The Book Reviews – Website

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


Catching Fire

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Catching Fire (Hunger Games Series #2) by Suzanne Collins: Book Cover

Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins


Page Length: 391


Reading Level: 5.4


Genre: Fiction


Career Connection: Coal miner, political leader


PLOT SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Hunger Games, Katniss is at home but not able to enjoy her life in Victory Village because of the rumors of uprisings against the Capitol. She lives under the pretense that she loves Peeta, but she longs for her days in the meadow with Gale. Gale is working in the coal mines now, so she spends her days alone, hunting for food for Gale’s family. Her heroic moves at the end of The Hunger Games have made her the target for the president to help stop the rebellious behavior of the people in the neighboring districts.


When it is time to pick the tributes for the annual hunger games, the citizens learn that the rules for the “Quell” have been changed. The tributes can be picked only from previous participants. So, Peeta and Katniss are back in the arena. They face bigger challenges and Katniss discovers her conscious plays a bigger part in survival.


REVIEW: This is a good sequel to the first in the series, but is not as fast paced. More of the action takes place outside of the arena where Katniss must make decisions of personal issues. The book would be enjoyable for both boys and girls as the plot unveils violent and heroic events.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Theme, Cause/Effect, Setting


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: None that aren’t age and content appropriate


RELATED BOOKS: The Hunger Games


MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Hunger Games (to be released 2011)




REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

June 5, 2010

Hope Was Here

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Hope Was Here

Author: Joan Bauer

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Hope, formerly named Tulip, is moving from Brooklyn to Wisconsin with her aunt, Addie.  When Hope was just an infant her mother, a waitress, left her with her aunt, a cook. Hope is leaving her first job as a waitress and dreads moving to a new town with a new job and new school.

When Hope arrives with her aunt to their new diner, Welcome Stairways, she meets the owner, G. T. Scoops.  As Hope and Addie become acclimated to life in the small town, they meet Flo, Yuri, and Braverman, the other employees. 

As the story progresses, the town learns that G. T. has cancer and that is the reason he has asked Addie to come cook so that he can get some relief from his chemo treatments.  However, G. T. is not a quitter, and decides to run for mayor of the town to eliminate some of the corrupt business transactions that are currently being ignored.  Hope, Braverman, and a group of other teens back G. T. and help run his campaign.

As the book progresses, the campaign becomes more intense with unethical events happening to sabotage G. T.’s chances of winning.  Working together, both at the diner and for the campaign, Braverman and Hope develop a romantic relationship, as do Addie and G. T.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book that would be good to use as a class novel.  The basic theme is how Hope tries to spread hope through each person she touches in life.  However, there are several underlying themes, including:  the political campaign for mayor, dealing with the disease of cancer, parental abandonment, romance, and the developmental delays of a child.  The book is appealing to a wide range of age groups and both genders.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Characters, Setting, Theme, and Conclusions, Predictions, and Generalizations

RELATED BOOKS: Becoming Naomi Leon, The Center of Everything, My Time as Caz Hazard, Everything on a Waffle

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Hope Floats (1998), Frankie and Johnny (1991), About a Boy (2002), and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

November 15, 2009

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

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Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging

Author: Louise Rennison

Page Length: 6      

Reading Level: 247

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: This is a one-year diary account of the thoughts of Georgia Nicolson, a 14 year-old girl from England.  Georgia is the older sister of 3 year-old Libby, best friend of Jaz, and owner of Angus, a mixed breed cat who is very large and mean.

All of Georgia’s thoughts center on how to be a cool, sexy teen and survive the home life with her pet, sibling, and nerdy parents. Georgia relates the feelings she experiences when arriving at a costume party as a stuffed olive, paying Peter for kissing lessons, pretending she is a lesbian, and trying to attract Robbie (the SEX GOD). 

