I don't know much about steroids, other than that one episode of Dinosaurs that I saw, like, fifteen years ago. Remember? The teenage boy dinosaur too...moreI don't know much about steroids, other than that one episode of Dinosaurs that I saw, like, fifteen years ago. Remember? The teenage boy dinosaur took the Dinosaurs-equivalent of steroids and he grew spikes on his back and he had major 'roid (or whatever) rage.
******** What I just did there? That's called "activating prior knowledge," and it's totally a research-based reading strategy that can be used in the classroom. ********
Gym Candy is about high school football player Mick Johnson. His dad's a failed NFL player, and he's groomed Mick from birth to make up for his own mistakes. In addition to the pressure his father puts on him, Mick is also driven by his own high expectations for himself.
He begins to train harder and work out longer in order to guarantee his starting spot on the football team. Soon, though, lifting weights is not enough, and Mick's trainer introduces him to steroids. He graduates from Dianabol to "stacks"--I don't know what's in those--to XTR. Each time, Mick tells himself he'll only use the steroids until he makes the team/gets the starting spot/beats a certain team, and each time he finds another reason to continue using them.
While his performance on the field is increasingly amazing, Mick's personal life deteriorates: he ditches his friends in favor of working out, he feels isolated because he has to keep his steroid usage a secret, and the gross side effects (all over acne, breast growth) mean he's cutting back on his male/female interaction.
This was kind of a test-read; I'd never have chosen it if I hadn't wanted to build my YA repertoire so I could recommend books to my classes. I did enjoy the story--though the end was a little WTF?--and I was able to move through it quickly.
There's a lot of football jargon in this book that I didn't understand, but I got some students to explain it to me in basic terms and single-syllable words so I could wrap my head around it.
Bonus: one of them said, "Hey, can I read that book? It sounds interesting." So, you know, SCORE.(less)
Told from two points of view: Michael, who is showing off his antique Winchester and fires a shot into the air, and Jenna, who watches as her dad catc...moreTold from two points of view: Michael, who is showing off his antique Winchester and fires a shot into the air, and Jenna, who watches as her dad catches the bullet in the head two blocks away.
Jenna's grief seems very real, and realistic; there are no funny lines, no snappy dialogue to defer her sorrow. It takes her a good while to even accept the reality of her father's death, and the author does a good job of showing how Jenna's just going through the motions of life, not really connecting at all, because she's still clinging to the hope of her father coming into the house and laughing it all off as a huge joke.
Michael doesn't even find out about the man's death until the next day, and he allows his delinquent friend to convince him to stay quiet. His guilt possesses him, changes him, and he, too, disconnects with reality.
Both Michael and Jenna find comfort with Amy, who has a(n undeserved) reputation as the school slut. I wish we'd had more of her story; there's no mention of how she got that reputation, though there are some VERY realistic events that show how gossip and teenage maliciousness can tear through a person.
There are a lot of questions brought up in the story, BIG questions, with applications to real life that young adult readers can really dig into.
*Note to self* An excellent read-aloud possibility for freshmen.
**spoiler alert** I never had to read this book in high school, but my sister did, and it's her book that I've got. She drew a flip book on the pages....more**spoiler alert** I never had to read this book in high school, but my sister did, and it's her book that I've got. She drew a flip book on the pages.
Cather's descriptions of the land are beautiful but not too flowery. Her words show just how much Alexandra loves and is connected to her land.
I didn't know much about the novel going in, so I was surprised to find that it's really an excellent feminist novel: a woman (no more than a girl, really) inherits her father's farm, because he recognizes that she is the one who can make it a success. Then she does, because she uses non-traditional methods; after all, a woman running a farm is unusual enough, why not keep the unconventional theme going?
She becomes very successful and her stupid brothers resent her, and they are very worried that she is going to throw over her fortune for a man, instead of giving everything to them. They forgot that they would still be out chopping rocks or something if it hadn't been for her. And, because she is FABULOUS, she cuts them out of her life. Yay! A woman who doesn't bother trying to be nice all the time!
