Friday, June 27, 2014

Printz Award: How I Live Now

Printz Award: How I Live Now
1. Rosoff, Meg. (2004). How I live now. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

2. Summary: Fifteen-year old Daisy is leaving her home in New York to live with family in England. Although she has never meet her relatives, she is glad to leave her father and pregnant stepmother, "Davina the Diabolical". Daisy soon begins to love her aunt and four cousins, especially her fourteen-year old cousin, Edmond. Daisy is learning to adjust to her new life with her cousins and her growing affection for Edmond when war begins to erupt around her; ripping apart the family and destroying the land.

3. Critical Analysis: How I Live Now is a highly-acclaimed novel written by Meg Rosoff in 2004. It garnered much respect in the literary community and was the recipient of many awards, including: the 2004 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, the 2005 Michael L. Printz Award, and the 2005 Branford Boase Award.

In How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff touches upon subjects that today's young adults face: teenage love, self-importance, and family ties (to name a few). On the other hand, Rosoff boldly ventures into topics that are more uncomfortable to address. The protagonist, Daisy, struggles with the blame she places upon herself for her mother's death, "It's a shame, starting out your first day on the planet as a murderer but there you go, I didn't have much choice at the time" (p. 19). And, with her father's dating life and now marriage, Daisy feels quite out-of-control. She becomes anorexic in order to garner some control of her life and soon realizes she is good at it. In a 2013 interview with Elena Shepperd for, Meg Rosoff explains that she wanted to talk about the problems that teenagers today face, what she dubbed as "first world problems". Rosoff does such a wonderful job with Daisy's character development. Daisy begins the novel with an inward-facing attitude which slowly begins to change as she needs to be a protector and guardian for her nine-year old cousin, Piper. Another subject that some challengers of the book found taboo was the fact that Daisy and Edmond were in a relationship as cousins. Challengers believe that the topic of incest is too sensitive for young readers.

The wonder in this book lies in Daisy's narration and interior monologue. Her voice is so pure and unfiltered:

Let’s try to understand that falling into a sexual and emotional thrall with an underage blood relative hadn’t been on my list of Things to Do while visiting England, but I was coming around to the belief that whether you liked it or not, Things Happen and once they start happening you pretty much have to hold on for dear life and see where they drop you when they stop. (47)

Readers are instantly drawn to understand Daisy's position. She speaks as most teenage girls do, with a self-important air. Daisy casts her concern for the war strictly in terms of how it affects her.  And, eventually, the war does affect Daisy by tearing her away from Edmond. This juxtaposition is where the true question of the novel is revealed: is the power of love enough to overcome the power of war?

Touching on sensitive subjects, How I Live Now is a beautifully written, powerful novel. There is no mistaking why it is so critically acclaimed.


Sheppard, Elena. (2013). How I live now author Meg Rosoff on what happens when your book becomes a movie. Arts.Mic.  Retrieved June 23, 2014 from

Contemporary Realistic: Why We Broke Up

Contemporary Realistic: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

1. Bibliographic Information: Handler, Daniel. Illustrations by Maira Kalman. (2011). Why we broke up. New York City: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

2. Summary: Min Green, quirky and imaginative, and Ed Slaterton, a popular jock, just ended their short relationship, and Min is writing a letter to Ed explaining why they had to break up. The letter is placed inside a box filled with mementos from their relationship: a protractor, movie stubs, and a cookbook, just to name a few. Min, being no one's fool, has left the box and mementos upon Ed's door as a reminder of their time together and to show that he did not get the upper hand on her.

3. Critical Analysis: Why We Broke Up is by Daniel Handler, who also wrote A Series of Misfortunate Events (a best-selling series for young readers) under the name Lemony Snicket. Why We Broke Up has received favorable reviews from several places, such as: Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Horn Book.

Obviously, this book is about a breakup between two high school students. This story has been told before, but Handler tells it with a fresh voice and memorable characters. His writing makes you wonder how he knows so well what it feels like to be a young girl in love. The story is told from Min’s letter to Ed. Her narrative is witty and remarkably endearing, with a sharp edge that shows she can be very independent, "Stop saying no offense,” I said, “when you say offensive things. It’s not a free pass” (114). While both characters could be described as self-absorbed (as most teenagers are), that is what makes the novel and story seem true. Handler does such a wonderful job with the portrayal of Min and Ed that the reader can picture them exactly in one’s mind. The only downside to Min’s character is the annoyingly long ramblings she does in parts of her letter. If readers can look past this, they will enjoy Min’s voice.

The story itself is told in a long letter from Min to Ed explaining why the relationship was doomed from the beginning. The letter references items in the box that is left upon Ed’s doorstep. Maira Kalman created the artwork for Why We Broke Up. Each item referenced by Min is beautifully illustrated. Her whimsical drawings go wonderfully with Handler's prose- a true compliment to each other.

