No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
Susan Kuklin
ISBN: 0-8050-7950-5
Henry Holt and Company, 2008
Grades 10-12
Non-Fiction/Crime/Incarceration/Biography

It’s a world where teens are sentenced to death row…it’s your world. Read the true story of four boys who are given death sentences.

Summary:

After hearing a talk given by Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney, about the death penalty, author Susan Kuklin decided to write a book about the death penalty. At first the book was to focus on individuals who had been released from death row, but Kuklin decided to change her approach. No Choirboy explores the lives of four men sentenced to death as teens, two of whom Stevenson represented (Mark and Roy). these accounts are followed by the Jenkins family story; William Jenkins was murdered as a teenager, after his death and during his killer’s trial William’s parents became staunch opponents of the death penalty.

Roy Burgess, Mark Melvin, Nanon Williams, and Napoleon Beazley were all convicted of murder and sentenced to death row, Napoleon Beazley was executed in 2001. Kulkin delves into the past, present, and future of the inmates. She explores inequality in the justice system, the mere existence of death sentences for teens, prison life, and the home and social lives of the teens before incarceration. Kuklin’s final chapter concerns the continual healing process experienced by Williams Jenkins’ family, particularly his younger brother and sister, after his murder.

Critique:

Kuklin is not light with her feelings about the death penalty and the justice system. As many reviewers noted, No Choirboy can feel a little heavy handed. However, as an individual who agrees with Kuklin’s views, I was not overwhelmed by her feelings. No Choirboy is an engaging and emotional glimpse at the lives of those involved in crimes that result in death row sentences. As the prisoners try to move on with life while incarcerated they are faced with depression, violence, etc. These men and the Jenkins family try to move beyond the trauma of the past. Nanon Williams became an author after his sentencing, writing about legal injustices, while Mark Melvin is a resident artist in his prison.

Curriculum Ties:

No Choirboy could find a place in a Political Science curriculum or in a Journalism course. This could be a useful text for a Creative Non-Fiction lesson.

Controversy:

Violence, particularly murder; sexual assault; crime; incarceration/prison life.

Refer challengers to reviews or other materials about the prison system.

Awards/Reviews:

American Library Association’s Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

“Her [Kuklin’s] latest title, about individuals who received death-row sentences while they were teenagers, is another direct, compassionate, and eyeopening inquiry….[I]t is a searing and provocative account that will touch teens’ most fundamental beliefs and questions about violence, punishment, our legal and prison systems, and human rights.” – Booklist
“…[W]hile the book is neither comprehensive nor balanced in its treatment of the issues, it is remarkably successful at putting human faces on them, while raising the point that punishment often has as much to do with race, class, prejudice, and compromise as it does with justice. This eye-opening account will likely open minds and hearts, too…” – The Horn Book Magazine

Booktalking:

Roy’s reflection on having a death sentence as a kid, pages 4 to 6.

About the Author:

Susan Kuklin is the author of nine non-fiction books for young adults, and many others for children. Intending to be an actress, Kuklin attended NYU’s acting school. Then she began taking photographs, leading her to photo journalism, where she got her start as children’s author. After working on numerous children’s books, Kuklin began thinking about issues that were current for young adults. She has examined the justice system, AIDS, child slavery, suicide, and human rights.

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Angry Management
Chris Crutcher
ISBN 978-0060502478
Greenwillow Books, 2009
Grade 8 and up
Realistic Fiction/Issues

There are six new volunteers for Mr. Nak’s angry management group, find out why they’re here.

Summary:

Chris Crutcher brings together six characters from previous books in these three novellas. Sarah Byrnes, Angus Bethune, Montana West, Trey Chase, Matt Miller, and Marcus James all have roles in Angry Management. Although the characters may not have known each other in previous novels they are united in this one. All six are voluntarily participating in Mr. Nak’s angry management group. Sure, they all have problems, but Mr. Nak wonders why some of them are there. Friendships and romances form; characters develop self-esteem, learn to love, and operate outside of their comfort zones.

Critique:

In typical Crutcher style, Angry Management addresses hard hitting issues. Its another classic, though I imagine it will see more popularity with those already familiar with these characters. The writing and character development are excellent; I love seeing everybody grow over the course of Angry Management. I would definitely recommend this title to Chris Crutcher lovers.

Curriculum Ties:

Use the first novella to discuss ethics in journalism.

Controversy:

Child abuse, sexuality.

Challengers should visit Crutcher’s website and see what he has to say about censorship and book banning.

Selection Rationale:

Chris Crutcher is one of my favorite authors, and I think his books will prove to be classics, so I couldn’t wait to read this new release. This will be a hit with readers familiar with Crutcher’s characters.

Booktalking:

Give a brief introduction to each character from Mr. Nak’s point of view.

About the Author:

Angry Management is Chris Crutcher’s newest title. He is has written many young adult novels that address tough issues; he is a vocal opponent of censorship and book banning.

