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August 30, 2009

Ball Don’t Lie

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Ball Don’t Lie

Author: Matt de la Pena

Page Length: 280  

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Sticky is a skinny 17-year-old high school junior living in Venice, California.  This is his fourth foster home, after living with his drug addicted, prostitute mother who committed suicide when Sticky was only a young child.  Sticky has an obsessive compulsive disorder, but can usually get control of it after a few minutes.

Although Sticky is white and has been passed from family to family, he has developed an amazing talent for basketball.  He considers his real home the neighborhood recreational gym where old NBA basketball players as well as the homeless hang out.  His passion for basketball is unstoppable.

Surprising even to Sticky, Anh-thu, an Asian girl from school is attracted to him. She loves to watch him play basketball and wants to help him reach his goals and aspirations of making something of the predictable future of a poor white kid living on the street.

Sticky has great plans for Anh-thu’s birthday but they are halted after Sticky is approached for sex at the rec center, makes a bad decision after being taunted by one of the players and finds himself in a dire situation.

REVIEW: I would recommend this book for mature teens.  It is well written in third person voice.  The author is able to create emotion, passion, and suspense in his writing, while covering several intimate scenarios that Sticky experiences in his young life.  Sticky is exposed to difficult situations as a young child, and life doesn’t get easier for him with age. 

The reader is able to see Sticky grow and mature as he progresses through his junior year with the boys at the gym, with his foster family, his girlfriend, and his schoolmates. This is an excellent book for boys interested in basketball.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Character, Setting, Supporting Details, Sequence of Events, Conflict, Compare/Contrast, and Cause/Effect

TOUCHY AREAS: harsh profanity (p. 53, 128, 171, 175, 230), physical abuse (p. 65), sexual activity (p. 88, 164), sexual abuse (125), drug use (p. 226)

RELATED BOOKS: Slam, Painting the Black, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Athletic Shorts

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Ball Don’t Lie (not yet released), Hoop Dreams (1994, Documentary), Hoosiers (1986), Heaven is a Playground (1991), Above the Rim (1994), On Hallowed Ground: Streetball Champions of Rucker Park (2001 Documentary)


 REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

December 5, 2008

Learning the Game

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Learning the Game

Author: Kevin Waltman

Page Length: 217

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Nate isn’t the typical teenager. His parents are loaded but never notice him, he has a popular girlfriend who is all about appearances, and his brother is one of the town druggies. Nate wants to fit in with all the guys on the basketball court. One summer day, he is tested. Will he choose the team or what he knows is right? Will he stand by his friend or be bullied by Branson? Nate’s worked super hard on his game all summer, but the terrible truth of his actions just may cost him everything. A surprise call from his brother, a guilty conscience, and a chance that his team could suffer may be too much for Nate. Will he save himself, his team, his girlfriend, or his brother?

REVIEW: This book was fast paced and contained many important elements for teen readers: relationships, sexual tension, bullying and popularity, sports, and family. The moral to the story: telling the truth is the right thing to do – no matter what the consequences – could spark an interesting debate in the classroom – as the book is being read – what are his options? What could he (Nate) do instead? Should he tell or not?

The lessons about true friendships and relationships were important ones. I think that this book would be good for classroom study or for a small group instruction. Boys would generally be more drawn to it than girls and basketball lovers would especially understand Nate’s drive to be the best, make the Varsity starting line, and his descriptions of basketball action.

A secondary story is the disintegration of Nate’s family due to a previous event. When he was younger, he and his brother were at a friend’s house. His brother describes how they were looking at the gun, putting it away, and how it accidentally went off. His friend was dead and his life was forever changed.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: sequence, author’s purpose, character motivations, point of view, cause and effect, flow chart of decisions

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: accidental shooting, drugs (mild reference), drinking

RELATED BOOKS: Nowhere Fast, Push, Slam, Game, Hoops, Coach Carter, Summer in the City, Taking Sides

RELATED MOVIES: “Coach Carter,” “Believe in Me,” “Glory Road,” “Finding Forrester”            



REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

November 2, 2008


Filed under: B — thebookreviews @ 8:08 pm
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Author: Norah McClintock

Page Length: 95

Reading Level: 3

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: Quentin and JD have been friends for a long time. They are school-mates and they also hang out with each other after school engaging in such activities as smoking marijuana. One day, Quentin and JD are smoking in the park, scaring off some kids, when a man approaches them and tells them to leave. The man threatens that he’ll call the cops on the boys for smoking marijuana. In response, both Quentin and JD become disrespectful to the man. As they leave, Quentin points his finger toward the man as if he is going to shoot him.