Alexandra sees the potential in her younger brother, Emil, to become something better than a farmer. In this way, she is like a typical immigrant parent, wanting more for the children than she had herself.
I really liked the protagonist, though the secondary characters were sometimes annoying. The book's not all hearts and flowers; there's some tragedy, but not any more than would happen in real life.
I think it's great to see a novel in which the woman accomplishes everything she wants to, and THEN gets married; it's a nice change from the normal schedule of events.(less)
I've never met a Myers book that I didn't love, but this one just seems ... off ... to me.
I don't know what my problem with it is, exactly, but let m...moreI've never met a Myers book that I didn't love, but this one just seems ... off ... to me.
I don't know what my problem with it is, exactly, but let me think it out:
1. The main character, Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon is a black kid from Harlem with rich parents who send him to a Connecticut boarding school for his senior year.
I'm not crazy, right? But this is not Myers' typical protagonist. There's no motive given for Spoon leaving his regular school and going off to the fancy-pants new one. It's vaguely implied that his (possibly rich?) parents wanted it for him, but why hasn't he gone to boarding school his whole life then?
2. Spoon's girlfriend-back-home Gabi has to contend with a mom with cancer, a brother who's on the verge of joining a gang, a blind grandfather, oh, and her own heroin use.
That's a lot of stuff to throw into such a short story. Her climb onto the smack train seems to happen suddenly (do people just start with heroin? I don't know drug protocol), and apparently she started using because of stress. Again, I'm no expert, but don't people smoke pot for that?
3. While I certainly don't hate happy endings, this one seemed a little too Disney-princess for me.
Myers does leave the ending open, so you can draw your own conclusions about some things, but I think the denouement wasn't very realistic. Of course, maybe my opinion is influenced by my own unique interpretation of drug culture, which is entirely based upon three episodes of CSI and that episode of Diff'rent Strokes with Nancy Reagan.
What I did like is that Spoon is clearly caught between his two worlds, neither of which seems like home to him. His classmates at the boarding school are entitled and accustomed to luxury (which is another thing lacking explanation: Has Spoon's family always been rich? Or is this new money?) and his friends back home aren't as educationally ambitious as he is.
I think there's just too much crammed into the story, and that's what makes it seem less realistic.
I liked the overall message of the book, that love conquers all.
This type of story is not my genre, because I'm not a fantasy lover, but I do like th...moreI liked the overall message of the book, that love conquers all.
This type of story is not my genre, because I'm not a fantasy lover, but I do like the idea of the stars that fight the Dark Thing (which reminds me of The Neverending Story) and riding with a pegasus. I thought Mrs. Who's constant quotations were hilarious.
I was surprised at the explicit religious references; I didn't remember them from the first time I read the book (which was, admittedly, probably twenty years ago). Why isn't this book brought up with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia books when discussing religious symbolism?
On the one hand, I don't like the play because of its unrelenting pile-up of crap: here's something bad, then here's some more, then h...moreI don't like it.
On the one hand, I don't like the play because of its unrelenting pile-up of crap: here's something bad, then here's some more, then here's some more, oh yeah try some more, we're not done yet, have some more. Good grief, Charlie Brown.*
On the other hand, the story's realistic in that redemption doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending. I GET that; I even LIKE it. I just don't WANT it, because I'd gotten so beaten down by the aforementioned crap pile that I needed something--ONE GOOD THING--to happen, but it didn't. There's not really even the hope of a better tomorrow (to get all cliche and folk singer-y on you). Nope. Tomorrow will probably suck too.
As almost always happens, the villains are more interesting than the heroes. This might be because the heroes are few in this play, but it could also be because they are bland. Being good is boring, you guys.
