The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Moves Make the Man

The Moves Make the Man


Author: Bruce Brooks


Page Length: 252  


Reading Level: 8


Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jerome Foxworthy, an intelligent African American, spots Bix Rivers playing baseball one year prior to the composing of the story of Bix.  Bix catches his attention because Jerome has never seen anyone who has mastered the skill and art of baseball like Bix.

Jerome is the only black student attending the junior high school in his neighborhood.  Jerome’s first love is basketball and he goes to try-outs for the school team, but is not allowed to play because of his color. After Jerome’s mother is in an accident, Jerome decides to enroll in a home economics class so that he can cook for his brothers while his mother heals.  He discovers he is not the only male member of the class, Bix Rivers; the talented baseball player also belongs to the class.  The boys immediately bond and Jerome teaches Bix to play basketball in the evenings. 

As the boy’s relationship grows, Jerome learns that Bix cannot tolerate any form of lying, or “his definition” for lying. This intolerance for non-truths has caused significant repercussions in Bix’s life which Jerome tries to understand.

REVIEW: This is a well-written book that has great character development and descriptive writing.  The description of the game of basketball (p. 59), the reference of “white man’s disease” (p. 95), and Bix’s view of friendship (p.159) are examples of Brook’s excellent writing skills.  The bond of friendship between Bix and Jerome is one that young men can relate to, in that; males accept each other just as they are.  The boy’s both have family issues that are also common to the young teen-age male.  In addition, racial issues are a sub-plot that Jerome must deal with throughout the story. 

I think both boys and girls would enjoy this book because of the drama and conflict the characters encounter as they move through their first year of junior high   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Conflict, Setting, Theme and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Slam, Learning the Game, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Hardball


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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

Monsoon Summer

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Monsoon Summer

Author: Mitali Perkins

Page Length: 257


Reading Level: 5


Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jazz Gardner has to tell her business partner, Steve Morales, (best friend and secret love of her life) that she will be traveling to India with her family for the summer.  Her mother has received a grant for the orphanage in which she was adopted from several years earlier.  Having no choice, Jazz tells Steve good-bye, with sadness that he will find a girlfriend while she is gone. 

Upon arriving in India, Jazz decides to attend the local school rather than work at the orphanage.  However, her brother gets involved with the orphans by coaching them soccer, and her dad, a loner, becomes obsessed with teaching the nuns who run the orphanage computer skills.  Meanwhile, her mother is fulfilling her dream of making the orphanage a safe-haven for pregnant women of India to come and receive medical services.

Steve writes her letters, but Jazz cannot find the words to respond to him.  She pens many letters, but hides them away.  When Danita, one of the girls at the orphanage, starts to cook and clean for the Gardner’s, Jazz opens up to her and tells her how she feels about Steve. 

Jazz meets girls at the school who try to get her involved by attending dances after school.  Jazz has only danced once (with Steve at the eighth grade dance) and she was a complete klutz.  Jazz feels she is too large and clumsy to be attractive, not petite like her mom.  She eventually starts to take ceremonial dance from Danita for a performance they will give at the opening of the orphanage.

As Jazz observes her family at the orphanage, learns of Danita’s destiny of being an orphan, and raffles through her relationship with Steve, she realizes that there is a gift in giving and opens her heart to touch others. 

REVIEW: This is an excellent coming of age book for junior high and high school girls to read.  Jazz lacks confidence, specifically because her mother exemplifies a super-woman.  She is cautious in giving of herself after being taken advantage of by a druggie, earlier in the year. As Jazz observes the poverty in India, she realizes she has much to be grateful for and understands her mother’s mission to help the people of her home country. Through her relationships with Danita and her girlfriends she makes at the school, Jazz gains the confidence she needs to tell Steve her feelings and make good mature decisions about her life.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Characters, Compare/Contrast, and Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: The Kite Runner, Born Confused

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Millicent Min Girl Genius

Author: Lisa Yee

Page Length: 248

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Millicent Min is eleven years old and is enrolling in her first college class.  She is a genius and has appeared on TV talk shows, made the Dean’s Honor Roll, and is about to begin her senior year in high school.  Millicent is very intelligent, but has no idea of how to make friends or even have a normal conversation.

