Friday, May 20, 2011


Welcome to my final project for LIBR 265 - YA Materials. In alphabetical order, you will find analyses and reviews of age appropriate young adult materials ranging from books, films, music, and video games. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem

American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem
Label: Side One Dummy
Released June 15th, 2010

Plot Summary: The Gaslight Anthem are a rock and roll quartet from New Jersey. American Slang is their third full-length album. As with their other albums, The Gaslight Anthem's songs are inspired by rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and sing almost story-driven songs about love, loss, and friendship. In the title track, lead singer Brian Fallon croons, "And here's where we died that time last year/And here's where the angels and devils meet/And you can dance with the queen if you need/And she will always keep your cards." The album has a simple production with clean guitars, low thumping bass, and a bit of an echo or reverb on Fallon's vocals. Guitarist Alex Rosamilia quietly plays blues-inspired riffs over Fallon's simple, punk-inspired chord progressions.

Critical Analysis: The Gaslight Anthem are one of the few bands I have come across that appeal to nearly all ages. Perhaps due to their heavy Bruce Springsteen influence and rock 'n roll inspiration, older people seem to enjoy it. Fallon's good looks and his ability to write absolutely arena-like choruses and hooks attract the band to nearly everyone else. Unlike many other modern punk-inspired rock bands, Fallon's lyrics are nuanced and relatable. Throughout American Slang, he refers back to "characters" from previous songs, such as the Queen of the Diamond Street Church Choir.

Much like Bruce Springsteen, Fallon knows how to draw the listener in with not only hooks, but story-like lyrics. Take the opening verse of "The Diamond Street Church Choir," for example. Fallon sings, "Now the lights go low on the avenue/And the cars pass by in the rain/University boys and the girls fill the bars/While I'm just waiting for the light to change." Fallon's simple but evocative imagery brings the listener in for a more personal experience when listening to his music.

The Gaslight Anthem are not amazing as musicians, but this is part of their strength as well. Adopting the punk attitude, Fallon and company opt for short songs with simple chord progressions and generally avoid lengthy guitar solos. This truly allows Fallon's suberb lyrics and songwriting to shine, which is The Gaslight Anthem's strength.

Reader's Annotation: The Gaslight Anthem combine the story-driven lyrics of artists like Bruce Springsteen and the anthemic choruses of bands like Against Me! or Rise Against.

Author Information: As previously mentioned, The Gaslight Anthem are a quartet from New Jersey. Their debut album, Sink or Swim, was released only four years ago on XOXO Records to critical acclaim. This garnered attention from Side One Dummy, one of the larger independent rock/punk labels. The Gaslight Anthem then released the '59 Sound, a bit of a departure from the gruff vocals and fast-paced songs of their debut album. With American Slang, The Gaslight Anthem have gotten media attention from magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone and are showing no signs of stopping.

Genre: rock and roll, punk, rock

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why I included this title: As I previously mentioned, The Gaslight Anthem have a wide appeal across all ages, so it would not at all be a stretch for a teen to listen to them. In fact, I often recommend this album to teens in the library with success. The choruses are catchy, the lyrics are relatable and clever, there's little else to ask for in an album.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Atmosphir by Minor Studios

Atmosphir by Minor Studios
Copyright 2007

Plot Summary: Atmosphir is a free-to-play game that would be most similar to Sony's Little Big Planet. Like Sony's exclusive game, Atmosphir encourages players to create their own world and to play in the worlds created by others. A simple to grasp, complex to master building system is put into place. Anyone can build a level, but it takes time and commitment to make some of the positively humongous and creative worlds that the Atmosphir community is sprinkled with. There is no official story involved with Atmosphir but this is for the best, as the idea is for users to create their own stories and levels with the building blocks provided by developers Minor Studios.

Critical Analysis: Atmosphir is a great game, but does suffer because it is free to play. Like many other free-to-play games, the game is playable with no financial commitment but additional content and premium content will cost a small amount of money. Atmosphir is difficult to criticize since it's so dependent on the creativity and skill of its users. In my experience, I came upon a 3D version of the first level of the original Super Mario Bros. that was superb and a few others levels that were messy and confusing. It all depends on luck. There are a few links to go to the levels voted the best by the community and the Atmosphir blog even posts daily features on notable levels, but it is frustrating to have to dig and search to find a level that looks fun.

The graphics in Atmosphir are passable, but not amazing. The avatars you play as are human-like with not much detail. The worlds are usually open, grassy, and sunshiny unless you actively try and avoid that style. As previously mentioned, the level creation tools are easy to use, difficult to master. Building a square out of the simple blocks provided, no problem. Building a complex network of moving floating platforms, that can take days.

Reader's Annotation: Build, create, and play your own levels or other user's levels in Atmosphir!

Author Information: Atmosphir is Minor Studios' first game. They are located in Buenos Aires and San Francisco. Minor Studios is part of the Minor Ventures family.


Genre: Action/Adventure/Platforming game

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: N/A

Reading Level: Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why I included this title: As a teen librarian under a budget, I am always looking for free and fun to play games that are appropriate for the library. Atmosphir fits this bill perfectly. It is engaging, fun, and teen-friendly. Teens love to make (usually impossible) levels and have me or other teens try them out, it makes for a great social tool.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Batman: Arkham Asylum by Rocksteady Studios

Batman: Arkham Asylum by Rocksteady Studios
Released 2009
Rated T for Teen
Released on PS3, XBOX 360, and PC

Plot Summary: Batman: Arkham Asylum is an 3rd person action/adventure video game in which the player leads Batman through a most dangerous place, Arkham Asylum. The story starts out with Batman escorting the Joker into Arkham Asylum, the Joker laughing and showing no worry or remorse whatsoever. Then, the Joker traps Batman in the asylum and escapes, forcing Batman to traverse the asylum to escape himself. Players will have to employ Batman's cunning, his detective skills, stealth, gadgets, and hand to hand combat if they want to survive. Familiar faces and villains such as Commissioner Gordon, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, and Bane all make appearances.

Critical Analysis: Many people who have played this game, including myself, think this is not only the greatest Batman videogame to be released, but the greatest superhero game. In the past, developers have gotten perhaps one aspect of a superhero correct, but never as lovingly and thorough as Rocksteady Studios did for Batman in this game. Batman: Arkham Asylum is arife with obscure references to Batman comics, backstory for villains and characters, and the very dark and gothic feel of the Batman universe. It seems that the game was designed around Batman as a character instead of designing a game in which to throw Batman.

Controlling Batman feels right and fluid. With a press of a button, the Dark Knight can glide past security guards, throw Batarangs, and knock out guards. The combat system eschews button mashing in favor of timed button presses and group attacks. The game drip feeds the player a new gadget that opens a new door or finds a new secret every few hours, so there are always new things to do and explore. Arkham Asylum is an island, and most players including myself will gladly explore every inch for every last collectible item.

However, those collectible items can be the downfall of Batman: Arkham Asylum as well. Especially in this generation of video games, developers have been accused of adding hard-to-find collectible items to artifically lengthen a short game. In my opinion, the collectible finding in this game was fun, partially due to the new abilities that are unlocked from time to time. Some gamers could find it tedious though.

Reader's Annotation: The Joker has trapped the Dark Knight in Arkham Asylum. To escape, Batman will have to fight both his inner demons and some regular old outer demons.

