Running a Book Club

I’ve been asked on Twitter by a few different people how I run/fund my high school book club, so I decided I should write a post about it.  I’m still working on improving it, so if you run a book club I’d love to know what you do to make it fun.

The Premiere jewelry party fundraiser

The Premier jewelry party fundraiser

I’ll start with a little bit of background.  After our librarian left and we found out that she wasn’t going to be replaced, I asked my principal if I could take over book club.  We had a secretary working in the library, but she wasn’t familiar with the books and was really hired to work on technology stuff.  Later in the year we hired a technology person who would work in the library, but again, he was mostly brought in to help with technology issues in the building.  Thankfully my YA class and my well known passion for reading helped gain me some members, albeit a small amount of members.  I think the first year I ran it we had fifteen members, but only six or so came on a regular basis.  Since then our numbers have grown, but I still have a tough time getting more kids to come regularly.  We meet after school for about an hour since it’s difficult to arrange a time during any other part of the day.  At first we met almost once a week because we wanted to discuss books and we were working on improving/decorating the library since we don’t have a librarian.  When I started this book club, we chose together which books we’d read and I usually bought a few copies of the chosen book with my own money.  I honestly can’t remember if we did much fundraising that first year.

The second year was much better.  We spent more time making displays in the library.  We started holding fundraisers to purchase the books we’d read and we also held fundraisers to purchase books for the library.  My kids loved doing this and were really motivated to raise money.  When new books would arrive, we’d find ways of displaying them so more students would travel into the library to check them out.  That year I really felt like I was running the library in my classroom and our actual library.  I wasn’t down there organizing books and checking them in and out to students, but I was trying to find ways to purchase more books and put eye-catching displays together.

The cupcakes we ate while Skyping with Sarah Ockler about Bittersweet.

Some cupcakes we ate while Skyping with Sarah Ockler about Bittersweet.

This year, my students and I have given up trying to decorate the library because the technology teacher was pulled to teach full time.  The same secretary is down there, but she’s working more on technology issues.  We also have an online schooling program going on in the library, so it isn’t being used at all anymore by our students.  They go down there to check out text books and some might still check out library books, but I don’t know how often that happens.  Hopefully more than I think.  The fundraising we do goes towards purchasing our book club books which I still donate to the library.  If we get our library back, I’ll be happy to have my students work on displays and fundraising, but this year that just doesn’t seem worth it.

I do have a larger group of students this year which makes it fun getting to know them and their reading preferences.  Last year and this year we’ve put all of our names into a bucket and we draw a name every time we choose a new book to read.  This way each student gets to help choose our next book.  They still ask for my advice, but I try to make sure each students gets to read a book they’re interested in.  We’re constantly on Goodreads looking for our next book.

Most of the fundraising we’ve done consists of bake sales.  We’ve apparently priced our bake sales well because we usually make around $150-$200 in a week.  Last year one of the moms got involved and made us lots of cookies to sell.  The kids in our school found out she was baking for us and were really excited to buy some of her cookies :)  I’m also really fortunate to have a great group of kids who also love to bake.  I love to coupon shop, especially in the summer, so whenever boxes of brownie mix, cookies, or the like go on sale I buy a bunch of them so we can make them for bake sales.  A friend of mine sells Premier jewelry and told me that I could hold a book party at school as a fundraiser.  We received a portion of the profits we earned.  To help promote the fundraiser, we offered a jewelry giveaway for each order made or something like that (I think we added a person’s name every $25 or so they spent).  With those parties, the hostess holding the party always earns free jewelry, so we used that free jewelry for the giveaway.  It definitely helped!  We also paired up with Tropical Smoothie and earned a percentage of the sales during a designated time period, so we advertised that at school as well.  We’ve been meaning to have a car wash in the spring, but every time we want to, another club has beat us to it.

