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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Looking for JJ
Anne Cassidy
ISBN 978-0-15-206190-6
Harcourt, 2004
Grade 8 and up
Realistic Fiction/Crime

JJ hasn’t existed since Alice was released from prison, but when someone starts looking for her in town, will her secrets be exposed?

Summary:

As a child JJ committed a terrible crime, she murdered one of her friends in a fit of rage. Now, she’s served her time and has taken a new name and identity. Alice lives with a foster mother, is a senior in high school, has a boyfriend, and works in a cafe. She’s pretty normal. But there is the ever looming threat that her true identity will be discovered. The press is always there and her mother is out there somewhere, too. When it happens, Alice’s cover gets blown, it still comes as a shock. Once again she has to confront her past and create a new identity, in the process losing all of the comfort, love, and safety of being Alice.

Critique:

A well-written and though provoking read. I only wish there were more explanation of why JJ committed such an atrocious act, I understand her anger but what else was going on?

Curriculum Ties:

Looking for JJ could be used when discussing journalism, particularly ethics in journalism.

Controversy:

Murder, violence, child abuse.

Refer challenger to reviews and ask them to read the entire book. Indicate the social relevancy of the issues presented in this book.

Selection Rationale:

This book brings up too many issues to ignore.

“The ethical issues and solid, suspenseful storytelling provide many discussion possibilities.” – Booklist

“Crisply plotted and smoothly written, this gripping hook is sure to bold teens’ attention.” – School Library Journal

ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2008

Booktalking:

Share the murder scene.

About the Author:

Anne Cassidy’s most recent book, The Dead House, is available now. She is the author of over twenty-five young adult novels.

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.

Homeboyz
Alan Lawrence Sitomer
ISBN 978-142310030-0
Hyperion, 2007
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

Violence is a part of life when you live in T-Bear’s neighborhood, but when the street hits close to home and he decides its time for pay back, T-Bear’s life start to unravel.

Summary:

T-Bear’s little sister, Tina, is the victim of a drive by shooting. Everyone thinks it’s a case of RP, RT – wrong place, wrong time. The only thing on T-Bear’s mind is revenge on the gang that committed the crime. T-Bear is a computer genius who has no interest in gangster politics, but getting back at the people who took his sister away from his family. T-Bear comes up with a foolproof plan, but a storeowner gets in the way and T-Bear gets caught. He ends up on probation under the supervision of Officer Mariana Diaz, a product of the tough streets herself. Diaz is implementing a mentoring component as a part of her rehabilitation program and T-Bear is assigned to twelve-year-old Micah, an aspiring gangster. T-Bear pretends to play along with his probation program, all the while he is designing his revenge via computer hacking. Micah and T-Bear begin with a tense relationship, but make great strides as T-Bear realizes the obstacles Micah faces. Impoverished and held back by dyslexia, Micah struggles with hunger, discomfort, and reading difficulties. Micah and T-Bear’s relationship ends up growing, Micah spends time with his family, proving to be the balm that winds up healing the grieving group.

Critique:

I greatly enjoyed this read, I found it thoughtful, sad, engaging, and ultimately, uplifting. Sitomer’s characters are often complex and invite the reader to care about them. The language was appropriate and helped to evoke the mood of the story. The emotions felt real.

Curriculum Ties:

Use in discussion about the juvenile justice system.

Controversy:

Language, violence, gang activity, illegal activity.

Refer challengers to reviews, and ask them to read the whole book. Note how T-Bear undergoes changes in his point of view. Also, his books are backed by Disney!

Selection Rationale:

This book will find popularity with a wide variety of readers. Many will find themselves able to relate so some element of the story.

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2008

“…Sitomer uses lean, mean street-speak and dark urban landscapes to emphasize the cycle of violence that Teddy is on the verge of getting caught up in. For the most part, true-grit reality takes precedence over an occasionally preachy subtext, and readers will find themselves riveted with every turn of the page. A frighteningly real story of survival, brotherhood, and friendship.” – School Library Journal

“In this decidedly unsubtle sequel to Hip-Hop High School (Hyperion, 2006), sullen computer wiz Teddy sets out for revenge after gangbangers gun down his sister, Tina, in a drive-by shooting… Still, the tale’s violent, rough-hewn plot and street inflected language supply sufficient intensity to carry the heavy agenda.” – Booklist

Booktalking:

Is revenge the answer? Reflect on using violence to get revenge from T-Bear’s point of view.

