Black Box
Julie Schumacher
ISBN 978-0-385-73542-1
Delacorte, 2008
Grades 9 to 12
Realistic Fiction

Elena wishes she could access the black box inside her hospitalized older sister.


Elena has always taken care of her big sister Dora. Her job is made more difficult by Dora’s hospitalization after a suicide attempt. Rather than getting better after her hospitalization, medication, and therapy, Dora’s mental state progressively declines. Elena is at a loss. Dora makes her swear her loyalty, forbidding Dora from telling their parents when she skips her meds or hordes pills. Dora’s condition continues to deteriorate and she attempts suicide again.


Elegant and moving. Schumacher employs metaphor beautifully.

Curriculum Ties:

Use in metaphor studies.



Have challengers read the entire book and refer them to the great number of accolades received by Black Box.

Selection Rationale:

“Schumacher beautifully conveys Elena’s loneliness and guilt as she tries to protect her sister without betraying her, as well as the emotional release she experiences upon finding someone to trust with her own feelings. The spare prose is loaded with small, revealing details of the relationships that surround Elena and how they change through Dora’s illness. This novel is a quick read, but it will leave a lasting and ultimately hopeful impression.” – Booklist

“Fittingly, the novel doesn’t resolve neatly; although it ends on a note of healing and hope, its strength is in the way it allows readers to see the messy, ugly complexities of mental illness and witness the collateral damage it wreaks on the entire family.” – Kirkus

About the Author:

Julie Schumacher is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota. Her first short story was included in Best American Short Stories in 1983. She writes for both adults and younger readers.


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

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.


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.


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.


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


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