Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, DVD
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Directed by Peter Sollett
Sony Pictures, 2009
PG-13
Romantic Comedy/Music

Nick, a straight boy in a queercore band, meets beautiful but understated Norah after a rough break up. Their love of music brings them together.

Summary:

After Nick’s hot girlfriend breaks up with him he meets Norah, the daughter of a rich director. Norah is actually a friend of Nick’s ex and has been secretly pining after the mix CDs he creates. The two spend the evening and night trying to track down the band Where’s Fluffy? and bonding over music. Romance and hilarity ensue.

Critique:

I thought the cast did a great job with this terrible movie. I could hardly stand it. The concept is good, though.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

None.

Selection Rationale:

Great actors and actresses! Teens familiar with Michael Cera and who love music will flock to this movie.

“ ‘Slight’ is too strong a word to apply to this teen spin on Martin Scorsese’s After Hours… The compensations are Cera and Dennings, both charmers with a wry way around a comic line.” – Rolling Stone

Booktalking:

One night, one band, one boy, one girl; what will happen?

About the Author:

Peter Sollett is the award-winning director or Raising Victor Vargas.

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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.

Summary:

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.

Crititique:

Elegant and moving. Schumacher employs metaphor beautifully.

Curriculum Ties:

Use in metaphor studies.

Controversy:

Suicide.

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.

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.

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.

An Abundance of Katherines
John Green
Read by Jeff Woodman
ISBN 1-4233-2451-X
Brilliance Audio, 2006
Grade 9 and up
Realistic Fiction/Humor

6 discs, 7 hours of listening time

Colin has a thing for one type of girl: Katherines. When Katherine the 19th dumps him, his friend decides its an excuse for a road trip. Colin meets Lindsey Lee Wells, will she be the one to end the Katherine streak?

Summary:

When Colin Singleton is dumped by his nineteenth Katherine, his best friend, Hassan, decides it is time for a road trip. Colin needs to get over it, also, Colin needs to get over Katherines. You see, Colin has been dating Katherines (not Kathys, Kats, Kates, or Catherines — just K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-Es). Hassan and Colin wind up staying in Gutshot, Tennessee after meeting Lindsey Lee Wells. Lindsey’s mom puts them to work interviewing town members for an oral history she’s creating. All the while, Colin is searching for a Eureka moment, a moment of inspiration, which he thinks will appear through math equations. Little does he know, Eureka moments often happen when you least expect them.

Critique:

Fun and touching. Woodman does a great job bringing Green’s characters to life. This is my favorite John Green story, he has a thing for weirdos, and Colin is oddly endearing and likable.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

None.

Selection Rationale:

Humor is necessary, especially humor that will appeal to both male and female readers.

“The smart, quirky characters come to life through reader Jeff Woodman’s gentle, thoughtful interpretation.” – Booklist

ALA Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults, 2008

Booktalking:

Anagram like Colin.

Explain the Katherine addiction.

About the Author:

John Green is the author of three incredibly popular young adult novels. He also has a pretty good website and blog (http://www.sparksflyup.com).

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.

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.

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.