Friday, May 1, 2009

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
Subjects: identity, sense of self, culture, immigrants, parent-child relationships, romance, conflict, death, marriage, divorce, coming of age.
Grade: A+

Lahiri's first novel is a flowing, beautiful masterpiece. It is at once reminiscent of classic literature and entirely modern. The novel follows the Ganguli family from its start, when two young Indians marry (after only meeting briefly - an arranged marriage) and move to the United States. Their attempt to settle in a foreign land, becoming foreigners themselves serves as the background for the story, their struggles becoming secondary to their son's similar conflict; Gogol, an American-born Indian, throughly American and yet very much his parents' son. We follow Gogol from childhood to adulthood, through adolescence, a normal struggle for identity, but his struggle becomes more intense when he leaves for college, and trades his ill-fated (in his mind) name, Gogol, for his "good" name, Nikhil. Though he always remains Gogol to the narrator, and to the reader as well, we follow Nikhil through various romances and rites of passage, trying to find himself. He keeps searching for an identity farther away from his family, but it is ultimately his family that brings him back home, back to himself. Though the story is largely Gogol's, his parents, Ashoke and Ashima are intricately developed as well, so much so that I feel as if I know them, know their culture, understand their lives - and yet all I know of them is bound between the covers of this novel. Lahiri's language and imagery is painstakingly stunning, every word carefully chosen and perfect in its detail and description.
To be fair, since this is a blog on YA Lit, I should admit that this is a decidedly adult novel, not YA Lit. That said, it is certainly a novel that mature or advanced high school readers would enjoy. It sticks with you in the best possible way, leaves you fully satisfied and yet still wanting more.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bronx Masquerade, Nikki Grimes

Bronx Masquerade, Nikki Grimes
subjects: spoken word poetry, verse, alternating narrators, poetry slam, writing, urban teens, poverty, teaching, teen pregnancy, romance, domestic violence, courage
Grade: B

Set in a Bronx high school classroom, this book is written with alternating narrators, partially in verse. The main narrator, Tyrone Bittings ties the story together, recounting Fridays in English class when they have a poetry slam and students volunteer to perform their spoken word poems. The poems carry on the narration as well. The difficulties each of the teens face is clear, as is their strength and resilience (not to mention budding writing talent, as evidenced through their poetry).
It's a powerful story, well-woven together. For me, it didn't have the same narrative pull or ingenuity as Levithan's The Realm of Possibility, but it was engaging nonetheless.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Awesome book festival!

I went to the Teen Book Festival today in Rochester. It was awesome! I was able to attend author presentations by Linda Sue Park (When My Name Was Keoko), Matt de la Pena (Ball Don't Lie, Mexican Whiteboy), and Sharon Flake (The Skin I'm In, Money Hungry). They were all great! It was nice to get to see the authors up close and personal, and I'll definitely be going back to school to brag to my students. I really wanted to see Ellen Hopkins and David Van Etten (really three authors working together, which I didn't realize entirely before this conference), but I knew their sessions would be overloaded, and since it was a book festival for teens it was only fair to let the teens have the seats. I was so glad to see how many avid readers were there! I was able to get David Levithan to sign my copy of The Realm of Possibility. I seriously felt like a devoted groupie to a rock band - I absolutely adore that book, so it was really cool to meet the author and have him sign the book for me. I was also able to have Sara Zarr sign my copy of The Story of a Girl. They'll join my two other autographed books (from Laurie Halse Anderson) on top of my whiteboards at school, where I can proudly display them but students can reach them... I'm now determined to get the same kind of festival started in Syracuse. If Rochester can do it, so can we!

