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January 1, 2011

The Realm of Possibility

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The Realm of Possibility

Author: David Levithan

Page Length: 210

Reading Level:

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: This book is a collection of poems that shares the thoughts, emotions, and stories of different characters. The characters are high school age. Relationships of all types are detailed – boys together, girls together, and boy / girl. The poems cover the gamut of love from reeling elated at the possibility of a new relationship, to feeling low after not finding love, to finding harmony with each other. Some of the characters also endure hardships and discover more about whom they are and why they act as they have.

REVIEW: I did not enjoy reading this book. I find constantly assessing and deciphering the language of poetry tiresome in an entire book form. There were moments of the poems that I enjoyed; however, overall, the book was tedious.

If you love poetry, you will likely love this book and find many examples of well written poems and forms of expression that you could share with your students.

The one poem I found particularly interesting was one where a character starts writing words on the desk to express whatever comes to mind. These words have impact on the students who see them. The result of the expression – a girl who writes all over her body all of the words that define her – to others who react after reading the words – would provide for an interesting discussion of who we really are and why. See “Comeuppance” 153-163. It might even be interesting to provide students with a silhouette of a body shape and have them fill in the words that describe them before or after reading the poem.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: adjectives, description, poetic forms

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: poems about sex and love between both heterosexual and homosexual couples, a poem about visiting a sex shop (172-179)

RELATED BOOKS: Boy Meets Boy, All That Glitters, Are We There Yet?, Crush, Kissing Kate, I’ve Known Since I was Eight, Thinking Straight, Hero


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

The Parallel Universe of Liars

The Parallel Universe of Liars

Author: Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

Page Length: 218

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Robin is 15 and has the good fortune of living next door to (Frankie) the hottest guy on the planet. Despite her good fortune, life seems to be the pits right now. Her best friend has just moved away, and no matter who she’s around sex seems to be something that everyone has in common. She’s seen the next door neighbor and his girlfriend, her mother and Dick, and even the next door neighbor and her stepmother. Unfortunately, Robin isn’t immune either. As Frankie begins to make advances toward Robin, she has a decision to make. Will she too join the parallel universe of liars? Can she resist him? What about the new relationship developing with Tri?

REVIEW: My first reaction to this book – is that there is no way I would want to use it as a classroom discussion piece. The book is frankly all about sex. Robin knows what her mother calls out during sex. She knows that Frankie and China watch pornography while having sex. She knows what Janice and Frankie do during sex. She is also propositioned by Frankie and does not effectively resist. Even her best friend, who has moved away, writes to her about being kissed by another girl. Sexuality is everywhere in this book.

The book of course does deal with the topic realistically. It might be a good book for a parent and teen to read (15 and up) to discuss how people can be used for sex, why a teen should consider their partners, how dangerous having a relationship with someone older and more experienced can be, etc.

There is also a useful discussion provided for talking about the detriments of finding worth only in one’s appearance. However, the author does fail to address the severity of the inappropriate relationship between a 22 and a 15 year old.

Exercise caution in recommending the book – parental issues could occur.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, analogies, elements of plot, author’s purpose 


 “Her naked breasts make me shivery and nervous. Frankie works them with his mouth..” (41)

“Under my hand …it begins to get bigger, then hard, and incredibly smooth” (114)

“he’s gasping and shuddering and my hand is a gushy mess” (124)

“my nipples turn into hard buttons under his tongue …his shifts to run his penis against my privates…convulsing and sending gush all over my tummy” (139)

RELATED BOOKS: Gone, Dumb Love, A Fast and Brutal Wing, Target


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

December 19, 2010

The Brimstone Journals

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The Brimstone Journals by Ron Koertge: Book Cover

The Brimstone Journals

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 113

Reading Level: 6.6

Genre: Poetry

PLOT SUMMARY: Meredith, Jennifer, Joseph, Lester, Tran, Sheila, Allison, Kelli, Damon, Rob, Carter, Neesha, David, Boyd, and Kitty are all students at Branston High School. That’s where from many of them their similarities end. One of them is branded as the school slut, another has unwanted advances being made by her stepfather, and yet another is worried about her weight. One of the boys is super athlete who controls his girlfriend, another is new kid in school whose father only wants him to follow the family line and be a doctor, and yet another – perhaps the most dangerous of all – is stockpiling weapons. His plan is to get rid of the people on his “list” and he’s not going to let anything get in his way.

