Review: Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson + additional authors

Violent EndsTitle: Violent Ends

Author: Shaun David Hutchinson + additional authors

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / More than one POV / Author(s)

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.

This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA’s most recognizable names.

It’s been two months since I finished reading Violent Ends and I’m still having a difficult time putting all of my thoughts together. Immediately after finishing it I began tweeting my reactions and thoughts because I had to say something about it to someone right away. So this review is going to be a mixture of those tweets and some written explanation.

One of the primary reasons aspects that makes this an awesome book is that it’s not easy to demonize Kirby. When a school shooting occurs the shooter(s) is almost instantly villainized by the media. And part of me wants to add “rightly so,” but then I think about Violent Ends and all of the stories connected to Kirby, and I find it difficult to type “rightly so.” That’s incredibly hard for me to grapple with as a teacher and parent.

Something that is so smart about Violent Ends is that even though many of the stories could prompt a reader to point to a moment as “the moment” that set Kirby off, we still can’t do that. Take this tweet for instance:

Violent Ends Tweet 3

I won’t say what happens in Elisa’s chapter, but, yeah. I was extremely fortunate to be invited to the Simon & Schuster NCTE dinner that featured Shaun and was able to ask him some questions about this book during the dinner. I asked Shaun specifically about this chapter and even he doesn’t know exactly how it ends. Elisa has purposely kept that quiet because it could sway readers in one direction or not. I bring this up, because it’s a perfect example of how society wants to find the real reason why someone decides to attack a school (or any public place). And often when a suicide is involved we’re left without answers. The authors who wrote this book together crafted it in such a way that while we know Kirby pretty well, we don’t know exactly why. The closest we get to being in Kirby’s head is in a chapter from the gun’s point of view.

There are chapters that made me feel close to Kirby and the characters who were directly involved in his life.

Violent Ends Tweet 4

This chapter, had me on edge like the tweet says, but it also showed an unexpected side of Kirby. I’m still thinking about that character and want Tom Leveen to write a book from her point of view.

There’s also this:

Violent Ends Tweet 2

Mindi Scott’s chapter left me feeling almost everything. And, again, I saw a side of Kirby that made me want to know him more. Mindi was the perfect author for this character and chapter (I’m purposely not naming the character).

Overall, Violent Ends is smart and timely, which is one of the reasons it was one of my favorite books of 2015. I’m impressed with variety of authors Shaun David Hutchinson pulled together and the amazing story they created. I never felt like I was reading something written by a group of authors, which is quite the feat.

Violent Ends Tweet 1 Violent Ends Tweet 5

Waiting on Wednesday–Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman


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.

This morning I was thinking about which book to spotlight today so I asked my first hour freshmen to help me decide. I showed them my 2015 Release shelf on Goodreads and they pointed to Sarah Darer Littman’s upcoming release. I read the summary and immediately heard a chorus of “Oooohhh you need to pick that book!”

BacklashTitle & Author: Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman

Release Date: March 31st, 2015

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Summary (From Goodreads):

He says: You’re an awful person.
He says: What makes you think I would ever ask you out?
He says: The world would be a better place without you in it.

Lara just got told off on Facebook.

She thought that Christian liked her, that he was finally going to ask her to his school’s homecoming dance. They’ve been talking online for weeks, so what’s with the sudden change? And where does he get off saying horrible things on her wall? Even worse – are they true?

It’s been a long time since Lara’s felt this bad, this depressed, this ugly. She’s worked really hard to become pretty and happy – and make new friends after what happened in middle school.

Bree used to be best friends with overweight, depressed Lara, but constantly listening to Lara’s issues got to be too much. Secretly, Bree’s glad Christian called Lara out. Lara’s not nearly as amazing as people think. But no one realized just how far Christian’s harsh comments would push Lara. Not even Bree.

As online life collides with real life, things spiral out of control, and not just for Lara. Because when the truth starts to come together, the backlash is even more devastating than anyone could have ever imagined.