Hunger Games Questions

So, I think I covered most of my thoughts on the Hunger Games with my review post (see review a few posts down) but my high school students are reading it for our book club selection this month. I'm really eager to get the teenage perspective. Just thought I'd open it up for question suggestions - what would you want to discuss about the Hunger Games in a book club? And/Or what would you want to know from a teenager with regards to the book? I think I have a fairly diverse group coming, so it should be interesting. Feel free to leave me some discussion questions. I'll post after the meeting on Tuesday with what my students have to say. Thanks!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Teen Book Festival

I just found out about a Teen Book Festival (thanks Book Girl!) that will be in Rochester, NY next weekend. Check out the information at A great list of authors will be presenting, including Ellen Hopkins, Sharon Flake, David Levithan, Chris Van Etten and lots more. All I need to do is arrange a baby-sitter (my daughter is a little too young for this just yet...) and I'm there!

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Categories: dystopia, survival, humanity, war, poverty, class issues, children, brutality, relationships, romance
Grade: B+
(Especially since this is YA Lit, a stronger message of redemption and hope is needed to push it into the "A" range for me).

This book took me much longer than I had anticipated to read, mostly due to my incredibly busy schedule, but also partly due to how uncomfortable this book was to read! I should preface this review with the fact that my curriculum coordinator (my boss, essentially) asked me to read this book because one of the eighth grade teachers wanted to use it in class. My response was to ask the age of the protagonist, since matching the age of the audience with the age of the main character is usually the easiest and quickest way to determine the appropriateness. Katniss is 16, so I had some serious reservations. Honestly, reading the book has upheld those reservations.

Classroom applications aside for a moment, this is a very well-done book. It's captivating, and honestly, a little too realistic for my taste. The fact that it is so riveting is in itself disconcerting. I'm not comfortable with realistic fiction that depicts children fighting to the death in a government-sponsored (and required) "sport." I don't want any sense of realism attached to this concept, and that's why this book is uncomfortable. That's also why it's good - it's nothing if not convincing. The fact that it's set in the indeterminate future did not actually make me feel any better - if anything, that's more disturbing and almost more realistic. The thought of a film version is frightening, since I don't want to add any further level of reality. That said, Katniss and Peeta are very well-developed, concrete characters, and the imagery is striking (also problemental for me - again with the uncomfortable realism). I enjoyed Rue's character quite a bit and thought her situation was handled well. I have to admit, however, and I'm not necessarily a glass-half-full kind of reader, but I really thought there would somehow be a more redemptive end, something that could circumvent the inevitable, so my disappointment that The Hunger Games were carried out as usual (with only one small, though noteworthy exception) added to my horror of the concept. The "wolves" at the end of the book were terrifying, and frankly, unforgiveable.

It's no doubt that my review of this book is filtered through the lens of a high school English teacher and by my original intention of determining if this book is appropriate for 8th graders (13-year-olds). I maintain that it isn't, unless they're very mature readers. At a higher level, in high school, it could absolutely be paired with 1984, Animal Farm or other similar books and perhaps do a much more effective job of prompting critical thinking about government control, humanity and survival.

Will I read the sequel? Yes. I do root for Katniss and Peeta and I do want to know what becomes of them. I'm also secretly hoping for some more thoroughly embedded optimism, or at least a shred of hope in the next book, so I will stay tuned. But will I let my daughter read this before she's a teenager? Absolutely not. This one will definitely be shelved on the adult end of the Young Adult shelf.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I'm still reading Hunger Games, but this week has been so crazy that I've only had a few minutes to spare here and there to read. Unfortunately yesterday my husband came down with a really nasty case of the flu, and the only positive part of that is the nearly four hours we spent at Urgent Care that gave me some unexpected time to read. Of course I'm all but a single parent at home while he recovers, so it still might be a few days before I have time to finish. My student teacher starts this week, so hopefully that'll lighten my work load a bit as well. I'm on the fence with Hunger Games right now. It's well written and it's beyond engaging, but it's also really uncomfortable. I want to keep reading because I want to know what's going to happen, but at the same time, I really don't! These are kids!- and as the Hunger Games continue, more of them are going to die. I knew this from the outset, and of course I have some working theories about how some of that outcome might be abated, but still... ugh. It's heavy, so I'm really hoping there is some redemption to be found. That's one of the main things I look for in YA Lit - no matter what the subject, I think teens (and adults, really) need some sense of redemption. Hopefully I'll finish soon and give my full review.