REVIEW: Finally there is a story that can still be a story, maintain a smooth pace, and keep the reader entertained and engaged while being written as a series of journal type entries in the form of poems. Koertge did an excellent job of coming up with a character that almost every high school student can identify with. Boyd’s list of people he plans to execute is an interesting study in pathological behavior – sometimes people end up on the list just for being smart, etc.

This book takes an excellent stand on school violence because the others kids, even those who were going to be involved, take a stance, seek help, and do everything that they can to prevent the tragedy from occurring. I liked this book; it’s a short read that is full of discussion potential. I would recommend this as a classroom / small group assigned reading activity.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, character’s motivation, elements of plot, poetic forms, tree map of the characters and their personality traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Rob has sex with Jennifer because he’s earning points in his sex game – her reaction “it was kind of gross him lying on me like that, plus it hurt” (77)

Talk of pipe bombs, guns, and other explosive materials

References to drinking and a girl with a crush on another girl


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Stoner and Spaz

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Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge: Book Cover

Stoner and Spaz

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 169

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ben Bancroft has become accustomed to having a hidden life. Living with his over protective grandmother and being disabled by cerebral palsy, he’s always shied away from any attention. After all, who wants to be known as a spaz by everyone (just like in the junior assembly when the principal pointed out how different he was to the entire school).

But Ben’s life is due for change even if it’s in the form of Colleen Minou, a druggie who sleeps around. Ben and Colleen forge an unlikely friendship and both their lives begin to change.

REVIEW: Ben’s transformation from being totally self-absorbed and feeling sorry for himself to a young man who sees beyond his disability and begins to connect with others is wonderful. The story makes an excellent point about disabilities and perceptions and conclusions that people all too easily jump to. 

On the other hand, Colleen’s life style is harsh and maybe too graphic. The constant drug references and her using sex as a means of satisfying her addiction and manipulating people to get what she wants – requires that the book reader be mature enough to understand the consequences and effect. I would not read this book with a class.

The good points are well made through Ben’s filming of fellow classmates. He breaks through the social perceptions of misfits and shows the beauty of humanity. The realities of drug abuse and the cost to the user are also detailed making the book a realistic look the horrifying effects of drugs – students could examine the costs to Colleen’s life.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: cause and effect, author’s purpose, comparing and contrasting (Ben before he looked outside himself and Ben after)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Colleen recounts the night her mom’s boyfriend came into her bedroom and started rubbing her – then she notes after telling her mom who accused her of trying to ruin her (her mother’s) happiness – “I’m fucking ten years old, and I’m on my own”  (70).

Colleen use of drug – smoking a joint. “I snort a little coke” (71).

“She grabs the condom, tears the foil with her teeth, then puts it on with alarming dexterity” (152).

RELATED BOOKS: Fat Kids Rule the World, You Don’t Know Me, The Brimstone Journals, Gingerbread, The Beast, Angel Dust Blues


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

Rock Star Superstar

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Rock Star Superstar by Blake Nelson: Book Cover

Rock Star Superstar

Author: Blake Nelson

Page Length: 229

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Pete loves music and playing his bass. He’s in the jazz band at school and plays with his band after school. His band even get gigs at parties sometimes. At sixteen life seems ok for Pete, but then he gets better. He meets Margaret and soon gains a girlfriend. He gets recruited by a new band with a great following and radical new sound. As his popularity begins to soar, will Pete lose sight of who he really is? Is he really ready to be just some band boy – or is there more to Pete than meets the eye?

