Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Prank



As humorous and fun as they may seem; at what point are pranks no longer funny? How far can you take pranks before they go horribly wrong?

It was homecoming week at Bridgewater High.  It was Bridgewater vs. St. Philomena.  Jordan couldn’t wait to see her crush Charlie who she knew would be nominated for homecoming king along with Briony, one of the most beautiful girls in the senior class.  As they were called to the stage Briony was hit with water balloons from none other than their rivals from Philomena.  This leaves Briony furious and ready for revenge.  Let the pranking begin!
The Prank, by Ashley Rae Harris, tells the story of Jordan, a junior in high school who participates with Briony and a group of kids who begin pulling pranks to get even with St. Philomena.  Everything seems fine until their principal announces the following day that Carlos Perez fell of the roof of St. Philomena's and suffered great injuries.  The eerie part of it all is that each prank that they pull seems to follow up with terrible accidents where they hear the crying of a little girl.  As a result, this causes a big stir and prompts Jordan and her crush Charlie to begin to investigate the cause of the accidents.  But everything is not what it seems.  Could it be a ghost that is behind these terrible accidents? Will Jordan and Charlie be able to stop the pranks before it’s too late?  You will have to read to find out!
This was a quick read and I enjoyed it very much.  I would suggest this book for the reluctant reader who is interested in reading spookie ghost stories.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ivy



It’s not always easy being a teenager, especially for Ivy Stenova

Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk, tells the story of Ivy Stenova a teenage girl from Maine, who aspires to be a painter.  Her mother talks against her dreams and prefers for her to go to business school which causes Ivy a bit of resentment.  Ivy is self-centered, rude to her mom and friends, and doesn’t realize that she is the root to her own problems.  She has a “me against the world attitude”, and as a result of her anger, Ivy eventually becomes self destructive which causes her friends Brad and Marisa to decrease the amount of time that they spend with her.  She ends up getting in trouble at school which results in a suspension, and getting to a big fight with her mom, which causes her to run away with Josh who she met while on a field trip at an art convention in Boston.  Although Ivy barely knows Josh; she is willing to take that chance of running away with him.  Ivy believes that things are turning around for her, so she thinks.  Ivy begins a sexual relationship with Josh and becomes involved with using drugs.  While on her journey with Josh, Ivy begins to see him for who he really is and in turn comes to terms that she needs to make a decision about where she belongs.

To some degree I could definitely understand where Ivy’s anger was coming from in terms of her mother not encouraging her to pursue and follow her dreams.  In the end, you can clearly see Ivy’s transformation as she begins to reflect on her life and realize the mistakes she has made. 

Although I am not a huge fan of comic books, this Graphic Novel is a good quick read; however it contains nude pictures and sex scenes.  I would not recommend this novel for students sixteen years of age and under.


The Influencing Machine: Brook Gladstone On Media


“Since the industrial age began, there has been a recurring delusion that an evil machine is controlling our minds.”          
Starting in Rome, Gladstone guides the reader through the history of journalism and the influence it has on us. Throughout the Influencing Machine she quotes experts and historical figures. As her sassy cartoon avatar (sporting boots, a black dress, and a cloud of bushy black hair) interviews tyrants and heads of state, it is much more engaging to the reader, rather than her simply quoting them (clever).  It removes the distance between historical figures and the reader. I’m still horrified about the story about a censored interview that might have stopped Hitler’s rise to power. Graphic nonfiction might appear to be a novelty, but it is powerful way to communicate.
The narrative touches on several subjects related to the influence that he media can have on you and the influence your “lizard brain” has on you. She explores subconscious biases, or desire for the status quo, censorship, the influence of the Internet, and the history of journalism (which she confirms that it’s pretty much been the same since its conception).

Staying true to the genre, graphic novel, Gladstone does not linger too long on any of the before-mentioned topics. With the help of illustrator, Josh Neufeld, she covers a lot of material with impressive efficiency.  For, there is one chapter about war journalism in which Gladstone tells the story of journalist Ernie Pyle in World War II. Neufeld’s graphics are just as powerful as the script, if not more, as he lay with his last column in his pocket.

Throughout the book Gladstone denotes that there is no hidden agenda of the media. She goes on to press that the public is responsible for the media’s irresponsibility. We helped to create this thing that no one appreciates and the Internet is steadily making obsolete. Hmm…Although, I appreciate Ms. Gladstone efforts, I would ask her how is she able to objectively write about the media and its influences and non-influences when she is a part of it?