Her mother forces her to join a volleyball team and through her grandmother’s friend, she is forced to begin peer tutoring for Sanford Wong, the dumbest athlete in school.  Millicent is close to her grandmother, Maddie, who is about to leave on an extended trip to Europe. With a hatred for sports, ignorant boys, and the departure of her grandmother, Millicent is dreading the summer.  She only looks forward to the poetry class she has enrolled in at the local college.

Millicent actually has no friends, but at volleyball practice, a new girl, Emily befriends her.  Excited that Emily likes her, Millicent hides the fact that she is a genius from Emily.  She is afraid that Emily will not like her if she is aware of how smart she is and her placement in high school. As the story continues, Emily meets Stanford, the incorrigible jock that Millicent tutors.  When Stanford and Emily are attracted to each other, the plot thickens as Stanford tries to hide his lack of intelligence and Millicent becomes the “third party” in the triangular friendship.

REVIEW: The book is a narrative told from Millicent’s point of view.  The character development is excellent and the relationships between the families and friends are very realistic.  Lisa Yee includes humor and sarcasm, in how Millicent views the people who are apart of her life. I enjoyed this book immensely and would suggest it especially for junior high and high school girls to read.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Point of View, Compare/Contrast, Theme, and Characters

RELATED BOOKS: Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Totally Emily Ebers


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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 Egypt Game

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The Egypt Game

The Egypt Game


Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder


Page Length: 215


Reading Level: 6.6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: April Hall has just moved in with her grandmother. At first, Melanie isn’t sure the two of them will have anything in common, but April is the only other girl her age in the building. It isn’t long before they both discover that they love anything that has to do with Ancient Egypt. They simply can’t learn enough about the ancient gods, goddesses, and ceremonies. Soon, April and Melanie discover an empty storage shed behind the antique shop and the Egypt game begins. The girls begin to plan elaborate rituals and create fancy costumes. The game is in full swing when tragedy strikes the neighborhood. Allowed to play only indoors, the girls begin to wonder if their created ancient Egypt is gone forever. Yet, it isn’t long until the game is going strong and they are joined by more ancient Egyptians. Everything is great until one dark night when two of them find themselves all alone, with danger lurking in the darkness, and no other Egyptians around … it may just be the end of the Egypt game forever.

REVIEW: This book is a Newberry Honor Book. The characters are well developed and the story is pretty engaging. For a student who loves Ancient Egyptian history and stories, this book would be highly recommended. Woven within the story are also some significant issues. April’s been sent to her grandmother as her mother marries and worries about her acting career (putting her own needs over her daughters). The professor who owns the antique shop is being persecuted as strange and suspect based on his anti-social behaviors. A disturbed man is on the loose and is killing children. There are plenty of plot twists and turns to entertain the reader – though most occur in the latter half of the story.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: making predictions, cause and effect, inferences, character analysis and motivations, connecting text to historical events, connecting text to other text, sequence of events, author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: April’s feelings of loss because her mother sent her away, the theme of loss and depression, murder

RELATED BOOKS: The Headless Cupid, The Witches of Worm, The Trespassers, Cat Running, The Gypsy Game, Soapy and the Pharaoh’s Curse, The Pyramid Builder

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Night at the Museum – Smithsonian, “The Ramses Collection”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Looking for Alibrandi

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Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta: Book Cover

Looking for Alibrandi

Author: Melina Marchetta

Page Length: 313

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Josephine Alibrandi is 17 years old and attends St. Martha’s Catholic School for Girls. She is a senior and plans to study law after graduation.  Josephine has four best friends who all have different backgrounds and personalities but somehow seem to “click”.

