Module Ten: Perks of Being a Wallflower

Book Review Blog, Episode Ten – The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Book Summary: The protagonist, Charlie, writes letters to an unknown recipient about his life during his freshman year of high school. Set in the early 90s, this book take a raw look at teenage life during the time period. Charlie is quiet and awkward, but he befriends two seniors, a male named Patrick, and a female named Sam. They take him to parties, eat lunch together, and basically mentor the shy 15-year-old. Charlie goes through a lot of trials and tribulations during his first year of high school – having a crush on Sam and hanging out with her and her boyfriend at parties, not letting others know that Patrick is gay and in a secret relationship with the football team’s quarterback, driving his sister to the women’s clinic to have an abortion, and dealing with his own issues and guilt about thinking he’s the reason his aunt died in a car wreck on Christmas sever years prior. The book ends shortly before Charlie begins his sophomore year of school.

APA Reference: Chbosky, S. (1999). The perks of being a wallflower. New York, NY: MTV Books/Pocket Books.

Impressions: A friend told me to read this book when I was a senior in high school. I don’t remember what I read back then, but I know this was not one I picked up that year. That’s one reason I chose it for this unit. I can see why this book has been challenged and landed on the ALA’s banned book list. There is profanity, sex, rape, drug and alcohol use by minors, ideas challenging religion, and a same-sex relationship. The story is written to really reflect teenagers, the way they talk and act, and their lifestyle, so I feel like it is an honest look into their lives. The subject matter is serious, but some kids and teenagers go through this stuff in their daily lives, and I feel like Perks can show them that they are not alone, and that they should not feel shame for who they are or some of the things they go through. If I had read this book as a 17-year-old, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much as I did while reading it as a 30-year-old. I’m more mature to handle the content, and I enjoyed and appreciated this book. I looked up the person who told me to read it and told them that I finally did read the book, and it was nice to finally be able to talk with them about it.

Professional Review: Goldsmith, F. (1999). [Review of the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by S. Chbosky]. School Library Journal, June 1999. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/

Gr 9 Up. An epistolary narrative cleverly places readers in the role of recipients of Charlies [sic] unfolding story of his freshman year in high school. From the beginning, Charlies [sic] identity as an outsider is credibly established. It was in the spring of the previous school year that his best friend committed suicide and now that his class has gone through a summer of change, the boy finds that he has drifted away from old friends. He finds a new and satisfying social set, however, made up of several high school seniors, bright bohemians with ego-bruising insights and, really, hearts of gold. These new friends make more sense to Charlie than his star football-playing older brother ever did and they are able to teach him about the realities of life that his older sister doesnt [sic] have the time to share with him. Grounded in a specific time (the 1991/92 academic year) and place (western Pennsylvania), Charlie, his friends, and family are palpably real. His grandfather is an embarrassing bigot; his new best friend is gay; his sister must resolve her pregnancy without her boyfriends [sic] support. Charlie develops from an observant wallflower into his own man of action, and, with the help of a therapist, he begins to face the sexual abuse he had experienced as a child. This report on his life will engage teen readers for years to come.

Library Uses: This book would be good to showcase during banned book week, and have a discussion on why it has been challenged.

Module Nine: Geektastic

Book Review Blog, Episode Nine – Geektastic: Stories From the Nerd Herd.

Book Summary: Multiple authors each write one story with a nerd/geek motif/theme. Each story is broken up by a comic/illustration that is drawn by one of two illustrators. Some examples of the short stories include: a Jedi waking up next to a Klingon in a hotel room while at a sci-fi convention, four nerds teach a cheerleader all about geekdom, a male transports a briefcase full of money via train while being accompanied by his ex-girlfriend, a young teenager runs away from home to talk to a fantasy novel author about why he’s writing love letters to his mother, a baton twirler moving from the Midwest to Hawaii, a silent giant who participates in live action role playing, and a dysfunctional quiz bowl team.

