Category Archives: Family

Full Ride

fullrideby Margaret Peterson Haddix

reviewed by Karina, Teen Advisory Board

From the moment this book starts it firmly attaches to your heart. It pulls at your heart strings every step of the way, through every wittingly titled chapter, through every dramatic sentence, through every span of drama. Full ride is truly a novel worth throwing away two or so hours of your life on. This story starts out in Virginia with our main character Becca. She and her mother have been in hiding for years and they want to escape the pain. The pain of what? Of her father’s many crimes putting them all in danger of Excellerand, a highly powerful corporation like Google. Becca never gets to see or hear from her father unless their malicious, power hungry lawyer gets involved. Becca and her mother flee to Deskins, Ohio where they can start anew, but even by moving Becca can’t achieve the one goal she has. All she wants is to go to college, but with her predicament she can’t…until she finds a scholarship.It’s a full ride scholarship and all of Becca’s friends want it too. It’s called the Whitney Court scholarship…

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Filed under college, Coming of Age, Family, High School, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction

Scrawl

By Mark Shulman

Published by Roaring Book Press

Copyright © 2010

Is there any way to reach a bully? Well I guess that depends why the bully is a bully.

Tod Munn is a bully. He’s the kid that intimidates you until you give up your lunch money. Unfortunately somebody else is horning in on his territory, so by the time Munn gets to his usual prey their pockets are empty. This isn’t sitting well with Tod and his “droogs”, so they are going to have to do something drastic. This time they get caught, but instead of expulsion the school counselor has a different plan. She sentences Tod to a month of detention with her, where he is to write in a journal every day. Tod might actually prefer to be with his friends who get assigned to outside clean up duty, at least then he could keep tabs on their mutinous ways.

The reader gets to view this story through the pages of Tod Munn’s detention journal. We slowly learn what landed Tod in detention and what his motivations are for bullying others. What we learn is that Tod is very smart, and even talented, but he is from the wrong side of the tracks trying to survive poverty and a bad family life. What we eventually learn is that some kids bully to survive, and some bully because their just mean. While neither path should be condoned the reader will come away with some empathy for Todd, because in addition to his other problems he is also being bullied just not in the straight up, physical, intimidating way that he bullies.

I love books that make me question my perception. Like most other people, I had been bullied a little bit when I was in school, and so I hate bullies. I root against them; I want them to get what they deserve. The assumption is that bullies do what they do because they are mean and horrible people.

 Mark Shulman tells us a story from the bully’s perspective though, and he helps us to see that it is completely conceivable that some kids bully as a survival mechanism. Again, it doesn’t make it right, but this story actually made me feel for the bully protagonist. So, now instead of saying – I hate bullies, I’m more likely to say – I hate bullying.

“Scrawl” is one of those stories that you know is good because you get so invested in the character that you want to know what he goes on to do when there are no more words for you to read. Tod is a character that many teens will be able to relate to whether they are a bully or a victim of a bully, and I can see this book as a great conversation starter.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Family, High School, Young Adult Fiction

Perpetual Check

By Rich Wallace

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Copyright © 2009

“Two brothers. One championship.” One really annoying dad.

Zeke and Randy are brothers. Zeke is a senior and Randy is a freshman. Both play chess and are playing in a regional tournament in Scranton, Pennsylvania with the hopes of winning a $1,000 scholarship and an invite to the state tournament. Randy is easy going and friendly and Zeke is a bit of a jerk. Although these boys are very different from one another and don’t generally get along, It is at this tournament that they both reach their breaking point with their meddling father.

Not too long ago I read “One Good Punch” which was set in Scranton, PA as well, and featured a teen track star with a problem. Now reading “Perpetual Check”, I’m beginning to see that Rich Wallace really has a knack for writing quick reading sports dramas.

I really appreciated how in just 112 pages he takes us into the youth chess world, introduces us to a dysfunctional family, and presents us with signs of a resolution to sibling rivalry and parental interference. It isn’t burdened down with chess match details he just provides enough so that the novice and the experienced player get the picture. In addition, the resolution does not feel forced or contrived. While he occasionally gives us a glimpse into the past of these characters, Wallace mainly just gives us a day in the life of these two characters, and it just happens to be the day that they both come together and have had enough. Teens 13 and up will really be able to relate to this characters, and it may just spark their interest in the game of chess.

