The Book Reviews – Website

January 1, 2011

The Rag and Bone Shop

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The Rag and Bone Shop

Author: Robert Cormier

Page Length: 154   

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: In Part 1, Detective Trent of Vermont, has just been successful in obtaining two confessions for two separate murder cases.  However, he has lost his wife in a fatal car accident and must return home alone.  Since his wife died, he has experienced bouts of loneliness and depression.

As Part 2 begins, Jason Dorrant is enjoying the luxury of sleeping late on the first day of summer.  He decides to go over to Brad’s house for a swim or maybe just to help Brad’s younger sister, Alicia put a jigsaw puzzle together.  He actually likes Alicia better than Brad and has helped her with puzzles before, although she is the master at assembling the puzzles.

Tragedy hits as Jason learns the following day that Alicia was found not only dead, but murdered and left in the woods.  Jason is believed to be the last one to see Alicia alive and is questioned by the police about what he remembers.  Under pressure from a U. S. senator, whose granddaughter knew Alicia, Lieutenant Braxton seeks the services of Trent from Vermont to help solve the case.  With no substantial evidence, Jason appears to be the prime suspect.

As Trent sets up his interrogation, he reviews the scenario and deposition Jason has already submitted.  It doesn’t seem likely that Jason is the killer, but Trent is a specialist at getting confessions and he feels confident as he enters the small room which has been set up to make Jason feel intimidated by his size, position and voice.  Jason believes he is being interviewed only for additional help to the police’s investigation.   As the interrogation proceeds, Jason begins to feel inadequate in his answers, then threatened by Trent’s questions.  Both Trent and Jason believe they know the truth, but as both feel pressure, neither seems to know what the real truth is.

REVIEW: This is a fast-paced suspenseful book which creates tension within the reader from the first pages of the book.  As the plot develops, the reader will try to determine the outcome.  The characters of both Jason and Trent are well-developed and the chemistry and tension between them in their interview is realistic.

At the end of the book, a reader’s guide is included as well as an interview with the author.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Conflict, Theme, Conclusions, Predictions and Outcomes, Voice, Mood, Tone

RELATED BOOKS: Frenchtown Summer, Heroes

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.litplans.com/authors/Robert_Cormier.htm

www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Rag-and-BoneShop-by-Robert-Cormier-2-week-unit-plan

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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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”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.zksnyder.com/

http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/egypt/index.htm

http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/

http://www.touregypt.net/KIDS/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

The Afterlife

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The Afterlife by Gary Soto: Book Cover

The Afterlife

Author: Gary Soto

Page Length: 161

Reading Level: 6.1

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Chuy’s just a normal seventeen year old. He likes to hang out with his friends and he’s hoping to snag a girlfriend soon. But fate has another plan. At a club his mother warned him about, Chuy is stabbed multiple times and left for dead on the bathroom floor. Why Chuy? Why now?

REVIEW: This book has a lot of potential. I think it would be an excellent read for many students. One of the great teachable moments of this book occurs when both Chuy and Crystal reflect on their choices and the course of their young lives. Students learn that Crystal killed herself out of fear and the Chuy’s killer lives by and in fear of those around him. The tragic deaths are explored in terms of their effects on the families, friends, and even strangers around them. Students can reflect how we all matter to more people than we may think and how far reaching one’s influence really is on others. Being a book about death – it’s message is all about what it means to live and about how life should be about taking chances and facing our fears.

The book begins with Chuy alive and in a club where he is suddenly stabbed to death in the bathroom. The rest of the book is about Chuy’s acceptance and exploration of his death as he travels about his neighborhood as a ghost. Chuy makes friends and discoveries, and he learns even more about his life as he witnesses the effect his death has on others.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, writing styles – reflective

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: stabbing (pages 2-3), death, suicide, fighting

RELATED BOOKS: Buried Onions, Baseball in April, A Summer Life, Accidental Love, The Lovely Bones (A Sebold)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.garysoto.com/

http://www.sfsite.com/01a/ar167.htm

http://vodpod.com/watch/1609785-book-trailer-gary-sotos-novel-the-afterlife-on-vimeo  (awesome book trailer)

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Impact

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Impact by James C. Dekker: Book Cover

Impact

Author: James C. Dekker

Page Length: 94

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Fiction

Career Connection: Police officer, pathologist, lawyer, detective

PLOT SUMMARY: As Jordan’s dad speaks to the court about his son who was murdered, Jordan recalls the events that led to his older brother, Mark’s, death. Jordan’s mind wanders as the judge listens to the impact each of the boy’s had on Mark’s death.

