Tuesday, June 28, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks

Go Ask Alice
by Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks)

Sparks, Beatrice. Go Ask Alice. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006. Print.

Summary: Go Ask Alice is a diary-style novel that gives us an inside view as our protagonist (one can assume is Alice) deals with common pressures of being a teenage girl in high school. It begins with a journal entry about a boy she likes, Roger, who does not treat her right. Then, Alice is thrilled to learn that her family is relocating for her father's job. She is sure this is just what she needs to reinvent herself, but after moving she still remains lonely. When summer arrives and her one friend has to go away to camp, she decides to spend the time back with her grandparents. It is during this point that Alice gets caught up with a group of people who are into drugs, and her diary and journey truly begin as she tries to crawl her way back out of an almost hopeless situation.

Critical Analysis: 

"I'm not really sure which parts of myself are real and which parts are things I've gotten from books." -Go Ask Alice

For starters, Go Ask Alice does cover a concept and issue that needs to be discussed with adolescents. This is an age where they will feel pressured to do many things, and literature can help them to make decisions when put in these situations, especially if those novels are not preaching at them. It is interesting that this was supposedly a real diary with the names and details changed for safety because I do not feel that this was a real teenage girl at all. While it has been some time since I was in high school, and I do not have children, I do teach middle school aged students, and I believe I have fairly good insight into what their writing may sound like. This novel seemed artificial, as an adult was trying very hard to sound like a teenage, and just did not quite achieve what they were hoping to accomplish. The writing was very immature, to the point of frustrating at times, and I found it a bit difficult to continue reading on more than one occasion. This is not a good characteristic to have with YA texts, when it is already a struggle to grab and keep their attention.

Despite the negatives of the novel, it does have a good overall theme, even if it takes a little while to get there. Peer pressure is something that everyone can relate to, and our protagonist makes the common mistake of falling in with the wrong crowd, something that our readers can certainly relate to. There were many interesting times when we got a look into Alice's mind, and saw that she realized what she was doing was wrong, but then was not able to change it on her own. However, often these things were very dramatic very fast, and it just did not seem very realistic. While this book has received a lot of praise throughout the years, I struggled a bit to see the complete merit in it. As far as being appropriate for young adults, I can certainly understand why some parents might be concerned about their child reading the novel. It is certainly for upper teens in high school, and not before then. 

Creative Activity: One of the best things about this novel is that it is written as a diary instead of a regular narrative format. Because of this, it could be an excellent model piece for a writing classroom. Of course, the teacher/librarian would need to make sure that the book/excerpt used is appropriate for the targeted grade level. There could be a discussion about how Alice writes in her diary to help get her thoughts out and deal with conflict, and then students can write their own series of journal entries in which they discuss a conflict that they have gone through, and what happened because of that conflict. 

Related Resources:
1. The first resource is actually a set of resources, as any novel by Ellen Hopkins could be used as a companion novel. Hopkins also writes about teens who are struggling through difficult situations and peer pressures of many kinds, but she seems to capture the view of adolescents much more successfully.
2. Lucy in the Sky or Jay's Journal are also novels by Anonymous that are written in the same way as Go Ask Alice, and therefore excerpts could be used together to look at similarities and differences between the characters.

Published Review:
The New York Times. "Just Say 'Uh-Oh,'" 1998. Web. 27 June 2016. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/15/reviews/981115.15oppenht.html

Monday, June 20, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley

Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Adults, 2012. Print. 

Summary: Where Things Come Back is an intertwined story that keeps the reader guessing until the very last page, where they must learn if things truly come back. Cullen Witter is spending the summer before his senior year of high school in his small Arkansas town, but everything is far from normal. His cousin has just overdosed and he has had to identify the body, his Aunt Julia is not coping, his town is suddenly obsessed with a woodpecker that is supposed to be extinct, and his younger brother Gabriel has vanished out of thin air, it seems. Cullen finds it difficult to hold himself together while everyone else is falling apart. Another part of the story centers around Brenton Sage, a young missionary who is confused about his true calling, which leads him to the Book of Enoch. After a tragic event, his roommate finds his journal and begins trying to solve a puzzle it seems that Brenton has left behind. Their lives collide in an unexpected way in this novel that was awarded both a Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris award. 

Critical Analysis: 

“We let them help because they needed it, not us. We didn't let them help us because we needed it, we let them help us because inside of humans is this thing, this unnamed need to feel as if we are useful in the world. To feel as if we have something significant to contribute."---Cullen Witter 

This novel is one that will certainly keep the reader thinking from beginning to end. One of the initial thoughts that I had is that this novel is definitely better suited for the upper teen years. My middle school students would certainly not find this book in their library as it does have a fair amount of profanity, sexual content, and more mature characters. Despite those things, this novel can teach valuable lessons to teenagers. It is not simply about a boy who has a cousin that overdosed and a brother that is missing. He is a young man that must figure out who he is, and who he wants to be, when the world is crumbling all around him. Does he want to hide and not deal with it? Or does he stand up and face things head on? These are decisions that our students have to make, and so it is something that they can relate to in the novel. 

