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SIGNAL journal The Journal of the International Reading Association‘s Special Interest Group: Network on Adolescent Literature

Lights, Camera, Act ion!

Yo u n g a d u l t l i te r at u r e o n t h e b i g s cPhoto: r eKonrad e nPlank Kathy Garland

Bryan Gillis

Amber M. Simmons

Re-viewing popular film adaptations of young adult literature

Connecting YA literature and film: Using The Outsiders to teach literary devices

Fusing fantasy film and traditional adolescent texts to support critical literacy

SIGNAL j o u r n a l The Journal of the International Reading Association‘s Special Interest Group: Network on Adolescent Literature



Using The Outsiders to Teach Literary Devices, Motivation, and Critical Thinking Bryan Gillis

13 IT’S ALL ABOUT IDENTITY, POWER & SEX! High School Book Club’s Exploration of Genre Change and Characterization in the Young Adult Vampire Novel Melanie D. Koss

21 RE-VIEWING POPULAR FILM ADAPTATIONS Of Young Adult Literature Using Three Contemporary Literacy Strategies Kathy Garland

27 THE HARRY POTTER SERIES & THE GIVER Fusing Fantasy Film and Traditional Adolescent Texts to Support Critical Literacy Amber M. Simmons


35 POVERTY THROUGH THE LENS Of the Make Lemonade Trilogy Craig Hill

41 AN ECOCRITICAL APPROACH To Diana López’s Middle Grade Novel Confetti Girl Amy Cummins

48 YA BOOK REVIEWS Carol Harrell, Editor



SIGNAL Journal

From the Editors


ast week I devoured Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants just so I could see the movie that Friday night. I know myself as a reader: If I didn’t read the book prior to seeing the movie, I would never read it because the movie would spoil the visual images I create in my own head as a reader. I loved the book, and while I enjoyed the movie, I left the theater feeling very dissatisfied at changes in major plot points and at failures in creating the effects the literary descriptions in the novel created for me as a reader. I spent days discussing these discrepancies and differences with other friends who had both read the novel and seen the movie; I spent days interpreting and analyzing the differences between these two textual representations of the same story. Film offers just as many opportunities as traditional textual formats such as novels for literary analysis. Foster (1994) pointed out in his analysis of teaching film and young adult novels, “Films should be subject to classroom reader response discussions and activities that allow each viewer to recreate and analyze important film experiences.” We know that our adolescent students view films, so it only seems reasonable that we tap into these texts as a medium for analysis in our classrooms. Teasley and Wilder (1996) assert, “We know many adults who are both avid readers and inveterate moviegoers. Students don’t have to choose to be one or the other” (3). They also declare, “Film writers, directors, and actors have produced profound and lasting works of art no less worthy of study than literature” (Teasley & Wilder, 1996, 3). No one argues that we should not explicitly teach our students to become active, critical readers of quality novels. Why then, should we not also teach them to become active viewers (or readers, if we concede that film is a textual medium worthy of analysis) of film? Rather than complaining that our students don’t want to read, why not take advantage of teaching those same skills of literary analysis – and some additional ones such as camera angle – through a medium they already “read”? Maybe you had more positive experiences as a student viewing film in school than I did; however, my experiences offered little by way of the English language arts curriculum. In my honors English classes, a teacher showed a movie as a “reward” at the conclusion of reading the novel. We may or may not have received a viewing guide to complete while watching the movie, and regardless, there was seldom critical conversation about the film and devices

Jennifer Dail

Katherine Mason

it used. Film offers teachers and students so much more than simple viewing experiences that require nothing of them as a reader. Undoubtedly, the visual reinforcement offered by the film can resolve some ambiguity struggling readers may have experienced when reading the text. Film, however, can offer all readers more. What if we show scenes from a film and compare them specifically with the scene from the novel? Maybe we even want to have students compare multiple representations of the same scene in a film if multiple versions have been made (e.g., Romeo and Juliet). We could even have students storyboard a scene in the novel before viewing the film to compare how they would produce it versus how the director represented it. Teasley and Wilder (1996) finally claim, “We believe that we do a disservice to students if we consistently convey that film is inherently an inferior medium” to novels (4). Katie, and I believe this, too, which is why in this issue of SIGNAL Journal, you will find many ideas for incorporating film in your classroom. Enjoy!

Best regards,

Jennifer S. Dail

WORKS CITED Foster, H.M. (1994). Film and the young adult novel. The ALAN Review

Retrieved from


Teasley, A.B., & Wilder, A. (1996). Reel conversations: Reading films with

young adults. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

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EXECUTIVE EDITOR Dawn Latta Kirby, Kennesaw State University EDITORS Jennifer S. Dail, Kennesaw State University Katherine Mason, Wichita State University ASSISTANT EDITOR Shelbie Witte, Florida State University YA BOOK REVIEW EDITOR Carol Harrell, Kennesaw State University YA BOOK REVIEW ASSISTANT EDITOR Laura Dabundo, Kennesaw State University EDITORIAL REVIEW BOARD Jim Blasingame, Arizona State University Chris Crowe, Brigham Young University Toby Emert, Agnes Scott College Bonnie Ericson, California State University, North Ridge Hilve Firek, Roosevelt University David Gill, University of North Carolina at Wilmington Susan Groenke, University of Tennessee Judy Hayn, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Lisa Hazlett, University of South Dakota Carol Jago, Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica, CA Angela Johnson, Wright State University Jeff Kaplan, University of Central Florida Joan Kaywell, University of South Florida Kathryn Kelly, Radford University Patricia P. Kelly, Virginia Tech University Teri S. Lesesne, Sam Houston State University Martha Magner, Nanuet Public Schools, Nanuet, New York Robert E. Probst, Florida International University Bobbi Samuels, University of Houston, Clear Lake Robert C. Small, Radford University Connie S. Zitlow, Ohio Wesleyan University SIGNAL EXECUTIVE BOARD Chair: Carol Bedard, University of Houston-Downtown Chair-elect: Judith Hayn, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Past Chair: Nancy Votteler, Sam Houston State University Secretary: Linda Rider, Hermitage House Youth Services Treasurer: Mary Sparkes, Hoover Middle School, Taylor, MI Membership Chair: Shanetia Clark, Penn State Harrisburg Technical Director: Darren Crovitz, Kennesaw State University BOARD OF DIRECTORS Patricia Bandre, Baker University Jeffrey S. Kaplan, University of Central Florida Patricia Kelly, Virginia Tech University Colleen Sheehy, University of Indianapolis Suzanne Zweig, Sullivan High School, Chicago


SIGNAL Journal


SIGNAL Journal is a peer-reviewed (refereed) journal of the International Reading Association’s Special Interest Group – Network on Adolescent Literature. The journal publishes articles, essays and reviews about varying aspects of young adult literature. Ideas for using young adult literature in the classroom, ways to get students interested in reading, interviews with young adult authors, critical analyses of several works by one author, thematic comparisons of books by different authors, and topical bibliographies are examples of the types of articles SIGNAL Journal publishes.


Manuscripts, which may be 4-15 pages in length, should be double-spaced and follow APA documentation style. (NOTE: Please italicize book titles, but not series titles. Series titles should be capitalized but not italicized or placed in quotation marks.) We do not accept simultaneous submissions. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically to Please include a short biographical sketch, including the name of your school and position. The editors reserve the right to modify manuscripts to fit length and language considerations. SIGNAL Journal requires that articles have not been published elsewhere. In addition to our calls for manuscripts on the following pages, we always welcome general submissions.

REVIEW PROCESS Each manuscript will receive a blind review by at least two members of the review board, unless the content or length makes it inappropriate for the journal. The review board will make a decision within four to six weeks of receiving manuscripts. Any revisions of manuscripts submitted for further review will also receive a blind review by at least two members of the review board. The review board will make a decision. GRAPHIC DESIGN Cover Design/Layout/Graphics: Lisa M. Russell, Kennesaw State University & Georgia Writers Association. Printing: Kennesaw State University Print Shop

Georgia Writers

Association COMING IN OUR NEXT ISSUE FALL 2011/WINTER 2012 We Are All Welcome Here: Representations of Sexual Orientation and Gender Variance in Young Adult Literature

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Call for Manuscripts FALL 2011/WINTER 2012 Theme: We Are All Welcome Here: Representations of Sexual Orientation and Gender Variance in Young Adult Literature Deadline: September 15, 2011 Countless studies reveal the marginalization and harassment faced by students who identify as (or who are perceived to be) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Two-thirds of LGBTQ students do not feel safe in our schools. What are you, your colleagues, and your administration doing about this, and how can young adult literature assist you in your efforts? The field of YAL with LGBTQ content continues to expand and diversify. In what ways do you incorporate these texts into your personal reading and professional development? In what ways do these texts help you to better understand yourself, your students, your colleagues, and the world around you? In what ways do you incorporate these texts into your teaching (e.g., book passes, book talks, classroom library, literature circles, or purposefully selected excerpts)? What challenges have you faced or anticipated, and how have you responded? In what ways do you use these texts to help yourself, your colleagues, and/or your students see possibilities for a more inclusive community that celebrates—rather than merely tolerates—diversity? What possibilities do you envision (or what practices do you enact) for incorporating these texts into a democratic English Language Arts curriculum that attempts to reflect the experiences and history of all students, including those representing a range of sexual orientations and gender identities?

SPRING/SUMMER 2012 Theme: On the Cutting Edge: Pushing the Boundaries of Genre Deadline: February 1, 2012 Adolescents are trendy and like to keep up with cutting edge things. Many young adult authors tap into adolescents’ pop culture to push the boundaries of conventional novels in a way that appeals to teen readers. For example, Lauren Myracle’s TTFN books incorporate texting language to present a novel that challenges conventional readers’ expectations of the genre. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian incorporates comic strips


SIGNAL Journal

drawn by the main character, Junior. Students pick up a novel with specific expectations about the genre, and those expectations inform how students approach reading a novel. Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year incorporates student essays and letters as part of its narrative. What strategies do you use in your classroom to support students when the novels you teach or the novels they read by choice push the boundaries of genre? Do novels that push the boundaries of genre pose challenges in teaching them in a traditional English Language Arts classroom? What exciting possibilities do they offer? Are students more adaptable readers than we sometimes give them credit for being?

FALL 2012/WINTER 2013 Theme: In Defense of Young Adult Texts: Common Core State Standards and the Demand for Increased K-12 Text Complexity Deadline: September 1, 2012 At the writing of this call for manuscripts, forty-two states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. In addition to promoting shared responsibility across content areas for students’ literacy development, the Standards also emphasize an increased level of K-12 text complexity, arguing that “… over the last half century, K-12 texts have actually declined in sophistication, and relatively little attention has been paid to students’ ability to read complex texts independently.” In what ways do young adult (YA) texts—both fiction and non-fiction—meet the need for more demanding texts across the curriculum? How do they challenge readers with multiple levels of meaning, sophisticated structures and graphics, language conventions, and cultural/literary knowledge demands? In what ways have you successfully argued the merit and complexity of the YA texts you teach, and what strategies do you employ for helping students read and comprehend these texts independently? How can we demonstrate that YA texts do, in fact, challenge readers and prepare them to read increasingly sophisticated texts with greater independence?


From Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects: Appendix A, p. 2. Retrieved from


Using The Outsiders to Teach Literary Devices, Motivation, and Critical Thinking By Bryan Gillis


began teaching in 1983, working with teenagers who were wards of the state. They were tough. None were bullies, but they had learned that life wasn’t going to do them any favors. Each week, thirteen of us went on a field trip. These field trips were typically not educational, but motivational in nature. Giving these kids the opportunity to get out into the world once a week and pretend that their lives were normal kept behavioral issues to a minimum. The week that the film The Outsiders opened in theatres, I took my class to see it. After witnessing Ponyboy’s telling of the struggles between the Greasers and the Socs, each of my students made a meaningful personal connection with the film. None of us, however, had any idea until that day that a novel existed bearing the same title. The Outsiders, written by S.E. Hinton and published in 1967, is considered by many young adult literature experts (e.g., Crowe, 2002; Gill, 1999; Wilder & Teasley, 1998) to be the first example of realistic young adult fiction or the problem novel (as cited in Cole, 2008, p. 98). The film version, released in 1983 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, featured a number of young actors who would go on to become stars: Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, and Emilio Estevez. In 2005, The Outsiders: The Complete Novel was released on DVD, and contained 22 extra minutes of previously unreleased footage. I believe that The Complete Novel version is the best and most accurate (true to the original) film version of a young adult novel to date. Almost 30 years after its release, the novel is considered to be part of a relatively new category of young adult literature, the young adult canon. Teachers across the country introduce The Outsiders as early as sixth grade and as late as freshman and sophomore English. After first seeing the film with my students that fateful day in 1983, I immediately purchased thirteen copies of the novel and we read it together, making comparisons to the film along the way. Since that time, I have continued to pair this novel and others with film to teach reading, writing, and critical thinking skills to middle grades and high school students. As a professor

responsible for preparing language arts teachers, I now use the same strategies in my college courses.

WHY PAIR YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE AND FILM? As a result of No Child Left Behind, and with the implementation of Race to the Top on the horizon, teachers are again being forced to examine what and how they teach. Reading programs that guarantee to help students pass state tests—complete with timed, scripted lessons—often force teachers to ignore or abandon more creative, enriching, and effective instructional materials. Nilsen and Donelson (2005, p. 317) state that reading instruction as an academic discipline beyond elementary school is a recent development directly influenced by this emphasis on high stakes testing. As a result, districts now rely on research-based reading programs that provide teachers with preselected texts and skills activities that align to power standards. Students are pushed through readings and program-generated worksheets that imitate the types of questions that will be on state tests. This type of reading instruction fails to motivate students. Cole states that the following activities stifle students’ motivation to read: 1. Being forced to read a book students don’t like or understand. 2. Plodding through a book, chapter-by-chapter, and completing worksheet after worksheet. 3. Reading a text but not having opportunities for deep conversation (p. 41). This approach to instruction, fueled by the perception that students must be moved through power standards, is designed to improve students’ test scores, not their reading skills. As a result, depth of content area is sacrificed, students are less motivated to learn, retention is poor, and comprehension levels decrease. Even an accepted text like The Outsiders, which students may be motivated to read initially, can lose its appeal if the activities paired with the book consist of nothing more than basic knowledge and

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comprehension level questions assigned only to determine whether the students read the story. Applebee, Langer, Nystrand, and Gamoran (2003) conducted extensive research (974 students in 64 middle and high school classrooms in five states) examining the connection between student performance and classroom instruction. They found that high student performance was not related to the kind of literature used in the classroom, but was rather a result of how the literature was used. Keene and Zimmerman (1997) describe three types of connections that students can make with the literature they are reading: 1. Text-to-self: connections between the text and prior knowledge and experience. 2. Text-to-text: connections between the text and another text. 3. Text-to-world: connections between the text and people, places, and things in the world. The multisensory nature of film, when used wisely, can be an effective tool for teaching reading skills. Films and film clips help students improve retention skills and provide them with the stimuli to make strong connections between concept and content (Lieberman, 2002, p. 35). Film offers an immediacy and accessibility that the printed text frequently does not. DVDs provide teachers with the flexibility to use an entire film in the classroom or to identify and use excerpts. English language learners, remedial readers, and others deficient in language acquisition also benefit from the use of film for instructional purposes, as King (2002) notes: With their training limited to endless grammar exercises and the tests they take designed to analyze the fine points of formal English, students struggle to understand the main ideas in listening and reading....Learning English through films compensates for many of the shortcomings of the EFL experience by bringing language to life.... Their encounters with realistic situations and exposure to the living language provide a dimension that is missing in textbook-oriented teaching (p. 510). A novel like The Outsiders offers a variety of creative ways to teach the same items that are addressed in reading test


SIGNAL Journal

preparation programs and ultimately on state tests, with a greater probability of reading and test success.

USING THE OUTSIDERS TO TEACH LITERARY DEVICES: NARRATION AND POINT OF VIEW Mastering the complexities of narration and point of view allows readers to gain access to literature and establishes their juxtaposition with the story. However, students are often taught to do nothing more than identify point of view by looking for pronouns like I. The use of specific scenes in the film will take students beyond simple identification to a deeper understanding of how narration and point of view can connect them to the story and affect their responses to the story. Ponyboy is both the narrator and a character in the novel version of The Outsiders. He recounts events and participates in those events. He is present in every scene, and if an event occurs that he does not witness, other characters fill in the blanks. The film versions contain scenes that clearly illustrate Ponyboy’s first person point of view. However, he is not present in several scenes. Both examples provide opportunities to discuss how students’ comprehension and connections to the story are affected by shifts in point of view. (Note: chapters refer to the organization of the DVDs. Unless indicated, parenthetical chapter references are to The Complete Novel version of the film). Several scenes provide the audience with a first person perspective. This is accomplished through the use of specific camera angles. When Ponyboy’s head is held underwater by the Socs (Chapter 10), the camera is underwater, and we are drowning with him. After he and Johnny run away to Windrixville and hide out in the abandoned church (Chapter 13), Ponyboy wakes to discover that Johnny is missing. We learn—at the same instant that Ponyboy does—that Johnny has gone to get supplies, thanks to a note written in the dirt. In these two instances, the camera functions as Ponyboy’s eyes, and the audience see things as he sees them, in the same way that a reader experiences what a first person narrator is sharing in a novel. This is a type of subjective camera angle is referred to as a point of view shot because it provides a specific perception or perspective of a character. In this case, it is understood that viewers are experiencing the action from Ponyboy’s point of view.

Conversely, when Dally learns that Johnny is dead (Chapter 28), he walks to the convenience store, pulls a gun on the store clerk and demands the money in the register. Once again, a subjective camera angle is used, this time an over the shoulder shot. The camera is placed slightly above Dally’s shoulder, which creates a third person point of view. He then runs out of the store and to a pay phone to call the Curtis house. The camera—and thus the audience—is positioned across the street. We are there with Dally, but we are watching him, not experiencing through him, an important distinction between first and third person point of view. In the novel, readers learn about Dally’s exploits in the convenience store only after he calls and talks to Darry. Because Ponyboy is the sole narrator in the book, readers aren’t “allowed” to see Dally if Ponyboy isn’t present. By placing the text side by side with scenes from the film, the following sample questions and prompts can be used to stimulate discussion about point of view: Was a third person perspective effective in the convenience store scene, or would a first person perspective have been better? Why? How might the convenience store scene been different if a point of view shot had been utilized? Would the novel have been more enjoyable if it had been written from more than just a first person perspective? Show specific scenes from the film and ask students to locate them in the novel. Ask- When you read the passage and then view this scene, where (in each) do you see yourself physically in relationship to the other characters? How does this affect your interpretation of the scene? Which scenes are enhanced or diminished in either the film or the novel due to the specific point of view used? Give examples. Was it necessary for the director to alter the perspective of the narrator in certain scenes when translating the novel to film? Which scenes and why?

MOOD AND TONE “If a distinction exists between mood and tone, it will be the fairly subtle one between mood as the attitude of the author toward the subject and tone as the attitude of the author toward the audience” (Harmon and Holman, 1996, p. 334). Tone and mood reflect emotional-intellectual attitudes like optimism, bitterness, seriousness, or playfulness and are conveyed through the use of specific language (the attitude of the author toward the audience) which then serves to create the overall mood of a work (the attitude of the author toward the subject). Mood and tone are also determined by aesthetic distance, the degree of detachment from the

characters or circumstances that the author attempts to create. Aesthetic distance affects the level of emotional involvement the participant experiences. Mood and tone in fiction are controlled primarily through narration and point of view and can be very difficult concepts for students to grasp because they are developed through language selection and manipulation that develop over the course of a work. They are more easily understood through film, where they are created through the use of camera angles, lighting, color, and sound. In the novel, Hinton, through Ponyboy’s descriptions, uses characters’ eyes to describe their personalities: “...but Darry’s eyes are all his own. He’s got eyes that are like two pieces of pale blue- green ice. They’ve got a determined set to them, like the rest of him” (1967, p. 6). “Sodapop’s “eyes are dark brown—lively, dancing, recklessly laughing eyes that can be gentle and sympathetic one moment and blazing with anger the next” (p. 8). This language characterizes Darry as tough and determined, Sodapop as caring, butdangerous. Hinton’s attitude toward the characters (tone) is clear, but the attitude she is attempting to affect on the reader (mood) is more difficult to ascertain. In film, the relationship between the camera and the character or object is referred to as the camera angle. Camera angles provide emotional information to viewers, shaping their perception of the character or object in the shot. These shots help to create tone and mood. In the first scene (Chapter 2), we find Ponyboy sitting at a desk in his bedroom writing in his journal. A low-level camera angle places the audience on the floor, looking up at his face. Low-level angles such as these are often used to create empathy for characters (Media 2011). After Ponyboy is rescued from the Socs who attack him (Chapter 3), viewers are on the ground with him, and the camera moves up as he does. These eye-level angles and point of view shots allow the audience to feel the fear of the attack in the same way that Ponyboy felt it. Viewers then see eye-level close-ups of Ponyboy’s brothers and fellow Greasers. In fact, each time the audience sees the Greasers throughout the film, eye-level headshots that includes one, two, or three of them are used. Later, when Ponyboy and Johnny go to the park after their confrontation with the Socs outside of the drive-in (Chapter 8), they sit on the ground next to a small fire, and the audience is there

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on the ground with them—grass can even be seen popping up from the bottom portion of the screen. In all of these scenes, eye-level angles are used to place viewers on equal footing with the characters so that we will feel comfortable with them. As a result, tone and mood in the film shift from fear and panic to that of empathy and safety. Immediately after Ponyboy’s face is shoved underwater in the park fountain (Chapter 8), the scene goes dark. In the following scene, the camera places viewers high above the park, looking down on three bodies lying still next to the fountain. This is known as an establishing shot. Its purpose is to identify the scene and position objects in the scene, in this case a dead body. It also functions here as a bird’s-eye view angle. A bird’s-eye view is used to show the locations of characters and objects, thus enabling the audience to see things the narrator can’t (Media). This shot allows the audience to see what happened during the time that Ponyboy and Johnny were unconscious. It also sets a tone of disorientation. Because the shot is so elevated, it is impossible to distinguish between the three bodies. The next shots are extreme close-ups of the faces of Ponyboy and Johnny. The camera even tilts and turns upside down as Ponyboy regains consciousness. Extreme close-ups are sometimes used to connect the audience to characters and at other times are used to cause a feeling of claustrophobia, creating a sense of panic and disorientation in the viewer (Media). Close-ups can make us feel either comfortable or extremely uncomfortable with a character. In this scene, the mood and tone created are again both panic and empathy as the audience realizes what Johnny has done. The sole purpose of lighting in a film is to create mood. The lighting, and lack of it, used in The Outsiders contributes to a dark, foreboding mood. Much of The Outsiders was filmed at night. Characters are often filmed in shadows and we recognize them only by their voices or through closeups. Due to the frequency of low-angle shots, the top third of the screen in many scenes is black. Even many of the daytime scenes, shot from low angles, feel shadowy and claustrophobic. Viewers can see a blue sky, but the picture does not create a warm, sunny feeling. Color also plays an integral role in the creation of tone and mood in both the novel and the film. Hinton utilizes color words to describe her characters’ eyes, hair, and clothing. The film allows students to see and feel these colors. Most scenes are filmed in cold and sterile blacks, grays, and faded blues. However, when Socs are present, their bright blue and red cars and warm, colorful clothing provide a stark contrast to the bleak world of the Greasers.


SIGNAL Journal

Several scenes in the film, including the opening and closing credits and the abandoned church scenes, use oranges, reds, and sepia tinted skies, framing shadows of characters and trees. By pairing these scenes with similar ones from Gone with the Wind, students will be able to see and feel the similarities in mood and motif that the director tried to create between The Outsiders and the story that was so important to both Ponyboy and Johnny. Comparing music used in the original version of the film with music from The Complete Novel version helps students understand how tone and mood are affected by sound. When the original film was revised, Coppola decided that his father’s original score was so over-operatic that it distanced the audience from the characters, so for the new cut, it was replaced with period music. The edit itself was made in large part because of Coppola’s granddaughter. S.E. Hinton’s original novel is required reading in many middle school English classes, and Coppola’s granddaughter was reaching the age where she would be required to read it (Internet Movie Data Base, 2010). Showing several scenes from the original and Complete Novel versions side-by-side helps to illustrate the effect of sound on mood and tone. When Ponyboy returns home late from the drive-in, Darry shoves him (original version, Chapter 6). As Ponyboy runs out of the house, violin music and the sound of barking dogs can be heard. In The Complete Novel, (Chapter 9) the violins and dogs are replaced with aggressive surf guitar music. When Ponyboy and Johnny climb on the train to Windrixville, (original version, Chapter 9) the sound of a train horn can be heard in the background. Elvis Presley’s Mystery Train is playing in The Complete Novel version (Chapter 12). Discussing scenes like these will stimulate salient responses from students regarding tone and mood. Remember, the goal for teachers should be to help students capture the meaning of the concepts, not direct them toward a proper interpretation of tone and mood for a specific scene.

SYMBOLS AND SYMBOLISM “A symbol combines a literal and sensuous quality with an abstract or suggestive aspect.... A symbol is an image that evokes an objective, concrete reality and prompts that reality to suggest another level of meaning” (Harmon and Holman, p. 509). Hinton employs many symbols in The Outsiders. The switchblade, the Socs’ cars, and Bob Sheldon’s rings all suggest other levels of meaning beyond the literal. These

suggestions are often difficult for students to grasp from the text. The switchblade first appears when the Socs attack Ponyboy and try to cut his hair (Chapter 3). The blade represents violence and symbolizes a threat to the Greasers in the form of cutting off the one thing that makes them who they are. The blade is a focal point of the scene, the one bright, shiny object in the frame. Later, the audience discovers that both Two-Bit and Johnny carry blades. Two-Bit’s switchblade is his prized possession. Viewers see it when the Socs confront Two-Bit, Ponyboy, and Johnny outside of the drive-in. A close-up of the blade emphasizes its significance as protection, this time as a threat to the Socs. Johnny carries a blade because of a previous attack by the Socs. When Ponyboy is attacked in the park (Chapter 10), a close-up of Johnny’s switchblade is shown, first in his back pocket, and again when he pulls it out and opens it. Johnny then uses it to kill Bob. Once again the switchblade represents protection, this time in the form of revenge and violence. Later, Johnny and Ponyboy use the same blade to cut their own hair in hopes of disguising their looks (Chapter 13). Here, the blade symbolizes protection in the form of concealment. When Dally is in the hospital, he asks Two-Bit if he can borrow his switchblade (Chapter 22). Two-Bit’s willingness to give up his most important possession symbolizes the blade as a possession of power, willingly given to the toughest in the group. Cars represent the Socs power over the Greasers. In the opening scene (Chapter 2), the Socs pursue Ponyboy in a red car. Ponyboy is on foot and is no match for them. The Greasers also repair the cars that the Socs drive, making the Greasers subservient to the Socs. The Greaser car the audience does see in the film is old, black and rusted and must be push started (Chapter 3). The Socs’ cars are colorful, shiny and new. Jewelry has traditionally been a symbol of wealth. Viewers don’t first learn of Bob’s rings, however, by seeing them on his fingers. In Johnny’s first close-up, we notice that his left cheek has been injured (Chapter 3). Later at the drive-in, Ponyboy tells Cherry Valance that Johnny was attacked by a Soc. “The guy was wearing a few rings” (Chapter 6). Outside of the drive-in, Bob and the other Socs confront the Greasers (Chapter 7). The camera work in this scene allows for some great symbolic connections. First, there is a shot of Two-Bit’s switchblade, followed by a close-up of Johnny’s face and his injured cheek, which then quickly cuts to a close-up of Bob’s hand and his rings, then back to Johnny’s face, and finally, back to the switchblade. By replaying this scene, students can see the link between

Johnny, the rings, and the switchblade. The rings are a representation of the physical power (a weapon) that accompanies wealth. Bob uses his wealth to injure a Greaser.