REVIEW: Kids who are really in to music and bands would probably enjoy this book. There are several passages about playing live, the sounds of the group, and descriptions of everyone’s playing and talent. Pete gets a new girlfriend and it isn’t long before he’s making out and getting out his condoms. As his stardom rises, Pete begins to let other areas of his life go. He also lacks a clear supportive figure at home – as his dad drinks too much and is out on dates too often. In the end, Pete recovers, comes back to his senses, and realizes that what he really wanted in life might just have been right there in front of him all along.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: teenagers having sex, discussion of condom use, drinking, fighting

RELATED BOOKS: The New Rules of High School, Girl, User, Gender Blender, Paranoid Park, Exile

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Girl (1998), The New Guy (2002)


REVIEWED BY:  Dayna Taylor

Planet Janet

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Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon: Book Cover

Planet Janet

Author: Dyan Sheldon


Page Length: 221


Reading Level: 6


Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Janet’s lost in her own “me” world and she reveals all her thoughts, hopes, and dreams in her diary. Janet talks about the mad cow (MC), her mother, her best friend Disha who has joined her in the dark phase, her wacked out brother, and her psychotherapist father. Janet’s so lost in her own self-centered world that she fails to see the turmoil swirling around her. Events are in place that just may bring her crashing back to reality.

REVIEW: Reading Janet’s diary is interesting and revealing. She talks about everything from a crush on a guy and how she plants herself in his path to catch his attention to finding her bra in her brother’s room. The book is definitely only appropriate for older teens as she and her best friend smoke a joint and Sara Dancer talks about “doing it” and subsequently suffers a pregnancy scare. All along throughout the story, Janet’s busy being disgusted by her mother and never stops to see the pain her mother is going through. An affair is revealed at the end and both Janet and her mother discover their common strengths, and Janet discovers that she needs her mother more than she thought. I’d recommend this book to teen girls – especially the ones that tend to be more self-centered (as they might learn something about themselves along the way).

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  identifying plots, subplots, elements of plot, written response in the form of a diary, cause and effect, character traits

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: grandma’s disapproval of a homosexual relationship, presence of marijuana, Sara Dancer talking about doing it for the first time and what it was like

RELATED BOOKS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, My Perfect Life, Planet Janet in Orbit, Confessions of a Hollywood Star

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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

Heavy Metal and You

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Heavy Metal and You

Author: Christopher Krovatin

Page Length: 186

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sam loves two things – heavy metal and Melissa. He only feels complete when he’s got his music and the one girl in the world who makes him feel like he’s never felt before.

There’s only one problem, Melissa doesn’t really fit into his heavy metal world. She hates his friends and isn’t in love with his music. Sam can’t stand her friends either. Is there love strong enough to overcome the obstacles in their way? Can you truly love someone without loving their friends and their interests?

REVIEW: Unless you are a heavy metal fan – as in know the lyrics, music style, and band names of many of the top heavy metal bands –then you may find this book boring. I really couldn’t relate – but I think that a true metal head would love this story. I did not enjoy reading it because the main character’s obsession with heavy metal, what songs he liked, how he likes his music, etc. dominated the book. Once you get past the heavy metal excess, the drugs, the alcohol, and the overuse of the F word, there is a slight bit of substance to the book.

The author tackles the age old issue of love and friendship and what happens when the two clash. There are some interesting issues to ponder about relationships, acceptance, and what love (versus attraction) really means. Heavy metal lovers read on – everyone else… maybe when you’re really really bored.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: lessons about true to yourself, cause and effect, author’s purpose, dialogue, elements of plot

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: many of them — f- – k must appear over 50 times, use of marijuana, use of alcohol (and the message that it’s ok), smoking, pg. 125 “her shirt went over her head,” pg. 95 “cocaine addicts dream”

RELATED BOOKS: Candy, Kissing the Rain, I Will Survive, Cut, Talking in the Dark

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: any appropriate heavy metal music


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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

Margaux with an X

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Margaux with an X

Author: Ron Koertge

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: On the outside, Margaux’s life seems to resemble perfection. She’s gorgeous, every guy wants her, every girl wants to be within her circle of friends, and she’s smart. In reality, Margaux’s harboring a terrible secret. She’s tired of playing Sara’s popularity games with groping boys, seeing her mother engrossed in the shopping channel day after day, and hearing about her father’s latest gambling activities. Then she meets Danny who is a scrawny, anything but fashionable guy who dedicates his life to rescuing animals. Could it be love at first sight? Will Margaux reveal her terrible secret?

