book lists

Since last May when I became a member of the Florida Teen Reads Committee, I along with the other members have read literally a zillion books trying to find the best ones for our yearly list.  The list of 15 titles that have been chosen are done so to specifically engage high school students (grades 9 through 12) and reflect their interests as well as represent a variety of genres, formats, reading levels, viewpoints, and ethnic and cultural perspectives.  

Once again we will be reading a zillion books again.  If anyone want to send us books  – we will be happy to read them.  We just ask that they be published in 2008.

I wanted to share the list for a couple of reasons: Secondly, I hope that teachers who never used this list before, see it and uses it within their curriculum.  These books can be used to teach FCAT skills.  I’m not a fan of teaching to the test and but I do feel that skills like determining the main idea and supporting details and synthesizing information will help your students will become happy life long readers.

Florida Teens Read 2008-2009

 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

            Clay Jenson receives a mysterious package. Inside are seven cassette tapes that Hannah Baker, Clay’s secret crush, recorded before she committed suicide two weeks earlier. Clay is one of 13 people who agonizingly listen to the tapes and discover what part Hannah thought each of them played in her death.

 A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (Mature Reader)

            Ishmael Beah retells his experiences beginning at age 12 when civil war drives him from his village in Sierra Leone. He is captured by the national army, brainwashed, and forced to commit horrible acts for three years before he is rescued by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation center. He is eventually able to flee his country and move to the U.S.

 Avalon High by Meg Cabot

When her parents who are medieval scholars go on sabbatical, 17-year-old Ellie Harrison begins her junior year at an unfamiliar school where it seems the King Arthur legend is being reincarnated. The forces of darkness threaten to take over, but Ellie has no intention of letting the past write her future when she finds herself in the midst of similar names, bitter relatives, and an illicit affair. 

 Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

            While watching the elephants on Seattle’s zoo webcam  to calm her panic attacks, 17-year-old Jade DeLuna notices a cute boy with a baby and knows they are destined to be important to her. She volunteers with the elephants and meets and falls in love with Sebastian, a single dad, but their happiness is threatened when Sebastian’s dangerous secret surfaces.

 City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

            When 15-year-old Clary Fray witnesses a murder at a club by creatures no one else can see, she realizes her life will never be the same. Her mother is kidnapped, and she is taken in by a group of demon hunters who help her discover her true heritage. She joins them in the search for the Mortal Cup in hopes of finding her mother and stopping a renegade sector from destroying all nonhumans.

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

            Just before his senior year during a routine sports physical, Ben Wolf finds out he has one year to live. He swears the doctor to secrecy, refuses treatment, doesn’t tell anyone about his diagnosis, and decides to do everything he always wanted to do including playing football, pursuing his long-time crush, and petitioning to have the main street in his small town named after Malcolm X, all the while conversing through dreams with a spiritual guide known as “Hey-Soos.”

 The Christopher Killer by Alane Ferguson

            Aspiring forensic pathologist Cameryn Mahoney convinces her father, who is the coroner in a small town, to hire her as an assistant to help him solve the mystery of a serial killer who leaves a St. Christopher medal with each victim. She puts herself in danger when the next victim turns out to be her friend Rachel.

 What Happened to Cass McBride? By Gail Giles

            After his brother commits suicide, Kyle Kirby kidnaps and buries alive Cass McBride, the girl he holds responsible. Cass talks to Kyle through a plastic air tube and frantically tries to get him to set her free. She fights for her life both physically and mentally before time runs out.

 Incantation by Alice Hoffman

            Set during the Spanish Inquisition, this is the story of two best friends, Estrella and Catalina. Estrella realizes that her family is secretly Jewish, and when Catalina discovers that the man she intends to marry has fallen in love with Estrella, she betrays Estrella’s family with tragic consequences.

 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hossani (Mature Reader)

            This novel, set in Afghanistan during three decades of Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule, follows Mariam and Laila, two women 19 years apart in age, whose lives are dramatically intertwined by dire circumstances including marriage, childbirth, abuse and murder.

 Firestorm by David Klass

            When Jack, who has always been told to blend in, sets his school’s rushing record, he puts into motion a course of events including finding out his parents aren’t really his parents, running for his life from a shape-shifting wolf girl, communicating telepathically with a dog named Gisco, being trained by a ninja babe named Eko, and finding out he is the only one who can save the world from ecological disaster if he can find “firestorm”.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

            Aislinn has always been able to see the faeries that are invisible to most humans, and she lives by a set of rules to keep her safe from their notice.  But when Keenan, the Summer King, targets her to be the next queen, the rules change and the fate of both human and faerie worlds lies in her.

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

            Using a rap beat and rhyme, this Harlem-set story tells of the romance between Damien, a straight-A, college-bound, basketball star whose parents want him to date middle class Roxanne, and Junice, a beautiful street-strong young woman trying to keep her family together after her mom is sent to prison.

 Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

            When an asteroid hits the moon knocking it closer to the Earth and causing a chain of cataclysmic natural disasters, 16-year-old Miranda, through journal entries, tells what happens as her family faces dismal conditions that include power outages, lack of food and water, and outbreaks of disease.

Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

            When 15-year-old Garrett refuses to end a relationship with 23-year-old Sabrina, his controlling parents send him to a behavior modification boot camp in hopes that the camp’s extreme methods will teach him to be a more respectful son. Garrett struggles to survive the extreme cruelty and eventually joins two other teens in a desperate escape attempt.



I used to quiz my great grandparents and my grandmparents about what their life was like many years ago. My one great grandmother told me outrageous stories of what it was like living in the Roaring Twenties.  Another grandparent told me stories of theur experiences during WWII.  I used to sit their listening to their stories with unwavering attention.  Perhaps this is why I have always loved reading historical fiction books as they are set in times and places of an eras long ago.  It allows me to step in their shoes, if just for a little while, and live in a time that is much different from my own. 

Below is a sampling of some historical fiction books that is definately worthy of your time.  Enjoy!

Tamar by Mal Peet 

From the beginning, Mal Peet’s book, Tamar, had my undivided attention. Tamar won the Carnegie Medal in 2005 and after reading the book, I can see why it won. It is novel that will appeal to both teenagers and adults alike. Peet says it is work of fiction but much of the plot is rooted in history. Set during WWII, the book had it all – love, hate, passion and betrayal.

