Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (Ricki’s Review)

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Life in Outer Space
Author: Melissa Keil
Published August 1st, 2013 by Peachtree Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Sam is a geek movie-buff with a ragtag group of loser friends who have been taking abuse from the popular kids for years. But when the super-cool Camilla moves to town, she surprises everyone by choosing to spend time with Sam’s group. Suddenly they go from geek to chic, and find that not everything boils down to us and them. With their social lives in flux, Sam and Camilla spend more and more time together. They become the best of friends, and Sam finds that he’s happier and more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. But eventually Sam must admit to himself that he’s fallen in love. If he confesses his true feelings to Camilla, will everything change again?

My Review: Kellee wrote her review almost a year ago, and after reading her review, I laughed because my notes about this book are so similar to her thoughts.

While reading this book, I thought about its connections to Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli and Paper Towns by John Green, and the narrator reminded me of Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. But while this book is similar to others, it is very different.

Sam makes being geeky feel cool. I am geeky, so I appreciated this. He experiences tough life issues that many teenagers face, and he doesn’t lie about his lack of knowledge about dealing with these issues or understanding girls. The book contains scenes with World of Warcraft and there is a lot of information about horror movies (both of which aren’t interesting to me), yet I remained very engaged in the story and the characters. Keil writes the male narrator very well, and I think all types of adolescents will identify with the themes of this book. This is one of Kellee’s favorite books, and I see why. Thank you for nagging me to read it, Kel. It is one that will stick with me forever.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Why hasn’t this book received more press? It belongs in classrooms. As a teacher, I would use it as a mentor text for characterization. The scenes with Camilla are written breathtakingly well. If students read these scenes, they would want to read the entire book.

Discussion Questions: Did you find Camilla to be realistic? Could a student walk in and change the entire dynamic at the school in such a powerful way?; Why does Camilla like Sam? Is this realistic?; In what ways are media used by Keil to engage readers?; What does this book teach us about friendship?; How does Sam’s family life add to the complexity of this book?

We Flagged: “I guess some people enter your orbit and get stuck, and there’s nothing either of you can do about it” (p. 70).

And I loved the quote Kellee picked out. It is the scene I remember the most in the book:

“She is wearing a yellow dress that looks like it belongs to a 1950s housewife, and a pair of flat red boots. Her hair is longer than I’d imagine would be practical; it’s parted in the middle and hangs in brown waves almost to her waist. She peers around the room impassively. She doesn’t look terrified. She doesn’t look insanely overconfident, like Adrian that time in year seven when he performed a song as his book report for The Outsiders. Mike and I mark that event as ground zero for the downward social spiral of our group.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Loved: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Paper Towns by John Green, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Touched by Paul Maurer

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Touched
Author: Paul Maurer
Published February 6th, 2013 by New Libri Press

Goodreads Summary: Landmines. Quicksand. Class warfare. Now if Jimmy Parker could only find high school that simple. It only gets more complicated when a mysterious female classmate with a special gift enters his life. Jimmy finds out quickly that a simple touch of her hand allows her unwanted clairvoyance into his most sacred thoughts. Soon after the revelation adolescent sparks fly in directions that culminate in Jimmy’s admittance into the sinister Gritch Club. There he is confronted with social and sexual dilemmas that shake his very core. It is only when his classmate’s mental frailties bubbles to the surface he realizes seemingly harmless actions have powerful consequences that end one life and transform another.

My Review: This book’s ending was so shocking. I sat with my mouth hanging open, just shocked. It was so sudden and really caught me off guard.  The emotion I felt starts with the characters. Jimmy is a nobody in his high school until Renee enters his life. Renee is special. She doesn’t care about what others think, she stands up to the bullies, and she actually befriends Jimmy. Renee is who propels our plot. She gets Jimmy to get out of his comfort zone, she is mysterious so I was always trying to figure her out, and she was smart and beautiful.

Teacher Tools’ For Navigation: There is almost a sub-genre of books that Touched fits in, though I don’t know if it has a name yet. They all have smart or outcast main characters, and another character enters their life who helps them realize their identity. Teens who like those book will enjoy Touched as well.

Discussion Questions: How does Renee change Jimmy’s life?; What events caused the surprising ending to happen? Did you see it happen? Was their foreshadowing that could have given away the ending?

We Flagged: “Most of high school was about as thrilling as getting a Slushee brain-freeze. But in my first class after lunch a thin vein of gold appeared within the red bricks of the building. English Composition was taught by Clarice Weatherspoon, a wrinkly lady that just about everybody called Mrs. Spoon. She was about eighty years old and one of those teachers who probably probably taught during the depression and was never going to die. I could see her in a coma maybe, but not dead. I never cared much for writing but Mrs. Spoon was supposed to be different. Fun was too strong a word for her class, but at least it wasn’t supposed to bore the living crap out of you. She only weighted a hundred pounds caring a backpack full of Big Macs, but when she spoke she came on as tough as a leather boot. Probably tougher.” (Location 335, Kindle ebook)

Read This If You Loved: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Jumped In by Patrick Flores-Scott

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Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

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Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Author: Meg Medina
Published: March 26, 2013 by Candlewick Press

Summary: In Meg Medina’s compelling new novel, a Latina teen is targeted by a bully at her new school — and must discover resources she never knew she had.

