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.

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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 .

After Tupac and D Foster
Jacqueline Woodson
ISBN 978-0-399-24654-8
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008
Grade 6 and up
Urban Fiction
Brought together by Tupac and double dutch, three young girls in Queens try to discover their Big Purpose.
Summary:

D Foster discovers Neeka and the unnamed narrator one afternoon while they jump rope on the block in Queens. Narrator and Neeka have been friends forever. D Foster, a girl of mystery, quickly insinuates herself in the two other girls’ friendship. This is not a fast paced story, in the 150 short pages of the book, the girls essentially start growing up and embarking on personal discovery. Although the three girls are all eleven when the book begins, there are differences that make for meaningful interactions. Neeka and the narrator come from relatively stable homes, while D Foster is is in foster care (her mother is a drug addict). The girls meet while Tupac is still alive, and they are motivated and moved by his music. As the girls grow they become closer, but they also discover there is much they don’t know about eachother. Tupac forms a central theme in After Tupac and D Foster; he is a symbol of their lives, they identify with his music and his past. Tupac’s shooting is a sign of the pain in their lives. When D Foster’s mother re-enters the picture, D Foster slips out of Neeka and the narrator’s lives as quickly as she came.

Critique:

This is practically a period piece. Woodson effortlessly evokes the sounds, sights, and news of the 90’s. The development of D Foster,  Neeka, and our narrator are interesting studies in girlhood. Woodson addresses a slew of tough issues in this slim book, but it never feels forced or unnatural.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

Drug use, homosexuality, incarceration, violence.

Have challenger read the book, these  issues are dealt with in an age appropriate and tasteful manner. Point out positive reviews and awards earned by this book and the author.

Selection Rationale:

This is an award-winning book that I think will appeal to a wide age group.

ALSC Notable Children’s Book, 2009

Newbery Honor Book

“Walkmans and bootleg tapes solidify the setting of the previous decade, bringing added authenticity to Woodson’s satisfying tale of childhood friendship.” – Kirkus

“There are so many positive aspects to this work including the portrayal of loving, stable African-American families. One of the troubling points is the adoration the girls have for Tupac. Having said this, I still think that the strong portrayal of family and friends makes this a thought provoking and exalting read.” – Library Media Connection

Booktalking:

Read the lyrics to one of the Tupac songs D Foster loves.

About the Author:

Jacqueline Woodson, born in 1963, has written nine books for young adults and many others for children. Her young adult novel Miracle’s Boys was adapted into a TV miniseries. Woodson has won many awards including the Caldecott Medal, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Newbery Honor Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the National Book Award.