APA Reference: Black, H., & Castellucci, C. (Eds.). (2010). Geektastic : stories from the nerd herd. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Impressions: This book reminded me how great short stories are. The content hot home since I am a video game nerd, so I understood many of the pop culture allusions and references most the stories had. I did not like every short story. It may have been the way it was written, like the one about a 15-year-old female from Illinois runs away to a hotel in New York to meet a 34-year-old man she’s been chatting with on the Internet. The author wrote that story like letters or emails to the man, Paul Zell, and repeats the name Paul Zell an obnoxious amount of times. Other stories just had too much real life drama, like the last story about two pre-teen friends drifting apart and not going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show together every Friday. The protagonist has a bad home life, is getting to that rebellious age where she’s disrespectful to her parents, and does not know how to live with her brother who has special needs. SPOILER! The story ends with her best friend crying on the protagonist’s porch after losing her virginity. The other stories were endearing and had positive lessons while some of them just point out that life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it. Overall, I think the book shows readers that despite our interests in different sub-cultures, we’re all just people looking for universal things like love, happiness, and acceptance. I enjoyed this collection, and it makes me want to read most of the authors’ full novels.

Professional Review: (2009, September/October) [Review of the book Geektastic : Stories From the Nerd Herd, edited by H. Black & C. Castellucci]. Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2009. Retrieved from http://www.hbook.com/

Black (The Good Neighbors: Kin, rev. 1/09) and Castellucci (Janes in Love, rev. 11/08) edit this short story collection celebrating all things geek. From the opening story (co-written by the editors) of a star-crossed hookup (she’s Star Trek; he’s Star Wars) to Libba Bray’s poignant account of a Rocky Horror regular coming to terms with family problems and changing friendships, the collection captures the obsession, alienation, anachronism, and intellectualism of what it means to embrace geekdom, in high school and beyond. M. T. Anderson’s contemplative “The King of Pelinesse,” about a boy who visits the sci-fi author with whom he believes his mother had an affair, is a standout, as is Scott Westerfeld’s hard-boiled “Definitional Chaos,” an action-filled mind game that pits the protagonist against an ex-girlfriend of dubious morals in a meditation on the intersections of good and evil, law and chaos. Character references and technical terms are bandied about with little or no explanation, giving an insider feel to the collection — especially apparent in the one-page “How to…” comics separating each story — that could limit its audience. But Geektastic explores universal themes in original settings, and its talented authors bring transparent, infectious enthusiasm to what is obviously a cherished topic.

Library Uses: Could be used as a real aloud with older middle school students and/or high school students. Some of the stories are short enough to do that with this age group, and it’s something they don’t get that often in the library during those school years.

Module Eight: The Christopher Killer

Book Review Blog, Episode Eight – The Christopher Killer : A Forensic Mystery.

Book Summary: Cameryn Mahoney is a 17-year-old high school student who is being raised by her dad while they both live with their grandmother in the small town of Silverton, Colorado. Cameryn has taken an interest in forensic science, which is fitting since her dad, Patrick, is the town’s coroner. Early in the story, Cameryn asks Patrick if she can be his assistant since he is overworked without help. He thinks it will be a good idea, and so the two leave to pick up a body from a hotel. Cameryn does so well with her first assignment that her dad calls her again for help with a possible murder victim. The body is lying face down, and Cameryn recognizes the victim when the Mahoneys turn the body over. While at the autopsy, Cameryn discovers a small St. Christopher medal on the victim’s body, which means the Christopher Killer claimed his fourth victim. To top it all off, a psychic claims he knew about the murder before the police found the body, so now he’s on his way to Silverton to assist the police with the investigation. Now, Cameryn faces an internal conflict because her beliefs in facts and science are being challenged by this psychic who knows things about her and the case that he shouldn’t. Can Cameryn solve the case to get justice for her friend, and can she do it before the Christopher Killer strikes again?

APA Reference: Ferguson, A. (2006). The Christopher killer : a forensic mystery. New York, NY: Viking.

Impressions: I finished the book in a day because of how well written and compelling it is. The characters are believable, the forensic science aspects are written factually without being gory or graphic (the author explains how she did her research for those parts of the book, including attending autopsies). The mystery of the Christopher Killer isn’t the only puzzle in the story, either. The new deputy is young and kind of shady, and Patrick hates him without telling Cameryn why. There is also the psychic and how he knows things he shouldn’t. It leaves the reader wondering if he actually has the gift of second sight, or is he just that good of a con artist. The ending, although very slightly farfetched, is still plausible, and Ferguson did not throw in an unknown factor to pin everything on; each answer has a reasonable explanation. I definitely enjoyed the book and will read the other three books in Ferguson’s Forensic Mystery series to see what happens to Cameryn as she continues her goal of becoming a forensic pathologist.