Author Information: Rocksteady Studios are based out of North London and is comprised of 90 industry professionals. They are currently working on the sequel to this game, entitled Batman: Arkham City.


Genre: Action/Adventure Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: N/A
Reading Level: Ages 13 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Why I included this title: As an avid graphic novel reader, I was excited to hear about a well-executed video game that featured a superhero. I'm also a big fan of Batman. Many teens are into graphic novels and video games, this is a guaranteed shoe-in for most teen gamers. Playing as Batman makes the player feel like they are Batman, so this would be a hit with teens.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith

Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith
ISBN: 188896314X
Cartoon Books, 2004
1344 p.

Plot Summary: Fone Bone, Smiley Bone, and Phoney Bone are brothers and have been exiled from their home in Boneville. They venture through the desert and fall into a mysterious valley where everything is much different: talking bugs, vicious rat creatures, and human folk like Gran'ma Ben and Thorn populate the area. Fone Bone, the protagonist, has mysterious dreams about a red dragon and a sinister figure later to be dubbed the Lord of the Locusts. Along the way, the three brothers venture through many foreign lands and the greedy Phoney Bone gets them caught in multiple sticky situations. After a journey through the terrifying field of "ghost circles," areas that can take one of the brothers out of existence, they journey to defeat the Lord of the Locusts to save the new mysterous world they've discovered.

Critical Analysis: One of the most impressive aspects of Jeff Smith's epic is his ability to balance humor and drama. The first quarter of the series is almost Disney or Pogo-like, featuring lighthearted physical humor and drawings. Once Smith slowly develops that something sinister is going on in the world, the style is maintained but the story takes on a much more serious tone.

Smith is both the writer and illustrator of Bone, which is quite an accomplishment. His drawings are extremely expressive and exaggerated, drawing inspiration from old cartoons. For example, when someone is surprised, his or her jaw will literally drop to the floor. Smith allows words to illustrate expressiveness, sometimes scribbling exclamations in black.

Bone is also full of allusions and references. Foney Bone is constantly having dreams about Moby Dick, his favorite book. One scene has Foney Bone sailing a ship as a part of a grand adventure and the red dragon of his dreams replaces the whale. This scene parallels the rest of the book and was very well done.

Reader's Annotation: The three Bone brothers have been exiled from home and are starting an epic adventure full of dragons, rat creatures, a giant cat, and more!

Author Information: Jeff Smith started his career as an animator for commercials and quit. He started his own independent comics publisher Cartoon Books and self-published the entirety of Bone over the course of ten years. He has won multiple Eisner Awards and is currently working on a more adult focused graphic novel called RASL.


Genre: fantasy, graphic novel, adventure

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Reading level: 10 to adult

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I have yet to meet anyone that did not love the Bone series after reading it. Smith has struck an amazing balance in that the series appeals to all ages and genders. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor mixed with the epic adventure fantasy and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
ISBN: 9780198326762
Oxford University Press, 2007
224 p.

Plot Summary: Bruno is a 9 year old boy whose father is a German officer during World War II. He is quite upset when he finds out that his family must pick up and move from Berlin to "Out-with" or Auschwitz for his father's job. Bruno finds his new surroundings dull and depressing, with no other children to play with. In his observations, he sees that there is a fence with many children and others near his house whose residents wear striped pajamas. Bruno ventures along the fence and meets Schmuel, a Jewish boy who is imprisoned in the camp. Bruno and Schmuel exchange many conversations until one day Schmuel's father is missing. Bruno decides to don some striped pajamas and sneak under the fence to help Schmuel find his father.

Critical Analysis: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is told from a 9 year old's perspective for good reason. Boyne expresses in the afterword that trying to imagine the pain and suffering of the Holocaust with no primary knowledge or experience can seem disrespectful, so he thought the innocent observations of an adventuring German boy could help avoid that. This is much like Spiegelman's Maus, in which mice represent Jews and cats represent Germans to help portray the horrors of the Holocaust in a less jarring manner.

It takes much writing talent to pull off an entire narrative from the mind of a 9 year old, but Boyne for the most part succeeded. Bruno's naivete can sometimes prove irritating, especially when he gets hungry on the way to meeting his ever skinnier friend Schmuel. Boyne never out and out says what is happening, he instead allows the reader to infer that "Out-with" means Auschwitz and that Bruno's father is a Nazi officer.

The only criticism I have of Boyne's work is that Schmuel lacked characterization. Perhaps this was purposeful, illustrating that individuals in concentration camps all become one and standing out is both foolish and unnecessary. However, in the context of Schmuel's and Bruno's sudden friendship, he needed more depth to help with its believabiltiy.

Reader's Annotation: One day, Bruno met a lifelong friend with a manmade barrier between them: a barbed wire fence.

Author Information: Boyne is a young Irish author, this book won a bevy of awards and sold over five million copies. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was adapted to film by Miramax.


Genre: historical YA fiction, drama

Curriculum Ties: seeing Maus' popularity on YA reading lists, Boyne's work could easily make its way into a curriculum on the Holocaust and World War II. It can help illustrate the innocence and misunderstandings of both factions.

Booktalking Ideas: Bruno eventually forgets the names of his friends back in Berlin. Why? How does Boyne's work illustrate a child's view of the Holocaust? How do they interpret its events?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: Having already read Maus, I thought experiencing another work of historical fiction based on World War II would be beneficial. Many works are dedicated to the understanding and remembrance of the Holocaust and I think this one does a particularly good job.

Click by Various Authors

Click by Various Authors
ISBN: 0439411394
Scholastic, 2010
224 p.

Plot Summary: Click has a meandering narrative, allowing its characters and setting to travel and become fluid. However, the one constant is a friendly old man named Gee who is armed with amazing stories and a camera. Gee has made quite an impact on many individuals' lives including his own granddaughter Maggie. When Gee passes away, he leaves Maggie seven seashells from the oceans of all seven continents and gives her the task of throwing them all back. From there, the narrative switches to many different characters along the way. One is a young lady who thinks her father might be a fish. Another chapter chronicles the story behind a famous shot of Muhammad Ali. A few others follow Gee into tragic situations in which he must take pictures of victims of the atomic bomb and of the Communist regime. These all lead to a reintroduction to Maggie in the distant future when she has only one seashell left.

Critical Analysis: As it was advertised, Click is one story written by ten different authors with one chapter apiece. Without a strong driving theme, the story would be lost. Fortunately, the idea behind following a man with a camera is simple but open enough to allow for continuity in the story but creativity as well. The most thought-provoking chapters are the ones that explore who cameras truly capture. One particular story shows the power of photographs when a character photographs a shy and aloof young woman for an art showing. Once she sees the simultaneous beauty and sadness of these pictures, she seems to embrace a new life outlook.

Though it is an interesting idea, the format of Click has only a fifty percent success rate. Half of the time when I moved on to the next chapter, I lost the "flow" I get when reading and I had to get used to the next author's writing style. By the time I got acclimated, the chapter was over which was frustrating. I know it's too much to ask to have ten authors try and write similarly, but I feel more of an effort could have been made. While I was picturing a story more like a creative writing activity where one person leaves off a leading sentence and the next continues the story, Click instead felt like a series of loosely related vignettes.

My only other criticism is that Click occasionally felt a bit preachy. The proceeds of the book go to Amnesty International, which is great. However, I feel that a few of the authors took that idea a bit too far and wrote melodramatic and sappy stories designed to try and evoke emotion. Instead, they fall flat.

