The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness
ISBN 9780763639310
Candlewick, 2008
Grades 8 to 12
Science Fiction/Dystopia

How is it possible that secrets still exist when everyone’s thoughts are heard?

Summary:

Todd is the last boy left in Prentisstown; boys become men when they turn thirteen. Todd lives on an alien planet, in the last town left. The women are all dead, which means humans are a dying breed in this world. A native alien group known as ‘spackles’ released a germ which killed all women and made men’s thought audible to everyone, this is known as the Noise. Todd is in the swamp one day when he encounters a place with Quiet, even animals have Noise so this is something he hasn’t experienced before. He runs home to his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, who are very worried by his news. They provide him with a map and backpack and tell him he has to leave. Todd trusts them, and so heads out of town with his ‘talking’ dog, Manchee. Before long he is back in the swamp where he encounters the Quiet again, turns out its a GIRL. The first one Todd has seen since he was a baby. Todd rescues her from the evil preacher, Aaron, and the two head out of town. They are pursued by townsmen. Todd suspects that Viola will be overcome by the spackle’s germ and die at any time, but she doesn’t. Eventually she introduces herself to Todd as Viola. The two continue to flee from the unstoppable Aaron, they are shocked to come upon other settlements. Some are friendly others are hostile. Aaron winds up killing Manchee, Todd’s best friend. Suffering from multiple wounds, exhaustion, and hunger, Todd passes out. He wakes up in a new town where he is being cared for by Dr. Snow. Something is weird in Dr. Snow’s town, so Viola and Todd flee. At the river they find Ben, who quickly explains some of the truths about Noise, their town, and the planet’s history. Aaron continues to pursue the two and they engage in a final battle. Ben is shot, but Aaron is finally killed. Todd and Viola head toward Have, where they hear there is a cure for Noise and think they will be safe. Arriving at Haven, Todd finds the city under control of the evil mayor of his town. All of their effort seems for naught.

Critique:

This story was a little different from what I was expecting but I loved it! I look orward to Ness’ sequel even more than that for The Hunger Games. Ness makes the reader think, and I found many of the elements of this novel to be inventive and compelling.

Curriculum Ties:

This book could be used in units where writing in dialect is taught.

Controversy:

None.

Selection Rationale:

This is a really unique story, with enough to challenge older readers and elements that will appeal to younger readers. Ness has a wonderful command of language and is very creative.

“Some of the central conceits of the drama can be hard to swallow, but the pure inventiveness and excitement of the telling more than make up for it. Narrated in a sort of pidgin English with crack dramatic and comic timing by Todd and featuring one of the finest talking-dog characters anywhere, this troubling, unforgettable opener to the Chaos Walking trilogy is a penetrating look at the ways in which we reveal ourselves to one another, and what it takes to be a man in a society gone horribly wrong. The cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut.” – Booklist

“Todd’s world is a fascinating one, and the psychological and sociological impact of being unable to shut out others’ thoughts—or hide your own—is creatively explored. The relationships, too, are nuanced; slow to evolve, they have considerable emotional depth by the last page. Todd’s colloquial voice is by turns defensive, belligerent, innocent, and desperate; the strength of his point of view and the subtle world-building contained in it make this series opener as promising as it is provocative.” – The Horn Book Magazine

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009

Booktalking:

Describe what it was like the first time Todd met Viola, esp. her Quiet.

About the Author:

The Knife of Never Letting Go is Patrick Ness’ first young adult novel, he has two novels written for adults.

Additional Information:

This is Book One in the Chaos Walking trilogy. The sequel, The Ask and Answer, is due out September 2009.

Body Drama
Nancy Amanda Redd
ISBN 978-1-592-403-26-4
Publisher, Copyright date
Grade 6 and up
Genre Non-Fiction/Body Issues

Real girls, real questions – what is up with your body?

