13 Reasons Why- Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why

Review:

I had so many people suggest this novel to me that when I saw it on a clearance shelf I had to buy it.  I then decided it would be my gym read… this was probably a poor choice as it took me forever to finish, but I am glad I did.  The story follows a teen boy who has found 13 tapes in the mail.  They were recorded immediately prior to a classmates suicide and explain how many different events affected her.  There is interest and intrigue and you find yourself really invested in finding out what happens.  Why does he have the tapes- how did he contribute to her depression, to her ultimate suicide?  I think this would be a great discussion starter.  Too often our students don’t realize the affect that they can have on others.

This book is definitely a high school level book.  There are discussions of alcohol use, sexual encounters, sexual assault and other serious topics.  However, there are CLEAR consequences to these actions that I think are appropriately handled.  I think it would make a great classroom read.  The main character is a male, but the suicide victim is a female so I see it appealing to both genders.

The Lowdown (Via Scholastic)

Interest Level :Grade 9 (I would include 10-12)

Grade Level Equivalent: 3.2

Includes: Scholastic Reading Counts! Quiz , Accelerated Reader Quiz

CLICK HERE FOR A DISCUSSION GUIDE!

Awards: (List from official website)

New York Times Best Seller Publishers Weekly Best Seller

California Book Award Winner

Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA)

Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers (YALSA)

Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults (YALSA)

Borders Original Voices finalist

Barnes & Noble – Top 10 Best for Teens

International Reading Assoc. – Young Adults’ Choices

Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice

Book Sense Pick – Winter

Chicago Public Library Best Books

Association of Booksellers for Children – Best Books

State Awards – Winner (voted on by students): Florida, Kansas, Kentucky

Also, for further reading about using this book in your classroom, and or other resources for dealing with the topic of bullying, check out the July issue of NCTE’s English Journal…

English Journal, Vol. 101, No. 6, July 2012

Happy Reading!

Perfect Escape- Jennifer Brown

Perfect Escape

Finally another review!  My copy of Perfect Escape is an ARC that I received in the fall at the NCTE convention.  I decided to read it on my vacation since it said it was being released in July- wouldn’t you know I just looked and it was released yesterday!  The day I finished the book!  I love it when timing works out like that!

Anyways, onto the review….

Review:  Perfect Escape had me engaged from the beginning to the end.  It is the story of a girl named Kendra and her brother, Grayson.  Grayson has severe OCD and anxiety issues that have affected the entire family.  However, as the story begins we find out that some of Kendra’s problems have nothing to do with him.  The novel centers around the “perfect escape” that Kendra attempts and the relationship between the brother and sister.  There is a bit of mystery involved and a strong desire to find out what will happen next.

From my knowledge of anxiety disorders and OCD which is limited the book seems to do an accurate job of portraying a young (20) male suffering from the disorder.  I think this book really opens your eyes as to what having a mental disorder that is so debilitating might be like, for the individual who is diagnosed, and some of the people closest to them.

Based on the content of this novel I think it would be appropriate for 8th grade through 12th.  There are a few four letter words, but nothing extreme.  Within the story there is some discussion of romantic relationships but there are no explicit scenes.  I don’t think I would use this as a whole class novel but I would definitely put it on my classroom bookshelf and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to students.  It may appeal more to females, but I could see teen males enjoying it as well.

The Lowdown:

RL: My guess is about 4th grade
Interest Level: High School

Click Here for An Educator’s Guide!

Jennifer Brown has two other award winning YA books, Hate List and Bitter End that I’d like to check out now too!

Rivals- Daisy Whitney

Review:  I received an advance reader’s copy of Rivals by Daisy Whitney at the NCTE Convention this fall.  This is the sequel to The Mockingbirds and continues to look at the darker side of boarding school.  This book is a little less intense focusing on prescription drug abuse rather than date rape but does not ignore that Alex is still coping with the events that transpired the year before.  This was a great read and was much more of a mystery than The Mockingbirds.

Like its predecessor this is definitely a book written for high school students.  I think it would attract more females than males, but males could get into it as well.  This isn’t a book I’d teach, but I would/will have it in my classroom library.

The Lowdown:

RL: My guess is about 4th grade
Interest Level: High School

Look for this book to hit shelves in early February!!!


Paper Towns- John Green

Paper Towns

Review:

I have been looking forward to reading Paper Towns by John Green since it came out but never got around to it.  While I was at NCTE 2011 in Chicago I had the opportunity to stand in line and have John Green sign a book.  They were selling Paper Towns at a discounted price so I jumped at the opportunity!  I’m so glad I did.  I’ve read other books by Green, An Abundance of Katherines  and Looking for Alaska and enjoyed both so I wasn’t surprised that I liked Paper Towns as well.  I really enjoyed that there was a male protagonist that seemed relatable and that there were significant characters that were male and female which should make this a book that can appeal to all teens.  The book follows one boys quest to find his neighbor, a beautiful girl, whom he has admired for years.  There is quite a bit of mystery and suspense in the novel which appealed to me.  This was not an easily predictable book.  One other thing that I really liked about this book was the including of poetry from Walt Whitman- I like to think that perhaps it will not only expose teens to another form of writing but spark an interest in it as well.