Mark was the dream guy – good looking, athletic, intelligent, and outgoing. Jordan was more on the shy, introverted side. Jordan had seen a girl, Shannon, at school and wanted to ask her out. When he talked to Mark about asking a girl out, Mark encouraged him. However, he did not get the nerve up when he saw her in the hall. When he arrived at the football game, he saw his older brother Mark, arm in arm with Shannon. It hit a nerve. There was no way that Mark knew Shannon was the girl Jordan had wanted to ask to the game, but he was with her.

Shannon’s boyfriend, Tony was jealous and wanted to get Mark to stay away from her. Kyle, a neighbor of Jordan’s, saw Jordan on the street and showed Tony who he was. When Kyle approached Jordan and asked him where Mark worked, Jordan knew it was to gain information for Tony. Jordan told him where Mark worked.

At the end of the trial, Jordan wonders what impact he may have had on his brother’s death.

REVIEW: Impact is an easy, independent read and would be good for the reluctant reader to try as a first book. The interest level is high with the action in the courtroom and the details Jordan remembers that lead up to Mark’s murder.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None

TEACHING AREAS: Compare/Contrast, Sequence of Events, Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Scum, Spiral, First Time, Learning to Fly

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Heathers (1988)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.orcabook.com

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 5, 2010

Kissing the Rain

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Kissing the Rain

Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 320

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Michael Rupert, known as “Moo”, is a loner. He is made fun of because of his obesity—he tops out on the scales at 240.  However, he finds most happiness when he escapes into his eating habits of huge meals prepared by his mom, candy bars, and fast food fests!

He finds his escape from “the Rain” (teasing, shoving, name-calling jeers) by going to a bridge and listening to the passing of the automobiles. However, one night, he witnesses a wreck between a racing BMW and a Range Rover.  After the collision, four people emerge from the BMW and one from the Rover.  A fight takes place, a victim goes down, and the police arrive. As Moo observes the action from atop the bridge, the police spot him.  The police question Moo and tell him they will come to his house the next day to get a statement.

The next afternoon, two detectives arrive and talk to him. They write down all the facts and statements they can get from Moo.  Moo realizes that one of the detectives is the father of one of the major boys at school who causes his “Rain”.  As the days go forward, the defense attorney for Vine, a known criminal who is the accused killer in the accident, also comes to talk with Moo.  Both the defense and prosecution want Moo’s support in the case.

Moo realizes that he has decisions to make when he must testify in court.  He knows no one in the case will truly win, and his decision will hurt someone in the end.

REVIEW: The book is written in a very realistic first person narrative form.  It is easy for the reader to understand Moo’s feelings and the conflicts he experiences as he must make decisions concerning not only the accident he witnessed, but decisions that will affect his family and friends.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity occasionally used

RELATED BOOKS: City of Bones, Frostbite, and The Awakening

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

Monster

Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 281

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Drama, Fiction-Crime

PLOT SUMMARY: Is he really a Monster? Did he really have anything to do with the murder of the drugstore owner? These are the questions that young 16 year old Steve Harmon is asking himself. All he knew was that he was to enter a drugstore, see how many people were inside, and see if there were any police. Then he was to exit the drugstore. Actually, did Steve even agree to be a “lookout”? It was planned to be a robbery or so that is what Bobo Evans and James King told him. After Steve leaves the drugstore, the robbery went terribly awry. The drugstore owner, Mr. Nesbitt is murdered. Steve is arrested and put on trial for murder. If convicted he faces 25 years to life in prison or the death penalty. While in the detention center, Steve maintains his sanity by writing in a journal that he will use for a “film” after this nightmare is over. Steve was not even present when the murder occurred, so does this make him a monster? How could a jury convict him? How could people think he was a monster, as the prosecutor described him at the beginning of the trial? His own lawyer doesn’t even believe him. His parents do not even look at him the same way. When Steve views the “film” of himself, who or what does he now see?

REVIEW:  Walter Dean Myers does an excellent job at immediately getting the reader’s attention with his first sentence in Monster: “The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is beaten up and screaming for help”. The story is written in the format of journal entries by Steven Harmon as well as dramatic script writing by the same character. The book is written in a young African American teenager’s point of view. The book’s voice is in modern language/slang that young reader’s can understand. However, some of the scenes and events described in the detention center range from cries of despair and beatings to rape. This subject matter is extremely difficult to read but does portray the realities of jail. One gains insights into Steve’s emotions, fears, and self concept from his journal entries. After reading the book, one can not help but re-examine one’s own beliefs and self concept. After reading Monster, hopefully young readers will realize that choices they make now can affect their lives forever as Steve does in the gray writing on pages 220-221 – “What was I thinking?”       

