Archive | August, 2014

AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang (First Second Books, 2006)

30 Aug

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GENRE: Graphic Novel

HONORS: Micheal L. Printz Award Winner, 2007, 2007 Eisner Award Winner, 2006 National Book Award Nominee

REVIEW: Three seemingly unrelated stories connect the lives of Jin Wang, a second-generation Chinese American (who literally gives up his cultural identity), the Monkey King from a Chinese folk story (who won’t admit he’s a monkey), and Chin-Kee, a stereotypical Chinese character who revels in his American acumen. Their worlds intersect in an unexpected place that explores questions of race, identity, self-esteem, and cultural stereotypes.

OPINION: Ironically, I started this book with my own biases and preconceptions. As someone completely new to the genre, I expected this book to be a shallow tale of superpowers and reluctant heroes. What I found instead was a clever, profound, and at times hilarious examination of racial issues and struggles in America. Yang is never preachy or angry, but instead highlights the ambiguity each main character feels in his mixed identity. His deft illustration style is never overbearing, with the visuals and words harmoniously complementing each other, but never feeling repetitive.

IDEAS: Immigration is a hot and controversial topic now in the world. For teens, it can be even more complex than for adults. This book could be a good bridge for understanding the issues for second-generation immigrants and could also be a meaningful, clear read for first-generation immigrant children with ESL needs.

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking, 2009)

29 Aug

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.38.02 PM GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: None Found

REVIEW: When 18-year-old Lia’s former best friend is found dead and alone in a cheap motel, her formidable list of problems grows; now in addition to battling anorexia, cutting, depression, and a tormented relationship with her divorced parents, Lia’s haunted by her friend’s ghost. In this sometimes brutal first-person narrative of her winter of despair and redemption, Lia tries to go back to the “real girl” she used to be and not the Wintergirl she’s become.

OPINION: This is a difficult book to read because of its extreme nature; Lia recounts her life and circumstances with the coldest of eyes. Her description of cutting from her “neck to just below her heart” is so detached—more like a serial killer’s thoughts than a privileged teenage girl—that it’s hard to empathize with her character. And after a few too many times of her “stupid/ugly/stupid/bitch/stupid/fat/” mantra, you have a hard time not agreeing with her just a little.

IDEAS: This book could be useful in studies or units to prevent body image issues or topics of anorexia, bulimia, or cutting, although it could be very detrimental to a student in the throes of such desperation themselves.

NOW IS GOOD, Warner Brothers, 2012

22 Aug

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GENRE: Teen Drama

HONORS: Children’s Jury Main Prize, 2013, Golden Apple, 2013, Milos Macourek Award, 2013

REVIEW: What’s on your bucket list of things to do before you die? Tessa Scott has a collection she needs to keep up to date. Because she doesn’t have long to live. Battling the last stages of cancer, the teen decides to push the boundaries of her life as she faces down death. Along the way she confronts issues like sex, drugs, shoplifting, teen pregnancy, and finally crosses off the item topping her list, love.

OPINION: Angst-ridden Tessa is every parent’s nightmare: an angry child (albeit with something to be angry about—a deadly disease). But this stressful story is not alleviated by character nuance—Tessa is problematic until she gets what she ultimately wants: the guy. The stilted performance from Dakota Fanning as Tessa and the “gee-whiz” boyfriend-next-door Adam are never truly believable in their anger or altruism. Great for a good cry, this is “tragedy porn” and not much else.

IDEAS: Definitely better for an older age group, this could partner with The Fault in Our Stars for teens trying to grapple with issues of death and dying.

DANCE ACADEMY, Werner Film Productions

19 Aug

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 8.45.08 PM(Episode 1, “Learning to Fly,” Premiere May 31, 2010)

GENRE: Teen Drama

HONORS: 2010 Australian Directors Guild Awards, 2011 TV Week Logie Awards, 2011 Hugo Television Awards, 2013 TV Week Logie Awards

REVIEW: Tara Webster, literally straight off the farm in Australia, realizes her dream to attend the prestigious National Academy of Dance. But she discovers that getting in the school wasn’t the hard part. Navigating the complexities of a competitive environment far from home, Tara must chose friends carefully and never lose site of her passion for dance. This “Glee” for ballet gives viewers insight into the lives of elite dancers and reveals that even with talent, they are still just normal teens at heart.

OPINION: Although the acting is above a Disney channel program and the program thankfully eschews a laugh track, the situations and characters are frequently expected and clichéd. That said, it is more thoughtful and balanced than most of it’s American television counterparts and it is refreshing to get a glimpse of the hard work and sacrifice it takes to become an expert at something meaningful.

IDEAS: So many teens struggle to find a balance between their passion and their every day life. This could be part of a broader display of shows, movies, and documentaries about kids with talent and the struggles of their lives.


THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green (Dutton Books, 2012)

19 Aug

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GENRE: Realistic Fiction

HONORS: 2013 Children’s Choice Teen Book of the Year Award

REVIEW: Hazel Lancaster is dying. But she’s not totally ready to give up on life yet. The sixteen-year-old meets her match in a cancer support group in the form of Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor in remission. Bonding over a book, they embark on the best journey of their lives: understanding their places in the world they will soon leave.

OPINION: Engaging and never maudlin, Fault in Our Stars gives us a duo to root for, but not pity. Both Hazel and Augustus are likeable people faced with remarkably difficult circumstances—and Green paints them in a balanced and realistic way. Smart dialog and sly cultural references keep the book fresh and lively, even in the most emotionally challenging passages.

IDEAS: Death is a complex issue that is hard for people of any age to fully comprehend—and teens certainly don’t consider their own mortality. This book would be a very interesting addition to a humanities curriculum examining death and it’s relation to the circle of life. It could also be used for a unit on understanding differences or disabilities.