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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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.

Debbie Harry Sings in French
Meagan Brothers
ISBN 0-8050-8080-5
Holt, 2008
Grades 8 to 12
Realistic Fiction/GLBTQ/Music

Johnny is a big Debbie Harry fan, she becomes a mantra for him. But what does it mean when Johnny wants to be Debbie Harry?

Summary:

Johnny’s dad dies in an accident when he’s twelve. Over the next four years Johnny numbs himself with alcohol and music. After he’s slipped Ecstasy at a Goth club, his mother send him to rehab where he is introduced to Debbie Harry’s music. Debbie Harry becomes his idol, he loves her music and her style. More and more, though, he’s finding that he wants to be like her, to have her power and her grace. When it looks like being at home isn’t going to work out, Johnny’s mom ships him off to South Carolina to live with his uncle Sam and cousin Bug. At his new school he meets beautiful Maria and is harassed for being gay. But Johnny isn’t gay, he has a crush on Maria. Johnny and Maria start dating and he tries to explain how he feels about women: he wants to have sex with women, but he also wants to harness their beauty, toughness, femininity, and gentleness for himself. Maria is surprisingly understanding and encourages Johnny to participate in a drag show as Debbie Harry, she even creates the perfect Debbie Harry dress. Johnny doesn’t win the drag show but he does achieve the feelings of beauty and power he has been reaching for.

Critique:

An excellent book, I was pleasantly surprised, and I absolutely loved the ending. I thought that Johnny’s gender identity was handled very nicely, although it came out of the blue. I love that he isn’t gay. I would recommend this as a queer story that isn’t really about being queer. The integration of the 80’s goth/industrial/punk music was awesome! I wish Johnny was my friend.

Curriculum Ties:

Can be used with other GLBTQ titles to explore identity and literature in English classes.

Controversy:

Sexuality and gender discussions.

Let challengers know how important it is for teens to see themselves reflected in books, etc. Ask challengers to read the whole book and refer them to positive reviews.

Selection Rationale:

This is a great story that takes a different look at gender and sexuality. I can’t remember the last adult book I read about transvestites, let alone a young adult book. This is an important addition to library and bookstore shelves.

“…this compelling and ultimately uplifting novel fills a niche in the growing body of GLBTQ literature for teens.” – Booklist

“This hip work by newbie author Meagan Brothers encourages readers to explore the meanings of all the shades of gray that exist between gay and straight.” – ReadingRants.com

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009

Booktalking:

Describe Johnny’s desire to be beautiful, powerful, sexy, gentle, and tough all at the same time… just like Debbie Harry.

Author Information:

This is Meagan Brothers’ first novel.

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.

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.

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 Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins
ISBN 0-439-02348-3
Scholastic, 2008
Grades 7 to 10
Science Fiction/Adventure/Dystopia

Katniss refuses to let her sister enter a battle she has no chance of winning. But will she have the resources to survive this fight to the death?

Summary:

In a dystopian future North America is now a collection of thirteen colonies called Panem. Supplies are short and many aspects of society have reverted back to those in past ages. The government hosts annual televised games in which each colony sends a representative boy and girl to participate in a fight to the death. The winner is the last one alive and brings fame and food to his or her community. Katniss’ young sister is one of those selected. Of course, Katniss cannot stand to watch her sister enter this battle and volunteers to take her place. Katniss leaves behind her sister, mother, and best friend (Gale, also a burgeoning love interest). The boy selected from her town is Peeta, with whom she has had a bond since they were children. As a marketing ploy, Katniss and Peeta’s handlers/agents direct them to feign a romance. The ploy works only too well and Katniss and Peeta both find themselves developing complicated feelings for one another. The two manage to survive until the end, both together and apart. They face starvation and suffer serious injuries and exhaustion, but their mental and physical strength gives them the upperhand. However, only one contestant can survive. The pair decides to pull one over on the game organizers, and dose themselves with poison. They anticipate that an official will step in before it is too late. Katniss and Peeta are prevented from taking the poison and both declared winners. Katniss acts like a jerk and lets Peeta know that she was only pretending to love him for the ratings. When Katniss and Peeta arrive at the Capitol for an awards ceremony, they are let known that the government is very unhappy with their decisions at the end of the game. Katniss and Peeta are in trouble, the government is watching them. Katniss must choose between Peeta and Gale in the next book.

Critique:

Having read a great deal of hype before finally getting around to The Hunger Games, I am happy to say I was only minorly disappointed. I should say that my disappointment came from the book’s focus on adventure rather than the dystopian society. I’m just not as into adventure. That said, this was an excellent read and I cannot wait for the sequel. Both fast-paced and meditative, solid characters, a suspenseful ending, action, romance, friendship, and family, with a sci-fi element make this a book that both male and female readers of all ages will love.