Discuss T-Bear and Micah’s relationship from Officer Diaz’s point of view.

About the Author:

Alan Lawrence Sitomer is an inner-city high school English teacher and professor of Education at Loyola Marymount University. He is the author of four young adult novels and two non-fiction books.

Tyrell by Coe Booth

August 7, 2009

Tyrell
Coe Booth
ISBN 978-0-439-83880-1
Push/Scholastic, 2007
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

Will homelessness destroy all that Tyrell values?

Summary:

Tyrell is the story of one teen’s fight to survive with no support from his family. When Tyrell’s dad lands in jail, his family is shortly evicted from their apartment. They wind up in shelter housing, broke, hungry, and surrounded by roaches, he struggles to survive as a homeless teen. Tyrell’s girlfriend Noveesha is his opposite in many ways. Her mom pays the bills and puts food on the table. Noveesha is a good girl, with plans for college. At the shelter, Tyrell meets Jasmine, a girl who seems to be more on his page. Scrounging for money isn’t working for Tyrell anymore, a giant party is the answer to all his problems. Tyrell enlists the help of his father’s friends to plan his first party. Held in an illegal space, with pimps selling sex, Tyrell’s friend selling drugs, the threat of police is real. But Tyrell pulls off his party with nary a hitch. With his money problems resolved for the moment, Tyrell must focus on his girl problems and his return to school.

Critique:

I really wanted Tyrell to succeed. He is a sympathetic, if imperfect character. After getting knocked down again and again, Tyrell is still caring and struggling to do right and survive. The relief I felt went Tyrell’s party goes off without an arrest was immense. Readers will root for Tyrell and his little brother. I enjoyed the characters in Tyrell, they are diverse and compelling. There is no tidy conclusion to Tyrell’s story, a sequel would be welcome.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Criminal activity, teen sex, violence, language.

Ask challengers to read the entire book and focus on Tyrell’s views of many of the activities going on around him.

Selection Rationale:

An easy, engrossing read.

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

“Despite the grim setting evoked by the sensory prose, this isn’t a story of street violence and drugs; rather, it concerns the more intimate deprivations (and moments of connection, like Tyrell’s play in the snow with little Troy) of  living poor.” – Horn Book Magazine
“Booth, a writing consultant for the NYC Housing Authority, clearly understands how teens living on the edge–in shelters, in projects, on the street–live, talk and survive. It’s the slick street language of these tough but lovable characters and her gritty landscapes that will capture the interests of urban fiction fans.” – Kirkus

Booktalking:

Booktalk by Dr. Joni Bodart available at http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=1494_type=Book_typeId=4462

Write a diary entry about Tyrell from Novisha’s point of view. Contrast this with something from Jasmine’s point of view.

About the Author:

Coe Booth grew up in the Bronx. After graduating from college in 1996, Booth worked with families in crisis. Tyrell is her first novel; her second, Kendra is available now.

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 .

Ride Wit’ Me
Katina King
ISBN 0-9724003-8-9
Young Diamond Books, 2006
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

Mercedes’ father forbids her from seeing Dalvin. Why are the two being forced apart? What lengths will the teens go to to be together?

Summary:

In this modern day, ghetto, Romeo and Juliet, Mercedes and Dalvin find themselves in a doomed relationship. The children of two prominent Chicago crime families, their romance is forbidden by Mercedes’ father. Dalvin’s family is the enemy in his eyes. Mercedes lives a life of wealth and privilege, unaware of her father’s true profession. Mercedes’ father is a major gangster, controlling half of Chicago’s streets. Dalvin and his father control the rest. An old fued drives Mercedes’ father to forbid her relationship with Dalvin. He goes so far as too bring his crew into Dalvin’s parents’ home, threatening them with guns. The whole thing nearly ends in a shootout, luckily Mercedes gives in to her father and agrees to stop seeing Dalvin. Although she doesn’t like the decision, it is preferable to having everyone she cares about killed. Mercedes starts seeing Jacon, who her parents love. Everyone gets a lesson about judging people when Jacob attempts to rape Mercedes. Dalvin discovers the two and saves Mercedes. The tension between families is resolved when Jacob’s true nature comes to light. Dalvin and Mercedes plan to get married with their parents’ blessing.