REVIEW: This book took an interesting look at a number of important topics. One issue addressed in the book is the price Margaux has paid for her father’s addiction to gambling. Also, Koertge teaches the reader that being beautiful isn’t as glamorous or as easy at it seems. Yet another topic presented in the book is that self-discovery can be painful but gratifying. Both Danny and Margaux have endured hardships and are discovering who they are and how their past has shaped them. Overall, the book is interesting, the plot is well developed, and the final parting message is good – the path of least resistance isn’t necessarily the best.

AREAS FOR TEACHING:  character traits, cause and effect, author’s purpose, sequence of events, sarcasm, vocabulary development

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: Dad offering Margaux a joint (p.22), “he tries to feel my boobs… just a semi-slut instead of a full-on hoochie” (p.87), destroying a car out of anger (p.142), “you’d drive me over to Tony’s house and let him take pictures of me in my underpants” (p.150)

RELATED BOOKS: Where the Kissing Never Stops, Stoner & Spaz, The Brimstone Journals, Shakespeare Bats Clean Up, The Arizona Kid


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

January 17, 2009

Jake Reinvented

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Jake, Reinvented

Author: Gordon Korman

Page Length: 213

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Jake Garrett is the new kid at F. Scott Fitzgerald High School. He’s dresses like a male model for a fashion magazine, and he is perhaps the best long snapper the football team has ever had. Jake throws fabulous parties every Friday night – who doesn’t love Jake?

Despite the admiration of every male and female in the high school, Jake only longs for one thing – Didi. Didi, the most beautiful girl around, happens to be dating Todd, the team quarterback. Jake is determined to do whatever it takes to win Didi. Will Jake really be willing to sacrifice everything just to have Didi? What will happen if Todd discovers Jake’s plan?

REVIEW: Korman delivers another entertaining read. The reader loves Jake as much as everyone else. Rick, who befriends Jake through good and bad, is an admirable character who teaches everyone what true friendship should be. The focus of much of the story is Jake’s willingness to do whatever it takes (without being psychotic) to get what he wants – Didi. The interesting depth of the story here is how hung up Didi is on position and appearances – and that no matter how hard Jake tries Didi doesn’t look at him as she does Todd. (This part of the book presents a great opportunity to talk about appearances and how often we all see what we want to see in someone.)

Korman makes an excellent point about trying to buy loyalty and popularity. Jake’s true self is revealed and the consequences aren’t pretty. Another character in the book, Dipsy, suffers the teasing of the football team. Teachers could examine his sacrifices of self and what it does or does not do for him. Dipsy is also known to throw out philosophical statements relating to animals. This is a great book for talking about appearances and what makes someone who they really are – always an interesting topic for teens struggling to discover their sense of self.

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

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: drinking, party going, flagrant disregard for someone else’s property

RELATED BOOKS: The Juvie Three, No More Dead Dogs, Swindle, The Search

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Mean Girls”, “Bratz”, “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club”


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

September 21, 2008

Losing is Not an Option

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Losing is Not An Option

Author: Rich Wallace

Page Length: 127

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Ron is an athlete who longs for the next running competition and can’t stop dreaming about coming in first. After each defeat, he intensely trains for the next meet. In between meets, Ron is the average high school guy who hangs out with his friends and longs for a girlfriend. He excels as a teenage poet and works hard on the basketball court tool. This book chronicles his crushes, friendships, hardships, and training in nine short stories.