Summary:

Nancy Redd explores common questions about girls’ bodies in an honest and empathetic manner (she’s been there!). Covering the female body from top to bottom (dandruff to foot fungus) and everything in between (inverted nipples, bacne, labia shape, overall body image, tanning), Redd tastefully explains that there are problems that can develop with one’s body. Many of these issues are easily remedied, and if not, you are not alone.

Critique:

This is a fun and informative book about the female body. Redd’s tone is excellent, she lets the reader know that they are not unique in their problems by providing photos and stories from her own adolescence. Definitions and illustrative photos (rather than drawings), along with a cast of teen girls of varying sizes and ethnicities, are key to the importance of this book.

Curriculum Ties:

Body Drama could be successfully integrated into a sex education unit. When I was in high school I took a “Social Living” type of class, where we examined personal and societal issues, this would be a great read in a similar unit or class.

Controversy:

Nudity, including photos of breasts, butts, and vulvas. Discussion of STIs. Discussion of Birth Control.

Although many might find the nudity objectionable, it really shows the variations in the female form. There really is no other way to get the point across that your body is natural, normal, and beautiful. Girls will find themselves in the photos Redd provides. These are not photos sexualizing or even glamorizing younger girls, additionally, all of the girls pictured are over the age of eighteen. Refer challengers to reviews.

The inclusion of information on birth control may be objectionable to those who advocate an abstinence only program. However, Redd is not advocating pre-marital sex or selling The Pill.

Selection Rationale:

A great contribution to the body issues shelf due to the inclusion of real girl and a frank answer to practically any question one could have about their body and their body issues.

“I believe BODY DRAMA is a revolutionary stride forward for females everywhere; I dare any girl to take a peek inside and not keep on reading . . .for hours.” – YABooksCentral.com

ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

Quick Pick for Detainees, 2009 – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

What are the problems that Redd addresses in this book?

About the Author:

Nancy Redd is a Harvard graduate and Miss America swimsuit competition winner. She is a wellness author for many publications including FITNESS and AOL.

Additional information:

Nancy Redd’s and the Body Drama website: http://www.nancyredd.com

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
ISBN 0-312-55511-3
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
Grade 7 and up
Realistic Fiction

Kyra, fourteen, loves to read and developed a surprising crush on her friend Joshua. Unfortunately, as one of the Chosen, Kyra is betrothed to a man five times her age and could face severe punishment for reading and kissing Joshua if one of the Apostles were to find out.

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Kyra has a lot of guilt. She has been sneaking kisses with her friend Joshua, she sneaks out to visit the bookmobile, and she has thoughts about killing the Prophet. Kyra’s family lives in a community formed by a polygamous sect, the Chosen. Selected to marry her sixty-year-old uncle, Kyra loses it. She knows she cannot marry him, not only is he fifty years older than she, he is also abusive and domineering to women. She refuses the marriage and puts her entire family in danger. In a community that expects cooperation without question, Kyra’s aggressiveness on this matter is unwelcome. Kyra knows she must escape; she solicits the help of the bookmobile driver who she has befriended over her weekly visits. When she reveals all to him he is eager to help. In a fast-paced chase scene, the driver speeds her away from the compound toward the city, followed by members of the Chosen. The Chosen manage to kill the bookmobile driver, but Kyra dials 911 on his cell phone. She is rescued by police and brought to a safe house for people leaving the Chosen.

Critique:

The Chosen One wasn’t quite what I anticipated, but I found it an engrossing page turner. A few elements were hard to believe: if everyone is being watched so closely, how is Kyra able to sneak around so easily? Otherwise, this is an excellent selection for a book group or even classroom selection.

Curriculum Ties:

The Chosen One could be used in classroom units on religion (including cults), including both current events and historical events.

Controversy:

Child rape, physical abuse.

Encourage challengers to read the entire book to understand the context of these elements and their importance to the story. Point out that this happens in real life and refer challengers to news stories.

Selection Rationale:

I heard about this new book on one of the YALSA listservs and thought it sounded interesting. The story brings up many issues that will make it wonderful for discussion.