In this book, Tamar is multiple things – a river, a spy and a girl.  This book interweaves two story lines though years apart together seemlessly.   One story begins with the suicide of Tamar’s grandfather who leaves behind a mystery in the form of codes and clues with the rest of his WWII memorabilia.  As she works out the clues, which takes her along the twisty river of Tamar, she discovers a mind blowing secret about her family tree. Did she really know him at all?

The other story starts with two spies, Tamar and Dart, who parachute into Nazi occupied territory to provide supprt to the Dutch Resistence movement. The war in Holland began in 1940 and by war’s end about 40,000 people lost their lives in Holland despite resistence groups that were formed.  In the final phases of the war, the Dutch suffered from severe food shortages, and during the last months before liberation they were near famine. Tamar’s assignment is to unite all the seperate resistance movements into one.  Dart’s main job is to run the wireless to send and recieve encrypted messages.  The names these men are using are not their real names.  Both of the names are code names just in case they are captured.  This is not Tamar’s first assignment in the area.  During his first assignment, he met a woman named Marijke and they fell in love despite what was going on around them. The affair picks up again when once again the farm is the place where they are assigned to hide. While they are basking in their love, they fail to notice that Dart is becioming obsessively jealous. His jealously eventually effects the dynamics of everything to come. The detailed plot allowed me to paint a vivid picture of that time in my head. I knew there was a twist toward the end of the book and I had an inkling that the betrayal was big but it still blew my mind away when I figured out what was going on.

Incantation – Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman in her book Incantation weaves a tale of life and love fused together with historical elements. At one time, the land of opportunity for Jews, from the 8th to the 12th century, was Spain but when the Spanish Inquisition began, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain drove out all the Jews from their lands thus putting an end to the largest Jewish settlements in Europe.  Those that stayed and didn’t covert to Christianity were forced to live in ghettos, and were mocked and mistreated. Jewishness itself became a thing to be shunned.  

Estrella thought she knew who she was but it turns out that there were secrets, secrets that needed to be kept in order to survive. The first time she realized that her life as she knew it was going to change when she witnessed the burning of Jewish books in the town square.  When her neighbors are arrested, Estrella or Esther which is her real name learns about her family heritage. What a dismaying thought the idea of having to hide your true self from others due to the fear of being ostracized or worse by others.  She always thought she was of the Catholic faith but it turns out her family was Jewish and had converted to the Catholism still secretly practicing Judaism. They had a term for those types of people, Marrano, which is truly horrid insult, which means “filthy-pig-person”. 

Jealously makes people do horrible things and it is because of jealousy the secret about Estrella’s family comes out. Estrella and Catalina have been best friends since they were little but secretly Catalina is very jealous of Estrella.  When the boy who Catalina is so sure is going to marry falls for Estrella, the ball is set into motion. It was the final straw.  She betrays Estrella and her family by meeting with officials and tells them all about Estrella’s grandfather’s secret worshiping and the magic he performs.  She even went on to say that she heard the grandfather call the grandmother Sarah instead of the name she was known by.  The soldiers came and nearly destroyed everything in the house taking the grandfather away.  At the trial he refused to talk and that is when they arrested Estrella’s mother.  Her whole family was lost, broken. 

This book tells an important lesson about hatred, intolerance and betrayal.  Fans of historical fiction will like this book and since it is a work of fiction a happy ending is possible.  It is important to know that as the smoke of hatred clears, good things and love can happen even at the most inopportune time.

Silent Echoes – Carla Jablonski

If you are a fan of Libba Bray’s Great and Terrible Beauty then you will like this one. Summarizing briefly: You got two girls living in two different time periods that can communicate with each other. Lucy, a girl who lives in 1884 is a con artist conducting “séances” but things get interesting when she actually hears a “spirit” begging for help. This “spirit” turns out to be Lindsay a girl living in present day NY. The two start communicating and Lucy raises to fame as a medium and Lindsay’s life spirals out of control as she gets hospitalized for hearing voices. See where this is going now…..the two girls realize they are really hearing each other’s voices every time they occupy the same physical location, they begin to see possibilities that will change both of their lives forever.

Queen’s Soprano – Carol Dines       

 It was the cover of the book that first got my attention.  The girl on the front cover of the book was wearing a beautiful gown o fit for royalty. Little did I know at the time that this book was the fictionalized account of Angelica Voglia who became the Queen Christina’s soprano during the time of Pope Innocent XI. All Angelica wants to do is sing but the Pope has forbidden women to sing in public. She had the natural gift of singing that was able to bring people to their knees.  People would come from all over to stand beneath her window in hopes of hearing her voice.  She had many suitors, all arranged by her mother, but the one that caught her fancy was the handsome but poor (for the moment) French artist, Jean Théoden.  Jean courts Angelica secretly, drawing pictures for her and sending messages to her via the servant girl that works for the family.  Her mother has other ideas though and plans to sell her daughter to the highest bidder in hopes that it would elevate her family to a higher income class. Angelica’s determined to sing and realizes that her only hope to sing before an audience and escape a forced marriage arranged by her controlling mother is to flee to Queen Christina’s court, where she will become the Queen’s Soprano. Dines tells Angelica’s story beautifully.  The characters are all richly developed. I was really able to sense Angelica’s determination to reach her goals despite the odds stacked against her.  Of course there is more to the story but you have to read it to find out the rest. One thing I will say is that the rest of the book is filled with romance, death, betrayal, intrigue and action. The book will keep you interested until the very end.  If you are a historical fiction fan then you should add this to your pile of books to read. Definitely recommend!!