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Filed under Family, High School, Sports, Strong Sense of Place, Young Adult Fiction

Hitch

By Jeanette Ingold

Published by Harcourt, Inc.

Copyright © 2005

Moss Trawnley is 17 and he is doing everything he can to keep his family afloat. Considering that he is living during the tail end of the great depression and he still has his job at an airfield in Texas he feels pretty hopeful. He is able to send money home to his family in Louisiana every month, he is planning to go to radio repair school, and he has girlfriend named Beatty. However, when Moss suddenly loses his job his dreams seem to be turned on end.

After locating his father in Montana, Moss decides to sign up for a hitch with the Civilian Conservation Corps where he will get 3 squares and a cot and two-thirds of his pay will be sent home to help his family. Moss endures extreme weather and troublesome cabin mates, but he also learns what it takes to be a good man and a leader. He learns the meaning and value of hard work, helping others, and of loyalty.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s initial New Deal programs designed to put the nation’s young men to work during the Great Depression. They were charged with among other things the tasks of reforestation, dam and reservoir construction, and park restoration. Ingold tells a fascinating story that shows why a young man might join the CCC and what camp life might be like. 

More than just being an overview of the CCC though, she creates a likeable protagonist for us who is coping with internal and external conflicts. And she highlights the proper way to deal with those conflicts. While reading Moss’ story you are waiting for him to lash out because it is the natural first instinct, but he learned from his experience what happens when you do that. Moss is a flawed character but he is good at heart, accepts subtle direction, and learns the best ways to lead. 

In addition to Moss she shows young men and women who have many different talents and passions. I thought it was great that there were young men who loved to read and were good in the kitchen and that there were young ladies who were pilots and were interested in the family farm. It is a reminder that it is our abilities and interests that should guide our work and passions, not our sex.

While the characters in this story tend to be 17 and older, I feel that youths 12 and up would enjoy this story. This book would also be well used in middle/high school language arts classes to make a cross curriculum connection with U.S. History in particular the Great Depression and the New Deal era.

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Filed under Community, Family, Historical, Young Adult Fiction

Stoner & Spaz

By Ron Koertge

Published by Candlewick Press

Copyright © 2002

The physically disabled and the mentally disabled meet and the fireworks fly in a book which is aiming a little too low for a suitable audience.

16 year-old Benjamin, the Spaz, has CP (Cerebral Palsy). He lives in the cocoon of his grandmother’s house studying old movies and feeling sorry for himself. One night at the Rialto Theater he runs into a classmate, colleen, a tough as nails Stoner, who bums a couple of bucks off of him. Ben knows he is being used, and he knows Colleen is bad news, but it has been so long since anyway has talked to him the way she does that he can’t help but feel drawn to her.  Each of them end up giving the other friendship and the listening ear that they desperately need. It is Ben who, trying to harness his passion for film, will learn how tough he really is.

“Stoner & Spaz” is a modern romantic tragedy for the teen set. What a preppy teen with a disability could have in common with the drug addicted girlfriend of a high school thug is hard to imagine, but breaking down stereotypes is very much part of what Koertge is trying to do in this book. He puts his storytelling ability and his knack for smart and realistic dialogue on display.

That being said, it is his realism that keeps me from recommending this book highly. This book is supposed to be aimed at teens 14-17, but the profanity and sexual overtones make this a book more suited for adults or at the very least teens 17 and up. I thoroughly believe that good fiction can help youths cope with life, so there are many teens that may be able to connect with the characters and situations in this book, but I don’t know that I would recommend this book for all teens.

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Filed under Addiction, Disease/Cancer, Drugs, Family, High School, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

A Monster Calls (MUST READ)

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness

Inspired by an Idea from Siobhan Dowd

Published by Candlewick Press

Copyright © 2011

Siobhan Dowd, author of four young adult books, did not begin writing until she was already into her 40’s. Being raised in London by Irish parents, and having spent decades helping others in outreach and activism, Siobhan wrote about what she knew. Her stories, set in Ireland and the UK, were about young adults and the troubles they face. Before Siobhan could publish anymore books though, she succumbed to a trouble of her own. In 2007 she lost her battle with breast cancer.

