Thursday, November 24, 2011

Booktalk: After by Amy Efaw (Virginia Readers' Choice)

Some teens manage to get straight A’s and perform at a consistently high level playing varsity sports: they’re perfect, right? If you knew her before, Devon, a 15-year-old girl, would fit that category. She’s a good kid who works hard both at school and at soccer, where she has the potential to be Division I someday. That’s Devon before.

Devon after gave birth to a baby girl and left that baby in a trash can to die. It’s horrible and cruel, obviously. But here’s the mystery. When the police got to her, she did not seem to understand that she had been pregnant or given birth. How could a girl not know that she’s pregnant? Devon is facing a bunch of criminal charges, including attempted murder.

What in her physical, daily world actually happened to Devon? And what happened inside her mind? How did she get from a fairly normal “before” to a deeply deluded “after”? After by Amy Efaw.

After by Amy Efaw. 350 p. Viking: 2009. Because of the controversial subject matter, booktalk with discretion. Virginia Readers' Choice (high school) for 2011-2012.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Booktalk: Inside Out & Back Again (2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature winner)

The winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again. I’m going to interrupt my “Virginia Readers’ Choice” titles to booktalk it instead. I really liked it and it would work well for intermediate grades and middle school.

Ha is a young girl from Vietnam whose father is missing and whose family needs to flee their country in order to escape the wartime violence. She’s a normal girl who will miss the country she loves so much: the papaya trees, the food, her friends, the open market, and the beautiful flowers. Vietnam has been her only home for ten years, and now she and her mother and older brothers have to get on a crowded ship to sail to America on short notice, probably never to return.

Imagine leaving behind everything you ever owned. Ha’s brother loves his baby chick and tries to bring it along, even though he wasn’t supposed to.  You can’t keep a baby chick alive on a crowded ship. It’s just one more loss on top of the many others they’ve suffered.

Once they arrive in the U.S., everything is strange and confusing, like the man with the cowboy hat who takes them in but whose wife hates them and makes them stay in the basement. Ha’s family made it to America, but they don’t feel welcome here.

Ha is a smart girl, and she’s especially good at math, but the children at her school are mean to her. One boy in particular hates her and calls her “Pancake Face.” Believe it or not, there are times when Ha wishes she were back in war-torn Vietnam. No one was cruel to her there. But there are things – and people – who keep Ha going in Inside Out & Back Again.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. 262 p. Harper: 2001. Booktalk to intermediate grades and to middle school.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Booktalk: Boot Camp by Todd Strasser (Virginia Readers' Choice)

In our increasingly overweight country, boot camps are very popular: you join one to lose a few pounds and get in shape. Garrett, a teenager, is in a boot camp, but his is far different and has more in common with a prisoner-of-war camp. 

Like a prisoner of war, Garrett is there against his will: his parents enrolled him in it, he’s kept there under force, and the conditions are inhumane. Ironically, it’s called Lake Harmony: what a joke. Garrett’s been subjected to solitary confinement, grueling physical labor, and brainwashing techniques, most of which seem absolutely ineffective. Garrett’s parents felt his personal behavior was unacceptable, but does he deserve this hellish treatment? 

Garrett’s case doesn’t seem half as bad as that of Sarah: she’s been there for almost three years, and the camp has taken a real physical toll on her. When Garrett first meets her, she’s forced to wear a cardboard sign around her next which reads, “Two years and still pulling the same crap.” And then there’s Pauly, with his frail physical frame and his fanatical desire for escape. Boot Camp by Todd Strasser.

Boot Camp by Todd Strasser. 238 p.  Simon and Schuster, 2007. Booktalk to high school. Virginia Readers’ Choice, 2011-2012.