Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein  code name verity

This is a must-read for teens. And for adults. It’s no more only a ‘teen book’ than The Book Thief is a ‘teen book.’ Never mind how the publisher describes it. Read it.

Since Code Name Verity deals with espionage, it is hard to give you too much summary—this is one book that will be ruined by that. So—I want you to trust me. There’s everything to love here. Oh—trust the Printz Award Committee as well—it’s a Printz Award Honor book.

The basics: A couple of young women become great friends in World War II. They are British—but don’t call the Scottish girl English of you’re in big trouble. One is a pilot, who normally taxis planes for the male pilots, who use them in battle. The other is a telegraph operator. But both are required to serve both secretly and dangerously as the war effort becomes a struggle and Nazi Germany may well overcome all of Europe. Britain is Europe’s final hope.

In a flight over Nazi-occupied France, the fighter plane that the young women are in crashes. The survivor is held captive by the Nazis and tortured for information.  She is required to write information down, but she includes a narrative of how she and her friend arrived at the moment of the crash.

This book is about true bravery—courage in the face of incredible adversity, and not just of the two main characters, but of all sorts of ordinary British servicemen and citizens as well as ordinary French folk who aid the French Resistance. And even a few double-agent Nazis.

Sometimes we say there is a breathtaking moment in a book or a movie, and we don’t mean it literally. In Code Name Verity, think of literally sucking in your breath at the shock and being unable to let it out.

Code Name Verity deals with individual acts, courage, and moral ambiguity.

High school housekeeping: I recommend this book for all readers. You’ll learn something about WWII in Europe and the roles of both women and men. The afterword by the author, where she tells us about how she did her research, and how she decided which scenes would be credible and which scenes would have to be left out,  is great stuff. You can use this as a fictional springboard to do your own research on many issues from WW II—the Royal Air Force, the French Resistance, women in WW II, fighter pilots, Britain during the war, etc.

A little note on the use of the word ‘fag’ in the novel: As you are American teens, you may wonder at the word ‘fag’ used throughout the book—how people are trading them, giving them as gifts, etc. No worries—in Britain (and I believe this is still true) ‘fag’ is a common term for cigarette. In fact, there’s a history behind that use and the derogatory use of the word for a gay man. You could research it. Very sad.

Read Full Post »

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick  silver linings

Pat Peoples seems like the sweetest man on earth, but for some reason he’s coming home from a mental institution to live with his parents—in his mid-thirties—and he completely loses it when he hears Kenny G music.

Pat thinks he has been away for a few months. Actually it’s been four years. He thinks that he is experiencing “apart time” from his wife, and that if he can control his temper (‘it’s more important to be kind than to be right’), and stay on his rigorous exercise program and lose weight, he will win her back. Because, after all, his life is like a movie created by God. It will have the silver lining of a reunion with Nikki.

In trying to understand Nikki, Pat is reading all of the books that she teachers to her high school English classes. He’s surprised at how negative and depressing they are. As a former English teacher, I laughed at Pat’s comments on books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They don’t have the kind of silver linings Pat expects form life, the kind that ought to be examples for kids.

At home, the silver lining also remains hidden. Things are not going as Pat planned despite hours of daily weightlifting, regular visits with a psychiatrist, and all that reading, Nikki isn’t back on the scene. But another woman, who at first seems like a nymphomaniac but is grieving in her own dysfunctional way, is following him on his long runs. Meanwhile, the mood of the Peoples household, and particularly Pat’s father, swings with the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Pat’s dad is emotionally distant and unforgiving.

So where’s the silver lining? It’s not the one Pat was looking for, but it’s there. And I loved going on the journey with Pat to find it. Good, heartwarming stuff that embraces dysfunctional people of all kinds.

High school housekeeping: I’m always hoping that high school students will read adult books because they often (though certainly not always) juggle more issues, have more challenging vocabulary and less certain endings—like real life. I think Silver Linings Playbook is a good choice for moving into adult fiction. It’s just slightly longer than the typical YA fiction, but shorter than much adult fiction. It’s funny. You’ll like the main character, the story, and the pace. You’ll like that you can compare it to the movie. In addition, Matthew Quick writes YA fiction as well—and we have his stuff in our library. He was a high school teacher at one time, and has a good sense of what entertains and informs you. As mentioned above, The Silver Linings Playbook has a humorous vein about the books read in high school English classes. I really think it would be fun to have a ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ class and read this novel first, then read all the novels mentioned in it—and compare students’ reactions to the book to Pat’s reactions.

Read Full Post »

 reason to breathe    Reason to Breathe, by Rebecca Donovan

I was talking to another teacher at Chaffey High, Mrs. Vanderbeck (who used to work at Colony as well), about the bullying books I was reading this year. She told me about one she thought was great, so I asked her to write a guest blog post and share the book with you. Here it is!