The Influencing Machine: BrookGladstone on the Media is informative, easy to follow, and visually enjoyable. These are all of the elements that a graphic novel needs in order to engage a young audience. I would recommend this book, yet I would caution young readers, not to believe everything they read. Although Gladstone professes objectivity, it is clear that she has written this fantastic book with journalistic eyes.

Watch This Space: Designing, Defending, and Sharing Public Spaces By Hadley Dyer


“You don’t have to buy something or pay an entry fee to be in a public space. You don’t need to be a member or explain why you’re there. Public spaces exist so everyone can use them. All you have to do is show up.”

In Watch This Space: Designing, Defending, and Sharing Public Space, Dyer examines different public spaces around the world and the features that make them effective. More specifically, she addresses how young people use and need public spaces. Key questions are explored, while various facts are shared. How do young people impact public spaces? How do they interact with others in public spaces? Who is allowed in public spaces? How do urban public spaces differ from suburban? And, how are communities affected by public space?

Although the book is only 80 pages, it is filled with loads of contemporary and historical information about the use, design, and issues regarding public spaces. The magazine style provides plenty of illustrations from acclaimed illustrator, Marc Ngui, as well as interesting side bars explaining the significance of various public spaces and why they should be protected. One example from the book is the laws in different countries that govern public spaces like Singapore, where the importing and sale of chewing gum is banned. The ban was implemented in the 1990s to prevent people from sticking gum under benches, on sidewalks, and the like.

There are a few interesting features…

Dyer challenges teens to take a look at the impact of advertisements in the community and virtual public spaces. She contends that advertisements can be intrusive when found in schools and other public spaces where children should be protected from distractions, like logos on T-Shirts. Honestly, decreasing covert advertisements in public spaces seem impossible; given that the space is free. This is definitely a topic for a lively discussion.

There are activities and references for further exploration and learning. For example, Dyer invites the reader to design a city green space by incorporating the desires and ideas of the community. 

Another interesting feature is that references to additional resources are provided. For example, the rise of North American suburbs is addressed. If a reader would like to know more, Dyer refers to Jane Jocobs’ work, Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Watch This Space urges readers, especially teens, to be mindful of the public spaces that they use and enjoy. This book is creatively crafted and worth perusing.

Pretty Ugly: Bluford Series #18 by Karen Langhorne Folan



“F   The letter was scrawled so big and red, Jamee wondered if Mrs. Guessner had any ink left in her pen after she had made it.”

PrettyUgly is the first book in the Year II Bluford Series. The plot takes place at Bluford High in Los Angeles. In this contemporary narrative, Jamee Wills, a freshman, is determined escape the shadow of her older sister, Darcy. She believes that she will make a name for herself as a talented cheerleader, a part from Darcy’s academic distinction. As the plot unfolds, Jamee finds herself struggling for more than her identity.

Although the characters lack depth, Folan does a good job scripting characters of which readers can easily make connections. Jamee, main character, is in search of her identity as she deals with the issues in her life. In the story, she not only resents being in the shadow of Darcy, but feels out of place with relatives (Aunt Charlotte), longs to talk to her recently deceased grandmother, has anxiety about the new baby that is soon to join the family, and is confused about her father’s return to the family, after he abandoned them years earlier. And, that’s just her family problems. At Bluford High she meets Angel, a shy and awkward freshman, who is bullied relentlessly by Vanessa (and her posse), a mean and manipulative junior. Jamee’s best friend, Amberlynn, loyal and attentive, stands by her as she defends Angel from Vanessa.  Desmond, Jamee’s boyfriend, also support’s Jamee, but has ulterior intentions. There is also Mrs. Guessner, Jamee’s algebra teacher. She has good intentions, but unknowingly, she constantly reminds Jamee that she is not as “smart” as Darcy. 

The plot is straight-forward and touches upon several relevant topics. To start, Jamee fails an algebra test. Mrs. Guessner, requires her to get her parents’ signature on the test, come for after-school help, and retake the test at the end of the week. Rather than do so, Jamee attends cheerleading tryouts.At tryouts, Jamee notices Angel and Vanessa. When Angel awkwardly performs a routine, Vanessa and her friends bully her, much to Jamee’s disgust. The next day Vanessa bullys Angel at lunch and when Jamee defends her, Vanessa comments on her “reputation” with boys. Her comment leads Jamee to wonder whether Dez is dating her because he thinks she is willing to go “all the way.”

