Broken China
Lori Aurelia Williams
ISBN 0-689-86878-2
Simon & Schuster, 2005
Grades 8 and up
Urban Fiction

China thought being a mother at fourteen was tough, now she’s about to face something even harder.

Summary:

China Cup Cameron is fourteen and a mother to two-year-old Amina. She has trouble keeping up in class, with keeping up with life. After experimenting one time with her best friend, Trip, China is pregnant. She isn’t a regular kid any more, but she loves her daughter. With the help of her wheelchair bound uncle, Simon, China provides a safe and loving home for little Amina. Unfortunately, tragedy befalls the family when Amina suddenly dies at the babysitters’ due to a heart condition. Both China and Simon are heartbroken by Amina’s death. China is ruined by grief; she drops out of school and falls deeper and deeper into depression. Wanting to provide the best for her daughter even in death, China pulls out all of the stops for Amina’s funeral (egged on by a sketchy funeral director). Of course, the funeral puts China into massive debt, so she has to find a job. The job market is tough for a fourteen year old high school dropout, but eventually China gains employment at a kind of coat check girl at a strip club named Obsidian Queens. Life gets even rougher as China’s relationships with her family and friends change as a result of her employment. She makes new connections, befriending women in trouble and discovering the manipulations she has become the victim of. China is damaged by the death of her daughter and her experiences at Obsidian Queens, but her story ends on a hopeful note.

Critique:

Watching China sink into the hole of both her and society’s making is difficult. At the beginning of the book China is truly trying to make the best of a tough situation, and is finding wonderful support (it takes many different forms) in her friends and family. Her depression and ways of dealing with the tragedy are evoke real emotion, but the plot is burdened by too many setbacks and hardships. Williams developed an interesting cast of characters, who I found myself rooting for.

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Controversy:

Portrayal of teen sex, prostitution, and drug use.

China reflects at the beginning of Broken China: “Before I had Amina I had seen pregnant girls on TV that were only a little older than I was when I got a big belly” (p. 4). Teen pregnancy is a reality and this story does little to romanticize or glorify the life of a teen parent or even teen sex. China was obviously not ready to have sex, experiencing no pleasure or sense of emotional bonding with her partner, Trip. Sex was weird and awkward for China, and she didn’t keep doing it. Likewise, prostitution and drug use are frowned upon through the tone of the book. Broken China is loud and clear regarding these issues.

Selection Rationale:

China’s age at the beginning of this novel will help it appeal to younger readers, will more mature content will still make it relevant to older teens. This would be an excellent selection for a mixed ages book group. I found myself emotionally involved with the characters in this book.

American Library Association’s Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2006

“…the emotional life of the story rings true. Readers will be drawn in by the portraits of strong individuals working hard to re-shape their lives.” – The Horn Book Magazine, March/April, 2005
“Williams is a master of character development and genuinely realized emotional growth. Her plotting almost boils
over with big problems, but China is so compelling and engaging in her responses to situations that readers will care more about cheering her along than about the author’s operatic predilections.” – School Library Journal, March 2005

Booktalking:

Why is China broken?

According to China why was it so important to have a beautiful funeral?

About the Author:

Lori Aurelia Williams, an avid reader as a child, holds a Master’s in English from the University of Texas. She is the author of two other young adult books: When Kambia Elaine Flew In from Neptune (2000) and Shayla’s Double Brown Baby Blues (2003). She received a James A. Michener scholarship while in school.

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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.