MOTIVATION AND CRITICAL THINKING ACTIVITIES ANTICIPATION GUIDES Anticipation guides are thematic lists of statements designed to help students build background and make personal connections with a text or a film before interacting with it. An effective anticipation guide includes statements that provoke disagreement and challenge students’ beliefs about topics by asking them to indicate whether they agree or disagree with each statement. The guides can be structured as true-false, agree-disagree, or as a scale with 1 representing disagree and 5 representing strongly agree. Anticipation guides serve two primary purposes. First, they activate students’ prior knowledge of the topics and themes of a specific text or film. Making connections with students’ prior experiences and helping them create background knowledge is the single most effective way to increase their motivation to engage in the work. Anticipation guides also set a purpose by directing students to gather evidence that will either confirm their initial beliefs or cause them to rethink those beliefs (see Appendix A). These statements can lead to discussions at any time during the reading of the novel or the viewing of the films. Film statements should focus on both the comparisons with the novel and the specific techniques (camera angles, lighting, actors, etc.) used to create or portray the themes and literary devices being studied. Students’ observational and critical thinking skills will dramatically increase when they are focused on identifiable themes and devices.

THE INTERNET The Outsiders Official Book and Movie Website is a great place for students to obtain accurate and up-to-date information about this classic story. The site contains everything from interviews with Hinton and the cast of the movie to educational links. One link contains information on the community in Oklahoma where The Outsiders was filmed. For example, the Admiral Twin Drive-In, the theatre used in the filming of the movie, burned down in September 2010. The site lists ways that people can get involved in the campaign to save the theatre.

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Several sites contain quality webquests (an inquiryoriented lesson format in which most of the information comes from the web) on The Outsiders. For example, Arizona State University’s English Education department website (2010) contains an Outsiders webquest with links like The Greaser Garage—Greaser culture, complete with cars, art, music and advertisements from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s; Safe Youth—gangs and violence prevention information; and Literary Traveler—everything you ever wanted to know about Gone with the Wind. Three other excellent examples of film/novel connections that middle and high school students will enjoy are Holes, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Princess Bride. What makes The Outsiders so powerful is its ability to connect with students on a personal level. My first group of students and I made those connections almost 30 years ago. The connections are still powerful today. Bryan Gillis is an Assistant Professor of English Education and Literacy at Kennesaw State University. He has over 25 years of experience in public school education as a teacher, academic coach, and administrator. He is currently working on a book with Dr. Pam Cole on the life and works of Chris Crutcher and has previously published YA author interviews, YA book reviews, and articles on writing and reading pedagogy in JAAL, The ALAN Review, Voices from the Middle, and SIGNAL Journal. He can be reached at

WORKS CITED Applebee, A., Langer, J.A., Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A.(2003). Arizona State University Department of English. English Education Young Adult Literature Webquests. The Outsiders. Retrieved from http://english.clas.asu edu/ enged-webquests Cole, P.B. (2008). Young adult literature in the 21st century. Boston: McGraw Hill. Coppola, F. (Director). (1983). The Outsiders [DVD]. Burbank: Warner Brothers. Coppola, F. (Director). (2005). The Outsiders: The Complete Novel [DVD]. Burbank: Warner Brothers. Harmon, W. & Holman, C.H. (1996). A handbook to literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Hinton, S.E. (1967). The Outsiders. New York: Penguin. Internet Movie Data Base. The Outsiders, Frequently Asked Questions. Why is there a “complete novel” edit of the film, and why is there new music? Retrieved from Keene, E. & Zimmerman, S. (1997). Mosaic of thought. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. King, J. (2002). Using DVD feature films in the EFL classroom. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 15 (5), 509-523. Lieberman, A. (2002). Use of film media as a didactic tool. Encounter, 15 (4), 30-37. Media College. Retrieved from Nilsen, A.P., & Donelson, K.L. (2005). Literature for today’s young adults (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Outsiders Official Book and Movie Website. Retrieved January 2, 2011, from


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• for which information can be found that supports and/or opposes them.

• that challenge students’ beliefs. SAMPLE OUTSIDERS NOVEL STATEMENTS: • Rich people and poor people have very little in common.

• Honor means always doing the right thing. • Material possessions, e.g., cars and clothes, influence our perception of others. is sometimes necessary to use violence to solve a conflict.

• Anyone can be a hero. SAMPLE OUTSIDERS FILM STATEMENTS: • If I don’t like the actor who is cast in a specific role, I won’t like the film as much.

• I notice colors, shades, and tones when I watch a film.

• The soundtrack can make or break a film. • When I watch a film, I pay attention to camera angles, especially if they are unconventional.

• Period films (films set in a specific historical period) can be very engaging if done well.

It’s All About Identity, Power, and Sex!:

A High School Bookclub’s Exploration of Genre Change and Characterization in the Young Adult Vampire Novel

By Melanie D. Koss I never really liked the whole vampire thing until Twilight because of how the vampires were described. How Edward is described is appealing to me. Before Twilight I thought of vampires as scary and kind of dark looking, but in Twilight they’re sexy and powerful. I want a boyfriend like Edward.


or the past six years I have been involved with a voluntary after-school high school book club. Each semester we select a focal topic to explore. Many of the book club members are smitten by the Twilight series and regularly talk about the books before and after meetings. Last semester, the students chose to explore the evolution of the vampire novel in young adult (YA) literature and how Twilight influenced the genre. Specifically, we looked at: What vampire conventions are features of YA vampire literature? How has the genre changed since the publication of the Twilight series? We read five books over the course of the semester: two –pre-Twilight (The Silver Kiss, Klause, 1990; In the Forests of the Night, Atwater-Rhodes, 1999), Twilight (Meyer, 2005), and two post-Twilight (Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, Fantaskey, 2009; Evernight, Gray, 2008). In addition, many book club members chose independently to read the entire Twilight series. Each meeting focused on one of the titles, and inevitably the conversation veered to that series. The students discussed the novels, their characteristics, and how they saw the Twilight series as changing vampire conventions. The students identified three major themes inherent in vampire novels and how these themes were altered by the Twilight series and subsequent vampire books. As one student put it, “It’s all about the stuff we go through as teens – identity, power, and sex! We want to fit in. We want to find out how to take control of our lives. We want to explore sex and our budding sexualities. It’s all in Twilight. We read about it, talk about it, and then compare notes.” Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series dominates the teen vampire market, with a growth of vampire novels written subsequent to Meyer’s media phenomenon. Although Meyer’s use of vampires is hardly new, her appropriation

of the vampire genre has reanimated the use of vampires in YA literature. Vampires have a long literary tradition, beginning in folklore, leading to the renowned novel Dracula (Stoker, 1897), and establishing the vampire in popular culture as a human-like creature who lives in dark, gloomy castles, and as a sinister creature of the night (Gorton, 2009). Traditional features of vampires include that they can be killed via religious elements or stakes through the heart, are fearsome creatures that sleep in coffins by day and feed at night, and are beings of supernatural strength and abilities. Overstreet (1996) points out, “This type of vampire knowledge is so widespread and ingrained that it has just become a part of our popular culture” (p. 2). The book club participants confirmed this. At the first session we talked about our preconceived notions of vampires. Students mentioned the Count from Sesame Street, old black and white Béla Lugosi movies, fangs, blood, dark castles, stakes, bats – the stereotypical elements depicted in pop culture. They discussed whether or not vampires were romanticized and sexual and how the image of the vampire has changed over time. One student, who is obsessed with vampires and is very knowledgeable about their history, said that in recent years “there’s a new perception of vampires, which is kind of cool, because before they were really hated. They were considered hideous, but they could cloak themselves to look pretty. It used to be that the vampire looked like shapeless shadows or dark, scary creatures, but later for some reason they became romanticized. I mean, people think they’re sexy now, but Dracula wasn’t supposed to be a handsome European gentleman that people perceive him as now. Dracula wasn’t an Edward.” Throughout the semester, the teens read and discussed the vampire books and looked at them in terms of their

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depictions of vampires and how those depictions changed. Their comments and discussion points revolved around ideas of identity, power, and sexuality. Each book read will be explored in terms of these three themes and students’ perceptions of them.

PRE-TWILIGHT NOVELS The students felt that pre-Twilight novels are straightforward and make basic assumptions that the reader knows vampire conventions. Vampires in these novels have some combination of widely held stereotypes and myths that are never outwardly described. Students claimed, “They match what we already think about vampires, that is, vampires before Twilight and Edward.” Depictions of vampires include beings that have transformative powers, are creatures of the night, and are isolated loners. The novels focus on issues of identity, power, and sexuality, but in a clear-cut, undeveloped manner. Characters, both vampire and human, are struggling to find their place in the world, transforming into the beings they will become, fighting their power capabilities, and grappling with their desires for physical closeness. The two pre-Twilight novels we read are In the Forests of the Night and The Silver Kiss.

IN THE FOREST OF THE NIGHT In the Forest of the Night tells of human Rachel’s unwilling transformation into vampire Risika. Rachel was sired against her will and vows revenge. Risika intentionally enters her rival’s territory, a power struggle ensues and Risika becomes one of the most powerful vampires of the time. Risika is a loner who struggles to make peace with her changing world. Assumptions of vampire conventions include vampires feeding in the night, transforming, and having special powers. The author assumes the reader knows aspects of the conventional vampire world, and many of the characteristics are not explained. For students unfamiliar with vampire conventions, “the book was confusing. It was missing a backstory and I had to figure out the vampire world. It jumped right in assuming that you have a working knowledge of vampire lore. I had to make a lot of assumptions and figure things out as I read.” Another student, who also had never read a vampire book, said, “I was going into it blind. I never paid that much attention to Twilight and I didn’t know that much about vampires in general. I had a picture of them in my mind and I thought this book was traditional to what I thought a vampire would be like.”


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Atwater’s vampire world is ultimately about power, but contains elements of identity and transformation. The novel centers on the transformation from human to vampire and the struggle to let go of humanity and accept the vampire world. Most difficult was not the outward transformation but the inward acceptance of changing status. This change was out of Risika’s control, and she was an unwilling participant. Although she attempts to resist, she ultimately has to succumb, “…much like a teenager whose body is being transformed from child to adult,” as one participant put it. The novel begins with the William Blake poem, “The Tyger,” which students felt represented Risika as being caged. One student responded, “I think it has something to do with life being taken away from you. The tiger was captured and put in a zoo, and Risika unwillingly had her life taken from her, so I think it has something to do with that. A caged feeling.” Another student built upon that by saying, “She’s not really sure who she is, and she has to follow the rules to be what she is now and not what she should be. She’s caged in a way that she’s forced to continue living even though she might not want to.” Her personal conception of identity was taken away. Themes of power are rampant with vampires’ social standings influenced by their bloodlines and power manifested in their physical and mental strength. Risika was sired into a strong vampire line and is one of the most powerful vampires in the realm. Although she chooses to isolate herself, she is aware of her social standing. One student reflected, “I thought it was cool that Risika, even though she didn’t really want to be a part of it all, she was so powerful. I mean, she was the most powerful of all and beat that guy in the end. I wish I were that strong and in control of my life.” There are no overt mentions of sex or sexuality. Once student noted, “This book has no romanticism in it. I was looking more for romantic stuff in here because I heard a lot about Twilight, and now I’m thinking vampires are just out to get blood and revenge not, you know, find a romantic partner.” Another student echoed this by saying, “A major distinction I saw in the book was there’s no romance whatsoever, no real underlying sexual tension you can point out.” The only reference to anything remotely sexual was Risika’s choice to change into a midriff-baring gold top before her plan to challenge the rival vampire. A student shared, “The descriptions of her tank top being all clingy just seemed a little out of place for me. It would have felt more appropriate if the details had been in line with the main sexual themes or absence of sexual themes.” No mention of why this change of clothing was made. It hinted

at sex and power but seemed out of place and disconnected from the rest of the book. In the Forests of the Night represents a solid, wellrespected pre-Twilight novel that centers on the world of the vampire. Students noticed, “It tells what the setting is, what vampires are. It was a good introduction of vampires, but it isn’t Twilight. There was no romance, nothing new.” Love is pushed to the background and the focus is on acceptance of change and status.

THE SILVER KISS The Silver Kiss is a coming-of-age story with a standard YA plot. Students observed, “It’s a typical book, girl feels alone, girl meets and saves bad boy, girl learns about herself. Oh yeah, and there’s a vampire. He’s the bad boy.” Sixteen-year-old Zoe is trying to accept the forthcoming loss of her mother. She meets and is drawn to dark and brooding Simon. When she learns he is a vampire, she is attracted to and repelled by him. Many assumptions of typical vampire stereotypes are included with no attempt to alter or explain them. One student realized, “The perception of the vampire is what everyone thinks, they’re immortal, they live forever, they like to drink blood. It’s kind of like In the Forest of the Night. We know what to expect.” Another student noted, “They are dark and seductive and use their powers of seduction to lure their prey. It’s kind of creepy.” The novel’s main theme is the transformation of Zoe from protected child to independent adolescent. She is trying to balance being a strong adult against a child’s need for protection and parental love. Regarding this attempt at

balance, a student noted “It’s about a girl who has to grow up but she doesn’t want to,” while another student observed, “She’s trying to figure out who she is. She has no control.” Zoe also questions her power of choice about who to date. She wonders how her parents would accept a brooding, leather-wearing bad-boy boyfriend, not to mention that he’s a vampire. Students shared, “We like the bad boys. We always like the bad boys. But our parents don’t.” Until Simon, Zoe had not yet been attracted to a boy and was ridiculed for this by her friends. Students continued sharing, “It’s kind of like the pressure we get from our friends. We’re supposed to be dating someone. We’re supposed to be experienced.” Simon is the first boy Zoe is attracted to. He is dangerous, a vampire, a loner, even a murderer, and yet he needs her. Zoe experiences her first kiss and is overwhelmed by her feelings for Simon. A student reflected, “My first kiss, it was sort of like that, but this book was so tame. I felt much more than Zoe did.” No actual discussion of sex is included, but sexual tension is described, including the sexual themes of kissing and feeding and the pull/bond of feeding as being erotic.

It’s all about the stuff we go through as teens – identity,

power, and sex! We want to fit in. We want to find out

how to take control of our

lives. We want to explore sex

The Twilight Series Changes were seen in the Twilight books that pushed the YA vampire genre forward. A student noted, “It’s different from other vampire books, things were differently explained, and it was really cool watching the changes.” In the Twilight series, vampire conventions are not assumed but overly explained, and new conventions are established. Vampires are now sexy, become involved with humans, are desirable as idealized romantic partners, and are, surprisingly, attainable. One student proclaimed “Twilight has brought vampires novels more to the whole romance thing. It kept some of the mysterious part of the vampire alive but it’s easier to read and relate to.” Another student shared, “I think it’s hard to identify with vampires who are night stalkers, cold, very serious. It’s easier to identify with somebody who’s lonely for love and can’t ever connect with another human because they’re different species. There’s something very romantic about that.” They maintain the traditional beauty of prior vampires,

and our budding sexualities. It’s all in Twilight. We read about it, talk about it, and then compare notes.

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but Meyer pushes her descriptions of vampires into objects of perfection. Edward and his family are physically perfect, something almost too good to be true. Students observed, “I think they use the word perfect just about every other page.” Also, vampires do not have to stay out of the sun; instead they choose to avoid it as they, memorably, sparkle in the sunlight. A major change students saw in Twilight was how accessible the story was. They found it relatable and they projected themselves into the ideal world of Edward. One student responded, “It’s just, the normal girl falls in love with this gorgeous guy who can protect her from everything, there’s you know, a fantasy but now it’s real. It’s just something that helps you escape the everyday world, because you can imagine yourself being the average girl.” Even the males were pulled into the fantasy world and wanted to explore relationships and identity within the pages of the book. A student noted, “I’m not a girl or anything, but I think that what makes it more real is all the problems a girl has, about boys. I can see myself and my girlfriends in the books.” Twilight allows adolescents to explore issues of identity, negotiate control over their lives, and delve into their developing sexuality. Much of the series capitalizes on Bella’s transformation from awkward, unselfconfident schoolgirl into first a desirable woman and then a superhuman vampire. In the beginning of the series, Bella sees herself as clumsy and ordinary. She struggles with self-confidence, just as today’s teens often struggle with their own sense of self. One student said, “I can relate to Bella. Sometimes I feel ugly or clumsy, too. I want boys to like me even though I’m not as pretty as some other girls.” Bella can’t believe that perfect Edward could possibly be interested in someone as flawed and human as her. Another student said, “I totally get why this book is such a hit because it’s what we all want or dream about. Girl goes into a new school. She’s a plain Jane average girl, and suddenly all these boys are throwing themselves at her. I get it, everyone wants to live that fantasy.” Another significance of Twilight is that Bella gets the choice over her transformation. Opposed to previous novels in which humans are changed against their will, Bella desires to become a vampire. The vampires in her life are resistant. They repeatedly ask her to think long and hard about her decision, since once made the change will be permanent. But Bella is adamant about her choice. A student noted “She gets to decide her future. I get to decide my future. She wants to be a vampire, be with the boy she loves, be strong and powerful. I want that, too.” Bella also has power to make additional choices. Although many aspects of her life with Edward are controlled, she does have the choice


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to choose between him, Jacob, or other boys at her school, and in turn choose her social standing and where she wants to fit into the world. Bella’s budding sexuality is also significant. As with many adolescents, Bella experiences her first real attraction to a boy, the desire for physical closeness, and the need to always be around him. One student shared “If I had a boyfriend like Edward I’d be spending time with him and that’s all that matters.” Bella experiences the urge to be with him sexually, but she is not yet ready to take the complete step toward the act of sex. Although she does experience her first kiss and some physical closeness, for the most part the Twilight series is chaste and focuses on the emotional romance between Edward and Bella rather than the physical one. They talk about their relationship over and over again, something that teen girls like to do. A student responded “And I think that really draws you in, and I think that’s why this book works. I mean, we love the fantasy of sitting with your boyfriend and talking about your relationship for 50 pages at a time. That’s what we love to do, right?” Teens are not always ready to have sex yet they feel pressured to do so. The Twilight books are different from previous vampire novels because they discuss sex and romantic relationships between two people without the need for sexual contact. One student reflects, “You can be a good girl and fantasize about dating the bad boy without having to date the bad boy. And because Edward is a vampire he’s the ultimate bad boy. I can’t date a vampire in real life, but I can date one in Twilight.” The Twilight series is filled with sexual longing, but it’s safe, and this is part of what makes the books so compelling.

POST-TWILIGHT NOVELS Post-Twilight vampires continue to push the boundaries of vampire mythology developed through the Twilight series. They deal with characters that transform from childhood into adolescence, deal with power and control, and confront budding sexuality, but post-Twilight novels tend to be more complex, descriptive, and challenging to readers’ imaginations. Twilight and post-Twilight novels change vampire conventions in each book or series; authors create a vampire world and establish conventions according to the need of the story. The post-Twilight novels we read were Evernight and Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Evernight In Evernight, Bianca is forced to attend Evernight Academy, a spooky, elite boarding school. Bianca feels like an outsider. When she meets fellow-outsider Lucas she immediately feels a connection. As they get closer, she

realizes urges inside herself that are more than human; she is a vampire. She must learn to control her vampire nature in order to protect Lucas. When the secret is revealed, Bianca must decide who to trust and how to accept her vampire future. One student said “Evernight is like Twilight but more. The book focuses on Bianca’s makeover from geeky girl into strong vampire, but it’s different. Bella wants to become a vampire, Bianca was born one, she just doesn’t know it.” Similar to Bella, she believes she is ugly and gawky, that boys won’t like her, and that she doesn’t fit. But in Evernight she doesn’t fit in because she doesn’t yet know her true nature. Bianca is one of the rare few who is born a vampire-to-be. A student noted, “It’s different than Twilight and the books we read before because Bianca already is a vampire. There’s a crossover between human and vampire.” Most vampires in novels are bitten and transformed, but Bianca was born to two vampire parents and would become a full vampire at the time of her first kill. A student observed, “Vampires in Evernight can have children. That’s new. But the kids are like humans until their first kill. That’s when they stop aging.” Bianca has to learn her place in the world and the balance between childhood and adulthood. She has to figure out who she is. Bianca is discovering her budding sexuality. She has never been intimate before, and although she experiences her first kiss, bite, and longing for a boy, her relationship is never fully consummated. One student responded, “Evernight is a safe place. We can read about a relationship from afar. Lucas isn’t an Edward, but he’s close. I’d date Lucas. He’s sexy, mysterious, and he takes care of Bianca. He’s a bad boy, but a good bad boy.” As her relationship with Lucas grows, Bianca explores her feelings without fully succumbing to her desires. A student explained “Bianca and Lucas kiss, but Bianca is the one in control.” They kiss and talk about sex, but the dangers of having sex prevent them from going all the way. They agree to Bianca’s occasionally biting of Lucas, a sexual and dangerous act, although they limit themselves. Lucas is accepting of Bianca and loves her unconditionally. Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side Similar to Evernight, in Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, Jessica grew up without knowing she was born a vampire. Adopted as an infant by American parents, she is unaware that she is really Antanasia Dragomir, a vampire princess. When Lucius Vladescu, the Romanian exchange student, comes to live with them, she learns of the pact that binds them together – a marriage contract designed to bring two vampire clans together and avert war.

One student shared “I’ve read a lot of vampire books, and in the new ones, a lot of the main characters are already vampires. They just have to learn to control and grow into their powers. Oh, and some of them know they’re vampires, and some of them don’t until they hit puberty.” Jessica grew up in the human world, and it is only when she comes of age that her true background is revealed. Vampire conventions are again played with. Much like Twilight’s vampires, Lucius can go out in sunlight. A student responded “It’s a shame he doesn’t sparkle, but I like that he can go out in the daylight. I’d rather have a boy that can go outside with me.” He can also survive grave injury, possesses great strength, but cannot transform. He can eat food but prefers blood, does not relish the thought of killing humans, and obtains blood in alternate manners. A student noted “Lucius gets his blood from a blood bank. That’s so cool. And Jessica grows up in a vegetarian home.” Another student shared,“The best scene ever is the scene in the steak house. All of those elderly vampire sucking dry raw steaks, and Jessica and her parents grossed out and eating salad.” One of the qualities teens liked about this book was the humor. They felt it was “almost a parody of the seriousness of the Twilight books.” Jessica believes she is a chunky, awkward teen with crazy curls. She doesn’t realize her true beauty since she doesn’t fit the “mold of the American beauty we grow up seeing in magazines and movies.” When she gets ready for prom, Jessica is stunned at her transformation when she wears a fancy dress, has her hair up, and has her makeup carefully done. Her confidence in herself grows when she goes to her ancestral castle in Romania and changes into her mother’s old gown. One student observed “It’s like how when we get a new outfit we can feel really good about ourselves. It’s amazing how much clothes can make a difference in how we see ourselves.” Over the course of the novel Jessica changes from human child to vampire princess, full of confidence and a fierce independent streak that was buried under teen insecurity. Jessica needs to learn the power to become a ruler and find her place in the world. She must choose whether to embrace her vampire birthright or remain human. She learns to believe in herself that she can command and stand up not only for herself but also for her clan. Jessica also confronts her budding sexuality. She feels an attraction to Jake, a popular boy at school, but is thrown off guard by the magnetic pull of dark and brooding Lucius. A student re-iterated, “Again, it’s the bad boys we go for. We know we should go for the good guys, the football players, but we like the bad boys.” There are erotic and sexual overtones throughout the novel, but it is still chaste

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as Lucius gives and pulls back, resistant to consummate anything until they marry for eternity. A student explained “Like Twilight, this book tells us to wait until marriage, to wait until it feels right and there is true love.”

CONCLUSION Overall, the book club students identified different ways that the YA vampire genre is changing and have been significantly altered by the Twilight series. Traditionally, they felt that YA vampire novels assumed a reader’s knowledge of basic, culturally-accepted vampire norms. Human and vampire characters are struggling to find their identities and the power they hold over their lives. A focus of the novels tends to be on transformation. They felt that sex and sexuality was in the background and was a mysterious and dangerous force. The Twilight series, the students discovered, began to change the way we see vampires and the way vampire books were written. They saw changes in the characterizations of vampires, as well as changes in the accessibility of the books. The Twilight books were considerably longer and more substantial than pre-Twilight novels, and contained a much greater depth of description. Vampire conventions were altered to fit the needs of the story. Vampires, Edward in particular, were depicted as desirable and sexy but in an almost-human, attainable manner. The characters were relatable, and the human/ vampire relationship, complete with true love, was a thing to be desired. The teens were enthralled by the Edward/ Bella relationship and the teen girls wanted an Edward of their own. Bella was a relatable teenager who felt awkward and self-conscious, but bloomed through the love of Edward. Bella and Edward love and desire each other, but their relationship was chaste. There was no pressure to go farther than they should. The post-Twilight books continued to follow the changes initiated by the Twilight series. Students saw additional changes to traditional vampire lore, and specifically found changes they felt were closer to modern society and beliefs. For example, students loved the play on the vampires drink


SIGNAL Journal

blood convention. They liked that in Twilight and postTwilight novels authors played on the theme of vegetarianism. In many newer novels, vampires still drink blood but partake in animal blood, drink via humans without needing to drain them, or utilize blood banks. A focus of the novels is on the transition from gawky, unpopular, outsiders into beautiful, strong women. Characters grow from adolescence into the promise of the adult they will become. They gain control over their lives and their futures. Teen characters that become vampires experience the growing desires of their vampire nature, similar to a teen approaching puberty, but they have the ultimate power to resist the sensual closeness of biting another and choose when the time is right, much as a teen does when choosing to have sex. These novels parallel the ideal choices and explorations teens are making during the time of their adolescence. Uniquely, many characters in post-Twilight novels are unknowingly born vampires. The vampire world is hidden to them until they are ready to deal with the emotional and physical changes brought on by puberty that secrets can be revealed. The secret, kept by parents and other adults, parallels the mysteries of adulthood. In some post-Twilight novels, pre-vampire characters are beginning to feel the urges and changes brought about by their vampire genetics, but they must be bitten or bite someone to officially become a true vampire. Knowledge of vampires must be learned, and this imparting of information parallels the dreaded ‘sex talk’ from adults. Post-Twilight novels often depict females as in control. One outcome of chastity or purity of women in the Twilight series is to give women power. They have more equality or can be powerful vampires in their own right. Many can take control over when or if they turn. Ideas of sexuality exist, but in a safer, chaste manner. Erotic overtones remain, but ideas of waiting until marriage are prevalent and something to aspire to as the ideal with an eternal partner. Vampires grow into their physical instincts, often around puberty, yet learn to retain control. They do not casually enter relationships without careful thought and are aware of their danger and power over hu-

mans. There is also an emphasis on morality. Vampires are sympathetic to humans and find it hard to turn them into vampires. Rather than feeling bloodlust, new vampires try to control their instincts and turn to alternate sources of blood in order to keep humans safe. They merge their needs for blood with their caring for humans. These vampires can be kind, loving, and family-oriented who believe in true love. Overall, the Twilight series has influenced vampire characterizations and conventions in the growing YA vampire market. There has been a shift in depictions of identity, power, and sexuality, and newer novels allow teens to explore how to deal with significant new feelings and changes in their lives. Reading allows teens to play with their identities in a safe and controlled manner, and to explore who they want to be in this ever-changing world. For teens, issues of identity, particularly around explorations of power and sex, are at the forefront of their explorations. Today’s YA vampire novels allow teens to do just that. Meyer’s lore has become dominant. Today’s novels focus on love and romance in an innocent and safe environment. .