This list has the potential for being very, very long but for now I’ll just give a smidgen of quality books dealing with characters that experience some sort of inner turmoil and as a result grows from it 

Boy Toy – Barry Lyga    

From the author of Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl, comes a wonderfully written 2nd novel. It deals with a relatively, okay absolutely taboo subject, molestation. Some people may shy away from it because of the topic but others will be drawn in like me because it was wonderfully written. The book is worthy of 4 stars. When Josh was in 7th grade life his life changed. Not in the way that a normal preteen life would. I mean: drastically life altering, can scar you for life type of change. It’s not something that can be kept a secret either. It’s a small town and what happened involved a teacher. Everyone in his school, his town thinks they understand how he feels. But they don’t-they can’t. Fast forward five years, Josh is still trying to sort through things – college is just around the corner and there is a girl with whom he used to be close to back in his life whether he wants to or not, his parents are fighting more, money is tight for the family. Now throw in another dynamic, Eve as she told him to call her, the teacher, has been released from jail. The memories flood back. She said she loved him, treating him like a grown up instead of little kid. But in this case, love was just a word and it was misused and misappropriated by something else. This book is a 4 star worthy if not more.

Weight of the Sky – Lisa Ann Sandell      The blurb on the jacket of the book caught my attention because I thought I was a lot like the protagonist, Sarah, back in high school and wanted to see how her story would unfold. I totally understood what Sarah meant when she thought the “religion was constant decision of her everyday life”. She, like I was, is in the minority, being one of only a handful of Jews in her high school. Both of us have run into people that can’t understand some of our religious traditions and beliefs. Her parents offer her trip to Israel to work on a kibbutz the summer before her senior year. Of course, she had other ideas on what she wanted to do on her summer vacation but still she jumps at a chance to escape her world of being the only Jew and a band geek and crushing on the most popular boy in school. I emphasized with her and wished my parents would have offered me a trip to Israel to find myself. This book written in free verse was easy to read, entertaining and hard to put down.

Life as it Comes – Anne-Laure BondouxSweet, simple and sad sums up Alice Kupiers book “Life on a Refrigerator Door – Notes between a Mother and Daughter.”  I read this book rather quickly as that it is not a book that has long chapters or really any chapters per say.  The book consists of notes, some long, others really short like just a few words exchanged between a mother and daughter who both have very busy lives.  Since they are rarely in the same room with each other, the notes are the one thing that both can count on.  Claire is 15 and busy growing up dealing with friends, school and now boys.  It is a very confusing time for her. There is a lot on her plate. Her parents are divorced and Claire’s mom works very hard to make ends meet.  You can tell at times that she is quite stressed. The notes show her frustration about not being able to spend time with her daughter, worries about work and life in general. Most of the time you can find her at the hospital on call delivering new babies into the world. She spends so much time caring for others that she lets her own health fall wayside until she finds a lump in her breast.  This puts the household into a tizzy and you get a glimpse how this crisis is affecting both mother and daughter.  You also see the depth of love they have for each other.   I did say that this book is sad, right?  

Hiroshima Dreams by Kelly Easton    

 I just finished Hiroshima Dreams by Kelly Easton and I want everybody to know what a good book it was.  It’s a story of growing up. The story is told beautifully, rich imagery woven thorough out the pages. It was very easy to picture this family going through the motions of daily life. The book starts off when the grandmother, Obaachan, arrives from Japan when Lin is in kindergarten.  The first time they meet, Ochaaban tells a koan. If you are like me then you learn that a koan is used for meditation and enlightening a being’s mind.  When Lin makes a wise comment in regards to it, Obaachan whispers to her “I knew I was right about you.”  In the beginning, life with Obaachan is not easy.  There is an adjustment phase for everyone involved.  Lin lost her bedroom to her grandmother and is forced to share with her big sister, Sally.  Sally is being Sally, a typical big sister who has make sure Lin stays in her place as the younger one.  Lin’s mom also has to adjust as her relationship with her mother is somewhat strained.  It takes Obaachan, two weeks to come out of her room and when she does she announces that she is ready to be “American”

I wish I had a relationship with my grandmother as Lin had with hers.  She has an opportunity of a lifetime, learning the ways of a generation past.  Lin has always had the knack to be able to tell the future and this is something she shares with her grandmother.  Her grandmother teaches her to develop her gift through meditation and Lin constantly tests the strengths and limitations of what she can do.  For Lin, it’s more than knowing what the weather will be like the next day and if the boy you like will call.  The education Lin got from Obaachan shapes her as a person observable as she grows into a young woman.

Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky      

This is one of those books that you are going to love or hate.  I loved it. The first page alone will hook you and you may end of finishing it in less than a day like I did.  I thought it was like a modern day Catcher in the Rye.  You may know Charlie – heck you may even be a little like Charlie.  Told through letters to someone who remains nameless we learn about the main character Charlie. Charlie, a freshman in high school is the “wallflower” in this novel. He definitely has issues resulting from things that happen to him like the suicide of his best friend and the death of his favorite Aunt two years before. Throughout the book, homage is paid to great works of literature like Catcher in the Rye and film classics like the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  At first Charlie’s voice is a shy tentative one but as the year progresses with experiences shared with new friends, he definitely comes into his own.   

13 Little Envelopes – Maureen Johnson       

If your crazy, (well that’s what your mom thinks), Aunt Peg sends you a letter telling you about a quest you are about to go on complete with rules that you must follow…..would you do it? All you can bring with you is what fits in your backpack. You can’t bring any electronic devices with you – that means no ipod, mp3, cell phone – nothing. You also can’t take any extra money with you either. Credit cards are a no-no. Would you still go? But you have to do pick up a package waiting for you – with more instructions – all in 13 little blue envelopes – that you must open one at a time. Would you still do it? Can you actually resist the temptation to open all the envelopes at one? Ginny decides she can and this sets her off on a mad cap adventure around the world. Everything Ginny knows about herself and the world changes during this incredible summer. Read the book and find out what happens as she opens each envelope one by one. This is book that is hard to put down – I finished in just a couple hours sitting by the pool – falling completely in love with it. I only wish I had a crazy Aunt Peg…… 

As Cool as I am – Peter Fromm     

 I like Lucy, the main character in this book.  She is both smart and sassy.  She is basically on her own contemplating about love and love. Fromm has created a complex character that is wise beyond her years. Her father comes and goes and her mother while in the picture is not really in the picture. They, her parents were married very young, as teenagers because of Lucy and now instead of showing a united front are trying to relive their youths sowing their wild oats.  Who exactly is the teenager here, you may ask. It is interesting to see as Lucy grows up; her mother is coming to grips of growing older. This delicate balance presents some of the tenderest moments of this book.  Lucy ends up getting involved with her best friend Kenny but due to circumstances ends up moving away. Does she truly show she is her mother’s daughter in regards to basing her happiness on things that are not a permanent fixture in her life or does she survive this crazy thing called adolescence?  Read about her as she grows up and into herself. 