Lock and Key
Sarah Dessen
ISBN 978-0-14-241472-9
Penguin, 2008
Grades 9 to 12
Realistic Fiction

Will Ruby be able to open up to her new life, or will she keep everything under lock and key?

Summary:

Ruby was abandoned first by her older sister and then by her mother. When Child Protective Services steps in and makes her move in with her older sister, Cora, Ruby feels like her whole world has been turned upside down. In a stable home for the first time Ruby feels lost and alone. The neighbor boy quickly tries to befriend Ruby, who is reluctant to start a relationship. Naturally, Ruby does begin to make friends with the neighbor and others. She slowly lets her walls down; she finds a job, bonds with her sister, and discovers some truths about her family. Her first year with a real family and friends is a tough learning experience, but Ruby flourishes by the end of the book.

Critique:

I liked this title much more than anticipated, the plot was entertaining and I found most of the characters interesting. Ruby’s personal growth was exciting to witness.

Curriculum Ties:

Examine the use of metaphor in Lock and Key.

Challenge Issues:

None.

Selection Rationale:

I found this a pretty solid contribution to chick lit and Sarah Dessen is incredibly popular.

ALA Ultimate YA Bookshelf

“Despite the uneven narrative, Dessen’s writing can be beautiful, and her story is involving.” – Booklist

“The narrative’s tendency to skate past key events, detailing the buildup and aftermath but skipping the thing itself, may frustrate those who want every juicy detail. Still, the in-depth exploration of issues of family, trust, and responsibility gives readers plenty to chew on, and the complex, deeply sympathetic characters are pure pleasure to spend time with.” – The Horn Book Magazine

Booktalking:

Describe family from Ruby’s point of view.

Author Information:

Sarah Dessen is the author of nine young adult books. Her most recent release is Along for the Ride.

Ball Don’t Lie
Matt de la Pena
ISBN 0-385-73232-5
Delacorte, 2005
Grade 9 and u
Urban Fiction/Sports

Sticky is at his best on the basketball court. There, it isn’t about his dead mother, his shoplifting habit, or even his girlfriend.

Summary:

Sticky has been bouncing from foster home to group home and back again for the past ten years, ever since his drug addicted mother committed suicide. As an aspiring basketball player in a poor neighborhood, Sticky is a white boy living in a world of black men. At 6′ 3″ with an OCD diagnosis, he has a tendency to stick out. Sticky plays for his high school team and spends a lot of time playing ball at a local rec center. This is where Sticky thrives. Over time Sticky has become one of the guys in this diverse group. Sticky’s greatest wish is to play basketball professionally.

Sticky is also a shoplifter, but after a lifetime of poverty who can blame him when he just wants a new pair of khakis? He meets his girlfriend An-thu while trying to lift some pants from the store she works at. Sticky struggles to be a good boyfriend to An-thu, navigate socially, and do his best at basketball. Being broke doesn’t help and an attempted molestation by one of the guys he plays ball with is majorly disruptive. Sticky almost loses it all when he robs the wrong guy at an ATM, trying to get the money to buy An-thu a present. Although Sticky ends up in the hospital, he doesn’t get arrested and the wound in his hand heals. At the novel’s end, Sticky is being recruited by college basketball teams.

Critique:

Boys and girls alike with find something to love about Sticky and Ball Don’t Lie. With romance, basketball, violence, drama, and humor, this book should find universal appeal.  I found the dialogue and language authentic and adored the characters. This book felt real.

Curriculum Ties:

Use Ball Don’t Lie to examine develop different voices in a writing unit.

Controversy:

Teen sex, language, shoplifting, violence, child neglect, suicide.

Refer challengers to the strong reviews of this book.

Selection Rationale:

This is such an honest and heartfelt book it deserves inclusion on any YA list; it is also a unique addition to the urban fiction genre and is sure to appeal to boys.

“Pena’s debut tells a riveting story about Sticky’s struggle to secure a college basketball scholarship and deepen his relationship with his girlfriend… Teens will be strongly affected by the unforgettable, distinctly male voice; the thrilling, unusually detailed basketball action; and the questions about race, love, self-worth, and what it means to build a life without advantages.” – Booklist

“Basketball has an urban fan base, and de la Pena does an excellent job of combining the streets with the sport. Gritty and mesmerizing.” – Kirkus
“Realistic dialogue, interesting characters, and a unique voice keep this novel from being just another story about inner-city life, lifting it into the realm of good literature.” – Library Media Connection

Booktalking:

Read aloud one of the many basketball scenes.

Read aloud the section where Mico burns Sticky with a cigarette, pages 64-65.

Read a scene from Sticky’s hospitalization and his observations of Anh-thu, pages 264-274.
About the Author:

Matt de la Pena is also the author of Mexican Whiteboy (2008) and We Were Here (2009). He has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. He loves basketball and attended college on an athletic scholarship.

Additional Information:

Ball Don’t Lie was adapted into a movie .