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January 18, 2009

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


November 16, 2008

One Tree Hill The Beginning

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One Tree Hill The Beginning  

Author: Jenny Markas

Page Length: 206

Reading Level: 4

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: The town of Tree Hill is split in two. On one side are the rich citizens who live mostly on the hills in their mansions. On the other side are the poor folks who live below, known affectionately as the River Rats. Both sides collide at a high school that bears the same name as the town.

Tree Hill lives and breathes basketball. Whether it is in the gym at the local high school or on the run-down courts of a nearby park, everyone seems to play, cheer, announce, or talk about the sport. The story, which was a catalyst for the popular TV show on the CW Network, focuses primarily on 5 main teenagers: Lucas Scott, Nathan Scott, Haley, Peyton, and Brooke.

Lucas Scott and Haley (River Rats) are best friends. Nathan Scott, Peyton, and Brooke (the rich teens) form the other group. One Tree Hill is no simple good side vs. bad side story, because if you analyze Lucas and Nathan’s last names, you’ll see they are the same. Both Lucas and Nathan share the same father. Lucas doesn’t have contact with his father however since his father left his mom after impregnating her with Lucas. After his mother gave birth to him, the two were left to live their lives trying to make ends meet. While Nathan, however lives with his father in a comfortable mansion.

Both Lucas and Nathan play basketball, but for two very different reasons. Lucas plays with his friends outside just for fun. Nathan plays so he may advance his career in basketball later in life. The two try their best to avoid each other at school until one-day the basketball coach is in need of additional players and seeks out Lucas to join the team. Nathan does not favor this idea at all!!!

REVIEW: This story will appeal to many students as it is connected to a current popular TV show. The idea of two brothers from different mothers is not new. However, the author has updated the idea and placed it in a setting of an every-day town engulfed in the popular sport of basketball. Beyond this basic two-sided story, there lies sub-plots between girl friends and best friends that make for interesting twists. Nathan and Lucas couldn’t be more different, yet they will find it rather difficult to keep their differences and lives apart for too long. They have done a successful job of it for years, but the thing that they love the most, will certainly bring them together.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: simile (page 201), comparison/contrast (two brothers – Lucas & Nathan) (poor vs. rich)

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: the book gives a real depiction of teenagers. There are references and visualizations to beer, kegs, bongs, sex, & parties. All references are minor and do not detract from the main story line. The use of the word “bastard” is present as it refers to Lucas, the son of Dan and Karen, who was born out of wed-lock.

RELATED BOOKS: A Heart So True by Anna Lotto, One Tree Hill by Monica Rizzo,


“One Tree Hill” – TV show (2003-2008)

Gavin DeGraw – “I Don’t Want to Be” – 2004 (theme song to One Tree Hill TV show)

RELATED WEBSITES: (official website of the One Tree Hill TV show)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

October 30, 2008

Inside Out

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Inside Out

Author: Terry Trueman

Page Length: 117

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction


PLOT SUMMARY: Zach isn’t your average high school guy. He suffers from Schizophrenia and is haunted by the voices inside his head. One day as he’s waiting for his mom to pick him up at a local store, a robbery takes place. The voices are beginning to talk inside Zach’s head, he’s past due for his medicine, and he’s in no shape to be a hostage. Will Zach get help before it’s too late or will the voices yelling “Die!” win out?


REVIEW: As if Schizophrenia by itself wasn’t bad enough, Zach running out of medication and being under the stress of a robbery only compounds the situation. The reader gets to feel what it’s like to be Zach. We can hear the voices, sense the tension, and feel how hard Zach has to fight for understanding and control. In that sense, the book is a beautiful tool for teaching others how it might feel to be in someone else’s shoes. On another note, the reason behind the robbery prompts much discussion in and of itself. Two teenage boys led to desperation by the need for money to care for their ailing mother end up in a horrible situation. Together they all learn from each other.


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


TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: quote – “he cocks the weapon and lifts it up, taking the muzzle into his mouth,” issue of suicide


RELATED BOOKS: Stuck in Neutral, Cruise Control, No Right Turn


RELATED MOVIES: “A Beautiful Mind” and “What About Bob”





REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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

May 1, 2008

Alex Rider Eagle Strike #4

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Alex Rider Eagle Strike #4

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Page Length: 322

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Alex Rider, a fourteen year old English young man, is on vacation with his girlfriend, Sabina, and her parents. Suddenly, he notices a man from his past. Driven by his desire for revenge and his instincts, he pursues the man (Yassen Gregorovich) whom he knows is a hired killer. Deciding that he has no business getting involved, Alex heads back to the family house only to discover that a terrible “accident” has taken place.

Before long, Alex becomes entangled in web of deceit and treachery. After being captured, he must fight for his life in a bull ring. M16, the English equivalent of an FBI unit, wants Alex’s help again. Sabina doesn’t believe anything Alex says; and Alex has discovered a secret that no one will believe. A wealthy, influential rock star appears to be involved. With no one to turn to but Jack, his guardian, Alex has no decision but to pursue Damian Cray (wealthy rock star) himself.

His adventures bring him face to face with danger. Realistic video games threaten his survival. Alex will have to rely on all of his training. Can he stop Damian Cray’s play for world domination?  Can he protect the ones he loves and save the world from despair?

A riveting conclusion aboard Air Force One and a confession from Yassen will have the reader yearning to discover even more about Alex Rider.

REVIEW: I really enjoyed reading this book! Horowitz delivers a well developed plot, characters that are easy to connect to, and enough suspense to keep the reader interested. The read is quick and the action excellent. This book would be an excellent classroom read; I think that the students would be keenly interested in the events and that reading it with audio accompaniment would only add to the experience.

A riveting conclusion aboard Air Force One and a confession from Yassen will have the reader yearning to discover even more about Alex Rider. Most kids will want to read another Alex Rider book. He’s James Bond for the teenage generation with more modern technological thrills! Highly recommended!

AREAS FOR TEACHING: summarization, compare and contrast, cause and effect, sequence of events, predictions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: violence – bombing, kidnapping, threats of bodily injury, death, assassins, lunatic madmen wreaking havoc on the world with no concern for others

RELATED BOOKS: Stormbreaker, Point Blank, Skeleton Key, Scorpia

RELATED MOVIES: Alex Rider Operation Stormbreaker


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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