Even Cordelia, the fulcrum on which this whole thing spins, or balances, or--whatever, she's the catalyst for the action, and I am bad at metaphors--even Cordelia is so boring she only shows up in two scenes. And she is capital letter B-O-O-O-O-R-I-N-G both times. I understand that I'm supposed to root for her, but it's difficult, because she's so duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuull.
Generally, when I don't like the characters in a story, I don't like the story as a whole. I'm conflicted, though, because I love Shakespeare more than any other dead person, and it feels disloyal to criticize, especially because there are some people who think King Lear is his tragic masterpiece.
So I'm opting out of the star rating, giving credit for the writing (because my strong reaction just proves that this is some potent stuff), and staying mad for the rest of the day, so there.
So apparently Denmark's citizens reluctantly accepted Nazi occupation, since they knew there was no point in trying to defend their tee-tiny country f...more So apparently Denmark's citizens reluctantly accepted Nazi occupation, since they knew there was no point in trying to defend their tee-tiny country from the invading German army. But they did not take the occupation lying down, as it were; instead, they did everything they possibly could to bring down the Germans from the inside, up to and including blowing up their own naval vessels (so the Germans couldn't use them) and helping thousands of Danish Jews escape to Sweden.
This story is about a ten-year-old girl named Annemarie whose best friend Ellen is Jewish. Her family is tangentially involved in the Resistance until the night the German soldiers start rounding up Jews for exportation, and they are forced to become directly involved. Based on historical events, the story describes many clever ideas used by the Danish people, and of course the whole thing evokes a sort of root-for-the-underdog feeling, as this small country works together to overthrow the stupid Nazis.
*The following is full of teacher jargon*
I read this as a possibility for a differentiated literature unit on the Holocaust. This would be for the lower-level readers.
The plot does seem a bit simplistic, but the book's written on a 4th-5th grade level, maybe lower, so it would be a good one for those struggling readers. Also, I can think of several ways to tie-in expository texts as supplementary materials if, for example, I were going to make this a literature circle/book club-type assignment. (less)
This is a good slice-of-life novel about teenagers in a small town. It's not tragic, it's not angsty; it's just what the typical teenager goes through...moreThis is a good slice-of-life novel about teenagers in a small town. It's not tragic, it's not angsty; it's just what the typical teenager goes through. You know: maybe falling in love, trying a new hobby, learning what's outside your own little island.
I think this would be good for a read-aloud, but there are a couple of concerns. First, there are sooo many characters to keep track of; I had to keep rereading to figure out who was who. On the plus side, this could model the importance of rereading. Second, some of the print conventions would be a little difficult to verbalize. Again, on the plus side, I could use these to illustrate different types of print and to model strategies for tackling difficult texts. Another plus: great for teaching point of view, as the author does jump around between characters (though none of the story is told in first person).(less)
This is how I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen this year.
The book carries the text in Shakespeare's language side-by-side with modern (understa...moreThis is how I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen this year.
The book carries the text in Shakespeare's language side-by-side with modern (understandable, to my students) language.
While we did go over the most famous passages in the original language, we read the majority of this play in the modern translation.
If you want to know the truth, ninth graders aren't exactly ready to tackle Shakespeare in the Elizabethan text. Sure, YOU did it (so did I), but these are different times, and different kids, who don't want to work for anything and who rarely if ever rise to a challenge (does that sound cynical? well, it's true).
So giving them this version made my life a whole heck of a lot easier and it increased their comprehension and their enjoyment of the play. That's my goal: YOU MUST LOVE SHAKESPEARE.
This book uses multiple points of view to tell the story of an attempted robbery at a fast food restaurant.
The author uses so many voices that sometim...moreThis book uses multiple points of view to tell the story of an attempted robbery at a fast food restaurant.
The author uses so many voices that sometimes they get all jumbled together. There is some unnecessary input from people who seem to have only one function in the plot; their duties/accounts could have been assigned to one of the many main characters.