Reader's Annotation: Ten authors write a chapter apiece chronicling the fascinating life of Gee, a photographer who has quite literally been around the world.

Author Information: Some of the more recognizable names include Nick Hornby and Gregory Maguire. Though the former garnered the most attention for High Fidelity and the latter for Wicked, both of these authors have branched out into writing young adults novels as well. A few of the authors are award winners, including Margo Lanagan who won a Printz Honor for Black Juice and David Almond who won a Printz Award for Kit's Wilderness.

Source: the back of the book

Genre: ya realistic fiction/short stories

Curriculum Ties: The Taro story could be used to help understand foreign relations between the United States and Japan after the atomic bomb. It was a dramatic and controversial short story, so it'd be likely to spark discussion.

As previously mentioned, Click has a strong thematic presence throughout. It'd be a great literary example to teach the concept of a theme.

Booktalking Ideas: What is the power of a camera? Why does the young girl change when Jason takes pictures of her for the art show? How is Gee remembered via his pictures?

Reading Level: Grades 9 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: The ten authors, one book idea piqued my interest. I figured teens might pick it up off the shelf for the same reason. I'm also a fan of Nick Hornby and Gregory Maguire's work, so I was curious to see their contributions. Finally, I wanted to include at least a few general fiction stories in my list.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Crank by Ellen Hopkins
ISBN: 1416995137
Margaret K. Elderry, 2010
544 p.

Plot Summary: Katrina, or should we say her alter ego Bree, met a monster. That monster is meth, or crank. It all started during a visit to her less than reputable father in California. Under his lax supervision, Bree met a young man named Adam who introduced her to the yellow powdery substance. She struggles to keep the normal Kristina and the risk-taking dangerous Bree in check when she moves back home. There, she juggles a relationship with two teenage boys, one of whom rapes her and impregnates her. Now Kristina must conquer the monster, deal with her past, and accept the possibility of parenthood.

Critical Analysis: In the introduction, Hopkins says this story is not specifically based on true events, but writes that nothing that happens is at all impossible. Crank's narrative is written in free form poems that use page placement and line breaks to illustrate or accentuate certain words or diction rhythms. This makes the book a very quick read not only because of the controversial and admittedly enthralling subject matter but because the pages are not all text. On occasion, the separated words will spell out a sentence vertically and make sense horizontally in the narrative, which I found clever.

Crank is written to show teenagers the horrors of meth and substance abuse and is mostly successful. Bree makes some terrible decisions and as a reader it is painful to read and observe their consequences. On the other side, it felt as if Hopkins tacked on a happy ending. Bree turns back into Katrina seemingly out of nowhere. Methamphetamine is no joke and I'm sure the symptoms of withdrawal and the real life consequences are devastating, but this possibility is glossed over. I think the book still has the desired effect of showing teens the horrors of meth, but I wish Hopkins had stuck to her guns and taken a few more risks to show that its not so easy to dance with the devil then walk away.

Despite its subject matter, Hopkins manages to not sound preachy throughout Crank. It could have very easily turned into a D.A.R.E. pamphlet, but for the most part Hopkins plays a good documentary filmmaker and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions and opinions on the events that occur. Hopkins also manages to make the story interesting enough to want to keep reading it, I blew through it in only a few days.

Reader's Annotation: Bree shook hands with the monster. Now she and her alter ego Katrina must face the consequences.

Author Information: Hopkins inspiration for this story was partially based on her older daughter's addiction to crystal meth. She lives in Long Beach, California, one of the settings for Crank. She has also written a number of nonfiction books and has done freelance writing and journalism.


Genre: drama, poetry, young adult, realistic fiction

Curriculum Ties: Crank could easily be implemented in a health class in which kids are learning about drugs. Although its fictionalized, it portrays believable outcomes of serious addictions.

Reading level: 14-18

Challenge Issues: depictions of drugs and teen sex with some consequence, its been challenged before

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: Ellen Hopkins' books have cover appeal, they always look interesting and edgy. This is why I chose it to read. I had also been reading too many fantasy and science fiction books, so I wanted to include some different genres.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cut by Patricia McCormick

Cut by Patricia McCormick
ISBN: 9780439324595
Push, 2002
160 p.

Plot Summary: 15 year old Callie finds herself in a treatment facility for girls with various self-destructive addictions. It turns out that Callie is a cutter. McCormick chronicles her experiences with other girls in group therapy and one on one sessions. Slowly, Callie comes to terms with the issues that have driven her to hurt herself physically. Through all of this, she discovers that her cuts are outer manifestations of guilt and conflicting emotions surrounding her family. Her brother has asthma and her mother is in frail health and neurotic, both of which she blames herself for. Callie has chosen to take on quite a few responsibilities, much more than your average fifteen year old. Through the course of the book, Callie works toward coming to terms with these issues and with her behavior and eventually wanting to get better. She must overcome one last hurdle before becoming fully healed.

Critical Analysis: The book is obviously well-researched and a lot of the different personalities come through the narrative, not just the girl’s afflictions. I found it to be a much more sympathetic view of treatment facilities than is often seen in popular media. Narrative-wise, the first person diary feel of Cut makes it feel like it is a teenage girl talking. Overall, I thought it was well-written.

One criticism that I have is that its not a terribly nuanced portrayal of what is essentially addiction. With few diversions, the narrative takes a very linear sick-to-well path. All of a sudden at the end of the book, Callie decides that she is fine and is going to get better. It just seemed that everything seems resolved and okay in a very short amount of time. It doesn’t impress upon the reader that Callie wants to take an active role in her own recovery, just that she wants to get better.

Overall, Cut featured a realistic tone without being depressing. Unfortunately it is a fairly superficial view of affliction; it doesn’t get to many of the features or personalitites of teenage girls who typically inflict themselves harm. On one hand, Cut doesn’t get preachy and bogged down in details but on the other hand it starts in the treatment facility so you don’t get a whole lot of background, especially for the secondary characters.

Reader’s Annotation: Callie finds herself in a treatment facility for girls who have problems with self-mutilation or “cutting.” It will be a long hard road out.

Author Information: McCormick is a journalism major with many award-winning novels that typically feature teens dealing with tough issues. Cut was named a Best Book for Teens by ALA.

Genre: realistic fiction, drama

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-17

Booktalking Ideas: Ask about the difficulty of addiction. Did Cut portray it properly?

Curriculum Ties: addiction

Challenge Issues: sensitive topic, but well portrayed. None.

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I included this title because it gives the teen reader credit for being able to confront these types of issues and knowing that these things happen and that they do sometimes require outside intervention. Well researched and relatable, compelling to read. It was also a very short book, so it’s an enjoyable and quick read.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Empty by Suzanne Weyn
ISBN: 0545172780
Scholastic, 2010
256 p.

Plot Summary: The setting is the near future and the world's finite oil resources have been depleted. Some of the top ten oil producing countries such as Venezuela are being invaded by U.S. forces all in search of precious crude oil. This does not mean necessarily that high schoolers live different lives until Gwen, Luke, Tom, and Niki's town has a serious shortage. They must live without products that are either made of oil or are shipped by oil-guzzling vessels. It seems the adults are no better off, fighting at gas stations where the prices are hiked up to twenty dollars a gallon. When it couldn't get much worse, a superhurricane hits the town. People are in need of food, medicine, and supplies and it seems that Gwen and company are some of the only ones healthy and lucid enough to help.

