Tag Archives: Isinglass Teen Read

A to Z Blogging Challenge: R, Re-Reading

speakI had to re-read Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking debut novel Speak because it was nominated for the ITR list.  Honestly, I  approached it with some of the committees’ comments in my mind – “Too old,” “really dated”, “female centered” etc. so I admit there was an audible sigh as I pulled the book from my stack on the end table and cracked it open.  Oh my.

Speak silenced me. Anderson is a master. I’m not even sure these other people were reading the same book!  Or had they, like me, read it years ago and simply assumed it was dated?

Melinda’s voice is absolutely authentic, Anderson’s storytelling is, frankly, exquisite – her plotting careful and truthful, the structure of the book is amazing, and the topic is sadly, still timely and important. I didn’t find this dated at all.  A few notable differences with today’s realistic fiction might be 1. no one’s carrying a cell phone so the book’s not artificially filled with characters’ text conversations (snark!) and 2. Melinda’s voice is so grounded, just so darn grounded, the novel has a layered texture that draws the reader in to Melinda’s world where we just sit it out with her over the course of the year.  Too many novels I’ve read lately employ an artificial time keeper and for me, it’s a distraction.  Books today are noisy and jagged and immature.  Ok, so call me a snob. I admit that!

It’s a wonderful moment when you find or re-discover a book that is truly timeless that continues to bless the reader with its lessons.



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Writing Prompt Wednesday: Page 45

pick up the nearest book

“We’ll rent the rest of your equipment – that just leaves a mouthguard and a water bottle.” – Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.  I’ve just finished reading this title that we’re considering for the new Isinglass Award list and I’ll write a review of it later.  As for the quote…I’ve been married for 21 years so…no comment!   Ok – your turn!


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Book Review: The Seventh Most Important Thing

seventh most important thingThe 2015-16 Isinglass Teen Read Committee is up and running and I’ve been working my way through nominations received from 7th and 8th grade students since the start of the school year.  The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall, is realistic fiction (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015) and, to be honest, I loved this book.

Pearsall has crafted a delightful story of redemption by combining information based on American folk artist James Hampton’s life and our hero, fictional character Arthur Owens.   After his father’s death, Arthur struggles to cope with the loss of a man he loved and feared. He struggles to express his feelings when his mother clears the house of every object that conjures memories of her husband. One day Arthur can’t control his anger and he throws a brick at the local garbage picker – the Junk Man – who he sees wearing his dad’s hat (which the Junk Man salvaged from their trash) and is ordered by the court to serve community service with him every weekend. The Junk Man gives him a list of seven important items to collect with no substitutions allowed – light bulbs, foil, mirrors, wood, bottles, coffee cans, and cardboard. Eventually Arthur enters the old garage which serves as their meeting place and discovers that the Junk Man has transformed found trash and junk into a remarkable work of art titled “The Throne of the Third Heaven”.

Pearsall does well avoiding religious proselytizing, focusing instead on themes of friendship, loyalty, and love by slowly building relationships between Arthur and the Junk Man, his probation officer, his mother, and his new school friend Squeak.  Arthur slowly grows and matures, learning a bit more about himself and his family as he gathers each Important Thing.  Set in the early 1960’s, this story has less of a “nice and tidy” coming-of-age feel that you might get from a book for younger audiences (the Great Stone Face 4th-6th grade readers, say), which gave the relationships a feeling of authenticity.  The book includes some brief biographical information about James Hampton and his sculpture The Throne of the Third Heaven, providing lots of opportunities for crossover lessons on American Folk Art.

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Book Review: Looking for a Harry Potter Read-Alike?

iron trialIsinglass Teen Read 2015-16 Nominee: The Iron Trial, Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

I recently came across The Iron Trial (2014) by YA powerhouses Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Sometimes, the teaming of two incredibly successful authors can backfire, but not in this case.

First in a series, The Iron Trial is a delightful fantasy for Harry Potter fans looking for a “read-alike.”  The magical school for gifted children is called the  Magisterium, located in underground caverns in Virginia.  The students are “mages” not wizards or witches, and enrollment is based on invitation only followed by an intense audition.  Our main character – Callum Hunt, a small, skinny 12 year old – is permanently lame from an injury that occurred mysteriously when Callum was an infant – is gifted.  However, he’s been raised to avoid the Magisterium because Cal’s father believes the mages there are responsible for his mother’s death during the war.  Despite Cal’s disastrous interview, he is chosen and placed with two other students to train under Master Rufus.

The magic focuses on elements – earth, air, water, fire and chaos – so it’s a very different kind of magic than what we’ve read about in Harry Potter.

I admit, as a HP fan, it’s comforting to read a book that shares the familiar and yet different magical boarding school qualities, but Iron Trial is just plain old good storytelling. It was difficult to tear myself away from reading this one and get back to real life.


