Category Archives: realistic fiction; young adult fiction

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting JupiterWhen Joseph, 14, comes to live with Jack’s family as a foster child after spending time in a juvenile corrections facility, all he can think about is finding his daughter Jupiter. But Jupiter’s grandparents want nothing to do with Joseph, and Jupiter has been given up for adoption.  Jack isn’t sure how to respond to Joseph, so he follows his parents’ lead.  However, when Joseph’s biological father bursts onto the scene and looks to leverage the situation in his financial favor, Joseph, Jack, and his parents become even more sure about what they must do.

Gary D. Schmidt is a wonderful storyteller.  Having read Okay for Now, Trouble, and What Came from the Stars, Orbiting Jupiter was an easy book to buy.  And once I started reading, I put everything else off.  My students knew how good the book was because I decided to read with them during reader’s workshop.  I appreciate their understanding. 🙂

Schmidt tackles many issues in this new young adult novel – family, foster children, juvenile detention, young love, and young parenthood.  All are approached in a respectful, honest way.

Yes, it might be hard for a 14-year-old eighth grader to understand Joseph’s predicament, but I would rather have that 14-year-old and all of his peers read about it before they find themselves in a position to experience it.  That’s the power of reading.

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Filed under realistic fiction; young adult fiction, young adult fiction, young adult literature

Caged Warrior by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Caged-WarriorMcCutcheon Daniels, an up-and-coming underground MMA fighter, wants a shot at the MMA title, but he must first make his way through a series of older and tougher opponents before that can happen.  His father, a former boxer, introduced him to the world of MMA, but his father uses him as nothing more than an ATM to fund his drinking and gambling habits.  McCutcheon’s mother mysteriously disappeared years ago, and the only true person he truly feels any responsibility for is his younger sister.

I don’t follow MMA and I don’t watch boxing, but I found this novel gripping, albeit bordering on inappropriate for upper middle school readers.  Amazon places it in the grade 7-12 range. McCutcheon is a good guy.  He works hard in school, cares for his sister, leads a disciplined life, and sees MMA as a way to escape his impoverished upbringing.  However, he’s faced at every turn by his maniacal father, who plays a demented opposing personality.  His father will stop at nothing to secure a title shot and huge payday, the majority of which he’ll blow on booze, women, and gambling.

Alan Lawrence Sitomer has written a young adult novel focused on the seamy underbelly of a sport, mixed martial arts, that has capture the fancy of many young adults, yet he does not glorify the sport.  Boxing was once said to be the path for many poor minorities to escape the inner city.  MMA appears to have assumed that mantel.

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Filed under Mr. K-C, realistic fiction; young adult fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction, young adult literature

>Bruiser by Neil Shusterman

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Brewster, or Bruiser as he’s known to his classmates, is your prototypical loner.  He avoids friendships because getting so close hurts him in incomprehensible ways.  However, when Bronte and her brother, Tennyson, become his friends, Brewster has no choice but to explore the pain (and joy) friendship can bring.  Narrated from multiple perspectives, this is Shusterman’s newest release, and it is one of the finest, most thoughtful young adult novels I’ve ever read.

Has anyone noticed the how much social commentary now appears in young adult literature.  Bruiser is no exception.  Brewster is a loner because close relationships cause him too much literal and figurative pain.  When someone he loves hurts, he hurts as well.  His pain goes further, though, because he takes the pain from those he loves.  From broken hearts to broken limbs, if Brewster is close to you, he robs you of the pain.  Shusterman’s tale, without a doubt, is cautionary – if you grow to close to someone, there pain becomes yours.  That’s what friendship is all about.  But is he also attempting to say young adults are not empathetic enough?

Tennyson and Bronte, brother and sister twins, come at this story from different angles.  Bronte wants to date Brewster, but Tennyson urges her to end the relationship because Brewster’s loner ways have gotten him voted Most Likely to Receive the Death Penalty.  Bronte seems something more.  Tennyson begins to come around, and he even realizes that his behavior impacts others, namely Brewster.  Brewster grows close to Bronte and Tennyson.  Tennyson begins to realize that unless he changes his ways and gets his emotions in check, he’ll continue to hurt Brewster, whether he realizes is or not.

I don’t mean to sound cliche, but I didn’t want this book to end.  From my perspective, Bruiser is the best young adult novel of 2010.

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Filed under Best Book of 2010, Brewseter, Bronter, Bruiser, empathy, Neil Schusterman, realistic fiction; young adult fiction, Tennyson

>Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt

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There are young adult novels.  And then there are young adult novels.  Some meander through predictable, silly plots and leave you with a transparent message.  I just dropped a book – a cross between the movie Groundhog Day and the movie Mean Girls – because it left me empty. 

Gary D. Schmidt, author of The Wednesday Wars, a book I gave up, has written an unbelievably thoughtful book in Trouble.  Even though I didn’t care for the Wednesday Wars, I found Schmidt’s writing style fun.  I thought his writing deserved a second chance.  Little did I know the second chance I would give Schmidt would be one of the finest young adult novels I’ve ever read.  Did I say ever? 

The first line of Trouble reads Henry Smith’s father told him that if you build your house far enough away from trouble, then trouble will never find you.  This single sentence sets the reader up for a story he won’t want to walk away from.