“Within a fast-moving story, Williams creates sympathetic characters, and readers will hold their breath right to the end, hoping that Kyra wins her freedom.” – The Horn Book Magazine

“…Kyra’s terrible dilemma–escaping her fate means betraying her family–is heartbreakingly real, and the final scenes are riveting and suspenseful.” – Kirkus

Booktalking:

Describe life on Kyra’s compound.

About the Author:

Carol Lynch Williams, an avid reader and writer is the author of many books for children and young adults. Upcoming titles are Lost in Peace and A Glimpse is All I Can Stand.

My Father’s Son
Terri Fields
ISBN 1-59643-349-3
Roaring Brook Press, 2008
Grade 7 and up
Realistic Fiction

Kevin Windor, seventeen, lives a pretty normal life. His parents are divorced, so he doesn’t get to see his awesome dad all the time. On a day just like any other, Kevin turns on the TV and sees his father’s face, so much like his own.

Summary:

Kevin Windor is a regular guy, with a regular life. Sure, his parents are divorced, but he gets to hang out with his Dad most weekends, unless he has to travel. Things are starting to come together for Kevin; he’s finally kissed the girl of his dreams! Then, Kevin turns on the TV one day after school; on the screen is his father’s face, which looks just like his own. Greg Windor is accused of being the DB25, a particularly heinous serial killer plaguing the tri-state area. Kevin is reluctant to believe this terrible truth about his father, who seemed like such a normal guy. He begins to suffer taunting and social isolation as a result of his undeniable association with Greg Windor. Kevin’s personality also begins to change as a result of the stress and trauma of his situation; he becomes angry, depressed, and violent. Is he turning into his father? As DNA evidence is released, proving that his father did commit the final DB25 murder, Kevin has to reevaluate his position. Greg is bound for prison when another DB25 type murder occurs. New discoveries are made and Greg is exonerated. Kevin must now process the emotions of doubting his father in such an extreme way.

Critique:

I was absolutely riveted by the majority of My Father’s Son. As reviewers have noted, the story takes a turn that is hard to swallow toward the end. My Father’s Son will introduce a lot of topics for discussion.

Curriculum Ties:

My Father’s Son would be an interesting inclusion in a Political Science class or unit on the justice system or as a lesson in developing mystery plots for a writing unit.

Controversy:

Violence, mature content.

Ask challengers to read reviews and to read the whole book.

Selection Rationale:

I was so intrigued by this story I had to include it here. This will be a successful pitch with reluctant readers and avid readers alike.

“Although the surprising conclusion seems a little contrived after the believable realism of the rest of the tale, this is still a fast-paced and sometimes disturbing look at families and violent crime and its many victims, seen and unseen.” – Kirkus

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

Booktalking:

Defend Gregor Windor from the position of Kevin Windor

About the Author:

Terri Fields is the author of many books for children and teens. Her teen material can be categorized as realistic fiction.

The Compound
S.A. Bodeen
ISBN 0-312-37015-6
Feiwel and Friends, 2008
Grade 7 and up
Adventure/Survival/Science Fiction/Post-Apocalyptic

Eli has lived the past six years of his life underground after a nuclear attack on Washington State. The Compound was supposed to be a safe place for fifteen years after such an attack, but supplies are dwindling and Eli is starting to ask questions.

Summary:

When the United States is under nuclear attack the Takanaki family thinks they are lucky to have the Compound. Eli, Lexie, and Terese, along with their parents all make it into the underground shelter. Eddy, Eli’s twin, and their grandmother aren’t so lucky. It is six years later; Eli is now fifteen and still misses his twin. Things in the Compound have started to go wrong. The livestock has all died, the hydroponic lights are flickering, and supplies are dwindling all around. But Eli’s father thought of everything, he has a stockpile of Supplements to feed his family with, should the food run out. Bits of the truth of their situation begin to seep in when Eli discovers his twin’s never-used laptop and a mystifying internet connection near his father’s office. Eli successfully gets online and into Instant Messenger. His brother is there. After verifying that they are both who they say they are, Eddy lets Eli know that there was no nuclear attack, it was all a ruse. Eddy and their grandmother are safe and sound, all this time they thought the rest of the family was dead. The conversation is cut off when Eli’s father emerges from his office and discovers the laptop. At this point, the book undergoes a transformation from science fiction to a horrific psychological survival story. Eli and his family must go up against their father and wits to escape the underground prison—the father is the only one with the password to open the hatch, a secret is not willing to part with easily. Between Eli and his siblings the code is discovered and Eli opens the door. A final battle remains as Eli rescues his family from underground. The children and their mother do escape and begin a quiet life in Hawaii, but the threat of their missing father looms over them all.