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, dialogue, dialect, journals, diaries, antagonist, peer pressure.

TOUCHY PAGES: 36, 37, 57, 73, 109, 139-140, 143-144

RELATED BOOKS:  Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Chocolate War (Readers Circle) by Robert Cormier, The Contender by Robert Lipstyte. Books by the same author: Slam!, Hoops, Scorpions, Glory Field, Fallen Angels, Game, Bad Boy: A Memoir, Somewhere in the Darkness, Motown and Didi , Harlem

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Outsiders(1983),  Westside Story (2003),  Once Upon a Time In the Hood (2004), The Price of the American Dream (2004).

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Dean_Myers

http://www.mcte.org/bpw/ricker.pdf

http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Monster_Myers/Monster_Study_Guide_Summary01.html

http://digitalbooktalk.com/?p=17

http://www.webenglishteacher.com/myers.html#monster

http://special.lib.umn.edu/clrc/kerlan/wdm/monster/index.php

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

November 14, 2009

Pain and Wastings

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Pain and Wastings

Author: Carrie Mac

Page Length: 122

Reading Level: 3.6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ethan grew up on the bad side of town near Main and Hastings known to others as Pain and Wastings. Ethan’s mother was involved in prostitution and drugs – a life that eventually led to her murder. Ethan has been forced to grow up in foster homes. His anger and indifference to the world has landed him in legal trouble for which he is assigned to spend time with an emergency response crew. The events that happen on the nights out working the neighborhood remind Ethan of the pain he’s tried to avoid but just can’t escape anymore.

REVIEW: For an Orca book, this one was pretty good. I really liked the pacing and the way the author slowly reveals the tragedy that Ethan has so carefully disguised and tried to ignore responding to all these years. This book does deal with sex in the form of prostitution by both his mother and Kelly. In the story, drug use issues are prevalent and murder takes place. This is an intense read that the kids would probably stay hooked on—beware of all the “inappropriate” content.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence of events, internal conflict, external conflict, character traits, dialogue, cause and effect, point of view, flashback technique

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: p. 104 “the man had finished, zipped up his pants…” and “her head bloody,” p. 96 “long enough to squeeze me through my jeans and give me a French kiss”

RELATED BOOKS: The Beckoners, Crush, Charmed, Retribution, Storm

RELATED MOVIES: “Forrest Gump”

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.orcabook.com/contributorinfo.cfm?ContribID=148

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/360816.Carrie_Mac

http://www.teendrugabuse.us/teendrugstatistics.html

http://www.teen-drug-abuse.org/

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

August 30, 2009

My Life and Death by Alexandra Canarsie

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My Life and Death by Alexandra Canarsie

Author: Susan Heyboer O’Keefe

Page Length: 255

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Alexandra, with her mother, has just returned to her mother’s home town, Nickel Park. Alexandra has had trouble in every school she’s been to lately, she and her mother are always on the move, and she already hates life in this little town trailer park. The only pastime Allie enjoys is attending funerals – even of complete strangers. This time Allie makes a new friend, find a teacher who believes in her, and uncovers a mystery – it appears that Jimmy was murdered and Allie intends to find out who did it.

REVIEW: This book was an “ok” read. It deals with some of the typical issues of teenage rebellion and general discontent. The one notable subject matter was that Allie constantly blames her mother for the disappearance of her father – and in her mind she romanticizes the reasons why she hasn’t heard from him – only to later come to terms with the crushing reality that he’s started a new life and doesn’t want her included in it. There are many likable characters for readers to relate to. However, the plot isn’t as well developed as it could be, and Allie’s counter bullying of Dennis and the consequences isn’t adequately addressed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, setting, conflict, resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: bullying issues, funeral descriptions, suicide due to parent acceptance issues

RELATED BOOKS: Death by Eggplant, Christmas Gifts

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.meghan-mccarthy.com/authorstalk_susanokeefe.html

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/childrens_writing/117238

http://www.girlposse.com/reviews/books/my_life_and_death.html

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Monster

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Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 281

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction / Screenplay

PLOT SUMMARY: Steve is only sixteen years old and he’s on trial for murder. Steve isn’t enjoying his time in the slammer – the only thing he can say for it so far is that he’s become a writer. Steve’s life hangs in the balance – jurors will determine his fate – and all Steve can do is write it out one scene at a time.

