Archive for the ‘Classic Literature/Literary Fiction’ Category

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I want to say goodbye to Banned Books Week with the most recent list of books that are challenged in schools and communities. Here are the top ten of 2011. I’ve read many and think they are pretty good books. A few are for younger kids, so not ones we’d collect for high school libraries. However, the age-appropriate books are in the library for you to check out.

I found one surprise on the list. Although To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged consistently since its publication in 1960, it’s not always in the top ten. So, Frosh, enjoy reading one of the most banned or challenged books ever with your English teacher!

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle

    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa

    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler

    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint

  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar

    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

    Reasons: offensive language; racism


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Adult Books for Teens: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Wall-sized televisions that simulate interaction and communication with the person existing within the confines of the ‘living’ room don’t seem much like science fiction anymore, but when Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the late 1940s, he anticipated much that has since come to pass. And although the technology—ear buds with wireless communication capabilities, robotic creatures with homing devices—make this fascinating science fiction, the reason this novel has remained popular and very much worth reading is that it both warns of then contemporary threats to liberty and anticipates a future when communication is just a constant stream of shallow information, without any real meaning. The onslaught makes it impossible to think deeply.

The novel is titled after the temperature at which pages of a book will burn. In interviews, Bradbury says that he asked around about what that temperature was and got an answer from the LA Fire Department, and hoped that it was right.

Montag is a fireman, but in Bradbury’s vision of the future, firemen don’t put out fires; they create them. In fact, it is against the law to read books, and so anyone caught having books in the home has his or her house burnt down by the fire department and is then carted off to prison.

As the novel opens, Montag meets a teenage girl, his neighbor, who enjoys life, asks many questions, is intuitive about him and reads. She fascinates him. Montag is also fascinated by the fact that some people will risk their homes in order to read. When he goes to start a fire at a home of a woman who refuses to leave, who decides that she will die in the fire with her books, Montag can’t put it out of his mind. He does what must tempt any fireman—he steals a book. And then his life really explodes. Because in reading, he finds a connection to others, to their thoughts and hopes. Books are living documents of human struggle.

I realized recently that it was already time for celebrating ‘banned books,’ and that I had been too busy to do much about it. So, I thought it would be fun to have another look at Fahrenheit 451. I think the novel is paced differently than some novels written today. There is a lot of action and a lot of danger; but the climax comes earlier and the resolution is a bit longer. I found this interesting—that the resolution was given so much weight, that it really did matter as much as the action.

And yes, Fahrenheit 451 is a living document of human struggle, a book that has stood the test of time and will engage the reader with its poetic language and its fast action. The more sinister elements of the totalitarian society are still, unfortunately, fresh warnings.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson 

Some of you have said you’re tired of teen horror that focuses a bit too much on romance. You want something creepier, but you’re not sure if you have the time to read the nearly 1,000 page Stephen Kings.

I have a book for you.

The Haunting of Hill House is creepy in the best sense. Jackson is known as a master of horror and plot twists. If you’ve read her short story “The Lottery,” you’ll have an idea of what she can do with the unexpected, the shock factor.

Here, four young adults are selected by Dr. Montague, an occult scholar who wants his research taken seriously, to spend a few weeks in Hill House. The house is reported to be haunted, and no one who has rented it has ever stayed more than a few days. Nonetheless, they always give rational reasons for leaving, as if they think people will find them crazy if they admit to the haunting.

Of the four young people, Eleanor, grabs the attention of the reader immediately. She had to care for her ailing, unappreciative mother until her mother died. She is bound to her sister and her sister’s family and must share a car with them. Eleanor, who has been selected to stay at Hill House because she had a documented event with poltergeists in her childhood, feels that the trip will be a chance to break free of the patronizing behavior of her sister and her sister’s husband. When they refuse to allow her to take the car, Eleanor takes it early in the morning before anyone else has awoken. The reader wants her to escape, and cheers her through her trip toward the house.

Once she arrives, she befriends the others. It looks like she is finally going to get what she desires from life. But Hill House isn’t haunted in the traditional sense of having ghosts. It is a personality of its own—and it wants Eleanor. Though all the others see the evidence of this, they pull away from Eleanor, accusing her of creating some of the frightening and bizarre episodes.

And for someone as fragile as Eleanor, dealing with the house alone is more than a challenge.