Professional Review: (2006, July). [Review of the book The Christopher Killer : A Forensic Mystery, by A. Ferguson]. Booklist 102, 21. Retrieved from https://www.booklistonline.com/

Gr. 7-10. Ferguson’s latest mystery-thriller introduces 17-year-old Cameryn Mahoney, who has the annoying habit of challenging her elders (most of whom seem to deserve it). She also has the unshakable desire to be a forensic pathologist–and a very strong stomach. The latter comes in handy during the autopsy of a friend, the latest victim of a serial killer whose signature is a St. Christopher’s medal left with each body. The vivid autopsy scenes are surprising, given the fairly routine story line and agreeable, though certainly not complex, characters. It’s Cammie’s energy and chutzpa [sic] that really propel the story, and readers will sympathize with her as she struggles to decide whether to keep faith with science or be sucked in by a charismatic psychic. This is worlds away from the Nancy Drew college series in terms of gore, but CSI fans won’t blink twice.

Library Uses: This book could be used to highlight realistic fiction, possible career choices, or it could be used to conduct some kind of library crime scene investigation.

Module Seven: Let Me Play

Book Review Blog, Episode Seven – Let Me Play : The Story of Title IX, the Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America.

Book Summary: The book details the time before, during, and after Title IX legislation went into effect. Before Title IX, there was no real future for female athletes, even decorated Olympians. Opportunities for education, post-graduate education, and jobs in science, math, and technology fields were just as scarce all based on gender. Title IX is passed after lots of debate and lobbying, and the landscape of athletics for females in public schools and colleges begin to sprout and grow. The law has been challenged several times, and is still controversial, but it’s a law that opened the door for so many intelligent, talented, athletic, and gifted women.

APA Reference: Blumenthal, K. (2005). Let me play : The story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Impressions: This book made me angry. I felt like I was seething the whole time I read it. It is not the book itself, but the fact that people were treated so differently just because of their gender. I was born in 1987, so Title IX had been in effect for 15 years, so the idea that a female was not allowed to attend a college or university, be hired as a lawyer or doctor, or play the same sports men did was just a foreign concept to me. It enraged me to read about these injustices and how they continue to persist in one way or another. Like the author said, Title IX is a law, and laws can be repealed, so women could lose all of these rights that should be guaranteed to EVERYONE! The book is well-written and researched, there are lots of photos that show women fighting for their equal rights, as well as the key players in implementing and advocating for Title IX. The main text is broken up by profiles of prominent figures throughout the history of the law, outstanding athletes and scholars, and statistics showing the increase of female participation in high school and collegiate athletics. I did feel like the author was a little condescending toward the reader at times by spelling out simple concepts, but that could be me misperceiving it. Overall, this is a great book that opened my eyes even further to one of the many blights that almost every non-white straight male in America faces.

Professional Review: (2005, September 12). [Review of the book Let me play : The story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America, by K. Blumenthal]. Publisher’s Weekly. Retrieved from https://subs.publishersweekly.com/

Three books demonstrate a host of individuals who offer inspiration. Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America by Karen Blumenthal, author of Six Days in October, explains how pivotal the year 1972 was for women, with both the passage of the ERA and Title IX. As Blumenthal points out, Title IX was not just about sports. She describes the law’s impact on everything from basketball to science and math classes. Profiles of individuals give the dramatic changes a human face, from Myra Bradwell, the first female lawyer in America, to Ruth Ginsburg’s valiant struggle to get into a law firm, let alone make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A Title IX timeline and a “Then and Now” contrast demonstrates how far females have come in American society.

Library Uses: This book could be used as a showcase in March for Women’s History Month. It can also be used to start discussions about Civil and Equal Rights, females in sports, and females in education.

 

Module Six: The Wednesday Wars

Book Review Blog, Episode Six – The Wednesday Wars.