REVIEW: This book is a decent read with some excellent points for classroom discussion and student engagement. One great point for students is that it’s written as a screenplay and they might all enjoy taking on parts as different characters in the play. I like how the author connects the reader to Steve’s life and lets the reader ponder (on their own) his guilt or innocence – in essence the reader becomes the juror as page after page more details are divulged.      

The book is great for teaching the judicial process and gaining an understanding of how evidence is used and how trials are conducted.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character traits, elements of plot, comparing and contrasting the characters, comparing text to self, point of view, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: robbery, shooting, prison life

RELATED BOOKS: Dopesick, Sunrise Over Fallujah, Crystal, Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Shooter, Somewhere in the Darkness

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/             

http://litplans.com/titles/Monster_Walter_Dean_Myers.html

http://lib.store.yahoo.net/lib/monkeynote/pmMonsterSample.pdf

http://quizlet.com/920587/monster-legal-terms-flash-cards/

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-monster/

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Freaky Green Eyes

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Freaky Green Eyes

Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Page Length: 341

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Franky (Francesca) Pierson struggles to determine what she really believes about life and her parents. What she knows is this: her mother has distanced herself, her father has a nasty temper, her father believes in perfect appearances, and life doesn’t always have a happy ending. Freaky, a new nickname Franky earns in a treacherous situation that she narrowly escapes, has to learn to open her eyes and really see for herself what is going on instead of letting others tell her how to think and feel. When Franky’s mother disappears, Freaky realizes just how dark and twisted her world has become.

REVIEW: I think that every young woman (and even young man) should read this book. It teaches all about domestic abuse and controlling behaviors. It would lend to an excellent discussion of what is and is not love. The book also makes an excellent point about how we must learn to see the world for ourselves and to evaluate the actions of those around us rather than just accepting their words or false fronts. Franky has to learn to act courageously despite the circumstances. In the beginning of the book, Freaky also narrowly escapes being raped because she ends up at a party and in a situation she should not be in. Great book  – a must read for young girls who need to understand the dangers of certain situations, the need for choosing relationships wisely, and what love does and does not look like.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, setting, conflict, resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “he’s unzipped his pant, he’s fumbling and panting” (page 16), “grabbed a hold of my arm and shook, shook, shook me so hard my teeth rattled in my head” (page 125)

RELATED BOOKS: Rape: A Love Story, Big Mouth, Ugly Girl, Sexy, Mother, Missing, Flew Away, The Gravedigger’s Daughter

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/o/joyce-carol-oates/

http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/0066237599.asp

http://jco.usfca.edu/

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Drive-By

Drive-By

Author: Lynne Ewing

Page Length: 85

Reading Level: 3.5

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The story begins as Jimmy is shot and killed in front of his brother Tito and little sister Mina by a possible gang member in a car. The police imply that Jimmy was in a gang and that two potential suspects Ice-Breaker and Lamar Calles want something Jimmy had that belonged to them. This makes no sense to Tito because Jimmy had always said there are two kinds of gang bangers: those who are dead and those who were going to die. He told Jimmy that joining a gang didn’t make any sense at all. Tito then tries to find out the truth about his brother – Was he really in a gang? If so, what did the gang members want from him? Tito then must become the man of the house by taking care of and protecting his little sister, Mina.

The mystery begins when Tito and his mother attempt to collect Jimmy’s last paycheck at the restaurant only to find out that he had never worked there. To add to the mystery, Gus who is Tito’s long-time friend intentionally gives an inaccurate description of the car used in the drive-by shooting. Gus tries to pressure Tito into carrying a gun and joining a gang for protection now that Jimmy is dead. On the other hand, Tito’s Jewish friend, Zev, tries to be a positive influence.

Tito is faced with many tough decisions: how to find out the truth about his brother, what the gang members want from him, whether or not to join a gang, or to perform honest work to provide for his family.   