Nature of Jade – Deb Caletti        

Jade is exceptionally tough – I am talking not only of the gemstone but the also of the protagonist of this book. In high school, Jade Deluna is diagnosed with having a panic disorder. When things get stressful or she is uncomfortable, she experiences a feeling like the walls are closing in and shortness of breathe. This is all very scary for her and it is hard for her to cope. Her parents have issues of their own. Both Jade and her brother notice their parent’s crumbling marriage and wonder if they will get a divorce. Her mother is busy reliving her high school years through Jade by being the PTA president in her school and her father hides downstairs and tinkers with his train set when not taking her younger brother to some sort of sport. She sees a therapist weekly which helps but what helps her most are the elephants at the zoo and later on the boy in the red jacket.  

The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton      

As I look back onto my childhood, the words of Ponyboy echo throughout my head.  He said that there are two kinds of people in this world: greasers and socs.  A soc has money, can get away with just about anything and has an attitude longer than a stretch limousine.  A greaser on the other hand always is on the outside and constantly needs to watch his back.  I grew up in a town that had similar social divisions.  This book is a great coming of age novel, as the main characters are hit with the real meanings of violence, hatred, prejudice and bigotry.  

Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger       

This book first published in 1951 is a true classic. Generations after generation have read this book. It has been debated, analyzed, praised, banned and taught in high schools for decades.  A story of human condition, Holden Caulfield is someone teens can relate to.  Salinger’s Holden captures what teen alienation is perfectly as he tells about a few days in his life beginning with being expelled from prep school.  He wears his pain of alienation which springs from the fear of growing up like a badge of honor. A must read.  

Pigman – Paul Zindel     

I read this book many, many years ago when I was in high school. I know I am going to sound all preachy but I really feel that everybody should read this book.  There is more about growing up than just misbehaving. The story is told through the eyes of John and Lorraine, two sophomores in high school.  Both come from unhappy homes and how they act in the book is a direct result that environment.  John is a compulsive liar – you wouldn’t want to place a bet on his truthfulness and Lorraine his not good at letting anyone get close to her, psychoanalyzing anyone who tries.   Angelo Pignati aka “The Pigman” accidentally walks into their lives changing all that they know.  The Pigman’s only friend is an old baboon in the zoo but soon after warming up to the kids considers them to be friends as well.  If you think all is good and this happiness continues for all, think again.  The Pigman extends his trust to John and Lorraine and in return they end up betraying him and destroying his life.   By reading this book you can learn a lot about having a Pigman figure in your life.  I know I did.

      It is definitely not easy being 15 and losing both your parents in an accident. It is even more difficult when the sister that is supposed to be taking care of you is the one you end up taking care of. These sisters are as different as night and day. Mado, 15, is just a girl who is trying to cope with her parent’s death, getting good grades and trying to keep together what is left of her family Patty, on the other hand, is a party girl who lacks sound judgment on a continuous basis. Mado relishes this role of “big sister” even less when Patty announces she is several months pregnant. Uh oh….. Originally written in French, the translation is choppy at times but it still delivers the sister’s raw emotions from being absolutely overwhelmed and angered to ecstatically happy and in love.

Life on a Refrigerator Door – Notes between a Mother and Daughter – Alice Kupiers


Before I Die – Jenny Downham

Oh my, Jenny Downham with Before I Die has written a book that just tears at your heartstrings. As I finished the last page, the tears that were on the verge throughout the whole book just started free falling. If you are going to read this, make sure you have tissues close by.

How many times have you thought about all the things you wanted to accomplish before dying?  I have a wish list of all the things I want to do and it is constantly being tweaked as I either accomplish something or find something new I want to do. I also think that I have a zillion years to accomplish all these things. What would you choose to do? What if you found out that you don’t have your whole life but a year or less…what would you choose to do then?

Here is what I would like to do:

  • Fall deeply truly no holds barred in love
  • Write a children’s book
  • Find a cure for Diabetes
  • Go visit Israel
  • Spend a night at an outrageously expensive hotel with 1000 count sheets and take a bath in a claw foot tub with someone feeding me strawberries
  • Take a spin in a hot air balloon
  • Eat sushi in Japan
  • Make sure that health records are open to all adopted children
  • Find the biggest scariest roller coaster in the world and ride in the very first box car
  • Drive the Autobahn

Tessa Scott is dying. There is no chance she is going to get better and there are things she wants to do before she dies. She is done – done with the hospitals, drugs, side effects – basically she is done fighting.  Who can really blame her? Her illness has been difficult for everyone – for her father whose eternal hope for a cure just hides his pain, a little brother who at times is incredibly annoying, her mom who spent most of her illness away and still can’t deal. Her anger at the life’s injustices and the unfair nature of her situation is apparent with each passing page. She makes a decision that these last months of her life are really going to be spent living, loving and feeling. For one thing she wants to have sex and she wants to be famous. She also wants to fall in love (and she does), do drugs, break a law. travel the world, see her parents back together, and be there for her friend Zoey’s daughter’s birth.  Her original list of ten things becomes much more the closer she gets to dying and the people in her life. I found myself rooting for her, hoping she would get everything done on her list.  I also found myself hoping, like she was, at the end that it wasn’t the end for her.  She says that “she doesn’t want to be dead that she hasn’t loved this way long enough.”   As  Tessa dies, I was reminded of my grandmother’s last days. We were expecting it but yet it it still came as such a shock.  Downham could’ve gotten all sappy and sentimental but instead she kept it real.