REVIEW: The book is written in a journal form with entries by months, days and hours.  Georgia’s accounts of life are hilarious, yet every teen-age girl can relate in someway to the feelings and experiences she has.  The book includes “Georgia’s Glossary” which defines many of the British/English terms used that Americans will not find familiar. 

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: References to lesbians and making out throughout the book but nothing inappropriate for today’s teen-age exposure

AREAS OF TEACHING: Figurative Language, Characters, Point of View, and Sequence of Events

RELATED BOOKS: On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God, Knocked Out by My Nung-Nungas, Dancing In My Nuddy Pants, Away Laughing on a Fast Camel, Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers, Startled by His Furry Shorts, Love is a Many Trousered Thing, and Stop in the Name of Pants

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries

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An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries

Author: Nina Schindler

Page Length: 136

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Tim is a high school senior who sees the girl of his dreams walking down the street. When he recovers a piece of paper she has dropped, he feels as if heaven has come down and filled his soul.  The paper has the girls’ name and address on it.  Or . . .so he thinks.  Actually, the name on the paper is that of another girl, Amelie.  Amelie is 19 years old and practically engaged.  Tim is not aware of the mix up and writes a letter to the name and sends it to the address on the paper.  Tim is persistent and convinces Amelie to meet him.  When she does, Amelie finds she is attracted to him.  However, she does not know how to go about choosing between her long time boyfriend or falling for Tim.

REVIEW: This is a clever book written entirely as e-mails, memos, quick notes, post cards and letters.  The illustrations are black and white and are in the forms of photos and graphic art with the text on the different memos inset as collages.  This is a quick read and may be appealing to the reluctant reader because the passages are short.    

AREAS OF TEACHING: Reading Varied Sources: Diaries, Journals, Letters, Memoranda

REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

September 28, 2009

Funny Little Monkey

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Funny Little Monkey

Author: Andrew Auseon

Page Length: 298

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Arty Moore is a fourteen-year-old boy with a growth hormone deficiency which has stifled his growth to a mere 4’ 2”. Arty has a twin brother, Kurt, who has seemed to get all of the growth hormones of the two and towers more than 6’ tall. 

Kurt has tormented Arty most of their adolescent life, and when Arty hears of an “underground misfit group” in his school, he employs them to sabotage his brother.  When the school mascot is stolen, Kurt becomes a prime target of accusation. 

While the underground organization mounts evidence against Kurt, Arty becomes infatuated with Leslie Dermott, the new, rich girl in town.   Arty doesn’t really know why, but Leslie seems to enjoy his company, also. A series of events follow that make Arty question his feelings about his brother, mother, Leslie, and the underground misfits.

REVIEW: Young teen boys would enjoy this book as it deals with many of the feelings they experience in the years of puberty and early maturity. The book had several subplots that kept the story line interesting. However, the book focuses on many negative behaviors and feelings and the author does not end it with any strong socially redeeming conclusion.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Theme, Character, Conflict, Cause/Effect, and Compare/Contrast

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Mild profanity, some underage tobacco, alcohol, and drug use


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

August 30, 2009

Romiette and Julio

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Romiette and Julio 

Author: Sharon Draper

Page Length: 274

Reading Level: 5

Genre:  Romance fiction

PLOT SUMMARY:  The two main characters, Romiette and Julio are alike in spirit and feelings, but they are culturally different.   Romiette “Romi” Cappelle is sixteen years old, and is an African American teenager who lives in Cincinatti, Ohio.   As the book begins Romi has a nightmare of drowning which remains in her dreams throughout most of the book.   She searches for an understanding of her fear of water, but comes up with nothing.   Sixteen year old Julio Montague is a Mexican teenager who has just moved to Cincinnati.  He hates the cold weather in Ohio and wants to move back home to his grandfather’s ranch.  However, Julio knows it’s impossible since his parents moved from Texas, because of the heavy gang pressure in its schools. When Julio meets Romi online in a teen chat room and they discover that they attend the same high school, they make an instant connection.  Romi can’t believe that Julio is so good looking, charming and sensitive, and Julio has never known another girl like Romi, who is so beautiful, smart and caring. Although neither Romi nor Julio sees their different races as a problem, other people begin to object to their budding romance.   Julio’s father tells him straight out that he will never approve of his son dating a black girl. And then there are the “Devildogs”, an African American gang at school who wear all purple and make it glaringly obvious to Romi and Julio that they don’t like the races mixing.  When Romi and Julio stand up to the gang members and turn the tables on them, the gang members threaten to get even.  The danger escalates when the gang begins stalking the couple and making overt threats with guns.