Review: Reality Boy by A.S. King

Reality BoyTitle: Reality Boy

Author: A.S. King

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: October 22nd, 2013

Interest: Author / Contemp / Guy appeal

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

In this fearless portrayal of a boy on the edge, highly acclaimed Printz Honor author A.S. King explores the desperate reality of a former child “star” who finally breaks free of his anger by creating possibilities he never knew he deserved.

A.S. King sold me on Reality Boy when she read the prologue during an author event at one of my local indies. It was engaging and something I knew I could read to my students to sell them as well. But honestly, I don’t need A.S. King to sell me on any of her books because I’ll read anything she writes. Her books are awesome.

Reality Boy is a book that will resonate with a variety of my students. I know I can hand it to my students who are dealing with anger issues. They’ll relate with Gerald and appreciate his struggles. Hopefully they’ll find that they’re not alone and can change for the better. Hopefully they’ll seek help if they haven’t already. I know I can hand it to my students who have a tough life at home. On the outside it probably looks like Gerald’s life is a good one. Appearances can be deceiving, and while not all of my students come from deceivingly happy homes, many of them deal with tough home lives. Again, Gerald will let them know that they’re not alone. He’ll give them hope. I know I can hand Reality Boy to my students who simply want to read a great story. Gerald will provide them with that.

Back to the appearances can be deceiving point. I’ve read some criticisms that Gerald’s stint on reality TV wasn’t that big of a deal since it aired when he was so young and that he was only on a couple episodes. Those are valid points, but I think the reality TV focus goes a little deeper than that. Gerald’s experience with reality TV drives the point home that appearances can be deceiving. The bigger point to those episodes is what viewers, and even his parents, don’t see. No one sees how messed up his family is. Yes, it’s bad that Gerald was going to the bathroom wherever he wanted to, but what was happening with his sister was even worse. His parents, especially his mother, are blind to what’s really happening in their own home.  There are a number of reasons for this and sadly it’s affected Gerald’s state of well-being and even his education. In my opinion, A.S. King is asking her readers to pay more attention and to be empathetic. I could be wrong, but that’s what I took away from reading Reality Boy.

This is yet another excellent book written by an excellent author. I hope you’ll read it and share it with others.

Top Ten Tuesday: Contemps I’d Love to Teach

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

I’ve been really fortunate in the past few years to teach some great young adult novels. I’m teaching in a new district this year, and as far as I know, we don’t teach any young adult novels. Hopefully I can change that in the future 🙂  This list is going to be based on what I have taught and what I’d like to teach.

The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner (Goodreads)–This is a great book to pair with Of Mice and Men which my former district started doing a couple years ago.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Goodreads)–This is a fabulous book. Marcelo has Aspergers and sees the world in a completely different light than the average person. We paired this us up with To Kill a Mockingbird since both are coming of age novels.

Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (Goodreads)–This isn’t exactly realistic fiction since there’s an element of the supernatural, but it’s a fantastic book that I’d love to teach in a unit dealing with empathy.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time  Indian by Sherman Alexie (Goodreads)–This is a great book to teach when discussing racism, coming of age, and more. We also taught this with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Goodreads)–If you haven’t read Wonder yet, I really hope you do soon. This may be middle grade, but many of my sophomores read this last year and loved it. I’m reading it to my seniors and one class of sophomores this year at the start of the year to help build our classroom community. I have a bulletin board in my room with the words “Choose Kind” to add to our read aloud experience. I want my students to think about those two words inside and outside my room, so I have paint chips at the bottom of the board for them to write moments of kindness on and post on the bulletin board.  Wonder could be used in a bullying unit, in a community unit, etc.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Goodreads)–Again, this isn’t exactly realistic fiction, but it’s such an excellent, beautiful book. I’d love to teach this as an introduction to allegory before introducing my students to Lord of the Flies.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads)–There are multiple possibilities for the placement of Speak in schools. I’ve taught it to freshmen who were repeating a trimester of English 9, which went over very well. I’d also teach it with The Scarlett Letter or use it as a read aloud during that unit.

I would love to create a Young Adult Literature elective in my new district. Here are a few titles I would consider teaching since I love them, they have a strong message, strong characters, etc.

Winger by Andrew Smith (Goodreads)–There are so many reasons that I want to use this in a YA Lit class. So many.