13 Reasons Why – Jay Asher

Hannah Baker committed suicide. You always wonder what could make a person do something like that. Hannah decided to let people know why and she had 13 reasons. She made 7 tapes, 13 sides, chronicling her life or to be more specific why her life came to an end. The rules were simple – you listen to all the tapes and then pass it on to the   next person. It won’t be easy either. She doesn’t let you know where your story is on the tapes but if you got the package then your story with her is on there somewhere. You can hear Hannah’s desperation. You just know as you read her words that she was slowly giving up on herself.
      Clay was one of the people who got the package. He couldn’t understand why he got the tapes. Clay never did anything to her but receiving the tapes must mean that he ties into her story some how. The question of how keeps running through his mind He had a crush on her. He felt that way since he met her but didn’t act on his feelings because like everyone else he heard the rumors about her. They had one night together but it wasn’t enough and now she is dead. Listening to the tapes is agonizing for him. You could feel the anguish he felt, the grief and anger as well.
      Adolescence is like a rollercoaster – full of ups and downs, twists and turns. There are days you are up and then there are days you are down. If you work with teenagers, you need to conscious that there may be Hannah’s walking around. I bet there are and we don’t even realize it. Alertness can save someone’s life.
      If this book was among a pile of other books and you could only choose one, I‘d say pick this one. You won’t forget Hannah’s words. Once I started the book I couldn’t put it down. The story had me tearing up. It also had me on the edge of my seat as the story built up to its climatic finish. Asher did a great job of writing a story about issues that plague teenagers today. By the end, I felt like I had known Hannah personally and mourned for her just as Clay did.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier – Ishmael Beah

Last year I had watched the movie Invisible Children for the first time.  To say I was horrified is not enough. A few months after I came across Ishmael Beah’s book , “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”.  I do believe, just as I believe in the power of the Invisible Children movement, that everyone should read this book and become aware of children who are being brainwashed everyday to fight as soldiers. Since 1991, the Sierra Leone region has been a place of political unrest. 

Many Sierra Leoneans have been killed as this civil war wages on. For many months, Ishmael lived in the forests avoiding detection of the rebels.  About a year into his displacement, he and his friends were caught by the government army. Ishmael was just a child, thirteen years old when he became a soldier.  At age 13, he was killing people.  For two years he fought for the army, committing horrendous acts of violence himself. The situation in Sierra Leone dictated what he was doing – it was either kill or be killed. 

UNICEF saved the day for Ishmael.  They came in and swooped up some of the child soldiers with the hope of rehabilitating them.  Ishmael’s rehabilitation journey was not an easy one.  During the years he was fighting, he was constantly hopped on drugs – marijuana and cocaine combined with gunpowder.  Weaning him off of that was not an easy task.  He was also suspicious of everyone, even those with the best intentions and was prone to random outbursts of violence.  Basically he had to learn how to live again, how to forgive and have hope.   Eventually his rehab was complete.  At its completion, he was visited to New York to tell his story before the United Nations.  It was a wonderful experience for Ishmael.  He met a lot of great people but one person that had the most effect on him was a storyteller named Laura Simms.  She was hired by the UN to work with the delegates. Unfortunately the visit to New York was short lived and he had to go back home.  About a year later when Freetown where he was living was overrun by armed forces, Ishmael felt that it was time to leave his country for good.  He contacted that woman he met on his trip a year before and Laura arranged for his safe transport to the United States.  Ishmael was saved a second time.  She is his “mom” or his “new mom” as he calls her. He says she gave him “a new life. Not many people get that.” 

There are some pretty horrible scenes in the book.  Ishmael is not describing them for shock value but to show what happened with a lot of kids over there.  Ishmael surviving as well as thriving and going on to tell his story is nothing short of a miracle.  He has a lot to say and people should really listen.  I admire him greatly and hope he continues with his activist goals of world peace and a making the world a safe place for the children in it.   He is true testament to the human spirit.

Peak by Roland Smith

My adrenaline was pumping as I read the book Peak by Roland Smith.  It is an action packed read from the first page that will hook in even the most reluctant reader.  I read it in pretty much one sitting – I couldn’t put it down.  In jest when I was younger, I said that I wanted to climb the tallest mountain.  Of course I would be invincible too and nothing would keep me from reaching the top.  Do you realize just how many miles you have to climb to reach the top?  I do now – over 29,000 feet.  Absolutely mind blowing.  There is an 18 yr old girl from California that now holds the record as the youngest foreigner to reach the summit but the youngest person of all times to reach it was a 15 year old Nepalese girl.  (Note to readers – these were girls who made it – talk about stamina and persistence.)

Peak Marcello has the climbing gene in his blood.  Both his parents were climbers in their youth but only his dad kept on going.  Peak and his mom lived pretty much in the wilderness before she got remarried and this gave peak many opportunities to climb.  Moving to the big apple, NYC with the new husband left Peak with no climbing opportunities, unless you are like Spiderman and can scale tall skyscrapers.  Well it turns out Peak and Spiderman have a lot in common that is until the night Peak got caught.  The judge wanted to throw the book at him. Enter stage left, Peak’s dad Josh, whom Peak hasn’t heard from in years, to the rescue.  A deal is struck and Josh agrees to take custody of Peak and whisks him off to Katmandu and the adventure of a lifetime (though he didn’t know that at the time).  You see even though Peak hasn’t spoken to his father in years, it seems that his exploits, the climbing of skyscrapers reaches Josh’s ears all the way on the other side of the world and he comes to the rescue, not as a concerned parent but  with someone with an ulterior motive.  Arriving in Chiang Mai, Peak assumes that he will get to know his father, go to school and perhaps climb a little but finds out on the very first day that his father has another as they catch a flight to Katmandu and Everest. 

One thing for sure, is that this is a thrilling adventure and along the way Peak will meet interesting people like Zopa and Sun-jo, a Nepalese boy about his age.  He will be tested mentally and physically as the teams climb the mountain range to the top.  Peak will have to concentrate on just the climb and forget everything else and at the same time know when to quit and not take a step higher. People will die on the mountain going up.  No one climbs the mountain thinking that they won’t make it down Who will make it? You can never tell who the mountain will allow and who it will not.  Peak may have hit the proverbial head of the nail saying at the end although you’ll find a divine view at the summit of Mt Everest; it is the things that lie below that are far more important. 