REVIEW: Ewing’s novel is bleak, though ultimately hopeful, with a satisfying ending that makes its point without belaboring it. In the early pages, Tito’s older brother, Jimmy, is killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting. This is only the beginning of Tito’s family’s troubles for while they cope with their grief; the gang attacks their house repeatedly, forcing the family to move. Following revelations about Jimmy’s secret life, Tito’s innocence is gradually stripped away; he confronts hard truths about gang life and takes action to protect his family and do what is right. Written in stripped-down prose that mirrors Tito’s bleak world, the brief tale combines the plot twists of a mystery with a topical setting and theme that will appeal to reluctant readers.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Conflict, Point of View, Cause/Effect, Conclusions, Generalizations, Predictions, Tragedy Theme, Protagonist, Antagonist, Parallelism, peer pressure

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drive-by shooting, death of character

RELATED BOOKS:  The Outsiders, Scorpions, Monster, Books by the same author: The Final Eclipse, Moon Demon, The Talisman, Possession, Night Shade, The Sacrifice, The Haunting, The Secret Scroll, Divine One, Night Sun

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Westside Story (musical – 2003),  Once Upon a Time In the Hood (2004), The Outsiders (2008), Drive-by Shooting (documentary of gangs in Fort Worth, Texas – 1994), The Price of the American Dream (2004)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://digitalbooktalk.com/?p=30

http://teachers.askacop.org/gangsandschoolviolence.html

http://www.lessonplanspage.com/SSODoSomethingAboutSchoolViolenceUnitDay5Groupthink912.htm

http://www.cln.org/themes/youth_violence.html

REVIEWED BY: Tammy Leitzel

January 18, 2009

When Dad Killed Mom

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When Dad Killed Mom

Author: Julius Lester 

Page Length: 199

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jenna and Jeremy were living a typical day at school when they were called into the office. Seeing each other there together and sensing the tension of those around them they knew bad news was coming, but they had no idea it would be this devastating. Just this morning, as they sat innocently in class, their own father gunned down their mother. They have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Torn apart by this tragedy, Jenna and Jeremy grow distant from each other. Jenna has her own guilty conscience and terrible secret. Jeremy who was always by his mother’s side is lost without her. Why would dad do something like this? What will happen to Jenna and Jeremy?

REVIEW: As many of the reviews note, this story line could have been ripped from any headline. The subject matter of domestic violence will be relative to many students. I like how Lester differentiates the viewpoints and experiences between Jenna and Jeremy.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “I had drawn a vagina on the bathroom walls” (page 11), language (page 146), knowledge of affairs, father having suggestive contact with daughter

RELATED BOOKS: The Color Purple, Shining, Why Heaven is Far Away, Days of Tears: A Novel in Dialogue

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://books.google.com/books?id=sOEA6RWBpzkC&dq=when+dad+killed+mom&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0

http://nancykeane.com/booktalks/lester_when.htm

http://www.domesticviolence.org/

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

January 17, 2009

Beach House

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Beach House

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 210

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Horror         

PLOT SUMMARY: Maria, Stuart, Amy, Ronnie, and Buddy are all at the beach in the summer of 1956.  When Stuart and Ronnie de-pant Buddy and leave him nude in the ocean, the girls get a good laugh at Buddy with the boys.  However, the four-some do not realize that Buddy was embarrassed by the incident.  He is so embarrassed that he wants revenge.

In Part 2 of the book, the setting is on the same beach with another group of teens, but the time is 50 years later.  Ross, Ashley, Kip and Lucy are spending time together at the ocean when they meet Brad, a very wealthy, good-looking but serious guy. One night, Kip and Lucy fail to return home.  Their disappearance is a mystery. Ashley becomes interested in Brad, and decides to break-up with Ross when his jealousy causes a scene at Brad’s mansion on Ocean Drive.  Lucky for Ashley, Ross follows her after the break-up to watch her activities.

In both parts of the book, there is a mysterious “Beach House” that no one has ever lived in.  The house contains a secret that is not revealed until late in the story.

REVIEW: The book is written in six parts with flashbacks from the 1950’s to the present.  It is suspenseful with serial killers in each era. For those who like suspense and mystery, and do not scare easily, this is a great book to read. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The book’s theme is of several violent murders. However, if the reader starts the book, knowing that its genre is “Horror”, I feel the book is age appropriate for the high school reader.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Setting, Theme, Conflict, Character

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, The Girlfriend, Call Waiting, and Hit and Run

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Scream (1996), and Prom Night (1980)

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.smartgirl.org/reviews/books/7278256.html

www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=407

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 7, 2008

Truth

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Truth 

Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Page Length: 108

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After a house party turns into a scene of a brutal murder, the teenagers who attended are questioned. In this small town of 5,000, these teens do all they can to either cover-up what happened or invent vivid fantasies of what occurred. The main character, Jen, is a local reporter for the schools TV news program. Ironically, she was also one of the teens who was at the party. Though she didn’t see the actual murder occur, Jen does hold many facts as to what happened which she keeps from the police and her father.