Critical Analysis: Clearly, Weyn's book is a thinly veiled attempt at showing the young adult audience the possible future if the world's dependence on oil does not cease. The problem is, Weyn seems to have forgotten to inject an interesting story along with this respectable environmental message. The characters are flat. The story mostly involves Gwen and company trying to do normal teenager things, then running out of gas on the way. Weyn's teenagers are not ones that I would have wanted to hang out with now or back when I was their age. They often bring up lectures they remember from Social Studies and ask dumb open ended questions about why the world did not catch on to its oil dependence earlier. Stilted dialogue like this really detracts from the believability of the story and blows all chances of the reader's immersion into the world.

Despite it being a post-apocalyptic novel, Weyn never made an oil shortage seem any worse than a series of minor inconveniences. Niki doesn't have lip gloss, Tom can't drive his cheerleader girlfriend to the lake to make out. Are these really the first things that come to mind in a worldwide oil shortage? All of this naivete leads to a tacked on revelation that we do indeed need an environment full of bicycles, self-sustaining farms, and hard work. This is all well and good, but I did not believe for a second that these characters who were most concerned about themselves forty pages ago all of a sudden have decided that they need to contribute to Weyn's ultimately weak environmental message. I have nothing against the message, just the way that Weyn delivered it.

Reader's Annotation: In the near future, the world has nearly depleted its oil resources. How will Gwen and her friends survive without the lifeblood of the United States when disaster strikes?

Author Information: Weyn has also written The Bar Code Tattoo, an ALA pick for Reluctant Readers in 2007. She was born in Flushing, New York. She lives on a farm where she draws from her horses both as inspiration and a source of stress relief.


Genre: post apocalyptic, young adult, drama, disaster, suspense

Curriculum Ideas: Empty would be an easy transition for any Social Studies class talking about depleted oil sources. Despite its triteness, it does imagine a teenage life without oil. Perhaps it could be used to spark a conversation about the world's dependence on oil and ways to resolve it.

Reading Level: Grades 7-10

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I wanted to read a recent release and this was on the new young adult shelf at the library. I'm a fan of post apocalyptic works and I agreed with Weyn's message, I wanted to see if she could pull it off. I also wanted to change up my genres a bit, this one's different from the horror and fantasy that I tend to read.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
ISBN: 978-0613824224
Tandem Library, 2002 (originally published 1985)
352 p.

Plot Summary: Ender (aka Andrew) Wiggin lives in the distant future with his parents, his brother Peter, and his sister Valentine. He was born third, which makes him a second class citizen in this world, where three children are not allowed. Earth is in preparation for a war with the Buggers, an insect-like alien race who were said to have attacked Earth long ago. One day, Colonel Graff winds up on Ender's doorstep requesting that he be put through a strict regimen including Battle School and later Command School to help in the battle with the Buggers. Begrudgingly, Ender and his parents comply. Ender spends a few years in Battle School playing a game much like a 2 team version of laser tag in weightless space. Here he learns the skills of commanding troops and battle strategies. Once he wins an unprecedented number of matches in unprecedented ways, Ender goes on to command school where he will find the truth about the Buggers and the truth behind the legendary commanding officer Mazer Rackham.

Critical Analysis: I've read a few of Orson Scott Card's other books and he never managed to recapture the magic of this one. His descriptions of battles are so vivid, the reader can picture every move and every winning strategy. Like any great science fiction book, Card balances the science and futuristic aspects of the story with strong and compassionate characters.

I think Ender's Game is the perfect young adult book; it is not only the type of book that is nearly impossible to put down, it encompasses interesting and difficult moral dilemmas that so many candy-coated young adult books avoid. Card lets Ender question authority and the right to go to war with the Buggers in a way that truly makes the reader consider the same ideas.

Card's slow development of Ender from a boy to a young responsible man is also a method often gone unused in popular young adult fiction. All too often, young adult protagonists are already teenagers at the beginning of the book. Young adults who read those books do not get to sympathize with the problems of growing up as they could with Ender in a harsh environment such as Battle School.

I have no criticisms for Ender's Game, I only criticize him for continuing a saga on Ender's life that all but ignores his YA origins. In the sequel to Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Card immediately ages Ender to the age of 30 and has him start doing dull anthropological work - not exactly a fertile ground for gaining a young adult audience.

Reader's Annotation: In the distant future, a young boy is Earth's only hope to defeat an ever growing army of insect-like aliens called Buggers.

Author Information: Card is a resident of Greensboro, North Carolina and is a proud member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Ender's Game is the book that made him famous even though it started out as an ignored short story. His other works include the Seventh Son series and Enchantment. He's also written a graphic novel, Ultimate Iron Man and helped write for the video game Advent Rising.


Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Ender's Game has been used in many classrooms, Card has even published teacher and student guides for it. As previously mentioned, moral dilemmas and race relations could be discussed using humans and Buggers as examples.

Booktalking ideas: Ender decides that he must try to understand the Buggers if he wants to defeat them. What's the point of understanding your enemy?

When is it proper to question authority? Should Ender have listened to Colonel Graff or should he have thought for himself? Was Ender brainwashed?

Reading level/interest age: Grades 9-12

Challenge Issues: violence, mature issues

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: I've reread this book multiple times, I first read it when I was twelve or so. This is probably the YA book I recommend the most, as I said previously I think it has a wide appeal. It is one of the few young adult books I've seen that serve both as entertainment and can be used well in a classroom.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get Real: What Kind of World are YOU Buying? by Mara Rockliff

Get Real: What Kind of World are YOU Buying? by Mara Rockliff
ISBN: 0762437456
Running Press Kids, June 2010
112 p.

Plot Summary: Rockliff's young adult nonfiction book was written to educate youth on the unfairness, dangers, and steps to be taken in regards to world consumerism. She writes quick chapters dedicated to one subject matter, makes her argument, and gives the readers resources to do something about it. One of the chapters explains that the plastic in cell phones contains chemicals that are dangerous to our health and the environment. When they aren't recycled properly, this plastic gets broken in landfills and releases these harmful chemicals into our drinking water and the air we breathe. Another chapter describes the horrors of sweatshop labor while another explains the unfairness of chocolate and coffee production.

Critical Analysis: Rockliff was in danger of sounding very preachy throughout this book, but managed to keep a reasonable and informative tone. She never outright tells the reader to take action, rather she presents the evidence and provides the information needed to do something about it if you so choose. Rockliff recommends interesting documentaries and even related YA fiction books at the end of the chapters, which I thought was a nice touch.

The language and examples Rockliff uses can be age-appropriate. She explains the most hazardous gas to the ozone, methane, as cow farts and burps. Rockliff never assumes her audience to be uneducated, but doesn't put things in terms that are difficult to understand, either. There's always a "How low can they go?" section in which she outlines some of the biggest corporate offenders of a particular problem that helps provide perspective.

There's little bad to say about the book itself. I fear that it does not have shelf appeal. I can't imagine many teens wanting to pick up a book on consumerism even though the cover is attractive and the book itself is well-designed (and printed with environmentally friendly soy-based inks). But perhaps a young entrepreneur could pick up this book and start making a difference. It certainly made me rethink using plastic bottles and recycling cell phones and I'm a cynical twenty something. It could work for teens.

Reader's Annotation: Do you want to make a difference in the environment? Recycle that cell phone, get a reusable water bottle, and find out other quick tips from this book!