Julio and Romi are terrified by the threats of violence. When Romi, Julio and their best friends Ben and Destiny forge a plan to break away from the gang’s grip, Romi and Julio find themselves caught up in a deadly situation.   The parents finally become close enough to mend their ill feelings of prejudice and work right along with the police to help their children.   Although the danger is pending throughout the plot’s climax the book’s resolution is breathtakingly awesome.  

REVIEW: It was a great book, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old.


5.9 draw upon experience to for word meanings

5.10 know main idea and details

5.11 connect and compare the various ideas

5.12 analyze characters

RELATED BOOKS:  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.   Other books by Sharon Draper: Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, Darkness before Dawn

MOVIE & MUSIC CONNECTIONS:  Romeo and Juliet vs. West Side Story


 REVIEWED BY: Linda Schwegler

Hanging on to Max

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Hanging on to Max

Author: Margaret Bechard

Page Length: 204

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sam is a 17 year old senior in high school who lives with his widowed father and son, Max. When Max’s mother decided having a son as a teen ager was too much for her to handle, Sam, got custody of their infant son.  Sam is now attending an alternative school for teen parents.   Overwhelmed by homework, grocery shopping, playtime with an eleven month old, diapers, and doctor’s appointments, Sam sees a job in construction as his future.

Sam is gifted in math skills and his teacher encourages him to take the SAT just to see how he does.  Sam forms a study group with two of the other teen parents.  Claire, who he has had a crush on since junior high, is one of the members of his study group.  As their friendship grows they develop a romantic attraction. One day they attend a party of some of their old house school friends, taking both of their children.  While Sam is not neglectful, Max gets injured at the party and is rushed to the hospital. 

Sam has a love for Max, but finds the responsibilities of teen parenting more than he can handle.

REVIEW:  This is a realistic view of the life a teen parent must live.  The story is told from Sam’s point of view. His experiences both at school and home are not sugar coated, as far as the responsibilities he has.  The book would be excellent for any junior high or high school student to read, so that they may think twice before participating in unprotected premarital sex. 

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Sequence of Events, Character, Point of View, and Conflict

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The theme of the book is based on the birth of an illegitimate child.   

RELATED BOOKS: The First Part Last, The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom, A Family Gathering, Girl Talk



REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner



Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Page Length: 233

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Kate Malone is nervously awaiting her acceptance letter to MIT, the only college she applied to as a senior honor student.  Her deceased mother went to MIT and that is the only school she has ever wanted to attend.  As Kate watches her friends being accepted to not only their first choice schools, but their second and third choices, she begins to be unable to sleep. An avid runner, she chooses to run at night to avoid the inevitable nightmare that will occur if she does not get the positive letter from MIT.

In Kate’s everyday life, she is an honor student and a track star. She handles all of the domestic duties at her home over her sickly brother, Toby,  and her  father who is a minister.  Her neighbor, Terri Litch, who has always been an enemy, continues to send bad vibes to Kate in the school cafeteria.

When the Litch’s house catches on fire, and Ms. Litch is unable to care for Terri and her brother, Mr. Malone has them move in with Kate, Toby, and him.  Now, Kate, has new responsibilities—Terri and Mikey. 

As Kate moves through the everyday motions of school, a romantic relationship, and church volunteer obligations, with no sleep, she finds she has a growing attachment for Mikey and a concern building for Terri, the arch enemy. A series of events follow that impact not only the Litch’s and Malone’s, but the entire community.  Relationships and personal values and morals are exposed and questioned as the town deals with tragedy.