Deadline – Chris Crutcher

Let’s say you find out in a routine physical exam that you have a rare disease and will only have approximately one year left to live.  What would you do?  Would you get treatment to prolong your life even if it’s just for a little while or would you refuse treatment and just live out the rest of your days as a normal person?  Tough choice; I am not sure what I would do. 

Ben Wolf is faced with this dilemma in Chris Crutcher’s newest book, Deadline.  He finds out in the beginning of his senior year that he has leukemia.  Not only does he refuse treatment but he also decides not to tell anyone about his condition either which means that his family and friends are all in the dark until almost the very end.  Why did he decide to do things that way you might wonder?  I get why he decided not to tell anyone at school.  They would treat him as if he was fragile like glass, or like the town leper. Normalcy is something you strive for when things in your world are turned upside down.  I would’ve told my family though because they are my family through better or worse. I hate lying to them.  Ben didn’t see it as lying at first.  He just saw it as hiding the truth which in reality is the same thing. 

Being sick made Ben do and see things that he never would have done before.  Instead of coasting through his senior year, he used the year to find information, read everything he can and speak up and push his teachers so he could get the most from his education.  He also decided to switch sports and play football instead of running cross country.  And finally he got the girl too.  Courageous or foolish? You decide. Eventually though, reality does set in…..

The Confessional – J.L. Powers               

My family came over from Russia and Poland at the turn of the century. I an American even if I have Russian or Polish or whatever blood running through me. Many people from other countries have done the same for centuries. We have Cuban Americans, Russian Americans, Greek Americans, and Hispanic Americans etc. It’s a swirl of colors, beliefs and languages – a true melting pot. Unfortunately an act of terrorism can make you cast a net of suspicion over anyone that is different from us. It is either us or them. 
      In reading Confessional by JL. Powers I came to understand what living on the border, straddling two places is really like. The book opens up with a letter from a letter from a Mexican man; bitter because he is treated liked a terrorist when he stopped by border control crossing the river to go to work. Granted, he is working illegally but he is working. He is also bitter because his wife a maquilla worker was found dead. She is not the only one – many women have been found dead in the desert He wrote letter after letter to our government for help but to no avail. He even lost 2 days wages in hope of getting someone to pay attention to the situation. Nada! So he got their attention – he blew himself up, on the bridge that connects Mexico to the United States, killing himself and 32 other Americans on Cinco de Mayo. A year later, Mackenzie Malone, a student at a Catholic High School, writes an editorial considered controversial to the local newspaper. He doesn’t feel that Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated, that it is too soon and a moment of silence is just not enough for those that died. His classmates think he is a racist for his words. Tensions mount between the Americans, Mexican Americans and Mexicans during the week. Mac gets into a fight with a Mexican classmate and basically beats him to a bloody pulp. Tension mounts some more. By the end of that night, Mac is dead, stabbed to death. The rest of the story is told in alternating chapters by 5 of his classmates, his friends. Secrets are revealed as well as some fear and insecurities. Everybody is a suspect but who really did it, you will find out in the end.  

Echo – Kate Morgenrath          

Mark is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The anniversary of his brother’s death is nearing, a death that he witnessed and Mark is suffering greatly – very angry and also emotionally disconnected from his family. At school, his friends are no longer his friends and he frequently gets in trouble. The day of the anniversary starts like any other day for Mark except his anger almost at a boiling point guided by an internal voice (or so you think) will have a run in with both his former best friend and girlfriend.

Every chapter starts off the same way with him getting ready for school but with each chapter you find out another piece of what transpired on the day of the run in. After awhile I think in the third or is it fourth retelling of the day, did I finally start to catch on to what “really” happened that day. The book was impossible to put down, because you just wanted to get to the truth. Great book for reluctant readers.


Other great “guy” reads

Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight – Mark Haddon

Slam – Walter Dean Myers

Any book by Chris Crutcher

Three Clams and an Oyster – Randy Powell

Right behind you – Gail Giles

You don’t know me – David Klass

Outsiders/That was then this is now – SE Hinton

Paranoid Park – Blake Nelson

It’s kind of a funny story – Ned Vizzini

Black and white – Paul Volponi

Face – Benjamin Zephaniah

Friday Night Lights

Fantasy : imaginative fiction featuring especially strange settings and grotesque characters -called also fantasy fiction

City of Bones – Cassandra Clare 

      All Clary wanted was a normal life but after witnessing a murder in a club that no one else could see because the teenage killers weren’t visible to the human eye, she knew her life would never be the same. Clary in a short time has managed to see and do things that normal people may never get to experience.  Suddenly she can see werewolves, vampires and fairies.  How many mundanes, normal folk can say the same thing? How in the world can Clary see them if she in fact is a mundane?  Interesting question that everyone wants an answer to.  

    It turns out that her mother was a shadow hunter as well but she has spent life on the lamb since the infamous Uprising.  She had a warlock erase Clary’s memories in order to keep her out of danger. To say that this causes mild confusion for Clary is an understatement. It ‘s not easy when everything you think you know about you life is actually a lie.  The story continues on its fast pace with her apartment getting ransacked and her mother missing.  And the hits just keep on coming…move over Buffy, another teenage demon fighting heroine is in town.        I loved Buffy and went post Buffy funk when it went off the air.  Cassandra Clare has created a character that even the Buffy hardest core fan would appreciate. She combines the traditional fantasy elements with an urban twist.  Basically she created a fun fantasy read with non-stop action and a bit of romance too.  City of Bones is the first book in a trilogy titled, The Moral Instruments.  The second book is Called City of Ashes and that book slated to come out sometime in 2009 will be called City of Glass. 

Inkheart and Dragon Rider – Cornelia Funke                                                                                                                       

Sometimes when I read a book I wish that I can join the characters on their escapades. It is easy to bury yourself in these wonderful books by Cornelia Funke. She puts in all the elements needed for a good fantastical book including an evil ruler. I was so looking forward to Dragon rider, the next book and I am happy to report that once again she did not let me down. Sure the book looks like it will take forever to read being that it is about 800 pages but that is soon forgotten as you go one of the many adventures of Firedrake and the rest of his crew.

