YALSA Morris Finalists’ Blog Hop: The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley


carnival at bray

The Carnival at Bray
Author: Jessie Ann Foley
Published: October 1, 2014 by Elephant Rock Books

Goodreads Summary: It’s 1993, and Generation X pulses to the beat of Kurt Cobain and the grunge movement. Sixteen-year-old Maggie Lynch is uprooted from big-city Chicago to a windswept town on the Irish Sea. Surviving on care packages of Spin magazine and Twizzlers from her rocker uncle Kevin, she wonders if she’ll ever find her place in this new world. When first love and sudden death simultaneously strike, a naive but determined Maggie embarks on a forbidden pilgrimage that will take her to a seedy part of Dublin and on to a life- altering night in Rome to fulfill a dying wish. Through it all, Maggie discovers an untapped inner strength to do the most difficult but rewarding thing of all, live.

The Carnival at Bray is an evocative ode to the Smells Like Teen Spirit Generation and a heartfelt exploration of tragedy, first love, and the transformative power of music. The book won the 2014 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize.

Ricki’s Review: When I read the back of this book, I thought, “Hmm.” It felt like a (recent) historical fiction with its emphasis on ’90s grunge music and the highlights of Kurt Cobain’s life. Because my teen years spanned through part of the ’90s, I was intrigued.

My favorite aspect of this book was the fact that the writing felt effortless. Too often, books’ messages or prose feel forced, and with this book, I felt as if I was whisked along for the (very bumpy) ride. As a former high school teacher, I enjoyed the myriad, richly realized themes. The reader feels a wild sense of adventure, the uneasiness that comes with living in a new environment, the loyalty that is tied with love, the heartbreak that emerges with loss and grief, and the utter purity that comes with finding oneself. At times, YA texts feature absent (or horrid) parents, but the complexity of Maggie’s mother was realistic to many parents, I believe. This will leave teens (and adults!) pondering their own relationships with their parents. The intricacies of this text will allow for book groups, students, and readers to have much to ponder and discuss.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a great novel to discuss theme. As stated in my review above, there are many themes to ponder. I would put butcher paper around the room and write a different theme on each paper. Students could travel around the room, discussing each theme, placing post-it notes with evidence from the text. Or, the teacher might discuss a different theme on each day. Beyond the classroom setting, I think this would be an excellent selection for book clubs.

Download the comprehensive study guide (from Elephant Rock Books) here.

Discussion Questions: How does Maggie handle the challenges she faces? Do you think she makes the right choices? Is she brave?; What does her uncle teach her? Was he an admirable character?; What role does the setting (both time and place) play in this novel?; Is Maggie’s mother a positive or negative role in her life?

We Flagged: “But don’t you think that never suffering at all—is its own form of suffering?” (p. 150).

I am not sure whether or not I agree with this quote, but weeks later, I am still thinking about it.

Read This If You Loved: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira, Timely Persuasion by Jacob LaCivita, Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, Get Happy by Mary Amato

Recommended For:

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Make sure to stop by Cinco Puntos Press blog to see the other stops on the tour!


**A special thank you to Jessica Powers at Cinco Puntos Press for organizing this blog hop and to Elephant Rock Books for providing this book for review!**

YALSA Morris Finalists’ Blog Hop: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero



Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Published October 14th, 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press

Goodreads Summary: For all the gorditas, flaquitas, and in-between girls trying to make their space in the world. Don’t worry, you got this.

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Author Bio: Isabel Quintero is a library technician in the Inland Empire. She is also the events coordinator for Orange Monkey and helps edit the poetry journal Tin Cannon. Gabi is her debut novel.

Kellee’s Review: What I found in this book was a book of truth. While I normally find a book that has so many topics in it to be cumbersome (just some of the topics hit were: pregnancy, abortion, meth, family, religion, ethnicity, school, homosexuality, sex, death, poetry, college, rape, and gender expectations), I felt that Gabi was just truthful. Her story was just a story full of real life which just happens to be messy. I enjoyed the unique format, the diversity (not just race/ethnicity, but lbgt, body size, class, ELL, etc.), and the amazing cast of characters. Gabi’s voice rang true throughout, and even got stronger as she became more independent within the story. Well done.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Parts of Gabi’s story could easily be pulled out to be a mentor text for many different literary elements; however, I feel like one of the best ways it could be used is to have students emulate Gabi’s writing. For example, Gabi writes letters to her father sharing how she really feels. Students could write to someone sharing something with them that they are keeping from them. You could also use Gabi’s magazine and poetry the same way. Gabi’s writing is very raw, and I think that students will definitely connect with it.

Discussion Questions: Gabi makes a choice towards the end of the book that makes Cindy be upset with Gabi. Do you agree with what Gabi did?; Gabi’s mother is very protective of her. Why do you think she is so hard on Gabi?; Gabi deals with body issues throughout the book. How do you think our society affects how she pictures herself?; Sebastian and Cindy’s parents are both disappointed in their kids for different reasons and deal differently with their disappointment. Do you agree with how they treat their children?

We Flagged: “My brother is fifteen. He knows many things. He knows how to make a pipe out of an apple, and he knows how to make beautiful murals on public property. He likes wresting and biking and skateboarding but doesn’t like school because school doesn’t understand kids like us. My brother–the brat, the crybaby, the quite one, the brown one, Mami’s favorite: where will he go? I ask myself the question over and over. Y no se. I don’t know where he will go, but I hope wherever it is it’s better than here.” (p. 94)

Read This If You Loved: Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott, What Can(t) Wait by Ashley Hope Perez, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia MacCall, Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding

Recommended For:

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Make sure to stop by Cinco Puntos Press blog to see the other stops on the tour!


