Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review of “Wintergirls”

Anderson, Laurie Halse.  Wintergirls.  Viking, New York, 2009.  ISBN:  9780670011100

Lia’s best friend Cassie has just died alone in a hotel room.  Lia still doesn’t know what the cause for her death was.  What she does know is that Cassie called her 33 times the night she died.  Lia never answered.  They hadn’t been best friends anymore and now Cassie haunts Lia day and night.  They shared a pact, a competition, to become the skinniest girls in school.  Lia’s anorexia coupled with her parents’ divorce and the ghost of her ex-best friend put Lia in a strange fantasy land that only a Wintergirl can understand.

This book has a mixture of reality and fantasy.  Unlike Anderson’s Speak, this novel has much more vivid hallucinations, or, hauntings as the protagonists views them.  The same theme of a devastating circumstance is still present, however, and as in Speak, Anderson weaves the daily pain with a very traumatic event.  There’s a lot going on with this main character and you get pulled into her world.  With Lia, her troubles are more sinister and creepy.  Heck, they’re downright disturbing.  But you still want to be the reader who helps her through to the end where she can finally begin to thaw.

School Library Journal reviewed this book by stating, “As events play out, Lia's guilt, her need to be thin, and her fight for acceptance unravel in an almost poetic stream of consciousness in this startlingly crisp and pitch-perfect first-person narrative. The text is rich with words still legible but crossed out, the judicious use of italics, and tiny font-size refrains reflecting her distorted internal logic. All of the usual answers of specialized treatment centers, therapy, and monitoring of weight and food fail to prevail while Lia's cleverness holds sway. What happens to her in the end is much less the point than traveling with her on her agonizing journey of inexplicable pain and her attempt to make some sense of her life.”  I would use this book, as with Anderson’s other books, for a real-to-fiction project in a high school English class.  The students could choose Wintergirls and discuss the issues that the book address to the class as a group and/or in a visual presentation.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review for “Lunch Lady”

Krosoczka, Jarrett J.  Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute.  Random House, New York, 2009.  ISBN: 9780375946837

The kids at school wonder what kind of life the Lunch Lady leads.  Soon after the new substitute seems a bit odd, the Lunch Lady begins her work and gets to the bottom of things.  She finds out that the odd substitute is a robot, created by the science teacher to get the kids to hate all other teachers for giving them extra robot-ordered homework.  Then the science teacher can be Teacher of the Year, or so he thinks.  The Lunch Lady and her sidekick figure out that the teacher is a robot and she fights the clan of evil robots away from the kids.  All seems well at the lunchroom again until we find that the evil cyborg substitute is at the jail, requesting new orders from the science teacher.

Vardell states that, “there needs to be a clear and consistent point of view that encourages the reader to believe in this fantasy world and engage in the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ for the length of the novel.”  This is the power of the Lunch Lady books.  These books are great graphic novels that are easy to read, full of unbelievable circumstances, but just such great fun that you don’t mind.  It really reminds me of the Captain Underpants series that my middle school students really enjoyed.

Booklist (Mar 1, 2009) reviewed this book by stating, “This tongue-in-cheek superheroine graphic novel will hit the spot for chapter-book readers. Lunch Lady and Betty, her assistant in both the cafeteria and her role of wrong-­righting supersleuth, investigate the strange case of an absent teacher, his creepy substitute, and a plan to grab the Teacher of the Year Award by truly foul means. Three little kids join in the action as Lunch Lady, equipped with a variety of high-tech kitchen gadgets like a spatu-copter and a lunch-tray laptop, tracks a cleverly disguised robot to his maker's lab, where a whole army of cyborgs require kicking, stomping, and the wielding of fish-stick nunchucks. Yellow-highlighted pen-and-ink cartoons are as energetic and smile-provoking as Lunch Lady's epithets of Cauliflower! and Betty's ultimate weapon, the hairnet. There is a nice twist in the surprise ending, and the kids' ability to stand up to the school bully shows off their newfound confidence in a credible manner. Little details invite and reward repeat readings with visual as well as verbal punning.” 

I agree that there is so much subtle detail in the pictures, the way the graphics are arranged, the little play on words here and there and, the movement of the story.  It works so well as a comic book style tale of a superhero.  This is just such a nice way to put the situation into a school with fantastical scenes that I think a lot of young readers, male or female, will really enjoy these.  I would suggest keeping such graphic novels available in my classroom or school library.  For those who are reluctant readers, this has the basic elements of character, plot, setting, theme and style so any kind of book report or presentation would be done well by using a Lunch Lady book.

Review for “Speak”

Anderson, Laurie Halse.  Speak.  Scholastic, New York, 2003.  ISBN: 0439640105

Melinda is a high school student who doesn’t talk much.  However, she does speak, just not about what’s really troubling her.  Over the summer she and her friend Rachel had attended a party.  Something happened and Melinda called the police.  Lots of people at her school, including Rachel, now shun Melinda who looks odd.  There’s something wrong with her lips and her attitude.  People got arrested at that party for drinking underage and it’s all her fault.  If they really knew what happened to her, that the popular boy at school, Andy Evans (Rachel’s new boyfriend) was a predator, they would be able to understand why Melinda is so withdrawn.