Critique:

Excellent. A thrilling, unique, page-turner. Bodeen created a roller-coaster ride of a plot, as soon as I thought I had it all figured out, another twist appeared. Fabulous introduction of many ethical dilemmas. Boys and girls alike will love it. I think this would be a perfect pick for even the most reluctant reader.

Curriculum Ties:

Biomedical ethics or science classes. Could be integrated into discussion about the Cold War and nuclear arms testing.

Controversy:

Cannibalism, cloning.

Have challengers read the entire book and decide if the way in which these issues are presented are still objectionable. Present positive reviews.

Selection Rationale:

As reviewers note this would be a great novel to use as a class read, it is filled with topics for discussion. Although The Compound turns out to be about something other than a nuclear apocalypse, it is still a great representation of some of the best features of the genre: an ethical question, growing up fast, and survival. As an action-packed but introspective read, this book will appeal to a great variety of readers.

“Bodeen’s straightforward, action-packed writing

conveys through apt detail the Compound environment—physical and emotional—and its subtly debilitative effects. As the plot builds from unease to intrigue to outright peril, Eli believably and satisfyingly grows from a spoiled, disturbed bully to the persuasive and empathetic (if still disturbed) man of the family. Taking full advantage of a unique premise, this tense portrait of a family in crisis probes the psychological and moral costs of survival.” – The Horn Book Magazine

“The novel becomes full of tension and suspense and turns into a true edge-of-the-seat thriller. There are numerous social issues addressed that could lead to great classroom discussions.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Why doesn’t Eli want to be touched?

About the Author:

This is S.A. Bodeen’s first book.

The Devouring
Simon Holt
ISBN 0-316-03573-6
Little Brown and Company, 2008
Grade 7 and up
Horror

The Vours steal your soul but leave your body, says the mysterious book Reggie finds. A teen who loves to be scared, Reggie decides to tempt the Vours with her fear, with disastrous and chilling results.

Summary:

Reggie is an avid fan of horror, so much so that she has taken to reading her little brother, Henry, the scary stuff at night. She works at a bookstore specializing in the genre. When a mysterious, handwritten book comes in with a shipment, she sneaks it home without telling her boss. In the leather bound volumes pages, Reggie discovers the story of the Vours and Sorry Night. According to the book, on the eve of the Winter Solstice children become vulnerable to the Vours, who feed on your fear, consuming your soul. Only a shell inhabited by a Vour is left behind. Reggie and her friend Aaron decide to try to summon the Vours one night. Nothing happens to them, but something does happen to Henry. Henry is taken by the Vours and it is up to Reggie and Aaron to rescue him. As the two learn more about the Vours and their weaknesses, Reggie gets closer to rescuing Henry. Reggie follows the Vours into Henry’s fearscape, where she finds Henry. She discovers that the wounds you get in Henry’s head don’t go away when you wake up, adding another threat to the battle. Reggie and Henry fight the Vours with all their power. Although Henry is released by the Vour inside him, Reggie and Aaron know they will be back. But Reggie will be ready.

Critical Evaluation:

A very scary book. This was an excellent read, I only wish I was more frightened by the carnival from hell theme in the horror genre. Otherwise, a wonderfully constructed horror story, creepy and suspenseful.

