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

November 15, 2009

Parvana’s Journey

Parvana’s Journey

Author: Deborah Ellis

Page Length: 199

Reading Level: 6.3

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sequel to The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey captures the reader’s attention from the very beginning. Parvana is alone in war-torn Afghanistan, her father dead, as she sets out disguised as a boy to cross the Afghanistan countryside in search of her mother and sisters. If the Taliban discovers her, thinking she is a boy, they would enlist Parvana into the army. If they find out she is a girl, they would punish her for being without a veil and without a male family member. She must then keep a low profile, not exposing herself to this danger. She sees death and destruction everywhere she walks.

First, she finds a baby boy lying near his dead mother and rescues him, feeding him the best she can with water and rice. When she tries to take shelter in a cave, she comes upon a boy about 9 years old, who has lost a leg to land mines. Asif is rude and angry, but he is good with baby Hassan, cleaning the clothes that serve as diapers and helping to keep him clean and fed. These three set out on the road until they come upon a minefield and a strange little girl who is taking care of her aged grandmother. The children rest here for a while until a bomb destroys their shelter and kills the old woman-then they take to the road again. Just as they are near death from starvation, they stumble on a refugee camp run by international agencies and are taken in, given minimal food and shelter. Their problems are not resolved, however, and more disasters await them.

REVIEW:  This book certainly displays the resilience of children who endure extraordinary circumstances. Ellis has been in Afghanistan collecting oral histories from women in refugee camps and this has been the basis of Parvana’s story. In one sense, it is a straightforwardly realistic narrative, but the circumstances the children face are almost unimaginable, certainly to children in the West. Strengthening the sense of reality is Ellis’s ability to capture the tension between the children–their bickering as their fears and suffering overwhelm them, their fantasies of safety and shelter, and their loneliness and desperate need for adults on which to depend. This is an excellent way for young Americans to understand the plight of the Afghani people.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: theme, setting, point of view, main idea and supporting details, characters, conflict,  plot, compare/contrast, cause/effect, conclusions, generalizations, predictions, audience and purpose, voice, mood, tone, narrative, writer’s motive, World Literature, drama, tragedy, and epic.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Sensitivity of children surviving alone crossing areas with mine fields and starving most of the time.

RELATED BOOKS: Habibi by Naomi Shihah Nye, A Little Piece of Ground by Elizabeth Laird, Shabanu: Daughters of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples, Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Books by the same author: Breadwinner, Mud City, and Off to War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees.

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Kite Runner (2007), Massoud, l’Afghan (1998 documentary), Passing the Rainbow (2008 documentary), Massoud, l’Afghan (1998 documentary).

ART CONNECTIONS: (scroll down there is a short video displaying various pieces of artwork)


REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

November 14, 2009

Neighborhood Odes

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Neighborhood Odes

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 68

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: Soto’s Odes take us back to childhood where we get to experience weddings, snow cones, Sundays in the park, piñatas at birthday parties and so much more. Throughout each poem Spanish vocabulary words are interwoven adding to the authenticity of the Mexican-American heritage expressed.

REVIEW: Soto’s poems are interesting and entertaining. As students read about these Mexican-American childhood experiences, they will relate to their own experiences of having a dog, eating their favorite foods, going to and having birthday parties, taking family photos, etc.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  poetic elements, imagery, adjectives

Teachers could consider reading a poem and then having students write about a memory the poem sparked.

RELATED BOOKS: Taking Sides, My Little Car, Nickel and Dime, Too Many Tamales

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Island of the Blue Dolphins

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Island of the Blue Dolphins

Author: Scott O’Dell

Page Length: 184

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The only life Karana has ever known is as a young Indian woman on her tribe’s island. Their peaceful world is disturbed when hunters arrive one day to rob the land of its treasures and start a great battle. Out of sadness and despair, Karana’s people decide to leave their village life behind. But as the boat sets sail, Karana realizes that her little brother has been left behind. Will she save him? If she gives up her chance for rescue, will there be another or is Karana prepared to survive on the island alone?

REVIEW: Karana’s story is heart wrenching and interesting; however, I think that struggling readers will become lost in many of the details and descriptions of the hunt and island life. Yet, O’Dell uses vivid imagery; students could respond by recreating scenes from the story. Helping students to visualize the island and the conditions (possibly through pictures and drawings) would help improve comprehension and engagement in the last half of the story. I’ve seen this book used as a sixth grade classroom read and most of the students were not engaged in the story. However, the novel brings to light some interesting discussion points about sacrifice and survival. It definitely provides a springboard for discussing bravery and courage. As a book, with a character who endures many hardships and prevails, it is a worthwhile read. It was a winner of the Newberry Medal.

