The Book Reviews – Website

June 25, 2008


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Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 266

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

PLOT SUMMARY: Greg Harris, aka Slam, is an outstanding basketball player. He has just recently transferred from his Harlem high school team to a magnet school. The pressure is on to perform in the classroom and on the courts where Slam has to learn to be a team player. All around him struggles are taking place. Life in Harlem is far from easy. Grandma is ill and in the hospital, Derek is following his lead. Ice may be dealing, and he can’t seem to get Mtisha off his mind. As the pressure mounts, Slam has to make some difficult decisions and dig deeper than he ever knew he could. Can he keep it all together and still prevail on the courts or will the pressure be too much?

REVIEW: Myers writes a moving story about the struggles of a young man in Harlem. Slam has talent, but he has to learn how to balance the demands of life without giving up or giving in. Slam! is a compelling story and a must read for basketball fans. This book would be good in an audio version. In general, the book would appeal more to boys. High school students can relate to Slam’s relationship issues, worries about his best friend’s new choices, and the pressure of making the grades and finding a path for the future. This book contains strong characters and play by play descriptions at times of basketball games and moves (which could bore students who do not understand the game of basketball). Great book for an African-American male who loves basketball to read.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, causes of Slam’s difficulties – effects of his choices, setting, theme, conflict, writer’s motive, context clues (about Ice)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: allusions to drugs

RELATED BOOKS: Basketball by Mike Kennedy, The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, How to Be Like Mike: Life Lessons about Basketball’s Best, Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, The American Dream, The Beast

RELATED MOVIES:  Hoosiers (1986), Hoop Dreams (1994), Above the Rim (1994), Finding Forrester, Coach Carter (2005), Glory Road (2006)

RELATED MUSIC: Shaquille O’Neal – Respect, Hit Em High – Space Jam Soundtrack, We Are the Champions – Queen


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008


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Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Pages: 215

Reading Level: 6


PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Ashley Hannigan isn’t the typical high school senior. She’s got a deadbeat boyfriend (TJ) who dropped out of high school, never seems to have money, and is making plans for Ashley to move in with him after graduation. Ashley is from a family of four with one on the way; money is tight and her college plans almost non-existent. After serving detentions and rapidly finishing homework assignments she forgot from the night before, Ashley spends her time in a rat costume serving pizza and entertaining at the EZ-CHEEZ-E to earn money. While her best friend, Natalia (Nat) and the rest of the senior class seems obsessed with the Prom, Ashley could care less about some stupid “dance.”


The math teacher is arrested for stealing the prom funds. The school is up in arms. Will the prom be cancelled? Nat heads the prom committee and begs Ashley to help; before long, Ashley becomes caught up in the prom madness too. Nat breaks her leg and Ashley is left to keep plans moving for the prom. In between helping Nat, balancing family life, work, TJ, detention, school work, and Nat’s crazy grandma, Ashley finds a way to handle it all. Will she be able to salvage her high school prom? Will her feelings about prom change? Is life with TJ after high school enough for Ashley?  What will Ashley learn about herself in the process and how will it change her?


From a teaching perspective this book’s great points are that Ashley learns to want more from life than just the boyfriend and no education. She develops dreams and self confidence when she learns that she is more capable than she ever thought. She also learns to expect more for herself and from herself (evident when she gets rid of the less than desirable boyfriend and her friends applaud her finally realizing it). It’s also written on the high interest topic of Prom which usually appeals too much of the high school teenage girl population.


TOUCHY AREAS: A caution for the book is that drug use is mentioned (the boyfriend asks her to go with him and get high). Sex is mentioned in the book related to prom night activities and to Ashley and her boyfriend. Condoms are distributed at the prom. Ashley gets arrested for defying the vice principal and sneaking into the prom. There are plenty of issues here; yet, the overall message is a good one – especially for building strong women and for teaching girls to look outside the norm and believe in themselves.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


Visions 19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults

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Visions 19 Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults 

Editor: Donald R. Gallo

Page Length: 229

Reading Level: 7


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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