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Advertising our book club at the orientation for upcoming freshmen

I do need help coming up with fun meeting ideas.  Last year we read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, so we decided to make crepes during our discussion meeting.  The French teacher let us borrow her crepe maker and each of us brought a different ingredient to make the crepes.  Since we were making so many, we let the teachers in the building know so they could get a crepe after school.  We’ve Skyped with a couple authors as well.  We read The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner and Skyped with her, which was fun as usual.  Our first year we read Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler and talked with her on the phone; my kids loved that.  Last year we read Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler, so we made cupcakes for our meeting and Skyped with her.  I think it’s a given that this year we’ll read The Book of Broken Hearts.  I made monster cookies for when we discussed The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd.  Other than those things, I’m really not sure what else we should do.  I’d love some suggestions!

Here’s a list of books we’ve read in book club. Titles in bold were enjoyed by most of the group.  I hope I didn’t forget any titles!:

  • Enclave by Ann Aguirre
  • Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender
  • The Future of Us by Jay Asher & Carolyn Mackler
  • Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristin Chandler (this one had a lot of mixed reactions)
  • The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
  • Hush, Hush & Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
  • Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  • Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
  • Things Change by Patrick Jones
  • Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe
  • Exposed by Kimberly Marcus
  • Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill
  • Fixing Delilah & Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
  • The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner
  • Freefall by Mindi Scott
  • The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd (lots of mixed reaction, but overall I think they liked it)
  • Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Our current read is Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I hope they all like it!  We’ve also had times when we read different books connected by theme or topic.

 

Waiting on Wednesday–The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

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Sarah Ockler is a popular author in my classroom, and with good reason, too.  My students and I love her characters, the plot lines, the romance, etc.  The book club I run chose Fixing Delilah as one of our books two years ago and last year we read Bittersweet.  We chatted with Sarah over the phone after reading Fixing Delilah, and last year we made cupcakes and Skyped with Sarah after reading Bittersweet.  I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll be reading The Book of Broken Hearts together this spring :)

The Book of Broken HeartsTitle & Author: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

Release Date: May 21st, 2013

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary (From Goodreads): When all signs point to heartbreak, can love still be a rule of the road? A poignant and romantic novel from the author of Bittersweet and Twenty Boy Summer.

Jude has learned a lot from her older sisters, but the most important thing is this: The Vargas brothers are notorious heartbreakers. She’s seen the tears and disasters that dating a Vargas boy can cause, and she swore an oath—with candles and a contract and everything—to never have anything to do with one.

Now Jude is the only sister still living at home, and she’s spending the summer helping her ailing father restore his vintage motorcycle—which means hiring a mechanic to help out. Is it Jude’s fault he happens to be cute? And surprisingly sweet? And a Vargas?

Jude tells herself it’s strictly bike business with Emilio. Her sisters will never find out, and Jude can spot those flirty little Vargas tricks a mile away—no way would she fall for them. But Jude’s defenses are crumbling, and if history is destined to repeat itself, she’s speeding toward some serious heartbreak…unless her sisters were wrong?

Jude may have taken an oath, but she’s beginning to think that when it comes to love, some promises might be worth breaking.

Flash Reviews (19)

Meant to BeTitle: Meant to Be

Author: Lauren Morrill

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question. 

It’s one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she’s queen of following rules and being prepared. That’s why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that’s also why she’s chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB (“meant to be”).

But this spring break, Julia’s rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she’s partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.

Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

Flash Review:

More than anything else, the cover of Meant to Be drew me to this book.  I’ve been wanting to read it since first seeing it, so I was really excited when one of the girls in the book club I run chose it as our next book.  We discussed Lauren Morrill’s debut before Christmas break and the majority of the girls loved it.  I, on the other hand, didn’t quite love it.

I completely understand why my girls loved it so much.  It’s cute, it takes place in London, and there’s both swoony and funny scenes.  For some reason those pieces didn’t carry me through like they normally might.  I couldn’t connect with Julia or Jason at all.  Julia’s obsession with following all the rules and then so easily breaking them felt forced and unrealistic.  The plot didn’t feel strong enough either.  I needed more from it than just texting a mysterious guy and then worrying about Jason.  The ending puts everything together and saved the book for me, but I wish there had been more in the middle to make me enjoy Meant to Be that much more.

What She Left BehindTitle: What She Left Behind

Author: Tracy Bilen

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads):

“Don’t even think of leaving… I will find you,” he whispered.

“Guaranteed.”