Vardell writes, “More unfamiliar problems that are increasingly common, though not necessarily universal, are coping with divorce, dealing with drugs or alcohol abuse, and the effects of violence, abuse, aging, disease, disability and death, even the death of a child.  This expanding rand of life experiences is part of our global society in the twenty-first century.  Good literature reflects these complexities and portrays children coping with them in realistic settings; great literature weaves these elements seamlessly throughout a compelling story.”  This is how Speak works.  On one hand the story is just of being a high school student, dealing with social class issues in an institution and unfair teachers.  The issues that Melinda has due to violence effects everything she does.  But you don’t know exactly what happened to her until further in the book.  That makes the story so good.  It’s not pushing any kind of anti-violence campaign on the reader, rather, it shows how the protagonist is effected by the violence.

School Library Journal (Oct 1, 1999) reviewed this book by stating, “As the school year goes on, her grades plummet and she withdraws into herself to the point that she's barely speaking. Her only refuge is her art class, where she learns to find ways to express some of her feelings. As her freshman year comes to an end, Melinda finally comes to terms with what happened to her-she was raped at that party by an upperclassman who is still taunting her at school. When he tries again, she finds her voice, and her classmates realize the truth. The healing process will take time, but Melinda no longer has to deal with it alone. Anderson expresses the emotions and the struggles of teenagers perfectly. Melinda's pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.”  The book won the Printz Honor 2000, Golden Kit Award, ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Booklists Top Ten First Novel of 1999, BCCB Blue Ribbon Book Award, SLJ Best Book the Year and is a 1999 National Book Award Finalist.

This is a book that can stand to be used in high schools.  I would choose some other realistic fiction such as Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes and get a few small sets.  Then I would have students read excerpts and choose which book they want to read on their own.  Those who chose the same book are their group members.  They will read the book, give a basic story plot and demonstrate what the message is for the book.  For instance, in Speak there is an anti-violence and date rape awareness that students could report on.  They would make visuals such as posters that show images (appropriate for school) about the book and its message.

I really liked this book too and I’m glad I read it.  I look forward to reading more of Anderson’s books as well as similar YA contemporary realistic fiction.  I wasn’t aware that this was even a genre and I’m so glad to learn about it.  It’s very engaging for me because I love realistic stories with a 1st person point of view over fantasy for the most part.

Review for "When You Reach Me”

Stead, Rebecca.  When You Reach Me.  Wendy Lamb Books, New York, 2009.  ISBN:  9780385906647

Miranda has read A Wrinkle In Time over and over.  Soon she starts talking to Marcus, a kid who punched her friend Sal.  He has read her book and disputes the idea of time travel.  Mysterious notes asking her to tell exactly what happened so that when her mysterious correspondent reaches her, they can do the right thing…again.  The book weaves the realistic in with the fantastical and the story of Miranda is an amazing adventure that you don’t realize you’re taking until you’re already into the book.  It’s wonderful;  a real masterpiece that any reader would enjoy.

Vardell states, “Fantasy is fantasy because it contains elements or events that cannot happen in the real world, as far as we know.  These may be magic, but not necessarily.  It may be technologically impossible, like time travel.  This element of the impossible, yet probable, is a big part of the appeal of modern fantasy literature.”  I have to agree with this statement.  The beauty of a story like this is, as I said, it’s mixed with the real and unreal.  While Miranda can be dealing with issues of racism, she’s also dealing with someone predicting her future in letters.  Plus, the fact that A Wrinkle in Time is the catalyst for why these kids believe time travel is possible is another beautiful element of the story.  It makes it believable to the kids in the book and, therefore, the reader buys the possibility as well.  I also applaud Stead for not having to go overboard in explanation about how and why the time travel occurs.  There’s enough information that the reader needs to buy the possibility because it is just one part of the whole story.

When You Reach Me has deservingly won the following awards:  Newberry Medal 2010, Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Books 2009, Book Sense Book of the Year 2010, IRA Children’s Book Awards 2010, Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards 2010 as well as being nominated for several others.  School Library Journal (July 1, 2009) reviewed this book by saying, “Discerning readers will realize the ties between Miranda's mystery and L'Engle's plot, but will enjoy hints of fantasy and descriptions of middle school dynamics. Stead's novel is as much about character as story. Miranda's voice rings true with its faltering attempts at maturity and observation. The story builds slowly, emerging naturally from a sturdy premise. As Miranda reminisces, the time sequencing is somewhat challenging, but in an intriguing way. The setting is consistently strong. The stores and even the streets-in Miranda's neighborhood act as physical entities and impact the plot in tangible ways. This unusual, thought-provoking mystery will appeal to several types of readers.”  Again, I have to agree that this is appealing for various age groups and reading tastes.  I personally thought I didn’t like fantasy novels, but this one was incredible and I couldn’t put it down. 

I will go as far as to say this book could be used in a high school situation, especially for reluctant readers or lower level readers.  If permission would allow to show clips, I would show them some of Lost, especially the episode where Faraday and Desmond see one another in the past and the future and the audience realizes that they had made one another their “constant” or their “go-to person.”  I have heard librarians say that middle school students weren’t really into A Wrinkle in Time, so maybe for high school kids, some snippets here and there would work.  I suggest maybe assigning a chapter to a few groups in class to give presentations on what the story is about.  This will help get into reading When You Reach Me as a class.

I really can’t say enough good things about this book.  I’m saw it on the shelf at the library a handful of times and put it down because it has the whole Million Dollar Pyramid bit at the beginning.  Plus Miranda is supposed to be very young but you don’t get that idea when reading the book.  Again, I give this four stars and recommend it to everyone.  I even bought a copy on Amazon to keep in my book collection.