One morning before school, some girl tells Piddy Sanchez that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui is, never mind what she’s done to piss her off. Word is that Yaqui thinks Piddy is stuck-up, shakes her stuff when she walks, and isn’t Latin enough with her white skin, good grades, and no accent. And Yaqui isn’t kidding around, so Piddy better watch her back. At first Piddy is more concerned with trying to find out more about the father she’s never met and how to balance honors courses with her weekend job at the neighborhood hair salon. But as the harassment escalates, avoiding Yaqui and her gang starts to take over Piddy’s life. Is there any way for Piddy to survive without closing herself off or running away? In an all-too-realistic novel, Meg Medina portrays a sympathetic heroine who is forced to decide who she really is.

Ricki’s Review: There are many books about bullying, but it is rare to read a text that makes you truly feel frighted for the character being bullied. This text felt very real to me, and it will surely resonate with teenagers. There are many lessons about bullying, but there are also some phenomenal examples of family and friendship. Piddy’s mother isn’t perfect and like all parents, she makes mistakes, but she is a single mother who tries her best. The ups and downs of this mother-daughter relationship offer much to ponder and discuss. As adolescents go through high school, they form new bonds and often, they also grow apart from childhood friends. Piddy’s circumstances of a new school with new friendships will absolutely connect with teens.

Kellee’s Review: Like Ricki stated above, this book makes you feel. As Yaqui fills Piddy’s world with fear, Piddy begins to lose herself and get caught up in the terror. As a reader, you find yourself afraid with Piddy whenever she leaves her house, goes to school, or even thinks about doing either. A book that can do this is brilliant. Meg Medina has a way of sucking you into the world, and I think it is her use of imagery throughout. You can see the characters, hear the music Piddy listens to, feel the fear, etc. And Piddy’s voice is so crystal clear, that is something she never loses. When you finish reading, you can still hear Piddy’s voice in your head.  I also feel that this is a wonderful diverse book in a time when the YA community is calling for diverse books. This one should be in high school classrooms, and should be discussed as it has such important themes and beautiful writing (no matter what anyone thinks about it!).

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a great read aloud at the beginning of the school year. Bullying is a problem that is all too real in our school systems, and it must be addressed immediately, in my opinion. This book would provide rich discussions for classrooms, and it is a must-read for teens. It would be great to do several book groups (or lit circles) that are centered on bullying texts in order to compare the characters’ experiences.

Discussion Questions: Does Piddy make the right decisions? Would you make different choices than her? Why or why not?; Why does the author incorporate Spanish into the text? What does it add, stylistically?; How does Piddy’s absent father affect her?; Which individuals have a positive impact on Piddy? How do these relationships build her character?; Is Joey a good influence on Piddy? What does she learn from him?; Do you agree with the choice that Piddy makes in the end? Would you have made the same choice? Does it show weakness or strength?

We Flagged: “’Son unas cualquieras,’ [my mother] mutters. Nobodies. No culture, no family life, illiterates, she means. The kind of people who make her cross to the other side of the street if she meets them in the dark on payday. They’re her worst nightmare of what a Latin girl can become in the United States. Their big hoop earrings and plucked eyebrows, their dark lips painted like those stars in the old black-and-white movies, their tight T-shirts that show too much curve and invite boys’ touches” (p. 55). 

Read This If You Loved:  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña, The Secret Life of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Sitomer, Burn by Suzanne Phillips, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian, Shine by Lauren Myracle, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

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Winger by Andrew Smith (Kellee’s Review)

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Winger
Author: Andrew Smith
Published May 14th, 2013 by Simon & Schuster

Goodreads Summary: Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

My Review: Andrew Smith sure knows how to write a teenage boy’s voice. He gets inside of adolescent male’s mind, and puts it all on paper for us. (It probably has something to do with teaching high school.) Ryan Dean’s voice and his story are so authentic. This book will make you cringe, laugh out loud, shake your head, and cry.  I am also so impressed with all of the themes that are dealt with in this book without ever feeling over done. These themes include bullying, absent parents, peer pressure, identity, sexuality, prejudice, and friendship.  In addition, Smith builds his characters, setting, and plot seamlessly. You fall in love with all of the characters, main and secondary. Even the antagonist. The setting itself is a character. And finally the plot arc was perfectly done, and was so unpredictable all the way to the end.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First and foremost, this book needs to read by teens. However that happens, it is the right thing. The easiest way would be to get it into libraries and classrooms. There are also parts of the book that could definitely be pulled out to be used in the classroom in may different ways. On that junps to mind right away is using Ryan Dean’s comics as mentor texts for writing comics to write narratives of everyday events. Ricki also has some great ideas for Winger in the classroom in her review.

Discussion Questions: What kind of social challenges does Ryan Dean have to overcome since he is 14 but a junior?; Were you able to predict the end of the book?; What are some traits about Ryan Dean that made him easy to connect to?; How does Opportunity Hall and the rest of the school become a character in Winger?