Sara and her mom have a plan to finally escape Sara’s abusive father. But when her mom doesn’t show up as expected, Sara’s terrified. Her father says that she’s on a business trip, but Sara knows he’s lying. Her mom is missing—and her dad had something to do with it.

With each day that passes, Sara’s more on edge. Her friends know that something’s wrong, but she won’t endanger anyone else with her secret. And with her dad growing increasingly violent, Sara must figure out what happened to her mom before it’s too late…for them both.

Flash Review:

What She Left Behind is a great mystery that I’m sure will hook some of my reluctant readers.  It has fairly short chapters which keep the story paced well and will appeal to many of my students.  So many of them won’t stop reading until they read the end of the chapter, so I’ll sometimes spot them flipping through a book before they read it to see how long the chapters are.

The beginning of Tracy Bilen’s debut is gripping as Sara remembers threats her father made towards her mother; it’s obvious right away that this is a violent home.  I was tense through the beginning and Sara and her mother plan their escape and when Sara suddenly finds herself without her mother.  The fact that Sara’s dad won’t recognize her brother’s death is even worse and adds more tension to the story.

My one issue with this story is that I needed a little more action or build up in the middle of the book.  The beginning caught my attention right away and the ending is even more intense, but the middle dragged a bit.  I’m not sure what would make it better, to be honest.  Maybe the relationship between Sara and Alex could be stronger.  Even though the middle was a bit slow for me, I think my students will really like this.

Since I know many of the people reading my blog are teachers and librarians, you’ll be happy to know that What She Left Behind is in paperback.  I know I always appreciate being able to buy a new release in paperback; my bank account appreciates it, too :)

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Review: Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe

Stasia Ward Kehoe Audition

458 pp. Viking Juvenile (Penguin Group)  2011

Interest: 2011 Debut Author / Verse Novel / HS Book Club Choice

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): When high school junior Sara wins a coveted scholarship to study ballet, she must sacrifice everything for her new life as a professional dancer-in-training. Living in a strange city with a host family, she’s deeply lonely-until she falls into the arms of Remington, a choreographer in his early twenties. At first, she loves being Rem’s muse, but as she discovers a surprising passion for writing, she begins to question whether she’s chosen the right path. Is Rem using her, or is it the other way around? And is dancing still her dream, or does she need something more? This debut novel in verse is as intense and romantic as it is eloquent.

I’ve always admired dancers.  They’re athletic, graceful, hard workers and more.  Before this year I haven’t read any novels with main characters that are dancers.  Not only do has Audition released in 2011, but there’s also Bunheads by Sophie Flack and Ellen Hopkins’ newest novel, Perfect has a main character that dances.  My dancers in class will be happy to see these new additions to YA, as am I.

Stasia Ward Kehoe grew up as a dancer, so I can imagine Audition was a very personal novel to write.  Her expertise in dance is evident in how articulate she is in the language of dance.  I, not being a dancer, didn’t understand all of the terminology, but I did appreciate it and respect it.  Ballet dancers reading this novel will certainly appreciate Stasia Ward Kehoe’s expertise.  Not only does she use correct terminology, Audition is full of beautiful imagery and scenes.  Even with my limited knowledge of ballet I was able to picture the dancing and the dancers.

I’m a huge fan of verse novels, so I was really looking forward to reading Audition (besides it being about ballet).  The students in my book club chose this as our next novel after I told them about it, and most of them started it before me.  For one of the girls, this was her first verse novel and she told me she was struggling with it.  She wasn’t sure if it’s simply because she’s not used to verse, or if the verse was just choppy.  I kept this in mind while reading Audition, and for the most part I enjoyed the verse.  As I read more of the book I began to notice that many of the scenes and the writing are choppy.  Sara would be describing a scene at the studio, and then on the next page we were back at the house or with Rem.  These sudden changes in setting are jarring and caused me to re-read more pages than I cared to.  The verse isn’t always as fluid as I prefer, but I still enjoyed Stasia Ward Kehoe’s writing and will read more of her novels.