Curriculum Ties:

Integrate into a psychology class when discussing fear, phobias, etc. Or, compare with classic horror novels that are mention in The Devouring.

Challenge Issues:

Violence and gore.

Have challengers read the entire book, explain some of the standard elements of horror. Provide positive reviews.

Selection Rationale:

This is sure to be popular with a varied audience. The sequels will keep patrons interested.

The Devouring will keep readers on the edge of their seats… The book has some graphic content, blood, and gore, which only add to the chills. A must-have for horror fans.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking Ideas:

Share the opening scene.

About the Author:

This is Simon Holt’s first book. He collects comic books.

Additional Information:

A sequel, Soulstice, is slated for a September 2009 release.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

August 7, 2009

Beastly
Alex Flinn
ISBN 978-0-06-087416-2
HarperTeen, 2007
Grade 8 and up
Fantasy/Fairy Tales

Kyle rules the school, but with a single prank his looks and popularity are taken away. Kyle must find someone to love him for who he is, but what if his insides are as beastly as his outsides?

Summary:

In this modern day fairy-tale Kyle is wealthy, popular, handsome, and a total jerk. A witch posing as a new student at Kyle’s high school catches him in his beastliness. Kyle promises to take her to the prom, and then stands her up, of course. As punishment, the witch (who, also of course, is gorgeous and not warty and green) turns Kyle into a Beast. He is given two years to find a girl to love him despite his beastly looks. Kyle’s father does not take too kindly to his son’s new appearance and he is banished to a brownstone across the city, with only the family housekeeper and a blind tutor for company. The clock is ticking when Kyle finally discovers Lindy, a girl he went to school with in his magic mirror. He blackmails Lindy’s abusive father into bringing her to stay at his house. Lindy comes, and hates it. Then she starts to warm up to Kyle. The two learn together, and Kyle develops into a thoughtful, caring, and intelligent young man. We know how the story goes. Kyle must release Lindy to truly win her, which he does. The two live happily ever after.

Critique:

I found Beastly a fun take on the Beauty and the Beast story. Everyone knows the story, it’s the addition of unique characters such as Kyle’s tutor and housekeeper, and the quirks of Kyle and Lindy that make this a special story.

Curriculum Ties:

Beastly can be used in units on fairy tales and myths. Read Beastly side by side with some of the books that Kyle and Lindy love (The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one).

Controversy:

None.

Selection Rationale:

Beastly is a strong addition to this selection because of its ability to appeal to both male and female readers. This is a fantasy genre that will typically be more popular with girls, a more boy-oriented story is important. Kyle’s development is very wonderful to watch. I also think that the topic matter of Flinn’s first novel, Breathing Underwater, will make this and her other books more accessible to boys.

“…through her character’s psychological transformation, Flinn finds ways to address some larger, painful truths about male adolescence, making this a rare fairy-tale-inspired novel with equally strong appeal for boys and girls.” – Booklist

“[Teens] will also find their preoccupations with looks, status and pride explored thoroughly. When Lindy, Kyle’s Beauty, moves in, much of the interesting adaptive play recedes, but teens will still race to see if the beast gets his kiss, lifts the curse and lives happily ever after.” – Kirkus

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2008

Booktalking:

What does Lindy think the first time she sees Kyle in beast form?

What does the witch hope to do for Kyle by turning him into a beast?

Author Information:

Alex Flinn is the author of a number of young adult novels, which are typically realistic fiction, including Breathing Underwater, Diva, and Breaking Point.

Additional Information:

A movie adaptation is scheduled for release in 2010.

How I Live Now
Meg Rosoff
ISBN 0-553-37-605-5
Random House, 2004
Grades 9 to 12
Science Fiction/Survival/Post-Apocalyptic

Sent to her cousin’s country home an ocean away, Daisy quickly learns about love, loss, and survival when war breaks out.