That afternoon in the locker room, Vanessa nd her friends play monkey-in-the-middle with Angel’s T-Shirt. After Jamee helps Angel get her shirt back, Tasha takes a picture with her mobile phone of Jamee comforting Angel with a hug. The picture is sent to students at Buford High with a caption that reads “Look who’s in love.”

Meanwhile, alerted by Mrs. Guessner, Jamee’s parents confront Jamee over her failure to get help in algebra. She and her mother have a violent argument, which leaves everyone feeling uneasy. Later that evening, Jamee discovers that the picture taken by Tasha has been circulating around Bluford, and she correctly concludes who is behind it. Jamee realizes that things will only get worse until Vanessa is stopped.

Folan deals with several themes in Pretty Ugly. Those that stand out are: standing up for the right thing, standing up for oneself, it is okay to be different, and teamwork.

This book is easy to read, entertaining, and economically priced. Reluctant readers, Grades 7 and up would enjoy reading through this acclaimed series.

Because I am Furniture

Reader Alert…This novel contains sensitive subject matter...


The novel, “Because I am Furniture” by Thalia Chaltas is told in poetry form.  The novel tells the story about a fifteen year old freshman girl named Anke who grows up feeling nothing more than like a piece of furniture.  Anke lives in a home with her mother, father, sister and brother, but her life is far from normal.  Anke’s family suffers abuse at the hands of her father.  He is verbally, physically and sexually abusive.  He beats her brother Darren, and forces her sister Yaicha to take birth control pills because he is sexually abusing her.  The weird part of it all is that throughout the physical and sexual abuse, Anke goes unharmed.  She doesn’t seem to understand why she is unharmed and ignored.  Oddly, Anke partly feels anger and guilt because she’s not being abused which is why she describes herself as a piece of furniture.   Anke says, "I am always there. But they don't care if I am because I am furniture.  I don't get hit.  I don't get fondled.  I don't get love because I am furniture.  Suits me just fine."  She is furious and often wonders why her mom and siblings does or says nothing about the abuse. 
Meanwhile Anke finds solace as she joins the volleyball team and meets Kyler who she begins dating.  While on the team Anke finds the confidence and strength she never knew she had and begins to get the courage to stand up to her abusive dad.  The plot unfolds and the story becomes more intense when Anke sees her father trying to rape her friend Angie.
Educators please be advised! Before assigning this novel; I would definitely take in consideration of the audience because of the graphic nature.  Overall, I enjoyed reading “Because I am Furniture” regardless of the poetry format.  Although this novel was fiction; it addressed real issues.  You never know what people are going through in the comfort of their homes…





Liar's Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce


I can say I love the moon and the title drew me to read Liar’s Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce. It was written in
 November 2011 and it is sequel to “Star Crossed.” It is considered to be in the fantasy genre and but it can also be considered a mystery in that the main character becomes a detective and spy in order to solve a mystery murder case for a friend in prison.

In Liar’s Moon, the main character Celyn Contrare is the heroine of this fantasy story involving romance, magic, and mystery where she finds Durrel Decath in the same prison chamber as her. She is bailed out, by an unknown person, but promises to return and help Durrel, and old friend who helped her from drowning in the past.

This whole book revolves on finding out who murdered the wife of Durrel Decath. All evidence proves it is him, he married her by a huge year span where she could be his mother, the poison in his room, which was the same type of poison found in her body. However, Celyn does not believe that he was the murderer only because of the feeling in her guts. She has the power to see magic and when she goes about her search in the castle they lived in, she finds star dust on the walls of the room where the murder happened.

She goes about interviewing the daughter and son-Koya and Barris- of Durrel’s newly wed wife, Lady Decath, and she brings a good point by saying that “I had no experience investigating crimes; committing them yes, but never reconstructing them, piece by piece, backward in time” (Bunce 37). In this light, Celyn goes about searching for the truth behind the liar's moon, a place full of lies and mystery.