We Flagged: 

winger2(p. 21)

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

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The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

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The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Published August 27, 2013 by Katerine Tegen

Goodreads Summary: Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

My Review: Another novel filled with smart high schoolers—that makes me so happy!! I hope this is a trend because I love seeing brainy characters in my book and not stereotypical ones. The Beginning of Everything is described as witty, and it is very much so. The sarcasm and wit just bleeds out of this book. I found myself laughing out loud at parts, and usually just because a character had the audacity to say something they shouldn’t have.

In The Beginning of Everything, I actually connected more with the secondary characters than the protagonist. They were so well established and had such unique voices while Ezra sounded like any good-0le boy; however, I will say that by making his voice less distinct allowed for him to grow even in his prose. As he found his new, true identity, his voice became to ring out more true. I am not sure if the author did this on purpose or not, but either way it worked!

Oh, and the final pages. Guys, they were so good! Although it felt a bit rushed to me, the lyrical writing got me in the end. Perfect.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Although this book’s main home is in teens’ hands from a classroom, school, or public library, there are definitely parts that can be pulled out to be used in a classroom.

Since the characters are intelligent, many of the conversations have allusions to literature (Mary Oliver, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Frost) or their topics are quite deep (connecting organic chemistry to life, panopticon, Banksy, German insults). Also, there are debate topics that would be so interesting to look into such as imperialism, capitalism, and the economy.

One fun activity that I would definitely pull out of this book is fake debates. When Ezra, Toby, Cassidy, etc. were at their debate tournament, they had fake debates where they had to choose a side of quite silly topics like “Should vampires be allowed to vote?” This would be a great activity to do in classes to work on persuasion and arguments. (However, be careful about actually reading aloud the scene this is in as they also make it a drinking game.)

Discussion Questions: Do you feel like we live in a society similar to the panopticon? [If you don’t know what this is, it is quite fascinating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon]; Do you think Cassidy made the right choice in the end?; Ezra truly connects with The Great Gatsby because of all the changes his life is going through. What book to you connect with and why?

Flagged: “Her face was inches from mine. I could see the freckles that dusted her nose and the gold flecks in the disquieting blue of her eyes.” (p. 111)

“My admirable opponent argues that vampires do not deserve suffrage, as many great yet misinformed politicians have done before her while calling for the continued marginalization of women, or other minorities.” Cassidy began. “Yet vampires were, at some point human. At what point can a man’s voting rights be revoked, if he is proven to be of rational mind?” (p. 157)

Read This If You Loved: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Kiel, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Paper Towns by John Green

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Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (Kellee’s Review)

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Life in Outer Space
Author: Melissa Keil
Published August 1st, 2013 by Peachtree Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Sam is a geek movie-buff with a ragtag group of loser friends who have been taking abuse from the popular kids for years. But when the super-cool Camilla moves to town, she surprises everyone by choosing to spend time with Sam’s group. Suddenly they go from geek to chic, and find that not everything boils down to us and them. With their social lives in flux, Sam and Camilla spend more and more time together. They become the best of friends, and Sam finds that he’s happier and more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. But eventually Sam must admit to himself that he’s fallen in love. If he confesses his true feelings to Camilla, will everything change again?

My Review: Loved this book. A perfect combination of Spinelli’s Stargirl, a John Green book, and a rom-com. Loved the voice, quirks, characters, and plot. A sleeper title from 2013 that you should read.

A couple things I really loved about this book:

  • The characters are such good people. Although they evolve, they never were kids I wouldn’t want my son to hang out with.
  • A romance-y book from a boy’s point of view!
  • Camilla is so cool yet so uncool and just shows how the labels and cliques and such of high school are just so stupid. Oh, and that you cannot judge a book by its cover.
  • The writing, music, and movie references. Just a bit of geeky, but not too much.

Ricki’s Review: Can be viewed here.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think first and foremost, this book needs to be in libraries so that kids (and adults!) can get their hands on it. In the classroom, it can definitely be used as for a mentor text. I think it is perfect for an example of character development and voice.  The characters in this book are so strong and there are lines and passages throughout that show the characters’ personality. There are also parts that deal with writing poetry/music and would be great passages to talk about writing with students.

Discussion Questions: How does Camilla change the dynamic at Sam’s school? And how did she change Sam and his friends?; (During) Why do you think Mike quit karate?; How does Melissa Keil use music and movies to help move the plot? Show character’s personalities?; How is Sam’s parents’ issues affecting him?;

We Flagged: “She is wearing a yellow dress that looks like it belongs to a 1950s housewife, and a pair of flat red boots. Her hair is longer than I’d imagine would be practical; it’s parted in the middle and hangs in brown waves almost to her waist. She peers around the room impassively. She doesn’t look terrified. She doesn’t look insanely overconfident, like Adrian that time in year seven when he performed a song as his book report for The Outsiders. Mike and I mark that event as ground zero for the downward social spiral of our group.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Loved: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Paper Towns by John Green, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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