The Haunting of Hill House is pretty short—a few hundred pages—and Jackson doesn’t waste your time with extraneous detail. What starts as a very ordinary trip and an opportunity to find friends ends in spine chilling creeps.

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One in an occasional series of topics that are tough for adults to address with teens.

Since we’ve recently had anti-bullying assemblies at both of my schools, I’ve been talking up some of the best books in our libraries about bullying. You might want to check one out:

Teen Classics:

I’ve read and recommend all these.  Summaries are from the publisher. 

The Outsiders: According to Ponyboy, you’re either a Greaser or a Soc. Coming from the wrong side of town, he’s a Greaser and his high school rivals are the Socs, the kids who have the money, the attitude and can get away with anything. The Socs love to spend their time beating up the Greasers but Ponyboy and his friends know what to expect and stick together. But one night someone goes to far and Ponyboy’s world begins to crumble.

The Chocolate War: A high school freshman discovers the devastating consequences of refusing to join in the school’s annual fund raising drive and arousing the wrath of the school bullies.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Eric “Moby” Calhoune attempts to answer his best friend, Sarah Byrne’s, dramatic cry for help in dealing with a horrific event in her past.

Click here for the post on our new bullying books.

Click here for the post of bullying books that I’ve reviewed.

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What about mature teens who are asking for books that delve deeply into the difficult subjects they are grappling with? Do we sanitize reading too much for your age group? You are, after all, sprinting on the heels of adulthood.

The problem for those of us adults responsible for teaching you is that you have such a wide range of maturity. A freshman is usually very different from a senior. Some books that take on difficult subjects are welcome—a relief, really—to students who’ve had a tough go and need to have their experience validated. Those same books may upset certain parents who feel that reading about the seedier side of life encourages the reader to participate in it when s/he wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m not that sort of parent myself—my kids have always read widely, on every sort of subject—but I respect that most parents are trying to do the best they can for their kids in a world that’s hard to figure out.

Ultimately, I believe both you and your parents can make the right reading choices for you if you have a pretty good idea what books are about. So, I want to write periodically on books that cover difficult topics including violence and teenage sexuality. I want to show you books that deal explicitly with the subjects, but that have value—that help you do that mature grappling with the difficult world. And if you feel that the content of the book is too explicit, then the review will have helped you make your choice to find something more appropriate.

My first go at this is to reflect on books with violence. And I do intend to look at teen books that address violence, but while thinking about the subject, I couldn’t forget that—while rather a wimp myself—some of the absolutely best contemporary books I’ve read were breathtakingly violent.

All of those great, yet violent, books were by Cormac McCarthy, a man widely regarded as one of the country’s best living authors. I asked some English teachers whether they thought their students could read McCarthy and get something valuable from him or whether those students would just see the novels as endless rounds of murder and mayhem. Based on their answers—they believe teens can benefit from the books as the violence in them is not of the gratuitous sort found in current movies—I am going to start my series with them.

In discussing the use of violence in literature and teen reading, we need a common definition of “gratuitous.” If it the definition means that the violence is ‘unnecessary to tell the story’ rather than meaning ‘a very heavy dose,’ then McCarthy’s violence is not gratuitous. Nevertheless, it’s unrelenting. And his narrative often has a camera-eye quality in the sense that we learn what happens and are left to sort it out for ourselves. Sometimes the camera extends into people’s musing on life and fate (as it does with Sheriff Bell in No Country for Old Men), but even then, no moral judgment is made for you. You must figure it out on your own.

The question then, at your age, is: Can you read this kind of violence and be able to form your own judgments? If you haven’t had some good practice in critical thinking, then I really don’t think McCarthy’s books are for you. If you have had that practice, a second question to ask yourself is whether you enjoy the qualities of excellent storytelling, the mythic sweep of a great narrative, and some of the best imagery/pictures of landscapes that you will ever read? If so, give McCarty a try.

Blood Meridian: This book is an unflinchingly realistic portrayal of the some of the worst examples of lawlessness in the wild west of the nineteenth century. I grew up in a time when all westerns were of the John Wayne variety with strong, silent men forging a new America. For anyone who knows nothing other than that image, Blood Meridian is an excellent antidote.