Ultimately three suspects are focused on. 1 – Ross has been in trouble before, has a temper problem, and is addicted to steroids. 2 – Nate is Ross’ friend and was at the party along with Ross. 3 – Jerome is the boyfriend of Jen, the main character, and was also at the party.

Jen begins to go crazy as she contemplates that her boyfriend may actually be a murderer. All three male suspects have recently been evasive to their friends at school, prompting major suspicion. Later on, it is witnessed that Ross and Nate have threatened to silence the teen who lived at the house of the party. After secret statements are gathered, a boot is found, and odd behavioral observations are made known, the truth finally comes out. It is with Jen’s reporting skills and the help of her camera man, that the story unfolds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed this book very much. It was a quick read, yet kept my attention throughout. The dialogue was fresh and seemed appropriate for a character in her teens.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: genre of mystery, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: references to bars, steroids, and pills – steroids affecting one of the main characters behavior

RELATED BOOK & MOVIE: Macbeth by William Shakespeare, “Macbeth” (several movie versions available)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://orca.powerwebbook.com/client/PDFs/TeachersGuides/Orca%20Soundings/TruthGuide.pdf (teacher’s guide to the book)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

November 2, 2008

Bang

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Bang

Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 95

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Quentin and JD have been friends for a long time. They are school-mates and they also hang out with each other after school engaging in such activities as smoking marijuana. One day, Quentin and JD are smoking in the park, scaring off some kids, when a man approaches them and tells them to leave. The man threatens that he’ll call the cops on the boys for smoking marijuana. In response, both Quentin and JD become disrespectful to the man. As they leave, Quentin points his finger toward the man as if he is going to shoot him.

The next day after Quentin and JD are talking to some girls at the beach, they start to head home but become hungry. They spot a “canteen van” in an alley and decide to see if there is any food inside it. As they are robbing the vehicle, a man approaches – the same man JD and Quentin spoke with in the park the other day. The man grabs Quentin, JD spots this, JD pulls a gun on the man, and JD shoots!!!

The man dies, but the boys don’t stay around long to see it. They ride their bikes home and change out of their bloody clothes. The incident is on the local news the next day and the TV reports that the cops are looking for one suspect that fits the description of Quentin!!! After a meticulous investigation by the police – going through school yearbooks, meeting with students in an assembly, pulling students out to talk with one by one – they arrest Quentin.

Quentin finally realizes that JD went to the police first to free himself from the blame. JD betrayed Quentin! At this point, Quentin is confused and upset at JD. Quentin tries to tell the police that both he and JD were at the scene of the crime but that JD was the one who pulled the trigger. In the midst of all this – Quentin is sent to jail.

However, after the police begin to investigate the crime further, it is discovered that JD voluntarily gave the police his “clean clothes”, JD planted Quentin’s bloody clothes in Quentin’s own home, and JD burned & buried his own bloody clothes along with the gun in a ravine – all to frame Quentin. The one piece of evidence however that reversed this false trail of evidence was a picture that JD’s sister took of JD and Quentin on the day of the murder. It shows that JD was wearing a different shirt that day – the one he burned and buried. The police look for these clothes along with the gun and find them! In the end, JD is sent to jail and Quentin is released pending his consequence.

REVIEW: Despite the awful subject matter (murder) this book was engaging and kept my attention. I would not suggest this to just any student due to the “touchy areas”. As with any “Orca” book, it is written on a very low reading level but the content is adult level. Several lessons can be learned using this story – from drugs to theft to being disrespectful to adults. The book’s cover will definitely spark an interest to some, however the real issue is the consequence one faces when engaged in activity that is illegal.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 27), flashback, internal dialogue, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “smoked up” (page 22), Canadian pot / marijuana rules (page 26), topic of murder

RELATED BOOKS: Guns and Violence by Laura Egendorf

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Romeo + Juliet” (2006)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: music by Eminem, Heavy D, Notorious B.I.G.,  & Dr. Dre

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://kids-toys.suite101.com/article.cfm/toy_guns_violence_and_parents (toy guns)

http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Music/9509/rap_and_guns/index.html (rappers, guns, reality)

http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/youthfa.pdf (statistics)

http://life.familyeducation.com/school-safety-month/violence/29712.html

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

October 30, 2008

Cruise Control

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Cruise Control

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 149

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul McDaniel is a star athlete in high school. His life seems perfect, but it isn’t. Paul keeps bottling up his rage over his family situation; unfortunately, when he lets his rage out he is in danger of completely losing control. On the one hand, Paul loves his brother and longs for a typical relationship; on the other hand, he hates the conditions having his special needs brother in his life has created for his family. Paul’s dad left the family and now he’s the man of the house – unwanted responsibilities that are affecting his future. Will Paul ever break free and can he ever forgive his father?