The next day after Quentin and JD are talking to some girls at the beach, they start to head home but become hungry. They spot a “canteen van” in an alley and decide to see if there is any food inside it. As they are robbing the vehicle, a man approaches – the same man JD and Quentin spoke with in the park the other day. The man grabs Quentin, JD spots this, JD pulls a gun on the man, and JD shoots!!!

The man dies, but the boys don’t stay around long to see it. They ride their bikes home and change out of their bloody clothes. The incident is on the local news the next day and the TV reports that the cops are looking for one suspect that fits the description of Quentin!!! After a meticulous investigation by the police – going through school yearbooks, meeting with students in an assembly, pulling students out to talk with one by one – they arrest Quentin.

Quentin finally realizes that JD went to the police first to free himself from the blame. JD betrayed Quentin! At this point, Quentin is confused and upset at JD. Quentin tries to tell the police that both he and JD were at the scene of the crime but that JD was the one who pulled the trigger. In the midst of all this – Quentin is sent to jail.

However, after the police begin to investigate the crime further, it is discovered that JD voluntarily gave the police his “clean clothes”, JD planted Quentin’s bloody clothes in Quentin’s own home, and JD burned & buried his own bloody clothes along with the gun in a ravine – all to frame Quentin. The one piece of evidence however that reversed this false trail of evidence was a picture that JD’s sister took of JD and Quentin on the day of the murder. It shows that JD was wearing a different shirt that day – the one he burned and buried. The police look for these clothes along with the gun and find them! In the end, JD is sent to jail and Quentin is released pending his consequence.

REVIEW: Despite the awful subject matter (murder) this book was engaging and kept my attention. I would not suggest this to just any student due to the “touchy areas”. As with any “Orca” book, it is written on a very low reading level but the content is adult level. Several lessons can be learned using this story – from drugs to theft to being disrespectful to adults. The book’s cover will definitely spark an interest to some, however the real issue is the consequence one faces when engaged in activity that is illegal.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: predictions (page 27), flashback, internal dialogue, cause and effect

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: “smoked up” (page 22), Canadian pot / marijuana rules (page 26), topic of murder

RELATED BOOKS: Guns and Violence by Laura Egendorf

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: “Romeo + Juliet” (2006)

MUSIC CONNECTIONS: music by Eminem, Heavy D, Notorious B.I.G.,  & Dr. Dre

RELATED WEBSITES: (toy guns) (rappers, guns, reality) (statistics)

REVIEWED BY: Kevin Stratton

June 2, 2008

The Trap

Filed under: T — thebookreviews @ 8:34 pm
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The Trap

Author: Joan Lowry Nixon

Page Length: 165

Reading Level: 5

Genre: Fiction, Mystery

PLOT SUMMARY: Julie’s summer is off to a bad start. She wants desperately to spend her summer with her best friend and competing on the swim team. The family has elected Julie to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle on a ranch in Texas. Julie isn’t given a choice and prepares herself for a summer of misery; however, Julie soon discovers that she has landed into the middle of a mystery.

Uncle Gabe and Aunt Glenda have their retirement home on a large ranch where several other investment retirement homes are located. Items have been disappearing for people’s home, and Uncle Gabe is in the hospital with a broken leg. Men are suddenly dying while their wives are away from the house; Uncle Gabe is sure that someone caused his accident. As Julie begins her own investigation, she comes dangerously close to the truth. Can she solve the crime before anyone else mysteriously dies or will the killer get the best of them all?

REVIEW: This book had a well developed plot line and good pacing throughout. The reader’s mind is constantly considering the possibilities of who committed the crimes and what their motivation might be. The book addresses issues of familial relationships and even introduces characters who struggle with their own acceptance and self-esteem issues stemming from family and socio-economic circumstances. Julie is a strong character who perseveres and won’t be frightened away by threats. This story has a modern appeal and is easily related to teenage motivations and emotions.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: character motivation, plot, sequencing, cause and effect, making predictions, setting, theme

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: dealing with murder (presented mildly)

RELATED BOOKS: A Deadly Game of Magic, Search for the Shadowman, Secret Silent Screams, Alex Rider books

RELATED MOVIES:  Nancy Drew, Alex Rider


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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