Josephine lives with her Italian grandmother and mother.  She has never had any type of relationship with her father.  Josephine is aware that she is illegitimate, but knows that her mother has done the best job she can as far as raising her as a single parent.  Her mother has a lot of wisdom and lives a rather no-nonsense life.  Her grandmother is very attune to Old Italian customs and is protective of Josephine. Eventually Josephine meets her dad and begins a relationship with him – first as friends, then as a father/daughter relationship. 

Josephine is aware that two boys from adjoining community schools have interest in her.  She feels that John Barton has all the characteristics a good husband should have, but she is more attracted to Jacob Coote, who is not so well-polished.  A relationship develops with Jacob; however, she continues to share interests and a friendship with John.

As the plot develops, Josephine begins to talk with her grandmother about her immigration to Australia.  Josephine learns secrets about her family that explain the types of relationships they have.  She discovers that John is not the perfect guy. She also learns that Jacob is more sensitive than he appears, that nuns are not without sin, and that her friends’ morals and values are questionable.  In this entire discovery, Josephine begins to become a young woman with her own dreams.

REVIEW: This book has several subplots that influence Josephine’s life and future.  The relationships with her family, girlfriends, boyfriends, and the nuns at her school are all well-developed and relevant to her coming of age.  Because of the harsh language, I would recommend it to more mature female teens.  It is an excellent book with a lot of drama which most girls enjoy.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Point of View, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Comparison/Contrast

TOUCHYAREAS: harsh profanity (p. 55,126, 159, 160, 172, 183, 193, 226, 247, 253, 264, and 274)

RELATED BOOKS: Saving Francesca, Becoming Naomi Leon, Jellicoe Road

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Looking for Alibrandi (Australian film, 2000)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


Hoops by Walter Dean Myers: Book Cover


Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 183

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

Career Connections: Professional Basketball Player

PLOT SUMMARY: Lonnie is about to finish high school when he is approached to play on a neighborhood basketball team in a tournament that will have college scouts attending.  Lonnie joins the team with hopes that he may actually receive a scholarship.  However, when Cal, the neighborhood wine-o shows up and says that he is the team coach, Lonnie’s hopes fade.

Cal challenges Lonnie to a three basket one-on-one pick up game and Lonnie learns that Cal does “have a game”.  Cal manages to get the team uniforms and trains them to work together as a team.  He is continually on Lonnie to do better, but Lonnie begins to like Cal. The bond between the two builds as they practice and the team competes.  Lonnie begins to think of Lonnie as a friend and father figure. 

But Cal has a past that haunts him and occasionally does not show up for practice and games. When Lonnie finds him, Cal confesses to him about why he quit playing basketball professionally.  The two form a bond but Cal again disappoints Lonnie and the team.  It is through Cal’s discreet actions that Lonnie learns not only the game of basketball but the game of life.

REVIEW: Myers depicts his love for basketball in this book about basketball on the streets of Harlem.  Boys of the African American race will like this as it is written in slang which makes the story more believable.  There is a lot of basketball action but the story’s theme focuses on the true game of life.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that are not content and age appropriate

AREAS OF TEACHING: Theme, Character, Setting, Generalizations. Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Night Hoops, Slam, Shooter


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Hoop Dreams (1994), City Dump: The Story of the 1951 CCNY Basketball Scandal (1994), Game Day (1999), Streetballers (2009), More than a Game (2009)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Romiette and Julio

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Romiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper: Book Cover

Romiette and Julio

Author: Sharon Draper

Page Length: 320

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Julio has just moved to Cincinnati from his home town of Corpus Christi to get away from gangs and so that his father could find work. The Devildogs run things at Julio’s new school and let him know right away that they don’t want him in their school. Then Julio meets Romiette and his luck changes. He’s finally met a girl that he loves talking to. However, the Devildogs don’t want Romiette talking to Julio and their threats are increasing. Can Julio and Romiette make a relationship work amid so much chaos? Why does Romiette keep having a nightmare about drowning and what could it mean?