REVIEW: This is an excellent book for the mature, advanced high school student to read.  I think girls would especially like it, as it is dramatic in content.  The events of the story, while tragic, are common in our society today.  Ms. Anderson does an excellent job of developing the characters through Kate’s eyes and the world through her point of view. It is one of the best young adult books I have read.   

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: reference to masturbation (p. 14), incest, occasional profanity

RELATED BOOKS: Speak, The Center of Everything, Prom


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Author: Kevin Brooks

Page Length: 364  

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Joe is an ordinary teen age boy living outside London with his father and sister.  His parent’s are divorced although they continue to see each other.  Joe plays bass in a local rock band.  One day, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, Joe encounters Candy, the most beautiful girl he has ever seen.  His conversation with her in Mc Donald’s is brief because a large black man comes in to the restaurant and forces her to leave with him.

Although the encounter was brief, Joe did get Candy’s number. He calls her and they meet at the London Zoo.  While in the Moonlight World tunnel, Candy begins to kiss Joe and a heavy make-out scene follows.  Joe is aware that Candy is taking some type of drugs but he is not sure what.  He becomes obsessed with her and writes a song about her. 

When Candy goes to see Joe at the club where his band is playing, she hears the song about her.  As the crowd applauds the performance, a fight breaks out between the black man who appears to possess Candy, and Mike, Joe’s future brother-in-law.  Joe discovers Candy is living a life of heroin drug addiction and prostitution. Determined to help her, he risks his relationship with his father and his friends and eventually his own life. 

REVIEW: The book is a narrative written from Joe’s point of view.  The characters are developed in a realistic manner in which the reader can embrace their feelings and emotions.

I would recommend the book for mature teens.  The content is heavy, but gripping, as the characters experience the tragedies of drug addiction.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Conflict, Theme, and Character

TOUCHY AREAS: Teachers should be aware that the theme of the book is about drug addiction.  Mild profanity is used throughout the book (p. 22, 30, 102, 118, 285, through the end of the book) and a heavy make-out scene is described on page 97.  There is drug use on pages: 116, 142, and 195.  Chapter 19 describes Candy’s withdrawal from heroin.  There is also physical violence included.       

RELATED BOOKS: Crank, The Beast, Slam, Charmed, Rats Saw God, No Problem, The Glory Field

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: Miles from Home (2006),


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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Eclipse (Book 3 in the Twilight series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 629

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: With Edward back in full force in Bella’s life, her desire to become a vampire after high school graduation strengthens. However, the vampire Victoria is back with an army of newborn vampires which wreak havoc on the nearby Seattle area. Victoria, who still harbors intense revenge against Bella, sets her site on the town of Forks! Victoria plans to set these newborn vampires onto Bella!

Meanwhile, Bella becomes engaged to Edward and spends some of her free-time with Jake. During this time, Jake’s feelings for Bella intensify. Later in the woods, Bella and Jake kiss, however Bella quickly explains to Jake that even though she loves him, her love for Edward is much greater. She also reiterates the fact that she still desires to be a vampire.

Both the vampires and the werewolves of Forks become aware of the approaching newborn vampires and form an alliance for the primary purpose of protecting Bella. Due to a set of circumstances, both Edward and Jake become part of the fight. The intensity at which they battle against the newborn vampires is symbolic of the intensity of love that both Edward and Jake share for Bella. Thankfully, Victoria and the newborn vampires are destroyed.

Eclipse ends with Jake receiving a wedding invitation to Bella and Edward’s nuptials.

