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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How I Live Now
Meg Rosoff
ISBN 0-553-37-605-5
Random House, 2004
Grades 9 to 12
Science Fiction/Survival/Post-Apocalyptic

Sent to her cousin’s country home an ocean away, Daisy quickly learns about love, loss, and survival when war breaks out.

Summary:

Daisy is sent to her cousin’s in the English countryside. While there, England is attacked and Daisy is stranded, unable to get back to her native New York or contact her parents. Her aunt is lost to them as they become more and more isolated. But the children are happy. In this fleeting idyll, Daisy begins to fall for a younger cousin, Edmond, and they embark on a secret romance. Their happiness does not last, however, when the war comes literally to their doorstep. They children are separated and shipped off when their house is taken over for army operations. Daisy is sent off with her cousin Piper, nine. She is bent on finding Edmond and her other cousins, Isaac and Osberrt, from the first. When gunfire sounds the girls seize the opportunity to find their family. Arriving at the house where the others are supposed to be, they find only death and destruction. Although they are starving and exhausted Piper and Daisy make their way back to Piper’s house. The girls continue with their struggle to stay alive and the knowledge that they have had no news from or of Edmond or the other boys. Out of the blue the phone rings and on it is a voice Daisy recognizes. Daisy is sent back to New York, where she lives for the next six years, waiting for the war to end. Daisy receives a letter from Piper when the war finally ends and is one of the first people let back into England. The family is reunited but all is not as it was. Everyone is older, and Edmond seems permanently damaged from the trauma of the war and the shock of losing Daisy. But this is Daisy’s home, her family. Despite the hardships, the brokenness, the silence, these are the people Daisy lives and how she lives now.

Critical Evaluation:

This is a heartbreaking story about struggle, survival, love, and finally, acceptance. I enjoyed every moment of this book. Rosoff created characters that are mysterious and, at times, supernatural while still remaining real. Daisy’s voice is perfect.

Curriculum Ties:

Integrate into a unit on war for a history class.

Challenge Issues:

Teen sexuality, incest.

These elements really lend to the tone of the story and show how Daisy and Edmond are growing up too quickly. Ask challengers to read the entire book and see if their opinions change. Refer challengers to reviews and awards won by How I Live Now.

Selection Rationale:

How I Live Now is both highly touted and one I was very interested in reading. It definitely lived up to the rave reviews, which is why it is included here. Daisy’s personal development makes this an important read.

“This riveting first novel paints a frighteningly realistic picture of a world war breaking out in the 21st century.” – Publishers Weekly

Michael L. Printz Award Winner, 2005

Booktalking:

Use a passage where Daisy discusses how her approach to eating has changed.

About the Author:

Meg Rosoff is an American who has resided in London since 1989, she worked in advertising for years. How I Live Now was her first novel. Rosoff followed the book with Just in Case (2006) and What I Was (2007). Her next novel, The Bride’s Farewell is planned for release in 2009

The First Part Last
Angela Johnson
ISBN 0-689-84922-2
Simon & Schuster, 2003
Grades 6 to 12
Urban Fiction/Parenting

When Bobby learns his girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant his emotions are mixed. Now that he has Feather, he has nothing but love for her, but daily life is a struggle as a sixteen-year-old single father.

Summary:

Kids raising kids. Sixteen-year-old Bobby learns about the challenges of parenthood sooner than expected when his girlfriend, Nia, becomes pregnany. Bobby struggles to make it to school, stay awake in class, and be a man after his daughter Feather is born. Bobby is the sole care-taker of Feather. Although he lives with his mother, she gives little support and the baby’s mother and maternal grandparents are absent. Bobby’s story is told through passages highlighting the differences between “then” (before Feather is born and Nia was in his life) and “now”. The chapters describe how Bobby and Nia (and their parents) dealt with the news of the pregnancy, their decision to put the baby up for adoption, and finally an explanation of why Bobby has Feather. Due to complications in her pregnancy and the birth of Feather, Nia is in a persistant vegetative state.

Critique:

The First Part Last is a touching look at what teenage fatherhood must be like. Bobby is a frank and honest narrator who lets the reader in on the bad as well as the good. Every sentence echoes with his love for his daughter and the journey he is on to become a man. Johnson also shows the hurt and love felt by Nia and Bobby’s parents and friends after they announce the pregnancy.  I read this short book in one sitting and loved every moment of it. Simply put – incredible. Bobby wishes that he could begin life wise and finish innocent and pure, like his daughter, a valuable sentiment for other kids who feel like they are growing up too fast.

Curriculum Ties:

This book should simply be included in English classes because it is so beautifully written.

Controversy:

Premarital sex, illegal activity, teen parenting.

Refer challengers to reviews, ask them to read the entire book.

Selection Rationale:

This is such a touching and elegant book, it warrants inclusion without question. It is also important for its portrayal of a teen father stepping up and loving his child.

The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, 2004

“…from the first page, readers feel the physical reality of Bobby’s new world: what it’s like to hold Feather on his stomach, smell her skin, touch her clenched fists, feel her shiver, and kiss the top of her curly head. Johnson makes poetry with the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again. The great cover photo shows the strong African American teen holding his tiny baby in his arms.” – Booklist

“…any flaws in the plot are overshadowed by the beautiful writing. Scenes in which Bobby expresses his love for his daughter are breathtaking.” – School library Journal

Booktalking:

Read the first two pages aloud (Bobby wants the first part to happen last).

Read the section in which Bobby wishes he could ask for a doctor’s note to get out of parenting, page 25.

Read the final chapter, ‘Heaven’, about Bobby and Feather’s new beginning, pages 130-131.

About the Author:

Angela Johnson was born in 1961 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She has written more than ten books for young adults, and is a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award.

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.

Bronx Masquerade
Nikki Grimes
ISBN 0-14-250189-1
Puffin, 2002
Grade 9 and up
Urban Fiction

What happens when eighteen students decide to give up the masquerade?

Summary:

Mr. Ward, a high school teacher in the Bronx develops open mic days in his classroom. The opportunity for self-expression and exploration is empowering for many students. Some students were already poets, some write for the first time. Through their poetry, the students break down barriers and destroy stereotypes. They explore self-esteem, body image, abuse, ethnicity, stereotypes, friendship, and art. These are teens who are daily participating in the Bronx masquerade and ready to break out of the box. Their experience culminates in a newspaper article, (finally, one that focuses on teens in a positive light), and a school assembly where the students read their poems.

Critique:

The format of this book is interesting and will appeal to readers. Grimes is an excellent writer, successfully developing eighteen distinct voices in Bronx Masquerade. Many readers will find themselves inspired by this positive story.

Curriculum Ties:

Incorporate Bronx Masquerade into classroom units on poetry or drama; excellent read aloud option; would be great for a drama class.

Controversy:

Addresses issues of sexuality and abuse in a non-explicit manner.

Refer challengers to reviews and awards won by Bronx Masquerade, as well as Nikki Grimes’ reputation as a young adult author.

Selection Rationale:

This nontraditional format will interest readers and provide lots of fodder for discussion. The story has a positive tone and really shows the importance of portraying teens in a positive manner.

ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2007

ALA Quick Picks for Young Adult Readers, 2003

“This inventive literary format encourages expression and just might have students begging for an open mike in their own classrooms.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Select any of the poems written by Mr. Ward’s students to read aloud.


About the Author:

Nikki Grimes grew up in New York and has been writing since the age of six. She is a poet and novelist, although she claims the title “poet” more readily. She has written many award winning books, including three novels for young adults.

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.

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.