Simon, a high school junior, is gay, but he is leery to come out because of the backlash he’s certain will follow. However, when a classmate comes upon Simon’s open e-mail in the school library, his secret is out, and the classmate decides to use blackmail for his own gain. Simon must decide whether he wants to control his own communication or allow someone else to take control for him.
I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I opened Simon Vs. The Homosapiens Agenda. I believe that young adult literature – or any literature for that matter – is a useful tool to better understand ourselves and the world around us. And I have no doubt that some of my middle school students are struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity. This book confronts Simon’s sexuality in what I can only imagine is a very realistic manner. He struggles with how he’ll come out to his family, how he’ll tell his friends, and how the backlash from such a decision, particularly in suburban Atlanta, will affect everyone going forward.
While he mulls the repercussions of any pronouncement, Simon has his first contact with another gay, albeit anonymous, student over e-mail. Simon’s e-mails allow him to work through his many mixed feelings while his anonymous e-mail correspondent finds himself in the same boat.
The first 60% of this book was much too slow. Yes, character development was critical, but sometimes too much is too much. However, the final 40% was worth the wait.
To what extent can we run from our past without fearing our future? Jace, a high school junior, winds up on his older brother’s doorstep after being kicked out of the house by his abusive father. While his father’s abuse was the impetus behind his escape, Jace is worried that he will eventually turn into his father because he looks like him and begins to act like him. Prior to running away, Jace began to abuse his girlfriend, a second strike that makes him weary of his future.
Split makes for a fulfilling reading experience because the story is loaded with contrasts. Jace thought his older brother would welcome him with open arms, yet his older brother has run from the same fate – he does not want to turn into his father. At the same time, both share concern for their mother’s welfare. No matter how many times her husband beats her, Jace’s mother stays, something he does not understand. However, when Jace and his brother make plans to save their mother, they are surprised by what they encounter.
Miles, a high school senior, attempts to lead his family from ash-covered Minneapolis to what he hopes will be the safety of his family’s cabin in northern Minnesota. A massive volcanic eruption has covered the United States in ash, pitting people against each other for survival. Riding his creation, the Ali Princess, a family-carrying, sail-propelled, super bike, between Minneapolis and the family cabin proves dangerous as they experience price gouging, hostile squatters, and thieves. Miles learns to trust his instincts, and treasure his family; he realizes that a man is only as good as his ability to help himself and his family.
This is a great starting point for those readers who are reluctant to read science fiction. The story is grounded in a realistic, current setting, and Miles and his family exhibit many of the same traits as modern families. Weaver’s follow-up, The Survivors, extends the story and introduces new conflicts that fit the overall story.
Chris Lynch continues to amaze me with his fascinating characters and socially-significant themes. This time around, he tackles (pardon the pun) high school football concussions. Arlo and his older brother Lloyd love football and have the type of combative brotherly relationship that offers plenty of room to be both friends and enemies. Their mother, who does not support their love of the game, keeps “The File,” a comprehensive compilation of research articles on the effects of football-related concussions. When Lloyd begins to show symptoms and his high school football career ends, Arlo seems to think lightning can’t strike twice. However, when Arlo’s girlfriend takes sides with his mother, Arlo has to choose between football and a mentally-healthy future.
If you have read Pop or Second Impact, you are sure to enjoy this book.
McCutcheon 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.
I just finished Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Reading her take on current classroom reading practices (too many engineered and guided by textbook publishers) and how her philosophy conflicts with those practices was both affirming and challenging. I’m heartened to know that some of what I do in reader’s workshop is being done in many other classrooms and is supported by a wealth of current research. Donalyn challenged me, though, to rethink some of the strategies I use that don’t provide as much bang for the buck or advance a student’s love of reading.
Throughout the book, Miller places a very important question – what is the desired outcome of our reading instruction? Are we teaching so students can pass a test, or are we molding life-long readers and learners? I side with creating life-long readers. Readers are learners; they use books to make sense of the world, themselves, and others. They also use reading as an escape. And who can blame them.
Rather than teach students that reading is all about completing the project at the end of the unit, writing the book report, answering the comprehension questions, or even pacifying a teacher (or parents for that matter), we really need to focus our efforts on teaching the standards within the confines of each student’s reading interests. Meet students where they are. For some this may involve a fair amount of prodding. For others, this will mean upping the ante and challenging them to investigate different genres. For many, this will involve listening to and respecting their reading interests, reading with them, and modeling the characteristics of a good reader. All of these cases will involve reading lots of young adult literature and non-fiction.