 

REVIEW: This book takes a real look at what life might be like for a family with a severely handicapped child. Through Paul’s emotions we experience his anger at not having a normal life, his disappointment in his father’s inability to be the man of the house and handle the situation, and his anger with himself over not being a better brother and ever even thinking about wishing that his brother didn’t exist. Powerful and raw — this book is moving and very real.

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose, sequence of events, cause and effect, internal conflict, external conflict

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Foul language interspersed throughout the story

 

RELATED BOOKS: Stuck in Neutral, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” “Touched by Love,” “Door to Door”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://unjobs.org/authors/terry-trueman

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/books_cruise.htm

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Stuck in Neutral

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Stuck In Neutral

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 114

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

 

PLOT SUMMARY: Shawn McDaniel is fourteen years old. He is the average teenager – interested in girls and sports. He has an amazing mind and can remember details from conversations. The problem is that no one knows how brilliant Shawn is because he can’t tell them. He’s confined to a wheelchair, unable to move or speak, and prone to violent seizures. Everyone thinks he is incapable of thought or feelings, except maybe his dad. Shawn’s father is fixated on his son’s suffering; he cannot stand to watch his body tremor during a seizure and he’s feels guilty about Shawn’s suffering. Shawn fears that his father may be plotting to kill him.

 

REVIEW: This book takes a powerful look at the what if. What if mental and physical impairments aren’t always as comprehensive as they seem?  What if what we have always assumed to be true isn’t true after all?  Trueman paints a vivid picture of what life might be like for Shawn – colorful, rich, and exciting in its own way. As The Horn Book reviewer writes “evoking one of our darkest fears and deepest hopes — that a fully conscious and intelligent being may be hidden within such a broken body, as yet unable to declare his existence.”

 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: description, imagery, word choice in writing, mood, tone, author’s purpose

 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: pages 91-93 – violence as Paul nearly beats to death two boys torturing his brother, seizure descriptions, anger from siblings

 

RELATED BOOKS: Cruise Control, Inside Out, No Right Turn

 

RELATED MOVIES: “Rain Man,” “Gaby,” & “Touched by Love”

 

   

RELATED WEBSITES:

 

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-stuck-in-neutral/

 

http://www.harperchildrens.com/webcontent/teachers_guides/pdf/0066239613.pdf

 

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/cerebral_palsy/cerebral_palsy.htm

 

http://www.terrytrueman.com/

 

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 21, 2008

LeRoy and the Old Man

LeRoy and the Old Man

Author: W. E. Butterworth

Page Length: 168

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: LeRoy Chambers is the sole witness to a murder by a local Chicago gang called the “Wolves”. To escape police questioning as well as the rath of the gang who does not want LeRoy to sqeal on them, LeRoy is sent by his mother to Pass Christian, Mississippi. It is here that LeRoy is to live with his grandfather. Upon arrival in a New Orleans bus station, LeRoy meets his grandfather for the first time. However, this is one of many firsts in LeRoy’s new adventure.

Living with his grandfather, LeRoy learns how to sleep on a boat, how to catch shrimp and crabs, how to saw lumber, how to buy and sell goods, and even how to drive a truck. LeRoy also learns about the Cajun culture of which is a part of his heritage. However, one thing that LeRoy is not able to learn much about is his father. His father ran away from he and his mother many years ago. LeRoy’s grandfather will not talk about LeRoy’s father because of this.

When the Chicago police come looking for LeRoy in Mississippi to testify as a material witness to the murder he saw, LeRoy has serious reservations. LeRoy understands that he is the only person who saw the Wolves murder an old woman in his housing development. However, LeRoy is scared that if the Wolves see him in court, he may not get out of Chicago alive. LeRoy’s grandfather as well as the local Mississipi sheriff agree that LeRoy must go to Chicago. However, LeRoy’s father (who arranges to surprise LeRoy in a New Orleans restaurant) thinks that LeRoy should steal away to New York with him. LeRoy, even though he is angered to see his father after so long, is tempted to accompany his dad. However, in the end, the respect LeRoy has for his grandfather and the new life he has started to build in Pass Christian, Mississippi trumps his father’s wishes as well as the fear he has to testify in court (page 165).