I feel this book is appropriate for the young adult audience but I feel it would attract female readers more because of the romance story behind it. Also, it reminds me of twilight and if you liked twilight I would recommend you read this piece. I am not a fan of twilight but I found this book enjoyable. It is long, it is 309 pages, but the read is fast and you get wrapped up with who the murderer was and trying to solve the case with Celyn. I was left with wonder though, if they will make a movie out of these sequels too?

"Blue Exorcist" by Kazu Kato


The title is catchy, it made me want to read it because of the color blue and the thrill and possible horror in the word exorcist. Blue Exorcist was written by Kazu Kato, a Japanese manga writer who sold her manga via vizmedia and commercialized it to the U.S. It contains 12 volumes, of which I read the first one which was 80 pages long. It is a graphic novel which I had a hard time searching for it on the library because of its new release. I had to search for it online instead and I found it on this link. It was released only in 2011 to the U.S but released in 2009 in Japan.

The story centralizes on Rin Okumura, a teenager who has abnormal strength and was fathered, along with his younger twin brother Yukio, by an exorcist priest Father Shiro Fujimoto. The first volume focuses on how Rin is searching for a job and gets into many fights with demons and monsters. He is saved by Father Shiro many times, but however he has issues with encountering who he is and what is going to become of his life.

He states how “I really want to grow up and make myself respectable” and through this manga he searches for how to become respectable by becoming a demon himself and drawing the demon-slaying blade in order to kill and guard off demons entering the human world and possessing others while depriving them from a normal life.

Shiro, his father, dies in protecting him and at his funeral Rin swears to kill all the demons that hurt others. He grows fangs and horns from using the sword blade himself, and has powers of blue flames to help him in his demon hunting.

I feel this manga would be intriguing for male, young adult readers but I myself, being a female, grew up reading manga and watching Japanese anime from Rurouni Kenshin, to Full Moon Wo, and One Piece, all of which also have mangas in Japan. The thrill of reading mangas is imagination. Mangas in japan are like comics here in the U.S. However, they tell a story through long volumes and  they have a specific media just dedicated for avid Manga readers, Shonen Jump.Manga reading is like its own culture in that it focuses on the characters and themes of life, death, growth, and power while en-wrapping it with emotion, thrill, and inspiration. Anime is the cartoon-like adaptations in episodes of the manga series.

I would recommend reading manga from Japan, these including my read Blue Exorcist, even to adults, because it works with the imagination of the reader in order to engage them in the reading through imagery and art. It also makes themes about growing up and searching for one’s self in the road to meeting others along the way. I will definitely continue reading the other volumes but for now, hope you take the time and read manga! It is a really enjoyable experience so therefore, enjoy!

FDR's Alphabet Soup



FDR, Franklin D. Roosevelt, believed that “governments ought to care for citizens in crisis- ‘not as a matter of charity but as a matter of social duty” (Bolden 5) and this is greatly emphasized in FDR’s Alphabet Soup written by Tonya Bolden, who collects pieces from other writers, interviews, and photos to depict life in New Deal America. This book is set from the years of 1932 to 1939, prior to WWII and focuses on showing how FDR was a progressive leader who sought for “radical experimentation” in times of crisis.

The book titles itself as FDR's Alphabet Soup as a commentary to critics who were against the New Deal and its creation of the “Welfare State” where the government has control over the well being of the people. It is called an Alphabet Soup because of the many New Deal reforms and Acts, these including NRA (National Recovery Administration) which sought to strengthen the industrial sector of the economy. FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) was created in order to insure that depositors won’t lose their money to banks.

The four R’s were crucial to defining FDR as a progressive leader of his times. They consisted in his main goals for the nation in order to leave the depression, with the NRA representing recover, fiscal and monetary policies represented reform and reconstruction, and relief because “the primary concern of any government dominated by humane ideas of democracy is the simple principle that in a land of vast resources no one should be permitted to starve” (Bolden 48). The most controversial was the the AFL which promoted labor unions and the Social Security Act in the second New Deal where money was collected from tax payers in order to be given to the elderly and retired.

FDR was categorized as socialist and communist, but above all he left an imprint of culture in New Deal America. He promoted art and theater projects, and gave confidence to the many in doubt with “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” (Bolden 23). He was the much needed confidence in times of doubt.