Henry Smith, a fourteen-year-old, lives with his family in idyllic Blythbury-by-the-Sea.  He is far away from trouble, or so he’s been told.  But trouble reside right under his family’s roof.  His older brother, Franklin, is not who he appears to be; his older sister is hiding her own secrets; and Henry’s parents hide even more secrets.  But that’s what you do in Blythbury-by-the-Sea — you appear calm, cool, and composed on the surface.  You’re rich and powerful, unlike the town of Cambodian refugees living on the other side of your town’s border.  The tension between the towns hits its apex as Franklin is hit by a Cambodian.  Hate crimes, bigoted public pronouncements, and vandalism ensue.  As the controversy swirls around Henry, his sights are set on only one thing – climbing Maine’s Mount Katahdin – something his brother Franklin said would make him a man.

This is such a complex story, you’ll want to read it again.

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Filed under Gary D. Schmidt, realistic fiction; young adult fiction, Trouble

>Planet Pregnancy by Linda Oatman High

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I live in the suburbs, and I sometimes feel as though I’m surrounded by the yellow, pro-life bumper stickers and yard signs urging teen mothers to consider giving up their unborn, unplanned babies for adoption.  I’m somewhat ambivalent about this issue.  My feelings have changed about abortion since I became a parent almost ten years ago.  But I strongly believe a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body.  I sense a bit of condescension and contradiction in those signs.  They urge those who’ve made mistakes to call, but they also communicate a sense of perfection, as though the inhabitants of cars and homes tattooed with those yellow stickers and signs would never makes such a mistake.  Or so that’s the way I’ve always interpreted them. 

Sometimes the same goes for reading.  Attempting to determine what books are just right for a young adults is a tricky business. We want to shield them, but we also want to expose them to situations they might later encounter.  Planet Pregnancy is one of those books.  Reviewers and the publisher find it suitable for young adults.   But the protagonist, Sahara, is only sixteen when confronted with an unplanned pregnancy.  The novel, told in poetic verse, accurately and honestly conveys the many thoughts, stigmas, and reactions attached to these sorts of pregnancies.  I think this would be a wonderful book for a mother and a daughter to read together and discuss.  Sahara considers terminating the pregnancy, vacillates on whether to tell the biological father, falters when telling her mother, and ultimately makes a decision she can live with.  That being said, I can’t place the book in my classroom library.  Students in my eighth grade language arts classroom are only two years younger than Sahara, the perfect age to read about and vicariously rehearse what they would do under similar circumstances.   If I had a 14-year-old daughter (I have sons), I would read the book with her and use it as a segue into the “THE TALK.”  But my students are not my children.  And I can’t make those decisions for them. 

The many adults who mothered and fathered me in the neighborhood of my childhood were able to view me as a neighbor and a son.  The times allowed for it.  Today is a different day.

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Filed under Linda Oatman High, Planet Pregnancy, poetic verse, realistic fiction; young adult fiction, reluctant readers, teen pregnancy, unplanned pregnancy

>The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

>The Great Wide Sea is one of the most thoughtfully written and enjoyable young adult novels I’ve read in a long time. The author, M. H. Herlong, captures the essence of a teenage boy in conflict with his father. Not to bring gender into the spotlight, but M.H. is a woman. I hope she has not used initials, rather than her first and middle names, to appeal to young boys. This reminds me of S.E. Hinton and J.K. Rowling, and it makes me sad that we still perpetuate the stereotype of men writing for boys and women writing for girls.

After his mother dies in a tragic car accident, Ben’s father unilaterally decides the family will spend the next year sailing. Ben, almost sixteen, wants no part of the plan. When his father mysteriously disappears while the family sails between islands, Ben and his brothers assume the worst – their father has committed suicide, leaving them to survive on their own. Shortly thereafter, they run into a horrendous storm, which runs them aground on a deserted island. Ben is now in charge. The apathy he once used to tolerate his brothers vanishes. Ben has to grow up fast.

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Filed under death of a parent, female author using initials, grieving, M.H. Herlong, realistic fiction; young adult fiction, sailing, The Great Wide Sea

>Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer

>I’m a huge fan of Joan Bauer. She creates dynamic characters you can related to almost immediately. Jenna a very mature high school junior works at Gladstone’s Shoes, where she worships the store’s 73-year-old owner, Mrs. Gladstone. When Mrs. Gladstone decides to ease into retirement and hand the reigns of the company over to her son, quality goes downhill and corporate demands increase. That, coupled with Jenna’s father’s alcoholism (she called the police on him for drunk driving), Mrs. Gladstone’s hiring a teen boy who stole from the store, and the prospects of dating someone who dented her car make this a fast-paced and thoughtful story.

Mrs. Gladstone, as a mentor, follows one of the key ingredients to good young adult fiction – an adult who will listen, guide, and allow protagonists to learn from their mistakes. We should do more of this in real life.

Sorry for not posting in quite a while. I’ve read many fantastic books since my last post. I’m hoping to catch up soon. Thanks for following!!

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Filed under Backwater, best foot forward, Hope was Here, Joan Bauer, realistic fiction; young adult fiction