A short time ago, Patrick Ness, an American now living in England and winner of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Booktrust Teenage Prize, was asked to finish a book that Siobhan had started. “She had characters, a premise, and a beginning. What She didn’t have, unfortunately, is time.” He tells us. After reading what she had left and accepting the request “A Monster Calls” is where the inspiration has led him.

Thirteen year old Connor has been under a lot of stress lately. His dad left him and his mother a few years ago, and that was tough enough. Ever since he found out that his mother had cancer though, his world has turned upside down. His mother has to have treatments that make her sick. His grandmother, who is not easy to get along with, has been visiting more and telling him what to do. And people have been treating him differently as if he is not an individual; he is Connor, the boy with the sick mom.

With all that has been going on Connor begins having nightmares. He goes to sleep at night and has visions of “the darkness and the wind and the screaming… hands slipping from his grasp no matter how he tries to hold on.” It is the worst nightmare he has ever had. But then he begins having another nightmare, and in this nightmare he is visited by a monster. At first this nightmare scares him. The thought of the huge, angry looking monster causes him anxiety during his waking hours. Once Connor finally sees this monster up close though, he realizes that the monster from his first dream is much scarier. He begins to see that this new monster is old and earthly, and has actually come to help him, and he hopes against hope that helping him means helping his mother.

Ness tells us a serious and occasionally darkly humorous story about a boy who is too afraid to admit what he knows is inevitable, and it is eating him up inside. Through the use of three stories Connor’s monster helps him to come to grips with his feelings of unfairness, anger, and neglect, but most importantly it helps him to come to grips with the truth. This truth is Connor’s story, which he must learn to tell.

Dowd and Ness have brought to life a book about coping when loved ones have cancer. The story is emotional and raw. It is full of anger and despair. Do you know that ache in your throat that comes when you are trying to suppress tears and moans of utter grief and sadness? That is what this book is. “A Monster Calls” is heart-wrenchingly necessary, not to give hope, but to help people cope. So many of us need a monster to guide us through the emotions when disease strikes so close to home, but so often such a one is not found. To a small extent “A Monster Calls” fills that void.

There are many books with heart and feeling on book shelves today, but few have affected me the way this one has. Cancer doesn’t have to strike close to you to appreciate this book. Anyone who has dealt with the grief and sorrow of untimely loss can relate to Connor’s story.

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Filed under Abuse/Bullying, Disease/Cancer, Family, Psychological, Young Adult Fiction

MOCKINGJAY

By Suzanne Collins

Published by Scholastic Press

Copyright © 2010

Katniss Everdeen has survived, barely, her second stint in the Hunger Games thanks to a rescue operation carried out by the rebels and their Capitol spies. But all is not well. Not all of the games combatants were rescued. Among those left behind was Peeta who President Snow will now use to thwart the rebel cause and break Katniss.

Things aren’t well in District 13 either. However happy she is about being rescued, it was done with ulterior motives. Katniss finds that she has been saved so that she can be the face and voice of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. However, Katniss finds district 13 to be very strict and antiseptic and something about its leaders gives her an uneasy feeling. Will the leader of district 13, President Coin, still have a use for her when she has accomplished their goal? And will she be saving or destroying more lives? One thing is for sure; the rebellion is going to cause her grief on a level she has never known.

Mockingjay is at once different and similar the first two books in this series. In the first two books she is a captive of the Capitol and the Hunger Games. In Mockingjay she is safely inside District 13, but she is still a captive of the Games. Her life is now about taking down the Capitol the cruel creators of the Hunger Games, but she is still a captive in many ways trying to save Peeta, trying to keep District 13’s leaders happy, and trying to come to terms with all of the sorrow that has occurred since her first trip to the Hunger Games.

Suzanne Collins Hunger Games Finale is exquisite. Her ability to tale a tale that is filled with action, suspense, love, internal angst, and a philosophical and historical understanding of humans is spellbinding. I literally could not put this book, or any of the books, in this series down. The ending is so dramatic that I felt the pain and understood the necessity of Katniss’ actions. This series is just completely awesome. It has moved to the top of my YA Fiction list.

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Filed under Adventure, Community, Family, Romance, Science Fiction, Suspense, Young Adult Fiction