Whether his decisions were considered risky, the conclusion of the New Deal left many to learn from its reforms and its “mistakes.” “Above all, the New Deal gave to countless Americans who had never had much of it a sense of security, and with it a sense of having a stake in their country. And it did it all without shredding the American Constitution or sundering the American people” as David M. Kennedy said in “Freedom from Fear” in 1999. In my opinion, this calls for the New Deal as a success in times of struggle only because it returned back faith in the American government. This is important for the young adult generation because it leaves us with a duty to reform and change the laws and policies around us, which affect us and our relevant in our existence and life.

"A Stolen Life" by Jaycee Dugard




Have you ever felt that your life has been dictated by someone else? Have you felt you do not have voice in your own life and you feel like a puppet like Jaycee Dugard in that “I feel like my life is
planned out for me, in what way I do not know, but on this day I feel like a puppet on a string, and I have no idea who’s on the other end” (CD 1). Jaycee Dugard calls this a “stolen life” because she felt other humans decided what her life would be like for 18 years.


Jaycee Dugard is just one of the many cases of child kidnappings and abuse. She survived after having been found in 2009, but for 18 years, since 1991, she lost the chance to have the same illusions and life other people her age had. Everyday activities like going to school, enjoying a nice meal, being with her family were lost for 18 years. Imagine that! She says it is similar to being abducted, because she disappeared out of everyone’s life without even saying goodbye. She lost her life to the hands of Philip Garrido and Nancy Garrido who kidnapped her when she was 11 in Tahoe, California. She was found until age 29 with two children from him. A Stolen Life: a memoir is a memoir written/spoken by Jaycee Dugard about her experiences in captivity.


It is easy to ask yourself, why she did not escape these hands, but being a little girl, she was fearful of the world. Society tends to blame the child, rather than the abuser but she feels that not speaking about it is like protecting her abuser and all abusers in this world. She lost her trust, and she felt lonely. As I read in a mandated abuse training website abusers take advantage of lonely, secluded children. Jaycee said she used to be a shy girl, she was not outspoken but she learned that in order to protect yourself, you must speak up! She was manipulated for 18 years to think her life depended on Garrido and that she had no escape. She was told “it could be worst” by her abuser and was threatened to being sold out if she did not do her role right. She was also fearful of losing her children by murder.

Jaycee was taken when she was walking alone on her way to school on June 10, 1991 and discovered locked in a backyard room, which Garrido called “the studio.” He had a history of being abuser and was on parole. However, Jaycee wants to file a suit on the government and police because they did not do their parole investigations and found her until 18 years after.

Reading this book was difficult for me, not because of the languageor because of its format through an audio book, but because of the content/graphic scenes of violence and abuse in the novel. The reason for Jaycee deciding to create her book as an audio book was because Jaycee wanted to not have a ghost writer who would not allow her to speak, dictate her life as others have, in her past.The scenes where she described being abused, being taken on “a run,” where her abuser would use drugs and force her to have sex for days, and being forced and subjected to the ill treatment from her abuser and his wife Nancy where a horror that was real, just like a bad dream, but real.


Here is a link to her interview with Jaycee Dugard.

I recommend this book if you are an avid reader, enjoy reading and hearing memoirs, or you wished to be informed of real life events that have happened. I do not recommend this for those who cannot handle the violent abusing scenes in the novel, because you will end up being scared of your own safety. However, this memoir is written not as a hopeless case, but as a triumph story where hope kept her alive. She quotes T.S Eliot, “I said to my soul be still, and wait without hope; for hope would be hope of the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith. But the faith, and the love, and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” This quote relates to her life because she feels that keeping hope alive was what kept her going. To see her mother again, to be freed again was something she kept on living for.

I read this book not as a traumatizing narrative, but as one of survival and merit which proves that the most important thing, in life, to have is the will to live.

If you care to know what happened to Philip Garrido here is a link with his sentence story.

Now Is The Time For Running By Michael Williams


“The game is 2-2 when the soldiers come in their jeeps down the path to Gutu.”

Set in Africa, Now Is A Time For Running tells the story of a young boy and his brother victimized by Zimbabwe’s political tyranny. The book opens with soldiers in red berets, led by Commander Jesus, coming into the village they say to punish them for not voting for the president.  In reality, we find out they are only there to steal the food relief that is soon coming from an American Church.  After the food arrives, the soldiers annihilate most of the  village. The main character, Deo and his brother Innocent witness the brutal beatings and murders of their mother and grandfather. All they have left is each other, Deo’s soccer ball, and Innocent’s special box as they trek to South Africa to seek help from their father, who they do not know.