The nineteenth century in America was a time of deep culture clash (but then, when isn’t that true?). Blood Meridian is historical fiction in that its subject is the Glanton Gang, scalp hunters who were paid by the Governor of Chihuahua, Mexico in 1849-50 to kill Comanche and Apache Indians. Those two tribes had raided Mexican towns, and Glanton received $200 per scalp, scalps being evidence that the Indians had been murdered. But, as the cliché goes, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine the possibilities. Considering that lots of folks in Mexico had black hair, when the Glanton Gang ran low on Apaches and Comanche to kill, they just started killing anyone they could get their hands on.

Gruesome? Absolutely. The Glanton Boys kill indiscriminately—men, women, children, old people. They pillage. They rape. One of the main characters, Judge Holden, is well educated, always curious, something of a botanist and purveyor of human nature. He is also pure evil, and the banality of his wickedness—the way is it just an ordinary part of his life—will highlight for the thoughtful reader the fact that the west was ‘won’ by groups of men who included demonic characters.

Critics compare Blood Meridian to many works of classic literature, some of which you’ve read in high school or will read in college—Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. There’s Huck Finn lighting out for the territory, but not in a way that Mark Twain’s satire makes you smile at our cultural foibles. It’s so straightforward and void of emotion that you may feel physically sick over man’s inhumanity to man. You might think of your sophomore literature, Lord of the Flies, because the gang is outside of the reach of the law for so long. Their instincts for hurting others take over just as the marooned boys’ did after the plane crash.

If you are seeking a book to read for a literary analysis paper, there’s much to go with here—conflicts include man v. man and man v. nature (the deserts of Mexico and the borderland between the US and Mexico are arid, brutal in their lack of food and water). Ultimately, for the mature reader with an iron stomach, Blood Meridian has value in helping him to be able to recognize the ‘heart of darkness’ within us.

No Country for Old Men is another story that takes place along the border between Mexico and Texas, but this one has a contemporary setting—and the lawlessness is also contemporary.

A man named Llewelyn Moss is out hunting and accidentally stumbles upon the carnage that has resulted from a drug deal gone bad. When he realizes that most of the dealers are dead in the cars and all the drugs are still there, he also knows that the drug money couldn’t be far off. Finding the (now dead) man who tried to get away with the suitcase with the millions, Llewelyn takes the case. Once he does so, the novel primarily follows three characters: Llewelyn Moss; Anton Chigurh, a true psychopath without any conscience or remorse, a hit man in pursuit of Moss; and Sheriff Bell, the lawman attempting to sort out the details and catch Chigurh. Bell’s sections of the novel are more monologues about both life in the past and the present and about the crime. He thinks of Chigurh as a sort of ghost because he is impossible to catch—but he’s real, and he’s out there.

In No Country for Old Men the universe is not a benevolent one, and if you think it’s just the bad guys who are killing off one another, or at least bad guys killing off folks whose greed gets them mixed up in the seedy side of life (like Moss), McCarthy wants to show you otherwise. The evil can be purely arbitrary—especially for Moss’s wife (Carla Jean), whose only connection to the madness, for which she pays dearly, is to have fallen in love with and married Moss.

Again, if you are looking for a novel to read for a literary analysis paper, there’s a lot here. You have the same man v. man and man v. nature as in Blood Meridian. You’ve also got the chance to discuss nihilism and morality.

More recently, McCarthy published The Road, and while it’s about a post-apocalyptic United States, surprisingly, I found more hope in it than in the two books above. I reviewed it earlier and you can read the review here.

OK, if you are saying, “Ms. Waddle, I am a mature person, and I know I need a dose of reality in my reading, but this is just way more than I can take at once,” then I recommend you start with McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, the first book of which is All the Pretty Horses. The title, while appropriate, is unfortunate in that teen guys will turn away from it, thinking it’s a sweet little book meant for girls. Ah—no.

I reviewed All the Pretty Horses here. If you are working on literary analysis or asking yourself the bigger questions, the novel makes you think: What’s in a national identity? What does it mean to be Mexican-America? Can someone be multicultural if he stems from European (Anglo) stock but has a Mexican nanny who teachers him Spanish, and later crosses the border to live in Mexico for a period of time?

If you want to read critical analysis of McCarthy’s books, there are some good articles on the library’s database. You can click on these links, but you may need to type in your Ontario City Library card number to view the articles. (They are in the Literature Resource Center database.

Eaton, Mark A. “Dis(re)membered Bodies: Cormac McCarthy’s Border Fiction.” Modern Fiction Studies 49.1 (Spring 2003): 155-180. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 260.Detroit: Gale, 2009.Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.