I just finished a book, Reason to Breathe, by Rebecca Donovan.  It’s about bullying and physical abuse, but from the adults that are supposed to look out for you.  Emily, “Emma” has worked really hard to create a facade of indifference to all the students around her.  She is counting the days to her “liberation”. The day when she graduates from high school and is able to go to college. 

Emma is a straight A student, editor of the school newspaper, is a star soccer and basketball player, all the while hiding a terrible secret.  Her best friend, Sara, knows that things are not perfect at Emma’s home, but she doesn’t know the lengths Emma has gone to protect her little cousins.  In spite of her best efforts, she falls in love with Evan Matthews, a new student to her school, who won’t take “No” for an answer. The book is graphic, sad, and yet allows the reader to feel Emma’s annoyance, curiosity, interest and finally the love she thought was not meant for her, at least not in her current situation. I really enjoyed it. It’s a fast read. I am going to put it out for my students so they might read it during SSR. –Mrs. Vanderbeck

High school housekeeping: I looked and I have one copy at Chaffey, none at Colony. So I’m adding it to my ‘purchase ASAP’ list. I also see that it is the first book in a series, so if you also enjoy it, I’ll get the sequels. –Ms. W.

Read Full Post »

 Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers   some girls

 

Regina has bullied other girls all through high school. She’s popular. She’s Anna’s best friend. And Anna is the queen bee of the Hallowell High, calling all the shots, deciding who’s in and who’s out. What separates Anna from the typical queen bee is her sheer pleasure in hurting other people. She wants other students to be afraid of her.  She wants to see them suffer the humiliations she doles out. But she also doesn’t want to get her hands soiled. So she lets others do the dirty work, with the reward that they can continue to be her friend. Regina has done a lot to stay Anna’s best friend, and for three years, she thinks it’s been worth it. But all that changes one night at Josh’s party when everyone except Regina is drunk.

Regina is the designated driver, a role she hates because she’s so bored watching everyone making fools of themselves. But when she tries to rouse the drunken Anna from the den floor to take her home, Anna can’t be moved. Instead, Anna’s wasted boyfriend, Donnie, tries to rape Regina.

And here Regina makes her big mistake. She runs to Kara’s house. Kara who had been too sick to go to the party. Kara, whom Regina has always disrespected. The Kara that Regina was always putting in her place. So although Kara promises to help—and tells Regina she should stay quiet about the whole thing so that she doesn’t awaken Anna’s anger—she does just the opposite.

When Regina gets to school on Monday, she finds out about the rumors. There is nothing for her to do. Anna has frozen her out of the popular group, ruined her reputation and replaced her with Kara. Having the word ‘whore’ written on her locker is just the beginning of a series of more and more vicious ‘pranks’ that turn violent. The whole school is invited to an “IH8RA” website.

There’s no one that Regina can turn to, as she has alienated and hurt so many people by doing Anna’s bidding. She’s treated other people almost as badly as she is being treated now. That makes it hard to sympathize with her. What has she done to Liz to make her have a breakdown?

Yet one of the people Regina hurt is willing to give her another chance. That’s Michael, a loner who spends a lot of time writing in a journal. How does Regina endanger him just by hanging out with him?

“Do something.” Regina always thinks to herself. She wants to fix things. She wants to learn not to care what the popular group thinks. But her solutions often backfire because Anna is so good at being so bad. And because Regina doesn’t trust any adult enough to confine in them. It looks like she’s not going to be able to save Michael anymore than she can save herself.

High school housekeeping: It’s my goal to read many ‘bullying books’ this year. Although all the titles I read over the summer are good, they seem to appeal to a specific audience or have a supernatural element to them. Some Girls Are is the first that deals with real problems and allows them to have the worse possible outcomes.  It has broad appeal—I think this is the one that everybody will be telling friends to read. I hope that none of you have ever had to deal with anyone as vicious as Anna or Kara, but I bet a lot of readers will recognize their type. Mean girls to the nth degree.

Read Full Post »

this is what

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

 

I’ve already said that I needed to walk away from the bullying books for a couple of weeks. With school starting, I wanted to read something upbeat. I don’t think I could have made a better choice than This is What Happy Looks Like.

 

Ellie lives in a small town in Maine. One day she gets an email from a stranger asking her to walk Wilbur. As a dog lover herself, she responds and lets the sender know about the mistake. Well, Wilbur is not a dog, but a pig—yes, just like in Charlotte’s web.

 

What Ellie doesn’t know is that the sender is Graham Larkin, a teen movie star and countrywide heartthrob. Because the two are strangers, they joke about the pig and then realize that they like the conversation. They write back and forth for months. Graham has been having a hard time making deep connections with others due to his fame. Even his parents act strange now that he has hit the big time. So, as he continues to write to Ellie, Graham decides to remain anonymous. When the venue for his next film falls through, Graham gets the director to shoot the movie in Ellie’s hometown.