On a brighter note, my professional development workshop on using Young Adult Literature in the Content Area was on Friday, and it went really well. We didn't have quite the across-the-content turnout as we'd hoped - no math teachers and only one science teacher came - but we did have a lot of English, Social Studies, Special Education teachers and librarians come. They all seemed really receptive to the titles and strategies we presented, so hopefully we managed to give YA a boost into our curriculum across the district.

I'm still (always) looking for titles you think would work well in schools - middle and high school level - so keep the suggestions coming!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book trailers & YA Lit

I've been working on coming up with assignment ideas to really make YA books come alive in my classroom. As book bloggers are well aware, book trailers are becoming increasingly popular, especially with YA books. I think this could translate well as a classroom activity and a much more engaging assignment for students than a traditional book review or even a book talk. I think for the next independent reading assignment or lit circle reading assignment, I'm going to show students some book trailers, and maybe even movie trailers to get the point across. Then, their assignment will be to create a book trailer of their own, using powerpoint, photostory, windows movie maker, i-movie etc. I'll set up a screening party the day the assignment is due, and each student or group can show their trailer. The class could then rate the trailers with movie ratings - thumbs up/down, how likely they are to read the book based on the trailer etc. Hopefully by allowing the assignment to translate into multimedia terms that the students already engage with, it'll create more interest in not only the assignment, but in the book as well.

An example that I think will get the students' attention, from P.C. Cast. (I'm having trouble figuring out how to upload the video. For now, here's the link - )

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Favorite memoir?

My student teacher starts next week, and she's teaching Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir Night to my 10th graders. She'd like to start off by introducing the topic of memoirs and get the kids thinking about what they'd put in their own memoir. We want to show the students some examples of great memoirs (just excerpts - a page or two), but I want to help her to find examples that the kids will really find interesting. I'd like to start a memoir reading list to use not only to introduce the concept, but also to offer my students some suggestions once they've finished this unit, in case they're intrigued by the genre.
So I figured it's worth asking - do you have any memoirs you particularly like? Anything that you think 15 and 16-year-old kids would enjoy? Please share! Thanks!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

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

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
categories: coming of age, male relationships, culture, Native Americans, poverty, high school, anorexia, basketball, hope, alcoholism, despair, death, cartoons
Grade: A

I just finished the book and I'm blown away. This short, quick read of a novel had more of an impact on me than anything I've read in a long time. While I expected Alexie to have brilliant insight into Indian issues, I wasn't expecting his brilliantly original, authentic, funny insight into teenage boys. Arnold Spirit is a lovable, dorky, sweet, intelligent, moving narrator - a better voice is impossible to imagine for this novel. It's amazing how absolutely heart-breaking and absolutely funny this novel is at the same time. The cartoons are an awesome addition - they are more telling than Arnold's written desription at times, and add a level of sweet humor that make Arnold that much more endearing. I highly recommend this endearing, sad, sweet, paradoxically hopeless and hopeful book.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Realm of Possibility

The Realm of Possibility, David Levithan
categories: coming of age, book in verse, alternating narrators, romance, gay/lesbian
Grade: A-

This book has been on my list of books to read for a while now, and I'm so glad I did! Levithan accomplishes a few things of note to an English teacher. First, he manages to write an entirely coherent, beautiful book entirely in various types of verse. My favorite is "the day," Jamie's chapter in which he details, excruciatingly well, the difficulty of making it through the day after his girlfriend has broken up with him. Levithan walks the reader through the day alphabetically, each stanza taking on the next letter of the alphabet, not stalling or getting too caught up in the plot device, but instead becoming better for it. The "t" stanza starts every line with "the" and goes through the entire alphabet again. Another device of note for those looking for literary techniques is the alternating narrators. Each chapter is a different narrator, and yet the stories begin to entertwine more and more as the book progresses. It is a bit difficult to keep track of who is talking and how they fit into the greater story, but a little extra reflection solves this problem relatively easily.
Overall, a brilliant book. It could easily be read and used as a whole or in parts, as each chapter stands alone and yet the book in its entirety is equally as strong.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of Katherines - John Green
categories: coming of age, comedy, romance, friendships (boy), travels, transition to college
Grade: B/B+