REVIEW: Honestly, the first half of this book I wasn’t making the connection between the same character and the all the short stories. However, in the last half of the book the author seemed to do a better job of tying the stories together. The language in the book ranges from the f word to other frequently used curse words. The main character and his friend are propositioned at a carnival; the girls offer sex for money.  Underage drinking is present, drug use, and sexual innuendos. I would be careful in recommending this book; on the other hand, the Ron does a good job of remaining true to himself and his sport.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: main idea, author’s purpose, making predictions, chronological ordering, textual support

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: page 60 – “closet masturbator”, page 86 – “Ziploc bag of pot”, page 79 – “asshole”

RELATED BOOKS: Curveball, Wrestling Sturbridge, Shots on Goal, One Good Punch


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

May 21, 2008


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Author: Carrie Mac

Page Length: 107

Reading Level: 3.8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Izzy is a teenage girl growing up in a broken-home. Her mother has a live-in boyfriend whom Izzy does not get along with. While Izzy’s mother is away for several months, trouble begins – Izzy gets kicked out of her own house for stealing from her mother’s boyfriend.

Izzy is infatuated with a high school drop-out named Cody Dillon. Cody has a reputation for hanging around hookers and drug dealers. Izzy at first is unaware of this. Her mind is only on Cody’s looks and personality. At first, Cody showers Izzy with gifts and attention and Izzy begins to feel quite comfortable “leeching” off of Cody. She does not ask where the money comes from for all she is being provided.

Just as Izzy feels that her relationship to Cody is growing more serious, Cody reveals to Izzy that he owes his “dealers” $5,000. It is then that Izzy realizes that she is going to be pimped out to collect the debt. Izzy’s entrance into a “prostitution ring” has begun. Excessive drug use, drinking, and sexual/physical abuse ensue as Izzy feels trapped in a world that is all too real and all too horrifying.

As time passes, Izzy finds out that Cody’s “sweet actions” toward her in the beginning were all an act. Cody has treated other girls/prostitutes in the same manner. This realization is the last straw for Izzy. With the help of another prostitute, Izzy escapes “the ring” and returns home.

The story ends with Izzy and her mother moving to a new town, without the mother’s boyfriend, to begin anew.

REVIEW: I felt the basic story line was interesting, yet I believe the author over-used some curse words to the point where the story line felt less authentic. I wish the author had used some more description in her writing in dealing with the setting and emotional states of the main characters. Simply jotting down the names of drugs and curse words did not do it for me. I was looking for more! I believe that a struggling reader’s attention would be maintained with this book, yet I caution anyone from assigning it as to the mature content it contains.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions & foreshadowing (pages 40-41), use of capital letters for emotional effect (early chapters), conflict (page 80)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: CAUTION!!! – Every 3-4 pages contain references and words that relate to prostitution, sex, violence, drugs, abuse, body parts, diseases, and/or drinking. The references are too numerous to list all the page numbers, yet some pages you can refer to for a brief over-view are – 8, 22, 25, 36, 38, 51, and especially page 66! The book’s cover is even a little risqué.

This is the first book that I have previewed in which I have thought about not keeping out for all students to access. Please preview this book before letting others read it!

RELATED BOOKS: Sold by Patricia McCormick (prostitution from another cultural perspective), Go Ask Alice


REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

May 16, 2008

Sticks and Stones

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Sticks and Stones

Author: Beth Goobie

Page Length: 77

Reading Level: 2.6

Genre: Teen Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: What starts out as an innocent date with Brent Floyd, turns into a nightmare for Jujube’s reputation.  After kissing a few times in Brent’s car during a school dance, Brent embellishes the story until his friends believe that he and Jujube have had sex.                                                                               


This is devastating for fifteen year old Jujube.  Not only are people talking behind her back, but boys have even written graffiti on the bathroom walls.  When her mother gets wind of Jujube’s problem, her attempts to remedy the situation backfire.  Due to a lack of funds, the Principal refuses to paint over the graffiti in a timely manner.


Jujube learns that her close friend Sophie has suffered a similar experience.  This knowledge gives Jujube an idea; she decides to form “The Slut Club” with other teen victims at school.  The club allows the girls to unite against the unfairness of gossip.  And the experience is empowering and healing for all involved.


In the end, Jujube uses the graffiti for an English project about the impact of words.  She and her friend Carlos take a risk by displaying pictures of graffiti about herself and other girls. In effect, Jujube shows her school that gossip is no laughing matter, and the Principal is compelled to paint over the ugly slander.