Williams divides the narrative into three parts, each with distinct settings, plots, themes.  Deo and his passion for soccer is the main thread throughout the narrative. And like each section of the book, Deo changes as it progresses.

The first portion of the book tells how Deo, a gifted soccer player, and his autistic brother, Innocent, are forced to flee Zimbabwe for South Africa.  The back drop is the 2008 Zimbabwean presidential elections.   As the only survivors of the Gutu massacre, they flee to the only person they know, Captain Washington, in a nearby town. He tells them to go to South Africa. After numerous trials crossing a treacherous river, avoiding the Ghuma-ghuma, and then wild animals in the game park, they arrive in South Africa.

The second portion of the story is the adventure of Deo and Innocent getting to Johannesburg and then learning how to survive there.  The back drop is the Johannesburg Riots of 2008.  We initially find Deo and Innocent, naively enjoying a peaceful life at a tomato farm near the border.  They soon start to see the resentment that the local people are harboring against refugees and leave.  In Johannesburg they struggle, but eventually find lodging under a bridge with a rag tag group of refugees where they provide child care.  However, this existence comes to an end as xenophobic riots begin and Deo is hit with another tragic loss.

In the third portion of the story we find Deo, now having fled Johannesburg for Cape Town.  The back drop is the 2010 World Cup.  He is constantly high, sniffing glue, trying to forget the tragedy and meaninglessness of his life.  He is recruited by the coach for South Africa’s street soccer team to play with them.  He slowly starts to find meaning in his life through the sport of soccer, and the relationships he builds with his team mates.  Deo finds that his father left him and his brother a message of hope in a Bible that Innocent had stashed in his Bix-Box.

Williams scripts themes of perseverance despite tragedy, evils of absolute power, humanity of the disabled, and healing through sports throughout this powerful story. It’s clear that he has written Now Is the Time For Running, to provide a face and a story to the nameless, voiceless refugees that are in South Africa, and by extension criticizing xenophobia throughout the world.  Just as Coach Salie at one point in the book, brings the South African street soccer team together by having everyone listen to the other’s stories, Michael Williams uses the story of Deo to powerfully weave a story that provides humanity to the refugees in South Africa.

Between Shades of Gray By Ruta Sepetys

They took me in my nightgown.”

From the very beginning this book commands your 
attention. Ruta takes us on a painfully realistic journey from Kaunus, Lithuania to the North Pole. It is 1941, and Russia is annexing smaller, less powerful countries by force and instituting Joseph Stalin's version of socialist-communism. Lithuanian intellectuals and professionals are rounded up and accused of war crimes against Russia. They are branded as “pigs”, “prostitutes”, and “thieves.”


 Between Shades Of Gray is told through the eyes of Lina Vilkas, a 15-year-old Lithuanian girl. She is strong-willed, intelligent, artistic, and a bit self-absorbed. Her immediate family consists of her father, Kostas, a university provost, her mother, Elena, elegant and altruistic, and her good-natured brother, Jonas. She also refers to her beloved cousin Joana as she flashes-back to her life, before imprisonment.


Before the Vilkas family has a chance to escape Russian terror, they are captured and placed in rail cars with other victims to be either sold as slaves or put to work on "collective farms". Lina, Elena, and Jonas end up at a labor camp in Siberia. Kostas is sent to prison.

Each character is scripted brilliantly. Specifically, Lina’s character is completely believable. Although she is going through a situation that seems too bizarre to be real, the internal character traits of Lina remind the reader that the events did take place in one way or another. For example, she is often angered by her mother’s kindness toward those that are not as kind, like the share cropper, Ulyushka or “the bald man”. Moreover, she falls in love, but not before she makes a fool of herself. Lastly, although she faces years of devastation, she holds on to the hope of being reunited with her father.


The prejudice and brutality that is described in this narrative is akin to the “Diary of Anne Frank”. Ruta discloses the frightening treatment of those of the Baltic States during Stalin’s rule over Russia. One can’t help but connect the experiences of Lithuanians to that of the Jews during World War II. Lina's story is an amalgamation of many of the stories of the survivors of this period of time.