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (Goodreads)–Astrid is a wonderful character. I love that this book speaks to the importance of not labeling people.

The Spectacular  Now by Tim Tharp (Goodreads)–I have mixed feelings overall about this book, but it’s an excellent example of a character with addiction. I think it would promote a wide variety of discussions in a YA Lit class.

Waiting on Wednesday–Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole

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.


I know some people are turned off by religion in YA or books in general, but I find it interesting.  I also have quite a few students who are active in their church and find this topic interesting.  Regardless, the combination of religion, bullying, and “sorcery” in Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always intrigues me.  What do you think?

P.S. It’s my birthday.  Yay! 😀

Sometimes Never, Sometimes AlwaysTitle & Author: Sometimes Never, Sometimes Always by Elissa Janine Hoole

Release Date: November 8th, 2013

Publisher: Flux

Summary (From Goodreads):

Cassandra fears rocking the family boat. Instead, she sinks it. Assigned by her English teacher to write a poem that reveals her true self, Cassandra Randall is stuck. Her family’s religion is so overbearing, she can NEVER write about who she truly is. So Cass does what any self-respecting high school girl would do: she secretly begins writing a tarot-inspired advice blog. When Drew Godfrey, an awkward outcast with unwashed hair, writes to her, the situation spirals into what the school calls “a cyberbullying crisis” and what the church calls “sorcery.” Cass wants to be the kind of person who sticks up for the persecuted, who protects the victims the way she tries to protect her brother from the homophobes in her church. But what if she’s just another bully? What will it take for her to step up and tell the truth?

Waiting on Wednesday–Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange

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.


P.S. Lori @ Imagination Designs made the above graphic. I love it!

When I first read this synopsis I was pulled in because it has male protagonists; my boys in class need more books with male main characters.  Second, I like that it’s dealing with bullying and that a character has Down syndrome.  I hope Dead Ends is written well and will be a hit with my students.

Dead EndsTitle & Author: Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange

Release Date: September 3rd, 2013

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Summary (From Goodreads):

Dane Washington is one suspension away from expulsion. In a high school full of “haves,” being a “have not” makes Dane feel like life is hurtling toward one big dead end. Billy D. spends his high school days in Special Ed and he’s not exactly a “have” himself. The biggest thing Billy’s missing? His dad. Billy is sure the riddles his father left in an atlas are really clues to finding him again and through a bizarre turn of events, he talks Dane into joining him on the search.
A bully and a boy with Down syndrome makes for an unlikely friendship, but together, they work through the clues, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping.
As a journalist, Erin Jade Lange is inspired by hot button issues like bullying, but it is her honest characters and breakneck plotting that make Dead Ends a must-read.

A Powerful Bullying Video

If you haven’t seen this powerful poem-turned-video, you really should watch it now.  I’ve seen it pop up a number of times on Facebook and just now watched it.  I’ll most definitely show this to my students and discuss it with them.  Also, since so many of you read and connect with readers, I’m including a list of books that deal with the topic of bullying.  I know I’ll forget/miss books, so please leave more titles in the comments.

Books Dealing with Bullying (to some degree & in no particular order)

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers (Goodreads)
Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser (Goodreads)
Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen (Goodreads)
The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder (Goodreads)
Speechless by Hannah Harrington (Goodreads)
Shattering Glass by Gail Giles (Goodreads)
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Goodreads)
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (Goodreads)
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (Goodreads)
Breaking Point by Alex Flinn (Goodreads)
Smile by Raina Telgemeier (Goodreads)
Popular by Alissa Grosso (Goodreads)
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (Goodreads)
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Goodreads)
If I Lie by Corrine Jackson (Goodreads)
The List by Siobhan Vivian (Goodreads)
Camp by Elaine Wolf (Goodreads)
Butter by Erin Jade Lange (Goodreads)

Audiobook Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Some Girls AreTitle: Some Girls Are

Author: Courtney Summers

Narrator: Katie Schorr

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Interest: Author / Contemporary

Release Date: July 11, 2011 (audio format), January 5, 2010 (paperback)

Source: Purchased audio via Audible

Summary (From Goodreads): Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder.  Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around.  Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge.  If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day.  She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully.  Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.

