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Monday, April 3, 2017

Three Novels from 2008 good for Language Arts (and one for PE)

Supplee, Suzanne (2008) Artichoke’s Heart.  New York:  Dutton,

Image result for Artichoke's Heart novel

Opening Lines:  Mother spent $700 on a treadmill “from Santa” that I will never use.  I won’t walk three blocks when I actually want to get somewhere, much less run three miles on a strip of black rubber only to end up where I started out in the first place.

 I didn’t like this book when I started it.  It is a novel about a fat girl and it is set in the south and a lot of the scenes take place in a beauty salon and it just seemed from the start like I knew where it was going and I was never going to care about the main character.  It turns out I was completely wrong.  I ended up liking the book a great deal.

Rosemary Goode is 16 and she is fat.  She has always been fat and she expects she always will be fat, in spite of her mom’s nagging and her well-intentioned Aunt Mary’s meddling.  But when her mom puts her in an experimental counselling program and Kyle Cox, a boy at school, is nice to her, Rosemary decides she wants to lose weight.
            
The novel then needs to walk a very tricky line between emphasizing the idea that Rosemary’s sense of self-worth is not just predicated on her appearance, even though the plot and the other characters might be emphasizing exactly that.  It doesn’t help that Rosemary’s mom owns a hair solon and gossip and snide remarks are part of the world Rosemary moves through. 
            
What makes the book work, oddly, is Kyle, Rosemary’s love interest.  His relationship with Rosemary is real and moving.  He sees in her something she doesn’t see in herself.  He asks her out.  He brings her flowers, and he seems to care about her as a person. 
            
Rosemary also becomes friends with KayKay, a nice athletic girl who is being shunned by the popular kids.  Now that she has friends, a counsellor, and a boy who seems to like her, Rosemary drops from 210 pounds to 165 and eventually to 158.  Yet somehow she always has to fight the desire to eat more than she should, and always she is insecure about her appearance.  Together, she and KayKay learn to ignore the toxic popular girls and Rosemary learns to trust in Kyle’s love for her (rather than convincing herself, it is part of some kind of practical joke.  Rosemary grows strong enough that she can cope with her mom developing cancer and can even be civil to her meddling aunt.  In the end, this book leave Rosemary in a place where she (and the reader) have hope for the future.   
            
This would be a good book for upper middle school or lower high school readers.  There are some occasional vulgar words, but nothing that might cause the book to be challenged. The novel might be good for a Phys Ed Classroom studying body image. And would also fit well in an English classroom library.  Well worth reading.





McMann, Lisa (2008) Wake.  New York:  Simon Pulse.

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Opening lines:  Janie Hannigan’s Math Book slips form her fingers.  She grips the edge of the table in the school library.  Everything goes black and silent.  She sighs and rests her head on the table.  Tries to pull herself out of it but fails miserably.  She’s too tired today.  Too hungry.  She really doesn’t have time for this.
            
Jamie’s problem is that if people fall asleep in the same room she is in, she enters their dreams.   This makes her privy to all sorts of secrets she would rather not know and it makes it hard for her to carry on a regular life.  Sleepovers are fraught with danger.  She can’t study in the library at school because students like to sleep there, and she learns to drive around town in such a way that she doesn’t go near houses where she knows that particularly powerful dreams might cause her to black out.   

When she meets Cabel and finds out about his horrific dreams (which seem inspired by physical abuse against him by his father), she finds him to be a compassionate, caring, really nice boy.  He seems to like her too and she thinks that maybe she can confide in him.  Then she helps an older woman at work resolve a troubling and incomplete dream by going inside the dream and helping the woman change it.  Her life is finally looking up.

Then she finds out that Cabel goes to parties every weekend, is apparently sleeping with a cheerleader, and seems to be a drug dealer. 

It turns out that some of these things are lies, that Cabel is involved in something really important and dangerous, and that Janie’s abilities may hold the key to finding out the truth.  

Interesting idea.  Intriguing characters.  Good plot.  The only problem is the language.  I understand the need to write like students talk, and the need to connect with students in a way that seems relevant and real world enough to grab their attention.  And maybe there are some students who really talk like this, but the amount of vulgar language and sexual innuendo guarantees that this book will be challenged.  And that is a shame because most of that language is utterly superfluous to the character and the story.  Because of that, it would be hard to use this story in a class, or even have it in your classroom library without some sort of disclaimer on the book.





Zarr, Sara (2008) Sweethearts New York:  Little Brown.

Image result for Sweethearts novel

Opening Lines:  A Dripping faucet.
            Crumbs and a pink stain on the counter.
            Half of a skin-black banana that smells as old as it looks.
            If I look at these things and at nothing else, concentrate on them and stay still, and don’t make any noise, this will be over soon and I can go home without Cameron’s dad ever knowing I am here.
            He is yelling.
            
When Jennifer was younger, everyone in her school called her Fatifer.  Cameron was the only person in the world who she thought understood her.  Then one day when she was at his house, Cameron’s father verbally abused and threatened them in a particularly disturbing way.  They escaped the house together.  Shortly after that, Jennifer found out that Cameron had died. 
            
Now years later, Jennifer is at a new school in a new place and she has reinvented herself as the new, thin, funny, social, perfect girl Jenna.  Jenna has a boyfriend (Ethan) and some good friends who she laughs with.  But when Cameron shows up and she finds out that he isn’t dead, her life turns upside down.  She starts to wonder whether she really loves Ethan, finds herself trying to advise her friend who likes Cameron about how to get to know him, and wonders why her mother told her that Cameron died in the first place.  Finding out that Cameron is homeless only complicates matters.
           
 There are some interesting themes in this book, but nothing that I think would hold up to studying it in English class.  It might make an interesting addition for a high school classroom library, though.


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