The story is based on the true accounts of the Lost Woman of San Nicolas.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: fighting among the natives and the Aleuts (p. 22-24)

RELATED BOOKS: Gary Paulsen’s Dogsong, Hatchet, S. M. Sterling’s Dies the Fire, Lord of the Flies, Robinson Crusoe, Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 28, 2009

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

August 30, 2009

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


Filed under: *Books NOT In Your Classroom,E — thebookreviews @ 7:26 pm
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Eclipse (Book 3 in the Twilight series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 629

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: With Edward back in full force in Bella’s life, her desire to become a vampire after high school graduation strengthens. However, the vampire Victoria is back with an army of newborn vampires which wreak havoc on the nearby Seattle area. Victoria, who still harbors intense revenge against Bella, sets her site on the town of Forks! Victoria plans to set these newborn vampires onto Bella!

Meanwhile, Bella becomes engaged to Edward and spends some of her free-time with Jake. During this time, Jake’s feelings for Bella intensify. Later in the woods, Bella and Jake kiss, however Bella quickly explains to Jake that even though she loves him, her love for Edward is much greater. She also reiterates the fact that she still desires to be a vampire.

Both the vampires and the werewolves of Forks become aware of the approaching newborn vampires and form an alliance for the primary purpose of protecting Bella. Due to a set of circumstances, both Edward and Jake become part of the fight. The intensity at which they battle against the newborn vampires is symbolic of the intensity of love that both Edward and Jake share for Bella. Thankfully, Victoria and the newborn vampires are destroyed.

Eclipse ends with Jake receiving a wedding invitation to Bella and Edward’s nuptials.

REVIEW: I did not enjoy this book in the Twilight series as much as I did the previous two. I felt much of the beginning was very slow. However, I liked how the vampires and werewolves combined forces for the purpose of Bella’s protection.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, cause and effect, setting, comparison / contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Twilight, New Moon, Breaking Dawn

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Twilight” (2008), “New Moon” (2009)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

January 18, 2009

Silent to the Bone

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Silent to the Bone

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Page Length: 261

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bramwell and Connor have been best friends for years. When something tragic happens, Bramwell can no longer speak. Bramwell is being held in a juvenile detention center. The cards seem to be stacking up against him. Connor knows that there is no way his friend could have committed the crime. Connor sets out to prove Bramwell’s innocence; he must find some way to get his friend to communicate with him before it’s too late.

REVIEW: Konigsburg wrote a wonderful story that realistically portrays the heart and soul of a young man. The readers experience Bramwell’s emotions, his betrayal, and even his sense of disappointment with his father. This book deals beautifully with puberty issues, birth of a new sibling issues, and step parents. Told through the perspective of his best friend, the book delves into the psychological trauma the event has caused Bramwell. The reader heals with Bramwell.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: point of view, sequence of events, flashback technique, cause and effect, making predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: injury to a child, mild sexual encounter between a teen boy and an adult woman

RELATED BOOKS: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, George, All Together, One at a Time, Throwing Shadows, Journey to an 800 Number


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

December 10, 2008

The Boys of San Joaquin

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The Boys of San Joaquin

Author: D. James Smith

Page Length: 231

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: The setting of the story is in l951, in Orange Grove City, California.  Paolo is the twelve-year-old brother to ten siblings, cousin of Billy, who is deaf, and owner of Rufus, the dog. The story begins with Rufus appearing with a torn twenty-dollar bill hanging from his mouth.  Paolo figures there is probably more money where that came from and employs Billy (the deaf cousin) and Georgie (his younger brother) to help him locate the rest of the treasure. Billy is eager to find the money because he needs the wheel on his bike repaired.  Georgie just enjoys being included with the other boys.  The search ends up in the priest’s garden behind the Cathedral of San Joaguin. However, the boy’s quest involves much more suspense and adventure before the mystery is solved.  

REVIEW: Paolo narrates the story and is quite descriptive of each of the characters and events.  He gives an excellent description of a dog (p.8) and of tools (p. 44) that could be used in teaching descriptive writing.  The story is full of adventure and family situations that arise in Paolo’s life.  Although the book’s setting is in 1951, it has the same type of humor, description, and adventure that I found in reading Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Descriptive Writing (p. 8 and 44), Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Probably the World’s Best Story about a Dog and the Girl Who Loved Me, Fast Company, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Outsiders


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 7, 2008


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Author: Virginia Hamilton

Page Length: 193

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic FIction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Cammy is jealous of her cousin Patty Ann who always appears perfect. However, Cammy knows the truth behind Patty Ann’s proper exterior – Patty Ann is bulimic.

Cammy loves her mother and brother. She is especially fond of her grandmother, Gram Tut. However, Cammy can’t seem to grow close to two of her family members: Patty Ann and her mother, Cammy’ aunt. One day on a wilderness outing, one of Cammy’s friends falls in the water. Patty Ann rescues the girl, however drowns herself while doing so. Cammy witnesses this act and subsequently feels guilt over Patty Ann’s “death”. It is through the strength of Cammy’s grandmother, that Cammy resolves her tormented feelings and is able to let Patty Ann and herself rest at peace.

