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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


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


December 19, 2010

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork: Book Cover

Marcelo in the Real World


Author: Francisco Stork


Page Length: 312  


Reading Level: 5.3


Genre: Realistic Fiction


Career Connection:  Lawyer, Teacher, Occupational Therapist, Ministry

PLOT SUMMARY:  It isn’t often that a father forces his son to give up a job he has secured on his own, to take one in his own office.  However, that is what happens to Marcelo Sandoval, the summer before his senior year in high school.  Marcelo had planned to take care of the ponies at Paterson, his special school’s therapeutic-riding stables.  Marcelo exhibits qualities of Asperger’s Syndrome and is more comfortable at Paterson than he is in the real world.

His dad, Arturo, is a prominent lawyer.  He has always felt that Marcelo could overcome any obstacles he has, and wants to prove it to Marcelo by having him work in the mail room at his law firm.  He also wants Marcelo to attend the local regular high school, Oak Ridge High, rather than Paterson in the fall. Marcelo agrees to work for his father, if at the end of the summer he can make the choice of the school he will attend in the fall. 

Marcelo finds that working with Jasmine in the mailroom is not as bad as he thought it would be.  Jasmine is patient with him and he becomes comfortable in the working routine they have.  It is when Wendell, one of the partner’s sons, also working at the firm, confronts Marcelo and makes inappropriate remarks about Jasmine that Marcelo becomes upset.  Marcelo does not know how to react to Wendell, his feelings towards Jasmine, or a picture he finds when he is doing some work for Wendell.  The information he gains about the picture will affect a high profile case and the future of the firm. 

Will Marcelo tell what he knows about “the real world” or stay hidden in his Asperger-like comfort zone of Paterson?

REVIEW:  The book is narrarated by Marcelo who frequently talks of himself in third person.  He relates some of his peculiarities (e.g., he has obsessions with God and religion, hears internal music (IM), and sleeps in a tree house). He shares the difficulty he faces as he must learn menial tasks of the mailroom and deal with office politics.  He retains his innocence while considering the possibility of love, ethical dilemmas and other conflicts. 

Teen boys and girls, as well as adults, would enjoy this book that deals with the conflicts exposed for not only a boy with Asperger’s, but professional and social issues they may encounter themselves in the “real world”.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Characters, Point of View, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: Occasional harsh profanity and sexual inferences

RELATED BOOKS: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Rules, Anything But Typical

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Mozart and the Whale (2005), Adam (2009), Rain Man (1988)

RELATED WEBSITES:…/scholastic-ala-2010-award-winners.html

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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

First Time

First Time by Meg Tilly: Book Cover

First Time

Author: Meg Tilly

Page Length: 108


Reading Level: 3.1


Genre: Fiction


Career Connection: None


PLOT SUMMARY: Haley cannot get her mother or her best friend, Lynn, to see that the men in their lives are not there for the right reasons. How can she get them to recognize the fault of Larry and Chad without losing a mother’s trust and Lynn’ friendship?


When Lynn arrives in her new car, Haley can feel that her world is changing. At the Dairy Queen, Chad, a graduate from last year, begins to give Lynn attention. Haley believes it is because Lynn drives a shiny new car and has physically developed. She thinks Chad is a player and tries to get Lynn to believe her.


Meanwhile, Larry, her mom’s new, rich boyfriend is playing her mother while exposing himself to Haley. He then fills her mother’s head with ideas that Lynn is using marijuana and is sexually active, while trying to seduce Lynn when her mother is at the store.


When Mike, a friend of Chad’s tries to put moves on Haley while they are watching T. V., she cannot bear the pressure. Haley breaks down crying.  Mike is a good guy, however, and comforts her which helps her open up to her mom about Larry.


REVIEW: Meg Tilly was abused as a child and uses this short low level reading book to relate the feelings and dilemmas victims of child molestation might experience. This book would be good for teen girls who are reluctant about reading and expressing themselves.


TEACHING AREAS: Plot, Conflict, Theme, and Character


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild profanity through out the book, sexual exposure (pg. 18-19) and sexual molestation (pg. 47-50)


RELATED BOOKS: Singing Songs, Something Girl




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

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

January 18, 2009


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Author: Suzanne Weyn

Page Length: 95

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: It is the last day of eighth grade and Julie is having a slumber party.  Farrah, Hannah, and Yancy come over with a rather uneventful evening planned.  But when Staci, the most popular girl in school, calls to make a challenge for the best cafeteria spot at the high school next year, action begins.  The girls prepare for a Polaroid scavenger hunt in which they must get a picture made with a stranger in a bar, steal Steve’s (Julie’s secret crush) boxer shorts, and obtain a logo off of a security car.  They use Ren, Julie’s brother from college, as their decoy and sneak out of the house for a night of wild adventure.

REVIEW: The book is written in chapters narrated by each of the characters. Middle school and junior high girls would enjoy the sequence of events the girls have during the evening that include adventure, competition and a little romance. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Point of View

RELATED BOOKS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School, and Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Sleepover (2004)

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

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