REVIEW: I really enjoyed Sticks and Stones.  Gossip and rumors are things everyone has dealt with at one time or another, and teens are well aware of the hurt rumors can bring.  This makes Sticks and Stones extremely relevant to high school students.  I also felt that the characters were more well-rounded than in previous books by Beth Goobie. 


AREAS FOR TEACHING: This is a great book to discuss problem solving.  Jujube fights her own battle with maturity and finesse.  You could have students write about a time they have affectively dealt with a sticky situation, or have them problem solve a matter they are already engaged in.


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: The cover of Sticks and Stones looks much more controversial than the book ever is.  Other than the use of the word “slut” this story is told in a very appropriate, and mild fashion. 


RELATED BOOKS: This is the companion book to Something Girl, also by Beth Goobie


MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: This book reminds me of the play  “They Dance Real Slow in Jackson”, which is also about a girl’s reputation that is unjustly tarnished.




REVIEWED BY: Jennifer John

April 30, 2008

My Time as Caz Hazard

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My Time as Caz Hazard

Author: Tanya Lloyd Kyi

Page Length: 103

Reading Level: 3.2

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Caz Hallard is a 10th grader with a less than stellar academic career and a discipline file that includes punching her former boyfriend. Caz is diagnosed with dyslexia (something her parents have trouble believing) and sent to a new school where she is placed in a special reading class to help her. On her first day of school, she meets Mr. Popular who approaches only to recoil when he realizes she is headed to the “special” class. Caz’s special education classroom contains a variety of students. Dodie is shy, less than fashionably dressed, and an easy target. Amanda, a foster child who has been in many homes, has a knack for trouble and soon pulls Caz into a world of skipping school and breaking laws. Caz’s parents are separating, her best friend won’t speak to her anymore, and Dodie has committed suicide. Is she responsible for Dodie’s death and can she save herself before she loses everything? 

REVIEW: This book is typical of the Orca book series. It is written in simple language, on a high interest topic, and the action proceeds quickly. However, the book seems to lack depth. Many of the issues are never fully addressed or developed. I personally find the messages in it disturbing – enough attention wasn’t given to the bullying that led to the suicide. Caz doesn’t pay serious repercussions for her shoplifting habit, and Amanda gets in with the in crowd by “putting out.” While I think these books take a Jerry Springer approach to an interest in “trashy” subjects, I am not sure they are strong enough morally to be worthwhile reads.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: causes and effects (inferred) beyond what the author presents, use of dialogue, examining stereo-types

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: most pages – suicide, sex, shoplifting, bullying, skipping school …

RELATED BOOKS: Orca series, The Shoplifting Game, Klepto

RELATED MOVIES: “CBS Afternoon Playhouse”, Portrait of a Teenage Shoplifter (1981), Rats and Bullies (bullying leads to suicide), Mean Girls


RELATED WEBSITES: (downloadable MP3 file of the first chapter)

REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

April 2, 2008

10 Things To Do Before I Die

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10 Things To Do Before I Die

Author: Daniel Ehrenhaft

Pages: 219

Reading Level: 6


PLOT SUMMARY: Mark, Ted, and Nikki are beginning their Spring Break in the diner where they often hang out. Ted Burger, the main character, is a quiet non-confrontational kind of guy with a love of music, a talent for guitar playing, and huge fan of the band, Shakes the Clown. Nikki and Mark are his some eclectic friends with the perfect relationship. Ted’s girlfriend, Rachel, works tirelessly for causes like Amnesty International and is the kind of girl who demands Ted ask permission before he kisses her. Ted’s parents are always engrossed in their advertising agency work and pay more attention to flashy commercials than they do their own son.