REVIEW: I did not enjoy this book in the Twilight series as much as I did the previous two. I felt much of the beginning was very slow. However, I liked how the vampires and werewolves combined forces for the purpose of Bella’s protection.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, cause and effect, setting, comparison / contrast

RELATED BOOKS: Twilight, New Moon, Breaking Dawn

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: “Twilight” (2008), “New Moon” (2009)


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

August 8, 2009

A Northern Light

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A Northern Light

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Page Length: 386

Reading Level:  7

Genre:  Mystery, Romance, Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The intelligent 16 year old girl, Mattie Gokey, secretly chooses a “word of the day” from a hidden dictionary. She is a bright student and aspires to finish high school, to go to college in New York, and to become a writer. However, in 1906 women were not expected to do such things. They were expected to marry, have babies, and take care of the house/farm. She uses her “word of the day” to escape the hardships she endures on a daily basis. Her father, despite the request of her teacher, refuses to let her entertain the thought of going to college. Due to the recent death of her mother, she must bare the burden of raising her sisters while her father struggles over his farm. Mattie, a self-proclaimed plain-girl, finds herself attracted to handsome Royal Loomis. To Mattie’s surprise, Royal is also attracted to her but he has no interest in reading books. He only has an interest in farming. Although she enjoys his company, they are polar opposites when it comes to obtaining fulfillment within a romantic relationship. The plot thickens when a guest at the Glenmore Hotel where Mattie works, Grace Brown, drowns. Earlier in the day, Grace had given Mattie a bundle of letters to burn. Mattie forgot about the letters and was too busy to burn them. Her curiosity got the better of her and she began to read them; ultimately inferring from the letters and piecing together the identity of Grace’s male guest that Grace may have been murdered. Does Mattie get to go to college or is she forced to marry Royal? Was Grace Brown really murdered? If so, who murdered her? Who was really her teacher? Does Mattie become a writer herself or is she trapped working on her father’s farm?  Does she keep her promise to her dead mother?

REVIEW: This book is a truly coming-of-age novel intertwined with romance, mystery, and history. The author through her words is able to evoke the emotions felt by Mattie as she grapples with life’s difficult choices. At a time in Mattie’s life when all she wants to do is read any book she can find and save money for college, she feels she must choose what is best for her family. Mattie is also haunted by the promise she made to her dying mother: that Mattie never leave her father and younger siblings. By reading Grace’s letters, Mattie finds her voice and a determination to live her own life. The many subplots throughout the story provide the reader with constant curiosity as to what is going to happen next. The reader finds oneself constantly asking the question, “What would I do, if I was in this situation?” Therefore, this thought provoking book leaves the reader with an unintentional examination of self.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  setting, characterization, plot, theme, compare/contrast, cause/effect, point of view, inference, writer’s motive, voice, mood, and tone, word choice, audience and purpose

RELATED BOOKS:   An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser,  East by Edith Pattou, Just in Case by Meg Rosoff,  The Tailor’s Daughter: A Novel by Janice Graham,  A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Boyle Trilogy) by Libba Bray, Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor.  Books by the same author: A Gathering Light, The Tea Rose, Humble Pie, The Winter Rose

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: A Place in the Sun (1991), An American Tragedy (2007), October Sky (1999), Friday Night Lights (2004)


REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel

January 18, 2009

Boy Meets Boy

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Boys Meets Boy

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 185

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Paul is in his sophomore year of high school. He has an angry and bitter ex named Kyle. One of Paul’s friends is Infinite Darlene (formerly known as Daryl) who is both the homecoming queen and the star quarterback on the football team. Joni, his best friend, has always been there for him until recently. Tony, Paul’s other best friend, has super religious parents who won’t let Tony hang around him because he’s gay. Everything seems to be going terribly wrong until Paul meets Noah. As their relationship begins to develop, the world around Paul seems to unravel. It isn’t long before everything he holds dear is in jeopardy. Will Paul find what he’s looking for before it’s too late?