Curriculum Ties:

Collins cites mythology (Theseus) as inspiration for The Hunger Games; inclusion within such units in English and History courses would be appropriate.

Challenge Issues:

Violence committed by teens against other teens.

Ask challengers to read the whole book and refer them to its outstanding reviews and popularity.

Selection Rationale:

The Hunger Games is an easy sell; from the cover to the final page, this is a story that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Despite the complications of romance, there is enough adventure and action to create immense appeal for readers not looking for a relationship story.

“What Collins has done here is set up a series that will sink its teeth into readers. The future of this book will go one of two ways. Either it will remain an unappreciated cult classic for years to come or it will be fully appreciated right from the start and lauded. My money lies with the latter. A contender in its own right.” – School Library Journal

ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

Booktalking:

What does Gale feel when Katniss volunteers to take Primrose’s place?

About the Author:

Suzanne Collins is also the author of the best selling series The Underland Chronicles. Prior to writing novels for children and young adults, Collins wrote for children’s television.

Additional Information:

Part of a planned trilogy, the sequel, Catching Fire will be released early this fall.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Carrie Ryan
ISBN 978-0-385-73681-7
Delacorte, 2009
Grade 7 and up
Science Fiction/Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic/Zombie

Mary must venture beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth, battle the Unconsecrated, and reconcile the knowledge that is a part of her with the truth in order to survive.

Summary:

Mary knows and expects certain things, although she may not like them. The Sisterhood holds the knowledge and knows best; due to the Guardians and the fence, her community is safe from the Unconsecrated (the undead); she will marry Harry although she loves his brother, Travis. After her father, an Unconsecrated, attacks her mother, Mary’s whole life is turned upside down. Mary is not chosen for marriage by Harry and must live with the Sisterhood as a result. There, Mary begins to discover that everything she thought she knew was wrong. The Sisterhood and Guardians have been keeping Mary’s community in the dark, they think they are the last humans left on the planet. This belief is proven wrong when a stranger comes to town and is quickly hidden away. The young girl is quickly thrown to the Unconsecrated. Shortly after the Unconsecrated breach the fence and an attack on the village ensues. Mary, along with her brother and his wife, Harry, Travis, and Travis’ betrothed must make a choice, stay and defend the village or venture into the unknown. The group opts for the unknown and discovers further truths along the way. They encounter dead villages and super-fast zombies, photos of the mysterious ocean, books, and clothing from bygone eras. A history that they never knew of comes to light. As Mary struggles to get to the ocean romances and relationships emerge and change. Mary sacrifices everything to get to her destination, when she gets there it is not the haven she expected, but it is something.

Critique:

When I finished this book the first thing I thought was “I hope there is a sequel”. Although the world that Ryan has created in The Forest of Hands and Teeth is nothing truly new, she executes a very solid rendition with characters that I loved. The relationships rang true for me and the zombie variations were interesting. Ryan developed an attention-grabbing collective memory/mythology for Mary’s community. I can’t wait to read more.

Curriculum Ties:

Tie in with lessons on oral history and the formation of collective memory.

Controversy:

Teen sexuality, questioning of authority.

These elements are very mild. Ask challengers to refer to reviews and read the whole book.

Selection Rationale:

This is not a frivolous zombie book, the writing is gorgeous and Mary, a strong teenage girl, struggles through both physical and mental obstacles. She is introspective and a fighter. The suspense is immense. This is a great new book in the post-apocalyptic/dystopian tradition. I also just love this genre so I wanted to read this new addition.

“In this sci-fi/horror novel, the suspense that Ryan has created from the very first page on entices and tempts readers so that putting the book down is not an option. The author skillfully conceals and reveals just enough information to pique curiosity while also maintaining an atmosphere of creepiness that is expected in a zombie story. Some of theof death and mutilation of both the Unconsecrated and the living are graphic. The story is riveting, even though it leaves a lot of questions to be explained in the sequel.” – School Library Journal

“For once, the hype surrounding a novel is not exaggerated. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is unputdownable.” – The Guardian

Booktalking:

Tell a little about the “history” and structure of Mary’s town.

About the author:

This is Carrie Ryan’s first novel. Previously, Ryan was involved in the dot com business and law. She aspired to write chick lit until her boyfriend told her to write what she loves; the result is The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Additional Information:

The Forest of Hands and Teeth has been picked up by Seven Star Pictures.

The second book in this trilogy, The Dead-Tossed Waves, will be released in Spring 2010.

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.