Between Shades of Gray is a phenomenal novel. Themes of family strength, the power of love, hope and perseverance, sacrifice, and coming-of-age abound throughout the narrative. Ruta reaches out to the reader, seizes your attention, and does not let go-not even when the last line is read. For, she leaves a profound impression on the heart and mind of the reader. Veils are lifted, emotions are stirred, and connections are made. Between Shades of Gray Should be on everyone's reading list.

Something like Hope

It’s one thing to experience the normal things that adolescents go through, but for teenage Shavonne; life was not that simple.

Hope is defined as the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.  In “Something like Hope” Shawn Goodman tells the story of an angry and hurting seventeen year old girl who has spent most of her childhood and teenage years in juvenile detention centers.  Shavonne’s life has been filled with abuse, neglect, guilt, and pain which cause her to become numb, full of rage, and often blaming others for her problems.  She tries so hard to mask her hurt by acting out and hurting others.  While in the detention center Shavonne becomes acquainted with Mr. Delpopolo, her counselor.  Mr. Delpopolo encourages Shavonne to open up and face her past.  As she begins to trust and befriend Mr. Delpopolo, she shares with him the many struggles that she has gone through and begins to go through a healing process as she deals with the troubles from her past.  She tells him that her mom is a crack addict and prostitute and that her absentee dad died from a liver disease in jail.  She discloses that she had been physically abused and was raped while in foster care.  She also tells him that she got pregnant at the age of sixteen and gave up her daughter Jasmine to the foster care system.  But there is one more skeleton in her closet that Mr. Delpopolo wants Shavonne to face before she is released on her eighteenth birthday.  Throughout the story you may wonder after encountering all of this including dealing with abusive and crooked guards; is there hope for Shavonne after all.

"Something like hope" is a good, young adult novel that older teens may enjoy because the story is engaging and addresses real issues. For me, this book was a sad read.  Knowing that this is someone’s reality is heart wrenching and brings tears to my eyes.  In many ways this book reminds me of Make Lemonade by Virginia Wolff because at the end of the book it is inferred that Shavonne is at a place in her life where she is ready to make a change, move on from her past, and find happiness.

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us by Tanya Lee Stone


Standing at a mere eleven and a half inches tall, Barbie has been the center of countless imaginative play sessions as well as the center of some heated debates. However, it doesn’t matter if she finds herself in the hands of a young girl or a woman’s rights activist, she remains one of the most famous figures in the world—not bad for a molded piece of plastic.

Published shortly after Barbie’s fiftieth birthday year, Tanya Lee Stone takes a look at the elven and half inch icon and her creator in her book The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll’s History and Her Impact on Us. The story has to start somewhere and instead of beginning with the moment the first Barbie was produced, Stone takes us back to the story of Ruth Handler, the very un-Barbie like creator of the now famous doll. Interestingly, Ruth did not like or play with dolls, though that would not stop her from designing a doll that would become synonymous with the childhood of little girls everywhere.

Another chapter chronicles the beginnings of Mattel, a clever combination of two of the founders’ names, and its time before its biggest moneymaker, Barbie, was born. After the groundwork is laid, Barbie finally makes her debut. Placed within the historical 1950’s context of her creation, the book explains how the idea was given shape and even how she got her name. Barbie was named after Ruth Handler’s daughter Barbara, while her male companion Ken was named after Ruth’s son, Kenneth.

The book also covers some of the more controversial aspects of Barbie, such as her relation to body image and race issues. Barbie has proportions that could never be replicated without being plastic, and Black Barbie was not introduced until 1980, a full 21 years after Barbie’s debut. Barbie also induces some more, how shall I say it, inventive play sessions, where she often ends up naked, hairless or even decapitated, another issue the book spends a chapter discussing. Ever the popular girl, Barbie, or at least parts of her, has been the subject of some interesting and creative artwork, which Stone lightly touches on in a short, yet interesting chapter.

Overall, Stone does a great job re-counting the history of a doll that has had more nationalities, careers, and certainly more outfits than any other doll. She incorporates the biography of Barbie’s creator and the historical context in a way that truly completes the story of Barbie and what she has meant to, now, more than fifty years worth of children. This book is a great read for anyone interested in the history Barbie and her legacy. However, I will warn you, if you are interested in the more controversial issues surrounding the doll, I would look elsewhere. This book comes off less critical and more celebratory of the plastic icon. I would recommend this book anywhere from 6th grade and up.