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Book Review: Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick

kiss of broken glassI’m the Chair of the Isinglass Teen Read Award Committee, a state book award that highlights books for 7th and 8th graders. The list is generated through nominations submitted by the students, then reviewed and trimmed by our committee of NH school and library professionals. Eventually the students vote for a winner from that year’s nominations. So I read a lot of teen lit, some things that I might gravitate toward in my personal tastes and others that I wouldn’t, and very often I’m pleasantly surprised to discover a new-to-me author. I just finished Kiss of Broken Glass by Madeleine Kuderick, (HarperTeen, 2014) a verse novel about 15-year-old Kenna, who, as a resident of Florida, is involuntarily admitted to a 72 hour psychiatric program under Florida’s Baker Act after she is discovered cutting in the school bathroom.

Full disclosure: Normally, I am not a fan of disorder books – bulimia, anorexia, cutting and the like. Yes, I understand that these are huge issues that our teens are struggling with, but very often, and I mean no disrespect to Laurie Halse Anderson or her fans out there, these books are used as how-to manuals when in the hands of the kids who are struggling. I know this because we’ve battled these disorder demons in my house with my daughters and guess who’s books I found hidden under the bed? And when you’re the parent dropping your 14-year-old off at a two week emergency treatment center, the very last thing you need is a novel glorifying (spending 98% of the book on the problem and 2% on unresolved resolution) the disorder that is tearing apart your family and destroying your kid. So I struggle when promoting this sub-genre because as a librarian I censor nothing, but as a mother I will. There are some books that I will not allow in my house because they act as triggers and I am a mother first.

And that’s why this review will probably contain a few SPOILERS.

With that said, I had an easier time reading Kuderick’s Kiss of Broken Glass. Objectively, the verse is lovely. It’s not stilted, and the characters are allowed to develop into multi-dimensional people. The story has tension and moves forward. Kenna is smart and honest and a teen reader would probably recognize her as someone sharing a class or a seat at the lunch table. But here’s what I found refreshing: Kenna admits, “I don’t have any deep, dark secrets./Not like that anyway./My life’s not some riveting novel/where you rush through the pages/to get to the end and find out/what horrific, repressed memory/caused me to cut.//The fact is,/I’ve had a pretty ordinary childhood./Boring? (Yes.)/Predictable? (Yes.)/But stitch-worthy? (No.)//So I guess that brings me to the real secret./The deepest, darkest kind there is.//I’ve been cutting for absolutely no reason at all.//Because that means I’m just a copycutter./A follower who did it to fit in./And now I can’t stop.//”

When we were dealing with the disorders in my house – anorexia, then cutting with our oldest and cutting and identity issues with our second – my husband and I mused (in a very beaten, confused, terrified and broken way that you do on long car rides to out of state treatment centers) that the issues we were dealing with were 1. social and 2. first world problems. They were social because other girls were doing it, or their peer group had criticized imagined flaws and cruelly criticized my sensitive, shy daughters. They were first world problems because, as my husband pointed out, girls in third world countries who struggled with starvation and just staying alive to the next day, did not harm or starve themselves on purpose. They were trying to survive. So what was it about a privileged kid from an educated family that caused them to self harm? I think Kuderick touches on it – Kenna’s social pressures of trying to fit in, of trying to be noticed as the middle child of a blended family. Learning disordered coping skills from her peer group and needing to replace these with other coping skills suggested in therapy. In our family, our kids were dealing with a move to a small town and a new school where classmates had grown up together. With our oldest daughter, a counselor suggested that her outrageous outfits and hair color was her way of sending the message to her peers that she was unwilling to compete with the popular, beautiful kids; that by dressing a certain way she guaranteed not being seen. If she was unseen, no one would notice the signs of the disorder. Add to this, trying to deal with a beloved grandpa wasting away from brain cancer (the reason for our move) and her parents struggling to find steady employment, and the birth of a new baby sister. So often, our daughter said she just didn’t want to bother us with her problems and make us worry.  We learned in counseling that this empathy is a text-book personality of someone who would be more sensitive to falling prey to a disorder.

Disorders are hell, because in the end, you never really uncover the reason why it happened. And here, again, I think Kiss of Broken Glass rings true. In 72 hours, Kenna is able to realize a glimmer of her self-worth, all the while knowing that when she’s released, “You open up the door and walk out./And the world’s still the same sharp/trigger as when you left it.//So that makes you wonder/what’s gonna happen next.//…But like I said before, my life’s/not some riveting novel that’s/gonna tie up all neat at the end.//Not in 72 freaking hours.//…And it’s not like I get//all happy ending-ish/and ride off into the sunset/or some crap like that.//But I do feel like a have a choice./Like a fork in the road or whatever.//” In the Author’s Note, Kuderick discloses that she wrote the book in the year following her daughter’s involuntary commitment under Florida’s Baker Act and that her daughter helped edit early drafts of the novel to ensure that “the words rang true.”  And maybe they did…at least for this reader.

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Book Loving Teens (BLT) Book Group Update

Last night, the BLT met to discuss Jordan Sonnenblick’s “Notes from the Midnight Driver.”  Overall, they loved this funny, touching story about a kid who performs community service after being picked up for drunk driving.

We viewed a couple of very neat interviews with the author via the Scholastic website.

One of our students spent alot of time giggling and going through the book pronouncing Yiddish words for us–but she’s pretty giggly regardless of the topic!

Next month: Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick.

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