Author Information: Rockliff truly practices what she preaches, whether its drinking a cup of fair trade tea or making her own ice cream. She's never had a cell phone and she does not watch television. She also writes under a few pen names and authors the Milo and Jazz Mysteries.


Genre: young adult nonfiction, environment

Curriculum Ties: There are a few chapters on the food industry, so this could be a great companion piece to the popular Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

Reading Level: Ages 12-16

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I found this one on the new arrivals book shelf and thought it might be an interesting read. Though I'm not an environmentalist myself, I do occasionally try and be "green" by walking or using special light bulbs. It was a very informative read and I hope to recommend it to a few teens at my library.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley

ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley
ISBN: 0316113573
Little, Brown 2008
336 p.

Plot Summary: Charlotte Usher is an orphaned high school student. She is smart but determined to be popular. On the first day of school, she chokes on a gummy bear and dies. Charlotte comes to again in an alternate version of the school. Now, Charlotte must attend Dead Ed, a class that helps Charlotte and her undead peers move on to the next phase of the afterlife. Meanwhile, Charlotte is hung up on her unfinished business with a football player named Damien, so she starts trying to insert herself into the lives of the people she was interested in. Charlotte ends up befriending Petula’s sister Scarlet and embodies her to get close to Damien. Damien ends up falling in love with both of them because Charlotte is sometimes in Scarlet’s body and sometimes not. Back in Dead Ed, Charlotte must learn to not be selfish and help herself and her classmates move on to the next phase. Meanwhile, she, Damien and Scarlet have that whole love triangle thing to work out.

Critical Analysis: ghostgirl serves as an indictment of popularity. Petula's role is to be cruel to Charlotte. It is clear that Hurley has been through similar trite popularity contests and bullying and it seems that ghostgirl is a nudge to that, letting her readers know that she has been through it and it gets better later in life. It also shows that one should not look for popularity in a potential love: Damien was with Petula because she was a cheerleader, but ended up having more in common with Scarlet, a young lady who would be described more as "goth."

Unfortunately, ghostgirl drags in places and as either a positive or negative, it’s not a terribly challenging read. However, the characters well-developed and funny, most do not feel like high school archetypes unless they are supposed to be. Hurley provides enough characterization that some scenes even come off as touching.

ghostgirl deals somewhat with themes of loss and regret and the value of friendship and human interaction. It also deals with the realities that high school can be a cruel place if you don’t specifically fit into the idea of what’s socially acceptable.

ghostgirl's most respectable quality is its uniqueness. Many young adult books follow similar formulas, but ghostgirl stands out. The approach that Hurley takes is not what you typically see in YA fiction, the very premise of an undead girl with a love interest mixed with black humor is quite unique. The book itself is well-designed and inviting.

Reader’s Annotation: Charlotte Usher lusts after the man of her dreams. The only problem is, she’s dead!

Author Information: Besides being a published author, Hurley has written commercials, independent films, and has produced video games. Since ghostgirl was very music-focused novel, the audiobook versions of it feature original songs.

Genre: fantasy, humor, chick lit

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: ghostgirl deals lightly with grief and loss. How did you think it was handled?

Other kids in the Dead Ed class died in different ways and got corresponding nicknames. Based on the characters in the book living and dead, is that a fair representation of personalities you encounter in high school?

Reading Level: Ages 12-16

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: ghostgirl is light entertainment. It is quite unique, Hurley's vision is a not mainstream portrayal of high school. It is an outsider’s or outcast’s perspective of high school. It deals with real issues without being depressing, actually quite funny. Good for a reluctant reader because it is quick and easy, the book itself looks interesting.

ghostgirl: Homecoming by Tonya Hurley

ghostgirl: Homecoming by Tonya Hurley
ISBN: 031611359X
Little, Brown 2009
296 p.

Plot Summary: All of the kids from Dead Ed in the previous book have crossed over into the next phase of the afterlife and they wind up at a help line where people call in with problems. Charlotte doesn’t relate well to her peers and it seems like her phone is never ringing and her advice is never sought after. She feels alone and she misses her living friends with whom she had connections. Her new roommate Maddy claims to be looking out for Charlotte’s best interest but ends up trying to sabotage her. In the world of the living, Petula was held back so she’s repeating senior year. She got a bad pedicure which led to an infection and a coma. She’s stuck in a between worlds limbo much like Charlotte's limbo in the previous book. Having learned her lesson about being selfless and helpful, Charlotte sets out to find Petula in the afterlife limbo.

Critical Analysis: Unlike ghostgirl, this book unfortunately falls flat. While the first was inventive and funny, this is dull and unimaginative. It seems like a thrown together afterthought. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the plot is not compelling and it is not as funny. Hurley's sequel feels very repetitive in that it is the same conflict: Charlotte still does not relate to her peers and is trying to keep her connection with old friends.

As a result of these problems, ghostgirl: Homecoming feels like it drags on. It feels longer than the first one even though it’s not. While the first featured great characterization, the characters were frustrating and lacking empathy the second time around. They were not relatable at all.

Much like the first, the overall lesson or moral was spot on and unique. The message here is to move on after death or whatever major life event occurs. All of the kids from Dead Ed moved on, but not necessarily to what is traditionally thought of as heaven. I appreciated that they simply did not find closure or perfection, they instead were relegated to helping people via their phone service. This way, it is more realistic in that they moved on to a benign existence, but all of their problems are not solved.

Reader’s Annotation: This time around, undead Charlotte will have to travel to the afterlife to find the spirit of someone she doesn’t even like: a cheerleader!

Author Information: Besides being an author, Hurley has written commercials, independent films, and has produced video games. Since ghostgirl was very music-focused novel, the audiobook versions of it feature original songs.


Genre: fantasy, chick lit, humor

Curriculum Ideas: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:How does this book compare to the first? Does the subject matter remain meaningful?

If you were in the author's shoes, is this where you would have taken the story, is there something you would do differently?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-16

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: After reading the first book, I thought I’d enjoy continuing the series but it was unfortunately disappointing. For big fans of the series, it does give some insight into the serial novel writing process. It is at least a good opportunity for criticism because it is so different from another book. Despite its faults, the ghostgirl series remains unique and oddly moralistic, which can be charming.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
ISBN: 0545210283
272 p.

Plot Summary: Garth is a young man with an unnamed terminal disease. He has a rather morbid view on death, which disturbs his mother. At this point, it seems Garth has already accepted his fate. One day, Frank Gallows of the Supernatural Immigration Task Force pays Garth's home a visit. While Frank is zapping ghosts back to the afterlife Ghostbusters-style, he accidentally zaps Garth back to the afterlife too. Garth rides a creepy horse skeleton through the strange new world and meets a varying cast of characters from bug-like people and the Skeleton King. The Skeleton King feels threatened by Garth's view on death which only becomes more strange when Garth meets a man who looks uncannily like his dead grandfather.

Critical Analysis: TenNapel's style is hard to not smile at. Between his exaggerated art and joke-ridden dialogue, this is a fun read. Ghostopolis is a lushly colored graphic novel not unlike Jeff Smith's recolored Bone series on GRAPHIX. The art could definitely be described as cartoony; the characters reminded me from a few from The Iron Giant. TenNapel's dialogue is simple but funny most of the time and he has a penchant for gross out humor.