The Onion Girl – Charles De Lint                                                                                                                                                       His books prove that he is a gifted storyteller. The Onion Girl is about an artist named Jilly who compares herself to an onion – she has many layers like an onion but at the core a secret and a past she is trying to hide. This was one of the first fantasy books I ever read and I can thank a former student for turning me onto his books. If you like Onion Girl, check out The Blue Girl, another book in the Newford series.

Christopher Paolini’s Eragon and Eldest and the hopefully to be published soon, waiting with baited breath, book III of the Inheritance Trilogy
 I got sucked into this story line at the beginning when Eragon found the blue beautiful stone which turns out to be an egg and it hatches a dragon, a race thought to be extinct. What Eragon does next, the choices he makes could destroy or save an empire. – who doesn’t like a good dragon story? ***news update – Book III titles Brsinger is coming out on Sept 20th, 2008 ***

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series
If you are a fantasy fan, there is no way you can miss the this novel about life in Middle Earth

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy (Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen)
 A little on the dark side – this is not your run of the mill fantasy series about a young women’s battle with the hideous Dead.

The Sight and Fire Bringer -David Clement-Davies
There is a mysterious and terrifying power known as the sight and it sets off a battle that involves all of nature. If you like the Sight then don’t miss Fire bringer, another great animal fantasy that is about tells the story of a prophecy of a young deer who will be more with an oak leaf on his forward that will have the ability to communicate with everyone including humans thus preventing the destruction of the herd.

Blue Sword – Robin McKinley
You are not a true fantasy fan if you haven’t read a Robin McKinley book. Harry may seem like the typical heroine but as you read this book you will discover that she is anything but…..

Amelia Atwater Rhodes books
Take your pick of any one of her books – Hawksong, In the Forests of the night, Demon in my View, Shattered Mirror, Snakecharmer – you won’t be disappointed. This young lady, and when I say young, I mean young – she wrote the first one, In the Forests in the Night when she was just 13. Anne Rice who is the undisputable queen of Goth may just have to move over and give up her title.

Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
Ms. Mac’s favorite book – if I don’t recommend the book she will. I was never a fan of Arthurian legends until I read this book. The retelling of the legend from the point of view of the women behind the throne totally rocked.

A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels – Libba Bray
Chick fantasy. Girls – you will totally love Gemma Doyle, the heroine of these books. The book’s storyline takes place in the Victorian times, at a mysterious boarding school – Spence Academy. Throw in some unique plot twists, a touch of romance, some elements of fantasy and a little mystery, you have the recipe for a great book I can’t wait for the third book, The Sweet Far Thing, in this series to be published in December.

Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
2006 Florida Teen Reads winner. The story of Bella, a human, in love with Edward, a vampire, can fall under so many categories – fantasy, horror, romance – it doesn’t matter where you put it because it is still a great read. Their attraction to each other is wrought with danger. She arouses a sensation in him that he works very hard to control – intense blood lust. The closer they get, the more precarious of a situation Bella finds herself in. Their struggle to make it work also becomes a struggle for survival. Truly, a love story with a bite (sorry for the pun).

***news update – Book IV -Breaking Dawn is coming out on Aug 2nd, 2008 ***

The Uglies – Scott Westerfield
Our image, what we look like to ourselves as well as others is important in our society today – not many people would turn down the opportunity to be attractive but what if it comes with certain strings and consequences? This book made me think society we live in or could live in the future – leaves you on a cliffhanger note – great start to this trilogy. A 2007 Florida Teen Reads selection.

Goose Chase – Patricia Kindl
This book is considered to be a fractured fairy tale, which means that it is loosely based on fairy tales we know and love. Very funny…well written with original characters

Harry Potter books 1-7 – J.K. Rowling
There is no way I can leave these book off the list. Harry potter turned non readers into readers. It was impossible not to become enchanted with this boy wizard and his friends as they combated the evil Lord Voldemort and dealt with the trials of growing up. Long live Harry Potter.

Dark Materials Trilogy beginning with The Golden Compass – Phillip Pullman
Soon to be a movie, hopefully they won’t bomb it. The series follows a young girl, Lyra, from her home at Oxford University to the frozen wastes of the North, on a quest to save kidnapped children from the corrupt ‘Gobblers,’ who are using them as part of a evil experiment. Original plot, and well written – destined to be listed among the classic fantasy books in the years to come.

There is nothing like a good mystery or a pyschological suspenseful drama. These books leave you on the edge of the seat, making you wonder about what is going to happen next.

Looking for JJ – Anne Cassidy

How well do you know the people around you?  How do you know they are not hiding a huge secret like their past? This is the second book I’ve read recently that casts light on how murderers who are children fit into society after serving time for their crime. Anne Cassidy’s new book, “Looking for JJ” will keep your interest until the very end. Not only does she give details about what happened but she lays the framework to possible causes of why it happened because that is just as important.  I actually found myself feeling sorry for Jennifer, wishing it didn’t happen to her.

Michele Livingstone is dead.  She died 6 years ago at the hands of her friend JJ. Jennifer Jones has paid for what happened to Michele. There is no denying that Jennifer is responsible for Michele’s death but while reading the book I came to the conclusion that she wasn’t the only one to blame.  Is there one thing that controls when and how aggressive someone becomes?  I really believe that genetic factors may contribute but if a child is engaging in delinquent behavior it is probably due to peer influences and lapses in parenting. Jen’s home life while growing up wasn’t exactly the “Leave it to Beaver” atmosphere.  Her mom certainly won’t win any parenting awards and from an early age Jen learned how to get by on her own, alone. Craving love, it is understandable that Jennifer had anger issues.  The question is can people change?  Can violent deeds of the past be forgiven with the passage of time?  

Jennifer is about to be released from jail and the press has made it front page news once again.  Is JJ still a danger to other children?  Where is she going to live now?  Will the family of the dead girl try to get revenge?  Alice Tully like everyone else follows the stories in the paper with keen interest.  The only thing is that Alice knows something no one else does.  She knows where Jennifer Jones is.  Only three other people know her whereabouts.  What is the connection between Alice Tully and Jennifer Jones? Why does Alice live in constant fear? Who is Alice Tully exactly?  Read the book to find out…..