**A special thank you to Jessica Powers at Cinco Puntos Press for organizing this blog hop!**

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman


on the run

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City
Author: Alice Goffman
Published: May 1, 2014 by University Of Chicago Press

Summary: Forty years in, the War on Drugs has done almost nothing to prevent drugs from being sold or used, but it has nonetheless created a little-known surveillance state in America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Arrest quotas and high-tech surveillance techniques criminalize entire blocks, and transform the very associations that should stabilize young lives—family, relationships, jobs—into liabilities, as the police use such relationships to track down suspects, demand information, and threaten consequences.

Alice Goffman spent six years living in one such neighborhood in Philadelphia, and her close observations and often harrowing stories reveal the pernicious effects of this pervasive policing. Goffman introduces us to an unforgettable cast of young African American men who are caught up in this web of warrants and surveillance—some of them small-time drug dealers, others just ordinary guys dealing with limited choices. All find the web of presumed criminality, built as it is on the very associations and friendships that make up a life, nearly impossible to escape. We watch as the pleasures of summer-evening stoop-sitting are shattered by the arrival of a carful of cops looking to serve a warrant; we watch—and can’t help but be shocked—as teenagers teach their younger siblings and cousins how to run from the police (and, crucially, to keep away from friends and family so they can stay hidden); and we see, over and over, the relentless toll that the presumption of criminality takes on families—and futures.

While not denying the problems of the drug trade, and the violence that often accompanies it, through her gripping accounts of daily life in the forgotten neighborhoods of America’s cities, Goffman makes it impossible for us to ignore the very real human costs of our failed response—the blighting of entire neighborhoods, and the needless sacrifice of whole generations.

Review: Inspired by a college course in her sophomore year, Alice Goffman seeks an ethnographic experience in inner-city Philadelphia. She gets a part-time job tutoring an African American girl, Aisha, and soon befriends the boys of 6th Street (pseudonym). Mike adopts her as a younger sister, and she comes to live with these boys—studying their every move. This quality piece of ethnographic research is a page turner. While it reads a bit more like a book than a scholarly publication, readers can glean her methodological approach through the footnotes. Goffman’s mission is clear. She wants readers to understand the inequities these African American boys of 6th Street face, and she shows how the criminal justice system (both law enforcement and the justice/prison system) are not working. I was ashamed at the actions of the police, specifically, and think this is very educational to readers of all ages, particularly in the wake of the racially based crimes that we consistently see in the news.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is written for adults, but I think it would be very educational for high school students. I would use excerpts of this text to show students the realities of life on 6th Street in Philadelphia. It could be used to better understand crimes in the news, to teach inequity, to examine class issues, to understand the drug trade, and to fight racism. It would be eye-opening for students. While teaching this, I would also consider pairing it with Malcolm Gladwell’s review.

Discussion Questions: What can we do to stop the injustice of the court system? How is it flawed?; What role does race play in this text?; Was Goffman too close to the subjects of her ethnography? Do you think this affected her portrayal of 6th Street? What are the positives and negatives of this approach of qualitative study?

We Flagged: “To be on the run is a strange phrase for legally compromised people, because to be on the run is also to be at a standstill.”

“Thus, the great paradox of a highly punitive approach to crime control is that it winds up criminalizing so much of daily life as to foster widespread illegality as people work to circumvent it. Intensive policing and the crime it intends to control become mutually reinforcing. The extent to which crime elicits harsh policing, or policing itself contributes to a climate of violence and illegality, becomes impossible to sort out.”

Read This If You Loved: Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios; The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 

Recommended For:

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If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch



If You Find Me
Author: Emily Murdoch
Published: March 26th, 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin

GoodReads Summary: There are some things you can’t leave behind…

A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother disappears for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.

Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go… a dark past that hides many a secret, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.

Review: It has been a while since I couldn’t put a book down. This gut-wrenching tale captivated me from the very beginning. When authors try to portray emotions, they can feel superficial for readers. But Murdoch’s writing feels effortless. I connected with Carey in a way that reminded me of how I understood Melinda in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. My hands shook with anger in response to her pain, and as she felt overwhelmed and scared, I cried along with her. The backwoodsy dialect made the story feel real and authentic. It constantly reminded me of where Carey was coming from. Murdoch expertly unfolds the plot for readers, which adds a level of complexity but also makes readers feel as if they are coming to terms with Carey’s life right along with her. This is a beautiful, compelling story that I won’t forget.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: One of the strengths of this book is the special bond between the siblings. Carey’s love for her 6-year-old sister, Jenessa, fills the reader with comfort and sureness. It would be interesting for students to consider this bond and what holds these two sisters together. I could also see students researching more about child abuse and neglect. Carey and Jenessa have to make a dramatic adjustment to life on the outside, and I imagine that students will want to learn more about this struggle and its potential difficulties.

Discussion Questions: Why does Carey keep secrets? Do you agree with her decisions?; Why does Carey have difficulty forming a relationship with her father? Do you think she has been brainwashed?; What are the long-term effects of abuse? What kinds of abuse are there? Will Carey ever heal?

We Flagged:

“I answer her with my silence, understanding the full power of it for the first time. Words are weapons. Weapons are powerful. So are unsaid words. So are unused weapons” (p. 24).

“We make attachments to what’s familiar. We find the beauty, even in the lack. That’s human. We make the best of what we’re given” (p. 169).

Read This If You Loved: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Room by Emma Donoghue, A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (for the sibling bond and the woodsy setting), Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher

Recommended For:

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