With a title like Why We Broke Up, I knew the story was ill-fated from the beginning, but it did not stop me from devouring the pages in order to discover Min and Ed's story. This contemporary realistic novel is delightful example of how an old story given be given a fresh twist.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Challenged Books: The Chocolate War

Challenged Books: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

1. Cormier, Robert. (1974). The chocolate war. New York: Knopf.

2. Summary: Jerry Renault is still reeling after the recent death of his mother. However, at a school like Trinity High School, he is not likely to find much sympathy. Trinity is led by a gang known as The Vigils, headed by Archie Castello. The Vigils make assignments that other students must complete. These assignments range from physical to psychological. Jerry gets an assignment from The Vigils that he is to refuse to sell chocolate at the school’s annual fundraising sale. After the assignment ends, Archie informs Jerry that he is to now participate in the selling of chocolates. Jerry begins to think about a poster in his locker that says, “Do I dare disturb the universe?”. Jerry feels like he must disturb the universe and The Vigils’ plan by refusing to sell the chocolates. This act at first deems him a hero by his peers, but as Archie and The Vigils pick up their intimidation factors, Jerry is turned into an outcast and victim.

3. Critical Analysis: Since its publication in 1974, The Chocolate War has been near the top of the most frequently censored books. According to Tasha Robison, reviewer in an online periodic book review YA Why?, the book has been banned and censored due “its violence and its several brief-but-frank masturbation scenes” (Robison, 2012). With brutality and sex aside, the book is written for teenagers. The story centers around our protagonist, Jerry Renault, in his desire to disturb the universe. He single-handedly takes on the bullies of the school, The Vigils, and a corrupt teacher, Brother Leon. In fact, Jerry is a remarkable character. Although he is all alone in his endeavor, Jerry shows strength, determination, and bravery. His stoicism is tested as he is tormented and humiliated until the very end of the novel. At no point, does Jerry complain about his lot or tell his father.

Cormier’s theme of disturbing the universe is very powerful. No one at Trinity High School has dared to disturb or defy The Vigils or the corrupt teachers. Jerry does disturb the universe, and for a small time, wakes up the rest of the student body to the wild goings-on at Trinity. Nonetheless, Archie and his gang turn the tides again, and Jerry is left alone to fight, literally, his battle. To me, this was the hardest part of the novel to read. After all the torment that Jerry has endured, I wanted the novel to end with Archie and his gang defeated. Cormier ends the novel with a depressing and “winner takes it all” mentality. This is a profound idea to discuss with students today. Is there always a happy ending? Was disturbing the universe worth the trauma that Jerry endured? This book is an amazing portrayal of going against the tide to be one’s own person in a teenage world of trying to fit in.


Robison, Tasha. (2012). Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War is a much-banned, malevolent gem. YA Why? Retrieved June 16, 2014 from

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

Classics: Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

1. Yep, Laurence. (1975). Dragonwings. New York: HarperCollins.

2. Plot Summary: Although Moon Shadow is eight, he has never meet his father. That changes when his father summons him from China to join him in the “demon town” of San Francisco. Moon Shadow begins to love and respect his father, a man of genius, a man with fantastical ideas of flying. Windrider is willing to endure the torment of fellow Chinese, longing for his wife, and poverty to make his dream come true. All the while, Moon Shadow stands by his father’s side.

3. Critical Analysis: Dragonwings, published in 1975, was given the Newberry Honor for exceptional children’s literature. Among other awards, Dragonwings was given: School Library Journal Best Book, Horn Book Award, ALA Notable Children’s Book, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. After reading, there is no doubt why this book was so highly acclaimed among literature enthusiasts. Dragonwings bridges many different genres. It could be described as a blend of historical, realistic, and fantasy rolled into one cohesive narrative.

Told from Moon Shadow’s point-of-view, the story really is an account of how life was for Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s. Booklist says, “"A fine, sensitive novel written with grace in a way that conveys the Chinese American's cultural heritage." And, the life that is portrayed is not an easy one. Moon Shadow sees first hand the negativeness of racism. One day while doing his chores, Moon Shadow was walking to the garbage can and a crowd of boys, led by the largest and surliest, surrounds him, “I passed by him, when he kicked me in the backs of my legs. I fell on my back, cracking my head against the ground, the breath driven out of me.” (p. 118)
Although there is plenty of heartache and sadness found in this novel, Yep does a fine job of turning each moment of the book into a living experience. To me, the most drawing theme from this book is the idea that, although we are all different, there are good men and bad men in each culture. Moon Shadow and Wind Rider befriend a “white demoness” named Miss Whitlaw. Miss Whitlaw is a strong woman of good character. In fact, Moon Shadow is convinced she must’ve been a Tang woman in a past life. Miss Whitlaw also befriends the patriarch of the company, Uncle. “I won’t say that Miss Whitlaw and Uncle became the best of friends, but they came to like each other as much as two such different people could.” (p. 244) This relationship shows that there can be a bridge built to cover the distance between two very different cultures.

This book will not touch every reader; however, many children will grow to respect the power found in Yep’s words. The story is eye-opening and beautifully written.

Monday, June 2, 2014