As often happens with this many characters, only a few are fleshed out, and the others come off as parodies of real people.
The plot is pretty good but could use more development, especially in regards to the motivations of the characters.(less)
Though this is about an elementary school teacher, there are a few strategies that are applicable to high school teachers as well.
And now it's time fo...moreThough this is about an elementary school teacher, there are a few strategies that are applicable to high school teachers as well.
And now it's time for a rant.
I'm sure the author is a great teacher and his kids learn a lot from him.
But--and this is very important--this is yet another book which describes a teacher as a saint, with sanctified kids, who sacrifices his entire life for his students.
I'm not saying it's a bad thing, and certainly Rafe Esquith seems to have done something right in his school. However, I resent the implication (one so often used in both books and movies about inspirational teachers) that a teacher's life begins and ends in his classroom.
How about a little moderation?
Sure, I can be devoted to my students and teach them to the best of my ability and inspire them to be all they can be. But I shouldn't be made to feel guilty because I want to have a personal life too.
In addition, I don't actually live in a community in which every student is invested in his education. This is yet another book in which the kids JUST CAN'T WAIT for school to start, and they get there early and stay late and work beyond their grade level and blahblahblah.
That is not a brand of student I am familiar with. Where are MY industrious little bunnies who want to read Shakespeare or write ten page essays or diagram sentences JUST BECAUSE?? I could be the best teacher in the world, too, if I didn't have to spend half my class time waking kids up or telling them to pick up their social lives after class or repeating the page number of the book 547 times.
I guess what I'm saying is ... this is a book for pre-teachers and college professors who've never been in a real classroom. Teachers in the trenches will read this and question its practical application.
I'm sure it's because it's written for younger kids, but this didn't really have the emotional heft I was looking for. I guess I was hoping it would b...moreI'm sure it's because it's written for younger kids, but this didn't really have the emotional heft I was looking for. I guess I was hoping it would be like Band of Brothers.
I admit that I am not deep, and that I don't have existential crises on a daily basis, and that I am intolerant of other people's neuroses, and that I...moreI admit that I am not deep, and that I don't have existential crises on a daily basis, and that I am intolerant of other people's neuroses, and that I am not a fan of navel-gazing.
That is why I think a more accurate title of this book should be Franny and Zooey Need to STFU.
I honestly don't know how Walter Dean Myers does it. How can he be such a genius? It's unfathomable.
This is the story of a teenager who is often bulli...moreI honestly don't know how Walter Dean Myers does it. How can he be such a genius? It's unfathomable.
This is the story of a teenager who is often bullied by classmates who eventually loses it and opens fire in his school, killing his arch-enemy and himself. The book opens after the fact.
I liked the format of using police reports and various interview transcripts for the main text; it's a realistic device that adds to the clinical, almost sterile accounts of "the incident." It also kind of makes the story a little more creepy.
Myers' talent is really evident, though, in Len's diary. You totally get the idea that Len is crazy, but he's not one-dimensionally crazy. Myers fleshes out his background so that you can kind of see why Len would feel driven to an act of desperation, but at the same time, since you already have an idea of his personality (based on his friends' interviews), it's difficult to feel sympathetic.
Len's use of language is at once beautiful and terrifying. The way he's able to manipulate words is absolutely breath-taking, but I found myself wondering if he was really that good a writer, or if his mental acuity was a result of somewhat sociopathic nature; you know how sometimes geniuses and hyper-artistic people can be sort of crazy? Like that.
***teacher*** I definitely think my boys would like this book. It's very true in the way it depicts teenagers and the culture and hierarchy of high school. The use of non-traditional text format makes it seem more like non-fiction than fiction. I think some of the themes--changing friendships, questioning authority, realizing your elders aren't perfect, spontaneous acts of jack-assery--are especially relevant to my students, as they're experiencing all of that right now themselves. The best part is that Myers is prolific enough that they have a ton of other books to choose from when they finish this one.(less)