One of the greatest aspects of this novel is its ability to intertwine two stories that seem very different at the beginning of the novel. Whaley did a wonderful job of weaving the stories together, and also altering time in a way that benefited his writing. Sometimes the writing was the current time for the characters, and sometimes it was a flashback or flash forward. The reader could not be aware of these jumps completely until they continued to read, and then it all began to make more sense and weave together. 

There were several times throughout this novel that I asked myself, "Why does this matter in the story?" An extinct woodpecker? How could this possibly come into play and play into the theme of the novel? It turns out, Whaley knew what he was doing throughout this whole novel, and weaved a wonderful theme and plot together to make an award winning novel. It is certainly a book that young adults could read and learn a great deal from. 

Creative Activity: An interesting activity to do with this novel would be something that focused on plot. So often students think that plot is linear and simply follows the same steps in order every time, but they must learn that plot can be diverse and different for every book. The climax may not always occur in the middle of the novel. Instead, it may take place at the beginning and then the story may flashback. I believe the best way to teach this lesson would be to have the students work in groups to fill in a large, laminated plot diagram. They could use dry-erase markers to fill in the information through the book, noting when it may occur through a flashback or glimpse into the future using page numbers and text evidence. 

Related Resources:
1. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King - this novel is a related resource as the conflict and theme are very similar to the reviewed book. The protagonist has lost a family member, and must cope while the rest of his family falls apart with grief. He must deal with his feelings and move on to find himself. 
2. Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall - this novel is one written in verse, which adds an interesting twist. The protagonist, however, is going through difficult things as well. Her mother is suffering from cancer, so she must play the adult in the household while everyone else comes to terms with the illness. 

Published Review: 
Publisher's Weekly. Where Things Come Back, 2011. Web. 20 June 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4424-1333-7

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

LS 5623.20 Review: Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

Parrot in the Over: Mi Vida 
by Victor Martinez 

Martinez, Victor. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida. New York: HarperTrophy, 1996. Print.

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Manuel Hernandez, or Manny, wants nothing more than to grow up and be someone that is respected. Which means, he wants to be quite unlike a lot of the other men in his own life. His father has turned to alcohol to deal with his problems, especially when he loses his job as a translator. His brother, Nardo, cannot keep a job very long because he lacks the skills and responsibility needed to make them long term. His mother, meanwhile, spends her time cleaning the house often to try to wipe away their family problems. And there are a lot of problems, as they live in the projects. Manny knows in his neighborhood one of the only ways to gain respect is to join a gang, and he is not sure that he is willing to go through with something like that.

Critical Analysis: Based on the publishing year of this book, it is listed as a fiction book, rather than under the category of young adult literature. Due to this, I do believe that it might be a book that some students would avoid. The book does have many redeeming qualities. The protagonist is a likeable character. He has strengths and weaknesses, and he is trying to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be in the future. The book gives us insight into several different characters, but as we only get the book through Manny's perspective, we miss a lot of insight and detail into the characters and how they feel. While I do think that it is beneficial for readers to see these characters through Manny's eyes, I do believe the book could have a bigger impact with a more omniscient narrator.

Overall, the novel was a bit difficult to follow. Each chapter was more of an individual story than a stepping stone in an overall plot. The stories did not always run together well or in a way that made sense, either. While the tone and voice of the novel was enjoyable, it is vital for young adult fiction novels to have a plot that can be easily followed. Not doing so may cause some students to stop reading out of frustration.

Creative Activity: An activity that would be enjoyable with this novel is one I like to use with my students called the Post-Mortem of a Protagonist. Students choose a character from a novel, in this instance they would select Manny. They then work in a group to trace one of their group members' outline onto butcher paper. They have a list of questions to then answer based on their character, and they follow along with body parts. For instance, the question that goes with the eyes would ask "what did the character see? Why was this important to him/her?" or for the feet "what did the character do/accomplish?" This activity allows students to do a more in depth character analysis.

Related Resources: For related resources, I like to include books that can be used with the one reviewed. For instance, books by the same author, books about the same theme, or perhaps one with the opposite viewpoints. Two related books would include Novio Boy: A Play by Gary Soto as it is also about a boy trying to come into his own, especially when it comes to dating girls (something we see Manny struggle with in the novel). The other related resource could be Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Meyers as it also depicts a boy struggling through a relationship with his father, and trying to come to terms with their differences.

Published Review:
Publisher's Weekly. Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida, 1996. Web. 14 June 2016. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-026704-9

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