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December 19, 2010

Learning to Fly

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Learning to Fly by Paul Yee: Book Cover

Learning to Fly

Author: Paul Yee

Page Length: 107


Reading Level: 3.34


Genre: Fiction


Career Connections: none         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jason is the only Chinese student at the high school in the small town where his mother has opened a deli.  Students make fun of him at school and when he is working at the deli.  He and his mother moved to the United States from China two years after his father had immigrated.  Little did his mother know that his father was having an affair and would leave them as soon as they arrived in the United States.  Jason hates the U. S. but cannot return to China because his mother would have no one to help her.

After witnessing a police chase in the mall, Jason becomes friends with Chief, a Native American student who attends his high school.  Because Chief and his friends smoke marijuana, Jason decides to join them. Jason takes money from his mother to buy pot for him and his new friends. When their supplier gets busted, Jason gets a call to buy a large quantity of pot for the group.  That night, he realizes he was “set up” and is busted by the police. 

Jason feels all alone, but when Chief’s sister dies from an overdose, he realizes that he is not alone in feeling like an outsider and reaches out as a friend to the only other non-white boy in town, Chief.

REVIEW: Many of our low level reading students are those who are immigrants from other countries. I believe this would be a good book for students to read who feel discriminated against.  The events of the book show what students will participate in (many activities legal or illegal) just to be accepted by someone or some group.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: profanity (pp. 83), marijuana and drug use

AREAS OF TEACHING: Characterization, Setting, Compare/Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: To Kill a Mockingbird, Romiette and Julio, and The Hoopster


MUSIC, MOVIE, AND ART CONNECTIONS: Remember the Titans (2002), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Gran Torino (2008)

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


September 28, 2009

Harley Like a Person

Harley Like a Person

Author: Cat Bauer

Page Length: 282  

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Harley believes that she is adopted.  All of her family has blue eyes, Harley’s are brown.  Her mom told her she lost her birth certificate after she was born.  She does not relate to her alcoholic father and her bitter mother.  It seems they are always nagging her to clean her room, dust, do the dishes, and never notice her good grades or the way she helps with her younger sister. While Harley stumbles through her ninth grade year in school, she continues to research clues in finding out who her true parents are.

Harley does not deal with the conflicts in a rational way.  She hides under her bed, locks herself in her room, and refuses to talk to her parents when they make her angry.  However, she does find comfort in writing poetry, painting, and playing her oboe.  Harley not only has difficulties at home, but begins to show anger and jealousy towards her best friend.  After being treated badly by one boy she finds herself in a relationship with a fast talking, drug dealer.  Her grades begin to fall, although she is ask to complete a special art project for the school play.  Harley finds herself experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex although she knows she is making bad decisions.

She continues her quest to find her true identity but hits many hurdles on the road before finding answers to the many family questions that plague her.

REVIEW:  Harley Like a Person is a fast read with lots of drama.  Harley encounters emotional issues that cause her to question her parent’s honesty and morals and make bad moral decisions for herself. 

This book would be enjoyed by girls who face the many conflicts and issues of teens growing up in today’s world.  Unlike many books, the main character makes bad choices then is forced to answer to her parents and teachers.  In the end, Harley’s questions are answered but not before she suffers some bad experiences with her family, boyfriend, and best friend.

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

TOUCHY AREAS: marijuana use- (p.172-175, 212- 216), alcohol use (212-216), and sexual situations (p. 176, 217)

RELATED BOOKS: Harley’s Ninth


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 21, 2008

Born Confused

Born Confused

Author: Tanuga Desai Hidier

Page Length: 500

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Dimple Lala, an American of Indian decent, is turning 17.  She has tried to deny her roots of being Indian, although her greatest attachment in life is to her now deceased grandfather who lived in India. As Dimple tries to find her place in life, she finds herself caught between her parent’s ideals and values and the lifestyle of blonde hair blue-eyed, Gwyn, her best friend since grade school.

Dimple’s parents try to set up a marriage with their long-time friend’s son, Karsh. Refusing to be a part of the set up, Dimple releases all claims to Karsh to Gwyn who is totally intrigued with “Indian” culture, which is posh in the New York setting.  As Dimple sees Karsh in his D. J. mode, she realizes she does have feelings for him, but thinks he is attracted to Gwyn. 

Dimple becomes aware of not only her Indian culture and its importance, but begins to discover herself through her experiences with her parents, her cousin, Kavita, Gwyn and her romances, Karsh, and her own photography.

REVIEW: Tanuja Desai Hidier does an excellent job of writing a great book about a teen of Southeast Asian Indian decent coming of age in America. The book addresses several touchy areas such as the use of underage drinking, marijuana use, a lesbian affair and a character that is a transvestite that the teacher should be aware of before a student reads.

Her descriptive writing is some of the best I have read in young adult novels and the pages noted could be used as examples for a class lesson, even if the book is not being read as a class novel. 

At a seventh grade reading level, the book is quite lengthy and I would suggest for the advanced, mature female reader. However, I enjoyed it immensely.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Descriptive writing (through out the book but noted on p. 18, 57, 163, 212, 217, 337, 436-440) Cause and Effect, and Compare and Contrast (different cultures)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Underage drinking, Drug use (p. 251-265), lesbian relationship (p. 310), transvestite (p.314).

RELATED BOOKS: Time Out, New York Asian New York Special, Desilicious Anthology, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, The Border, Imaginary Men, A Step from Heaven

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Short Films by the same author: “The Test” (1996) and “The Assimilation Alphabet”

Author is also a member of “Angels and Whips” (band)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 24, 2008

One True Friend

One True Friend

Author: Joyce Hansen

Page Length: 154

Reading Level: 6

Genre:  Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the story of a friendship between Amir and Doris who met while Amir was living in a foster home on 163rd street in the Bronx. Amir’s parents were killed in a car wreck and he was separated from his siblings who were put into foster care.  As the story evolves, Amir is living with his youngest brother, Ronald and his foster parent’s, Alvin and Grace Smith. Amir is on a mission to find his aunt, who he believes has his other sibling’s living with them.  He has a letter and picture he wants to send to all of the people who have the same last name as his aunt to try to find them.  However, Mr. Smith forbids Amir to send the letters and says that he will help find his aunt.

Amir feels alone and writes Doris about his life in Syracuse, the Smith’s, and Ronald.  Doris writes back about issues she is having with her schoolmates and family.  Both Amir and Doris, give each other advice and support through their mail. They both feel disconnected from the world they live in and hold on to the distant friendship to solve their problems.

REVIEW: This book starts off slow, but gets better as the relationship between Doris and Amir develops through the letters they write.  The issues that the two teens face are realistic as to what many teens fact today.  A meaningful relationship also develops between the Smith’s and Amir that makes Amir realize what blood family and chosen family can both be a part of one’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Main Idea and Supporting Details, Conflict, Cause/Effect, Compare/Contrast, Setting and Characters

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to marijuana use and AIDS, but nothing that is not age appropriate.

RELATED BOOKS: The Gift Giver, Yellow Bird and Me


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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