Rules of Survival – Nancy Werlin

Nancy Werlin knows how to tell a story, especially a mystery. She first caught my attention with Double Helix and continued to keep my attention with Killer’s Cousin. This story while it does have elements of being a mystery is more suspenseful then anything else. The book is narrated by Matthew the oldest of 3 siblings. He is writing a letter to his youngest sister Emma who was too young at the time to understand why their mom finally left them. Basically Matthew has spent his entire life protecting his siblings from the abuse of their mother Nikki. If you looked at Nikki you would never know – she seems normal, very attractive, and smart but she is also manipulative and cruel. Nothing is easy for them. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. A page turner to the end.

Right Behind You – Gail Giles 

“On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire. I was nine.  It was all about Bobby’s birthday present. A baseball glove.”       

 I remember the physical shudder that went through me when I read those lines.  I read them again just to be sure that that I was reading it right.  I was.  All I can think of was that a child murdered another child.  Circumstances be damned.  Society does that especially when it comes to violence of children.  I was horrified and was judging him before I knew the whole story. If I was doing that, imagine what the people in his town did after the incident. Gail Giles’s books are definitely not sappy happy books. They instead are edgy psychological thrillers that grab you from the first sentence.  I knew after reading that first page that Right Behind You would be no different.  I finished it within a couple of hours – I just couldn’t put it down. 

The death of Bobby happened four years ago.  Kip and his father were about to do a controlled burn in the field be his when his aunt came over.  His father went in to talk to her leaving the gasoline and the lighter by Kip never thinking, and that was the problem, that something would happen.  Bobby had come over to Kip’s house to show him his new baseball glove given to him by his mother for his birthday.   Kip’s mother wasn’t able to do that – she was dying of cancer.  In a fit of jealous rage, Kip splashed a bucket of gasoline on him and flicked the wheel of the lighter and pitched it at Bobby’s glove.  Kip doesn’t remember the details of what happened. He was in a catatonic state for five months afterwards and because of his age and the state he was in, committed to a mental hospital for dangerous juvenile offenders.  Life during that time went on without him.  During that time, his mother died and the townsfolk ran his father out of town burning down the cabin that they lived in.  It wasn’t exactly and eye for an eye but it was a start.       

Now four years later, Kip is about to be released. He can’t go back to where he used to live.  He can’t even be who he used to be.  He has to be someone else in order to start over so he becomes Wade.  Wade, his dad and new step mom decide to try anew in Indiana.  The first weeks are rough on him but things are going well. A few years go by and they are happy or at least close to it as they will get with this lurking in the shadows.  His shrink before he was released told him that he needs to careful about feeding the ghosts and sure enough it happens one day.  The life that they built in Indiana is no more as they are forced out of their home once again.     

On to Texas and another try at normalcy.  Wade punishes himself everyday for what he did.  He feels guilty when his dad blames himself for what happened.  He feels guilty that his dad deserves to be happy.  He feels that he deserves no respect or forgiveness. His guilt was destroying himself and all those around him. His shrink hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said that Wade needs to look back for a minute instead of forward at the people that had his back and treated him decently despite what happened.  It all comes to a head with this girl he meets while living in Texas.  After what happened in Indiana he wasn’t about to get close to anyone.  There is something different about her and despite the baggage she brings to the table, Wade is drawn to her even though he doesn’t want to be.  After all it will only lead to more hurting.  She shares her baggage with him.  He doesn’t hold it against her.  Can he trust her with his?  Can he tell her who he really is and what happened to him without losing her?  Read the book Right Behind You and you will find out. 

What Happened to Cass McBride? – Gail Giles     

Someone has to pay for David’s death, his brother thinks. He was supposed to be David’s protector from their verbally abusive mother. Though more than one person played a role in David’s death, Kyle hell bent on vengeance takes out his revenge on one of David’s classmates, Cass McBride, a girl who turned David down when he asked her for a date. He kidnaps her, places her in a box and buries her alive torturing her with cruel words. Cass however has never had trouble using words and she uses them to draw Kyle into a dialogue. But will that be enough to save Cass’s life? You will have to read the book to find out. Long after you finish, I will tell you that you may still be chilled from reading this story thinking about issues of responsibility and scapegoat. This book is better suited for mature readers being that there is violence and obscenities throughout the story.

Harmless – Dana Reinhardt     

Is there ever a time a lie should not be condemned? Have you ever lied? Did you get away with a lie or were there repercussions to reap from the fib you told? Emma, Mariah and Anna in Harmless know what happens when you spin a web of deceit. Anna and Emma have been best friends since third grade. Anna and Emma. Emma and Anna. Where there was one, usually the other was there. You never had to worry about those two girls. Mariah enters the picture when Emma and she have to practice together for the play, Romeo and Juliet. Mariah brings something exciting to the table. She is outspoken, a bit cynical, experienced with the guys. Emma is the moody one, quiet and bottles up all her emotions. Anna on the other hand is totally insecure and will ride on any one’s coat-tails if they let her. It was no wonder that Anna and Emma jumped at a chance to be friends with Mariah. Mariah invites Emma and Anna to party with her boyfriend and a few of his friends. Anna and Emma both knew that their parents would never let them do such a thing so they told a little white lie saying that they were somewhere else. The first lie was easy. The second lie started their world spiraling in direction they never thought would ever happen. They weren’t lying to be malicious; they lied to keep themselves out of trouble but that only led them into deeper pile of you know what. At first no harm, no foul but then an innocent person gets punished for their actions, for a crime he didn’t commit. Is it too late to tell the truth now? If they only told the truth to begin with….


Rules of Survival – Nancy Werlin

Nancy Werlin knows how to tell a story, especially a mystery. She first caught my attention with Double Helix and continued to keep my attention with Killer’s Cousin. This story while it does have elements of being a mystery is more suspenseful then anything else. The book is narrated by Matthew the oldest of 3 siblings. He is writing a letter to his youngest sister Emma who was too young at the time to understand why their mom finally left them. Basically Matthew has spent his entire life protecting his siblings from the abuse of their mother Nikki. If you looked at Nikki you would never know – she seems normal, very attractive, and smart but she is also manipulative and cruel. Nothing is easy for them. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. A page turner to the end.

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