I do not see myself using this book as a classroom read in the future but I would put it on my classroom book shelf.  There is some talk of sex and drinking but in a frank and realistic way that does not glorify it or condemn it.  You will find some “inappropriate” language in the book but again it’s well places and not gratuitous in  nature.  Scholastic labels this book as being a 9-12th grade interest level and I agree.  The characters are seniors in high school and I think the content makes it a high school level book despite it’s lower reading level.

The Lowdown (Via Scholastic)

Interest Level: Grade 9 – Grade 12 (I agree with this)

Grade Level Equivalent: 5.5

Lexile® measure: 850L

Educational Materials Available: SRC! Quiz, AR Quiz

Awards:

2009 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery

The Mockingbirds- Daisy Whitney

The Mockingbirds

Review:  I downloaded The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney to my Kindle in anticipation of reading the ARC of its sequel The Rivals.  I am so glad I did.  The Mockingbirds seemed to combine some of the best aspects of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War and Knowles’ A Separate Peace.  At times it even reminded me of John Green’s Waiting for Alaska.   But this book stands on its own and has its own merit.  From the first paragraph on the first page you are thrown into the life of the main character Alex, a junior girl at an elite boarding school, who has been date raped.

What I enjoyed about this story is how it dealt with the rape in a very realistic way.  You see Alex attempting to discern where the responsibility for the rape lies and how to move on with her life.  With such a serious subject this book could have become very dark and depressing very fast.  But it isn’t.  There are times where it is graphic, the imagery and the language may make you squirm but that is offset with the very regular interactions the teen characters have.  Crushes, school work, clubs and more.  Whitney also does a great job of examining what happens when schools have a history of caring more for their record than for their students and what types of change students can initiate.

This is definitely a book written for high school aged students.  I think it would appeal more to females than males, but males could get a lot out of it as well.  I think that if I were to teach a book about a subject such a date rape I would be more likely to teach Speak due to some of the graphic nature of this book.  I could however, see myself recommending this book to students or having it on a list (along with most of the other titles I mentioned earlier) to read alongside Speak for some sort of comparison project.  The Mockingbirds is also one of those books that I will be recommending to my friends who don’t read YA the way I do.  I believe this is a crossover book that adults can read and learn from as much as teens.

The Lowdown:

RL: 4-5 grade, lexile rating of HL720L (THIS IS ABSOLUTELY NOT A BOOK FOR 4th or 5th GRADERS)
Interest Level: High School (I could see 8th graders reading it but it might get a little heavy for younger teens)

Awards:

  • A Romantic Times Best Book of 2010
  • A Best Book for Young Adults – American Library Association
  • An NPR Best Book of 2010
  • An Association of Booksellers for Children New Voices Pick for 2010
  • Chicago Public Library Best of Best Books for Teens in 2010
  • Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention
  • An Indie Next List Pick
  • A GoodReads Mover and Shaker for November 2010
  • The Books-A-Million teen book club pick for January 2011

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of The Rivals!

Winter Town- Stephen Edmond

Winter Town

Review:

Winter Town was one of the ARCs I received at NCTE11 in November.  Finally, while on winter break, I got a few free hours together to read it.  I have to say I enjoyed it.  The story has two main characters, a teen boy and a teen girl and follows their friendship as they navigate their own teenage problems.  What I thought was unique and interesting is that throughout the story are little comic strips or images that coincide with the story as illustrations, or are part of the story as examples of what the characters are writing.  It is not the type of story that I would use in my classroom to teach but I would feel comfortable recommending it to students and having it on my shelf.  There is some mention of drinking (and throwing up because of it) and casual mentions of sex but nothing is explicit nor does it come across as encouraged.  I think that this book is very timely and modern discussing texts, emails and even mentioning Glee.  That, actually, might be one of my concerns for the book that it will become dated quickly but only time will tell with that.

The Lowdown: 

Interest Level:  High School

This book was published on December 5th, and as of now I have not found any information regarding the reading level or awards that it has won.  If I come across any in the future I will update this post!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time- Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time  by Mark Haddon was a very interesting and thought provoking read.  I purchased this book for my Kindle over the summer because my local school district assigned it to all of their students for summer reading and hosted book discussions for the community and encouraged the city to join in reading this book.  I finally got around to reading it while traveling this past week and I’m so glad that I did.

The book is told from the perspective of a teen male who is mathematically inclined and describes himself as having behaviors problems.  In the book he investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog.  What you get however is not just a mystery but insight into the life of a teen who displays autistic-like tendencies.  I do work with students on the autism spectrum so for me I was able to relate to the struggles the narrator describes.  In fact Haddon’s descriptions provided an easily accessible and plausible explanations of why a person with autism might have certain personality quirks.  (Haddon does not claim to be an expert and there may be no way to fully know what goes on in someone else’s head but it rings true to me.) By the time I was nearing the end of the book I couldn’t put it down and was very invested in the life of the main character.

I would recommend this book for any adult who works with autistic children.  I would also use this as a classroom read or recommend it for an individual student to read.  I feel it could spark great discussion about family relationships, disabilities and abilities, along with questions of morality.

AWARDS:

WINNER YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year
WINNER Booklist Editor’s Choice for Young Adults
WINNER School Library Journal Adult Books for Young Adults
WINNER ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
WINNER New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award
WINNER 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize of Europe and South Asia