REVIEW: Despite the boring title and the less than appealing book cover, LeRoy and the Old Man was a great story. It was suspenseful, humorous, mysterious and gut wrenching. I loved the character of the grandfather. His dialogue kept me reading on and on. I was intrigued by the southern Cajun setting. The elements of Mississippi / Louisiana culture, food, dialect, and community pride are beautifully interwoven in this story. Also, the stark contrasts between life in Chicago and life in New Orleans is effective.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause/effect, comparison/contrast (grandfather, father, son)

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.gumbopages.com/acadiana/ (culture referred to in the story)

http://www.ci.pass-christian.ms.us/ (official site of Pass Christian, Mississippi)

http://dd-b.net/dd-b/Ouroboros/booknotes/data/butterworthwe-leroyandtheoldman.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Orleans

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 24, 2008

Monster

Filed under: M — thebookreviews @ 12:14 am
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Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Page Length: 277

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction        

PLOT SUMMARY: Steve Harmon is on trial for felony murder.  He is 16 years old, scared, and alone in jail.  The prosecutor calls him a MONSTER.

The story is written in a movie format as Steve writes and directs it.  As the prosecutor brings witnesses to the stand, the reader experiences Steve’s thoughts and emotions.  He is excused because of the testimony of one of the men who committed the robbery.  Supposedly, Steve was an accomplice by going into the neighborhood store in Harlem, checking it out to see if it was safe, and giving the two robbers a “go ahead” sign to enter the store.  As the robbery takes place, the store owner pulls a gun, and in a struggle, the gun goes off, and the owner dies.

Steve’s lawyer never gives him much hope, but there is no “proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Steve was actually involved.  As he takes the stand, he denies being in the store the day of the crime.  He does acknowledge knowing the accomplices. The jury is left to decide the outcome of his future. 

REVIEW:  I have read several of Walter Dean Myers young adult books and enjoyed this one the most.  As he writes the book in a play format, the reader becomes very attached to Steve Harmon’s feelings and fears.  Meyer’s lets the reader come to his own conclusion about Steve’s guilt or innocence.  I think the book would be a good class novel to read.

At the end of the book, there are a section of questions for discussion and questions for the author that would be good to use if read as a class novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Main Idea and Supporting Details, Setting, Compare/Contrast, Cause/Effect, Conflict, and Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Violent content but written in an acceptable manner

RELATED BOOKS:  Autobiography of My Dead Brother, Bad Boy: A Memoir

RELATED WEBSITES:

www.northern.edu/hastingw/myers.html

www.northern.edu/hastingw/myers.html

www.kennedy-center.org/multimedia/storytimeonline/harlem.html

www.powells.com/biblio/0064407314

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 2, 2008

The Trap

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The Trap

Author: Joan Lowry Nixon

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Julie’s summer is off to a bad start. She wants desperately to spend her summer with her best friend and competing on the swim team. The family has elected Julie to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle on a ranch in Texas. Julie isn’t given a choice and prepares herself for a summer of misery; however, Julie soon discovers that she has landed into the middle of a mystery.

Uncle Gabe and Aunt Glenda have their retirement home on a large ranch where several other investment retirement homes are located. Items have been disappearing for people’s home, and Uncle Gabe is in the hospital with a broken leg. Men are suddenly dying while their wives are away from the house; Uncle Gabe is sure that someone caused his accident. As Julie begins her own investigation, she comes dangerously close to the truth. Can she solve the crime before anyone else mysteriously dies or will the killer get the best of them all?

REVIEW: This book had a well developed plot line and good pacing throughout. The reader’s mind is constantly considering the possibilities of who committed the crimes and what their motivation might be. The book addresses issues of familial relationships and even introduces characters who struggle with their own acceptance and self-esteem issues stemming from family and socio-economic circumstances. Julie is a strong character who perseveres and won’t be frightened away by threats. This story has a modern appeal and is easily related to teenage motivations and emotions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character motivation, plot, sequencing, cause and effect, making predictions, setting, theme

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: dealing with murder (presented mildly)

RELATED BOOKS: A Deadly Game of Magic, Search for the Shadowman, Secret Silent Screams, Alex Rider books

RELATED MOVIES:  Nancy Drew, Alex Rider

RELATED WEBSITES:

http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-nixon-joan-lowery.asp

www.webenglishteacher.com/nixon.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/mystery/bio.htm

http://www.bookpage.com/9704bp/childrens/joanlowerynixon.html

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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