Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book Talk Mania

Mad Maggott asked about reading classics in high school... I do think I'm better for it. I often complain about the complete lack of grounding the classics that my high school gave me. No Austin. No Bronte. No Dickens. So I am grateful for the classics I did get to read. But I read these books at 17/18, not 15/16, and I think that makes a difference. Because All Quiet on the Western Front deals with such a young protaganist, it really hit home. I had no trouble with Hemmingway. I will own up to the fact that I didn't actually read Crime and Punishment until college. But that's ONLY because the other high school kept the books too long. My sister DID read it in high school and now is in love love love with Dostoevsky. But I would never read The Brothers Karamazov with a high schooler. That's too complex. I'm not sure that every kid should be made to read the harder classics. But there are upper level English classes where they can certainly be handled.

Well... here are some more reviews. I'm in Book Talk training mode for work... so they're longer than usual...

Story Time by Edward Bloor

Whittaker Magnet School has the highest standardized test scores in the country–all due to its Test Based Curriculum. This means that in Kate’s first class on her first day at Whittaker, instead of hearing about rules and course objectives, she takes The New Jersey Test of Basic Skills and then goes over it question by question, learning how to find the right answer. A test in every class. Every day. Except when they go on field trips to see the County Commission meetings to observe "democracy in action".

All Kate wanted was to go to Lincoln Junior High with her friends and play the lead in the fall musical. Instead, because she shares and address with her genius Uncle George (who happens to be two years younger than she is), she has to go to Whittaker, where in addition to the testing, they are forced to drink protein shakes fortified with such things as Ginkoba and Siberian Ginseng Root. All of this costs more than her Mom can afford–so as part of the scholarship program Leave No High-Scoring Child Behind, her mother is made to do administrative and custodial duties and Kate is forced to work for the bratty daughter of the headmaster by typing up plagiarized essays and fetching books for her famous Story Times. All while trying to fend off unwanted advances from the headmaster’s slimy son...

But then Kate finds a secret passage to a secret room and gets to know Pogo, the quiet librarain that only speaks in nursery rhymes. People start going crazy and strange, bizarre deaths are hushed up. Kate knows it’s because of Pogo, a very old copy of Perrault’s Mother Goose and the left over science fair project made by Whittaker’s smartest–and deadliest–student.

This was a fun book that took a hard hit on our obsession with testing-as-education. Although the size might throw some people off, it's a quick read and might be good for a reluctant reader.

Sloppy Firsts Megan McCafferty

Jessica Darling is anything but darling–so much so that her father calls her Notso. Jessica Notso Darling. She hates her friends, except for Hope, who just moved from New Jersey to Tennessee. But she’s halfway through her sophomore year of high school without anyone to talk to except the Clueless Crew and maybe the new girl, Hy.

She hates her family–her sister and mother are completely wrapped up in Bethany’s upcoming wedding and expect Jessica to be as well. They don’t understand why she wouldn’t want to take Scott as her date, he’s so cute! Never mind that they shared an awful first kiss two years ago and Scott is still pining after her and she just doesn’t like him that way. Jessica’s father is obsessed with her running career, follows her on his bike when she runs and makes video montages of all the races she’s lost so they can analyze what she did wrong. He takes it as a personal insult when she breaks her leg one night and is out for the rest of the season.

And then there’s Marcus, the class junkie, who keeps showing up wherever Jessica is and knows way too much about her. Marcus, whom she can’t tell Hope about, knowing Hope would disapprove. Marcus, who got her to pee in a cup to fake a drug test. Marcus, who shouldn’t effect her they way he does. Marcus, who might be the best thing since Hope left...

Biting, funny and well written, this is not standard chick-lit fare. Jessica’s journal entries and monthly letters to Hope tell a story that rings true and entertains without being sappy or melodramatic. I also liked this book because it gets lumped in the YA chick-lit section but really isn't... it's gotten a lot off press lately because of the How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life thing. I know my library actually originally catalogued it as an adult title, and it really is. This is a great book for teens who read the teen lit stuff and want to bridge to more serious stuff (and contains lots of good vocab words). This is also a great book for adults... now I'm just babbling. It's been a long night.

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