The Book Reviews – Website

December 19, 2010


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Back by Norah McClintock: Book Cover



Author: Norah McClintock


Page Length: 93


Reading Level: 3


Genre: Fiction


Career Connections: Policemen, Doctor

PLOT SUMMARY: How would you feel if a neighbor who had been jailed for beating your brother so badly that he was in a coma was released from prison and back living with his mother?  This is the situation Ardell Withrow is facing as Jojo Benn returns to the neighborhood. 

The story is told by a young boy who has a broken ankle and is doomed to wear a cast for the summer.  So, he has a good view from his front porch of the neighborhood activities. 

He first explains why Jojo was in jail.  It began when his girlfriend, Shana, became pregnant with his child.  Jojo had an attitude with people and when Shana wanted more attention than Jojo was willing to give, he got an “attitude” with her.  Eden, Ardell’s brother, witnessed this and came to her rescue.  This infuriated Jojo so much that he got a crowbar and beat Eden so badly that he went into a coma.  He has been in a hospital since the horrifying event.

When Jojo is released, the people of the neighborhood are leery of what his behavior will be.  The neighborhood stores refuse to sell him groceries.  He stays at home most of the time, except on the days when he and his mother leave in a taxi.  Shana comes to visit him and shows him their baby.  All of this is observed by the people in the neighborhood, including Ardell and his family.

Ardell and his mother go to visit Eden, but Ardell’s father refuses to visit him. One day his dad comes to the house and tells Ardell’s mother that the hospital has determined that Eden is brain-dead.  Eden is taken off of life support and dies. 

Many of the neighbors attend the funeral, but Shana doesn’t.  The tension increases with each of Shana’s visits to Jojo’s home.  Ardell confronts her and asks how she can forgive Jojo when it is his fault that Eden is dead. When Shana tells him that she didn’t ask for Eden’s help, this is more than Ardell can take.

REVIEW: This is a high interest level book written for the reluctant teen reader.  The story is told from an observer’s point of view, I think a student who has few friends or shy may be able to relate to the narrator. I would suggest the book to boys who are just beginning to do independent reading.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Drawing Conclusions, Making Predictions, Character, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Compare/Contrast


RELATED BOOKS: Snitch, Tell, Bang, Down, Marked, and Watch Me


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Born Blue

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Born Blue

Author: Han Nolan

Page Length: 277

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Until you’ve been a foster child whose own mother will trade you for drugs, you don’t know what a hard life is. Janie does. Janie’s life has been nothing but hard times, trials, and tribulations – but, she’s blessed with an amazing gift. She has the voice of an angel – of course a career as a singer isn’t easy to come by and is all too often filled with the same elements that have made her life miserable in the first place. Will Janie have the strength to nurture her talent or will she succumb to a life of bad decisions and end up just like her mother?

REVIEW: Born Blue looks at the struggles of young Janie. Her first big memory is of drowning followed by placement with a foster family. Her friendship with a young boy got her through until her mother kidnapped her and traded her for a fix. Janie’s growing up now and learning that a life with no friends and no family is empty. She becomes bitter and disillusioned and takes to the streets. It’s all too easy for Janie to become involved with the wrong crowd. Singing like the great ladies – so famous for the blues – seems to be Janie’s only saving grace.

The book is good tool for teaching students the dangers of drug abuse and how life is a series of choices and the consequences that follow each of those choices. Janie wants to be a superstar and has a dream of recording with the greats – so many students can relate to her reaching desperately for the stars and her desire to be famous. However, Janie, because she’s been hurt along the way, hurts others too. She ends up handing her baby over to a young man as if he is the father even though he is not. He’s never told that the baby is not his (I am wary of the message this sends – even though Janie does what is best for the child in the end). Janie’s showing promise by the end of the book, but the reader has been taken through her lying, cheating, stealing, drug abuse, random sexual encounters, etc.  I would not read this as a class novel although there are many compelling issues for discussion.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: comparing text to self, compare and contrast, sequence of events, plot, cause and effect, use of dialect and its effects

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “I left his room but I left my panties behind” (147)

“I wanted what he give me, every bit of it” (140)

Death from an overdose, sexual incidents, drug use

RELATED BOOKS: The Facts Speak for Themselves, Dancing on the Edge, Sending Me Down a Miracle, When We Were Saints, A Summer of Kings

RELATED WEBSITES:                    

REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

January 18, 2009

The First Part Last

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The First Part Last

Author: Angela Johnson

Page Length: 132

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Bobby isn’t the average teenager. His girlfriend Nia is pregnant and their lives are about to change forever. Bobby’s mother isn’t the take over type. Bobby will be caring for the baby on his own. Bobby will have to balance late nights, diapers, doctor’s appointments, and babysitters among trying to go to school and hang out with his friends (is there even time for friends anymore?). Can Bobby keep it all together?

REVIEW: This book makes a great point about how difficult teen parenting really is. Bobby’s mother does not take care of the baby for him; he must juggle all the responsibilities. I like the way the book goes back and forth in time. It might be a great writing exercise to have students look at the causes and effects of an event and write a now and then series of journal entries. This story is poignant and very realistic. I even like the ending where Bobby notes how much his own dad’s love and attention matters to him. The book provides a great message and is a short and easy read.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: mild teen sex – “will it hurt the baby if we do it?” (p. 49)

RELATED BOOKS: Heaven, Bird, A Cool Moonlight, Looking for Red

TV CONNECTIONS: “The Baby Borrowers”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

Someone Like You

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Someone Like You

Author: Sarah Dessen

Pages: 281

Reading Level: 6


PLOT SUMMARY: Someone Like You is the story of two teenage girls, Halley and Scarlett, who have been best friends for the past five years. The story begins with Halley away at some teen adjustment camp her therapist mother made her attend. It’s the middle of the night, and Scarlett has called to ask her to come home because “he’s dead.” Halley and Scarlett weather the storm of Michael’s death and funeral together. Scarlett, who had just begun dating him that summer, is heartbroken. Meanwhile, Halley befriend Michael’s best friend, Macon. Macon and Halley begin dating and the battles between the properly raised and well grounded young woman Halley is and the more adventurous girl she wishes she were begins. Macon is dashing and exciting; yet, deep inside, Halley knows that he isn’t her type. She struggles with Macon’s disappearing acts, his non-existent home life, and defying her parents to see him. Drugs and sex enter into the picture and it becomes even more complicated.


Scarlett has issues of her own to navigate when she discovers that she is pregnant with Michael’s baby. Her eccentric mother, Marion, demands that she have an abortion. Scarlett has other ideas. With Halley by her side, they learn about pregnancy, deal with the social repercussions at school, and prepare for childbirth. Marion still insists on an adoption. Will Scarlett keep the baby? Will Halley make the right decision, or will she lose a part of herself trying to be what Macon wants? Will the rift between her and her mother mend?


REVIEW: I would recommend this to all teenage girls. It is very well written. Halley’s handling of the pressure to have sex and her internal struggle with being the good girl versus the adventurous “bad girl” is something most young women can relate to. I also like the way Dessen portrays the head cheerleader, who let herself go to easily, as washed out and unhappy. Dessen does an excellent job of examining the gravity of the decision to have sex and the repercussions that can follow.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: In the classroom, I would use the novel for small group reading for individuals.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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