Melanie D. Koss is an assistant professor in Children’s and Adolescent Literature at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include multiple narrative perspectives in young adult literature, representations of identity and digital technologies in young adult literature, and representations of special needs characters in children’s and young adult literature. She can be reached at

WORKS CITED Atwater-Rhodes, A. (1999-2002). Den of shadows series. New York: Random House. Fantaskey, B. (2009) Jessica’s guide to dating on the dark side. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Gorton, A. (2009). The classic vampire in literature: Origins of vampires in history and the horror genre. Retrieved Jan. 3, 2010 from the_classic_vampire_in_literature Gray, C. (2008). Evernight. New York: HarperCollins. Klause, A. C. (1990). The Silver Kiss. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell. Meyers, S. Twilight. (2005). New York: Little, Brown, and Company. Overstreet, D. W. (2006). Not your mother’s vampire: Vampires in young adult fiction. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Rice, A. (1976). Interview with the vampire. New York: Ballantine Books. Stoker, B. (1897). Dracula. London: Archibald Constable and Company Stone, T. L. (2006). Now and forever: The power of sex in young adult lierature. VOYA. 463-465

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SIGNAL Journal

Re-Viewing Popular Film Adaptations Of Young Adult Literature Using Three Contemporary Literacy Strategies By Kathy Garland


wo of the highest grossing films of 2010 are Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. The previous year yields similar results as Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince (2009) and The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) made top-ten lists. These statistics reveal how popular it has become to create film adaptations of young adult literature. These statistics also suggest that many adolescents view these popular films in social settings. Similarly, adolescents most likely read the young adult novel associated with the film in either independent settings or in an academic context, such as their English language arts class. While it is increasingly commonplace for students to engage formally with YA literature in language arts class, it is not always as common for them to examine the popular film version. The purpose of this article is to provide research-based strategies that English language arts teachers can use to help secondary students analyze popular films that are adapted from young adult novels.

WHY STUDY POPULAR CULTURE? When I taught high-school English, using popular film in the classroom was borderline taboo. However, adolescents’ social uses of media can no longer be ignored. Studies reveal that teenagers’ engagement with popular culture such as film and television increases measurably every five years (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). These studies maintain the idea that popular culture is a pervasive form of media in adolescents’ lives, and therefore, not centralizing popular film is almost unthinkable. Professional literacy organizations list popular culture as one of the varied types of non-print texts that should be integrated in language arts curricula (Interna-

tional Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Reading Council). Leaders of these organizations posit that integrating media, such as popular culture in classroom instruction is a culturally relevant way to support students’ developing literacies with both print and non-print texts (NCTE/IRA Standards). Furthermore, Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts also emphasize the importance for secondary students to formally learn about media. One sub-strand, the Reading Standards for Literature outlines an expectation for students to compare and contrast print and film versions of stories, and yet another component, Media and Technology addresses the importance for students to critically analyze media (Common Core State Standards). Contemporary literacy scholars also advocate for teachers to include lessons about popular film in English language arts classes (Garland, 2010; Golden, 2001; Kist, 2005; Morrell, 2004). For example, Kist (2005) examines a high school ELA teacher’s use of popular film with “at-risk” students, and Morrell’s (2004) research provides pedagogy for using popular film in conjunction with canonical literature. Golden (2001) suggests that ELA teachers “reverse the order: use a film clip to practice the reading and analytical skills that we want our students to have and then turn to the written text” (p. xiv). Elsewhere, I illustrate how high-school students develop close-reading practices when they learn to examine visual images and popular film (Garland, 2010). For this article, I will describe ways that secondary English language arts teachers can use contemporary literacy pedagogy designed for understanding visual images and popular culture. I will also demonstrate how the described strategies can support students’ interpretations of popular film versions of YA literature.

GETTING STARTED Currently, there are many film adaptations of YA literature from which to choose; however, some films could be

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inappropriate for students to examine in school contexts. Therefore, I suggest that teachers first refer to their specific Common Core State Standards, and/or county policy, and then consider professional literacy objectives, time constraints, grade level, and students’ maturity. For example, even though Georgia’s Common Core Standards require students to analyze and evaluate film, all PG-13 movies may not be appropriate for classroom settings. The following questions should be considered prior to using the strategies: •

• •

Does your county have a policy about viewing film (i.e. should all films be PG, should parents sign a permission slip prior to viewing films)? Have you previewed each film that students could view? Will your students view film clips in the classroom, or will they view them at home as an out-of-class assignment? Will each of your students view the same film (whether at home or in school), or will students choose films that interest them?

Beginning with these questions is imperative no matter the students’ age or experience with the film. For example a seventeen-year-old twelfth-grade student may engage with Daniels’ (2009) Precious, a rated R adaptation of Sapphire’s (1996) Push, but a county may deem it inappropriate for teachers to formally assign an examination of the film even as an independent study.

CHOOSING APPROPRIATE CONTEMPORARY LITERACY PEDAGOGY After appropriate goals, objectives and film are selected, I suggest using contemporary literacy pedagogy to teach about this aspect of popular culture. Contemporary literacy pedagogy includes methods for developing students’ visual literacy, media literacy, and critical media literacy (Antsey & Bull, 2006). Visual literacy is the ability to deconstruct visual texts, such as art or photographs; media literacy is the ability to analyze mass media, such as popular film; and critical media literacy is the ability to examine any text and its message and evaluate its usefulness in our lives (Hobbs, 1996). Using one or more of the following strategies has the potential to move students beyond surface-level interpretations for understanding film adaptations of young adult novels.



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Visual thinking strategies (VTS) support students as they interpret art (Housen, 2001). Helping students develop independent interpretations of art might be challenging because sometimes language arts teachers ask questions with pre-determined answers (Nystrand, et al., 1997); however, visual thinking strategies require the teacher to elicit students’ interpretations centered only on the visual image. The following three VTS questions (Housen, 2001, p. 101) can serve as a guide for students as they develop their own interpretations of such images: • What’s going on with this picture? • What do you see that makes you say that? • What more can you find in there? With the first question, the teacher should paraphrase the student’s answer. The second question is intended to provoke evidence for the student’s answer, and the third question helps the student concentrate only on the visual details. During this process, teachers should avoid the urge to judge students’ responses. For example, instead of qualifying an answer with, “That’s right,” teachers should ask students to refer to the image for their evidence. Because one’s interpretation of a book or film often begins with visual representations, visual thinking strategies are also appropriate for interpreting a novel or DVD cover. These strategies can provide students with preliminary ways for understanding an author’s or director’s purpose. Interpreting the two images used for Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2005; 2010) illustrates this point. Remember, visual thinking strategies are about supporting students’ interpretations; therefore, the foci of classroom discussions should remain on the three questions and the visual images. The teacher can also help students by requiring that they refer only to what is visually represented. Even though students may have background knowledge of the novel

or the film, a student could not visually support the answer, “Percy has two people travelling with him” because Percy is the only character in either image. After students have interpreted the images, they can begin generating a list of similarities and differences that can serve as either pre-reading/viewing or pre-writing strategies. Pre-reading/viewing strategies will help students predict the novel’s or film’s plot; pre-writing strategies can support students’ rationale for the differences between the two texts. Conversely, if students have already read the book or viewed the film, they can begin developing a rationale that explains the differences. Teachers can follow-up with questions, such as: (1) What is the author’s/director’s purpose? (2) How do the purposes compare? (3) How do the purposes differ? Visual thinking strategies can provide students with introductory methods for learning to view images in new ways, or these strategies can prepare students to develop and support their own interpretations of visual texts.



Over the Shoulder Point of View A careful examination of a high-school English language arts teacher’s strategies for introducing film vocabulary revealed that it is possible to teach these terms in a single class period (Garland, 2010). The teacher develops PowerPoint slides that include (1) the concept, (2) an example of a popular film’s still shot that illustrates the concept, and (3) the definition for the concept. Figure 3 provides an example:

DEVELOPING STUDENTS’ MEDIA LITERACY BY ANALYZING AND EVALUATING FILM LANGUAGE Media literacy is defined as the “ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in all forms” (Aspen Institute Leadership Conference, 1992). Part of analyzing and evaluating media messages requires learning film language. John Golden (2001) presents a very practical guide for ELA teachers who want to teach students film language. Through step-by-step instructions Golden demonstrates how English language arts teachers can introduce film vocabulary, such as shots and angles. These instructions are provided to help students develop strategies for analyzing and evaluating popular culture texts, such as film. Unlike visual thinking strategies, the teacher must formally introduce students to the following types of shots and angles.



Close - up


Extreme close-up





Bird‘s Eye


Learning film terminology allows students to analyze media by identifying an image’s shot or angle. Subsequently, students can begin to interpret the purpose of the shot or angle by using the definition of the concept. Students should eventually develop the skills to evaluate the reasons why a director would choose the particular shot or angle by using the given definition and the context of the film. Similar to visual thinking strategies, students’ analyses and interpretations should initially only be supported by what is visually represented by the film’s image. Evaluating why the director used the shot or angle, however, does require knowledge of the film’s context. Students’ interpretations might look something like this:

Analytical: The above shot is a close-up. Interpretive: The purpose of the close-up is to direct our attention to Medusa’s head and snakes. Evaluative: Spring/Summer 2011


The director used this close-up of Medusa’s head in order to emphasize Medusa’s death and Percy’s strength. This method for teaching students film language provides them with tools for “reading” popular culture films. Consequently, these strategies also help students to develop analytical, interpretive, and evaluative literacy practices that resemble the ways English language arts teachers expect students to read printed texts (Garland, 2010). Just as ELA teachers help students read authors’ words with purpose, learning film vocabulary can assist students with “reading” directors’ films with purpose. The following table provides sample questions to support students’ analytical, interpretive and evaluative practices:

Table 1. Types of questions for understanding film language.




What type of shot/

What is the pur-

Consider the shot/

angle is this?

pose of this shot/

angle, definition


and the context of the film. Why would the director use this shot/angle?

How do you know

What is empha-

How does using

it is that type of

sized or de-empha- this shot/angle sup-


sized by using this

port the director’s


overall purpose?

Students can and should compare and contrast the director’s purpose with the author’s purpose. Parallels can be drawn between how directors use film language to convey messages and how authors use figurative language to help readers create visual images. The teacher could also lead a discussion that requires students to locate similar scenes in the young adult novel. For example, Riordan’s (2005) written description of Percy’s battle with Medusa is very different from Columbus’s (2010) version. Students could answer the questions located in the table but replace “shot/angle” with figurative language. Depending on time constraints and objectives, the answers from the film and novel can be extended into a formal writing assignment.


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DEVELOPING STUDENTS’ CRITICAL MEDIA LITERACY BY EVALUATING PRODUCT PLACEMENT Critical media literacy is the ability not only to consume media, but also to examine it with the purpose of resisting implicit and explicit messages (Kellner & Share, 2007). One component for helping students resist media messages is to teach them that “media are organized to gain profit and/or power” (Center for Media Literacy, 2010). Kellner and Share (2005) suggest that students have constructed a naïve understanding of media as only to entertain and inform. These scholars add that students possess “little knowledge of the economic structure that supports it” (p. 376); therefore, students’ understanding of media industries must be scaffolded. To scaffold students’ knowledge of media industries, teachers could introduce the concept of product placement. Product placement is when a company offers some type of compensation in order to integrate their product within media, such as a movie scene. Unlike a commercial or print advertisement, product placement is an implicit form of marketing situated within a film’s content. After the teacher introduces product placement, students locate examples from Percy Jackson (2010). Similar to viewing shots and angles, looking specifically for this embedded form of advertising requires students to conduct another type of close reading. Once students locate where products, such as MacBook Air, iPod, and Maserati are inserted, they can compare the product placement scenes to similar novel descriptions. Comparisons might look like the descriptions in Table 2. Table 2. Sample comparison of product placement scenes.

Percy Jackson

Percy Jackson

(Riordan, 2005)

(Columbus, 2010)

Percy uses a glass ball to look at Medusa’s reflection (Chapter 11).

Percy uses an iPod to look at Medusa’s reflection (“Don’t Look!” scene).

Percy Jackson

Percy Jackson

(Riordan, 2005)

(Columbus, 2010)

Percy, Annabeth and Grover arrive at the Lotus Hotel and Casino, and there is no description of a car. In fact, they take a taxicab from Las Vegas to Los Angeles (Chapters 16 & 17).

Percy and his friends admire a Maserati. The friends drive the same Maserati from Las Vegas to Los Angeles (“Going to Vegas!” and “Don’t Eat the Flower” scenes).

This scene is not described in the novel.

Annabeth uses a MacBook Air to video chat with a friend (“Annabeth’s Mom” scene)

At this stage of the lesson, students should answer questions that not only provoke further understanding of product placement, but also connect their new knowledge of how product placement could influence director’s purpose. Thoman and Jolls (2003) suggest asking students the following questions to foster critical media literacy (p. 16): • • • •

Who created this message and why? Who is the targeted audience? How have economic decisions influenced the construction of this message? What reasons might an individual have for being interested in this message?

The teacher can require that students answer these questions for several scenes. For example, the question, “How have economic decisions influenced the construction of this message?” might explain why Columbus revised the Medusa scene to include an iPod as opposed to a glass ball. Likewise, students might also begin to develop a rationale for why the director included a scene where characters video chat using MacBook Air. The answer to these questions could also promote discussions centered on the director’s versus author’s purpose that extends beyond simply entertaining, informing or persuading.


Never has there been a more ideal time for secondary English language arts teachers to formally teach popular film. Examining popular culture is a viable way to include more relevant and engaging methods that support secondary students’ literacy. The strategies described here demonstrate the similar and not so similar decisions that authors and directors make in order to convey messages. Visual literacy can be used to illustrate how interpretations of these decisions begin before opening the novel or viewing the film. Similarly, media literacy education offers students the opportunity to understand how directors use film language to convey their messages; these ways of using language can be likened to the ways that authors use written words to create imagery. Finally, students can develop a deeper understanding of director’s purpose that is inextricably linked to a profit-making industry. Classroom discussions may strengthen students’ understandings of directors’ underlying purposes for revising young adult literature. Used separately or together, each of these strategies provides methodology that secondary students will not only learn from, but also enjoy. Kathy Garland is Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at Georgia College and State University where she prepares preservice teachers in an M.A.T. program and teaches graduatelevel education courses. Dr. Garland’s research and professional development interests include methods for integrating media literacy education with traditional English language arts teaching. She can be reached at

WORKS CITED Antsey, M., & Bull, G. (2000). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Aspen Institute Leadership Conference. (1992). Retrieved from http://www.medialit. org/reading_room/article582html Center for Media Literacy. (2002-2010). Five key questions form foundation for media inquiry: Keywords and guiding questions help build habits of critical thinking. Retrieved from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. Retrieved from ELA%20Standards.pdf Garland, K. “Literacy practices in an English language arts elective: An examination of how students respond to media literacy education.” Ph. D diss. 2010. Golden, J. (2001). Reading in the dark: Using film as a tool in the English classroom. Urbana, IL: NCTE. Hobbs, R. (1996). Expanding the concept of literacy. In Kubey, R. Media literacy in the information age: Current perspectives (pp.163-183). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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Housen, A.C. (2001-2002). Aesthetic thought, critical thinking and transfer. Arts and Learning Research Journal. 18(1): 99-132. Kellner, D., & Share, J. (2005). Toward critical media literacy: Core concepts, debates, organizations, and policy. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 26(3), 369-386. Kist, W. (2005). New literacies in action: Teaching and learning in multiple media. New York, NY: Teachers College Columbia University. Morrell, E. (2004). Linking literacy and popular culture: Finding conetions for lifelong learning. Norwood, MA: Christopher GordoPublishers, Inc. The National Association of Media Literacy Educators Core Principles of Media Education. Retrieved from The National Council of Teachers of English Framework for 21st Century Literacies. Retrieved from NCTE/IRA Standards for the English Language Arts. Retrieved from http:/ Nystrand, M., Gamoran, A., Kachur, R., & Prendergrast, C. (1997). Opening dialogue: Understanding the dynamics of language and learning in the English classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Rideout, V.J., Foehr, U.G., & Roberts, D.F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-18 year-olds. California: Henry J. Kaiser FamilyFoundation. Riordan, R. (2005). Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The lightning thief. New York: Disney. Sapphire. (1996). Push. United States: Vintage. Thoman, E. & Jolls, T. (2003). Literacy for the 21st century: An overview and orientation guide to media literacy education.

LIST OF POPULAR CULTURE REFERENCES Bowers, D. (Director). (2011). Diary of a wimpy kid 2: Rodrick rules. [Motion picture]. United States: Fox 2000 Pictures.Daniels, L., Winfrey, O., Heller, T., & Perry, T. (Producers), & Daniels, L. Director. (2009). Precious. [Motion picture]. United States: Lionsgate. Di Novi, D. & Greenspan, A. (Producers), & Allen, E. (Director). (2010). Ramona and Beezus. [Motion picture]. United States: Fox 2000 Pictures. Godfrey, W. & Rosenfelt, K. (Producers), & Slade, D. (Director). (2010). The twilight saga: Eclipse [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment. Heyman, D. & Barron, D. (Producers), & Yates, D. (Director). (2009). Harry Potter and the half-blood prince. [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: Warner Brothers Pictures.Heyman, D., Barron, D. & Rowling, J.K. (Producers), & Yates, D. (Director). (2010).


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Harry Potter and the deathly hallows. [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: Warner Brothers Pictures. Johnson, M., Adamson, A., & Steuer, P. (Producers), & Apted, M. (Directors). (2010). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [Motion picture]. United Kingdom: 20th Century Fox.Morgan, M. & Godfrey, W. (Producers), & Weitz, C. (Director). (2009). The Twilight Saga: New Moon. [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES The Internet Movie Database ( com) is a great resource for locating past, present and future film images. The following website Take-a-Screenshot-in-Microsoft-Windows provides directions for creating film still-shots. Once the stillshots are saved, they can be easily inserted into a Power Point or Prezi presentation.

Fusing Fantasy Film and Traditional Adolescent Texts to Support Critical Literacy:

The Harry Potter Series and The Giver By Amber M. Simmons


he question of adding fantasy literature to the middle and high school curriculum is commonly met with scoffs and looks of disapproval from administrators, parents, and many teachers. Students need to read “real” literature they say—find magic in the words of the greats; however, “… few [students] would claim to feel genuinely at home in all the large worlds of our great writers” (Sale, 1961, p. 216). Therefore, the assumption is that teaching the likes of Lewis, Tolkien, Carroll, Pullman, Black and DiTerlizzi, Funke, or Rowling would cause the austere, canonical authors to roll over in their graves (and they are all quite dead, I assure you). What needs to be considered, before critics stick their noses up at these texts and banish the authors to the metaphorical dungeon of the canonical castle, is that students enjoy fantasy literature. And despite

that what they learn or gain from these films is meaningful and not just entertaining. Understandably, many teachers are hesitant to include any film in their classrooms let alone fantasy film. Golden (2007) pointed out that teachers do not show the film versions of novels because they want them to love the book, and many teachers feel guilty when showing the film version of a book because it seems like a “reward” for reading when reading was the reward. Furthermore, many teachers think that adding adolescent fantasy film to the classroom would require reading the novel of that film, adding more material to an already over-crowded curriculum. However, incorporating fantasy film into the curriculum does not have to involve revamping one’s reading list. With the multimillion dollar film productions of popular fantasy literature,

“Sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said” (Lewis, 1966, p. 35)

the fact that the negative connotations associated with fantasy have been successfully challenged by many literary critics, fantasy is still “…dismissed as escapist fluff” (Thomas, 2003, p. 60). However, this negative attitude has not dampened the excitement generated by fantasy literature. The filming industry’s enthusiastic acceptance of these texts has provided another medium that has assisted in spreading the fantasy phenomenon throughout popular culture. The visual stimulation provided by these films provides an opportunity for learning in the classroom; the magic does not have to stay in the theatre. I agree with Muller (2006) that film cannot replace the study of literature, but it “has the potential to bridge students’ inherent interest in multimedia with essential, active, critical thinking skills that are at the heart of the English classroom” (p. 38). By embracing and recognizing fantasy films as valued texts, we are acknowledging the interests of our children and stating

teachers can include these pleasurable young adult texts in their classroom to reinforce the critical themes in the traditional adolescent texts that are already being taught. Therefore, there is no need to feel guilty because students will not be just “watching” a movie replica of the novel they are reading. Instead, they will be “reading” (Muller, 2006) a film that appears to be unrelated to the text being studied when, in fact, it is actually thematically similar. In addition, as Golden (2006) stated, “looking for the literary elements in film helps students understand these terms and improves their analytical abilities with print texts” (p. 25). While enhancing students’ understanding of literary terms and improving their analytical abilities is one benefit of incorporating fantasy film in the classroom, I propose that the Hollywood version of such popular fantasy literature can also support critical literacy. Undoubtedly, the worlds created by fantasy authors are not all fun and games with frolicking faeries and wizards with

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pointy hats. These fictional worlds have their own dangers, their own social hierarchies and dominating discourses that subject and dehumanize those who are not a part of it. Therefore, using the film version of adolescent fantasy literature provides a unique opportunity to teach students how to critically read film as well as literature, promoting critical literacy and encouraging students to question harmful power structures, inequalities and injustice, issues that are also apparent in more traditional adolescent literature. Focusing on the film productions based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (Heyman, & Columbus, 2001; Heyman, & Columbus, 2003; Heyman, Columbus, Radcliffe, & Cuaron, 2004; Heyman, & Newell, 2005; Heyman, Barron, & Yates, 2007; Heyman, Barrow, & Yates 2009), I will show that adolescent fantasy films can serve as student-valued texts that will motivate students to tackle complicated issues, such as social injustice through the examination of racial conflict and gender inequalities that are found in the generally accepted texts such as The Giver (Lowry, 1993), arguably a fantasy novel in its own right. By teaching this adolescent novel with the use of fantasy film clips instead of just showing the movie of the book, teachers can use films that students esteem in the classroom without a drastic change to their reading curriculum.

THEORETICAL CONTEXT Critical theory recognizes that power is unequally distributed and, therefore, privileges some groups over others. By examining such issues of power, inequality and oppression, critical theorists hope to work towards a free and just society. A major critical contributor, Habermas (1970, 1971, 1974, 1989), theorized that people are needlessly subjugated by dominant cultural ideologies. Ideology is the culmination of social practices that are widely accepted as normal and natural; thereby, their validity is not questioned. As supported by McLaren (2009), critical theorists desire to create oppositional ideologies, which challenge the dominant ideology and destroy current stereotypes. Consequently, critical inquiry “keeps the spotlight on power relationships within society as to expose the forces of hegemony and injustice” (Crotty, 1998, p. 157). By focusing on emancipation and empowerment, critical theorists use dialogue and analysis to support the questioning of dominant cultures and encourage social action (Darder, Baltodano, & Torres, 2009). Keeping this in mind, fantasy films, texts that are prevalent in adolescent culture, can aid in assisting students to question the negative function of ideology that plays a role in their understanding of themselves, the world, and the text. The characters in traditional adolescent literature and


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fantasy films create an opportunity to incorporate critical literacy in the classroom and invites students to participate in social justice initiatives. Relating critical literacy to the classroom, Jones (2006) described critical literacy as a way for students to use their experiences with the world to critique the ideologies supported by the dominant culture and encourage conversations that question the presumed realities of society. Fantasy serves as a means to introduce students to the social systems “in which both children and adults function” (Chappell, 2008, p. 292). Not only can fantasy films point out ideologies and hegemonic hierarchies, they also provide students with role models who have a sense of agency to correct the injustices they observe. Therefore, the portrayal of society and individual characters in fantasy film can be paralleled with traditional texts in order to give students a medium from popular culture to assist in motivating students to participate in critical literacy.

SUPPORTING CRITICAL LITERACY IN ADOLESCENT NOVELS THROUGH SUPPLEMENTARY FANTASY FILMS Fantasy films provide a non-threatening environment to examine social inequities caused by racial, sexual, and class discrimination. Because the worlds in which these stories take place do not exist, it makes it easier for students to openly criticize societal flaws and injustices than if they were to begin by closely inspecting their own social structure. Students sometimes baulk at addressing such topics. This is understandable, as many middle class students desire to remain blind to issues of race, gender and class because they dislike viewing themselves as “oppressors,” and identifying themselves as anything but “an individual” makes them uncomfortable. Many will insist on the reality of the charming yet naïve notion that “we are all equal.” It is hard for students to accept the fact that they may play a role, knowingly or unknowingly, in the perpetuation of inequality, and it must be approached with sensitivity or risk the possibility that they will shut down faster than you can say expelliarmus! and refuse to discuss social issues all together. However, by first recognizing the ideological and hegemonic structures in fantasy film, students are more likely to accept the fact that they exist in our own world because fiction mirrors “cultural discourses and story lines of our own times and of times past” (Cherland, 2009, 275). Therefore, pointing out inequalities in the movies based off the works of Rowling can serve as a bridge to identifying the same tensions in the novel being studied and within their own community. Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993) is a fantastic example of a traditional adolescent novel that contains opportunities to discuss critical literacy with the

help of fantasy films. Students’ previous knowledge of the Harry Potter series (Rowling, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007) can assist them in recognizing critical themes that run throughout The Giver.