REVIEW: This book is like every other David Levithan book I have read – a little on the strange side (out there in an alternate reality perhaps). However, the book is an interesting read filled with the common teenage angst and the need everyone has to discover who they are and what they want from life. The story is interesting and dramatic enough to keep students turning the page to find out: if Joni will ever come to her senses, if Kyle will forgive Noah, and if Tony’s parents will ever understand and accept who he is.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  sequence of events, character traits, elements of plot, author’s purpose, use of dialogue

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: gay relationships – girls and boys

RELATED BOOKS: The Realm of Possibility, Are We There Yet?, Marly’s Ghost, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Wide Awake, Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Son of the Mob

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Son of the Mob

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 262

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Vince Luca appears to be a normal teenage guy. His best friend is always trying to outdo him, his brother drives him crazy, and his father wants him to choose a path. And then there’s the famous gandland assassination of Mario Calabrese the cops wanted to pin on his father. Vince’s dad just happens to be the head honcho of the mob. Life is strange in a house that’s bugged and always full of uncles. It doesn’t get any better when Vince falls for Kendra Bightly – whose father just happens to work for the FBI.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed this book! The story line is interesting, humorous, and adds just the right touch of romance. Korman intersperses bits of good advice, the importance of family (no matter how crooked they are), and the idea that love prevails against the odds. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book.

If students have never seen any movies or read anything at all about the mob, then they might not grasp the humor and situations presented in the novel.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  conflict, resolution, author’s purpose, cause and effect, character traits, problem resolution

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: threats of mob violence, talks of missing appendages

RELATED BOOKS: No More Dead Dogs, Swindle, The Search, Kidnapped, Rescue, One False Note, The Juvie Three

MOVIE & TV CONNECTIONS: The Untouchables, The Sopranos


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

January 17, 2009

Call Waiting

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Call Waiting

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 167

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction-Horror         

PLOT SUMMARY: As the book begins, Karen is stalking her boyfriend, Ethan, because he broke a date with her and told her he had to work.  Karen is suspicious that Ethan is hanging out with Wendy, another girl in their class.   Throughout the book, Karen is obsessed with Wendy’s relationship with Ethan.  When Wendy has an accident and falls down a flight of stairs, some of Karen’s classmates blame her.  Karen even begins to question herself.

Ethan, however, gives Karen his attention after Micah, Karen’s best friend, calls her mother and says Karen may need some psychological help.  Karen questions her actions, too, when her older brother plays practical jokes on her and when she begins getting mysterious phone calls.  In a strange turn of events, Karen learns that friends are not always what they seem to be.

REVIEW: R. L. Stine has written a fast reading mystery, filled with enough suspicious actions to keep the reader enthralled.  I read the book in one tense sitting.  For students who like romance, mystery, and suspense this is a good book to read.  Because of the drama between the characters, I believe this book would be enjoyed more by girls than boys.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Conflict, Character, Conclusions, Generalizations, and Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, The Beach House, Hit and Run

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: I Saw What You Did (1965)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

The Girlfriend

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The Girlfriend

Author: R. L. Stine

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 5.5

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Scotty and Lora are the perfect high school couple. She is a cheerleader and he is the star quarterback. They are seniors and plan to attend Princeton after graduation.  When Lora leaves town for a week to visit Paris, Scotty is attracted to Shannon, a girl he gives a ride to after the game on Friday night. Shannon lures Scotty into her home after a secret date on Saturday night.

On Monday, Scotty realizes he doesn’t want to see Shannon anymore, and he certainly doesn’t want anyone to know about the date.  However, Shannon has other ideas.  She feels that Scotty is now “her baby”, and begins to stalk him not only at school but at his home, too.  She warns him not to leave her or her brothers will come after him.  In a series of tragic events, Scotty learns that a one-night stand is not worth the heartache and pain it causes to him and all of his friends and family.