The story is about Sara and how she’s basically thrown into this new life of dancing.  She’s from a small town and is a promising dancer.  After she scores well at an audition, she is accepted at a dancing school at the Jersey Ballet.  Sara goes through a whirlwind of emotions during this transition and is really unsure of herself as a dancer and who she is outside of dance.  Eventually Sara isn’t sure if she wants to continue dancing, if this is really her dream.  Readers will appreciate Sara’s hesitation whether they’re a dancer or not, because many of us face these decisions in our lives.  Who are we?  What do we want to do with our lives?  Will our choices let down our family?  In the midst of this, Sara falls for Remington.  While I appreciated Sara’s angst about ballet, I simply couldn’t connect with her relationship with Rem.  Sara and Rem have a fast infatuation that never really made sense to me.  Part of this may be the fact that Rem really doesn’t have much dialogue–he and Sara don’t do much talking.  This is mostly because of the nature of their relationship, but also because the scenes with Rem focus more on Sara’s thoughts.  I understand the reasoning for this, but it also caused these scenes to fall flat for me.  As a result, Audition didn’t become the book I wanted it to be.

I’m looking forward to hearing my students’ thoughts, especially after seeing the different ratings they’ve been giving it on Goodreads.  Audition is one that I enjoyed, and even though some areas were weak, it’s a book that I still think others should read.

Flash Reviews (7)

Matched by Ally Condie
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

Flash Review:  My alumni book club chose Matched as our most recent read which is the reason I bought it.  To be honest, I was really hesitant to read Ally Condie’s debut because I’ve read so many mixed/blah reviews for it.  Ultimately, I’m glad it was chosen for book club because I ended up enjoying it.  It’s not a title I’m raving about, but I liked it enough to buy the second book, Crossed.  Cassia is living in a society and put in a situation that very much reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  Most of the people believe they live in a safe, pleasant society, but not-so-pleasant truths are uncovered after Cassia’s Matching ceremony.  The similarities to The Giver kept me reading, along with Condie’s graceful writing style.  I’ve found that I’m quite picky when reading dystopian YA, but I recommend Matched. 

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): “These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.”
—Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The most tragic love story in history . . .

Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn’t anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she’s fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent. Until the day she meets someone she’s forbidden to love, and Romeo, oh Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy that love.

Flash Review: I’ve read a number of glowing reviews for Juliet Immortal and a couple of my avid readers told me I HAD to read it.  I’m glad I took everyone’s advice because I really liked Stacey Jay’s novel.  Her writing is beautiful and lyrical.  I loved the many allusions to Shakespeare and his works as well.  The twist on Romeo and Juliet really won me over, and I think it will have the same effect on my students.  My department is working on adding YA novels to our Romeo and Juliet unit and I definitely plan on recommending this novel.  It has plenty of action and romance without being too graphic; besides some language and violence, it’s a clean book.  My problem with Juliet Immortal is that towards the second half of the novel, the writing turned verbose and the story became redundant.  This is what kept me from giving it 4 out of 5 stars.  Other than that, if you enjoy Shakespeare, or a good twist on a classic, I recommend reading Stacey Jay’s novel.

Thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen

Flash Reviews (6)

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Luis Fuentes has always been sheltered from the gang violence that nearly destroyed his brothers’ lives. But that didn’t stop him from taking risks—whether he’s scaling a mountain in the Rockies or dreaming of a future as an astronaut, Luis can’t stop looking for the next thrill.

Nikki Cruz lives her life by three rules—boys lie to get their way, don’t trust a boy who says “I love you,” and never date a boy from the south side of Fairfield. Her parents may be from Mexico, but as a doctor’s daughter, she has more in common with her north-side neighbors than the Latino Blood at her school. Then she meets Luis at Alex’s wedding, and suddenly, she’s tempted to break all her rules.

Getting Nikki to take a chance on a southsider is Luis’s biggest challenge, until he finds himself targeted by Chuy Soto, the new head of the Latino Blood. When Chuy reveals a disturbing secret about Luis’s family, the youngest Fuentes finds himself questioning everything he’s ever believed to be true. Will his feelings for Nikki be enough to stop Luis from entering a dark and violent world and permanently living on the edge?