One of the more impressive things about TenNapel's Ghostopolis is that he deals with the emotional issues at hand very well. The book is not weighed down by Garth's potential fate, Garth's disease is just a part of who he is. Emotional realizations can sometimes be melodramatic, but that's more attributable to TenNapel's style rather than writing talent. When Garth meets the man who looks like his grandfather, he treats the man like a friend rather than a creepy apparition. Garth's ability to live in the present and accept his fate whether he's in the afterlife or has been dealt a painful blow in real life is commendable and makes him a great protagonist.

Reader's Annotation: Garth could be described as a bit morbid, but when he's zapped into the afterlife, he gets a lot closer to dancing with death than he'd ever imagined!

Author Information: Doug TenNapel started as a videogame designer, he created Earthworm Jim. The game and his comics draw many parallels with quirky characters and gross-out humor. TenNapel is a devout Christian and writes about science and religion in another graphic novel of his, Creature Tech. Both Creature Tech and Ghostopolis's film rights have been purchased, so it seems possible that TenNapel's work will soon become much more well known.

Genre: Young Adult Graphic Novel/Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Why is Garth so obsessed with death? Would you be the same in this situation?

Draw your idea of what the afterlife would look like. Is it a bustling metropolis like TenNapel imagined?

Reading level/interest age: Grades 7 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I came upon this in my library's graphic novel section right after it was released and I picked it up because the cover and the art looked so amazing. This graphic novel has instant shelf appeal, I think young adults would do the same as I did and check it out. As previously mentioned, I liked how the subject matter was treated. TenNapel did not spend his time making you feel bad for poor Garth, he let it teach the reader a valuable lesson in self-image.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Goon: Nothin' But Misery by Eric Powell

The Goon: Nothin' but Misery by Eric Powell
ISBN: 1569719985
Dark Horse Books, 2003
260 p.

Plot Summary: The Goon is the protector a small quirky town he calls home. It's populated by talking spiders, zombies, and his good friend and accomplice Frankie. A man who calls himself the Zombie Priest is working on a way to build a horde of the undead to take over the town and eventually the world. The Goon and Frankie often hang out at the local bar to get in bar fights over poker bets, make crude jokes, or to discuss their next plan of action. In this particular trade, The Goon and Frankie jump in a 30s-style car and mow down vampires with their tommy guns and murderous glee.

Critical Analysis: The best part of Eric Powell's The Goon is that the series never takes itself too seriously. However, once the reader gets acquainted with The Goon and his world, more serious and dramatic storylines come forth. This is much the same way that Jeff Smith wrote Bone, starting out with slapstick humor and minor character development, then getting more serious a few trades in. The Goon's humor is mostly crude and involves trash-talking to the various monsters that populate the town. In one particular scene, Frankie casually talks to a monster then exclaims, "KNIFE TO THE EYE!" and well, knifes the monster in the eye.

The Goon draws many parallels to Mike Mignola's Hellboy which is both good and bad. It's unfortunate that it feels so familiar and that Powell's work is often overshadowed by the more popular Hellboy. One aspect of The Goon that makes it stand out is Powell's superb artwork. He paints in dreary purples, greens, and browns to convey the mood of the story and the imminent danger. The monsters are very clearly Lovecraft-inspired with lots of demons, eyeballs, and tentacles populating the world.

Finally, Eric Powell lovingly crafts The Goon as a character, holding back details of his past to reveal at just the right time. He manages to take a character that would at best be a henchman in any other comic and makes him deeper and more interesting than most comic book characters around. Each of his scars and emotional outbreaks tell a new story of his troubled psyche. Eric Powell manages to convey this depth of character while simultaneously making crude zombie jokes, it's an impressive balance.

Reader's Annotation: The Zombie Priest is threatening The Goon and Frankie's hometown with a horde of, well, zombies. Now it's up to them to take some lead pipes and tommy guns to those brain sucking monsters.

Author Information: Eric Powell lives in the backwoods of Tennessee, where he draws most of his inspiration for his Southern Gothic style. He has done work for The Simpsons comic, MAD Magazine, and The Incredible Hulk. More recently, he began work on a new Godzilla comic.


Genre: horror, fantasy, graphic novel

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Reading Level: 15 to adult

Challenge Issues: excessive violence, language

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: As an avid graphic novel reader, I try to keep a bead on less popular graphic novels or analogs of more popular graphic novels. The Goon also has such a sense of humor and charm that it appeals to many readers immediately. Finally, with the recent zombie trend in YA fiction, this title could appeal to that audience.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
ISBN: 978-0060530945
HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
336 p.

Plot Summary: A boy with the peculiar name Bod (short for Nobody Owens) has been orphaned. When he was only a baby, a mysterious man named Jack murdered Bod's parents. Now homeless, Bod finds home and comfort in an unconventional place: a graveyard. Various denizens of the night inhabit this graveyard, including but not limited to vampires, witches, ghosts, and werewolves. They all take part in raising Bod together. However, only part human and part inhuman guardian Silas truly understands Bod's needs for food, shelter, and companionship. Meanwhile, the mysterious man named Jack is alive and active, even going to a convention attended by those who do nefarious deeds. It seems inevitable that his path will cross with Bod again.

Critical Evaluation: This post is relatively biased, given my high opinion of Neil Gaiman's work. He won me over with his superb Sandman graphic novel series and American Gods, both clever forays into mythology and urban fantasy.

The Graveyard Book, whose inspiration came from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, is more playful in tone than Gaiman's other works. Despite disturbing images such as the man known as Jack silently creeping up the stairs on his way to murder Bod's parents, The Graveyard Book exudes an almost fairy tale or fable-like tone, similar to its inspiration. Even though Bod must live out his childhood in a graveyard with creatures who would terrify the average child, Gaiman makes sure to let the reader know that these creatures are benign and wise.

My only criticism of The Graveyard Book is that Bod is a rather dull character. He is the blank slate through whom we meet these new and interesting characters, our pathfinder through a new world. This would not be a major criticism of mine if Gaiman did not use this method all too often. Richard Mayhew from Neverwhere was a similar dull blank slate and Shadow from American Gods was essentially a silent protagonist. While Gaiman excels at giving secondary characters life, his protagonists often lack charisma or excitement.

Reader's Annotation: He may have a strange name, but Bod has an even stranger place he calls home: a graveyard.

Author Information: Gaiman is a bit of a Renaissance man. In addition to young adult literature, he's written picture books, juvenile books, adult books, and comic books. He's even written a few screenplays: one for Beowulf with Anthony Hopkins and a few for BBC's Dr. Who series. He is married to the Dresden Dolls' (self-described as vaudeville punk) lead singer Amanda Palmer.


Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Horror

Curriculum Ties: A compare and contrast between this and The Jungle Book could help students understand cultural differences between now and then. In addition, it could spark an assignment in which a student is given the task of rewriting a book by which he or she is inspired.

Booktalking Ideas: same as above, compare and contrast to Kipling's work.

If they are nurturing and loving, is being raised by wolves, ghosts, or anything really just as good as being raised by human parents?

Reading level/interest age: Ages 12-15

Challenge Issues: violence, scary images

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: I have a rampant obsession with Neil Gaiman books so I had read this a little while back. This was also a recent Hugo award winner, and I often try to at least familiarize myself with Hugo and Nebula award winners as a fan of science fiction. I think teens would enjoy Gaiman's playful and easy-to-read writing style.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
ISBN: 9780452284692
Plume Revised Edition, 2003
264 p.