Summary:

Daisy is sent to her cousin’s in the English countryside. While there, England is attacked and Daisy is stranded, unable to get back to her native New York or contact her parents. Her aunt is lost to them as they become more and more isolated. But the children are happy. In this fleeting idyll, Daisy begins to fall for a younger cousin, Edmond, and they embark on a secret romance. Their happiness does not last, however, when the war comes literally to their doorstep. They children are separated and shipped off when their house is taken over for army operations. Daisy is sent off with her cousin Piper, nine. She is bent on finding Edmond and her other cousins, Isaac and Osberrt, from the first. When gunfire sounds the girls seize the opportunity to find their family. Arriving at the house where the others are supposed to be, they find only death and destruction. Although they are starving and exhausted Piper and Daisy make their way back to Piper’s house. The girls continue with their struggle to stay alive and the knowledge that they have had no news from or of Edmond or the other boys. Out of the blue the phone rings and on it is a voice Daisy recognizes. Daisy is sent back to New York, where she lives for the next six years, waiting for the war to end. Daisy receives a letter from Piper when the war finally ends and is one of the first people let back into England. The family is reunited but all is not as it was. Everyone is older, and Edmond seems permanently damaged from the trauma of the war and the shock of losing Daisy. But this is Daisy’s home, her family. Despite the hardships, the brokenness, the silence, these are the people Daisy lives and how she lives now.

Critical Evaluation:

This is a heartbreaking story about struggle, survival, love, and finally, acceptance. I enjoyed every moment of this book. Rosoff created characters that are mysterious and, at times, supernatural while still remaining real. Daisy’s voice is perfect.

Curriculum Ties:

Integrate into a unit on war for a history class.

Challenge Issues:

Teen sexuality, incest.

These elements really lend to the tone of the story and show how Daisy and Edmond are growing up too quickly. Ask challengers to read the entire book and see if their opinions change. Refer challengers to reviews and awards won by How I Live Now.

Selection Rationale:

How I Live Now is both highly touted and one I was very interested in reading. It definitely lived up to the rave reviews, which is why it is included here. Daisy’s personal development makes this an important read.

“This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century.” – Publishers Weekly

Michael L. Printz Award Winner, 2005

Booktalking:

Use a passage where Daisy discusses how her approach to eating has changed.

About the Author:

Meg Rosoff is an American who has resided in London since 1989, she worked in advertising for years. How I Live Now was her first novel. Rosoff followed the book with Just in Case (2006) and What I Was (2007). Her next novel, The Bride’s Farewell is planned for release in 2009

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
ISBN 0-439-02348-3
Scholastic, 2008
Grades 7 to 10
Science Fiction/Adventure/Dystopia

Katniss refuses to let her sister enter a battle she has no chance of winning. But will she have the resources to survive this fight to the death?

Summary:

In a dystopian future North America is now a collection of thirteen colonies called Panem. Supplies are short and many aspects of society have reverted back to those in past ages. The government hosts annual televised games in which each colony sends a representative boy and girl to participate in a fight to the death. The winner is the last one alive and brings fame and food to his or her community. Katniss’ young sister is one of those selected. Of course, Katniss cannot stand to watch her sister enter this battle and volunteers to take her place. Katniss leaves behind her sister, mother, and best friend (Gale, also a burgeoning love interest). The boy selected from her town is Peeta, with whom she has had a bond since they were children. As a marketing ploy, Katniss and Peeta’s handlers/agents direct them to feign a romance. The ploy works only too well and Katniss and Peeta both find themselves developing complicated feelings for one another. The two manage to survive until the end, both together and apart. They face starvation and suffer serious injuries and exhaustion, but their mental and physical strength gives them the upperhand. However, only one contestant can survive. The pair decides to pull one over on the game organizers, and dose themselves with poison. They anticipate that an official will step in before it is too late. Katniss and Peeta are prevented from taking the poison and both declared winners. Katniss acts like a jerk and lets Peeta know that she was only pretending to love him for the ratings. When Katniss and Peeta arrive at the Capitol for an awards ceremony, they are let known that the government is very unhappy with their decisions at the end of the game. Katniss and Peeta are in trouble, the government is watching them. Katniss must choose between Peeta and Gale in the next book.