Audio Review:

I have more to say about the actual book than the audio, so this portion of the review will be short.  Overall, I liked it.  It’s not the best audio performance I’ve listened to, but it’s still good.  I don’t want that part of the review, however, to keep anyone from reading the book.  Katie Schorr is a good choice for Regina, but she isn’t as talented at changing her voice for different characters.  Considering the amount of character interaction in Some Girls Are, this became an issue for me because I had a hard time distinguishing when Regina was talking and when, say, Michael or Kara were speaking.  I also don’t know if this is the best choice for audio because of how clipped some of the narration and dialogue are.  I think hearing it, as opposed to seeing it, took away from the effect the clipped, sparse lines were supposed to have.  I recommend reading Some Girls Are traditionally over listening to it.

Book Review:

Courtney Summers is an author who deserves more attention and more of a fan base because she is seriously talented.  I still have to read This is Not a Drill, but I’ve read all three of her other books and in each one she develops characters who are both hard and easy to like.  Regina is the epitome of this.  I did not want to like Regina or feel sorry for her because to some degree she doesn’t deserve pity.  She’s not a nice person–at all.  But I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her because she is treated horribly by Anna, Kara, and all of her old “friends.”  Still, Regina doesn’t completely learn from this because the cycle continues as Regina retaliates and is equally brutal.  It’s alarming how much this hate spreads from person to person in the book.  It’s alarming because this actually happens outside of books.

At times, I wondered what else could possibly happen to Regina.  What more were Anna, Kara, and the rest going to do to her?  How was the story going to end?  But it still went on.  Summers creates this slow, bubbling of brutality on every page.  One question I kept asking myself is “Where are Regina’s parents?”  They are so completely oblivious and out of the picture, it’s sickening.  I want to say it’s unrealistic, but I know that’s  not true.  I can’t tell you how many times I started saying things out loud to Regina like, “Tell your principal!”  These characters are ruthless and horrible and need to be punished by an adult.

I know Regina isn’t forthcoming with her parents because she is embarrassed, but I’m not completely sure why she doesn’t go to another adult or principal or something.  Yes, she fears retaliation, but I think she also fears that no one will believe her.  It’s messed up that we preach against bullying, yet there’s still this fear that no one will believe it when someone accuses another of bullying, especially when the bully is a “good kid.”  I have a lot of say about the reason why Regina is thrown from the group, and I’m not sure if I should say because it’s slightly spoilery, but it’s also right at the beginning of the book, but I’m saving those thoughts for another post I’m currently drafting.  Anyway, Some Girls Are brings up so much about school culture that needs to be addressed and changed.

I’m simply not doing this book justice, but it’s a book that needs to be read and discussed with other people who have read it.  It’s hard to write a review for it because there are so many layers and feelings to discuss.  I hope you read it.  I hope you read all of Courtney Summers’ books.

Similar Books: Speechless by Hannah Harrington, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Banned Books Week: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Banned Book: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Retained at the Bangor, Pa. Area Middle School (2007) despite a student’s aunt’s concerns about the book’s depiction of school violence. Source: Mar. 2008, p. 79.” (Source–Quote taken from the ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: Give a Boy a Gun has been part of our sophomore English curriculum since I started teaching at Clio six years ago.  It’s also one of the most successful and engaging units we teach.  Todd Strasser hits many big issues like bullying, violent video games, troubles at home, etc. that students have no choice but to speak up and discuss what they’re reading.  Almost every time we read this book in class I end up hearing from my most introverted students.  It’s a powerful moment when so many students in class are buzzing and engaged and asking to have a discussion.

The story is violent, so I understand concerns about reading Give a Boy a Gun.  My bigger concern is the rising number of violent acts in schools.  They’ve escalated so much we’re now seeing news coverage of shootings near popular tourist attractions and on college campuses.  Todd Strasser makes some valid points in his book in a number of ways.  He includes information he found while researching as footnotes in the story.  He also has the book set up from varying points of view so readers can get a full perspective.  The teachable moments in this book are plentiful, so I hope teachers, librarians, and parents will take it upon themselves to read it and share it.  It’s certainly a book worth discussing.