Mark decides that Ted needs an exciting spring break and comes up with a list of the 10 things he must do before he dies – a list which he can start on over spring break. Suddenly, a former employee of the diner enters with a long trench coat on. He pulls out a weapon and Mark springs into action. He disarms him if his water gun and all is well again. Or so it seems. Ted isn’t feeling well and barely manages to stumble outside before throwing up all over the sidewalk. He stumbles home after a brief stop at the hospital where the idea of some “examination procedures” freaks him out. He takes off and runs into Rachel not far from home. They fight and the downward spiral of events continues. Ted stumbles in his house and researched his symptoms. Ted matches 2 of the 4 and diagnoses himself with Meniere’s disease. Before long, Ted and Nikki arrive; they urgently tell Ted that the disgruntled employee returned and was arrested all the while saying that he had poisoned the fried. Whoever consumed them only had 24 hours to live. The list of things to do before I die takes on urgent status. Ted, Nikki, and Mark embark adventures that include: a rock band, a prostitute, alcohol, airports, limos, revenge, a hospital and more. Will Ted survive the poisoning and will he really complete the list of things to do before his 24 hours are up?


REVIEW: I believe that this book would appeal more boys than girls; however, it does have an element of universal appeal – death certainly doesn’t discriminate by sex. Kids into bands and guitars would likely connect with the book. The message that discovering who is we are is a process and learning to be ourselves is critical to our well being is an important one. This book also teaches the reader that coping mechanisms and learning to express our feelings rather than repressing this is also important.


TOUCHY AREAS: The cautions are that the when Ted doesn’t want to go to the hospital Mark decides they will all get drunk. They break into Ted’s parents’ liquor cabinet and consume copious amounts of alcohol – after which Ted goes running around in public. When he returns, Mark has a prostitute waiting to help Ted reach his goal to lose his virginity (the good news is that Ted has values and want his first time to be with someone he cares about not a prostitute).  Having sex with Rachel when she is ready is also discussed. The book concludes with some details of a panic attack.


AREAS FOR TEACHING: A great extension for this book might be to have student create their own 10 things to do before I die list and in doing so consider what defines who they are and what they want most out of life.




REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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


Shattering Glass

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Shattering Glass

Author: Gail Giles

Page Length: 215

Reading Level: 6.2


REVIEW & PLOT SUMMARY: The front cover of the book boasts the review “suspenseful, disturbing…” Disturbing is definitely a description I would use also. In a nutshell, the story centers around the popular crowd in a Texas high school. Rob is the ring leader who determines the actions of all the other members. He deems who is to be popular and who is not; his followers do as he asks without question. Stepping outside his usual realm, he deems it necessary to completely usurp and demean the former most popular guy in high school, Lance. He hatches this scheme by making the most ridiculed boy in school, Simon Glass, popular. With a makeover, new clothes, and lessons from Rob, Simon couldn’t be better received. Simon and all the male characters, suffer some parent issues – especially with their fathers. Simon steps outside the lines when he begins to think for himself. He discovers Rob’s untold secrets and perhaps the motivating factor behind is excessive need to control and dominate everything. Everything begins to unwind as the competition for class favorites concludes at the dance. Secrets are revealed and alliances shattered. How far will Rob go to keep his secrets? Who will pay the ultimate price?


AREAS FOR TEACHING: From a teaching perspective this book has some strong points. For example, it is a powerful example of how blindly following others can go wrong. The book completely illustrates how hurtful and inane cliques can be and how devastating the consequences of seemingly harmless actions can be. Giles also details how making a wrong turn (a bad decision) can quickly spiral out of control; one bad action leads to another and another. This book is great for teaching life lessons and for examining the consequences of actions – and for really discussing how often we should pause and consider the repercussions of our actions before making decisions. The letters that begin each chapter are beautiful examples of foreshadowing. Another huge discussion point is presented at the end of the book when justice is meted out unevenly.


TOUCHY AREAS: On the other hand, the book deals frankly with some touchy subjects – namely, molestation of boys by fathers and camp counselors. It also exposes the cruelty of cliques through negative comments and treatment of others.  This book is disturbing because it exposes the potential darkness within a hurting and damaged heart. The characters lose their sense of self and even of right and wrong. We witness one character breaking up with his girlfriend because it’s part of the master plan. Teenage sex and the disappointment characters had with their first time are also discussed— but decently. Be wary – this is loaded with issues – but on the other hand it’s certainly not the average read.



(consider the video book trailer as an assignment – this has a lot of potential ***)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor


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