No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row
Susan Kuklin
ISBN: 0-8050-7950-5
Henry Holt and Company, 2008
Grades 10-12
Non-Fiction/Crime/Incarceration/Biography

It’s a world where teens are sentenced to death row…it’s your world. Read the true story of four boys who are given death sentences.

Summary:

After hearing a talk given by Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney, about the death penalty, author Susan Kuklin decided to write a book about the death penalty. At first the book was to focus on individuals who had been released from death row, but Kuklin decided to change her approach. No Choirboy explores the lives of four men sentenced to death as teens, two of whom Stevenson represented (Mark and Roy). these accounts are followed by the Jenkins family story; William Jenkins was murdered as a teenager, after his death and during his killer’s trial William’s parents became staunch opponents of the death penalty.

Roy Burgess, Mark Melvin, Nanon Williams, and Napoleon Beazley were all convicted of murder and sentenced to death row, Napoleon Beazley was executed in 2001. Kulkin delves into the past, present, and future of the inmates. She explores inequality in the justice system, the mere existence of death sentences for teens, prison life, and the home and social lives of the teens before incarceration. Kuklin’s final chapter concerns the continual healing process experienced by Williams Jenkins’ family, particularly his younger brother and sister, after his murder.

Critique:

Kuklin is not light with her feelings about the death penalty and the justice system. As many reviewers noted, No Choirboy can feel a little heavy handed. However, as an individual who agrees with Kuklin’s views, I was not overwhelmed by her feelings. No Choirboy is an engaging and emotional glimpse at the lives of those involved in crimes that result in death row sentences. As the prisoners try to move on with life while incarcerated they are faced with depression, violence, etc. These men and the Jenkins family try to move beyond the trauma of the past. Nanon Williams became an author after his sentencing, writing about legal injustices, while Mark Melvin is a resident artist in his prison.

Curriculum Ties:

No Choirboy could find a place in a Political Science curriculum or in a Journalism course. This could be a useful text for a Creative Non-Fiction lesson.

Controversy:

Violence, particularly murder; sexual assault; crime; incarceration/prison life.

Refer challengers to reviews or other materials about the prison system.

Awards/Reviews:

American Library Association’s Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2009

“Her [Kuklin’s] latest title, about individuals who received death-row sentences while they were teenagers, is another direct, compassionate, and eyeopening inquiry….[I]t is a searing and provocative account that will touch teens’ most fundamental beliefs and questions about violence, punishment, our legal and prison systems, and human rights.” – Booklist
“…[W]hile the book is neither comprehensive nor balanced in its treatment of the issues, it is remarkably successful at putting human faces on them, while raising the point that punishment often has as much to do with race, class, prejudice, and compromise as it does with justice. This eye-opening account will likely open minds and hearts, too…” – The Horn Book Magazine

Booktalking:

Roy’s reflection on having a death sentence as a kid, pages 4 to 6.

About the Author:

Susan Kuklin is the author of nine non-fiction books for young adults, and many others for children. Intending to be an actress, Kuklin attended NYU’s acting school. Then she began taking photographs, leading her to photo journalism, where she got her start as children’s author. After working on numerous children’s books, Kuklin began thinking about issues that were current for young adults. She has examined the justice system, AIDS, child slavery, suicide, and human rights.

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.

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.

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.

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 .

Bang by Sharon Flake

August 7, 2009

Bang
Sharon G. Flake
ISBN 078681844-1
Hyperion Books for Children, 2005
Grade 8 and up
Urban Fiction

BANG! It seems like everyday the count gets higher on Mann and Kee-Lee’s running tally of neighborhood deaths. In an attempt to save the boys when the odds are stacked against them, Mann’s father sends the two alone into the “jungle”, emulating an African tradition.

Summary:

Mann’s younger brother was killed two years ago, an innocent bystander in a shooting. The family is having a difficult time healing from the loss; the process isn’t made any easier by the constant threat of violence and death in their neighborhood. Mann  is a good kid who enjoys riding horses at a rundown stable and painting, but Mann and Kee-Lee’s innocence is threatened more and more every day.