REVIEW: R. L. Stine has written another suspenseful, intriguing book for young teens.  Although parts of the book are predictable, there is a surprise ending relating to Shannon’s past.  Readers who enjoy suspense and romance will enjoy this easy to read horror novel.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause and Effect, Making Predictions, and Compare and Contrast

RELATED BOOKS: The Boyfriend, Hit and Run, The Dead Girlfriend, Beach Party

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Play Misty For Me (1971)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


Filed under: B — thebookreviews @ 9:05 pm
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Author: Pam Withers

Page Length: 101

Genre: Fiction


SUMMARY: Beverly lives in Winapeg, Canada, but is visiting her uncle who lives in Hawaii.  Her uncle runs a dive shop and she is eager to go scuba diving again.  Beverly has two goals to accomplish during her stay.  Feeling a little chubby, she vows to lose ten pounds.  She also wants to find a boyfriend.


Quite a few boys pass through the dive shop, but the one who catches Beverly’s eye is Garth, the dive master.  He is cute, confident and a bit flirtatious.  Beverly likes him too.  Being a little bit older, he seems to be pushing the affection part a little more than Beverly is comfortable with.


Beverly is actually hiding the fact that she is trying to lose weight and is almost starving herself.  When she goes on the dives with her uncle and Garth she realizes that she has not consumed enough calories to provide the energy she needs to swim comfortably.  A series of events spur a lot of action and suspense as the story develops.

REVIEW:  This was a good fast read that I think teen-age girls would enjoy. The setting in Hawaii and the romance of Beverly and Garth will keep the reader intrigued with trying to determine what will happen next.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Sequence of Events, Cause and Effect, and Making Predictions

RELATED BOOKS: Camp Wild, Raging River, Peak Survival, Adrenalin Ride

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Coral Reef Adventure (2003)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 12, 2008

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Filed under: N — thebookreviews @ 9:22 pm
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Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo

Author: Greg Leitich Smith

Page Length: 188

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Elias, Shohei, and Honoria are best friends attending Peshtigo Middle School. Elias is from a family of very smart and successful parents and siblings.  Shohei is the adopted Japanese son of two Irish parents. Honoria is the girl caught in between the two.

It is time for the annual school Science Fair.  Elias decides to copy one of his older brother’s past experiments and Shohei decides to join him in working on the project. Honoria wants to teach piranhas to become vegetarians.

The plot thickens when Elias’ experiment does not match the findings of his brother; Shohei faces his parent’s daily issues to acquaint him with his Japanese culture; and, Elias has a crush on Honoria who confides in him that she has a crush on Shohei.   

REVIEW: This is an entertaining book in that the character’s each tell a portion of the story.  Each of their personalities is developed through their actions and thoughts.  The trio face conflict with their parents, teachers and each other. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book which would assist if the book was used as a class novel. I think both boys and girls would enjoy the book for leisure reading.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Character, Theme, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

RELATED BOOKS: Holes, Tofu and T. Rex


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 8, 2008

Zach’s Lie

Filed under: Z — thebookreviews @ 10:47 pm
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Zach’s Lie

Author: Roland Smith

Page Length: 211

Reading Level:

Genre: Fiction         

PLOT SUMMARY: Jack has no idea why mask men break into his house, threaten his mom, sister and him and then totally ransack the place.  In just hours, he learns that his dad has been arrested for drug trafficking and the mask men were working for his dad’s drug czar boss.  The Witness Security Program force Jack, his sister, and mom to move to Nevada and assume new names and identities.  There, Jack, now Zach, meets the school custodian.  He gets in a fight the first day of school and meets a girl of interest, Catalin.  Zach is finally getting into his new life, but finds he has been discovered by the drug boss and not only his life, but all of those connected to him are in danger, again.

REVIEW: This book is action packed from the beginning.  The characters are well developed and the plot has several subplots that keep the reader’s interest.  This is a good suspense novel that boys would especially enjoy.  It would also be a good class novel to read. 