REVIEW: To all the Draper fans, I apologize but I did not enjoy reading this book. I feel that her use of dialogue is excessive and totally weighs the book down. The idea of modernizing Romeo and Juliette is a good one, however the delivery was poor. Reading becomes labored because it’s too much “blah, blah, blah” between the characters (exactly what most English teachers tell their students to avoid when writing their own stories). I feel that like most Draper books this story really doesn’t deliver a solid storyline – it seems to stay too superficial and never really goes deep enough to drive the point home. On a positive note, Draper does try to address the issue of gang violence and its dire consequences.

I was disappointed and I would not want to read this as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, elements of plot, comparing and contrasting the characters, comparing text to self, point of view, how not to use dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: gang intimidation, kidnapping, gang violence

RELATED BOOKS: The Battle of Jericho, Just Another Hero, November Blues, Fire from the Rock, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliette”


“Romeo and Juliette” (1968 and 1996)

RELATED WEBSITES:                    

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

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko: Book Cover

Al Capone Does My Shirts

Author: Gennifer Choldenko

Page Length: 225

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

Career Connections: Electrician, Prison Warden, Prison Guard     

PLOT SUMMARY: Moose is not happy about the move his family has made to Alcatraz, the island that holds many famous prisoner’s hostage. His dad took the job as an electrician and prison guard, in the hopes that they would be able to place Moose’s older sister, Natalie, in a special school in San Francisco. Natalie displays signs of Autism, but in 1935 (the setting of the story) the disease had not been diagnosed. Moose is in the 7th grade and loves baseball and a good game of catch.  However, there are no boys his age on the island.

Because Moose is required to stay with Natalie every afternoon after school, he loses the one friendship he established with his schoolmate, Scout, in San Francisco.  He and Natalie form friendships with the younger children on the island and the warden’s daughter, Piper. While trying to stay out of trouble with the warden and trying to find a way to rekindle Scout’s friendship, Moose relentlessly looks for a way to keep Natalie happy and to find a convict’s baseball for Scout.

Meanwhile, his mother earnestly tries every possible avenue to ensure Natalie’s acceptance into the private school while his dad works and tries to keep the dysfunctional household in peace.

REVIEW: This is an excellent story based on historical facts about life on the island of Alcatraz in the depression years of the 1930’s.  Although the characters are fictional, they are based on authentic lives on the island during the time Al Capone was serving his sentence for tax evasion.  

The characters of the story are well-developed and the portrayal of Natalie’s symptoms of Autism is authentic.  Al Capone’s character is minimal, however, mystical in capturing the interest of the reader.  An author’s note and discussion questions and activities are included in the back of the book.

I would recommend the book for any teen or adult to read.


AREAS OF TEACHING: Historical Context, Character, Setting

RELATED BOOKS: Al Capone Shines My Shoes, Mr. Capone, Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, Children of Alcatraz: Growing up on the Rock


MUSIC CONNECTIONS: Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Al Capone (1959)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 5, 2010

Cuba 15

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Cuba 15

Author: Nancy Osa

Page Length: 277

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Violet Paz is turning 15. Her Cuban grandmother insists that she must have a quinceañera to celebrate her passage to womanhood. At first, Violet resists adhering to the old traditions, especially Cuban ones she can’t identify with at all. Through a project at school, Violet begins to learn more about Cuba and her roots. She begins to learn to love her heritage; and, when Violet finds a way to add her own flair and style to her quinceañera she begins to be excited about the prospect.