Plot Summary: Stephen King's magnum opus starts, "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." The gunslinger is a Clint Eastwood-type rough and tough cowboy named Roland whose motives for following the man in black are unknown. The man in black seems to be a sorcerer of sorts who holds the key to Roland's fate. Roland comes to a small town, finds that the Man in Black has poisoned the minds of a select few and is forced to gun most of the town down. Later, Roland meets Jake, a young boy who is destined to be a part of Roland's journey. The two of them journey through some abandoned mines when certain tragedy befalls the boy. Will Roland carry on without him to meet with the mysterious sorcerer?

Critical Analysis: The Dark Tower series is vastly different than the rest of King's work. As opposed to the bleak horror elements that resonate in most of his other novels, The Dark Tower series has more of a western fantasy feel. This starts in the first book The Gunslinger in the form of mutants in abandoned mines and the aforementioned old fashioned shootout. Stephen King provides clues as to what this mysterious fantasy world could possibly be. Sometimes it seems much like our own, "Hey Jude" plays on the jukebox.

The best part of the series and this novel is the element of mystery that King dangles over his readers. Reading through, you desperately want to know who Roland is and why this sorcerer has a seemingly obsessive hold over him. King's use of language also immerses the reader into the world. He makes up accents and colloquialisms that the residents of Roland's mystery world use.

The Gunslinger does suffer from being the first entry in an epic series, though. It feels like an overly long prologue to a more engaging story. And indeed it is. In the following books The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands, the action truly starts and the series becomes an engaging story that most fans can't get enough of. Before this edition was written, The Gunslinger was not cohesive with the rest of the series and contained plot threads that did not make sense. Thankfully, King released this edition that clears up most of the problems.

Reader's Annotation: The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

Author Information: Stephen King is a prolific author, the prolific author from Maine. He has written dozens of bestsellers, many of which have been adapted to film. The Dark Tower is in the works to become a TV/film series directed by Ron Howard.


Genre: horror/fantasy epic, teen crossover

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: How does King combine multiple genres into this book? What other books can you think of that are a genre hybrid?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 to adult

Challenge Issues: sex, violence

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: Stephen King is often one of the first adult authors that many teens and young adults start with, including myself. This is one of the faster paced and easier to understand books in King's extensive catalog, not to mention the beginning of a fantastic series, so what better place to start?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
ISBN: 9780689841545
Simon and Schuster, 2001
224 p.

Plot Summary: John is a 17 year old loner and the author of a zine called Bananafish. He has a lot of issues surrounding his parents divorce. On a trip to Tower Records in Boston, John meets Marisol, the author of another zine. She is an adoptee who recently came out and is dealing with personal issues like sexuality and abandonment since she was adopted. She wants to escape storybook life her parents have set up for her. She is focused on finding out who she is outside of her parents context. After meeting her, John realizes that he doesn't hate people, realizes his feelings on family and relationships. John complicates things by falling in love with Marisol which is bad news because what they have in common is not trusting people in general. The two zine writers will have to figure out how to deal with their potential romance and friendship.

Critical Analysis: The characters in Hard Love are intelligent, relatable, and deep. John is self deprecating without being self pitying and perceptive. This seems to be a rarity in young adult books, far too many seem to portray teens who are self-centered and impulsive.

The layout is also cool, as the book is set up like a zine. This allows there to be a bit of the book within a book context. Wittlinger goes into some of the tips or information about zine making and how the process works and as a creative outlet. I thought this especially made it a unique read.

Hard Love draws on some popular culture, it includes folk singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco's poetry. This and the zine element make it feel like a complete story, all facets are considered. In nearly every element, from uniqueness to characterization to readability, Wittlinger wrote a great book.

Reader's Annotation: John's love for fellow zine writer Mariposa seems doomed because she's gay. How will she and he balance their potential friendship or relationship?

Author Information: Wittlinger worked as a children's librarian, which gave her unique insight into writing for teens. She also lived in Cape Cod, the setting for many of her books.


Genre: realistic fiction, young adult

Curriculum Ties: Wittlinger raises a lot of curiosity in the reader about writing and creative expression and writing as a creative outlet. It provides an interesting window into that subculture. There is a lot of potential for character exploration and mapping character development by letting students write a zine for an assignment.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 15 and up

Challenge Issues: sexuality

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: Hard Love is a great book, another one in which the format and content is nontraditional. It is something of a departure from what you'd typically find in realistic YA fiction. Wittlinger features great characterization and a good introduction into creative writing and zine writing. It's also a Printz award winner, so its on a must-own basis in my opinion.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
ISBN: 1416925082
Simon and Schuster, 2007
192 p.

Plot Summary: Brian is a teenager whose parents are separated. He knows a secret that caused them to divorce, an affair. He is on his way to Canada to visit his father, who he hasn't seen since they separated. The small plane, housing only the pilot and Brian, crashes due to a fatal heart attack suffered by the pilot. For nearly two months, Brian must survive in the Canadian wilderness. To do so, he must learn how to find and catch food, build a shelter, make a fire, and eventually be able to signal the outside world and find help.

Critical Analysis: Hatchet is the penultimate survival/boy book. It is light on dialogue and heavy on description, Paulsen mostly voices Brian's thoughts about how to survive and his next plan of action. The story moves quickly and a new danger or occurrence is never far from happening. I think this is much of its appeal especially for reluctant readers, there is very little filler in Hatchet.

Part of the problem with Hatchet is the reader's suspension of disbelief. It is well-known that Paulsen knows a lot about wilderness and survival, so it is tough to swallow when Brian aptly applies by-the-book survival skills throughout the novel. Sure, Brian makes mistakes and suffers a fair bit for them, but it seems sudden when he goes from a complete amateur to a spear-building, arrow-slinging expert.

Another problem with the book is Brian's conflict relating to his parents. Clearly, Paulsen's skill lies in his descriptions, not in dramatizing interpersonal relationships and situations. The transitions between survival and Brian's inner turmoil are jarring; Brian will suddenly remember that his parents are separated in the middle of skinning an animal and think about that for a while. This would not be a problem, but the separation of his parents does not have much of an impact on the story. As a character, Brian grows much more through his survival experience rather than his parents' divorce.

Reader's Annotation: Brian's plane crashed and he survived. Now he must find a way to survive in the Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet and the clothes on his back.

Author Information: Paulsen is a bit of a Renaissance man, having done everything from animal trapping to archery. He has also participated in the Iditarod.


Genre: adventure, action, survival

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: What does the hatchet represent to Brian, other than a simple survival tool?

Did you find most of the elements in Hatchet believable? How does it compare to other survival films like Zemeckis' Cast Away and Boyle's 127 Hours?

Reading Level: Ages 12 to 16

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: As I wrote previously, Hatchet is a great book for boys. It moves quickly and portrays admirable qualities for men to have. In terms of survival and adventure books, it is one of the best.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
ISBN: 0061944890
Harper Paperbacks, 2009
400 p.

Plot Summary: Judas Coyne is a retired rock star with a penchant for the weird, morbid, and occult...preferably combined. That's why when his assistant finds a haunted dead man's suit on an online auction site, Judas jumps on the opportunity to own it. A few days later, a heart-shaped box shows up with the man's suit in it. Not long after Coyne opens the box, a mysterious apparition that goes by the name of Craddock starts haunting him. It seems that the ghost has a vendetta against Judas because of some tragic events that happened to an ex-girlfriend named Georgia. At first, Coyne thinks it is nothing, but when Craddock starts swinging a sharp object back and forth and starts to threaten his loved ones, the aging rock star and his girlfriend Marybeth will have to figure out a way to escape the dead.