Critique:

Although this wasn’t my favorite selection, I really enjoyed the story. This is an accessible story and there are lots of elements for teens to identify with. The writing is not perfect, Ride Wit’ Me has a number of spelling and grammatical errors. But this is an engrossing and fast read that will get teens reading and show the importance of sticking with your beliefs.

Controversy:

Language, descriptions of oral sex and intercourse, glorification of illegal activities

Ride Wit’ Me and all of its trappings are representative of the genre. Point the book’s popularity with students, encourage parents and other challenger to engage readers in discussions about the pros and cons of Mercedes and Dalvin’s lifestyle.

Curriculum Ties:

Compare and contrast with other tales of star crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliet.

Selection Rationale:

This is a book written for teens that is much more in the vein of traditional urban fiction than most of my other selections; it is sexy, gritty, explicit, glorifies wealth, and a life of crime. It is fabulous. This will book attract readers.

“Following in the footsteps of books like Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever (S & S, 1999), this title is a much lighter account of street life… A fast read, the story might appeal to fans of Deja King’s adult books, and is a good addition to libraries looking for more urban popular fiction without the raw street language that goes with so much of it.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Read aloud the section on mo’ money, mo’ problems. Pages 1-2, up to “But, baby girl, you’re worth it.”

Write a monologue from the perspective of Dalvin about his life.

About the Author:

I believe Katina King is a pen name of author Joy King, co-owner of Young Diamond Books, who writes urban fiction for adults under the pen name Deja King. Young Diamond is a new publishing company specializing in street lit for young adults, Ride Wit’ Me is their first publication.

Additional Information:

Katina King intends Ride Wit’ Me to be the first book in a series.

Dope Sick
Walter Dean Myers
ISBN 978-0061214776
Amistad, 2009
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

What if you witnessed your death before it happened? What if you got a second chance? Lil J re-lives the drama of his past and looks into the trauma of the future to discover where he went wrong.
Summary:

Lil J is broke sick. He is beaten down. He heads out to apply for a job at the Home Depot and get his prescription filled. He feels confident, looks good. But the line for interviews stretches out the door and his mom is addicted to the painkillers he’s picking up.

When the opportunity arises to get in on a high paying drug deal, Lil J seizes the opportunity. Rico, his partner in the deal is a heroin addict, skimming off the top of the bags before the sale. When Rico and Lil J meet the buyer something doesn’t feel right – he’s a cop. Rico shoots the cop, leaving him in critical condition, and the two run.             Lil J is shot in the arm by a second undercover cop.

The cops are after Lil J. Rico was caught and named Lil J as the shooter. Injured and on the run, Lil J seeks refuge in a crack house. He timidly strikes up conversation with a man named Kelly who he takes to be a crackhead. Lil J soon learns that things are not always what they seem.

A TV in Kelly’s room shows the street scene outside – cops searching for Lil J. Kelly has a remote control and a TV that can show Lil J’s future, and its not looking so hot. Shocked by the image of him poised on the building’s rooftop, surrounded by police, holding a gun to his own head, Lil J wishes he had the power to change the past to fix this future. According to Kelly, he can alter the past and create a new beginning. He just needs to figure out what to change.

Most of the book is Lil J reflecting on his life and the decisions he has made. Initially, Lil J makes it seem like he’s led a life free of missteps, but over the course of the book the truth comes out. Lil J is a father, a drug user, a minor criminal, he went to jail, and failed at school. As Kelly fast forwards and rewinds with Lil J, Lil J becomes more self aware.