Cousins is a tale of family and the secrets and “false fronts” they display. It is also one of tragedy and how family support can bridge the gap between happiness and sorrow. I thought this story was rather simplistic. I am not a huge fan of the author, and I did not find this story effective or enjoyable. However, for those struggling with the issue of family and death, it may prove an worthwhile read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: hidden details, symbolism, issue of guilt, death, and family

RELATED BOOKS & BOOK WEBSITES: Second Cousins by Virginia Hamilton

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Stand by Me” (1986), “My Girl” (1991)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

December 5, 2008

Learning the Game

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Learning the Game

Author: Kevin Waltman

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nate isn’t the typical teenager. His parents are loaded but never notice him, he has a popular girlfriend who is all about appearances, and his brother is one of the town druggies. Nate wants to fit in with all the guys on the basketball court. One summer day, he is tested. Will he choose the team or what he knows is right? Will he stand by his friend or be bullied by Branson? Nate’s worked super hard on his game all summer, but the terrible truth of his actions just may cost him everything. A surprise call from his brother, a guilty conscience, and a chance that his team could suffer may be too much for Nate. Will he save himself, his team, his girlfriend, or his brother?

REVIEW: This book was fast paced and contained many important elements for teen readers: relationships, sexual tension, bullying and popularity, sports, and family. The moral to the story: telling the truth is the right thing to do – no matter what the consequences – could spark an interesting debate in the classroom – as the book is being read – what are his options? What could he (Nate) do instead? Should he tell or not?

The lessons about true friendships and relationships were important ones. I think that this book would be good for classroom study or for a small group instruction. Boys would generally be more drawn to it than girls and basketball lovers would especially understand Nate’s drive to be the best, make the Varsity starting line, and his descriptions of basketball action.

A secondary story is the disintegration of Nate’s family due to a previous event. When he was younger, he and his brother were at a friend’s house. His brother describes how they were looking at the gun, putting it away, and how it accidentally went off. His friend was dead and his life was forever changed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view, cause and effect, flow chart of decisions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accidental shooting, drugs (mild reference), drinking

RELATED BOOKS: Nowhere Fast, Push, Slam, Game, Hoops, Coach Carter, Summer in the City, Taking Sides

RELATED MOVIES: “Coach Carter,” “Believe in Me,” “Glory Road,” “Finding Forrester”            



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 16, 2008

One Tree Hill The Beginning

Filed under: *AWESOME BOOKS!!!,O — thebookreviews @ 11:06 pm
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One Tree Hill The Beginning  

Author: Jenny Markas

Page Length: 206

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The town of Tree Hill is split in two. On one side are the rich citizens who live mostly on the hills in their mansions. On the other side are the poor folks who live below, known affectionately as the River Rats. Both sides collide at a high school that bears the same name as the town.

Tree Hill lives and breathes basketball. Whether it is in the gym at the local high school or on the run-down courts of a nearby park, everyone seems to play, cheer, announce, or talk about the sport. The story, which was a catalyst for the popular TV show on the CW Network, focuses primarily on 5 main teenagers: Lucas Scott, Nathan Scott, Haley, Peyton, and Brooke.

Lucas Scott and Haley (River Rats) are best friends. Nathan Scott, Peyton, and Brooke (the rich teens) form the other group. One Tree Hill is no simple good side vs. bad side story, because if you analyze Lucas and Nathan’s last names, you’ll see they are the same. Both Lucas and Nathan share the same father. Lucas doesn’t have contact with his father however since his father left his mom after impregnating her with Lucas. After his mother gave birth to him, the two were left to live their lives trying to make ends meet. While Nathan, however lives with his father in a comfortable mansion.

Both Lucas and Nathan play basketball, but for two very different reasons. Lucas plays with his friends outside just for fun. Nathan plays so he may advance his career in basketball later in life. The two try their best to avoid each other at school until one-day the basketball coach is in need of additional players and seeks out Lucas to join the team. Nathan does not favor this idea at all!!!

REVIEW: This story will appeal to many students as it is connected to a current popular TV show. The idea of two brothers from different mothers is not new. However, the author has updated the idea and placed it in a setting of an every-day town engulfed in the popular sport of basketball. Beyond this basic two-sided story, there lies sub-plots between girl friends and best friends that make for interesting twists. Nathan and Lucas couldn’t be more different, yet they will find it rather difficult to keep their differences and lives apart for too long. They have done a successful job of it for years, but the thing that they love the most, will certainly bring them together.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 201), comparison/contrast (two brothers – Lucas & Nathan) (poor vs. rich)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the book gives a real depiction of teenagers. There are references and visualizations to beer, kegs, bongs, sex, & parties. All references are minor and do not detract from the main story line. The use of the word “bastard” is present as it refers to Lucas, the son of Dan and Karen, who was born out of wed-lock.

RELATED BOOKS: A Heart So True by Anna Lotto, One Tree Hill by Monica Rizzo,


“One Tree Hill” – TV show (2003-2008)

Gavin DeGraw – “I Don’t Want to Be” – 2004 (theme song to One Tree Hill TV show)

RELATED WEBSITES: (official website of the One Tree Hill TV show)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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