How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr


How would you grieve the loss of a very close parent?  Or deal with an unplanned pregnancy?  Would you find a way to mend broken relationships?  These are several issues out of many that are raised in Sara Zarr’s novel, How To Save A Life.

Jill and Mandy are two teenage girls thrust quickly into adulthood and then into each others’ lives because of major life events.  Jill’s father, of whom she was closer to than her mother, dies in a car accident.  Mandy, in love for the first time, becomes pregnant and because of her home life, knows she can’t raise her child.  Jill’s mother decides she wants to adopt a baby and that is how Mandy becomes a part of their lives.  Along the way, both girls go through a coming of age process, learning how to grieve, how to cope with sexual abuse, how to trust in others, how to know what love is really about, and how to express pieces of who they really are and not what others want them to be. 

The novel brings up many challenges that teenagers might encounter and shows the emotions involved when the unexpected happens to young adults.  A great strength of the book is that it questions readers as to how they feel the characters are acting in certain situations, or if they might react differently, and why.  The novel is told from both character’s perspectives, and it is interesting to see the different ways that these teenagers think when they are both recounting the same experience, and also when they are dealing with issues unrelated to the other’s experiences. 

The themes in the novel would resonate with both girls and boys, such as how to support friends who are experiencing the loss of a loved one or how to know if a romantic relationship should continue, but I do think the novel would likely appeal more to girls than boys.  The novel would also probably be more appropriate on a summer reading list for upperclassmen or if students have to read books of their own choosing for a class (or just for their own pleasure) because it might be hard to get boys engaged in what I believe to be a more female geared book.  If taught in the classroom, it would be very interesting to dissect how the males in the room view the same issues and decisions the main characters make, and if they agree with the viewpoints of the male characters in their book and their reactions to various scenarios that happen.  

All in all, this would be an excellent choice for young adults to read to challenge their thoughts on what they would do if put in the same, unexpected situations the main characters face and to get them thinking about how the decisions they make help define who they are and have them realize that sometimes, very quickly, they might have to grow up sooner than they thought.  

"FDR's Alphabet Soup: New Deal America, 1932-1939" by Tonya Bolden

I remember playing around with my Alphabits cereal as a kid--especially the ones with marshmallows! I would try to make all kinds of words on my spoon. Without a doubt, if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America's 32nd president, had a bowl of Alphabits cereal, he really got shafted with a lot of extra A's. Lucky for him, it would work out, since a lot of those A's would help him craft his various New Deal agency acronyms--words like Arts, Agency, American, Administration.... so on and so on! It's certainly a lot to take in, but Tonya Bolden is up to the task her historically accurate FDR's Alphabet Soup: New Deal America, 1932-1939.

Given the current political climate right now, it's fair to say that many people are concerned about books that "lean" towards one ideology or another. Rest assured, Soup stays as central as it possibly can. It very nicely chronicles the Great Depression as it led up to FDR's election, his two term presidency, and the effects of all of it. Each major aspect of his administration is looked at from the proponent and opponent angles, making it an incredibly objective read. The best part: it explains it in plain English. Especially for a teenager studying the 1930s, a lot of political jargon can make complicated political shifts very confusing.

Bolden also does a great job of making Soup visually and intellectually interesting. Each page is never short on graphical representations, old photos, or depictions of historical artifacts. The margins usually include little extra facts about what 1930s America was going through, even going so far as to display quotes from anonymous and notable figures in the era. One particular letter to FDR is written by a poor man trying to keep his family together. The quote is peppered with spelling errors, a true testament to the lack of good education.

I'm a political junkie. I ate this book up, but I can understand the long-winded impression that some people and students might get. It covers over a decade of events, so it will be a lengthier read. However, it is well worth it. It describes ideas brought forward by the Socialist and Union parties (some of FDR's main opponents outside of the Republican party) that ended up being assimilated into FDR's New Deal (and Second New Deal). While those ideas may have turned out to be great boons to the economy and society, it puts a chink in the armor of a man famous for putting America back on its feet because he took those ideas without giving due credit. Any history teacher should absolutely utilize sections of this book to add flavor and spice to any lesson about the Great Depression and the following years. It also serves as a great addition to lessons on the legislative process (since FDR skirted it a couple of times).