First, let me say that I am definitely a fan of John Green - we use his Looking for Alaska as our 12th grade summer reading title. So I don't feel quite as bad admitting that I was really prompted to read this book for the workshop I'm giving next week on YA Lit in the Content Area and I needed another math book. That said - this is a great book! (even though it does have math throughout it...)
I like the interesting combination of characters - Colin is a complex protagonist, though I have to admit that his social peculiarity seemed a bit too strong for him to have dated 19 girls. He sounded much more like Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nite-Time, a character battling Aspberger's. His relationship with Lindsey does seem fairly realistic, though I enjoyed his friendship with Hassan much more.
While I'm not sure how accurate the math is, it is entirely understandable, even for an English teacher like myself. The Appendix with the math explanation is also great - it's a wonderful plot technique, since the story can exist without it but is so much better for the inclusion.
Overall, it's a strong story - my favorite of Green's so far.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Persepolis 1 & 2

Persepolis 1 & 2
categories: graphic novel, contemporary & historical fiction, girl power
Grade: A-

This was my first forray into graphic novels and I found both books really appealing. Marjane Satrapi's images really compliment her narrative, and at times, tell the story in a much more compelling, stark way than her words. Seeing such a harrowing time in Iran's history through the eyes of a teenage girl make the story that much more intriguing, and she somehow manages to keep a comic undertone when so many of the situations she describes are anything but funny.
Both books are quick reads, so I highly recommend them both.
Marjane Satrapi is actually coming to Syracuse at the end of the month, to the Rosamund Gifford Lecture series, so I'm hoping I'll get to hear some of her stories in person.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Hunger Games?

Thanks so much for all of the YA Lit suggestions you've been sending me. Our presentation is nearing completion, but by all means, please continue to send me titles as you think of them.

For those of you who have read it, I'm curious your thoughts on Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. Some middle-level teachers in my district would like to use it with 7th - 8th graders. What do you think about the appropriateness of the book for that age level.

It's on my list of things to read and I'm hoping to get to it soon, but I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

HELP! Need title suggestions

I'm working on the professional development workshop that I'm giving to middle and high school teachers later this month on using Young Adult Literature across the curriculum. I'm looking for title suggestions - anything that might fit the following categories:
- content area related books (science, math, social studies, foreign language, art, phys. ed. etc)
- important topic/current issue books - ex. the economy, government, war, genocide etc.
- books that would compliment classic texts that are often taught in school (something to compliment Catcher in the Rye or The Crucible etc.)
- any books that you think are "must reads" for either teenagers or teachers

Please send me any titles you've read and enjoyed or even just heard of that you think might fit the bill for this workshop. If you know of good places to research titles, I'd love that information as well.
Thanks! I'll be happy to share my workshop materials with anyone interested - just let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What I'm Reading Now...

I'm currently reading Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. I never really read comic books growing up, so this is my first real experience with the format. So far, I'm intrigued by the story and it's interesting to have pictures to enhance a rather harrowing story. The pictures also nicely compliment the author's voice, since the memoir is told from the point of view of a child. I'll give my final review once I've finished the book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you've found your way here. First, let me offer my apologies, as I am relatively new to blogging. However, since my goal to connect better to books of interest to teens, I figured it was about time that I get on board with the media teens use as well.
I'm a high school English teacher with a cultivated interest in Young Adult Literature. I read a lot of it myself for the book club I run at school, so I'll share thoughts on many titles I've found. I'm also always looking for new titles, so please - share your favorite titles with me, or let me know where to look to find reviews, upcoming releases, old favorites etc. Thanks - and check back soon, I'll try to keep this updated.