AREAS OF TEACHING: Cause/Effect, Theme, Character, and Conflict

RELATED BOOKS: Jack’s Run, The Alex Rider Series: Scorpia, Eagle Strike, Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Stormbreaker


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 1, 2008


Twilight (Book 1 in the Twilight Series)

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Page Length: 498

Reading Level: 5.6

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Romance

PLOT SUMMARY: After Bella Swan moves away from her mother in Phoenix to live with her father in the gloomy city of Forks, she befriends a mysterious teenage boy named Edward Cullen. However, “befriends” is not exactly the most appropriate way to describe the evolution of Bella and Edward’s relationship. The two teenagers fall madly in love with each other! Bella is most attracted to how beautiful, odd, and different Edward is to all the other boys in Forks. Edward is attracted to the way Bella “smells” and her very “human” qualities.

Edward is different in that he is a vampire. Bella is different in that she is attracted to one. Many of the citizens of Forks view Edward and his family as different, however very few speak the word “vampire”. Edward explains to Bella that he and his “family” are vampires; the kind that abstain from feeding on human flesh. Edward goes on to say that he is greatly attracted to Bella in the primal sense and gives everything not to devour her in the literal sense. Oddly this does not seem to affect Bella who understands that even though Edward has a major craving to kill her, he also has an undying desire to love her. Edward is different in that he is battling two very opposing emotions.

Edward is a nearly 100 year old vampire in a teenage body that has discovered his first true love. Bella is a true teenager and has also discovered her first true love.

When outsider vampires arrive to Forks, they sniff out Bella as well as Edward’s attraction towards her. These new vampires begin their “hunt” for Bella. Edward’s family (good vampires) do all they can to protect Bella and evade these evil vampires. In the end, the evil vampires lose and Bella is saved. However, Bella has been bitten!!! Edward makes the decision to suck the venom out of Bella, thus saving her from becoming a vampire.

The novel ends with Edward taking Bella to their high school prom. At this event, Bella expresses her desire to become a vampire. Even though she knows why Edward sucked the blood from her, she wishes he hadn’t. Bella desires to become a vampire so she and Edward can live together for eternity in love. Edward does all he can to keep himself from giving in to her request. He kisses her ever so slightly on the neck as the first novel in the Twilight series closes.

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. I am not much for romance novels but setting a romance story within the backdrop of a gloomy town with vampires in it was brilliant. The nearly 500 pages went by quickly as I was consumed. Now, the first few chapters start out a little rough with over-usage of “big words” but this decreases as the story progresses. It did appear that Edward and Bella became attracted to each other rather quickly, but I believe the author was trying to portray an accurate depiction of true love. Much of the novel contains dialogue between Bella and Edward – Edward stating that he loves Bella deeply, but knows he could very easily kill her & Bella stating that she doesn’t care because she wants to be with him forever. This type of conservation occurs frequently – though a little repetitive (however I believe this is authentic dialogue when one considers that the characters are two teenagers in love).

The novel has created much buzz in the young adult literary world and has spawned the 2008 movie by the same name which, in it’s first weekend, made over $70 million. On the radio, web, and conversations with teachers, I have heard such things as, “my male students want to be Edward Cullen”, “I know someone who broke up with her boyfriend because of the book”, and “I have read this book 3 times in one week”. All three statements are pretty extreme, yet very real.

Books can have an amazing impact on readers, and Twilight is one (in a series) that I believe falls into such a category.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: good vs. evil, foreshadowing, characterization, & setting. Before you read: make sure you read the Genesis quote at the beginning as well as the Preface. After reading, go back and read both again. Both of these sections can create some good discussion topics.

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Nothing of major concern is contained in this novel. Some may find that the topics of teenage love and vampires unfavorable, however there are no sexual acts contained in the book. Even though this book is more a romance novel than one about vampires, only mild kissing is present.

RELATED BOOKS: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, The Twilight Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series by Lois Gresh, Twilight Saga: The Official Guide by Stephenie Meyer, other books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer: New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, & Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

MOVIE CONNETIONS: “Twilight” (2008)


RELATED WEBSITES: (awesome lesson plans, rubrics, and activities for the classroom related to the novel) (Twilight Quiz – which character are you?) (official website of the author) (official movie website)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

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