Book Summary: Holling Hoodhood starts seventh grade in Long Island, New York, during 1967-1968 (Vietnam is the backdrop). The book gets its name because Holling’s classmates are either Catholic or Jewish, so they go to their respective churches for religious classes on Wednesday afternoons. Holling is a Presbyterian and does not have religious classes, so he is stuck with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. In the beginning he completes menial tasks, like clapping the chalk out of erasers, but eventually Mrs. Baker assigns several Shakespearean plays. After completing them, Holling and Mrs. Baker discuss them, and then he either takes a test or writes an essay over the play. Throughout the course of the school year, Holling reads multiple plays, gets a part in a community play, is made fun of by New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, meets and plays baseball with two nicer, classier New York Yankees, improves his relationship with his older sister, and finally learns to be his own person instead of what his father expects him to be.

APA Reference: Schmidt, G. D. (2009). The Wednesday wars. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Impressions: The Wednesday Wars starts off slowly, but then the characters develop and the story becomes compelling. The book is considered historical fiction, but I feel like the setting blends smoothly with the story because the author does not focus solely on the setting. The historical facts the author sprinkles in were fun to read and research in order to verify them, like the score of the Opening Day game between the Yankees and California Angels. My mom was around the same age as the protagonist in 1967-68, so I asked her about how accurately the author portrayed life for a seventh grader back then, and he succeeded in doing so. My mom described the duck and cover drills she would have to do for 15-20 minutes on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, just like Holling. I want the facts in my historical fiction to be accurate, and the author did not disappoint. Despite the slow start, I really enjoyed the book and how it takes the reader through the lives of its characters through their highs and lows.

Professional Review: (2010, May 10) [Review of the book The Wednesday Wars, by G. D. Schmidt]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/

It’s 1967, and on Wednesdays, every Jewish kid in Holling Hoodhood’s class goes to Hebrew School, and every Catholic kid goes to Catechism. Holling is Presbyterian, which means that he and Mrs. Baker are alone together every Wednesday–and she hates it just as much as he does. What unfolds is a year of Wednesday Shakespeare study, which, says Mrs. Baker, “is never boring to the true soul.” Holling is dubious, but trapped. Schmidt plaits world events into the drama being played out at Camillo Junior High School, as well as plenty of comedy, as Holling and Mrs. Baker work their way from open hostility to a sweetly realized friendship. Holling navigates the multitudinous snares set for seventh-graders–parental expectations, sisters, bullies, girls–with wry wit and the knowledge that the world will always be a step or two ahead of him. Schmidt has a way of getting to the emotional heart of every scene without overstatement, allowing the reader and Holling to understand the great truths swirling around them on their own terms. It’s another virtuoso turn by the author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2005). (Fiction. 10-14)

Library Uses: Fact-checking. This book could be used with other historical fiction novels in order for students to fact-check them. The key events would probably have to be listed on a piece of paper in order to save time, but only by page numbers. The student opens the book to those pages, reads them, writes down the event/fact/statistic, and then researches it on the computer to make sure it’s accurate. It would be helpful to have books that aren’t historically accurate in order to show the importance of accuracy in historical fiction. The students could then present their findings to their classmates. This could be done in groups or individually.

Module Five: Gregor the Overlander

Book Review Blog, Episode Five – Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander.

Book Summary: When Gregor’s little sister, Boots, falls down a hole in their apartment building’s laundry room, Gregor goes in after her. Instead of falling a few inches or feet, Boots and Gregor fall for what feels like five minutes, landing in the Underland. Some giant roaches (known as crawlers) happen upon the two, and they take Boots and Gregor to the human city of Regalia where they meet princess Luxa and her grandfather Vikus, among others. After trying to escape and fighting two big rats (gnawers), Gregor and Boots are rescued by Regalians and returned to their city. It is there that Vikus tells Gregor he and his sister are the two Overlanders mentioned in the Prophecy of Gray, and that he will help end the war between humans and gnawers or see Regalia destroyed. This is where the real quest begins as Gregor has to travel the Underland to recruit some of its denizens (two humans [Over-and-Underlanders], bats [fliers], crawlers, spiders [spinners], one gnawer [who is a spy], and one who is lost [who turns out to be Gregor’s father who disappeared more than two years ago]). It also says four out of the 12 will die during the quest. Can Gregor find his father, end the war between the humans and gnawers, and save Regalia? This is the first book in a series of five.