Flash Review:  I’m a big fan of the Perfect Chemistry trilogy and the Fuentes brothers.  The stories are predictable, but the characters are engaging, the plots move quickly, and the relationships are exciting.  Luis is quite different from his brothers in the sense that he tries to avoid violence and the gang life, which was a nice change of pace from the other two books.  I would have enjoyed Chain Reaction more, however, if it would have been more of its own novel.  What I mean by that is Luis’s story was a mixture of Alex’s story and Carlos’ story.  Just like Alex, Luis and Nikki have chemistry together.  Very much like Carlos, Luis falls for a girl that’s tough around the edges and wary of him.  I felt like I was reading both Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction.  Luis was confronted with many of the same conflicts that his brothers were in their novels.  The story does become , but it’s not until later in the book.  I did enjoy reading it, it just wasn’t a 4 or 5 star novel like the other two.

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): In the world of Sheridan Wells, life is perfect when she’s decorating a cake. Unfortunately everything else is a complete mess: her mom ran off years ago, her dad is more interested in his restaurant, and the idea of a boyfriend is laughable.

But Sheridan is convinced finding her mom will solve all her problems – only her dad’s about to get a cooking show in New York, which means her dream of a perfect family will be dashed.

Using just the right amount of romance, family drama, and cute boys, The Sweetest Thing will entice fans with its perfect mixture of girl-friendly ingredients.

Flash Review: I need to say first that The Sweetest Thing had me going through all sorts of cravings.  Sheridan is an absolute perfectionist about her cakes, so her descriptions were quite detailed which made my mouth water more times than not.  Christina Mandelski has written a novel that girls who like novels by Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti will enjoySheridan is a character that a variety of readers can relate to, whether they aspire to be a baker, feel like an outsider, lack a relationship with their mother, or simply want to read a novel and empathize with a character.  While I enjoyed Mandelski’s debut, I did at times find myself irritated with Sheridan.  She is so stubborn about connecting with her mother and not cooperating with her father or friends.  It makes for a layered conflict, but it could have been resolved sooner without hurting the novel.  Still, Sheridan is a character that girls can learn from.  My girls in book club chose this as our first novel, and I’m really looking forward to discussing it with them this week.

 

Thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen :)

In My Mailbox (25)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme sponsored by The Story Siren.  It’s a way for bloggers to share what books they’ve received for review, borrowed from the library, or bought from the store.

I feel like I’ve been a bad blogger because I have not been able to keep up since school started a couple weeks ago!  I’m sure I’ll get back in the groove soon **fingers crossed**.

Books Purchased:

Hush by Eishes Chayil (Goodreads): I love the cover for this one and the summary is really intriguing.  I’ve been on a realistic fiction kick for almost a month now, so I’m sure this will be read soon.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick (Goodreads): I’ve read some positive reviews for this, but the real selling point is that it takes place in Michigan.  I want to read this one sooner rather than later so I can hand it off to my students.

Supernaturally by Kiersten White (Goodreads): I finally bought my copy!  I read Paranormalcy last fall, so I guess it makes sense for me to read the sequel this fall :)

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski (Goodreads): My book club has grown this year!  We had our first meeting last Tuesday and decided that each person will get a chance to pick the book we read.  Tristan drew first and she decided on The Sweetest Thing.  I have an ARC that Christina sent me in the spring for my kids to read for their Students Want to Know interview with her, but because I have a bigger group this year, I had to buy a finished copy so more kids can read it at the same time.  I’m excited to hear their thoughts!

In My Mailbox (22)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme sponsored by The Story Siren.  It’s a way for bloggers to share what books they’ve received for review, borrowed from the library, or bought from the store.

Purchased (all but Anya’s Ghost):

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab (Goodreads): I just started this one and I’m liking it so far. I’ve read a lot of positive, glowing reviews.  So far it’s very lyrical, as many of the reviews have stated, and it feels almost like a fairy tale in atmosphere.

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry (Goodreads): I’ve heard good things about this book, too.  I’m not always sure about zombie books, but I know my boys in class like them and I loved Bad Taste in Boys.  I skimmed through the book and found out that the chapters are short, so maybe it will be a fast read.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (Goodreads): A friend of mine on Twitter sent me this one (Thanks John! @MrSchuReads).  My best friend read it and enjoyed it, plus I’ve heard good things from other teachers I’m friends with.  Any time I hear good things about a graphic novel, I have to look into it.

