“Asha paused to flick the sweat from the crook of her elbow. Suddenly she caught sight of a face staring at her through the coconut leaves.” p. 31
Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins.
Delacorte Press, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2009.
Historical fiction, 225 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 7.0) .
Asha’s father has gone to America to look for a new job, leaving his family in the care of his older brother’s family. Already saddened by the move from Delhi to Calcutta, Asha, her beautiful older sister Reet, and their mother wait and try to fend off marriage proposals, rebukes from the other women, and a life of servitude and confinement.
Asha’s mother suffers from depression and fits that her daughters describe as visits from the Jailer, when her face and mind go blank. She attempts methods of coping such as knitting or cooking, but as their life circumstances deteriorate, she’s unable to function, leaving Asha in charge of their physical safety and everyday needs.
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“For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school. Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus. There must be something you can do.” p. 5
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.
Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, New York, 2017.
YA nonfiction/true crime, 305 pages.
Lexile: 930L .
AR Level: 6.5 (worth 8.0 points) .
In November 2013, two teens were on the same bus for just eight minutes. Agender senior Sasha fell asleep on the long ride home from fir small private school. Sixteen-year-old Richard was joking with friends as he left his large public school. Then Richard held a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, forever changing the course of both their lives.
This unique, well-written exploration of one particular incident evokes much more. Richard’s struggling (but loving) young mother took in two nieces after her sister was murdered. He grew up in a rough neighborhood, where 4 of his close friends and family members had been murdered before he was 16, and he was mugged at gunpoint only a week before the fire. And Richard was African-American, possibly ADHD, and definitely traumatized. He spent time in a group home because of fights before, but didn’t start them – he was a follower.
Sasha is white, middle class, an only child who had struggled with fitting in before – autistic and agender, with a major passion for public transport. Fi is shy, so fir parents were surprised when fi started wearing skirts. However, they took great joy in seeing the child a psychiatrist told them to lower their hopes for blossoming into a confident, thoughtful teen.
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“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.
Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole. Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.
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“By now the name of the cafe was written on the walls of hundreds of boxcars, from Seattle to Florida.” page 30
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Random House, 1987. My edition McGraw-Hill, New York, 1988.
Adult fiction, 403 pages including recipes.
Lexile: 940L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: Although the reading level is low, this is an adult novel.
This is going to be a complicated review. There are two main threads to the storyline, which covers events in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham) between the early 1920s and the late 1980s.
The story is told through four different elements. Evelyn Couch is struggling with her weight, her marriage, menopause, and an inevitable feeling of doom. She accompanies her husband on visits to his mother’s nursing home every Sunday, but can’t stand to sit and watch TV, so she finds herself in the visitor’s room with Ninny Threadgoode. At first she just wishes the old lady would shut up so she can eat her candy bars in peace, but then she gets interested in the stories and they forge an unlikely friendship. When the novel was first published, these scenes would have been roughly contemporary – it’s now historical fiction.
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“The rice was harvested, and the poor were allowed to glean the fields for fallen grain-heads. It was an arduous, backbreaking task: hours of work to gather mere handfuls of rice.” p. 53
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.
Dell Yearling, Random House Books, New York, 2001.
MG historical fiction, 152 pages plus extra back matter.
2002 Newbery Award Winner.
Lexile: 920L .
AR Level: 6.6 (worth 6.0 points) .
This novel follows a 12th century Korean orphan who is happy at first just to scrounge enough food to survive, but gradually becomes immersed in the world of the master potters of Ch’ulp’o, known for their breathtaking celadon ceramics.
I was first given this book back when it was released and a friend told me I had to read it. For whatever reason I resisted. Perhaps because I didn’t care much for historical fiction at the time. Another reason could have been the nearly all-male cast. Tree-ear’s world is full of men and boys, with only one female character of any notice. While it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test, the characters do come from a wide economic spectrum.
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“If you want to go to college, right from the start you have to raise your voice, ask for what you need, and keep your eyes open about what classes and opportunities your high school offers you.” page 32
First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students – Your High School Years by Kathleen Cushman.
Next Generation Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 2005.
Nonfiction, 80 pages.
This book gives encouragement and advice to high school students who may be the first in their families to attend college. It includes many personal stories and quotations from students who have similar journeys.
One of the main focuses of this slim volume is encouraging teens from minority groups to attend college and pursue careers rather than jobs. This book is specifically aimed at diverse high school students who have no family members that have attended college.
I bought this book because it was on clearance for a dollar at Barnes & Noble. I’m not the first member of my family to attend college, and neither was Husband. I don’t work with high school students, but wanted to review it here. After reading it and starting to write this review, I discovered there is a free interactive online version of the text. The second book The College Years, is also available online for free in a PDF format. I look forward to exploring those resources more at a later time.
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“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203
An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.
This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all. It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.
On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child. His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative. His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.
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