REVIEW: The book is a first person narrative from the viewpoint of a 15 year old. She has humorous insight into the antics of her friends and relatives. Violet and her father are even found reading Quinceañera for Dummies in preparation for the big event. When Violet discovers the theatrical aspects she can blend into her celebration everything seems to come together. The novel is insightful look into the blending of cultures and all the challenges of growing up.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: historical applications, author’s purpose, conflict, mood, tone, sequence of events


RELATED BOOKS:  Once Upon a Quinceañera, Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi Leon


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Hope Was Here

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Hope Was Here

Author: Joan Bauer

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Hope, formerly named Tulip, is moving from Brooklyn to Wisconsin with her aunt, Addie.  When Hope was just an infant her mother, a waitress, left her with her aunt, a cook. Hope is leaving her first job as a waitress and dreads moving to a new town with a new job and new school.

When Hope arrives with her aunt to their new diner, Welcome Stairways, she meets the owner, G. T. Scoops.  As Hope and Addie become acclimated to life in the small town, they meet Flo, Yuri, and Braverman, the other employees. 

As the story progresses, the town learns that G. T. has cancer and that is the reason he has asked Addie to come cook so that he can get some relief from his chemo treatments.  However, G. T. is not a quitter, and decides to run for mayor of the town to eliminate some of the corrupt business transactions that are currently being ignored.  Hope, Braverman, and a group of other teens back G. T. and help run his campaign.

As the book progresses, the campaign becomes more intense with unethical events happening to sabotage G. T.’s chances of winning.  Working together, both at the diner and for the campaign, Braverman and Hope develop a romantic relationship, as do Addie and G. T.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book that would be good to use as a class novel.  The basic theme is how Hope tries to spread hope through each person she touches in life.  However, there are several underlying themes, including:  the political campaign for mayor, dealing with the disease of cancer, parental abandonment, romance, and the developmental delays of a child.  The book is appealing to a wide range of age groups and both genders.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conclusions, Predictions, and Generalizations

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, The Center of Everything, My Time as Caz Hazard, Everything on a Waffle

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Hope Floats (1998), Frankie and Johnny (1991), About a Boy (2002), and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 15, 2009

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

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Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

Author: Louise Rennison

Page Length: 6      

Reading Level: 247

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a one-year diary account of the thoughts of Georgia Nicolson, a 14 year-old girl from England.  Georgia is the older sister of 3 year-old Libby, best friend of Jaz, and owner of Angus, a mixed breed cat who is very large and mean.

All of Georgia’s thoughts center on how to be a cool, sexy teen and survive the home life with her pet, sibling, and nerdy parents. Georgia relates the feelings she experiences when arriving at a costume party as a stuffed olive, paying Peter for kissing lessons, pretending she is a lesbian, and trying to attract Robbie (the SEX GOD). 

REVIEW: The book is written in a journal form with entries by months, days and hours.  Georgia’s accounts of life are hilarious, yet every teen-age girl can relate in someway to the feelings and experiences she has.  The book includes “Georgia’s Glossary” which defines many of the British/English terms used that Americans will not find familiar. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to lesbians and making out throughout the book but nothing inappropriate for today’s teen-age exposure

AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Characters, Point of View, and Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, Knocked Out by My Nung-Nungas, Dancing In My Nuddy Pants, Away Laughing on a Fast Camel, Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers, Startled by His Furry Shorts, Love is a Many Trousered Thing, and Stop in the Name of Pants

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Girl 15 Charming but Insane

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Girl 15 Charming but Insane

Author: Sue Limb

Page Length: 214  

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jess Jordan is 15 years old, lacks in physical development of her upper body and thinks her lower portion is way too big!  Not only is she disappointed with her lack of beauty, but has to live with the knowledge that Flora, her best friend, is a goddess!

Jess lives with her mother and grandmother, and corresponds with her dad through e-mail.  Her dad sends her daily horoscopes that do not predict the future as anything but bad days!  Jess has a crush on Ben, who does not know that she is alive.  After Flora joins a band with Ben and his best friend, Jess does begin spending time with her secret love.  Ben is nice to her, but does not pursue a romantic relationship.