You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz (Goodreads): I found this one while perusing what was left in the YA section at Borders.  It’s written in verse which is the primary reason for buying it.  I read a few pages yesterday and already know that I’ll love it.  It’s looking like a very poignant tale of love and loss.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Goodreads): Most of the reviews I’ve read for this one talk about it being fantastic, creepy, funny, etc.  I have a book club with a group of alumni students and this is our most recent pick.  I’ll have to start reading it soon!

A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie by Matt Blackstone

Matt Blackstone A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie

248 pp.  Farrar Straus Giroux  2011  ISBN: 978-0-374-36421-2

Interest: 2011 Debut Author Challenge / Student alumni book club choice

Source: Book received from the author (Thank you, Matt!!)

Summary (From Goodreads): Rene, an obsessive-compulsive fourteen year old, smells his hands and wears a Batman cape when he’s nervous. If he picks up a face-down coin, moves a muscle when the time adds up to thirteen (7:42 is bad luck because 7 + 4 + 2 = 13), or washes his body parts in the wrong order, Rene or someone close to him will break a bone, contract a deadly virus, and/or die a slow and painful death like someone in a scary scene in scary movie. Rene’s new and only friend tutors him in the art of playing it cool, but that’s not as easy as Gio makes it sound.

I want to start off saying that Matt Blackstone did send me a copy of his book, but that hasn’t altered my thoughts on the book.  Gae Polisner, the author of The Pull of Gravity, was telling me about Matt’s book in a Facebook thread.  One of my former students, Joe, saw the thread and looked up Matt’s book.  He added on to the thread that he really wants to read this book, so I suggested that we read it as our next alumni book club pick.  From there, Gae sent Matt a message saying he should add me as a friend because of what Joe and I were saying (and because Matt and I are both English teachers!).  You can figure out the rest :)

To the review–I really did like A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie.  It has wonderful boy appeal, tons of humor and wit, and it’s touching at times also.

The character development is strong, which I’m always a fan of.  Rene is fourteen years old, but he really hasn’t reached the maturity of a fourteen year old.  Although as I type that, I’m thinking to myself, how mature are fourteen year old boys??  To be fair, I have had some fairly mature boys in my English 9 classes.  As I was getting to know Rene’s character, I pictured him being at the level of a 7th or 8th grade boy.  He wants to mature and like the other guys, Gio in particular, but he still has his digital Batman watch, wears a cape, and imagines himself fighting crime as he’s walking home.  All of these nuances make Rene very likable as a character.  Within the first few pages I was giggling enough that my husband glanced over at me with a “What are you reading?” look.  I, of course, told him all about it :)  Rene is hyper aware of the people around him.  He has names for the different types of kids in school like the Cutters (they cut class) and the Smartypants.  His example of what the Smartypants are like reminded me of a girl I knew in middle school who, during a Girl Scout retreat, corrected my pronunciation of the word “jaguar.”  This would be a funny story, but only if you could actually hear the story and how it sounded when she said it.  She would be a member of the Smartypants clique.

I haven’t read too many books with characters that suffer from OCD.  For this reason, I was looking forward to reading A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie to see how it affected Rene.  Most times I giggled when he’d get going about something.  He gets so distracted by his compulsions, that Rene often misses what others are saying or he just completely misunderstands them.  This happened often with his teacher and with his friend Gio.  These conversations are when I was laughing the most because it would really take some patience and understanding to interact with Rene.  Honestly, though, I thought sometimes that his actions as a result of the OCD resembled how my students with autism act.  The examples I’m thinking of are how paranoid Rene would get that the kids at school were talking about him and when he’d get completely sucked into his imagination.  This is a great book for teens to read because they’ll have a better understanding of what people suffering from OCD are going through.  They’ll know what everyday life can be like for them.  I can’t imagine living my life like Rene; it’s exhausting to think about what he goes through.