Critique:

Dope Sick is a stunning addition to Walter Dean Myers’ works. This novel is a breathtaking read. Incorporating both harsh realities and the supernatural, Dope Sick will resonate with readers who have ever wished they could take something back. I cannot say enough good things about this story, the writing is impeccable, the is story universal, and the emotions are real. Watching Lil J watch himself about to commit suicide is heart wrenching.  I loved this book from beginning to end.

Curriculum Ties:

Use Dope Sick in a unit on magic realism or the literary device of flashbacks.

Controversy:

Violence, violence against law enforcement, drug use, teen sex.

Indicate to challengers the importance of Walter Dean Myers in the field of young adult literature. Have challengers read the entire book and refer them to reviews.

Selection Rationale:

A new book from Walter Dean Myers is too important to overlook in a list like this. I found Dope Sick to be an extraordinary contribution to young adult literature. I think this is a title that could be used in advanced English classes as well as one to lure in reluctant readers.

ALA Quick Pick Nomination, 2010

Booktalking:

Summarize Lil J’s situation, and the decisions put before him.

What does Kelly think of Lil J?

About the Author:

Walter Dean Myers was born in 1937 in West Virginia. He was raised by adoptive parents in Harlem. After dropping out of high school at the age of seventeen, Myers joined the army. He has written over fifty fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adults and is one of the most critically acclaimed young adult authors around.

The Coldest Winter Ever
Sister Souljah
ISBN 0-7432-7010-X
Washington Square Press, 1999
Adult
Urban Fiction

Winter learned to hustle from the best, will it be enough to keep her alive?

Summary:

Winter Santiaga has it all: the looks, the money, the power, and the home. These are the things that matter to Winter. Winter’s father, Ricky, is a successful gangster in New York, who taught his wife and children the art of hustling. But the the Santiagas’ world is quickly turned upside down beginning with a shooting where the mother is shot in the face.  Mrs. Santiaga is destroyed by wound; her beauty is ruined and she forms an addiction to painkillers. Santiaga is arrested along with most of his street army. With no one to turn to and limited reserves of money and resources the Santiaga family implodes. Winter’s sisters, Mercedes, Porsche, and Lexus, are snapped up by child welfare and sent to foster homes, but Winter evades the system, ever a hustler. She lives with an older man for a while, followed by a stint with an aunt. At her aunt’s she is reported to child welfare and placed in the House of Success, a group home for girls.

She continues hustling at the home, employing Simone, a friend from Brooklyn to steal items that she re-sells to the House of Success residents. Simone, pregnant, is arrested and Winter refuses to put up bail. Simone is released and brings a crew of girls to the House of Success to beat Winter up. Winter escapes and runs away, but Simone falls and eventually miscarries. Another resident of the House of Success advises winter to stay away and takes her to a “friend’s” house for refuge.

It turns out this friend is Sister Souljah, a political activist whose message Winter despises. Even with an opportunity to grow and perhaps change her destructive path, Winter continues on the road to self destruction. She hustles those who want to help her. Unfortunately, Winter’s hustle at Souljah’s fails when Souljah’s sister switches their bags, leaving Winter with nothing. Forced to leave Souljah’s house, Winter runs into Bullet, a man she dated previously. They rekindle, after all, Winter needs a place to go. Bullet arranges a big, final hustle that will allow he and Winter to set out on their own. The deal is a bust, Winter lands in jail and Bullet walks free.

Prison. This had to be where Winter was headed all her life. She is joined by friends and family from Brooklyn, everybody she knows is there. Released on a pass to attend her mother’s funeral, Winter reunites with her sisters, the eldest of whom is just like Winter. It is not until the very end of The Coldest Winter Ever that Winter realizes her mistakes and learns a lesson or two.

Critique:

The Coldest Winter Ever was kind of like a relentless tapping on your shoulder. Not painful, but definitely annoying. Winter is awful, but you still root for her as she makes bad choices again and again. Witnessing her downward spiral is painful and emotional. She has no respect for herself and thus gains little from others. Sister Souljah effectively illustrates the problems of crime and the cycle of crime, abuse, and beliefs that the Santiaga family is absorbed by.