Critique:

Having read a great deal of hype before finally getting around to The Hunger Games, I am happy to say I was only minorly disappointed. I should say that my disappointment came from the book’s focus on adventure rather than the dystopian society. I’m just not as into adventure. That said, this was an excellent read and I cannot wait for the sequel. Both fast-paced and meditative, solid characters, a suspenseful ending, action, romance, friendship, and family, with a sci-fi element make this a book that both male and female readers of all ages will love.

Curriculum Ties:

Collins cites mythology (Theseus) as inspiration for The Hunger Games; inclusion within such units in English and History courses would be appropriate.

Challenge Issues:

Violence committed by teens against other teens.

Ask challengers to read the whole book and refer them to its outstanding reviews and popularity.

Selection Rationale:

The Hunger Games is an easy sell; from the cover to the final page, this is a story that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Despite the complications of romance, there is enough adventure and action to create immense appeal for readers not looking for a relationship story.

“What Collins has done here is set up a series that will sink its teeth into readers. The future of this book will go one of two ways. Either it will remain an unappreciated cult classic for years to come or it will be fully appreciated right from the start and lauded. My money lies with the latter. A contender in its own right.” – School Library Journal

ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

Booktalking:

What does Gale feel when Katniss volunteers to take Primrose’s place?

About the Author:

Suzanne Collins is also the author of the best selling series The Underland Chronicles. Prior to writing novels for children and young adults, Collins wrote for children’s television.

Additional Information:

Part of a planned trilogy, the sequel, Catching Fire will be released early this fall.

The Burn Journals
Brent Runyon
ISBN 0-375-82621-1
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
Grade 8 and up
Non-Fiction/Memoir

Fourteen-year-old Brent cannot stand the thought of facing his parents after screwing up again. The only way out he can see is death, but when his plans go wrong, Brent endures a year of pain and recovery.

Summary:

At age fourteen Brent Runyon sets himself on fire. He is depressed and in trouble at school again; he’s already tried to kill himself several times, he figures fire is an element you can’t back down from. Boy, was he wrong. Rather than face the consequences of his actions, Brent puts on his bathrobe, douses it in gasoline, steps into the bathtub and lights a match. After mere moments the pain is more than he can stand. He turns on the shower and puts out the flames. Unsure of what to do, he leaves the bathroom to find his brother. And so begins Brent’s year in rehab and therapy. The Burn Journals recounts his painful physical and mental healing as a result of the third-degree burns covering eighty-five percent of his body. Brent endures skin grafts, operations, and physical and psychiatric therapy. He thinks his brother hates him, he has to deal with social repercussions.

Critique:

Wow. This is quite a story, parts of it are very shocking and moving, but overall I found the book lacking. Although the book was engrossing, it seemed there was a level of his mental healing process that Runyon could not communicate. Why was he so depressed? Was he a pyromaniac? What was wrong with him? I was left with a lot of unanswered questions by this one — Runyon offers up no answers or solutions except for the importance of help. However, I think it is a valuable addition to a teen biography/memoir collection.

Curriculum Ties:

Use The Burn Journals while studying memoirs in a Language Arts or English class.

Controversy:

Suicide, graphic descriptions of Brent’s physical recuperation.

Have challengers read the entire book. Highlight the importance of discussing depression in teen boys as well as girls.

Selection Rationale:

I read good reviews of this book, but that isn’t why I included it. This is a book about male depression, an important and seldom addressed issue. The Burn Journals is important for this reason. It will undeniably also appeal to girls.

ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults, 2007

Booktalking:

What does Brent’s brother see and feel when Brent walks out of the bathroom?

Author Information:

Brent Runyon, born 1977, has written three books for young adults. He is a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life, where the story of his suicide attempt was first featured.

Additional Information:

The audiobook version of The Burn Journals is an ALA Amazing Audiobook for Young Adults (2009).

The Burn Journals http://www.burnjournals.com/content.html