INJUSTICE AND ACTION To begin, the society of Sameness is an oppressive civilization that aims to eliminate all personal freedoms. In order to portray this desire for uniformity, teachers can use clips from Dolores Umbridge’s usurpation of Hogwarts in the film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Heyman, & Barron, 2007). In this clip, students can analyze the lack of individual freedom allowed to students as Umbridge has Mr. Filch nail a multitude of rules to the wall and punishes rule breakers unmercifully, much like Sameness’s punishment for the pilot. Furthermore, as shown by the Giver’s and the Elders’ dwellings and lifestyle, those considered to be elite society openly disregard the rules that restrict the rest of the population. Dolores Umbridge considers herself elite and uses illegal curses to obtain what she wants. A clip showing Umbridge about to use the cruciatus curse in order to torture information out of Harry can illustrate this abuse of power. After watching these clips, students can discuss the similar desires of Umbridge and the society of Sameness, bringing attention to the unequal distribution of power. Furthermore, in opposition to such absolute control over his existence, Jonas begins to break society’s laws in order to obtain self-awareness and autonomy over his life. For example, he stops taking the pills that eliminate sexual desire so that he can feel the sensation of longing. Furthermore, Jonas breaks the rules by running away in order to save the lives of those who are no longer valued by society: the fragile elderly and the undesired, innocent newchildren. By running away, he forces society to remember death, loss, love and individuality, shattering the perceived normality of Sameness. Jonas serves as a role model who points out ideological flaws in his community and fights against its hegemonic intentions through social justice. Like Jonas, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Heyman, & Barron, 2007), Harry and his friends take action into their own hands through the creation of Dumbledore’s Army, breaking a multitude of restrictions. Harry and his friends learn helpful spells outside of class, promoting students “to become their own teachers” (Dickinson, 2006, p. 240) so that they can “seek out and obtain power that their society wishes to deny them…and become architects of their own agency” (Chappell, 2008, p. 285). After watching clips of the exploits of Dumbledore’s Army, students can compare Hogwarts students’ fight against injustice to that

of Jonas’s. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix can show how by creating this sense of agency in our students, we are not only revealing the injustices and inequalities in the world, but we are also providing the tools for students to empower themselves to advocate for change.

RACISM AND CLASSISM When thinking of The Giver, one would tend to say that it is not a novel about racial tension. However, this does not mean that racial ideology is not present; comments on color and ethnicity are apparent when the book is read through a critical lens. For example, the society in The Giver is normally categorized as White. When discussing this with her class, Harris (1999) revealed that the people of color in her class were disturbed that the perfect society depicted in this book is colorless. She pointed out that because of this, “readers can interpret diversity as symbolic of discord, poverty, and disease” (p. 150), all of which are negative memories contained in the Giver. Stewart (2007) agreed, “the Elders of the community—those who establish and enforce the rules—have dispensed with racial diversity. Rather than embrace racial difference, they erase it and choose whiteness, or at least lightness, as their universal standard” (p.24). In addition, individuals with features that do not conform to the norm, such as Fiona’s red hair and Gabriel’s blue eyes, are considered “funny” (Lowry, 1993, p. 20) and weird, causing them to be seen differently by society. In order to help students recognize these complex implications about racial discrimination and draw attention to the sometimes less obvious classism, clips from Rowling’s Harry Potter series can draw attention to the race and class issues in The Giver through the more obvious racial discrimination in the Harry Potter films. Like Du Bois’s (1903) comment that the color-line is the major problem of the twentieth century, Rowling reinforced this belief by creating a world where “race as much as class is determinative” (MacNeil, 2002, p. 553) of one’s acceptance and treatment in the world. Blood and the purity of one’s blood in the wizarding world is the cause of the Great War in the Harry Potter series. Like Hitler in WWII, Voldemort, “is motivated by the hegemonic belief in the righteousness of ‘pure blood’’’ (Chappell, 2008, p. 284). In Harry’s world, one’s blood or race determines one’s worth, and Voldemort’s goal is to eliminate all those who are not of pure blood. This is obvious in clips throughout the entire series of film; however, the best example of oppression that is not a part of Voldemort’s evil plan for genocide can be viewed in a clip from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Heyman, 2005).

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Pick a Pull quote to go here please to fill in this space and complete this page.

Perhaps the most blatant social inequity caused by race in the Harry Potter series is the plight of the house elves. Hermione brings it to the attention of her friends that house elves like their friend Dobby work day in and day out like slaves, not getting any pay, vacation, or sick leave. Taking social action, Hermione creates the organization S.P.E.W., the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, in order to bring the oppression of the house elves to the attention of Hogwarts’ students. However, like the old plantation owners of the South, Ron and the rest of the wizarding world convince themselves that the house elves enjoy cooking and cleaning for wizards and that they do not desire freedom and would not know what to do with it if they had it. This reaction to injustice correlates to the residents of Sameness’ role in the perpetuation of their own suppression and is exemplified through Jonas’ disbelief when the suggestion is first made that people could think and make decisions for themselves. Latham (2002) pointed out that in The Giver, “adults are no different from the children in that they blindly accept the roles prescribed them” (p. 9). If one chooses not to see the injustice, whether they are the oppressed or the oppressor, they do not see, and those at the top of the social hierarchy go to great lengths to hide their power over society so that people remain blind. Therefore, as Harry and his friends decide to fight the persecution of minority races, they must realize that beliefs and rules of “wizarding society are in fact influenced by those in power” (Chappell, 2008, p. 282), a fact that has proved true in our world time and time again. After viewing clips from the Harry Potter series that show the subjugation of less dominant races, students can participate in an activity to further investigate the depth of inequality within The Giver and Harry Potter, giving instructors a teachable moment on the power of ideology and hegemony. One protocol that would be affective for students would be rotating interviews. Students sit in two rows of chairs face to face with one another. Beginning with Harry Potter, the teacher will dictate each student’s race,


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blood type, or breed: half-blood, “mud”-blood, house elf, Centaur, full blood, giant, half-breed, mermaid/man, pixie, etc. The teacher will ask students to answer the questions that their peers ask from the point of view of that race or breed. Questions could be: How long do you work? Where do you work? Who represents you in the ministry? and so on, asking about the quality of their lives and the treatment they receive from others. Teachers will give students about five minutes to interview their partner and then have students rotate, while asking students to keep a record of the different answers given by each breed. During debriefing, students should discuss the differences in the responses from each race and create a hierarchy tower that demonstrates who was treated best and had the most comfortable life. Some questions to ask students: How does the wizarding world keeps this structure in existence? How is it perpetuated? How are the house elves and other less dominant races contributing to their own oppression? Once students recognize that social hierarchies and hegemony exists in the wizarding world, they will be more capable of drawing parallels to the society in The Giver. Building off the discussion on Harry Potter, teachers can relate the activity to The Giver by giving each student a different job in the society of Sameness. Since jobs determine the class and worth of each citizen, students should consider how their job might affect how they are valued in society as well as questions regarding the continuation of hegemony through the Ceremony of Twelves.

CONFRONTING ISSUES OF GENDER INEQUALITY Fantasy film not only provides the opportunity to address the injustices of racial discrimination, but it also allows for dialogue about gender inequalities. Melling (2007) made broader generalizations by stating that most fantasy novels do not have many strong, female characters, and women are subjects in male-dominated worlds and are viewed as “secondary citizens” (p. 124). Consequently, female characters in fantasy films, or arguably any film, fall into stereotypes. Whether having sexual power or a shrewish demeanor, women in fantasy are deemed weaker than their male counterparts. Deutsch (2000) pointed out that “male dominance and female subservience” (p.39) are supported by plot, action, and appearance. The role of woman as a sexual danger and strict disciplinarian is repeated in Lowry and Rowling’s female characters. The sexual power women have over men is often deemed as something to be wary of; therefore, females who hold this power are often portrayed as cunning, sly, untrustworthy, and, well, evil. In most cases, as Press & Liebes-Plesner

(2004) stated, sexuality is frequently “highlighted as a major part of their character and identity” (p.16). For example, the Veela in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Heyman, 2005) are seen as dangerous to the boys of Hogwarts as they have the ability to leave the male sex senseless and weak to their desires. Cherland (2009) pointed out that lovers of literature appreciate the allusion to the Sirens of Greek mythology; however, the reference serves a more sinister purpose. The Veela help foster a negative perception of women because they validate the belief that any power that women hold over men is hazardous and should be avoided. The clip of the Veela’s entrance into Hogwarts and the affect it has on the boys can be associated with Fiona’s sexual power over Jonas. Jonas’ first erotic dream is about Fiona; however, the dream, and therefore Fiona, is considered dangerous. A daily pill eliminates Fiona’s power over Jonas. On the other hand, Hermione Granger, the smart and rule-abiding student, is left without sexual power. With her defining feature being her bushy hair, Hermione is pictured as a nagging know-it-all who is constantly worrying. While this image softens as the series progresses, her early shrew-like behavior in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Heyman, 2001) makes the male characters look rational in comparison. Cherland (2009) argues that next to Hermione, “Harry appears cool, calm, and capable of acting independently” (p. 6). Furthermore, Jonas’ mom holds a prominent position in the Department of Justice and spends her days prosecuting offenders of the law. While Lowry might have been trying to defy gender stereotypes by making Jonas’ father a Nurturer and his mom a prominent official, Lowry replaces one stereotype for another. Like Hermione in The Sorcerer’s Stone, Jonas’ mom is portrayed as disciplinarian who points out and punishes the errors and flaws of others. In addition, Jonas’ sister also shows indications that she will be like her mother. When sharing her feelings at the dinner table, Lily states, “‘I felt very angry this afternoon’… my childcare group was in the play area, and we had a visiting group of sevens, and they didn’t obey the rules at all’” (Lowry, 1993, p. 5). This desire for order leads all three females, Hermione, Jonas’ mother, and Lily to extreme displays of emotion. Hermione shows obvious distress, Jonas’ mother cries, and Lily fumes while the males can express their feelings evenly and logically, indicating that women cannot rationally handle the stresses of everyday life. Therefore, addressing the perception of woman as sexual dominatrix or shrew can spark a discussion on female stereotypes, not to mention the many double standards to which women and girls are held.

In order to foster an understanding of gender’s power over one’s daily actions, an effective writing prompt for students would be “how would my life change if I woke up tomorrow and I was the opposite sex?” Focusing on behaviors that are expected and accepted from each gender, students can dialogue about the perceived notions of sexuality and how they are cultivated by society from the very moment the nurse wraps an infant in a blue or pink blanket.

FINAL THOUGHTS The opportunities that fantasy films provide for critical literacy and self-exploration are numerous. I have only begun to scratch the surface of the many complicated social constructs created by the film versions of Rowling’s novels that can be paired with traditional adolescent novels. By asking students to “read” (Muller, 2006) beyond the fascinating plot, stunts, and graphics in the movies, we create an opportunity to foster empathy and encourage action in regards to the many injustices of our world. During this trying and confusing time in their development, it is difficult for adolescents to find the answers they seek about themselves and the world around them, and the depth to which fantasy texts ask students to evaluate themselves and society alone qualifies the film versions of such novels for classroom use. Additionally, fantasy films’ acceptance into popular culture validates their influence on the lives of our students; therefore, as Cox (1990) argued, it at least deserves a space in the curriculum next to the classics. Why should we not take advantage of such an influence? However, if teachers need further encouragement to include magic in their instruction, the social issues addressed in these enchanted worlds are far from being “at odds with rational truth” (Thomas, 2003, p.63). Fantasy is not an escape from our world; in fact, it brings us to a better understanding of it. And when we find ourselves in a world with so much

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hate and fear, when we hear a boy being taunted for his sexual orientation or a racial slur meant to humiliate and lessen another human being, we should rejoice in the fact that we are training heroes to fight against the Voldemorts and Elders of this world. Amber M. Simmons is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in language and literacy education with a focus on English Education at The University of Georgia. Her research interests include critical literacy, dialogism, critical discourse analysis, and fantasy literature for classroom use. She can be reached at

WORKS CITED Chappell, D. (2008). Sneaking out after dark: Resistance, agency, and the Postmodern child in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Children’s Literature in Education, 39, 281-293. Cherland, M. (2009). Harry’s girls: Harry Potter and the discourse of gender. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(4), 273-282. Cox, M. (1990). Engendering critical literacy through science fiction and fantasy. English Journal, 79(3) 35-38. Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage. Darder, A., Baltodano, M.P., & Torres, R.D. (2009). Critical pedagogy: An introduction. In Darder, A., Baltodano, M.P., & Torres, R.D. (Eds.) The critical pedagogy reader. (pp. 1-20). New York, NY: Routledge. Deutsch, J. (2000). As the world ends: traditional gender roles in apocalyptic science fiction film of late 1990s. In Peter Lang (Ed.) Gender in film and media. (pp. 39-45). Frankfurt: EuropaischerVerland derWissenschaften. Dickinson, R. (2006). Harry Potter pedagogy: What we learn about teaching and learning from J. K. Rowling. Clearing House, 79(6), 240-244. Du Bois, W.E.B. (1903). The souls of black folk. Chicago: A.C. McLurg& Co. Golden, J. (2007). Literature into film (and back again): Another look at an old dog. English Journal, 97(1), 24-30. Habermas, J. (1970). Toward a rational society. Boston: Beacon Press. Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interests. Boston: Beacon Press. Habermas, J. (1974). Theory and practice. Boston: Beacon Press. Habermas, J. (1989). On the logic of social sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Harris, V. J. (1999). Applying critical theories to children’s literature. Theory into Practice, 38(3), 147-154. Heyman, D. (Producer), & Columbus, C. (Director). (2001). Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone [Motion picture]. England: Warner Bros. Pictures. Heyman, D. (Producer), & Columbus, C. (Director). (2002). Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets [Motion picture]. England: Warner Bros. Pictures. Heyman, D., Columbus, C., Radcliffe, M. (Producers), & Cuaron, A. (Director). (2004). Harry Potter and the prisoner of azkaban [Motion picture]. England: Warner Bros. Pictures.


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Heyman, D. (Producer), & Newell, M. (Director). (2007). Harry Potter and the goblet of fire [Motion picture]. England: Warner Bros. Pictures. Heyman, D., Barron, D. (Producers), & Yates, D. (Director). (2009). Harry Potter and the goblet of fire [Motion picture]. England: Warner Bros. Pictures. Jones, S. (2006). Girls, social class and literacy: What teachers can do to make a difference. Portsmouth, NH: Heinmann. Latham, D. (2002). Childhood under siege: Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars and The Giver. The lion and the unicorn, 26(1), 1-15. Lewis, C.S. (1966) Sometimes fairy stories may say best what’s to be said. In Walter Hooper (Ed.) Of other worlds: Essays and stories (pp. 35-38). London: GeofferyBles. Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. New York: Random House. MacNeil, W.P. (2002). ‘Kidlit’ as ‘Law-and-Lit’: Harry Potter and the scales of justice. Law and Literature, 14(4), 545-564. McLaren, P. (2009). Critical pedagogy: A look at major concepts. . In Darder, A., Baltodano, M.P., & Torres, R.D. (Eds.) The critical pedagogy reader. (pp. 61-83). New York, NY: Routledge. Melling, O.R. (2007). Tempest in the British tea cup: Philip Pullman vs. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien. In S.Westerfield (Ed.) The world of the golden compass (pp. 121-129). Benbella Books Inc. Muller, V. (2006). Film as film: Using movies to help students visualize literary theory. The English Journal, 95(3), 32-38. Press, A., & Liebes-Plesner, T. (2004). Feminism in Hollywood: Why the backlash? Media Report to Women, 32(1), 14-21. Rowling, J.K. (1997). Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone. London: Bloombury. Rowling, J.K. (1998). Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets. London: Bloombury. Rowling, J.K. (1999). Harry Potter and the prisoner of azkaban. London: Bloombury. Rowling, J.K. (2000). Harry Potter and the goblet of fire. London: Bloombury. Rowling, J.K. (2003). Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix. London: Bloombury. Rowling, J.K. (2005). Harry Potter and the half-blood prince. London: Bloombury. Rowling, J.K. (2007). Harry Potter and the deathly hallows. London: Bloombury. Sale, R. (1964). “ England’s Parnassus: C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and J. R. R. Tolkien.” The Hudson Review, 17(2), pp. 203-225. Stewart, S.L. (2007). A return to normal: Lois Lowry’s The giver. The lion and the unicorn, 31(1), 21-25. Thomas, M. (2003). Teaching fantasy: Overcoming the stigma and fluff. English Journal, 92(5), 60-64.

Poverty through the Lens of the Make Lemonade Trilogy By Crag Hill



In 2009 the United States Census Bureau reported one in five residents under 18—14,000,000 children--lived below the official poverty line of $22,050 (for a family of four). Utilizing a set of annual income levels, the Census Bureau estimates the point below which a household of a given size lacks the cash income sufficient enough to meet minimal food and other basic needs. Access to government services such as food stamps, free and reduced lunch, and public housing are contingent upon this highly politicized definition. Shannon (1998) argues progressives believe systemic inequities are a major cause of poverty. To solve poverty necessitates changing the ways our economic system distributes income, education, and housing. Conservatives claim viewing the causes of poverty as systemic shifts responsibility for poverty from individuals to the government. Government policies designed to address the imbalance of economic opportunities, conservatives insist, create disincentives for individuals to work and become responsible citizens. Mulvihill and Swaminathan (2006) write such cultural theories of poverty “support the stance that poverty is the result of poor life choices and an inability to be responsible. The cause of poverty is, therefore, lack of moral character, and the way out of poverty would be education that is aimed at improving moral character” (p. 100). Payne (1996/2005) and Payne and Krabill (2002) identify the incapacity of the individual or family to play by the hidden rules of the middle class, including speaking in the formal register, to live by middle-class norms and values operative in most businesses and schools, as the roots of generational poverty. Ignorance of these hidden rules, along with emotional instability and the lack of “mental skills, spiritual guidance, physical health and mobility, support systems, [and] role models” (p. 7), characterizes those mired in poverty. To move from poverty to the middle class, Payne contends, it is critical lower class students be taught these class rules.

Bomer, Dworin, May & Semingson (2008) argue Payne’s work has become highly sought after for professional development—her workbook A Framework for Understanding Poverty has been used by districts in 38 states in workshops for teachers and administrators—because Payne’s characterizations of the poor “permit educators to believe that they have some influence on the students’ future poverty status” (p. 2511). Dworin & Bomer (2008) state that for Payne, poverty becomes “a behavior, an attitude, a culture, or a personal deficiency, rather than the structuring and maintenance of privilege. The role of education, then, becomes ‘fixing’ the poor people’s children” (p. 105). In Payne’s (1996, 2005) program, teachers play a vital role in helping the poor change their way of life since “many individuals stay in poverty because they don’t know there is a choice—and if they do know that, have no one to teach them hidden rules or provide resources” (p. 62). Bomer et. al (2008) insist Payne “never considers the alternative, that social, economic and political structures—not their own behaviors and attitude—have provided barriers to success in schools for poor children” (p. 2509). Poor students compared with their wealthier peers are more likely to attend schools with less funding, lower teacher salaries, less access to computers, larger class sizes, higher student-to-teacher ratios, a skills-based curriculum, fewer experienced teachers, and fewer teachers who are certified in their subject areas (Barton, 2004; Carey, 2005; DudleyMarling, 2007; Gorski, 2005, 2006, 2008; Karoly, 2001; Kozol, 1992, 2005; National Center for Education Statistics, 2004, 2010). Systemic factors therefore cannot be ignored.

THE NECESSITY OF UNPACKING STEREOTYPES Young adult literature is frequently used as a pedagogical tool to breakdown stereotypes, helping readers discover they have more in common with their peers than differences. Yet like Payne’s program, many young adult novels perpetuate stereotypes about class, essentializing the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy. Young adult novels, too, as narratives of hope, champion how individuals can

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succeed through their own agency, reiterating the Horatio Alger myth. While examples of men and women who attain the American Dream through heroic effort exist, research suggests effort alone is rarely sufficient to climb out of the circumstances some people are born into. But dozens of young adult novels exhort young readers to hang in there, work hard, and material rewards will duly follow. Virginia Euwer Wolff’s Make Lemonade trilogy espouses just such a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps ethos, especially the first novel, entrenching the belief that individuals bear full responsibility for their economic situation. Teachers should, therefore, be cautious of how they use these novels in the classroom. Unless explicit classroom instruction is used in unpacking the depictions of poverty, using Make Lemonade in the classroom can do more harm than good. I also urge that the trilogy to be read as a whole and carefully examined in class. If read with close attention to how stereotypes about poverty are reinforced or resisted, the Make Lemonade trilogy could be an effective counterweight to Payne’s framework. As the series progresses, Wolff begins to depict a more complex view of poverty, her characters requiring much more than personal exertion to ensure success in their lives.

MAKE LEMONADE: REINFORCING & RESISTING STEREOTYPES ABOUT POVERTY In the first novel Make Lemonade (1993), LaVaughn and her inner city peers are besieged. Before she enters high school, six of her elementary school classmates have died violently and her father has been murdered. One of her best friends’ parents is divorced, the father of another in and out of rehab. Windows barred, her high school uses a metal detector to scan students for weapons. School funding is inequitable; only college prep science classes are supplied with working microscopes. Covering LaVaughn’s freshman year, Make Lemonade reinforces many of the prevalent assumptions about poverty propagated by Payne: poor people, emotionally immature, are prone to substance abuse and are subject to violence and crime. Single parents do not discipline their children and set low or no expectations for them in school. Functionally illiterate, poor adults distrust authority—teachers, police officers, lawyers, social workers—and do not respect property, trashing their low-cost housing. From the outset, Make Lemonade illustrates that poor people cannot maintain an orderly, healthy household. LaVaughn, the narrator, is repulsed by the disorder of Jolly’s household when she visits to interview for a babysitting job. Jolly’s apartment has three locks, a grungy build-up in the


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kitchen that attracts cockroaches, toothpaste smeared on the bathroom mirror, and she suspects Jolly’s two children are “leaking liquids everywhere” (p. 7). Jolly does not have the money to buy diapers, soap, or even toilet paper, and she cannot afford the kinds of vegetables that would provide her children with necessary vitamins. Exhausted by her menial factory job, Jolly struggles to be an adequate parent, reinforcing the stereotype that parents in poverty lack authority. Filthy, poorly clothed, her two children are rarely disciplined. In a role reversal, the younger LaVaughn, living in a clean home with a loving mother for a model, assumes many of the parenting duties including bathing the children, reading to them, toilet training two-year-old Jeremy, buying him new shoes, and showing him how to make his bed. Yet LaVaughn eventually realizes no one has told Jolly how to be a parent. “It’s your folks and your teachers and your girlfriends and your coach if you have a sport” (p. 122) who tell you; such people absent from Jolly’s life. Make Lemonade exacerbates the stereotype that poor people are prone to violence and substance abuse. As a runaway at 12, Jolly lived in boxes under a freeway overpass, where, under the influence of drugs, she became pregnant. Jolly is twice the victim of violence in the novel, sexually assaulted by her boss and bloodied by one of the boys she lived with on the streets. The night Jolly returns home bleeding, LaVaughn’s mother chides her: “You need to take hold girl. That’s what you need” (p. 35). Wary of her daughter getting involved in Jolly’s life, LaVaughn’s mother tells her, “Some people make a bad bed. They just have to lie in it” (p. 37). She fears if LaVaughn works with the likes of Jolly, Jolly’s lack of values will rub off and compromise LaVaughn’s goals for a better life and put her at risk for personal harm. In judging Jolly, her mother bolsters Payne’s (1996, 2005) belief that cultivation of emotional maturity is of utmost importance. As Payne puts it, successful individuals are “able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior. This is an internal resource and shows itself through stamina, perseverance, and choices” (p. 7). The novel, however, problematizes the assumption that poor people choose to remain in poverty. Jolly, a single mother without a high school diploma, has kept her family intact. For adults to be good workers and parents, though, flexibility in work schedules and paid time off to visit with a child’s teacher or to take care of a sick child are a necessity (Cauthen & Fass, 2010). Jolly is fortunate she has LaVaughn who continues to babysit even when she is not paying her, and who later works with Jolly through the school as a Home Care Helper. But when Jeremy contracts chickenpox, Jolly’s

grades go down because she cannot attend class. If either of her children became seriously ill requiring extensive care, Jolly does not have the health coverage for such costs. The deficit model of poverty does not take into consideration that low-income parents like Jolly do not have the same basic options as their middle class counterparts, and such dearth of choices makes it difficult to rise out of poverty. Make Lemonade also pushes back at the assumption that parents in poverty do not get involved in their children’s education. Because LaVaughn’s mother does not have more than a minimal education—no one in their building has gone to college—she heightens the risk factors to her daughter’s academic achievement. She is indeed absent much of the time, at work or fulfilling her Tenant Council duties, yet, she exerts a great deal of authority. Expecting her daughter to be honest and to use respectful language, she checks to see LaVaughn has done her homework each night; her baby-sitting job depends upon her keeping up with schoolwork. While her mother cooks and LaVaughn performs other kitchen chores, mother and daughter debrief on school and work, planning for LaVaughn’s future. Her mother is also present in the morning to make sure LaVaughn gets up early enough to eat a breakfast and to get to school on time. Clark (1983) argues for lower class students, parental involvement instilling good study habits and emphasizing self-discipline is critical to academic success, Her mother’s minimal education, then, is mitigated by her high expectations and her consistent discipline of LaVaughn Complicating LaVaughn’s mother’s belief that no matter the circumstances, one has to take control of their lives by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, Make Lemonade also epitomizes the systemic forces that contribute to generational poverty. If people are poor because they choose to be and if lack of emotional fortitude is a factor in generational poverty, how does one account for people on low income having fewer choices of where they can afford to live? Because of a shortage in affordable rental housing (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2009), people like Jolly and LaVaughn are forced to live in dangerous neighborhoods. For both, the physical and psychological stresses of living in such neighborhoods will have cumulative negative affects on their ability to be successful in school (Newman, Myers, Newman, Lohman, & Smith, 2000). Individual effort is compromised in such difficult circumstances. Further, the poor do not have the same school choices as the middle class. Can LaVaughn choose a better school? Can she afford the cost of transportation if she chooses a school out of her neighborhood? In any school, good teachers

contribute to quality education (Rockof, 2004). LaVaughn and other poor students, though, can’t choose their teachers. Fortunately, in this trilogy, the teachers choose LaVaughn. When she misses one day of school, LaVaughn’s social studies teacher makes an exception and allows her to make up the missing work. The teacher of her self-esteem class is an indefatigable cheerleader, urging her students to find what they are capable of. Believing that improving one’s written and spoken language increases one’s future opportunities, Dr. Rose creates Grammar Build-Up to teach LaVaughn— her 4th period teacher told her “[your] grammar frankly stinks” (p. 118)—and a group of her peers to speak and write in Standard American English. In the second novel, True Believer, LaVaughn’s aptitude for science is identified and she is given numerous opportunities to develop it. In an attempt to take race out of the equation, Wolff removed racial and geographic identifiers from her characters and setting (Marler, 2002). Despite eliminating explicit markers of race, Wolff nonetheless includes sufficient detail for readers to form a racialized view of LaVaughn. Readers in my young adult literature classes consistently identify LaVaughn as African American, pointing to her African American sounding name, to textual evidence that LaVaughn is living in an inner city project (in a building where violence stalks the hallways and elevators), to the poor school she attends (according to the National Center for Education Statistics, black students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students), the high incidence of gunfire in her neighborhood, and her use of non-Standard American English. An idealistic rhetorical strategy, to remove race from LaVaughn’s characterization nonetheless distracts readers from the systemic forces arrayed against her, many of which affect some races more than others. For a full picture of poverty in America, race must be considered. In Make Lemonade, Wolff’s approach on poverty perpetuates several stereotypes, foisting the brunt of poverty on the shoulders of the impoverished, constructing the argument that individuals exit poverty via the power of personal initiative. Wolff’s stance, however, undergoes a shift across the three novels. In Make Lemonade, the onus is primarily on the individual. In the next two novels, True Believer and This Full House, LaVaughn, Jolly, and other students living in poor neighborhoods are shown receiving the external support—from individuals and institutions— they need to succeed.

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TRUE BELIEVER: SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE Though Wolff in True Believer (2001) no longer embraces the deficit perspective, some negative assumptions persist. LaVaughn herself buys into the myth that the poor use handouts to help themselves, not to feed their addictions (Gorski, 2008). When she attends a school dance and food drive, she comments, “There are many poor around here, even more than us. It is said the food we give the poor only builds their strength to buy more drugs but we keep doing it” (p. 60). Having witnessed three crack babies at her part-time job at the hospital, she is concerned about giving handouts to crack addicts, yet she also wonders how these people feed themselves. LaVaughn frequently disassociates herself from those in the lower class. She doesn’t eat Jolly’s kind of food: “In their house was only poor food, flaky sugar cereal and mac & cheese in boxes” (Wolff, 2001, p. 95). Berube (2010) maintains access to quality food is not a given. Supermarkets underserve predominantly African American neighborhoods, making high quality foods difficult to obtain. For LaVaughn, someone always has it worse, yet she is also acutely aware others have more. When she visits the training pool of her neighbor Jody —there’s no pool in their neighborhood—she observes that even the plants hanging above the pool have “privileged lives” (p. 75), and by extension, the people who have access to the facility are also privileged. If one characteristic of chronic poverty is poor people having few long-term goals, LaVaughn continues to counter that stereotype, getting a part-time job at a local hospital to replace her baby-sitting job. Unlike the stereotyped poor, LaVaughn will not fritter her money away on frivolous, momentary pleasures; she will put it away toward college. She also begins to surround herself with peers who want to improve their lives. LaVaughn’s neighbor Jody is determined to get away from the projects. “But I’ve got my will,” he insists. “That’s what you need. I will get out of here” (p. 66). Artrille, one of her classmates in Grammar Build-Up, introduces himself as wanting to “rise above himself” (p. 45). Since the 4th grade, Artrille has worked toward being a doctor: “I always have a job, sometimes two. I can do it” (p. 152). For all her strengths and goals, though, LaVaughn needs support from other sources. Despite the teacher’s attention in Make Lemonade, LaVaughn almost fell through the educational cracks. Displaying a penchant for science, she is transferred to college prep biology. LaVaughn is fortunate to have a counselor who believes she can be a nurse, a vocation that requires a college degree. In addition, the counselor sets up a volunteer opportunity at a local hospital. The school signs her up to take the Science


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Aptitude Test and LaVaughn is subsequently recruited to attend Summer Science camp. Her teachers continue to push LaVaughn and her determined peers. Dr. Rose, the charismatic, idealistic teacher of Grammar Build-Up, urges LaVaughn and her classmates to “shatter those statistics about students in the ‘poorer schools’” (p. 170). As in Make Lemonade, LaVaughn’s mother defies the stereotype poor parents do not support their children in the school. She insists LaVaughn start saving toward college and she asks her to show her what she is studying. Her mother rewards LaVaughn’s academic efforts and her hard work at Science Camp by buying a study lamp for her desk, worth an entire day’s wages. Making a sacrifice for LaVaughn, her mother changes jobs. Jody also has a parent who puts her child’s future first. After the death of Jody’s best friend, his mother decided to move to a safer neighborhood, but she could not afford the higher rent and had to move back. Both mothers chip away at the myth the poor are unmotivated and have poor work ethics (Gorski 2008). LaVaughn’s mom, in fact, has never missed a day of work. In True Believer, education continues to be a lifeline, but religion alleviates the effects of poverty as well. LaVaughn’s life-long friends, Myrtle and Annie, are not on the same page about education with LaVaughn having to shrug off or defend her academic accomplishments. Their different takes on evolution—Annie and Myrtle scoff at the theory that humans are descendants of monkeys and they believe the Earth is but 6000 years old—highlight the widening gap between LaVaughn and her friends. Instead, Myrtle and Annie seize on religion as the way out of poverty, living a principled life by fighting against the premarital sex and rampant substance abuse plaguing their community. Myrtle and Annie join the church group Cross Your Legs for Jesus, which attempts to prevent teen pregnancies by promoting abstinence. Along with her strained relationship with her lifelong friends, LaVaughn has her first serious crush. Having been warned by her mother that sex can get a person in trouble, LaVaughn’s awakening sexual feelings toward Jody momentarily jeopardize her academic ambitions. After discovering Jody is gay and will not reciprocate her romantic feelings, she goes into a downward spiral at school. Searching for answers, she asks her classmates if they believe in God, receiving a variety of thought-provoking responses. She visits a church to ask the priest if his church would accept gay men and women, and he answers in the affirmative. She gets her most forceful answer from her mother who tells her she could not have done what she has done for LaVaughn without help from God.

True Believer resists several of the most egregious assumptions about poverty. LaVaughn, her mother, Jody, Jody’s mother, and her peers in the Grammar Build-Up class, all take great pains to make positive choices: LaVaughn’s mom working on the Tenant Council to make their home as safe as possible; Artrille taking jobs at an age when middle class students are playing carefree with their friends; and LaVaughn’s classmates maintaining high expectations for themselves, while living up to the high expectations teachers, counselors, and social workers have for them. None of these goal-oriented young people show the least temptation to use drugs or alcohol, to engage in the kinds of criminal activities commonly depicted in narratives about the poor, or to engage in unprotected sex. Initially, Jolly embodies some of these negative images by running away from a foster home to a life on the streets, dropping out of school, and having two babies before she was 17. She dug a deep hole for herself, but Wolff does not allow her to remain buried. Through LaVaughn’s insistence, Jolly begins to make the kinds of decisions that turn her life around by going back to school, using the daycare the school provides, and accepting government food assistance. She is rewarded by the end of the second novel with a young man who loves her and her children, and who will help and not hurt her. In the third novel, This Full House, Jolly completes a GED, the first step to increasing the vocational opportunities available to her.

THIS FULL HOUSE: THE NECESSITY OF EXTERNAL SUPPORT The third book in the trilogy, This Full House (2009), tips the balance, resisting more notions about poverty than it reinforces. In this novel, Wolff foregrounds the systemic factors that must fall into place for her characters to be successful over the long-term. Education remains the key, and LaVaughn continues to be the kind of student teachers dream of having. Despite holding down a part-time job, studying for many hours on the bus, and taking a night class twice a week, LaVaughn not only catches up from years of neglect but also masters the reams of information necessary to attain solid grounding for pre-med studies. She would not have had the opportunity to show herself as this kind of student had it not been for assistance from the school system. Her biology teacher and counselor encourage her and her friend Patrick to apply for the Summer Science program. Patrick shines in that course and is transferred to an elite high school where he has access to state of the art medical equipment. LaVaughn’s guidance counselor urges her to apply for the WIMS program (Women in Medical Science), expecting LaVaughn to attend College

Fact meetings to find out about how to apply for college and financial aid, entreating her that “We’re counting on you, LaVaughn” (p. 350). Dr. Moore, director of the WIMS program, designed WIMS with the belief that girls, with substantive support, can become vital contributors in the medical field. Dr. Moore is also instrumental in LaVaughn’s advancement, writing a letter of recommendation for her college application and providing LaVaughn and other students with laptop computers and internet connections so they can study at home. This Full House also complicates the assumption that teen parents are doomed to desperate lives. Highly improbable events reunite Jolly with her mother, as Dr. Moore lavishes economic help with food, clothing, toys for the children, and health insurance. Nevertheless, Jolly possesses the resilience to move her own life forward, something Payne (1996, 2005) contends that poor people do not possess. Until funding is cut, Jolly’s school runs a Learning Center, which her children attend while she is at school. Her son Jeremy benefits even further from the educational system. Displaying unusual intelligence, he is tested and moved to Advanced Kindergarten where he will receive greater intellectual stimulation. Without her mother’s miraculous reappearance, Jolly and her children would still be facing a difficult life. To create an optimistic outlook for her readers, Wolff was determined to give Jolly a more hopeful future than her circumstances predict. It is not clear how Jolly maintained custody of her two children and how she found work; her distrust in social services implies she has done this entirely on her own. If that isn’t statistically unlikely enough, Jolly further beats the odds by establishing a relationship with a trustworthy young man, Ricky, who not only appears to be a faithful partner, but also displays the commitment to be a father to Jolly’s two children. For a young woman who, as LaVaughn observed, can count her good memories on one hand, it is difficult to believe Jolly can so easily break the cycle of bad men who use her sexually and then ditch her when she becomes pregnant. Dr. Moore’s re-emergence is even more incredulous. Giving up her child to survive as a female in a male’s profession, as she claimed, Dr. Moore’s questionable behavior underscores the systemic barriers in improving one’s status, particularly for women with children. If Dr. Moore, as an intern and single mother, received support in her pursuit of a career in medicine, Jolly would likely have had more healthy choices available to her as a teenager.

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CONCLUSION As a whole, the Make Lemonade trilogy presents a more nuanced portrayal of poverty than Payne’s monolithic representation. For adolescent readers, LaVaughn is a positive role model. Self-motivated, LaVaughn trusts and obeys authority, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and possesses the courage to understand and bounce back from painful events in her life. She holds high expectations for herself and her friends. In this trilogy, Wolff inspires her readers to work hard for themselves and to take advantage of all available educational and/or social opportunities. But she also shows all things are not equal—safe housing and schools, access to resources in and out of school, exposure to positive role models, and nurturing parenting, among other things. American culture, as voiced by Payne in her professional development program, implicates the individual in his/her economic fate, giving a free pass to the institutions that contribute to long-term poverty. The Make Lemonade trilogy underscores the foundational American value of hard work, balancing how individuals break the cycle of poverty through their own exceptional efforts while necessarily availing themselves of the social and economic services society offers. This unfortunately may not yet be a replicable ticket to middle class comfort and prosperity. For someone in Jolly’s situation, too many systemic factors may not be overcome by personal effort alone. Crag Hill is an Assistant Professor of English Education at Washington State University where he has been instrumental in integrating young adult literature into the curriculum. Following 18 years teaching English Language Arts, grades 9-12, He has published articles in The ALAN Review, English Journal, and English Practice and was a major contributor to the project Rationales for Teaching Graphic Novels (Maupin House). His book chapter, “Dystopian Novels: What Imagined Futures Tell Young Readers About the Present and Future,” will appear in the textbook for young adult literature classes, Adolescent Literature Today (Rowan and Littlefield, forthcoming 2011). He can be reached at

WORKS CITED Barton, P. E. (2004). Why does the gap persist? Educational Leadership 62(3), 8-13. Berube, A. (2010, October 19). Identifying areas with inadequate access to supermarkets. The New Republic. Retrieved from supermarket_berube.aspx Bomer, R., Dworin, J., May, L. & Semingson, P. (2008). Miseducating teachers about the poor: A critical analysis of Ruby Payne’s claims about poverty. Teachers College Record, 110(12), 2497-2531. Cauthen, N. K. & Fass, S. (2010). What is the nature of poverty and economic hardship in the United States? National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved from


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faq.html. Carey, K. (2005). The funding gap 2004: Many states still shortchange low-income and minority students. Washington, D.C.: The Education Trust. Clark, R. (1983). Family life and school achievement: Why poor black children succeed in school. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Dudley-Marling, C. (2007). Return of the deficit. Journal of Educational Controversy, 2. Retrieved from http://www.wce. Dworin, J. & Bomer, R. (2008). What we all (supposedly) know about the poor: A critical discourse analysis of Ruby Payne’s ‘framework.’ English Education, 40(2), 101-121. Gorski, P. C. (2005). Savage unrealities: Uncovering classism in Ruby Payne’s framework. Retrieved September 30, 2010 from Gorski, P. C. (2006, February 9). The classist underpinnings of Ruby Payne’s framework. Retrieved from Gorski, Paul. (2008). The myth of the ‘culture of poverty.’ Poverty and Learning, 65(7), 32-36. Karoly, L. A. (2001). Investing in the future: Reducing poverty through human capital investments. In S. Danzinger & R. Haven (Eds.) Understanding Poverty (pp.314-356). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation. Kozol, J. (1992). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools. New York, NY: Harper. Kozol, J. (2005). The shame of the nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America. New York, NY: Random House. Marler, M. (2002). The problem of poverty in three young adult novels: A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich, buried onions, and make lemonade. The ALAN Review, 30(1), 29-32. Mulvihill, T. M. & Swaminathan, R. (2006). ’I fight poverty. I work!’ Examining discourses of poverty and their impact on pre-service teachers.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 18(2), 97-111. National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Retrieved from asp National Low Income Housing Coalition. (2009). Preliminary assessment of American community survey data shows housing affordability gap worsened for lowest income households from 2007 to 2008, Research Note #09-01. Retrieved from Newman, B. M., Myers, M.C., Newman, P. R., Lohman, B. J., & Smith, V. L. (2000). The transition to high school for academically promising, urban low-income African American youth. Adolescence, 35(137), 45-66. Payne, R. K. (1996/2005). A framework for understanding poverty (4th ed.). Highlands, TX: aha! Process. Payne, R. K. & Krabill, D. L. (2002). Hidden rules of class at work. Highlands, TX: aha! Process. Rockoff, J. E. (2004). The impact of individual teachers on student achievement: Evidence from panel data. American Economic Review, 94(2), 247–52. Shannon, P. (1998). Reading poverty. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.census. gov/hhes/www/poverty/methods/definitions.html U.S. Department of Labor U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). A profile of the working poor. March 2010 Report 1022. Wolff, V. E. (1993/2006). Make lemonade. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company. Wolff, V. E. (2001). True believer. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Younger Readers. Wolff, V. E. (2009). This full house. New York, NY: Harper Teens.

An Ecocritical Approach

to Diana López’s Middle Grade Novel Confetti Girl By Amy Cummins


nvironmental issues deeply concern young readers today. In the YA novel Confetti Girl (2009), Diana López shows that middle school students are capable of caring for the natural environment and helping their parents even while struggling over schoolwork, athletics, and relationships. Seventh-grader Apolonia (Lina) Flores and her father Homero Flores, who works as a high school English teacher, still grieve for the sudden death of Lina’s mother. In Confetti Girl, López conveys a subtle environmental theme that intertwines with the primary plotlines about family and friendships. This essay introduces the author, explains the “critical lenses” approach to literature study, applies the ecocritical approach to Confetti Girl, and suggests activities to use with this novel.

ABOUT DIANA LÓPEZ Diana López grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where Confetti Girl takes place. She taught middle school English for nine years in the San Antonio Independent School District. An accomplished short story writer, López published Sofia’s Saints, a novel for adults, in 2002, and Confetti Girl, targeted to ‘tweens, in 2009. A featured book for Scholastic Book Fairs, Confetti Girl was named a commended book for the 2010 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature from the National Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, and it was on the 2010 Best Children’s Books List from the Bank Street College of Education. At the University of HoustonVictoria, López is part of Centro Victoria, the Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture, which develops “lesson plans for public school classrooms using writings by Mexican American authors as a way

to engage students at schools with changing demographics” (Cooke, 2010). López is Mexican American; however, when she was in school, the curriculum did not include any Hispanic authors. She stated in September 2010, “I don’t want the young people in my community to wait so long before discovering that they have print-worthy stories, too” (qtd. in Cooke). López stands among many meritorious, contemporary Mexican American writers for young adults, such as Malín Alegría, Viola Canales, Francisco Jiménez, Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Ben Saenz, René Saldaña, Jr., and Carmen Tafolla.

USING CRITICAL LENSES WITH LITERATURE Literary theory gives students tools for making meaning and for critiquing the ideologies around them. As asserted in Teaching Literature to Adolescents (2010), theory has a place in secondary English classrooms “as a means to some larger educational ends” for students, such as “the ability to inhabit a variety of perspectives” and “the ability to read resistantly, whether it’s the textual or actual worlds” (Beach, Appleman, Hynds, and Wilhelm, pp. 154-155). Questioning comfortable assumptions, literary theory empowers students. Not “the singular province of ‘advanced’ learners” (Appleman, 2009, p. 125), theory can be enjoyed by many learners. Theories provide angles for approaching a familiar text in a fresh way or engaging an unfamiliar text. Approaches for secondary English build on the long-established methods of Formalism and Reader Response without replacing them. Students will always benefit from practicing close analysis of a text, required by the New Criticism, and from negotiating individual and group transactions with a text,

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as in Reader Response theory. Most literary texts reward approaches through multiple perspectives. Teachers use different labels for theories, employing terminology accessible to their students. For her second edition of Critical Encounters in High School English, Deborah Appleman (2009), who popularized the “critical lens” language, renamed Marxist theory “the social class lens,” also called the power or economic approach (p. 35). Moreover, Appleman replaced “feminist” with “gender” in order to focus on “the social construction of gender” for male and female (p. 67). Aside from academic debates about jargon, teaching literary criticism “offers students a critical vocabulary for their reading” (Gillespie, 2010, p. 11), making the terminology teachers use even more important.

and environmental justice issues are intertwined with race and economics. Authors who are not environmentalists publish literature open to the ecocritical approach. The “green” critical lens can be used to view almost any text, not just literature taking a strong stance on a political or legal aspect of the environment or animal rights. Diana López’s Confetti Girl is not categorized as environmentalist, and none of the published professional reviews, as accessed in the Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD), mentions nature. Yet an ecocritic notices the available evidence within the text about appreciating the environment, protecting whooping cranes, and stopping litter.



Although textbooks about teaching secondary English language arts cover critical lenses, an approach typically overlooked is ecocriticism. One exception is Tim Gillespie’s Doing Literary Criticism: Helping Students Engage with Challenging Texts (2010), which describes ecocriticism on its supplemental CD as “an offshoot of the environmental movement” (p. 164). Gillespie suggests questions guiding the inquiry of an ecocritic, most significantly: “Does the work treat nature as something humans must coexist with or as something humans must battle and master?” (pp. 166-167). Environmentally focused critics, using what can be called the “green studies” approach (Barry, 2002, p. 239), consider the natural world important for its own merits, not just how it relates to homo sapiens. At its core, ecocriticism involves “the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment” (Glotfelty, 1996, p. xviii). The ecocritical approach reveals both positive and negative aspects of how culture impacts the natural environment. Ecocritics probe how figures of authority approach nature, looking for characters who appreciate animals and plants, work for the preservation of nature, and understand the impact of culture on nature. Ecocritics expose characters harming the environment. Nature writers, following Henry David Thoreau, describe and record the environment of which they are a part. Environmentalism has appeared for decades in many genres of children’s culture. Activist scholars such as Kamala Platt (2004) document the prominence of environmental messages in children’s books. Scholar Tiffany Ana López, who analyzes Gloria Anzaldúa’s children’s books from an ecocritical perspective, sees the necessity of interpreting “Latina/o texts in conjunction with works more clearly labeled as nature writing” (2001, p. 204). Sustainability

Five elements of this novel require attention when approached through an ecocritical lens: the allusions to Watership Down, Mr. Star’s Marine Biology class project, Lina’s study of whooping cranes, the anti-littering message, and the significance of cascarones. López frequently refers to Watership Down, the book Lina is assigned to read for English class, without explicitly mentioning the environmentalist interpretation of the famous 1972 novel by Richard Adams. Watership Down functions first as a point of contention then of connection between Lina and her father. Featuring rabbit characters, Watership Down can be interpreted as valuing nature and criticizing human destruction of the ecosystem. The rabbits who foresee danger face disbelief and antagonism from fellow members of their species, something humans today also face through resistance to global warming and through human encroachment that has harmed the habitats species share on earth. Lina uses the novel’s character names to rewrite the book, working through personal issues. Ultimately, her father reads the narrative and shares emotions with his daughter. Lina’s storytelling about Watership Down facilitates healing their relationship. Mr. Star’s Marine Biology class activates students’ prior knowledge and raises awareness about unique aspects of living on the south Texas Gulf Coast. Lina dresses up for Halloween in a homemade costume as the red tide, the algal bloom that kills fish and other species. Mr. Star assigns semester projects on topics including “oil rigs, sea turtles, brown pelicans, hurricanes, and barnacles” as well as coastline trash, sand dune plant life, and sand dune animal life (López, 2009, p. 25). Demonstrating active learning, the students must research and get personally involved with their topics. All projects require direct, close observation


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of nature. Mr. Star’s pedagogy exemplifies “place-based read the map. Lina calmly fabricates a compass out of a education” or “bioregional education” involving all aspects magnet, paperclip, scrap of paper, and lens cap. of a locale, through which teachers engage students with Whooping cranes have not appeared previously in YA lessons and create relevance by “using the context students fiction. Critic Walter Hogan notes that fictional raptor proteclive and learn in” (Lundahl, 2011, p. 44). tion includes a release of falcons or hawks that “symbolically The oral presentations of Marine Biology semester frees” the boys or girls who have been training them (2009, projects at the end of the novel underscore how Mr. Star’s p. 73). Because the young person in such texts “makes a students gain significant knowledge through authentic strong connection” with the bird and also improves a relalearning. Lina teaches the class about whooping cranes tionship with a father or father figure (p. 75), that pattern through PowerPoint and storytelling. Lina learns about sand bears some resemblance to Lina Flores in Confetti Girl. dune formation from Vanessa and Carlos. Luís Mendoza Regarding shore birds, Hogan cites the great blue heron shows patterns of beach trash by displaying posters made appearing as “a mysterious sentinel of the wilderness” in of three-dimensional bar graphs using bottle caps, grocery several novels (p. 80). López’s whooping cranes might be bags, and aluminum pull tabs. Luís ends with enlightening interpreted as mysterious from the perspective that they classmates about how they can help. avoid Lina’s camera and perhaps Lina describes: “Before I know it, entice the observers into getting lost, he’s passing around a sign-up sheet but López depicts the birds’ behavior so people can volunteer to clean our realistically, not mystically. shores” (p. 181). Luís takes a logical The anti-littering theme comes step after realizing the dangers of across clearly in Confetti Girl. To litter. He motivates his peers to take help her friends work on their Marine action and demonstrates that middle Biology projects, Lina goes to the local school students can make a difference. beach with her best friend Vanessa, The whooping crane, a white bird Vanessa’s boyfriend Carlos, and Luís EDITORS PLEASE PULL that is approximately five feet tall, has Mendoza, Lina’s friend who becomes QUOTE HERE been on the endangered species list her boyfriend. Lina gets engrossed since 1967 due to habitat loss. The in working with Luís on his field respecies lives in Canada, and Aransas search. Together, they “walk a mile National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas down the beach and mark each type coast is one of few breeding habitats of trash” in the categories of plastic, for whooping cranes. Geography metal, glass, paper, oil clods, and other proves essential to the environmental (López, 2009, p. 107). The oil clods theme because a book set in a difget no special attention, as Confetti ferent place would have to feature a Girl was published a year before the different species. Lina laments the devastating British Petroleum oil near extinction of the species and spill in the Gulf of Mexico beginning decides the whooping crane will be her “spirit guide” or in April 2010. People living on the Gulf Coast now look at “special animal” (p. 180). Lina reflects to herself, “If birds offshore oil drilling even more critically. could talk, I’m sure the whooping cranes and I could have Lina’s narration conveys her critical observations about a good heart-to-heart about being targeted because we’re “how messy people are. Actually, they’re pigs” (p. 107). Lina tall” (López, 2009, p. 180). Her identification with the birds points out the posted signs directing people: “Don’t Mess is a first step toward protecting nature. with Texas” then wonders rhetorically, “So why dump stuff The timing of Lina’s trip to document the whooping on the ground? And what about the wildlife? I’m sure the cranes has significance: Being on “Black Friday,” the day turtles and birds have cut themselves on glass or gotten after Thanksgiving, prioritizes nature over consumerism. tangled in fishing lines” (p. 107). Lina views the beach not Homero and Lina Flores do not mention shopping but as a tourist but as a resident who cares about other species. focus on Lina’s project. However, the refuge exists for the Growing up is “messy” and complicated, but destroying the safety of animals and plants, not humans. Lina, Homero, environment is unacceptable at any age. Luis’s presentation and Vanessa veer off the path when seeking a better view emphasizes the difference made through collecting litter of the whooping cranes. They get lost, and only Lina can

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and not adding to it. The message is non-controversial and appropriate for a middle-school readership. An ecocritic wishes López had written more directly about problems such as habitat encroachment and reliance on fossil fuels. Lina could have reflected on decisions made daily by individuals and corporations. At the start of the book, she mentions sharing an interest in “global warming” with Vanessa but does not follow that up explicitly (p. 7). There are many moments where a message about human’s devastation of nature could have been hammered home more obviously, like in a Carl Hiaasen novel; however, that would have made a different novel. The final form of evidence for the environmental theme in Confetti Girl is symbolic, for eggs and their shells made into cascarones represent the life cycle from birth to death. Egg laying “follows cyclical patterns, and therefore symbolizes the life cycle in its entirety” (Werness, 2003, p. 156). In many cultures, eggs containing “the seed of life” connote fertility and the start of new life (Werness, 2003, p. 156). López features eggs repeatedly in the form of cascarones, a Mexican American tradition of decorated confetti eggs. The novel opens with instructions for making cascarones, and Ms. Cantu creates them year-round as a type of therapy and self-expression. Vanessa gets frustrated at having to eat so many eggs and see her mother’s cascarones, but they bring characters together in celebration at the middle school fair and in the Cantu home. At the conclusion, the festive cracking of all the cascarones suggests that a new phase of life is beginning for all the major characters.

ALL PLOTS INTERTWINE WITH THE ENVIRONMENTAL THEME The central plot threads of Confetti Girl involve family relationships and romance, and the school subplot and environmental theme weave into the main plots. Lina’s Marine Biology project on whooping cranes and English assignment on Watership Down ultimately bring her closer to her father. The romance plots involve Lina and Luís, Vanessa and Carlos, and the girls’ effort to cheer Ms. Cantu through creating a fictional admirer. In the school subplot, Lina struggles to feel that she has a role through athletics, science, and personality. The environmental theme running through the action is central to the connection between Lina and Luís. The winter excursion to gather data at the Corpus Christi beach has romantic significance as López effectively intertwines the romance and friendship plots with the environmental theme. After gathering data for Luís’s litter analysis project, he and Lina sit on a log looking at


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the ocean, watching “the pelicans flying by. They look like dinosaur birds. I notice the waves too. I listen as they roll in” (p. 109). Lina’s growing connection with Luís links to their shared appreciation for nature. This beach trip with Lina’s first hand-holding also has the first kiss between Vanessa and Carlos. Narration surrounding Lina’s first kiss also alludes to nature. After Luís unexpectedly kisses her on the cheek in a school hallway, Lina takes a scenic route to her next class, musing, “I never noticed the watercolor paintings in the hall before, pretty flowers and seascapes. I know it’s impossible, but I can smell the flowers and hear the oceans as if the paintings were alive” (p. 132). A newfound sensory awareness intensifies Lina’s happiness. The third key moment occurs when Luís gives her a whelk for a Christmas gift. He asks her to listen to the shell and remember their “special moment on the beach” when they held hands the first time (p. 183). Luís’s gift symbolizes their shared respect for nature; the budding romance grows from mutual interests.

OTHER ACTIVITIES Beyond looking through critical lenses at Confetti Girl (See Appendix A), activities inspired by “sockiophile” Lina include having a crazy sock day and making cascarones according to the instructions at the beginning of the book. Relevant video clips from acclaimed movies are Watership Down, based on the novel Lina studies, rewrites, and eventually reads, and The King’s Speech, about a leader who overcomes his stutter. Students could enjoy variations of Mr. Star’s Marine Biology project in which they examine a specific aspect of their own local environment. They could choose an animal to represent them and research the animal. Supplementing or replacing the traditional literary analysis essay, “alternative book reports” also provide opportunities for artistic, multimedia, and creative writing responses to literature (Kaywell, 2010, p. 118).

CONCLUSION Using diverse approaches to a literary work draws out the multiplicity of meanings and provides students with the creativity of alternative perspectives. Confetti Girl by Diana López reveals the significance the environment holds for a Mexican American girl and shows that the middle school students can make a difference. Nature affects Lina Flores’s relationships, and Luís Mendoza motivates his peers to take action against litter. Readers of any book should look for the environmental messages, whether obvious or hidden,

and good or bad. Green modes of analysis assist humanity’s efforts to preserve nature. Ecocriticism could help save a life. Amy Cummins is an Assistant Professor of English at University of Texas Pan American, located in Hidalgo County on the Mexico-Texas border, inland from Corpus Christi, where this novel is set. Along with other Mexican American texts that she teaches, she taught Confetti Girl in her “Children’s and Adolescent Literature” course in January and also taught a short story by Lopez in her “Teaching Secondary School Literature” course. She can be reached at

WORKS CITED Adams, R. (1972). Watership down. New York: Macmillan.

Appleman, D. (2009). Critical encounters in high school English: Teaching literary theory to adolescents (2nded.). Urbana, IL: NCTE. Barry, P. (2002). Beginning theory: An introduction to literary and cultural theory (3rd ed.). Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press & Palgrave Macmillan. Beach, R., Appleman, D., Hynds, S., & Wilhelm J. (2010). Teaching literature to adolescents (2nd ed.). New York and London: Routledge. Cooke, K. (16 September 2010). Coastal Bend native is next speaker in UHV/ABR Reading Series. University of Houston-Victoria Newswire. Retrieved from Glotfelty, C. (1996). Introduction: Literary studies in an age of environmental crisis. In C. Glotfelty & H. Fromm (Eds.), The ecocriticism reader: Landmarks in literary ecology (pp. xvxxxvii). Athens: University of Georgia Press. Hogan, W. (2009). Animals in young adult fiction. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow. Kaywell, J. (2010). Using young adult literature to develop a comprehensive world literature course with several classics. In J. Kaywell (Ed.), Adolescent literature as a complement to the classics: Addressing critical issues in today’s classrooms (pp. 109-124). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers. López, D. (2009). Confetti girl. New York: Little, Brown. López, T. A. (2001). A new mestiza primer: Borderlands philosophy in the children’s books of Gloria Anzaldúa. In T. Edwards & E. De Wolfe (Eds.), Such news of the land: U. S. women nature writers (pp. 204-216). Hanover: University Press of New England. Lundahl, M. (2011, January). Teaching where we are: Place-based language arts. English Journal, 100(3), 44-48. Platt, K. (2004). Environmental justice children’s literature: Depicting, defending, and celebrating trees and birds, colors and people. In S. Dobrin and K. Kidd (Eds.), Wild things: Children’s culture and ecocriticism (pp. 183-197). Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. Werness, H. (2003). The continuum encyclopedia of animal symbolism in art. New York: Continuum. .

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Appendix A: Critical Approaches to Confetti Girl

This appendix offers five approaches based on literary theory that could be used with middle school readers of Diana López’s Confetti Girl (2009): ecocriticism, cultural studies, psychological, gender, and power. Questions demonstrate concerns raised by each critical lens.

ECOCRITICISM The ecocritical approach focuses on how nature and the environment are presented in fiction and non-fiction. An ecocritic analyzes the ways characters interact with nature. The green studies or environmental approach looks at the effects of culture on nature. • When and how do characters interact with nature in the book? • What characters speak and act on behalf of protecting the environment? • How is the geographic setting or bioregion of the novel important? • Is there criticism of people who are destructive to the environment? • Are animals, sand dunes, and the ocean considered important in their own rights or only for how they affect human life?

CULTURAL STUDIES A cultural studies approach to literature can consider the societies in which a text is set, the cultures of the author, and the cultures of the readers. Applied to non-literary phenomena, cultural studies methods explore how social assumptions and values shape a text or product. • How is Lina’s Mexican American culture important for her character? • How do the dichos (proverbs in Spanish) at the start of each chapter relate to the book’s action and themes? Why are the dichos important to the book? • How does Lina participate in events important for some Mexican Americans, such as honoring El Día de los Muertos, dancing at a quinceañera, and breaking cascarones? • How might cultural traditions in this book compare with traditions seen in other literature about Mexican American characters? For instance, Ms. Cantu breaks her leg and suspects she has been given el mal ojo (the evil eye) but goes to a hospital instead of a curandera (folk healer) (pp. 92-93). • Where does the text give a complex, multi-faceted representation of Mexican American culture?

PSYCHOLOGICAL The psychological approach looks at the motivations, both conscious and unconscious, for characters’ words and actions. Literature expresses personality, feelings, and desires. A psychological reading can focus on textual evidence only or can include the author. Why does Lina rewrite Watership Down in ways that reflect some of her own family experiences? • How does Lina’s reaction against reading hurt her school performance and stem from her father’s focus on books and his job as a high school English teacher? • How do Lina and her father grieve differently for the passing of Lina’s mother?


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• •

How might the divorce of her parents affect Vanessa’s attitude to boys and her sneaking behind her mother’s back to date Carlos? Is this book autobiographical beyond being set in the city where López grew up? How does Lina compare with the protagonists of the author’s other stories and novel?

GENDER The gender approach looks at the social construction of gender, examining depictions of female and male characters to uncover whether stereotypes are reinforced or challenged. The approach suggests people should not be limited by assumptions about femininity or masculinity. • Why is Luís upset that Lina stands up for him when he gets teased for stuttering? • How does the death of her mother affect Lina’s growing understanding of herself as a girl? How has Irma Cantu been filling the maternal role? • Does the author support or undermine the stereotype that romantic relationships are the most important concern for girls and women? • When Vanessa is assigned to partner with Carlos in taking care of a sack of potatoes like it is a baby, why does she name it “Duchess” and do all the caregiving? • How would this book be different if Lina were a boy?

POWER The power approach examines which characters possess influence and authority. This critical lens looks at hierarchies in a text in which some characters are positioned above others. This approach notices information about social class, employment, and money. • What characters in the book have the most power or influence, and why? Ten years in the future, what may be the changes in power? • Why does it matter that only Lina can lead her father and Vanessa out of the refuge? • When does Mr. Flores gain power or help people through knowledge of literature? • At school, how do Lina’s teachers, coaches, and counselor interact with her? • Why is Vanessa’s mother so entrepreneurial in having multiple jobs? • At school, how do Lina’s teachers, coaches, and counselor interact with her? • Why is Vanessa’s mother so entrepreneurial in having multiple jobs?

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

Book Reviews Fiction

90 Miles to Havana By Enrique Flores-Galbis Roaring Brook Press, 2010, 304 pp., $17.99 Historical Fiction ISBN: 978-1-59643-168-3 90 Miles to Havana is the story of a boy‘s journey to Miami from Cuba during the Cuban Revolution. Based on the author’s own experience, the book sweeps the reader along on a captivating adventure. When Julian arrives in Miami, he and his two brothers must find a way to survive in a tough group home until their parents make their way to the U.S. Boys and girls alike will not be able to put this book down. They will find themselves feeling as if they are right there with Julian as he desperately waits for his parents’ arrival. Allyson Gard, The Pennsylvania State University- Harrisburg; Middletown, PA

Banished By Sophie Littlefield Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010, 304 pp., $16.99 Supernatural Powers, Adventure, Science Fiction ISBN: 978-0-385-73852-1 Twilight meets Mission Impossible meets Night of the Living Dead– that’s what Sophie Littlefield brings readers in her novel Banished. What begins like a paranormal romance novel quickly transforms into something deeper. The protagonist, Hailey Tarbell, learns of


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her family’s unusual lineage and the mystical powers that accompany her pedigree. When her aunt Prairie arrives with news of horrifying abuses of these powers, Hailey joins her in the struggle to stop this faux-scientific nightmare as it quickly escalates. While the novel begins slowly, the patient reader is in for an exciting plot with countless twists and turns. Although the ending is abrupt and a little far-fetched, it is satisfying but leaves the reader asking for more. Told from a teenaged girl’s perspective, Banished has enough elements of mystery, science fiction, action, and suspense to make it appeal to male and female readers alike. Robert B. Brownfield, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School; Akron, OH

Benito Runs By Justine Fontes Darby Creek, 2011, 104 pp., $7.95 Relationships, War ISBN: 978-0-7613-1657 Benito‘s father is called from his National Guard unit to active duty in Iraq. Benito misses the good times the family had—his father‘s enchiladas, and his smile and playing soccer with him. Benito is ecstatic when his father comes home. Unfortunately, his father returns a changed man. He has PostTraumatic Stress Disorder. Outbursts, night sweats, erratic behavior make him a stranger, and Benito becomes a target for jokes at school. Benito‘s struggles to understand and help his father make this poignant book relevant.

This is another book in the Surviving Southside series. Joy Frerichs, Whitfield County Schools; Chatsworth, GA

Betti on the High Wire By Lisa Railsback Dial Books for Young Readers, 2010, 288 pp., $16.99 Children of War, Fantasy, Realism ISBN: 978-0-8037-3388-6 The remains of a war torn circus camp is the setting as Betti‘s story begins. A caring woman, Auntie Moo, cares for a group of orphaned children, called “the leftovers,” living in the old campgrounds and sleeping in an old lion‘s cage. Babo, as Betti is known at the camp, imagines she is a high-wire circus performer with a very tall mother and an alligator-type father who will come to get her someday. All the children are afraid of outsiders who want to adopt them. When Babo is adopted and renamed Betti, she resists and acts up. Reading this story from the point of view of ten-year-old Betti provides an unusual insight into the world in which these children live. They love and protect one another, mistrust outsiders, and do not think of a future. It is a good read with insight into the lives of children adopted from overseas. Martha Magner, St. Thomas Aquinas College; Sparkills, New York

The Blood Feud continues the intriguing saga of adventure, romance, and vampires in Harvey’s The Dark Chronicles. Isabeau, a stunning member of the Hounds, is desperate to get revenge on Greyhaven, the vampire who turned her and left her buried for 200 years. Logan, youngest male of the royal Drake family, falls for Isabeau despite the enmity between their allegiances. Can Isabeau accomplish her goal even while she is drawn to Logan? Complications of Hosts, Hunters, traitors, and magic add increasing danger, making this an exciting tale worthy of vampire enthusiasts. Harvey’s shifts of perspectives from Isabeau and Logan and between the present and the French Revolution keep the reader deeply absorbed. The meticulously drawn characters lure the reader into the story, allowing for the suspension of disbelief and entry into this exciting world where vampires fall in love, vie for power, and plot revenge. Susan M. Landt, St. Norbert College; DePere, WI

Bloodthirsty By Flynn Meaney Poppy, 2010, 240 pp., $9.99 Relationships, Vampires ISBN: 978-0-316-10214-8 Finbar Frame has been ridiculed his entire life. He has always been nothing but a shadow to his superstar twin brother. When Finbar moves to New York, he decides he is finally going to be a someone, even if that someone

isn’t alive. After succeeding in his plan to become a (fake) vampire, Finbar has to decide whether to go back to who he is or embrace what he has become. Bloodthirsty is an obvious answer to the vampire craze in vogue now. Fortunately, Finbar is a sympathetic character, and many readers will understand when his desire to be himself collides with his desire to be liked by his peers. Additionally, the book pits normalcy against the supernatural and reality against fantasy, as Finbar decides which world to walk in. Luckily, reality wins out in Finbar’s case. Overall it is a good read that vampire enthusiasts may enjoy. Katrina Reed, Middletown High School; Middletown, OH

Blue Fire By Janice Hardy Balzer + Bray, 2010, 384 pp., $16.99 Fantasy ISBN: 978-0-06-174741-0 Is fifteen-year-old Nya a murderer or a hero? According to the Duke of Baseer, she committed a heinous crime, and he sent his best Tracker in pursuit of her. According to the people of Geveg and the Takers who heal people, she is a hero for the murder she did not intend to commit. Nya’s adventures of outsmarting the Trackers, rescuing the Takers, and fleeing Geveg will keep readers turning the pages and marveling at plans and ploys. This book is not tied up in a pretty package with a happily-ever-after ending, but as the second book in The Healing Wars series, it will leave the reader eager for the next one. Rebecca Shoniker, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Charlotte, NC

Breathing By Cheryl Renée Herbsman Speak, 2010, 272 pp., $7.99 Realistic Fiction, Romance ISBN: 978-0-14-241601-3 Summer is the best time to live on the Carolina coast, and now that Savannah’s brother is old enough to take care of himself, she’ll have time to enjoy the beach, read romance novels, make money shelving books at the public library, and hang out with Jackson, the new guy in town. When Savannah suffers a severe asthma attack, Jackson helps get her to the hospital, stays by her side, and earns her mother’s respect. Savannah feels certain that Jackson is the one, but so many things can happen when you’re fifteen. Jackson dreams of being an artist, and Savannah longs to enroll in a special program at the University of North Carolina. Can they pursue their dreams and still be together? Savannah’s voice is honest, and her feelings are genuine. Young adults will easily relate to the inner turmoil she experiences. It’s an enjoyably refreshing teen romance. Patricia E. Bandre‘, Baker University; Baldwin City, KS

Burn By Jonathan Friesen Speak, 2010, 295 pp., $9.99 Realistic Fiction, Suspense, Romance ISBN: 978-0-14-241203-9 Jake King is an adrenaline junkie. He dives down waterfalls, jumps absurdly tall obstacles on his bike, and climbs sheer cliffs in pouring rain without safety gear to get the thrills he seeks. A stunt that injures another student gets Jake ejected from school and adds to the ongoing conflict at home with hisfather and older brother. Jake’s one source

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

Blood Feud By Alyxandra Harvey Walker Books for Young Readers, 2010, 272 pp., $9.99 Vampires, Romance, Adventure ISBN: 978-0-8027-2096-2

Book Reviews

of peace is Salome, his best friend and would-be love. When Jake is offered a spot on a daredevil team of firefighters, he is forced to choose between the thrill and Salome, his family and his fellow firefighters, life and death, and right and wrong. Burn is a fast-paced novel by Jonathan Friesen that explores the boundaries of thrill seeking, but at a deeper level the novel explores the consequences of our actions—especially to those we love. Bruce Taylor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Charlotte, NC

The Candidates (Delacroix Academy, Book 1) By Inara Scott Hyperion Book, 2010, 304 pp., $16.99 Supernatural, Coming of Age, Private School, Romance ISBN: 978-1-4231-1636-3 Before she was accepted to Delcroix Academy, Dancia Lewis kept a low profile. She earned average grades and had few friends. Her anonymity helped Danny hide her secret, a power she unleashes to help others when they come in harm’s way. Almost unknowingly, Danny makes things happen. She moves cars, knocks down trees, and disarms a gunman who attempts to hurt her grandmother. At Delcroix, Danny realizes she is being watched, that her powers are the reason she was recruited, but she doesn’t know why. Is Delcroix just another prestigious school for students with special talents…or might it have darker intentions? In this her first book, Inara Scott weaves together a story about the struggles faced by many of today’s teens (social pressures, romance, school, family) but also the responsibility that goes with having supernatural abilities. It is


SIGNAL Journal

good read with a compelling plot and strong characters. Bruce Taylor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Charlotte, NC

Carter‘s Big Break By Brent Crawford Hyperion Book, 2010, 240 pp., $15.99 Realistic Fiction, Fame, Acting, Relationships ISBN: 978-142311243-3 His freshman year is behind him, and Will Carter is on top of the world, having triumphed in the school musical and snagged a great girlfriend. With school out for summer, what’s a wannabe playa to do? The rising sophomore is cast in a movie being filmed in his hometown starring Hilary Idaho, a Miley-Cyrus type with a fleet of minders, a bodyguard, and plenty of issues of her own. But as fast as things go right for Carter, that’s how fast they start to unravel. Not only does he manage to alienate his girlfriend Abby with an insensitive request, but he also neglects his friends and family. While Carter tries to learn the lines for his scenes, no sooner does he resolve one problem than another one arises. Although more improbable than the earlier Carter Finally Gets It (Hyperion, 2009), this book is filled with testosterone-laced humorous philosophy. Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University; Pullman, WA

Cate of the Lost Colony By Lisa Klein Bloomsbury UAS Children’s Books, 2010, 336 pp., $16.99 Historical Fiction, Elizabethan Era, Orphans, Relationships ISBN: 978-1-59990-507-5

After her father dies supporting Queen Elizabeth, the queen calls Catherine Archer to serve as a maid of honor. Catherine quickly learns that the queen’s court is filled with political intrigue, and the queen’s favor, while not easily attained, is often easily lost. When Catherine catches the eye of Walter Ralegh, Elizabeth’s handsome favorite, she is removed from the court, imprisoned, and banished to Virginia, the colony the ambitious Ralegh has established in the queen’s honor. While waiting for Ralegh, Catherine is increasingly drawn to Manteo, a Croatoan who befriends the English even as mistakes, misjudgment, and dwindling supplies make them mistrustful. Told primarily from Catherine’s point of view, this fast-paced romance provides insight into the nature and motivation of the colonists while adding to the mystery that still surrounds the fate of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Readers will ponder the likelihood of a version of history as it might have been. Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University; Pullman, WA

Cellular By Ellen Schwartz Orca Book Publishers, 2010, 128 pp., $9.95 Realistic Fiction, Relationships, Self-Awareness ISBN: 978-1-55469-296-5 When high school senior Brendan is diagnosed with leukemia, his life is turned upside down. All his security blankets—strong family, good friends, sexy girlfriend, athletic honors, popularity—are torn away to expose only the cells needed for survival. While enduring grueling chemotherapy with the help of a fellow patient, Brendan discovers an inner strength he didn’t know he had. What makes this story powerful is its

Wendy Bell, Asheville, NC

The Choir Boats: Volume One of Longing for Yount By Daniel A. Rabuzzi ChiZine Publications, 2009, 408 pp., $16.95 Fantasy, Historical Fiction ISBN: 978-0-9809410-7-4 Barnabas McDoon has a rare opportunity to make amends for the past. It comes in the form of a key, a book, and a letter encouraging him to take an epic journey to Yount, a world parallel to ours, where his key will unlock the doors of a very special prison. Of course, it won’t be that easy because evil forces in the form of a monstrous owl with eyes of fire will do their best (worst) to stop him. Set in 1812 London, this book succeeds with its masterful blend of historical details of English locales, literary allusions to the likes of Horatio Hornblower and Frodo (as if they were real people), and tried-and-true fantasy elements in the way of wizardry, parallel universes, and the classic archetype of good versus evil. The first of three, it’s a rich start to a compelling tale. Jeffrey Harr, Theodore Roosevelt High School; Kent, OH

Clarity By Kim Harrington Point, 2011, 256 pp., $16.99 Psychics, Mystery ISBN: 978-0-545-23050-6 A murder rocks Eastport, a small tourist town. The police are at a loss. In desperation, the mayor turns to Clarity, a young girl whose psychic abilities may be able to catch a killer. However, as the summer wears on, what was thought to be an isolated case turns into a series of murders. As Clarity uses her gift to try to solve the mystery, the murderer draws closer to Clarity and her family. The book is an equal mix of mystery and romance, as the relationships Clarity develops are as significant to the plot as the mystery she is trying to solve. The book will appeal to girls looking to read about a supernatural love triangle, which threatens to become a love quadrilateral at one point. Overall this is a good read, but the reader may wish for a deeper exploration of Clarity’s psychic ability and less emphasis on her ability to attract boys. Katrina Reed, Middletown High School; Middletown, OH

Crash Into Me By Albert Borris Simon Pulse, 2009, 272 pp., $9.99 Suicide, Relationships ISBN: 978-0-4169-9827-3 Four teens who meet in a suicide chat room head off on a very strange road trip. They plan to visit the graves of several well-known suicides including Anne Sexton and Kurt Cobain and then head into Death Valley to complete their own suicide pact. Owen, Frank, Audrey, and Jin-Ae all have secrets they reveal along the way, secrets that alter the route they have planned. Borris slowly plays out hints of the secrets Owen and

the others have kept locked inside. This serves to heighten the suspense of the novel. Will the four teens continue on their self-destructive paths? What has brought each of them to this most desperate choice: to end their lives? As the four learn to trust one another, the journey and the purpose of the journey begin to evolve and, ultimately, change. Teri S. Lesesne, Sam Houston State University; Huntsville, TX

The Crowfield Curse By Pat Walsh The Chicken House, 2010, 336 pp., $16.99 Responsibility, Good vs. Evil ISBN: 978-0-545-22922-7 The Crowfield Curse is a riveting adventure-mystery set in a medieval monastery juxtaposed against the magical outside world in which fantastical hobs, angels, and fays live and battle. Orphaned Will is gifted with the sight and is chosen for a challenging mission to destroy an age-old curse as well as the hold of the evil dark forces, paving the way for goodness, light, and healing to prevail. Will is conflicted between the obligation he feels toward serving the monks who took him in after his family and home were destroyed by fire and serving the newly discovered otherworldly contingent of shape shifters and prescient animals. He discovers that the morally correct path is not always the easiest or the most beneficial to the individual and faces objections, physical danger, and uncertainty. Laura E. Bullock, Hyde Park, NY

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

brevity. Although Schwartz touches all the bases—fear, denial, regret, anger, mingled with often graphic physical details—she doesn’t dwell on them. As a result, we are able to enjoy the soft moments that include conversations with Lark, who has faced her illness with realism and strength, and imparts these life lessons to Brendan. What could have been reduced to a cliché about a cancer ward instead shows that true love finds a way in a compelling account of courage and hope that mature teens will appreciate.

Book Reviews

Dark Goddess By Sarwat Chadda Hyperion Books, 2010, 384 pp., $17.99 Supernatural Horror, Warrior Legends ISBN: 978-14231-2759-8 Packs of the Unholy, werewolves, vampires, and ghuls still terrorize the earth but not unchecked. An ancient order of warriors, The Knights Templar, protects humanity from the monstrous tribes. Fifteen-year-old Billi SanGreal is a bold, fearless defender, daughter of the head of the Templars, and a girl with a mission. Still mourning the death of her best friend, Billie is tasked with the rescue of a special child, one who could save or destroy the world of humankind. Her quest leads her to an old-world civilization in Eastern Europe, the home of a horrific cult of Polenitsy, Man-Killers, who follow the terrible will of a bloodthirsty goddess. It demands all of Billi’s strength, skill, and faith to pull off the quest. Vigorous and fast-paced, this second novel in the Devil’s Kiss series opens with an intensely graphic battle and never lets up. Sheila Shedd, Virginia Commonwealth University; Richmond, VA

The Darlings Are Forever By Melissa Kantor Hyperion Book, 2011, 352 pp., $16.99 Friendship, Growing Up, Relationships ISBN: 978-1-4231-2368-2 Jane’s Nana always said that all of New York was a playground, so she took Jane and her friends to shows, to shops, to restaurants. She’s gone now, so it’s just the three friends. How will the darlings keep one another close when they’re in different high schools? Shy Victoria was thrust into the limelight


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because of her father’s political career. Jane, confident and a talented actress, wonders if she will be able to break into a production at her prestigious arts school. And Natalya, who won a coveted scholarship to an exclusive girls’ school, knows she has a good brain, but she can’t compete with the money and polish of the other girls. The darlings face down some of their fears more successfully than others, in an interesting, tightly written story. They learn what it really means to always do what you are afraid of doing. Diane Carver Sekeres, University of Alabama; Tuscaloosa, AL

Death Cloud By Andrew Lane Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2011, 320 pp., $16.99 Mystery, Historical Fiction ISBN: 978-0-374-38767-9 Author Andrew Lane gives readers something Arthur Conan Doyle did not, a young Sherlock Holmes. In the first of a promised series, a teenaged Sherlock embarks on a journey featuring a sensational mystery throughout England with a death-defying detour to France. Young Sherlock is on his summer break from his private school for boys, living with his aunt and uncle. He is matched with a wise, old, intriguing American from whom he is to be tutored to sharpen his inquiring mind. Does he ever! Sherlock befriends a headstrong street kid, who along with Sherlock and the American venture to uncover what the suspicious Baron Maupertuis is hiding. After being kidnapped, staring death in the face on multiple occasions, and enduring periodic henchmen-induced excruciating pain, Sherlock solves his first murder mystery. Throughout this story readers will often wonder, “How will he possibly get out of this one!”

Scott Collier, Moses Middle School; Dallas, GA

The Deathday Letter By Shaun David Hutchinson Simon Pulse, 2010, 256 pp., $9.99 Death, Friendship, Dating, Florida ISBN: 978-1-4169-9608-8 Just before his sixteenth birthday, Ollie receives his “deathday” letter. In his society, otherwise just like ours, citizens value the twenty-four-hour window of time the deathday letter announces in which to say good-bye. Ollie’s always been a live in the moment, go with the flow sort of guy, so he doesn’t want to stand around while his family weeps; instead he heads off to school. But he’s kidnapped by his best friend, Shane, and former girlfriend, Ronnie, who are determined to help him figure out some of the important truths about living. Jumping off a bridge, trying drugs, exploring a strip joint, figuring out that brilliant Shane is gay, and reconciling with Ronnie to feel real love fill Ollie’s last day. Though the themes aren’t explored in depth, the fast-paced plot and on-target dialogue of this first novel pull the reader along with Ollie on his deathday ride. Lois T. Stover, St. Mary‘s College of Maryland; St. Mary’s City, MD

Even For a Dreamer Like Me (Nola’s World 3) By Mathieu Mariolle Graphic Universe, 2010, 136 pp., $9.95 Fantasy, Manga ISBN: 978-0-7613-6541-9 Nola’s adventure continues in this final installment (see Ferrets and Ferreting Out) in the Nola’s World trilogy. The ferrets have sought out the help of

Katrina Reed, Middletown High School; Middletown, OH

Everything I Was By Corinne Demas Carolrhoda Books, 2011, 209 pp., $17.95 Family Relationsgips, Friendship, Self-Awareness ISBN: 978-0-7613-7303-2 When Irene’s CEO father is downsized from his NYC job and can’t find another, her family’s lifestyle and her mother’s spending quickly catch up with them. Forced to move in with Irene’s grandfather on his farm “just for the summer,” what begins as a disaster turns out to be the opposite when Irene has to leave behind everything she was and discover who she wants to become. In this heartwarming and fast-paced journey filled with believable characters, authentic-sounding dialogue, and interesting events, Irene is transformed from a marionette manipulated by her parents’ circumstances and personalities into a young woman who finds the courage to articulate what she wants

and needs. Demas’s ability to draw the reader into the narrative makes this a winner that all young teens, especially girls, will enjoy. It is not so much about a family in crisis as a family that is willing to grow. It is great read.