As a last resort to save his son and his friend from the dangers that surround them, Mann’s father sends the boys on a survival quest of a sort, abandoning them in the woods to find their way home. After days of thirst, hunger, humiliation, frustration, anger and sadness, the boys make their way back to the city. Unwelcome in their own homes, the pair finds a place at Kee-Lee’s aunt’s house. There, they find themselves even more wrapped up in illicit dealings, as they become the aunt’s errand boys and are rented out as house painters to earn their keep. Through their trials art keeps them sane. Ultimately, Mann and Kee-Lee become victims of their environment when Kee-Lee is shot in a devastating moment. Mann flees the scene. He has a decision to make: continue on his downward spiral or learn the meaning of his name and reclaim his life.

Critique:

Bang caught me off guard. Significant elements of this book confounded me: a stable in ‘hood or a father sending his son on a quest to become a man with no warning? I didn’t buy these plot devices, more the stable than anything else. Mann’s father is so broken by his son’s death that his seriously insane act of desperation is almost plausible. Despite the odd decisions about the plot, Flake’s writing style and characters really shine through. Bang was heartbreaking, I had to put this one down. Flake beautifully conveys the torment that Mann’s family daily experiences as a result of their family member’s death.
Curriculum Ties:
Bang would be an interesting inclusion in a World Culture’s unit exploring various traditions where boys and girls are initiated into adulthood.

Controversy:

Child abuse, violence, illegal activity, language.

Ask challengers to read the entire book if they have not already, refer them to reviews and awards won by the author.

Selection Rationale:

This is a very unique story in which everything is not tied up neatly, a realistic quality that many readers will appreciate.

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2006

“This disturbing, thought-provoking novel will leave readers with plenty of food for thought and should fuel lively discussions.” – School Library Journal

Booktalking:

Page 291, Mann begins his “Last Supper” painting of all the men lost to the streets.
In Mann’s voice, reflect on the quest your father sent you on.

About the Author:

Sharon Flake has written six books for young adults, has a degree in English and has lived in Pittsburgh for thirty years. Her books have received two Coretta Scott Kind Awards.

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.

Forged by Fire
Sharon Draper
ISBN 0-689-81851-3
Simon Pulse, 1998
Grade  7 and up
Urban Fiction

Gerald knows fire. A fire saved him from a terrible life once, how will he free himself and his sister this time?

Summary:

Gerald accidentally sets a fire when left home alone as a young child. He is taken away from his drug addict mother, finally finding safety and stability in his aunt’s home. Gerald’s aunt dies suddenly and his mother, half-sister, and her father re-enter his life. Jordan is dangerous and abusive; he beats up Gerald and molests Angel, (Gerald’s half-sister and Jordan’s daughter).

Gerald tries endlessly to protect Angel, even getting Jordan sent to jail. After he’s released, Jordan’s ire is even worse. Gerald and Angel’s parents tumble deeper into drug and alcohol addiction. A car hits Monique, the kids’ mother, and life takes a turn for the worse. Monique is a shell of her former self – she forms an addiction to painkillers. Then Gerald’s best friend dies in a car crash. Angel is nearly raped by Jordan. Luckily, a fire starts in the apartment. Gerald gets home just in time to rescue Angel, but Jordan meets his end. The two feel a glimmer of hope as they ride away from the flames in an ambulance.

Critique:

This short, quick read is accessible in language but deals with many harsh realities. Draper is direct and unflinching in her dealings with abuse, addiction, co-dependency, death, friendship, and family. Gerald’s mother and step father are not the most complex characters, but the issues they face are real and many readers will be able to identify with Gerald and Angel’s experiences.

Curriculum Ties:

Examine the first chapter of Forged by Fire (initially submitted as a short story) when studying short stories in an English class.

Selection Rationale:

This is a moving account of a young teen’s experience of abuse and his attempts to salvage his family. Young adults will find many issues to identify with in Forged by Fire.

ALA Popular Paper Backs for Young Adults, 2002
“…Forged by Fire is a grim look at an inner-city home where abuse and addiction are a way of life and the children are the victims. There’s no all’s-well ending, but readers will have hope for Gerald and Angel, who have survived a number of gut-wrenching ordeals by relying on their constant love and caring for one another.” – School Library Journal
“…Draper faces some big issues (abuse, death, drugs) and provides concrete options and a positive African American role model in Gerald.” – Booklist

Booktalking:

Contrast life with Aunt Queen and life with Mom and Jordan.

About the Author:

Sharon Draper, and educator as well as author, has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year and is the recipient of five Coretta Scott King Awards.

Additional Information:

Forged by Fire is the sequel to Tears of a Tiger.