Curriculum Ties:

An interesting English class assignment would be to pair this novel with another epic family tale, something more conventional such as 100 Years of Solitude by Marquez.

Controversy:

Explicit sex, language, violence, crime.

This is an adult novel, so challenges to it might be rare. I would not shelve it in a YA section. Should a challenge arise from a teen reading the novel, (or any other reason), ask the challenger to read the entire novel and think about the message that Souljah is trying to communicate. Highlight the important place that The Coldest Winter Ever holds in the urban fiction genre and the role that this genre can play in the reading lives of urban youth.

Selection Rationale:

The Coldest Winter Ever is cited again and again as a groundbreaking novel. It is a classic in the urban lit genre.

“Although the novels writing is amateurish, the message is sincere.” – Library Journal

The Coldest Winter Ever is a fast-moving, impeccably brilliant account of choices and consequences within the urban hip-hop culture. Sister Souljah writes eloquently with expressive insights and language of youth. Amidst the crisis and cruelty of inner city poverty and seemingly insurmountable struggles, Sister Souljah’s voice is one of grace and unmistakable clarity in one young woman’s coming-of-age story.” – Magill Book Reviews

Booktalking:

Read the final paragraph, Winter on her sister, page 284.

Construct an opinion of Winter from Midnight’s point of view.

About the Author:

Sister Souljah, born in the Bronx, is an activist, musician, author, performer, and film producer. She is the author of three books. Souljah lectures on many topics about relationships, self-esteem, and rights in the African-American community, as well as diversity and coalition building.

Street Pharm
Allison van Diepen
ISBN 1-4169-11154-5
Simon Pulse, 2006
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

This life is in Ty’s blood, but times are changing and Ty has to think on his feet to survive.

Summary:

Ty took over his father’s business at age sixteen. The life of a dealer is the only life he knows, even if it did put his dad in jail. Ty tries to do everything right and keep under the radar, keep safe. He has a fake job, doesn’t spend excessively, and only lets a couple people in on his business. Even with all his precautions, life takes a turn for the worse when a new dealer, Darkman, moves into town. At the same time Ty starts seeing a new girl, Alyse, who is different from the rest of his world. Ty has to keep much of his life secret from Alyse, which becomes increasingly difficult when someone blows the whistle on his operation. Ty is hospitalized after a drive by shooting, and he has to make decisions about the type of man he wants to become: will he follow in his father’s footsteps or clean up his life?

Critique:

A good read. I found the central characters to be likable and well-formed. Street Pharm did not have the most believable voice at times. This should be a popular novel with reluctant readers, there is plenty of action and a lot of material for teachers and librarians to introduce in discussions. Overall, an excellent addition to the genre complete with positive message.

Curriculum Ties:

Street Pharm would be a good choice for an English class discussion book.

Controversy:

Drug and alcohol use, drug dealing, crime, language.

These elements of the novel are not glamorized, rather, everyone’s life is made more difficult by decisions to engage in illegal activity. Things start looking up for Ty when he decides to distance himself from that life. The language is necessary to provide an authentic feel. Refer to inclusion on ALA “best of” lists and reviews. Ask challengers to read Street Pharm through the conclusion and see if they change their mind.

Selection Rationale:

A positive book, with an ultimately uplifting ending.

ALA Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2007

“There is plenty of swearing, violence, and raunchy topics scattered in the dialogue and the action because this book takes a realistic look at life in a dangerous urban neighborhood. The author researched this story while working in a perilous inner-city Brooklyn high school. It is an eye-opening account of a nice kid who is caught between two worlds and has to make some tough decisions. It also conveys a poignant message for reluctant readers.” – VOYA

Booktalking:

Read the newspaper article about Ty’s shooting, pages 190-191.

Read page 278, about the business taking everything away from Ty.

About the Author:

Allison van Diepen is the author of three young adult novels: Snitch, Raven, and Street Pharm. Van Diepen received a BA in History from Carleton and then moved on to teaching school. She got her inspiration for Snitch and Street Pharm from her experiences as a teacher in Brooklyn. She is a high school teacher in her Canadian hometown, Ottawa.