“Blood Meridian.” Contemporary Literary Criticism Select.Detroit: Gale, 2008.Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.


Cooper, Lydia R. “‘He’s a psychopathic killer, but so what?’: Folklore and morality in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.” Papers on Language & Literature 45.1 (2009): 37+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.


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It’s 1949, and sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole plans to leave Texas after his grandfather’s funeral. His mother is selling the old family ranch, built in 1872. John Grady has a deep love of horses and the ranch life. If allowed, he would try to run the ranch himself, but his mother refuses to consider it. It is clear that he and his mother don’t get along, but that they love one another. John’s father, divorced from his mother, is dying. He and John get along well.

John sets out to Mexico with his friend, Lacy Rawlings. Before leaving, the two run into a girl John has dated. When Rawlings comments that girls aren’t worth the trouble John puts into them, John answers, “Yes, they are.” He seems a modern-day Romeo who will fall deeply and tragically for the right girl.

The two guys have many adventures on their way through Mexico. Of most significance is their meeting with the young Jimmy Belvins. Jimmy, riding a beautiful stolen horse, follows them, and trouble begins. On the run, Jimmy separates from the two older boys. John Grady and Lacey find work at the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcionin Coahuila. The owner, Don Hector Rocha y Villareal, treats them well and entrusts John Grady with breaking wild horses. But Grady is smitten with Alejandra of the black hair and blue eyes. When Alejandra’s great-aunt finds out that the two are star-crossed, she intervenes. She’s a philosophical woman and her stories of the Mexican Revolution and of life are fascinating for the reader. However, she knows what a bad reputation can do to a woman in Mexico, and has decided against John Grady. One day, seemingly out of the blue, John Grady and Lacey are arrested.

The adventures keep coming with jail, the reappearance of Jimmy Belvins the thief and more.

This book was recommended to me in way back time when I asked for ‘guys’ titles. Although I do think this will be a good read for high school guys—and lament the choice of a title, which I think guys will automatically turn away from—I also thoroughly enjoyed it myself. It has the stuff of a great bildungsroman (coming of age story)—an odyssey away from home, death of/break with the parents, a great romance, imprisonment, loss of the loved one, recovery of property, etc. Yet the language is poetic and the description vivid—it draws the reader to its rhythm. Conversations are often metaphysical without seeming unnatural. It’s a great read, and while hardly gentle—in fact, there’s lots of violence—it’s a way to ease into the stunning work of its author, Cormac McCarthy.

In a periodic series on difficult topics for teen reading (violence, teen sexuality, and the like), I’ll soon be posting on McCarthy’s work. Check back.

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Don’t lose those grade-level gains you worked so hard to make all year long!Reading over the summer prevents the traditional summer loss of reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. And it’s so easy—a virtually stress-free, fun way of learning. Just pick out a few good books and get started. I’ve put together a great list of summer books using recommendations from the best sources. I plan on reading and reviewing these books all summer long.

Join me! As you read, feel free to make comments on any of the books by clicking the comment link on the review. All of the books I’ve picked out are available in multiple copies from the Ontario City Library at both the Colony and Ovitt branches. And don’t forget—any that you read will count toward the Ontario City Library’s summer reading program, so you can pick up some prizes as you go. If the title of the book is hyperlinked, I’ve already reviewed it, and you can make comments now. For the titles that are not—I’m reading! Check back soon!

This summer’s theme:

Compassion and Camaraderie

(Life is full of bullies—let’s understand each other)

Laurie Halse Anderson





(Don’t miss Anderson’s moving poem/tribute to the readers of Speak. She reads it here.)

John Green

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

An Abundance of Katherines

Paper Towns

Looking for Alaska

(He’s a video blogger, too—see him here.)

Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why

Sarah Dessen

What Happened to Goodbye?

Lock and Key

Just Listen

Gayle Forman

If I Stay

Where She Went

. . .

Genre Fiction for Fun:


Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (sequel to Incarceron)

Fire by Kristin Cashore (This is the sequel to Graceling)

Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman

Sword Fighting and Combat

Ranger’s Apprentice Series by John Flanagan

Horror for Guys

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer


Heat by Mike Lupica

(and if you like the book, Mike Lupica has a lot of good sports books)

Historical Fiction

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Try a Classic:



Things I Just Want to Read for No Particular Reason:

Matched by Ally Condie (VOYA best Sci-Fi of the year)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender

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