 

What fun for Ellie, right? To find out that the guy she has a long-distance crush on is actually a star? But, there’s the catch. Ellie and her mother have a family secret. They need to stay out of the limelight because any interest would draw attention to her U.S. senator father—who, as a married man, had an affair with Ellie’s mom years before. Ellie hasn’t even told her best friend about this, and she hasn’t seen her father in years. Now it looks like he’ll be a candidate for president.

 

Smith does a great job showing the spark—the chemistry—between Graham and Ellie. We get why they enjoy one another so much. And they are both fully-drawn characters, people we feel we know. We like their intimate conversations, we like the way they treat one another. We’re rooting for them.

 

And even if things can’t work out like they do in the movies—well, this is what happy looks like. Enjoy.

High school housekeeping: Don’t let the length of this book scare you. Many of the pages just have the text of short emails.

Read Full Post »

       The Signal by Ron signalCarlson

 

I needed a little break from reading those ‘bullying books’ and wanted to read an adult book. So I decided to go for The Signal because I knew Ron Carlson to be an excellent short story writer, and I figured this slim novel would be just as good.

 

The Signal is great reading, and I think teens who may have tired of YA formula romances will like this novel a lot. Adults should love it. It’s such good writing. While reading, I kept thinking this is what Hemingway would have written if he’s had a better understanding of women, been less of an ego. Carlson is something like Cormac McCarthy minus a lot of the violence. (But not minus all of the violence.) There’s just all this beauty in the world at the same time that danger is approaching and a relationship is going to pieces. To pull all three of those elements together and not waste words is quite an achievement.

 

Mack and Vonnie are taking their tenth annual backpacking and fishing trip in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. They’d been married, but have recently divorced. This is to be their last trip together although Mack is hoping somehow to make a connection with Vonnie. But he’s messed up so badly recently. His mistakes began with the good intention of saving the ranch that had been in his family for generations. This made me think of how adults always told me, when I was young, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It was a common aphorism.

 

In The Signal, Mack has landed in a sort of hell on earth, never mind an afterlife. He has worked for shady characters, not questioning the drug deals that he must’ve known his employer was setting up. He’s been involved with a broken woman, hurting both her and Vonnie. Finally, he started working for a man his father knew, someone making a lot of money in what seems to be unofficial government operations.

 

When things continue to go badly for Mack, he, in a drunken rage, attacked the car of Vonnie’s new boyfriend, and ended up in jail.

 

Now, on his trip in the Wind River Mountains, he hopes to make a lot of money by finding something for that unofficial government operator—something that crashed landed and needs to be recovered. He’s bit off more than he can chew. And considering the enemies he’s made over the last several years, there’s more at stake in this trip to the wilderness than he understands.

High school housekeeping: The Signal is a short and powerful adult novel. It’s full of danger, the opening of old wounds in a complicated relationship, and life in the outdoors. It shows the world from a guy’s point of view, one who has really messed up, but one with whom we sympathize. I’d recommend it to anyone, but if you are a guy who doesn’t read a lot and is ready (or being compelled by a teacher) to read a novel, this would be a good choice. You’ll care about Mack and the people around him. Your teacher will be impressed by your good taste in literature.  🙂

Read Full Post »

Fanboy The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga

Fanboy puts up with the bullying he receives throughout his sophomore year of high school by hanging on to a few things he regards as good: his friend Cal—a popular jock, but also secretly a comic book fanatic; his late-night writing and illustrating of an original comic book which he hopes to have published; the knowledge that he’s the smartest kid in his school and can leave all his tormentors behind in two years; and a bullet he carries every day, one he uses as a sort of worry stone.

It seems that Fanboy will just continue his miserable existence with his pregnant and self-involved mom and his stepfather, whom he calls the ‘step-fascist.’ To ease his suffering, he keeps a list of all the people who have done him wrong and sometime fantasizes about school shootings in which they are hurt. But one day he receives an email from Kyra—Goth Girl—questioning why he puts up with the school bullying. She has images of him being repeatedly slugged in PE class while the teachers all stand in a corner and talk. Suddenly, Fanboy has a second friend, one he can claim in public.

But Kyra is one messed-up girl. She lies out of habit and has dark secrets. She is volatile and often irrational, getting into arguments with Fanboy that result in wildly inappropriate behaviors, cutting him off, and then reappearing in his life without explanation. Yet she understands Fanboy’s creative drive and his insights about the hollow experience of his education. She both helps and hinders Fanboy.

What Fanboy learns about coping and about standing up for himself against his tormentors makes The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl a worthwhile read. That said, I do worry that if you aren’t a comic book fan yourself, or at least someone who has seen several superhero movies (and there are so many that are popular right now), you might get lost in the discussion of comics and comic book creators. If you happen to be a comic book fan, I think you’ll love this novel and the richness of Fanboy’s obsession with his artistic pursuit. Goth Girl remains an enigma to the end. The novel doesn’t have the tidy closing that most YA novels do, and that might be a problem for some readers. But if you think about friendships and romances in real teen lives, you’ll find that Fanboy and Goth Girl is often spot on.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »