Week 15, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Week 15, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman 

Shusterman, N. (2015). Challenger Deep. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.


Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 5.35.49 PM.pngThis haunting novel is focuses in on 14-year-old Caden Bosch and his mental illness. Caden has schizophrenia, which causes him to hallucinate scenarios in which he is navigating towards the deepest place on Earth at the bottom of Challenger Deep. In real life, the people around him begin to worry and are concerned about what is going on in his head. Meanwhile, Caden’s mind is filled with a subplot of a captain promising fortunes while his own parrot cries for mutiny. Eventually, Caden is taken to Seaview Hospital’s psychiatric unit for treatment but his unstable condition becomes alarmingly real. In Caden’s hallucinated subplot, he eventually makes a choice and the audience sees a metaphor for the mind come to light.

Keywords: mental health; hallucinations; captain and parrot; life’s struggle

What I Think:

I really enjoyed this novel. While covering a difficult topic, this book takes a refreshingly deep look into the mental health world and what it feels like to experience schizophrenia. I really enjoyed this book for the author’s style, including his lack of transitions which helped the reader feel the choppiness and disorientation that the character feels. For example, in chapter 73, Caden is on the ship having a discussion with with the captain in his study. In this scene, we see these two interact as Caden realizes he has slight power over the captain and then is told that, for his loyalty, he can have “the honors of killing the parrot” (Shusterman, 2015, p. 128). Immediately after this quote, the author moves into chapter 74 truly without transition, as he begins an entire chapter on a childhood memory triggering his realization that he is quirky. Between these two chapters, the storyline is completely different and there is no transition to warn the reader of the shift. This demonstrates how Caden’s mind may have worked as he jumped between one reality to the next.
Additionally, I liked this book because of the included pictures throughout. As I found out, these pictures were actually drawn by the author’s son whom the book is essentially about. These pictures go along with chapters found throughout the book and demonstrate the feelings of the main character as he experiences events in life. I love being able to have an insight into the mind, thoughts and feelings of Caden that are conveyed through these authentic drawings. This extra detail adds to the book and truly added to my enjoyment as I read!


What the Experts Think:

Award-winning author Shusterman returns to realistic fiction with a breathtaking exploration of one teen’s experience with schizophrenia. Caden Bosch thinks there is somebody at his high school who wants to kill him. But that’s not all. There are things happening outside of the typical space and time constraints that he can’t understand. He feels at once all-powerful and frighteningly powerless. Caden slowly drifts away from friends and family and deeper into his mind, until his parents admit him to a mental hospital for further evaluation and treatment. Shusterman beautifully deploys dual narratives that become increasingly intertwined in this remarkable story. In addition to the grounded-in-reality narrative, he introduces another world, where Caden is out at sea with the Captain, a girl named Calliope, a parrot, and more. All of these characters eventually match realworld counterparts in the hospital and beyond. In confessional back matter, Shusterman explains his inspiration for this powerful story: his own son Brendan’s experience in the depths of mental illness. Brendan Shusterman’s illustrations, interspersed throughout, contribute significantly to the reading experience. With the increasing demand for understanding mental illness, this is a must-purchase for library collections. Haunting, unforgettable, and life affirming all at once. -Jennifer Barnes

Barnes, J. (2015). Challenger deep. The Booklist, 111(11), 47.

Classroom Recommendations:
 This book would be great to use with a group of students struggling with mental health issues, especially students with schizophrenia. This book has a trailer that the students could preview to predict what this book might be about. Then, after reading the book, the students would go back to the trailer and discuss how it connects and portrays the main character, Caden.  Next, I would have the students choose a new book that deals with a mental health issue and read through it, providing the group with summaries and updates. After the students finish reading, they will make their own trailer for the new book they read and share with the rest of the group. This would allow for the students in the group to choose a book that is even more relevant to them and then be able create a visual of the feelings of that main character.

Week 14, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Week 14, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Hale, S. (2007). Book of a thousand days. New York, NY: Holtzbrinck Publishers.


The King of Titor’s Garden, which is one of the Eight Realms in this fantastical world, locksScreen Shot 2016-04-18 at 2.26.28 PM up Saren, his 16-year-old daughter with her lady’s maid, Dashti, into a watchtower. He provides these two woman seven years worth of food all because Saren has refused to marry the man he had chosen. In order to keep her thoughts positive and clear, Dashti keeps an ongoing journal which becomes the book. While they are locked up, Dashti attempts to keep Saren happy but she eventually succumbs to a state of paranoid fear and depression. One day, Tegus Kahn appears and is able to speak and hear a voice through a small opening in the tower. This young man is one that Lady Saren likes but she insists that Dashti pretend to be her. Eventually, another visitor, Lord Khasar, appears and brings violence to the scene. This pair of girls eventually escape but must survive the struggle of the journey ahead as they fear the terrible Lord Khasar.

Keywords: fairy tale; kings and lords; locked up; romance; escape

What I Think:


Although a great piece of literature, this was definitely one of my least favorite books so far. While I usually like retold fairy tales, this was one that I was not familiar with to begin with. This may be a reason that I had such a tough time following along with this twisted version. For example, I had a tough time keeping up with the setting and the characters as the names were so bizarre. Even though I consider myself to be a decent reader, I found myself getting stuck on decoding these tough names and struggle to get past this.

On the other hand, I did like the format of this book. The book was written by the character, Dashti, as a journal and escape from her current imprisoned situation. “Day 88. I’m hiding in the cheese closet and hating the close walls and dim light, and if Cook finds me I’ll be out on my hide, but I must write this” (Hale, 2007, p. 158). This quote demonstrates the need to be writing the journal as well as the current dire situation of the characters. This is format and structure is one positive aspect of the book.

What the Experts Think:

Princess Saren is in love with Khan Tegus but betrothed to the dark Lord Khasar. Saren fears him, for good reason, and rejects the match. As punishment for her rebelliousness, her father locks her in a windowless tower for seven years. As the novel opens, Princess Saren is alone, except for the companionship of her mucker maid, Dashti.

In this recasting of Grimm’s classic fairy tale, Newberry Award winning author Shannon Hale once again delights modern audiences with a feisty, female protagonist, who not only must come into her own but also protect the fearful, insecure Princess from herself as well as from others who would do her harm.

Young adult girls, who are also on their own journeys of self-discovery, will be enchanted by this tale about female friendships, healing, and coming of age amidst the real-world tensions of betrayal, abandonment, deception, and loss. Discussion of literary elements, such as the narrative structure of fairy tales or the traditional use of character types, will make this book a productive companion to a study of classic tales in the ELA classroom.

Thompson, Phyllis. 2008. Book of a thousand days. ALAN Review 35, (3).

Classroom Recommendations:
 As a retold fairy tale, I would first have my students read the Grimm fairy tale, Maid Maleen. I would discuss this text with the students including an overview of the characters, setting and plot. Then,  I would have the student read this text while keeping their thoughts on the Grimm version of the fairy tale in the back of their minds. After reading or even as they read, I would have the students compare the two versions of the fairy tale. Finally, I would have the students write an opinion piece on which one version they liked better with supporting details from both texts as to provide evidence for their stated opinion. This would be the culminating project of reading this text and would provide an opportunity to combine reading a high quality literary text with writing a strongly supported opinion piece.

Week 14, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Week 14, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson, L. (2009). Wintergirls. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


This intriguing novel opens with Lia learning that her ex-best friend has been found dead in a motel room. We soon learn that Lia rejected Cassie’s call 33 times the night before. Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 1.50.11 PMThere are even desperate messages on Lia’s phone, but Lia does not acknowledge this connection as she has her own battles, already being sent to rehabilitation twice now. Lia feels out of control of her life as her parents divorced when she was young and her father remarried. The only good thing Lia feels she has is her younger step sister, Emma. However, after Cassie’s death, Lia is followed around by the ghost of Cassie. Whether to haunt her about her rejected phone calls, or to try to bring Lia to the other side, Cassie continues to encourage Lia’s self-harming behaviors. As Lia eats less and cuts more, she finds herself in the same motel room where Cassie lost her life. At the end, we find out if Lia succumbs to the beckoning of Cassie and her own mental demons, or is able to fight back and actually want to live again.

Keywords: mental health; anorexia; death; ghosts

What I Think:

Although this is a tough topic, I enjoyed this book because I thought it could be relatable to a lot of girls. While many who read the book may or may not have as serious as problems as the characters in the story, all girls go through thoughts of judgment and not feeling good or pretty enough. “I measure myself. I can’t play soccer, and most of them have better grades than me. But I am the thinnest girl in the room, hands down” (Anderson, 2009, p. 78).  This is an example of a quote from the main character as she is describing her day to the audience. I think many girls including myself could relate to, at one point in time, measuring themselves compared to other girls, whether in person or on social media. This is why this book can be very relatable to teens.

Additionally, I liked this book due to the author’s style of writing as the 18-year-old character, Lia Overbrook. There are many times throughout the text where Lia has scratched out sentences or thoughts as she is explaining her life to the audience. For example, Lia expressed her feelings of wanting to eat a piece of pizza that is offered to her but having to turn it down. This is shown through the crossed out string of words, “One bite, please, and then another and another, crust and cheese sausage sauce another and another” (p. 121). After this thought, Lia lies and turns down the pizza, even though the audience can clearly see how bad she wants to accept. This is an example of the interesting way the author formats and writes the book, which is why I would definitely encourage the book in my classroom!

What the Experts Think:

Lia and best friend Cassie are good at one thing, being thin. Cassie’s bulimia results in her death, yet Lia is still determined to be the thinnest girl in high school. Stith takes us inside Lia’s head as she spirals downward with her addictive behavior. She voices Lia’s interior monologues, reactions to parents and therapists, negative self-talk, obsessive calorie counting, and attempts to make food repulsive. Through vocal modulations and tonal changes, Stith captures the teen’s anger and fears. The other teenagers also sound realistic, as do Lia’s parents, who come across as irritated, bewildered, and helpless as they watch their daughter self-destruct. Anderson doesn’t pull any punches with her writing, and Stith is equally honest and compelling in her reading. Includes an author interview. Also available in Playaway ($59.99). – Laurie Hartshorn

Hartshorn, L. (2009). Wintergirls. The Booklist, 106(1), 122.

Classroom Recommendations:
I would use this book and direct it mainly to girls or guys who might be struggling with mental health or eating disorders. I would love to get a group in order to create a sense of community and trust among those with similar struggles. I would have these specific students read this book, but before I would have them preview and notice that the point of view is in first person limited omniscient. I would have them brainstorm why this might be useful in a book about this topic. Then, after reading the book, I would come back to this question and ask now why they think this book was written in that specific point of view. I would also have the group discuss why the author chose to strike out certain sentences or phrases while writing about the character’s day. Finally, I would have the group discuss the feelings of the characters and how they personally might have handled situations differently than Lia did in the book. I would hope all of this discussion would not only be literacy based, but would also benefit this specific group of struggling students.

Week 13, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia

Week 13, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

Fleming, C. (2014). The family Romanov: Murder, rebellion & the fall of imperial Russia. New York, NY: Random House.


This book is an in-depth historical look at Russian royalty known as the Romanov family.

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Some pictures from Part III: The Storm Breaks

This book is an informational text laid out in four chronological sections. The first section is an account of the Romanov family and an in-depth look at who they were.  The reader learns about Nicholas as a child, his romance with Alix of Hesse, their hastily-planned marriage, and the sickly, incurable heir. The second section of this book follows history from the revolution from the workers’ strikes to Lenin’s rise of power in 1917. In this section, the reader can truly feel the blatant discrepancy between the secluded Romanovs and the rest of Russia and its people as they experience overwhelming economic conditions. The third section of this book continues to look at the economic conditions as World War I breaks. This section includes personal stories of the people who largely affected the Romanov family as they searched for a better life. The fourth and final section of this book looks at the takeover by Lenin and how clueless and in denial the Romanov family was during this time as they were moved from place to place. To finish, the book concludes with information about the mysterious disappearance of the once royal family and the eventual DNA findings that occurred.


Keywords: informational text; royalty; peasants; Russia; rise and fall

What I Think:


I’ll start by being frank that this topic was not the best choice of mine. As I began reading, I realized the topic of this book was not something that engaged me or motivated me to read. However, I was still able to get through the book and learn a lot about early Russia! Even though this particular topic wasn’t of interest to me, it was a very in-depth, structured informational text. I would consider it a strong text to have in the classroom.

This book was in-depth as it went through a whole lot of information that one would need if doing research about the family. The book took the reader all the way from the beginning with Nicholas’ childhood, all the way to controversy of the body of potentially Anastasia or Marie (Fleming, 2014, p. 250). The author even included different perspectives from peasants in sections called “Beyond the Palace Gates”. For example, one of these sections was a disturbing account of the life of a young, working girl and how she was exploited for her looks and paid poorly (p. 96). This book truly gave a lot of detail and information about this story that would provide someone with a sufficient amount of research on this topic.  I also liked this book for it’s organized structure. There are four clear sections in chronological order that make it easy for one to use the book as research. After reading the book, it would be easy to go back to a section in search of information because of its structure. For this reason, it is a strong example of an informational text and a good one for the classroom!

What the Experts Think:

Fleming examines the family at the center of two of the early 20th century’s defining events.It’s an astounding and complex story, and Fleming lays it neatly out for readers unfamiliar with the context. Czar Nicholas II was ill-prepared in experience and temperament to step into his legendary father’s footsteps. Nicholas’ beloved wife (and granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Alexandra, was socially insecure, becoming increasingly so as she gave birth to four daughters in a country that required a male heir. When Alexei was born with hemophilia, the desperate monarchs hid his condition and turned to the disruptive, self-proclaimed holy man Rasputin. Excerpts from contemporary accounts make it clear how years of oppression and deprivation made the population ripe for revolutionary fervor, while a costly war took its toll on a poorly trained and ill-equipped military. The secretive deaths and burials of the Romanovs fed rumors and speculation for decades until modern technology and new information solved the mysteries. Award-winning author Fleming crafts an exciting narrative from this complicated history and its intriguing personalities. It is full of rich details about the Romanovs, insights into figures such as Vladimir Lenin and firsthand accounts from ordinary Russians affected by the tumultuous events. A variety of photographs adds a solid visual dimension, while the meticulous research supports but never upstages the tale.A remarkable human story, told with clarity and confidence. (bibliography, Web resources, source notes, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)

The Family Romanov. (2014). Kirkus Reviews, LXXXII(11)
Classroom Recommendations:
In the classroom, I would love to have my students complete a research project revolving around an informational text. I would allow my students to choose their text based on their interests, but would encourage at least one to choose this text, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia. Once students chose their text, I would provide time for them to read and get a good grasp of the topic. Next, I would have the students come up with at least five talking points that would be important to teach when talking about this topic. The students will use these generated questions to complete additional research and then finally share the information learned with the rest of the class. So, for example, the students would use information from the text as well as additional research to present five important points about the chosen topic. This information could be shared in many ways, including a powerpoint, video, song or cartoon. Overall, this project would allow for students to choose a topic of interest to them, read about the topic, conduct further research, and present the learned information in a creative way.

Week 12, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Week 12, Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Levithan, D. (2015). Hold me closer: The Tiny Cooper story. New York, NY: Penguin Group.


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Laughing at the comedy that is Tiny Cooper!

This book is the story that many already know and love of Will Grayson, Will Grayson also by David Levithan but this time, there’s a twist. This version is told through the eyes of Tiny Cooper. This is the story of his life, but it is not just an ordinary story. No, it is a musical. This novel in musical form introduces the star, Tiny Cooper, and his big, beautiful, gay life as a big, beautiful, extravagant show. It is hilarious for the reader to follow along as we experience life’s ups and downs from Tiny’s perspective with musical numbers included, some real and some exaggerated.


Keywords: lighthearted; musical; gay and proud; extravagant; 18 boyfriends

What I Think:

I absolutely LOVED this book. The past few weeks I’ve been reading heavier books so it was fantastic to read a book, or rather musical, that was so lighthearted and funny at every turn of the page. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed the song near the beginning of the book as Tiny is explaining how he has always identified himself as gay. He imagines himself as a baby as his neighbors emphasize his sexual orientation as they sing a song called “Oh! What a Big Gay Baby!”(Levithan, 2015, p. 15).

Another example of the humor in this book comes as Tiny describes his first date ever. Again, there is a song with Brad Langley, his crush at the time, somewhat similar to the “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” song. This ends up building the suspense about their relationship in funny, awkward way that any relationship might build up. Then, all of a sudden, Tiny is let down when Brad is confused and doesn’t feel comfortable with the idea of dating Tiny (p. 102). Again, this example shows the lightheartedness from Tiny’s perspective as he walks the audience through his life. This humor is why I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

What the Experts Think:

He’s baaack: Tiny Cooper, the larger-thanlife costar of Levithan and John Green’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson (2010), claims center stage in the former’s latest, which-according to its title page-is “a musical in novel form (or, a novel in musical form).” Either way, the book is presented as being a two-act script for Tiny’s epic autobiographical musical, Hold Me Closer. Act 1 charts his childhood and struggle to come out to his family and friends, who are less than surprised by the revelation, seeing how Tiny is, as his friend Will once put it, “the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” With an outsize personality to match his physicality, Tiny is flamboyant and fabulous and, as we learn in act 2, also a hopeless romantic, to the tune of having fallen in love 18 times. (And, yes, all 18 of his exes put in an appearance.) The action is propelled by 25 songs with such titles as “The Ballad of the Lesbian Babysitter,” “Oh! What a Big Gay Baby,” and “Summer of Gay.” This is all as much fun as it sounds, though it has a serious side in its sober examination of the nature of love. Levithan has turned in another star turn with a book that is witty, wise, and well worthy of an encore. -Michael Cart

Cart, M. (2015). Hold me closer: The tiny cooper story. The Booklist, 111(12), 80.
Classroom Recommendations:
I would love to use this book in the classroom with my students. First, I would have them read Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan. Then, I would introduce this story as comparable to Will Grayson, Will Grayson but from a different perspective. Once the students had read this story, I would have them write their opinion on which one was better and their reasoning using supporting evidence from both texts. As an extra activity, I might have the students write the story from another character’s perspective to add a third person’s point of view to the story. The students could choose to write it as a narrative or more like a musical as in Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story. It would be interesting to hear the different versions that the students would create.

Week 11, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Week 11, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D. (2015). Orbiting jupiter. Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  Publishing Company.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 12.17.29 PMJoseph is a son of a plumber who ends up in a relationship with Madeleine, a well-off girl whose parents are rarely home. When their relationship is revealed, Madeleine’s parents issue an injunction to keep Joseph away from their daughter. However, Madeleine ends up pregnant and Joseph ends up moving through a group home into a high-security juvenile facility. Eventually, Joseph moves in with Jack’s family, a group of people who have never seen such a broken and defensive character. As Jack’s family does their best to show love to Joseph, he slowly emerges from his shell. Things start to look up for Joseph with Jack’s family and at school, but Joseph can just never seem to escape from the struggles of his past including his father and his daughter, Jupiter.


Keywords: single father; baby daughter; foster family; second chances

What I Think:

I have to admit that it was extremely difficult trying to get through this book with dry eyes. While I usually don’t enjoy books that are making me cry almost at every turn of the page, I truly enjoyed this story. I mainly liked this book because of how real the character seemed to be. As the reader, I felt as if I had known the character forever and could feel what he felt as he went through the terrible struggles that got him to Jack’s family. “He stopped in the boy’s bathroom. He didn’t known what was coming over him, but it was huge and terrible and strong. It was inside him and outside him, and it was already starting to scream, and it was getting louder and his head was getting louder and his brain was getting louder and he threw water in his face but he couldn’t stop it he couldn’t stop it he couldn’t stop it he couldn’t stop it” (Schmidt, 2015, p. 82). This quote describes Joseph’s feelings and actions when he first finds out that his true love was out of his life. This raw quote truly allows the reader to connect with the main character and feel what he feels as he get dealt the cards of life that lead to his struggles.

What the Experts Think:

Masterful is the word to describe Schmidts latest, the deeply moving story of a 14-yearold boy who is an out-of-wedlock father with one desire: to see his baby daughter, though laws and rules and regulations militate against this. The boy, Joseph, has a checkered past: he once took some pills he shouldn’t have and subsequently tried to kill a teacher. Accordingly, he has spent time in a correctional facility where he has been savagely beaten and abused. Despite this-or perhaps because of it-12-year-old Jack’s parents bring Joseph to live with them on their New England farm, and just like that, Jack has a foster brother. Joseph’s adjustment to a new life isn’t always an easy one; his emotions are locked up, he encounters bullies, and many of his teachers are suspicious of him. Through all of it, Joseph never abandons his dream of seeing his daughter, named Jupiter for his and the mother’s favorite planet. Told in Jack’s spare, direct first-person voice, the story’s style demonstrates the beauty of simplicity as it delineates the lives of its characters, each as superbly realized as the tumultuous New England setting. An altogether memorable novel from the ever incredible Schmidt. -Michael Cart

Cart, M. (2015). Orbiting jupiter. The Booklist, 112(1), 108.
Classroom Recommendations:

This book would be another great one to just have in the classroom library for students to read if they choose. As a teacher, I would use this book as a choice for students who may be struggling with hard times that most students or young adults wouldn’t have to. Whether this was raising a young child as a high school student or having to work full time to support family, this book would be great for those who have additional burdens and struggles on them because it provides a character to which they can relate. This book is a great reminder that there are others in the world who may be in worse situations that we currently find ourselves.

As an activity for students who read this book, I would ask them to respond to the following prompt. “How much control over our own lives do we have and how much of our lives is up to fate? Use support from the book to support your answer.”  The response to this prompt would lead to a fantastic discussion among students while also providing text support for their answers.


Week 11, Cut by Patricia McCormick

Week 11, Cut by Patricia McCormick

McCormick, P. (2000). Cut. Asheville, NC: Front Street.


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Currently in deep thought after finishing this book!

At first, it seems as though Callie is a normal teenager with a normal set of parents and a normal younger brother. But soon, it becomes apparent that Callie’s life is not normal. Instead, Callie’s family has their own troubles and Callie has a threatening secret of her own. She cuts herself. When a school nurse sees the scars on Callie’s arm, she is sent to a residential treatment facility called Sea Pines, nicknamed by the residents as “Sick Mind”. Callie meets a variety of girls like herself, some with substance abuse problems and others with eating disorders.  None are girls that Callie really opens up to, and nobody knows why. One day, she does, and soon she reveals why she engages in the act of cutting. Follow along as Callie discovers her internal struggles and learns that she has to play a part in her own healing


Keywords: high school; rehab; self-mutilation; recovery; internal struggle

What I Think:

This book, although covering a very heavy topic, did a phenomenal job of trying to give the reader the perspective of a young high school teenager with the unnerving urge to cut herself. I would recommend this book for a young adult library collection because of the descriptive glimpse it gives into the life of a teenage girl with a clear mental illness stemming from obvious family and internal struggles. This book truly attempts to give understanding to those who may not have gone through such struggles but also gives those who have gone through such struggles an admirable character to which they can relate. Either way, the book does an excellent job of emulating how the main character feels in a relatable way as she goes through her struggles and triumphs. “Tears, warm and sudden, sting the corners of my eyes, but I don’t cry. Sam cries. My mom cries. I don’t cry” (McCormick, 2000, p. 42). This quote demonstrates a moment that the audience can relate to, even though Callie is in the situation of having to take sleeping pills in the rehab facility, it is a feeling that many people have experienced and can therefore make the connection to the character.

What the Experts Think:

Sea Pines, a.k.a. Sick Minds, treats teenaged girls with food- and substance-abuse issues, and Callie, whose issue is self-mutilation. She will not talk about her dysfunctional family, her guilt toward her brother Sam’s severe asthma, or why she cuts herself. She will not talk—period. Cut is Callie’s interior monologue that alternates between her interactions with her therapist and her interactions with the other residents, the staff, and her family. Her thought process reveals a girl who seems to have given up on life until one cut scares the life back into her. The ability to talk then becomes a metaphor for Callie’s ability to understand herself and to begin the healing process. Readers are also treated to the downfalls and triumphs of Callie’s peers, including a new resident who shares Callie’s affliction. First-timer McCormick tackles a side of mental illness that is rarely seen in young-adult literature in a believable and sensitive manner. Unlike other authors of this genre, she avoids stereotypes and blends gentle humor with this serious topic. McCormick ultimately portrays Callie as a normal teenager who yearns for a stable family structure and friends, and who also has a psychological problem. A thoughtful look at teenage mental illness and recovery. (Fiction. 13-15)

Kirkus Staff. 2000. Cut. Kirkus Review
Classroom Recommendations:

This book would be a great one to just have in the classroom library for students to read if they choose. As a teacher, I would use this book as a choice for students who may be struggling with different mental health issues or simply seem to be struggling more than usual with high school issues.

This book would also be great to use with a specific group of students that are known to have mental health struggles, such as those who have eating disorders or are engaging in substance abuse. I would use this book to spark discussion among this group of students and facilitate a sense of connection community among the group.This will hopefully allow for the group to be supportive to the specific group of teenagers that need that support.  I would also have this group that read and discussed the book to write a piece about what he or she would have done differently at different points in the book if they were in Callie’s shoes. This would allow for the group of students to express their opinions on how they would’ve handled these tough situations and will hopefully allow them to come to safe solutions to these problems.

Week 10, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Week 10, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, C. (2001). Whale talk. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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This book is an emotional thriller as the audience follows along through the eyes of lovable T.J. Jones as he goes out of his way many times to help others in need. All of this kindness happens as he recruits people for a the brand new Cutter High School swim team. Along his journey, T.J. (as well as the audience) gets very close to Heidi, a five year old with an unfortunate home life. Eventually, things take a turn for the worse and the audience experiences what happens when a gun gets into the wrong hands at the wrong time.

Keywords: swimmers; domestic violence; tragedy; varsity jacket

What I Think:

I LOVED this book, even with its intensity and emotion. I thought the characters were thoroughly developed so that the audience could clearly understand their thoughts, decisions and feelings. I felt as if I was a friend to the main character by the end of the book, so much so that I was way more emotionally attached to the story than I normally would find myself. For example, Tao says, “I didn’t earn a letter jacket because I could, and all my friends did because they couldn’t. Some things really don’t get any better” (Crutcher, 2001, p. 204). By having a deep understanding of Tao, the audience can understand such a complicated statement. It actually makes so much sense to come from Tao and truly defines who he is as a person. Knowing this as an audience member makes the entire story believable, relatable, and truly gets readers attached.

What the Experts Think:

Gr. 8-12. Crutcher’s fans will recognize the author’s signature style and subject matter in his new novel, his first in six years. Adopted, biracial high-school senior The Tao Jones (his birth mother seems to “have been a little too ‘spiritual”‘) is well-adjusted on the surface. A smart, likable kid with a great sense of humor and athletic ability, he glides through academia with everything an adolescent boy needs-decent grades and female companionship. What T. j. doesn’t need is competitive sports, which Cutter High School jocks and coaches see as a personal snub. T. J.’s resolve weakens, however, when English teacher-coach Mr. Simet makes an unconventional offer: Be the anchor of the swim team and pick your fellow fish. Perfect, especially since racist football bully Mike Barbour has taken up letter jackets as a cause. It seems developmentally disabled Chris Coughlin has been wearing his dead brother’s jacket, and Mike is annoyed. If Chris, naturally comfortable in the water, is on the swim team, T. 1. reasons, Chris will earn a jacket of his own, and Mike will be put in his place. The veteran author once again uses well-constructed characters and quick pacing to examine how the sometimes cruel and abusive circumstances of life affect every link in the human chain, and a heartwrenching series of plot twists leads to an end in which goodness at least partially prevails. Through it all, as expected, shines Crutches sympathy for teens and their problems. For more about the book, see the Story-behind-the Story on the opposite page. -Kelly Milner Halls

Kelly, Milner Halls. 2001. Whale talk. The Booklist 97, (15) (Apr 01): 1462

Classroom Recommendations:

I would incorporate this book within a larger study of gun violence in American culture. I would have the students read through this book in class and at home to give them a narrative and characters that they can relate and connect to. Then, in class, I would bring in excerpts from Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart as well as other resources such as current events in newspapers. All of the articles and excerpts provided to the students would relate to what we were reading in the narrative and discussing in class. These pulled excerpts would either support opinions in the group or provide a different perspective in order to add variety and depth to the discussion. I think this process would provide for a rich discussion and development of opinions on such a controversial yet important topic. The goal is to allow students to develop their own opinions of gun control and violence in American society through discussion with their peers on these texts.

Week 10,Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart

Week 10, Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart

Cart, M. (2015). Taking aim: Power and pain, teens and guns. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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This book is a collection of stories that essentially explores the relationship and impact of teens and guns in American society. From a love story gone wrong to the tragedy of a school shooting, this book provides an enlightening look into the idea of guns in our society and their (sometimes) unintended consequences.

Keywords: guns; American society; tragedy; love; accidents

What I Think:


I enjoyed this collection of stories. I think it provides a variety of unique perspectives on such a controversial issue as gun control. Because this book has so many different stories with multiple themes flowing throughout, it is a great way for teens to connect and witness many different people who have different perspectives. Giving teens this opportunity allows them to discover their own beliefs and thoughts about the topic.

I specifically liked this book because it often provides a challenge to those with specific ideas. It is almost as if the book is challenging the audience to rethink what they know and believe about gun violence and positions on guns. For example, “there’s some kind of unwritten rule that, if you love the environment, you have to hate guns” (Cart, 2015, p. 103). This is a bold statement that is supported by the context of one of the short stories. However, the story challenges the reader to deeply think about whether he or she aligns with these beliefs. This challenge could be good for a young developing teen as they are just beginning to create opinions and beliefs of their own.

What the Experts Think:

This short story collection explores one of our America’s most hot-button issues: guns. A brief introduction by the editor and a prologue by Marc Aronson, Will Weaver, and Chris Crutcher prime readers for the stories to come, which span the numerous ways that guns affect teen lives across the country, in both urban and rural settings. Gregory Galloway writes of teens on a backwoods hunting trip contemplating shooting each other for the stories it’ll allow them to tell. Alex Flinn follows a girl embarrassed by her dad’s gunnut friend, until the zombie apocalypse makes her rethink things. Francesca Lia Block shows an elementary teacher faced with a reptile expert unexpectedly wielding a gun. In a wordless comic, Eric Shanower provides an interpretation of what goes wrong when Eros trades in his bow and arrow for more powerful, modern weaponry. As a collection, this anthology functions less as an evaluation of whether guns are good or bad but, rather, as an incisive glimpse at how guns function, both symbolically and literally, in contemporary society. Sobering and thought-provoking. -Jennifer Barnes

Barnes, Jennifer. 2015. Taking aim: Power and pain, teens and guns. The Booklist111, (21) (07): 60
Classroom Recommendations:

Although this book could be used in its entirety in the classroom, I would probably pull specific stories with plots and themes related to discussion. I would want to incorporate this book within a larger study of gun violence in American culture. Instead, I would use more of a narrative chapter book that fully develops its characters to truly relate and connect with the students. Then, in class, I would bring in excerpts from Taking Aim that related to what we were reading in the narrative and discussing in class. These pulled excerpts would either support opinions in the group or provide a different perspective in order to add variety and depth to the discussion. I think this process would provide for a rich discussion and development of opinions on such a controversial yet important topic.