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August 30, 2009

Hanging on to Max

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Hanging on to Max

Author: Margaret Bechard

Page Length: 204

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sam is a 17 year old senior in high school who lives with his widowed father and son, Max. When Max’s mother decided having a son as a teen ager was too much for her to handle, Sam, got custody of their infant son.  Sam is now attending an alternative school for teen parents.   Overwhelmed by homework, grocery shopping, playtime with an eleven month old, diapers, and doctor’s appointments, Sam sees a job in construction as his future.

Sam is gifted in math skills and his teacher encourages him to take the SAT just to see how he does.  Sam forms a study group with two of the other teen parents.  Claire, who he has had a crush on since junior high, is one of the members of his study group.  As their friendship grows they develop a romantic attraction. One day they attend a party of some of their old house school friends, taking both of their children.  While Sam is not neglectful, Max gets injured at the party and is rushed to the hospital. 

Sam has a love for Max, but finds the responsibilities of teen parenting more than he can handle.

REVIEW:  This is a realistic view of the life a teen parent must live.  The story is told from Sam’s point of view. His experiences both at school and home are not sugar coated, as far as the responsibilities he has.  The book would be excellent for any junior high or high school student to read, so that they may think twice before participating in unprotected premarital sex. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Sequence of Events, Character, Point of View, and Conflict

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The theme of the book is based on the birth of an illegitimate child.   

RELATED BOOKS: The First Part Last, The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom, A Family Gathering, Girl Talk



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Chill Wind

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Chill Wind

Author: Janet McDonald

Page Length: 134  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins with Aisha, a 19 year-old single mother of two, receiving her notice that her welfare income is about to be discontinued after five years.  Aisha lives with her alcoholic mother in the projects and is determined that she will not work for the city to supplement her income.

The book flashes back to Aisha’s former years when she dropped out of school and dated, Kevin, the father of her children. The book chronicles Aisha’s daily life of eating junk food, spending time with her “homies”, and thinking of ways to avoid having her welfare taken away.  She thinks she can plead insanity or convince Kevin to marry her. When neither of these ideas works, Aisha does get a job with the “workfare” in the subways. Coincidentally, she is befriended by a former model that gets her a successful job in advertising. 

REVIEW: This is a compelling book that humorously depicts Aisha’s life of desperation as she lives in the projects with no substantial skills to earn income. Written in third person narrative form, Aisha is an example of a young woman who continually makes bad choices.  She finds ways to overcome these choices, however, by caring for her children in the best way that she can.  At the end of the book, she finds her “pot of gold” by appearing in a television commercial.  I felt that this “happy ending” was quite unrealistic and therefore, did not send a good message to teens who may read the book.  However, the book is funny and I think African American teens would enjoy Aisha’s antics.

The book is written with the majority of the dialogue in Ebonics.   

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: The main character is a teen mother and high school dropout.

RELATED BOOKS: Spellbound, Hanging on to Max, The First Part Last


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

May 1, 2008

The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything

Author: Laura Moriarty

Page Length: 374  

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: The setting is Kansas, the 80’s, Ronald Reagan is the president.  Evelyn is a young girl living with her single mom in a small apartment.  Born out of wedlock, Evelyn tells the story in a narrative form.


When the book begins, Evelyn is in fourth grade.  She is quite observant about all that goes on around her.  She observes her mothers actions and senses that her relationship with her boss is not socially acceptable. She gives illustrative accounts of her teachers and their mannerisms.  She describes her relationships with her peers, both boys and girls.  Also, the relationship she shares with her grandmother is developed.


The story covers a period of Evelyn’s adolescent through teen years. Evelyn is very intelligent, but it is hard for her to channel her goals towards being a high achiever because of the lower values and expectations her mother has.  She experiences victories and defeats in the classroom, spiritually and with her family and friends.  Her ideas and beliefs change as she experiences the realities of life.


REVIEW: Laura Moriarty does an excellent job of getting the reader emotionally involved in Evelyn’s life as a young girl, victim of a dysfunctional, poverty-stricken mother.  I felt I was connected to Evelyn’s inner being through her thoughts and actions.  On page 67, Ms. Fairchild, Evelyn’s teacher, makes Evelyn aware of the fact that she is an intelligent person, and must set herself apart from her mother’s goals and set higher ones for herself. Throughout the book, Evelyn strives to reach these goals, but is constantly held back from complete success by the events that go on in her family, neighborhood, and school.


On pages 104 and 116, Evelyn does demonstrate her awareness and desire to set herself apart from her mother, knowing that she will achieve higher standards of living.  On page 155, Evelyn expresses strong feelings for Travis, her neighbor and childhood friend.  Both her mother and Travis become barriers to her happiness, but she never loses her feelings of attachment to both of them.


Moriarty uses a lot of symbolism throughout the story as well as a great analogy on page 151.  Her character development is very good and realistic. At the end of the book, there is a reader’s study guide. 


I loved this book, and think mature teens and adults would enjoy it.  Because of the strong language, sexual relationships, and moral issues discussed, I do not think it would be suitable for a class novel.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Symbols, Sequence of Events, Generalizations and Predictions, Compare/Contrast, Cause and Effect


TOUCHY AREAS: Strong language (p. 32, 63, 72, 74, 86, 91, 112, 134, 150, 167-170, 186-187, 213-214, 289, 317- and 329), illegitimate children, teen death, religious issues concerning evolution


RELATED BOOKS: Where the Heart Is, The Lovely Bones, Olive’s Ocean, So B. It


MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Where the Heart Is, Who’s Looking for Gilbert Grape




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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