Critical Analysis: For a debut novel, Hill's work is impressive. Much of the charm of Heart-Shaped Box comes from the uniqueness of Judas as a protagonist. Since he is already into the macabre and most likely saw and did things few men do back when he was a rock star, Judas makes for a completely different character to follow in a horror story. Instead of cowering or coming up with foolish ideas, he tries to wait the ghost out stubbornly. When that does not work, he reluctantly seeks out his girlfriend's help and they traverse the southern United States in search of answers.

Perhaps it is just because I am a horror fan in general, but I found Heart-Shaped Box to be more of a rock and roll-themed thriller than a full on horror book. Craddock's merciless hunt of Judas and Marybeth and a few scenes involving him are certainly unsettling, but this book is by no means terrifying.

Unfortunately, Heart-Shaped Box shows the inexperience of its author in the form of story pacing. Hill tries but fails to write a narrative in which there is a slow build up of terror, the time when Craddock finally puts Judas and Marybeth in true danger. Instead, a series of dreams and dream-like states put the reader in a kind of a subreality in which it feels that there is no danger at all. The ending is also quite abrupt, with many loose ends left loose. It seemed less like it was a purposeful ending and more like Hill just did not know how to end the story.

Reader's Annotation: Judas Coyne is an aging rock star who just bought a haunted suit. He has no idea what he has just paid for.

Author Information: Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. However, he kept the pen name when he started out and kept that fact a secret and got published nonetheless. His works are often compared to the early works of his father so it seems that good storytelling runs in the blood.

Source: back of the book

Genre: horror, thriller, teen crossover

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: Do you think characters in horror movies and books are just "asking for it" based on their behavior?

Name some rock stars or musical artists that might have inspired Judas Coyne.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 17 to adult

Challenge Issues: sex, minor drug use, scary images

Challenge Defense Ideas: Become familiar with the book, keeping the challenge issues in mind. Refer to the library's collection development policy here. If possible, find other opinions from reviews, recommendations, or others who have read the book.

Why I included this title: As I said in the review, I found Judas to be a refreshing protagonist for a horror story and that essentially carries the book. It was an interesting and clever take on a traditional ghost story plot. Finally, was a fast-paced book that was not too difficult to read which is why I selected it for a crossover title.

Hot Jobs in Video Games by Joe Funk

Hot Jobs in Video Games by Joe Funk
ISBN: 0545218500
Scholastic Reference, 2010
128 p.

Plot Summary: Funk's Hot Jobs in Video Games serves as a guide to young adult readers to the gaming industry and possible employment in it. Funk interviews a variety of designers, creators, and artists who have done work on games like Gears of War, Wolverine: Origins, Halo, and The Sims. Funk also speaks to Fatal1ty, a gamer whose skills in a game called Unreal Tournament won him almost $50,000 in one year.

Critical Analysis: Funk's book provides a fascinating look into the video game industry. A wide variety of individuals are interviewed. Cliff Blezenski, creator of Gears of War tells readers that he started very early creating video games, he sold his first game before he was out of high school.

This is part of the problem with the book, though. Working in the video game industry is a fantasy and Funk does little to debunk some of the myths or to specify what skills are needed. Game testing, for example, is known to be a grueling job that has been likened to opening the same door in a game one thousand times to check for bugs. All of the individuals interviewed in Funk's book are successful people who have moved up through the ranks to the fun and creative jobs. Funk does little to explain the entry-level jobs that nearly everyone would have to do to get in on the ground floor.

Similarly, Funk neglects to explain some of the preparation and skill needed for some of these jobs. Each piece has a "job skills needed" section, but they are just adjectives. Specific schooling and computer skills would have made this a more valuable resource to young adults interested in working with video games.

Reader's Annotation: Want to work in the video game industry? Find out how to get paid for your favorite hobby!

Author Information: Funk also wrote a book on iPhone apps book, implying his technological prowess.


Genre: non-fiction, careers

Curriculum Ties: This book could be used during job placement tests in schools, with the caveat that these jobs are very diffficult to attain.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: There are a lot of teens at my gaming program in the library who are interested in coding, modding, and video game production. I'm sure there are many other teens with similar interests. Although this book does not get into the specifics quite enough, it is a good starting point for anyone who's interested in a video game career.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
ISBN: 978-0061969553
HarperCollins Publishers, 2010
448 p.

Plot Summary: A boy from the now destroyed planet Lorien is the fourth of nine remaining Loriens. Number three was just killed and John Smith is number four, the next in line to be hunted down. He and his uncle must help him develop his Legacies (superpowers) to fend off the evil Mogadorians, who exiled the Loriens from their planet in the first place. Now John Smith must try to live a normal teenager's life with cute girls, bullies, ever-developing powers, and the feeling he's constantly being watched.

Critical Evaluation: I found this to be a good fast-paced science fiction book. The authors do a good job of balancing action and everyday life. Surprisingly, John Smith's everyday boring high school life can be just as interesting than some of the later action scenes. The love interest and his nerdy friend from whom he must keep his secrets make for a charming trio to follow through the story.

Unfortunately, I am Number Four falls into the tendency many YA authors have to refuse to tell a story in just one book. Although this book covers one story arc and ends somewhat satisfyingly, it is only the first in a series of what is to be many. I'd be happy to read a single satisfying YA work without having to read five more to get the whole mythology of the story. Another annoyance is the length and pacing of the book. More happens in the last fifty pages than had happened in the two hundred before. Spending less time following John Smith through his boring Legacy training and love interests and more time on the battle scenes would have made more sense. But alas, perhaps these battle scenes are being saved for future books.

Reader's Annotation: Three are dead. John Smith is number four and must develop his powers to keep the Mogadorians from ending his teenage life prematurely.

Author Information: Behind the pseudonym are James Frey and Jobie Hughes. James Frey is the author of Bright Shiny Morning and the controversial A Million Little Pieces, a work of fiction that was first said to be factual. Frey publishes under as many as nine reported pseudonyms, so information on him is scarce.


Jobie Hughes is relatively new on the writing scene, his first standalone novel was Agony at Dawn. A New York native, he does much of his writing in the privacy of home, though he used to prefer the busyness of local coffee shops. He describes his writing tendency is to write 1000 words every day, whether good or bad.


Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Curriculum ties: N/A

Booktalking ideas: How does John Smith's transition into a fully fledged Lorien with Legacy powers mirror the transition of teenager into adult?

The Loriens are being hunted by the Mogadorians and humans and friends of John Smith are helping them survive. Why should humans care about a diminishing number of aliens from a planet they've never heard of?

Reading level/interest age: 9th to 12th grade

Challenge issues: N/A

Challenge Defense Ideas: No challenge issues come to mind when reading this book. The best defense is having a strong knowledge of the book, so becoming familiar with it by reading reviews, finding other opinions, and reading it one's self is a good start. One could also refer to the library's collection development policy here.

Why I included this title: I heard this book was being turned into a film which piqued my interest in it. I'm also a fan of science fiction and I'm always finding new and popular series to recommend to teens at my library. I think they would enjoy both that it is soon to be well-known due to the film and the fact that it is an entertaining read.