APA Reference: Collins, S. (2004). Gregor the Overlander. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Impressions: Similar to The Hunger Games, Collins hooks me into the story at the end of the first chapter. She developed and crafted a wonderful world with rich characters that were fun to read about. I got attached to the characters and cried when one of them heroically sacrificed themselves to save the rest of the questers. Some of the Prophecy of Gray was easy to decipher, but some was still a mystery up to the point where its meaning was revealed, but it was to try and solve it while reading. I could go on and on about how wonderful the book is, but I’ll cut it short by saying I cannot wait until I can read the next four books in the Underland Chronicles.

Professional Review: Del Negro, J. M. (2004). Gregor the overlander [Review of the book Gregor the Overlander, by S. Collins]. Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 57(5), 185. Retrieved from http://bccb.ischool.illinois.edu/

…The accouterments of successful fantasy-a unique setting, a believable social hierarchy, and colorful but rounded characterizations-are here, and Collins makes the best of them. She firmly establishes both her characters and her world before sending her players on their dangerous path. Betrayals, revelations, and shifts of alliance keep the tension high, and the action is almost nonstop. There have been a number of fantasies about secret civilizations that exist beneath the streets of urban centers; this lively title is a splendid addition to the ranks.

Library Uses: This book would be a good introduction to the Hero’s Quest archetype or fantasy book, or it could be used to highlight famous authors’ early works.

Module Four: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Book Review Blog, Episode Four – Chris Crutcher’s Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.

Book Summary: Eric Calhoune and Sarah Byrnes form a friendship in middle school based on both of them being outcasts; Eric being fat and Sarah Byrnes having severe burn scars over her hands, arms, and face. Now it’s the second semester of their senior year and Sarah Byrnes is catatonic in Sacred Heart Hospital’s mental ward. One of the nurses tells Eric that talking to her may be the only way to bring her out of her current state. Eric has to do this while attending varsity swim practice and classes. The story focuses on Eric’s Contemporary American Thoughts class, taught by his swim coach, Ms. Lemry. Some of his classmates include his best guy friend and swimming teammate, Steve Ellerby, teammate and rival, Mark Brittain, and Eric’s crush, Jody Mueller, who is also Mark’s girlfriend. The class, referred to as CAT, focuses on controversial topics, like abortion. Eric and Steve use CAT and swim practice to antagonize Mark throughout the story (the class and what happens in it is a big factor in the story). During Eric’s visits with Sarah Byrnes, another nurse tells him to try and find another familiar face to help her pull through, and this begins Eric’s journey to uncover how Sarah Brynes really got all of her scars.

APA Reference: Crutcher, C. (2003). Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York, NY: HarperTempest.

Impressions: The story is compelling, and I ended up reading it in a day. The pacing is good with flashbacks and backstory interspersed with the present. Since the book is so dialogue heavy in CAT, it reminded me of Kevin Smith’s early films (Clerks, Mallrats, etc.), and I think that’s one reason I enjoyed it. It felt like Crutcher definitely inserted his own opinions into his main characters, specifically in regards to abortion, Christianity, and secularism in school. One part I really enjoyed was Steve’s father standing up for him and Eric to an assistant principal who’s had it out for Eric since middle school. Overall a great book that I highly recommend.

Professional Review: Bushman, J. H., & Bushman, K. P. (1994) Books for the Teenage Reader: The Tradition Continues: New Releases from Well-Known Authors [Review of the book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by C. Crutcher]. The English Journal, 83(1), 78–80. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/

…Typical of other Crutcher books, readers will be “told the truth” about decisions, consequences, fear, and pain in another tightly woven plot which addresses issues of abuse, abortion, commitment, and friendship. Complementing these serious issues, Crutcher, as usual, injects wonderful humor as well as positive adult role models, displaying hope and coping skills necessary for dealing with tough, realistic situations.

Library Uses: This book can be used for reluctant readers, books with athletes, and controversial topics.