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, & June By Robin Benway Razorbill, 2010, 281 pp., $16.99 Sisters, Divorce, Fantasy ISBN: 978-1-59514-286-3

Wendy Bell, Asheville, NC

April, May, and June are three sisters unlike any you’ve met before, each very different and each with a special power: April can see the future, May can become invisible (not always when she’d like!), and June has the ability to read minds. The sisters take turns narrating the book’s chapters in their unique voices, so readers see events from different perspectives, piecing together the story of sisters who have moved to a new town and high school with their mother after their parents have divorced. When April has a vision of a terrible accident, the sisters, despite their inclinations, pull together and learn that their differences are really a strength and that they need one another. The dialogue is snappy and often hilarious; the plot unfolds compellingly, and female readers will empathize with the family dynamics of this delightful book.

Experienced By Lucy Silag Razorbill, 2010, 384 pp., $8.99 Relationships, Coming of Age ISBN 978-1-59514-293-1 This last book in The Beautiful American trilogy concludes the study-abroad year of PJ, Alex, Olivia, and Zack. Told in first-person alternating narratives, the book tells readers why PJ has disappeared, engage in Alex’s capers throughout Paris, root for Olivia as she salvages her year’s study abroad, and empathize with Zack as he comes out of the closet. This is an interesting narrative feature that also reveals how others view each character. Silag includes just the right amount of Parisian scenes and French expressions for effect. Readers who have been to Paris will love to recall it; others will enjoy the tour. Although the story is understandable on its own, it would be best read as part of its series as it will take some time otherwise to sort out the characters ¹ situations. Mature readers will enjoy this series. Patricia P. Kelly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; Blacksburg, VA

Bonnie Ericson, California State University, Northridge; Northridge, CA

Ferrets and Ferreting Out (Nola’s World 2) By Mathieu Mariolle Graphic Universe, 2010, 136 pp., $9.95 Fantasy ISBN: 978-0-7613-6542-6 In some ways, Nola is a normal girl who daydreams and obsesses about boys; however, there is something that sets her apart from everyone else: her imagination. She can draw stories and ideas from her mind no one else could ever dream of; however, her unique, eccentric nature throws her into a world Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

Nola and her friends to help balance the worlds of books and of humans. As they discover that things are not as they seem, Nola’s friends are faced with a dilemma: go home or spin both worlds into disaster. Can Nola dream up a solution that will save her friends and the worlds they come from? Nola’s World will appeal to young and reluctant readers, as the storyline is simple, non-complicated fun. Unfortunately, due to the restricted space for text in a graphic novel, the storyline and some of the characters are not entirely fleshed out. However, the book’s images do offer complexities to the storyline that the text cannot cover. Overall Nola’s World is book eye-candy that manga readers will enjoy.

Book Reviews

of which even she could not conceive. It’s a world where book characters come to life, and ferrets secretly control the town. The format of Nola’s World can sometimes be difficult to follow when the reader is not used to reading graphic novels; the dialogue and images are nonlinear. However, the use of color can be interesting to study as the color schemes correspond to and change with the mood of the text. Also, how the author uses slight variations in images to differentiate among reality, fantasy, and flashback can lead to a good study of visual representation. Katrina Reed, Middletown High School; Middletown, OH

Fixing Delilah By Sarah Ockler Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010, 320 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Depression, Family Conflicts ISBN: 978-0-316-05209-2 The three remaining Hannaford women—Delilah, almost seventeen, mother Claire, and Aunt Rachel—return to Red Lake Falls, VT, for the funeral of Delilah’s grandmother and for the sale of the family home. Delilah has memories of their last visit eight years earlier when her grandfather died, but then she and her family left abruptly, even before the burial. Layers of secrecy about Aunt Stephanie, who died at nineteen, and of the father Delilah never knew create barriers between Delilah and her corporate executive mother, burying herself in work. Will a summer in their family birthplace provide answers and healing? Sarah Ockler successfully creates in Delilah a realistic and compelling teen eager to know her actual identity, caught in the passions of first love, eager to have


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her mother back. The Hannaford family saga holds pain and poignancy, demonstrating the divisive effects of silence, secrecy, and unresolved conflicts on family relationships. Mary Warner, San Jose State University; San Jose, CA

The Forbidden Land By Betty Levin namelos, 2010, 136 pp., $18.95 Adventure, Survival ISBN: 978-1-60898-097-0 Willow is determined to escape from the stark post-apocalyptic community where she and the People of the Singing Seals have lived since the great Wave’s destruction. Willow must leave before her father and uncles, who want new, unflawed infants, force her to a life of servitude. She and friends Hazel, Crab, and Thistle make a boat of reeds. But when it is destroyed, Willow sets out on a journey to the unknown and forbidden land with a dog as her only companion and a fire stone, seal tooth, and shell as her only tools. She hopes to learn what her banished mentor, Great Mother, was teaching her about the people’s Story and why they will not accept uncertainty or knowledge. She knows her people fear the Others. Willow endures wild dogs, hunger, thirst, and fatigue in her search. If she survives and returns, will she be accepted as the new Keeper of Story? Connie S. Zitlow, Ohio Wesleyan University; Delaware, OH

The Fortune of Carmen Navarro By Jen Bryant Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010, 240 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Singers, FortuneTelling, Military Cadets ISBN:978-0-375-85759-1 Carmen Navarro quit high school to sing with a group and pursue a recording contract. She works a boring job at a Quickmart to make money until her big break happens. Ryan Sweeny is a military cadet who doesn’t particularly pay attention to women until he discovers Carmen. She is different from him. She is an alluring young woman, a musician, who has tattoos and is his opposite in many ways. However, opposites attract, and they become a couple. Told from four perspectives, those of the two central characters and those of their best friends, the result is somewhat awkward. Further, the ending is different from the opera Carmen upon which the plot of this book is loosely based. However, any reader who likes romance and the allure of that which is exotic and somewhat taboo will like this book. Herb Thompson, Emory & Henry College; Emory, VA

Free? Stories about Human Rights

Edited By Amnesty International Candlewick, 2010, 224 pp., $17.99 Short Stories ISBN: 978-0-7636-4703-2 This book presents short stories with a variety of cultures and struggles surrounding human rights. Human rights, or their lack, are explored by various authors from different backgrounds. Many human rights that middle-class Americans take for granted—education, travel, clean water, voting—are

Adrienne Cleland, The Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg; Harrisburg, PA

Geek Fantasy Novel By E. Archer Scholastic Inc., 2011, 320 pp., $17.99 Science Fiction, Fantasy ISBN: 978-0-545-16040-7 Fourteen-year-old Ralph, American technology geek, visits his estranged British relatives and finds that they are very strange. He enters a world of royal castles, bizarre happenings, and magical wishes. This story is a brew of technology, “choose your own adventure,” and fairy tales, with a good dose of sarcastic humor and gore thrown in for seasoning. The reader sees the plot unfold from several characters’ point of view, while a narrator gradually takes over the action of the plot. Older teen readers who like fantasy video games will like this fast-moving plot; for the less technology-minded reader, it is good fantasy fun. For any reader, it is full of surprises. Freya J. Zipperer, Savannah, GA

The Ghost & the Goth By Stacey Kade Hyperion Book, 2010, 288 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Ghosts ISBN: 978-1-4231-2197-8 Alona Dare, resident mean girl of her high school, meets her match, twice—once, with a school bus that kills her, and a second time while she’s still walking around as a spirit, forced to communicate with the only person able to speak to the dead, the biggest loser in school, Will Killian. Before long, she learns a lesson that would have much better served her in life: everyone’s got problems, and sometimes, instead of hurting, you can actually help. Told in alternating points of view, Kade manages to allow her readers into the heart and mind of two opposite sides of the adolescent experience—the ultra-popular girl and the outcast, Goth guy. And even though the story’s not completely believable, girls, especially, will enjoy the sweetly supernatural romance brewing between two kids who, in reality, would never come within five feet of one another. Jeffrey Harr, Theodore Roosevelt High School; Kent, OH

Girl‘s Best Friend: A Maggie Brooklyn Mystery By Leslie Margolis Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 272 pp., $14.99 Realistic Fiction, Mystery ISBN: 978-1-59990-525-9 Thirteen-year-old Maggie Brooklyn is positive about a few things: (1) her twin brother, Finn, is annoying; (2) her crush, Milo, is adorable; and (3) her dog-walking job is a great way to get some exercise and make extra money after school. She is not sure, however,

why dogs in her neighborhood have begun to disappear and who might be taking them. When the dog of her former best friend is stolen, Maggie decides to put her feelings aside and help find him. Surely, no one she knows is involved in the crime, especially not Milo. Maggie’s voice is confident, and overall, the characters are well developed. The story is entertaining and believable and contains references to elements of popular culture (Twitter, Etsy, Taylor Swift) that are sure to attract the attention of young adolescents. Patricia E. Bandre‘, Baker University; Baldwin City, KS

The Goblin Gate By Hilari Bell HarperCollins, 2010, 384 pp., $16.99 Fantasy, Adventure ISBN: 978-0-06-1651021 Two brothers are separated by a magic gate: on one side is Tobin the elder and heir to the family estates; on the other young is Jeriah, trying to rescue his brother from the magic that will soon weaken and kill him. In a kingdom of outcast goblins, despotic priests with hidden secrets and helped by a network of humans with magic powers, Jeriah works against time to find the formula that will open the Goblin Gate and free his brother. A hint of boy-girl romance spices the plot. This is a good fantasy with a believable, imperfect, questing hero, Jeriah, and a feisty, physically handicapped female character, Koryn. Readers who like traditional fantasy will enjoy this story. This is a sequel to The Goblin Wood, but it stands alone successfully. Freya J. Zipperer, Savannah, GA

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Book Reviews

written from the perspective of those who do not have them. Adolescents will understand that while education is mandated in the United States, there are children who must work from an early age and do not have the benefits of an education. This book provides a reality check by reminding Americans that, while human rights maybe acknowledged, they are not practiced uniformly around the world.

Book Reviews

The Good Long Way By Rene Saldana, Jr. Arte Publico Press, 2010, 128 pp., $10.95 Runaways, Family Relationships, Abuse ISBN: 978-1-55885-607-3 Growing up isn’t easy for the three South Texas teens around whom this novel revolves. Senior Beto is disenchanted with school and his father’s rules and expectations, and when he gets caught breaking curfew, he leaves home, maintaining that he has other places to go. But despite his posturing, Beto actually has few options, and even his streetsmart friend Jessy has family issues of her own and none of the answers Beto wants to hear. Beto’s younger brother Roel vacillates between disappointment in his brother’s actions and increased preoccupation with Beto’s whereabouts. Although the book covers only one day in the teens’ journey, it is eventful, affording a glimpse into the hopes, dreams, and responsibilities of three adolescents at turning points. Teens will recognize their own often heroic daily battles in the three characters and the choices they and their parents make. Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University; Pullman, WA

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu By Wendy Wan-Long Shang Scholastic Press, 2011, 320 pp., $17.99 Realistic Fiction, Self-Confidence, Relationships ISBN: 978-0-545-16215-9 On a trip to China, Lucy’s father finds a relative he didn’t know existed and invites her to come spend several months with them. The only available room is the new one of sixth-grade Lucy, so it must be shared. Her parents also decide


SIGNAL Journal

Lucy needs to go to Chinese language school, which is held at the same time as basketball practice. However, just because Yi Po doesn’t speak English doesn’t mean she can’t understand what’s important to Lucy, and she becomes her champion. Lucy’s obedience to her parents pays off in friendships, a boyfriend, and a vanquished enemy. In the tradition of The War with Grandpa, Lucy learns that unwelcome visitors and unwanted experiences aren’t all bad. The story is nicely complex, if predictable. The author skillfully weaves Chinese folk wisdom into the story, which ultimately gives Lucy the ammunition she needs to come out on top of an unexpected twist. Diane Carver Sekeres, University of Alabama; Tuscaloosa, AL

The Half-Life of Planets By Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin Hyperion Book, 2010, 256 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Asperger‘s Syndrome ISBN: 978-1-4231-2111-4 A note left in Liana’s locker names her a slut because she has kissed so many of her male classmates. This devastates her, so she plans to spend her summer in Advanced Planetary Science and forget her need for physical lip contact. As she is bathing her face in a hospital bathroom, she meets Hank, who may just challenge her vow. The novel is told from alternating viewpoints with additional sparks to Hank’s entries since he has Asperger’s syndrome. His particular obsession is with music before 2005, and his knowledge is amazing. Their up-and-down relationship over the summer is complicated by Hank’s lack of social awareness and boundaries. Both come from fractured backgrounds; Hank’s dad died a few years before, and Liana’s parents still grieve the loss of

her sister from a neurodegenerative disorder. Extra intrigue occurs with Chase, Hank’s college-lacrosse-playing brother, who thinks all females are his territory. Judith A. Hayn, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; Little Rock, AR

Halo By Alexandra Adornetto Feiwel & Friends, 2010, 496 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Fantasy, Spirituality ISBN: 978-0-312-65626-3 A teenaged angel named Bethany comes to earth with the archangel Gabriel and a healer angel named Ivy. In human form, the three pretend to be siblings on a mission to bring good back to the world, starting with the small beach town of Venus Cove. The three are supposed to be compassionate toward humans but not get too personally attached. Bethany, the youngest and most human-like of the angels, quickly becomes attached to Xavier. Xavier is mature for his age and needs a new friend to help him heal from his past, but will he and Bethany’s relationship have consequences? A lyrical and entertaining read with a plot to which young readers can relate. Margaret Robbins, Chestnut Log Middle School; Smyrna, GA

How to Make a Bird By Martine Murray Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003, 233 pp., $17.99 Coming of Age ISBN: 978-0-439-66951-1 Decked out in her mother’s elegant red dress, 17-year-old Mannie hops on her bike at dawn, pedaling away from

Desi Krell, University of Florida; Gainesville, FL

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else By Erin McCahan Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010, 272 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Romance, Stepfamilies ISBN: 978-0-545-08818-3 Bronwen has always felt as if she were switched at birth. She looks nothing like the tow-headed other members of her family. If she could only find her actual family, maybe life would be better. When Bronwen falls in love with Jared, she believes she just might have discovered the family she was destined to have all along. And when Jared asks Bronwen to marry him and make the family connection official, it is almost too perfect to be true. Is she really ready to leave her family behind and become Mrs. Jared Sondervan? Erin McCahan has fashioned a story that is in largely romance. However, issues of family, friendships, and college also surface as Bronwen wrestles with the tough decisions teens face as they launch themselves into independence. A romance that does not fall into sentimentality is a rarity; McCahan strikes just the right note in her debut novel.

Teri S. Lesesne, Sam Houston State University; Huntsville, TX

Invisible Things By Jenny Davidson Harper, 2010, 272 pp., $16.99 Alternative History, Atomic Bomb, Family ISBN: 978-0-06-123978-6 In this sequel to The Explosionist (2008), the adventures of the orphaned Sophie, now sixteen, and her friend Mikael continue. The story takes place in 1939 when the Nazi invasion of Denmark necessitates that Sophie, Mikael, and some scientists flee from the Scientific Institute to Sweden. Sophie questions many things including the mystery surrounding her parents’ death. In Sweden, Sophie encountered her parents’ former employer, Alfred Nobel, who could supply Sophie with crucial information about her parents. Mikael has a bad reaction after an attack with poison gas that causes a change in his personality. The mystery continues as Mikael is tricked into helping Sophie’s enemy and it is up to Sophie to rescue him. Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” the story also combines fact and fiction, alternative history mixed with science. The complexity of the plot may discourage young readers. Jean E. Brown, Rhode Island College; Providence, RI

The Iron Witch By Karen Mahoney Flux, 2011, 312 pp., $9.95 Fantasy ISBN: 978-0-7387-2582-6 Donna Underwood is not the typical teenager. She belongs to a secret so-

ciety of alchemists who have taught her their ways since she was a child. Unfortunately, being a part of a secret society means keeping most of your life secret—from everyone. However, when Donna decides it is time to tell her friends about her other life, her honesty could get them all killed. Iron Witch is a trip into a fantastical world of elves, fairies, and alchemists. Donna’s budding relationship with half-fairy, Xan, may interest readers seeking the next supernatural romance. The book is an average read suitable for independent reading; however, Iron Witch also offers refreshment by exploring an unfamiliar part of the fantasy realm, alchemy. Katrina Reed, Middletown High School; Middletown, OH

Jumpstart the World By Catherine Ryan Hyde Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010, 192 pp., $16.99 Transgender Issues, Homosexuality, Mother/Daughter Relationships, Friendship ISBN: 978-0-375-86665-4 Ellie and her mother do not share a normal mother-and-daughter relationship. Her mother rents Ellie a separate apartment so that mom’s new boyfriend doesn’t have to live with a teenager. To show her appreciation, Ellie chops off her long hair and adopts a one-eyed cat. She has a friendly neighbor, Frank, who seems to have a way with her cat and with her. Soon, friendship becomes infatuation. When Ellie walks into his party, she learns something new about Frank, a revelation that strains their friendship. Meanwhile, Ellie’s mother has broken up with her boyfriend and wants Ellie to move back home. As Ellie grapples with her mother’s change of heart, a neighborhood schizophrenic

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

her stifling country life and out into the world. She can no longer stand to be trapped in the dysfunction hiding behind the façade of a perfect family home. She sets out on a journey to find a new life for herself, leaving her past far, far behind; but as she progresses on her journey, she encounters bits and pieces of her past that begin to shake her confidence. She must decide whether to go forward and forage a new life for herself or return and make amends with her past.

Book Reviews

attacks Frank, and his life may be in danger. Will Ellie be able to mend both relationships and jumpstart the world at the same time? Anjeanette Alexander-Smith, Florida State College at Jacksonville; Jacksonville, FL

The Kid Table By Andrea Seigel Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 320 pp., $16.99 Realistic Fiction, Families, Relationships ISBN: 978-159990480-1 Ingrid Bell and her five teenaged cousins have always been relegated to the kids’ table during family events. All of them are convinced that the talk at the adult table must be deeper and more significant and that they should eventually graduate to that more important table and adult conversation. This humorous book follows Ingrid over the course of five family events: a Bar Mitzvah, Thanksgiving, New Year’s brunch, an Independence Day pool party, and a wedding. Bonding and munching through meals, Ingrid and her kin realize that there is more to maturity than sitting at one table or another. Along the way, Ingrid becomes attracted to the one man she can’t have—her cousin Brianne’s first serious boyfriend Trevor. Readers will surely relate to the familial rites of passages and pecking order that exists among the cousins, all striving for adulthood, maturity, and respect. Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University; Pullman, WA


SIGNAL Journal

Lost in the River of Grass By Ginny Rorby Carolrhoda Books, 2011, 255 pp., $17.95 Relationships, Survival, Environment ISBN: 978-0-7613-5685-1 Thirteen-year-old Sarah’s science class goes on a field trip to the Everglades. Because Sarah is a scholarship student, she feels inferior to her fellow students. When a handsome local boy, Andy, invites her to go on a boat with him to an island, Sarah pretends to be sick to avoid the exploration with her school group. After the other students depart, Sarah leaves for the island with Andy. Things go well initially. However, after they investigate the island, they return to find their boat has sunk. Now they are stranded in the middle of the swamp among poisonous snakes and alligators, and they have to walk across a river of grass to reach safety. The story of their return trip is the focus of the rest of the book, but as a result of this whole experience, Sarah matures. There is some profanity and some discussion of marijuana use, but this book has a positive message. Herb Thompson, Emory & Henry College; Emory, VA

Love Drugged By James Klise Flux, 2010, 312 pp., $9.95 High School, Homosexuality ISBN: 978-0-7387-2175-0 Desperate to survive high school, fifteenyear old Jamie Bates will do anything to hide his attraction to boys. When he thinks that another student knows his secret, Jamie begins to hang out with pretty Celia Gomez, who wanting space to be alone with Jamie, reveals to her father that Jamie is a homosexual. The unscrupulous physician tempts Jamie

by promising that an experimental drug he is developing will cure him of his desires. What the physician does not tell Jamie is that he won’t feel anything at all. Jamie’s story is told through his engaging first-person point of view, which propels the reader to an overquick denouement. Throughout, Klise explores issues of identity and societal pressures to conform. In the end, Jamie concludes that it’s best to be who you are and to love yourself, and the rest will fall into place. Jeanne M. McGlinn, The University of North Carolina at Asheville; Asheville, NC

Low Red Moon By Ivy Devlin Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 256 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Mystery, Paranormal Issues ISBN: 978-1-59990-510-5 Avery Hood has just lost her parents in a mysterious accident. Now, she must live with her grandmother and attend public school for the first time. As she is adjusting, Avery meets Ben, an attractive new student who seems just as out of place as she feels. Ben is very protective of Avery, and the two connect instantly. Yet Ben has a secret that Avery soon discovers: he is a werewolf. In the midst of rumors that werewolves are responsible for the death of Avery’s parents and other humans, can Avery really trust Ben? A gripping love story with exciting plot twists and engaging characters. Margaret Robbins, Chestnut Log Middle School; Smyrna, GA

This debut novel is not an example of the ordinary chick lit. The story is told from Fiona’s point of view, and Fiona is a misfit who wears funky clothes, has a wicked sense of humor, and can swear like a boy. Readers will either love her or hate her. The basis for the plot takes high school marriage courses to the extreme; here they’re a requirement for graduation. Of course, dating couples have been split apart by random pairing, and therein lies some of the problem. Fiona is paired with Todd, an accomplished prankster like herself. There are surprises as people reveal themselves to be other than they seem, and relationships change as quickly as a staged farce. Fast-paced and hilarious the book shows Fiona and Todd trading pranks without regard for others, but in the process Fiona learns some things about herself. Girls fourteen and up should enjoy the book. Patricia P. Kelly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University; Blacksburg, VA

Mostly Good Girls By Leila Sales Simon Pulse, 2010, 368 pp., $16.99 Friendship, Drugs, Private Schools, Class Differences, Dating ISBN: 9781442406797 Katie and Violet are best friends who attend the Westfield School, an all girls’ academy that thrives on competitiveness and stresses the importance of being good girls. Violet’s life revolves around meeting Westfield’s expectations. She puts in countless hours studying for classes and editing the school’s literary magazine so that she can attend a

prestigious university as her parents did. Katie is the complete opposite: her good looks, good grades, and crew skills happen by sheer luck. Their differences don’t affect their friendship until Katie starts doing things that are out of character to Violet. Katie quits the crew team, dates an older guy who works at Starbucks, bunks with weedsmoking roommates, and refuses to apologize publicly with Katie for their “fictional” story written about one of their classmates. Sales’ writing style draws readers into Katie and Violet’s world, leaving them to wonder if the girls will revive their friendship. Anjeanette Alexander-Smith, Florida State College at Jacksonville; Jacksonville, FL

My First Love By Callie West Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010, 176 pp., $7.99 Relationships, College ISBN: 978-0-385-73946-7 My First Love is aptly named. Readers follow Amy as she discovers the joy and pitfalls of her first relationship. The plot happens quickly—she learns her crush likes her in chapter two, and all conflicts neatly end in the final two chapters—but plot is not the aim of author Callie West. Instead, West explores Amy’s heart and mind as she learns to be herself and part of a pair. West captures well the wild joy of a first love. More important, she explores how a girl with high goals can maintain those goals and a boyfriend. Her portrayal of the power of teenaged love along with her message of how to be oneself in the midst of this whirlwind make this a great read for girls in eighth grade and above. West’s direct style combined with the engaging romance also recommend this a book to reluctant readers.