Student Response: This response comes from one of my YA Lit students and aspiring author, Noah.

“I’m not surprised, but I still think it shouldn’t be banned.  We hear real life stories like this book all the time.  It won’t convince any kid to perform a school shooting and it tells what some kids went through.”

Review: Camp by Elaine Wolf

Title: Camp

Author: Elaine Wolf

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Interest: Bullying / Mother-Daughter Relationship

Release: June 15th, 2012

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads): Going to sleepaway camp can be one of the most wonderful experiences for a young girl. But for Amy Becker, it’s a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent away to summer camp for the first time as a teenager. Though she swears she hates her mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy’s autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled to be leaving home. When she arrives at camp, she is subjected to a horrifying initiation and bullying by Rory, the ringleader of the girls in her cabin. Then a cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy s mother, setting in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

CAMP is a compelling coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets. It’s a powerful mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters to share.

Camp by Elaine Wolf is a quiet book that will resonate with many readers.  It’s a fast read; I read it within a couple hours of starting it.  The story keeps a steady pace and held my interest from beginning to end.

Amy Becker doesn’t have a cozy life at home, at least when it comes to her mother.  From the very beginning of the book, Amy’s mother struck me as cold and distant.  Amy does, however, have a very close relationship with her brother who, even though it’s not stated, I believe has autism.  Her father tries to be loving and involved, which is why he signs Amy up for summer camp, but he can’t always do this completely since he’s often “siding” with Amy’s mother.  It’s a tense atmosphere in the Becker home.  Amy’s mother isn’t thrilled about Amy attending summer camp because her husband’s brother is running it.  This raised my first red flag because her reaction wasn’t typical; it was quite guarded and cautious.  Despite all of this, Amy doesn’t want to attend camp, mostly because she worries about her brother.

Poor Amy is at a disadvantage as soon as she gets to the bus leaving for camp.  Her aunt and uncle sent a list of things to bring, and it said nothing about clothes from home, so she’s in her camp uniform.  Lots of giggling from other campers ensues.  At this point in Camp, the reader gets to see more of Amy’s insecurities.  Amy’s mother is very concerned about appearances, so it was considered appropriate that Amy attend camp appropriately.  For a girl who didn’t want to attend camp in the first place, this is a horrible way to start that experience.  On the bus ride to camp, quite a bit of foreshadowing is included to give us an idea of the bullying Amy’s going to face.

The bullying in Camp is a prominent theme in Elaine Wolf’s novel, but it wasn’t the primary focus because all of it ties to Amy’s relationship with her mother.  It is important to note, however, that the majority of Camp takes place during Amy’s stay at summer camp and how she deals with Rory.  There were so many times while reading that I became angry because of what Amy goes through.  It was a good kind of angry though because my feelings were a direct response to the story.  Rory has some serious and disturbing issues which influence her actions.  On the other hand, I just wanted Amy to get a backbone and stand up for herself.  This is where her relationship with her mother ties in.  Amy’s “bullied” by her mother on a regular basis.  Her mother fixates on Amy’s appearance and weight.  She makes comments about Amy needing to lose weight, especially if she wants boys to pay attention to her.  Amy feels like she can’t do anything to make her mother happy, and almost the entire time she’s at camp she’s “hearing” her mother’s criticisms and judgments.  How can Amy possibly stand up to Rory when she can’t stand up to her mother?

Camp becomes more complex as serious family secrets are revealed, mainly about Amy’s mother.  We get more insight to her background and why she’s so cold.  The only problem I had with this, is that many of the major secrets are revealed at the end of the book.  I know, it makes sense for secrets to be revealed at the end, but the way they were revealed didn’t work for me.  Without spoiling the book, something goes on with Amy’s mother and the Beckers which instigates the revelations.  It felt like this portion of the book was rushed, or like some parts were added to the story for convenience (primarily regarding Amy’s mother).  These are my only qualms with Camp.

Camp by Elaine Wolf is definitely a book that should be read and discussed.  It’s intense, surprising, and chock full of emotion.  It could easily be added to units on bullying and/or familial relationships.

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