Jess moves through the spring by being humiliated at a party where she has used minestrone soup to enhance her breasts.  When she learns that she has been videoed in the restroom at the party, she panics that the entire school will witness her trauma with the soup enhancements.  She learns her secret is saved by Fred, her neighbor.  In a series of events and her own imagination, Jess jeopardizes her friendship with both Fred and Flora. 

REVIEW: This is a hilarious book that girls would enjoy.  Jess humorously describes the feelings a typical teen would experience in the early years of high school.  Her insecurities, as well as jealousy, are common feelings teens have today.  The relationships she has with her mother, grandmother, and estranged father are also realistic.  This is a good book for leisure reading.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Point of View, Characters, and Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Girl, Nearly 16: Absolute Torture, Girl, Going on 17: Pants on Fire

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Pretty in Pink (1986)


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Kate Malone is nervously awaiting her acceptance letter to MIT, the only college she applied to as a senior honor student.  Her deceased mother went to MIT and that is the only school she has ever wanted to attend.  As Kate watches her friends being accepted to not only their first choice schools, but their second and third choices, she begins to be unable to sleep. An avid runner, she chooses to run at night to avoid the inevitable nightmare that will occur if she does not get the positive letter from MIT.

In Kate’s everyday life, she is an honor student and a track star. She handles all of the domestic duties at her home over her sickly brother, Toby,  and her  father who is a minister.  Her neighbor, Terri Litch, who has always been an enemy, continues to send bad vibes to Kate in the school cafeteria.

When the Litch’s house catches on fire, and Ms. Litch is unable to care for Terri and her brother, Mr. Malone has them move in with Kate, Toby, and him.  Now, Kate, has new responsibilities—Terri and Mikey. 

As Kate moves through the everyday motions of school, a romantic relationship, and church volunteer obligations, with no sleep, she finds she has a growing attachment for Mikey and a concern building for Terri, the arch enemy. A series of events follow that impact not only the Litch’s and Malone’s, but the entire community.  Relationships and personal values and morals are exposed and questioned as the town deals with tragedy.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book for the mature, advanced high school student to read.  I think girls would especially like it, as it is dramatic in content.  The events of the story, while tragic, are common in our society today.  Ms. Anderson does an excellent job of developing the characters through Kate’s eyes and the world through her point of view. It is one of the best young adult books I have read.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Character, Point of View, Conflict,

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: reference to masturbation (p. 14), incest, occasional profanity

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, The Center of Everything, Prom


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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

Ashes of Roses

Ashes of Roses

Author: Mary Jane Auch

Page Length: 250

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  In the first decade of the 20th Century many immigrants from Europe are crossing the Atlantic to enter the United States at Ellis Island. The Nolan family is among these immigrants, coming to American to fulfill their dreams. 

Upon arriving, the youngest son was not allowed to enter because of illness. Mr. Nolan, returns to Ireland with his son. His wife and three daughters, Rose, Maureen, and Bridgett remain in the new country.  After just a few weeks of living with Mr. Nolan’s brother, Mrs. Nolan, decides America is not the country she thought, and returns to Ireland with her youngest daughter, Bridgett.

Rose, 16, and Maureen, 12, remain in America, alone and determined to be successful Americans.  Rose secures a job at a flower shop, but finds that her employer is abusive and takes advantage of his female employees.  After moving in with a Russian girl and her father, Rose takes a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, making dresses. Rose makes friends and seems to find her niche in America, when disaster hits and new challenges await the girl and her sister.

REVIEW:  This is an excellent book to read as a supplement to studies of the treatment of females and children before unions were successful in controlling labor laws. The book is filled with the challenges Rose and her family face as they struggle in the United States.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Historical Context, Point of View, Setting, Characters, Cause/Effect, Compare and Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: There Is an Isle, Through Irish Eyes, The Triangle Fire, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Living Century (PBS Documentary, 2000)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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