Susanne Nobles, Fredericksburg Academy; Fredericksburg, VA

The Nightmarys By Dan Poblocki Random House Books for Young Readers, 2010, 336 pp., $16.99 Suspense ISBN: 978-0-375-84256-6 The Nightmarys, a Stephen-King-type thriller for tweens, joins two unlikely students, Abigail and Timothy, as they try to solve a strange mystery that involves Abigail’s grandmother, an unusual jawbone, a rare manuscript, and haunting nightmares. While the pacing is uneven, the story picks up about halfway and delivers a satisfying chain of twists and turns that will keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat. The suspenseful conclusion keep readers enthralled and may even inspire a few nightmares. This book is highly recommended for adolescents who enjoy suspense, horror, and mystery. Danielle Pfeffer, The Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg; Middletown, PA

No and Me By Delphine de Vigan Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 256 pp., $16.99 Family, Friendship, Grief, Homelessness ISBN: 978-1-59990-479-5 At thirteen, Lou Bertignac is a socially inept reclusive genius who mourns the loss of her mother’s affections as her mother continues to reel from a family tragedy, that occurred when Lou was nine. With a class of older peers who make fun of her young age and high grades, Lou constantly spins elaborate thoughts in her brilliant mind that are Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

A Match Made in High School By Kristin Walker Razorbill, 2010, 288 pp., $9.99 Romance, Humor ISBN: 978-1-59514-257-3

Book Reviews

never spoken. Only Lucas, an older boy with problems of his own, reaches out to Lou. As a class project, Lou takes on No, a homeless eighteen-year-old girl. The actual story unfolds when Lou introduces No to her parents. Delphine de Vigan shows Lou to be both a precocious teen and a child in need of love. No’s life embodies the hope and the despair of being homeless. As the girls’ lives intertwine, some characters begin to heal, and some do not. Though the ending is not happy for everyone, it is realistic. Susanne L. Johnston, University of Wisconsin-Stout; Menomonie, WI

Not That Kind of Girl

By Siobhan Vivian Push, 2010, 322 pp., $17.99 Realistic Fiction, Relationships ISBN: 978-0-545-16915-8 Natalie Sterling, a high school senior, has her life organized. Good grades, good record, good recommendations will get her into a really good college. Then things begin to unravel. Secretly, she becomes involved with a football player; she becomes estranged from her best friend, and she fails to live up to her responsibilities as president of the student council. After her parents, fellow students, and faculty become aware of her sexual conduct, her reputation is sorely affected. She had thought she was not that kind of girl. She now realizes that she is a girl who has many facets, and she is free to explore all of them in the open. This book will appeal to an YA audience because it deals realistically with high school life. Joy Frerichs, Whitfield County Schools; Chatsworth, GA


SIGNAL Journal

One Night That Changes Everything By Lauren Barnholdt Simon Pulse, 2010, 256 pp., $16.99 Relationships ISBN: 978-1-4169-94794 Sixteen-year-old Eliza’s parents are out of town, and she is looking forward to a relaxing weekend watching movies with her two best friends—until she discovers that a member of a secret society of boys at her school has stolen her private notebook—the one that contains a list of all of the things that she has been afraid to do or say. In order to avoid having her private thoughts exposed online, Eliza is forced to complete tasks based on her biggest fears. Through Eliza’s mortifying adventure, she learns the importance of genuine friendships and the possibility of love, even under the strangest of circumstances. Through her teen-friendly writing style, Barnholdt successfully captures the desperation and social turmoil that are often part of contemporary adolescence. Although the novel offers a riveting storyline for the teen reader, some of the subject matter borders on inappropriate for young adolescents. Allison Olsen, Hannah Beardsley Middle School; Crystal Lake, IL

The Other Side of Dark By Sarah Smith Atheneum, 2010, 320 pp., $16.99 Historical Fiction, Mystery, Civil Rights ISBN: 978-14424-0280-5 Katie Mullens sees ghosts everywhere, and worse, she’s compelled to draw their violent, often gruesome deaths. An orphan, she receives only vague advice from her dad, who’s six feet under. Among the living is Law Walker whose passion is architecture. His father is a powerful African American activist, and

his mother is a white preservationist who is dedicated to saving Pinebank, a beautiful, historic mansion crowning Boston’s Emerald Necklace. But Pinebank has a dark, secret, carefully guarded by George, the ghost of the boy who died to keep it safe. Katie and Law become hopelessly entangled in George’s responsibility to protect the treasure, and fulfill a promise to the Others. They are bound together to save much more than a house and to uncover a truth that will set free the living and the dead. Brilliantly plotted and riddled with suspense, The Other Side of Dark is historical fiction at a fevered pitch. Sheila Cristofaro Shedd, Virginia Commonwealth University; Richmond, VA

Paradise Lost By Steven L. Layne Pelican Publishing, 2011, 224 pp., $15.99 Science Fiction, Thriller, Fantasy ISBN: 978-1589805903 Jack’s world nearly came to a tragic end a year ago, but he and his brother Troy have picked up the pieces, and his senior year feels almost normal. Almost. Jack can’t shake a suspicious feeling, especially after the mysterious appearance of Chase Maxfield and a couple of disturbing phone calls from his brother and girlfriend. Try as he might to hold what’s left of his family together and keep his loved ones safe, he soon finds himself swept into another suspense-filled adventure. This time his brother turns on him, and a villain will stop at nothing to destroy him. With broad appeal across ages and genders, Layne returns to a vivid cast of characters from This Side of Paradise and weaves another intriguing tale that’s impossible to put down.

Rachel Lance, Dominican University; Elgin, IL

Plan B By Charnan Simon Lerner Publishing Group, 2011, 104 pp., $7.95 Teen Pregnancy ISBN: 978-0-7613-6163-3 Lucy is a planner. She consistently makes lists about everything, even her future plans. She desires to be a Spanish teacher and attend whichever college at which her boyfriend Luke receives a baseball scholarship. When Luke and Lucy decide to take their relationship to another level, the unexpected may disrupt their lives forever. Anjeanette Alexander-Smith, Florida State College at Jacksonville; Jacksonville, FL

Queen of Secrets By Jenny Meyerhoff Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2010, 240 pp., $16.99 High School, Secrets, Jewish Issues ISBN: 978-0-374-32628-9 When Essie makes the cheerleading squad, she is certain her life will change; she hopes that the change will include Austin, captain of the football team. While her dreams seems to be coming true, Essie finds she is uncomfortable with the choices she is making, such as ignoring her best friends and keeping secret the fact that Micah, the new member of the football team, is her cousin. Micah’s insistence on wearing a kippah and

practicing his religion brings ridicule from some of the team’s members; Essie fears she won’t be accepted if her new friends discover that she and Micah are related. Essie is forced to confront what is important and find the courage to make difficult decisions. Queen of Secrets moves quickly as Meyerhoff presents one dilemma after another while offering readers insight into the complex thoughts of a conflicted sophomore girl. It is a good read filled with thought-provoking ideas. Susan M. Landt, St. Norbert College; De Pere, WI

Recruited By Suzanne Weyn Lerner Classroom, 2011, 104 pp., $7.95 Sports, Illegal Recruiting ISBN: 978-0-7613-6167-1 A high school athlete’s dream is to have many college representatives come to his games to watch him play. Their presence means opportunities. Kadeem Jones, Southside High School’s quarterback, has college scouts already checking out his moves. One of them actively pursues him with methods that may be against the rules, and Kadeem is suddenly faced with a choice that may affect his dreams of being a college football player. Will he make the right choice? Recruited is the second novel in the Surviving Southside series. It precedes Benito Runs and Plan B. This young adult series will be great for reluctant middle and high school readers. With real-world issues, fastpaced plots, and characters to whom young readers can relate, the Surviving Southside novels entertain as well as educate adolescents.

Anjeanette Alexander-Smith, Florida State College at Jacksonville; Jacksonville, FL

Rules for Secret Keeping By Lauren Barnholdt Aladdin, 2010, 288 pp., $15.99 Friendship, Romance, Business ISBN: 978-1-4169-8020-9 Seventh grade proves to be trickier than Samantha had expected. New friends, a best-friend-turned crush, and her secret-passing business’s tanking keep Samantha stressed and obsessed. Samantha has done a stellar business of passing secrets for one dollar in elementary school where everyone knew she never read the secrets she passed. When snippy competitor Olivia takes Samantha’s idea into the digital age and passes e-secrets, Samantha’s worries begin—and just in time for the visit from tween mag You Girl who has nominated her for a Tween Entrepreneur Award. A sweet, simple story, this book has its most touching moments with the interactions between Samantha and her sometimes-cocky and beautiful older sister. A comedy of errors, tweens will enjoy this book with a goofy but lovable protagonist. Angie Beumer Johnson, Wright State University; Dayton, OH

Rules to Rock By By Josh Farrar Walker Books for Young Readers, 2010, 256 pp., $16.99 Family, Friendship, Music ISBN: 978-0-8027-2079-5 Twelve-year-old Annabelle Cabrera has musician parents, a brother named Xavier or X, and a new town. As their parents follow their dream to record

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

Whether fans of the first installment or new to the series, readers will enjoy adventure, suspense, humor, and a touch of romance in this well-crafted novel.

Book Reviews

another album in their loft/home/ recording studio, Annabelle and X are left to fend for themselves. Annabelle’s main goal in sixth grade is to form a rock band in Providence as good as the one she left in New York, where fame was building and she really was a rock star. Josh Farrar knows music, and he knows kids: their dreams, their trials, their loyalties. Though the book is ostensibly about fitting in and forming a band, it is also about a family that has lost its way and is battling back. It is about parental responsibility and children who need their parents’ physical presence. Rules to Rock By is a fun read, sometimes poignant, and loaded with music vernacular for the genuine rock fan. Susanne L. Johnston, University of Wisconsin-Stout; Menomonie, WI

Secondhand Charm By Julie Berry Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 352 pp., $16.99 Fantasy, Mythic Beasts, Girl Power ISBN: 978-159990-511-2 A gifted healer and a brilliant student, Evelyn Pomeroy is invited by handsome young King Leopold to attend the Royal University. Though it means leaving her home and her beloved teacher, for her to study medicine in the capital city is her heart’s greatest desire. But the journey to the center of Pylander will bring her farther away from her simple life than she can possibly imagine. Evelyn must embrace her legendary heritage, conquer her fears, and believe in her power to save the kingdom and everything she holds dear. Beautifully told in modern fantasy prose, Secondhand Charm is a thrilling adventure featuring an unusual mythical twist. Julie Berry’s style includes just enough humor to lighten the gripping


SIGNAL Journal

action, making this tale of friendship, loyalty, and following your destiny an absolute delight. Sheila Cristofano Shedd, Virginia Commonwealth University; Richmond, VA

Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings By Sophia Bennett The Chicken House, 2010, 304 pp., $16.99 Social Situations, Friendship, Multicultural Issues, Fashion ISBN: 978-0-545-24241-7 Three best friends with different goals unite to help a nine-year-old refugee from Uganda, a fashion genius named Crow, grieving for her family and country. First there is the glue of the characters, Nonie, unsure of her future except for her love of fashion; next is Edie, on track for Harvard and saving the world, and last is Jenny, an emerging starlet. Together, they will form a united front to help Crow. Maturing, these three work for a selfless goal. Within the drama, lively dialogue, fashion expertise, and familial relationships entertain female readers who will flock to this story. Teens and preteens will love the characters and all they embody, tons of fashion, romance, and cultural diversity with a sprinkling of humor. Carole Taylor, Cleveland Municipal School District; Cleveland, OH

Shine, Coconut Moon By Neesha Meminger Simon & Schuster, 2009, 247 pp., $8.99 Multicultural, Teen Issues ISBN: 978-1-416-95495-3 Neesha Meminger’s Shine, Coconut Moon is a modern coming- of- age novel exploring the complexities of one American teenager. Samar, or Sam, thought she was a regular teenager until her estranged uncle pays an unexpected visit, and everything she thought she knew about who she is and what she wants in life was turned upside down. In the wake of September 11, Sam comes face-to-face with prejudice and bigotry about her Indian roots. Though she is culturally Punjabi Indian, she knows almost nothing about her heritage or her family. This novel is honest in its language and content and does not placate or condescend; rather, it is an impressive undertaking of contemporary issues in a truthful, sometimes painful, narrative. Tara Van Geons, Rowan Cabarrus Community College; Salisbury, NC

The Space Between Trees By Katie Williams Chronicle Books, 2010, 280 pp., $17.99 Suspense, Coming of Age, Murder Mystery, Loss ISBN: 978-0-8118-7175-4 Sixteen-year-old Evie is independent, a loner who mostly keeps to herself. She lives with her mother in the low-rent part of town, but her early morning paper route in the upscale neighborhood near Hokepe Woods allows her to cross paths with her sometimes friend and crush, Jonah Luks. Life is okay until Jonah finds a body in Hokepe Woods—the body of a childhood friend of Evie’s.

Bruce Taylor, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Charlotte, NC

Star Crossed By Elizabeth C. Bunce Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010, 400 pp., $17.99 Fantasy, Religion, Magic ISBN: 978-0-545-13605-1 Digger, a feisty street thief, spy, and heretic, is on the run from the royal police, the Greenmen. In the kingdom of Llyvraneth, heretics are those who have and use magic, traits that Digger has but will not admit, even to herself. As she escapes the Greenmen, she falls in with a group of young nobles who are also on the run. With them she escapes to a palace in the mountains where she is once again forced to be a spy against the royals who have come to trust her. In the mountain castle of Caerelis, she poses as Celyn Contrare, ladies maid, and manages to hide her past as a spy and her genuine childhood origins. This is one of the best fantasies avaliable, located in a medieval setting with conflicts based on personal and national freedom explored through credible teenaged characters. It is excellent for mature teen readers. Freya J. Zipperer, Savannah, GA

A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame By Brenda Woods Putnam Juvenile, 2010, 176 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Writing, Self-Esteem ISBN: 978-0-399-24683-8 Nine Los Angeles teens use a creative writing class to understand their own lives. Following the dictates of their New-York-born teacher Ms. Hart, the students discover inner strength as they lay claim to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame while facing issues familiar to adolescent teens. For instance, hoop star Marlon brings the crowd to its feet but can never measure up to his older brother. To the consternation of her peers and family, Shante falls for a white boy and faces down racism. Gus, short in stature, dreams of a relationship with a girl out of his league but finds love with MJ, whose weight conceals her razor-sharp wit and intellect. Sunday fights off shiftless man who has caught her mama’s eye. If the individual stories are wrapped up a bit too neatly, many teens will nonetheless identify with the ubiquitous dilemmas faced by the teens and their teacher. Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University; Pullman, WA

Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes By Lisa Greenwald Amulet Books, 2010, 304 pp., $16.95 Realistic Fiction, Friendship, Relationships ISBN: 978-0-8109-8990-0 Olivia, Kate, and Georgia are seventh grade classmates who live in the same Brooklyn apartment building. Though friends, they are very different – Kate is self-obsessed; Olivia is an observer, and Georgia is an introvert. The story takes place on Valentine’s Day when a blizzard

hits New York. Georgia’s mother, who owns Chen’s Kitchen, shows the girls how to make magical fortune cookies. They spend the day writing fortunes, baking cookies, and distributing them throughout the apartment building, hoping to spread good cheer but also to see their boyfriends. The girls talk about boys a lot, but there’s little interaction with them. They ultimately decide that their friendship is more important than boys – a great message for tween readers, who probably will be able to identify with whichever of the characters is most like themselves. Patricia P. Kelly, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universiry; Blacksburg, VA

The Sweetness of Salt By Cecilia Galante Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 320 pp., $16.99 Coming of Age ISBN: 978-1-59990-512-9 In this engaging novel, Julia appears to have it all: she’s just graduated as valedictorian; she has a parent-arranged internship with the local court, and she has a full scholarship to study law. Is she living her dream or her parents’ dream? When her older sister Sophie returns home to Ohio for the graduation and reveals a family secret predating Julia’s birth, Julia begins to question her perfect life. Hurt and angry about her parents’ deception, Julia decides to accept Sophie’s invitation to visit her in Vermont, hoping to learn the truth behind the secret. A weekend visit turns into a whole summer, and Julia helps Sophie restore a dilapidated building to fulfill her dream of a bakery. As the sisters work on the house together, each faces the past, and Sophie helps her younger sister recognize that she

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

At the funeral, Evie tells a seemingly innocent lie that spins out of control, and Evie finds herself in a complicated relationship with Hadley, the dead girl’s best friend, and before she knows it, she and Hadley are on the hunt for the killer. Author Katie Williams explores friendship and love and the sometimes terrible consequences that come from even well-intentioned lies in a powerful and haunting coming-of-age story.

Book Reviews

needs to follow her own dream for the future. Jean E. Brown, Rhode Island College; Providence, RI

Teenage Waistland By Lynn Biederman and Lisa Pazer Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010, 336 pp., $17.99 Realistic Fiction/Obesity ISBN: 978-0-385-73921-4 Four teenagers, all participating in a clinical trial of Lap-Band weight-loss surgery, lose a total of 460.7 pounds. But in the course of the process, they also learn that surgery is only one tool for weight loss. Diet and exercise and, most important, facing the psychological reasons for turning to food are also needed. In alternating chapters, each teen confronts the trauma or circumstances that led to addictive behaviors. Their stories delve into their emotional ups and downs and their commitment to change. The authors bring to life an important health issue by including lots of information about diets, fads, and eating disorders in the lives of these teens. Their stories show that although many people, including teens, are turning to surgical procedures, they are no panacea. Rather weight loss is hard work, which requires family and group support and lots of commitment to a difficult process. Jeanne M. McGlinn, University of North Carolina at Asheville; Asheville, NC

Then I Met My Sister By Christine Hurley Deriso Flux, 2011, 288 pp., $9.95 Relationships, Realistic Fiction ISBN: 978-0-7387-2581-9 Summer has failed to live up to the achievements of her older sister, Shan-


SIGNAL Journal

non, who died in an accident the summer before her senior year in high school. As Summer gets to the same point in her life, she is given her sister‘s journal. As she reads it, Summer gets to know her sister and to realize that Shannon‘s life was not as perfect as she had assumed. Shannon had her own secrets and struggles. Working through her feelings, Summer recognizes that her own life could have been better if she herself had made wiser choices. Summer reaches out to her parents, and they respond. Teenaged readers will recognize their own issues in this deftly woven story. Joy Frerichs, Whitfield County Schools; Chatsworth, GA

Three Black Swans By Caroline B. Cooney Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010, 288 pp., $17.99 Family ISBN: 978-0-385-73867-5 Three Black Swans uses the metaphor of black swans, “events that are hugely important, rare, and unpredictable, and explainable only after the fact,” to take the reader through an intricate web of familial secrets that, as they unravel, shatter the normalcy of the characters’ lives forever. What begins as a high school hoax calls into question female perpetrators’ origins and identities, and exposed truths leave all involved picking up the shards of their once ordinary lives in an attempt to make sense of surrealistic turns of events. Cooney’s work keeps the reader poised and the pages turning as she takes her audience through this murky world where black swans ripple through the lives of three unsuspecting teenagers and their families.

Andrea Harvey, The Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg; Middletown, PA

A Time of Miracles By Anne-Laure Bondoux Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2010, 192 pp., $17.99 Refugees, Historical Fiction, Survival ISBN: 978-0-385-73922-1 Is he Blaíse Fortune or Koumaïl? A Time of Miracles chronicles the life of young man living his first eleven years in the Caucasus among other refugees, knowing only that the Terrible Accident separated him from his mother. Gloria, the only mother Koumaïl knows, goads him onward, telling him that he’s French and that France is a country of freedom. Set in the turbulent years as the Soviet Union breaks up (1985-2003) Koumaïl’s diary-like entries capture the anxiety he faces in discovering his identity, finding his family, and searching for a better life. Bondoux delicately conveys the anguish and hope Koumaïl/ Blaíse experiences in his doubly complex journey: seeking for his identity as his homeland splinters and political factions abound. She creates in Koumaïl a credible narrator, supplying wise figures, lending hope against despair. Mary Warner, San Jose State University; San Jose, CA

Toads and Diamonds By Heather Thomlinson Henry Holt and Co., 2010, 288 pp., $16.99 Fairy Tales, Stepsisters ISBN: 978-0-8050-8968-4 In India, a long time ago, lived two loving stepsisters who were blessed by one of the goddesses. Diribini spoke flowers and gems, and Tana spoke

Joy Frerichs, Whitfield County Schools; Chatsworth, GA

Trapped By Michael Northrop Scholastic Press, 2011, 240 pp., $17.99 Social Situations, Survival Issues ISBN: 978-0-545-21012-6 The day the deadly blizzard starts, seven high school students are among the last waiting to be picked up. As they slowly realize that no one will be coming for them, their initial excitement about the novelty of being trapped in school turns into a serious test of survival. This is not a typical survival story because Northrop is no ordinary writer. He knows teenagers inside and out and, with realistic dialogue, believable characters, and attention to detail, makes even a superficially implausible tale all too frighteningly real. As the ordeal continues, the tension mounts to a conclusion both unexpected and satisfying. On a more meaningful level, the author explores what it means to be trapped—not only in a snowbound high school but also in our thinking. This is good read, especially for older teens who will want to find Northrop’s other books. Wendy Bell, Asheville, NC

Trash By Andy Mulligan David Fickling Books, 2010, 240 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Survival Issues, Poverty, Intrigue ISBN: 978-0-385-75214-5 Raphael, Gardo, and Rat are junkyard boys. Like the characters in Slum Dog Millionaire, they live in a junkyard in a Third World country. One day Raphael finds a bag that has, among other things, money in it. Raphael shares the money with his friends, but when the police come looking for the lost bag, the three friends manage to stay in front of those pursuing them as they try to resolve the conflict created by the other items Raphael found in the bag. This book provides insight into the poverty that exists in every country. Personalizing this story by individualizing the main characters who become the victims of political officials supposed to be protecting them makes this story come alive. Young readers can be moved to make a difference by ameliorating such conditions when they become adults. This book can be highly recommended. Herb Thompson, Emory & Henry College; Emory, VA

Tyger Tyger By Kersten Hamilton Clarion Books, 2010, 320 pp., $17.00 Fantasy, Irish Americans, Relationships ISBN: 978-0-547-33008-2 Based on Celtic prehistory and mythology, Tyger Tyger is an engaging novel for adolescent readers. Set in modern-day Chicago and the mythical realm of Mag Mell, Tyger Tyger features wonderfully quirky characters and fast-paced fantasy action. Sixteen-year-old Teagan Wylltson is a strong, smart, and courageous protagonist whose ambitious plans for

her future are interrupted by the arrival of handsome Finn Mac Cumhaill, a seventeen-year-old cousin and Irish Traveler. Teagan’s life is turned upside down by romantic feelings for Finn and the evil forces that follow him into her life. After Teagan’s mother dies suddenly and her father disappears, Teagan, with the assistance of her musically gifted younger brother Aiden and from Finn, embark on a dangerous adventure, unraveling her complicated family history and battling villainous goblins along the way. This first book in the Goblin Wars Series can be highly recommended. Arlene Radtke, Eau Claire, WI

The Waking: Dreams of the Dead By Thomas Randall Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 304 pp., $8.99 Supernatural Horror, Pop Culture ISBN: 978-1-59990-5853 Kara Harper and her father have realized their dream of starting a new life in Japan. Photographing Amano-Hashidate, the Bridge to Heaven, Kara wishes her mother had lived to share the experience. But when she sees the offerings of photos and plush toys covering the memorial to Akane, a school girl brutally murdered only months before, she realizes that evil lurks in even the most dream-like of places. Grief, rage, and guilt will tear a hole in the fabric of reality, unleashing an unspeakable nightmare that can enter the waking world. Sleep becomes impossible; faceless horrors visit in the night, and the death toll mounts. Can Kara and her friends destroy the demonic presence and send it back into the shadows of legend? Dreams of the Dead is a cool mix of Japanese pop culture, mystery, and suspense. It

Spring/Summer 2011


Book Reviews

toads and snakes. Both wondered how their gifts were to be used, and both were either shunned or sought after for their gifts. Intrigue, journeys, romance, pestilence, greed, and a prince are all involved in the revelation of their gifts‘ purposes. Gems and flowers signify beauty; toads and snakes save people from pestilence. This adventure-filled story is captivating.

Book Reviews

is bone-chilling enough to keep readers safely awake all night! Sheila Cristofaro Shedd, Virginia Commonwealth University; Richmond, VA

Walls Within Walls By Maureen Sherry Katherine Tegen Books, 2010, 368 pp., $16.99 Mystery, New York City, History, Adventure ISBN: 978-0-06-176700-5 The Smithfork family’s new Manhattan apartment has its secrets. Just what these secrets mean, though, is something that Brid, CJ, and Patrick set out to discover—with or without their parents’ approval. With luck and hard work, these siblings may just be able to crack the code left behind by the deceased Mr. Post, a multimillionaire businessman who previously inhabited the building. If all goes well, the children will unravel the cryptic clues that are thought to reveal the location of the Post family’s fortune. With help from the surviving Post family members and some lessons on New York’s history, the Smithfork children are on their way. Written at a middle school level, the novel is surprisingly literary, making reference to several historical poems in the canon. This, combined with the novel’s high interest level, makes it an ideal text to use in helping bring poetry to adolescents. Robert B. Brownfield, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School; Akron, OH


SIGNAL Journal

What Happened on Fox Street By Tricia Springstubb Balzer + Bray, 2010, 224 pp., $15.99 Family, Diversity, Growing Up ISBN: 978-0-06-198635-2 Mo Wren was born on Fox Street ten years earlier. She knows everyone, and everyone knows her. She also knows everything about Fox Street and its ten homes. Her little sister is very inquisitive, but all the neighbors watch out for her. Mr. Wren is their father; their mother was killed in an accident. Neighbors have added to the sisters’ lives with special quirks and qualities, and each summer Mo‘s best friend arrives for a visit. This summer, things are changing. Mo has to come to terms with a changing future. Not all is as it seems, but perhaps change is not all bad, and maybe hope can be a healer. Joy Frerichs, Whitfield County Schools; Chatsworth, GA

What Momma Left Me By Renëe Watson Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2010, 240 pp., $16.99 Grief, Family Problems, Religion, African American Issues ISBN: 978-1-599904446-7 What Momma Left Me is a lesson in resiliency in the face of tragedy. Thirteen-year-old Serenity and her twelve-year-old brother Danny witnessed their mother’s death at the hands of their father. Taken in by their maternal grandparents, the children struggle to cope with their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance. While their grandparents’ strong faith—grandpa is a pastor and grandma is active in the church—slowly allows healing to begin, two more devastating deaths impede the progress. Tentative friendships and alluring temptations complicate the

situation as Serenity and Danny each face life-changing decisions. Watson organizes the story around a spiritual theme: each chapter is introduced with a part of the Lord’s Prayer. However, it is deftly woven into the story and does not generate a didactic tone. While this would not be appropriate for a choice required assignment, it would be a fine middle school reading option. Susan M. Landt, St. Norbert College; De Pere, WI

Where the Truth Lies By Jessica Warman Walker for Young Readers, 2010, 320 pp., $16.99 Relationships, Boarding Schools, First Love ISBN: 978-0-8027-2078-8 On the surface, nothing could be better than the privileged life junior Emily Meckler leads. She has three best friends and attends an exclusive Connecticut boarding school where her father is the headmaster. But all is not as it seems. Emily is plagued by nightmares, and once her relationship with the mysterious new student Del Sugar becomes serious too quickly, everything that matters is jeopardized. Unable to turn to her friends, she seeks another ally to keep her secret. As truths kept by others for years are disclosed, Emily faces several heart-rending decisions and hurts someone close to her. An impulsive and ill-advised journey provides closure and the realization that home and acceptance are closer than she had imagined and that a family has more to do with love than birth. Readers will recognize the complexities that battle within Emily and root for her to find her way back home. Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University; Pullman, WA

Book Reviews

Book Reviews Non-Fiction

Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me By Kristen Chandler Viking Juvenile, 2010, 371 pp., $17.99 Nature, Relationships, Controversial Issues ISBN: 978-0-670-01142-1 Wolves, Boys, & Other Things That Might Kill Me draws in the reader from the start with a solid and entertaining tale about KJ Larson and the small town in which she lives. Her love interest Virgil, when first introduced, appears to be a dynamic personality. However, as the novel progresses, the reader learns this is not true. Overall, though, the author does a beautiful job of describing Montana’s wildlife, especially its wolf-reintroduction program, and the major drama that KJ endures in school, at home, and everywhere else because of it.

intellectual ability but not the intrinsic motivation. So, he goes to the other high school, the high school where he meets Zack, who appears to be the friend Kyle needs. However, appearances can be deceiving. Kyle has to end the friendship, but eventually he ends more than that. Benoit presents a face-paced first-person narrative. The word choice and character’s private thoughts certainly reflect the desperate place Kyle finds in himself. This novel will engage adolescents who will relate to Kyle’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. There are some adult images of alcohol and sexuality that might be offensive. However, they are brief and relevant to the story. Carol Klages, University of HoustonVictoria; Victoria, TX

Linsay Stanisic, The Pennsylvania State University-Harrisbug; Middletown, PA

You By Charles Benoit HarperTeen, 2010, 240 pp., $16.99 Realistic Fiction, Troubled Youth, Isolation ISBN: 978-0-06-194704-9 Kyle Chase learns too late that bad choices have serious consequences. If he had only worked harder his freshman year in high school, he might have gone on to the advanced high school all of his friends attend. He has the

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed By Sally M. Walker

Spring/Summer 2011



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