Reading this book will not only provide you with plenty of laughs, but it will also give you the opportunity to connect with a deeply layered character.  The supporting characters are wonderful as well, and I’m sure you’ll be rooting for them.  As a final comment, I’m not going to give the ending away, of course, but I really did like it; it’s full of hope.

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith

Emily Wing Smith Back When You Were Easier to Love

296 pp.  Dutton Books (Penguin Group)  2011  ISBN: 978-0-525-42199-3

Summary (From Goodreads): What’s worse than getting dumped? Not even knowing if you’ve been dumped. Joy got no goodbye, and certainly no explanation when Zan – the love of her life and the only good thing about stifling, backward Haven, Utah – unceremoniously and unexpectedly left for college a year early. Joy needs closure almost as much as she needs Zan, so she heads for California, and Zan, riding shotgun beside Zan’s former-best-friend Noah.

Original and insightful, quirky and crushing, Joy’s story is told in surprising and artfully shifting flashbacks between her life then and now. Exquisite craft and wry, relatable humor signal the arrival of Emily Wing Smith as a breakout talent.

Back When You Were Easier to Love is another one of my book choices for The Contemps Challenge, and I’m happy I chose it.  It’s a very cute, funny novel that my girls in class will enjoy.  Honestly, I’m not always too worried about whether a novel is “clean”, but this one is and it’s nice to know it will be available to my students.

This novel touches on a number of subjects including identity, faith, love and acceptance.  Joy has lived most of her life in California until her parents decide to move to Utah late during high school.  She and her family are Mormon and had a small group of Mormon friends in California, but now that they’re living in Utah, pretty much her entire town and school is Mormon.  Joy has a difficult time distinguishing between her faith and identity as a Mormon.  This subject doesn’t overwhelm the book by any means, but it plays a big part in her relationship with Zan and her figuring out who she is.

Joy meets Zan when she first moves to Haven and is attracted to him immediately.  He’s not one to conform like “everyone else.”  He wears his hair longer, his face scruffier, and his grandpa’s loafers.  He doesn’t like the people of Haven and their boring ways.  He seems himself as better than everyone there.  He and Joy start a relationship, which Joy falls hard for.  She’s gets to the point, especially in the present after he’s left, where she feels like he makes her a better person.  She doesn’t feel good enough anymore; she’s lost herself to him.  Of course, Joy doesn’t realize this.  For me, as an adult, I had problems with this.  I grew irritated with how much she was basically obsessing over him.  I don’t know if teen girls will be as bothered by this as I am, because I know many teen girls–and adult women–who feel the same way when they’re dating someone.  Thankfully, Joy has great friends, whether she realizes it or not, who try to talk some sense into her.  But Joy needs “closure” so, because of a dream, she takes Noah with her on a trip to find Zan.

I adore Noah’s character.  There isn’t a swooping romance because that’s not how life is for these characters.  As described in the book, Mormons won’t even kiss someone unless it’s a pretty serious relationship.  The characters take their faith seriously and want to do what’s right.  I dated a Mormon boy in high school and can attest to this.  I was completely dumbfounded as to why he wouldn’t kiss me!  Finally he explained it, which made me feel a little bit better, but not really.  Anyway, Noah is determined to be Joy’s friend even though Joy can’t stand to be around him and his “soccer lovin’” self.  She has a set idea of who Noah is, but on their trip to California to find Zan, she learns that everything isn’t always what it seems–in more ways than one.  He’s a sweet, mild-mannered, witty character that I’ll remember long after reading this book.  And after reading Back When You Were Easier to Love, you’ll understand why those three adjectives describing Noah, really don’t do him justice at all :)

This is a fast-paced read, with strong main and supporting characters.  I was able to get past some of my issues with Joy because they don’t stay for the whole book.  A big part of this novel is Joy, and Noah too, learning who they are and accepting themselves and those around them.  It really is a fun book to read and one that I highly recommend you give to a teen girl and/or put in your class and school library.  In fact, my high school book club decided to read this as one of our summer reads.  There’s much to be taken from this book without it being preachy or anything close to that.  It made me think of E. Lockhart’s The Boyfriend List and Learning to Swim by Cheryl Klam.

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