I Am Strong: Young Adults Become Self- Aware Through Struggle and Reflection

Bibliographic Information
Thoughts/ Connections/Questions
Catcher Caught
Sarah Collins Honenberger

Young Adult: Social Issues
A teenage boy tackles his battle with leukemia with help from The Catcher in the Rye.
I originally picked this book because the author is local; however, I enjoyed the book because of my experience with The Catcher in the Rye. The first few chapters were fairly slow and focused on the boy’s illness and obsession with a girl. By the end of the novel, he was taking his parents to court to win the right to chemotherapy. I liked the allusions and references to local places.
Son of the Mob
Gordon Korman

Young Adult
The son of a mob boss yearns for a normal life and identity. When he goes to college across country, he believes his problems will be over.
The plot line had so much potential. The mob stereotypes (Uncle No Nose, etc.) left me finding the story flat and predictable. I finished the book, but quickly forgot the characters. Without a true impact on me, I did not care to recommend the book to others.
The Help
Kathryn Stockett

Historical (I saw the novel referenced this way and I found the genre appropriate.)
A small town reporter strives to make a career and discovers the dirty secrets of her family, friends, and society in the segregated South.
I couldn’t put this book down. I finished it in a day. After seeing the movie previews, I expected the novel to be humorous. Hollywood clearly manipulated the public into thinking this screenplay would make you laugh and cry. All I could do was cry! The image of Mae Mobley being beaten for using the wrong toilet made me feel helpless and angry at history. I need to remember to use this story to help illustrate Calpurnia’s character in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins

Dystopian Fantasy
The novel begins hundreds of years in the future. After dividing the world into 13 provinces, each year selected youth from each province would have to fight to the death in a televised game.
This novel marked my transition into the world of what I thought would be Young Adult. About the first chapter, I could not put the book down. The characters became real and their stories caused me to care about their fates. As a mother and sister, I felt connected to Katniss and sickened at the thought of what the Capital had created. I was also struck by the similarities between The Hunger Games and our society’s preoccupation with reality shows. Are we really so different? I was irritated that I had only brought home from work the first novel in the trilogy that weekend. I couldn’t wait to get to the second.
Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins
Dystopian Fantasy
The Capital strikes again and insists that all former Hunger Games winners return to the arena for an “all-star” competition.
At this point in time, I was as into this series as I had been with Sweet Valley Twins as a child. My enthusiasm and interest in the characters brought back the love of reading I felt as a child. I found my reading skills tested to make connections to the first novel and trying to predict what would happen to Katniss. Because I knew there was a third book in the series, I felt some relief that the main character would survive.
Suzanne Collins
Dystopian Fantasy
Showdown between The Capital and Katniss and the rebels. Who would gain and maintain control or liberate the provinces?
The second and third installments fulfilled some of my curiosities, but disappointed others. I was glad to learn of the triumph of good. But then I learned that good was not necessarily good and human life still only had value to those with vested interests. The overall good of mankind seemed lost to me. Nonetheless, I loved the series and was sad to finish the novels. At this point, I realized that Young Adult novels do not necessarily have to only be FOR teenagers- all it means to me is that the characters are teenagers.
Walter Dean Myers
Young Adult: Social Issues
After a school shooting, a young man is questioned as a possible accessory. The news articles, transcripts, and journals follow the boy through his revelations about what happened.
Still trying to put together the direction my text set was taking, I decided to read this Walter Dean Myers’ novel. I have enjoyed other books he has written about young men trying to find themselves. So far, all of my stories had shared that commonality: Who were the main characters? Often, by the close of the novel, the character has realized the power of self confidence and awareness. While the format was a little different, I wanted to read and find out the events leading to the school shooting. I did find the end suspect. Really? The boy was absolved of responsibility? Couldn’t he have prevented the shooting?
When Dad Killed Mom
Julius Lester
Young Adult: Social Issues
Jeremy and Jenna struggle to come to terms with their feelings for their father after he shoots their mother.
I selected this title from the classroom library. I thought the story would be more of a tragic story of domestic abuse. Instead, the characters journeyed through events leading to the shooting and how a child’s perceptions of parents may be distorted. I found some of the descriptions in the novel disturbing and unnecessary. I was pleased that my shipment of texts arrived the next day. I realize that not all contemporary texts are created the same or have the same merit.
Thirteen Reasons
Jay Asher
Young Adult: Social Issues
After Hannah Baker commits suicide, a series of tapes appears on one of her friend’s (Clay Jensen) doorsteps. The tapes address 13 people who had some sort of influence on the girl’s decision to kill herself. Unless all 13 people listen to the tapes, her words will be made public.
I had heard a lot about this novel and was very excited to read it. I was reminded of my own high school years and how some kids just seemed to be untouchable. Those kids never seemed concerned about hurting others or facing consequences for their actions. Now that I am older, I realize that bullies are often cowards. Jay Asher made me feel my own youth and the responsibility that teachers face to help kids through the cruelty of others. I read the story as mother, former teenager, and teacher…and cringed through every page.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Psychological Thriller
When a Jacob’s grandfather is mysteriously murdered, the boy recalls the fantastical stories his grandfather had always shared. Struggling with his own sanity and the stories of his grandfather, the young man traces his story to the orphanage where the stories all began.
While the cover of the book and pages contain old photographs of children in peculiar scenes, I didn’t expect to be genuinely scared. I am not a fan of horror movies and had to put the novel away at dark. The pictures of levitating children, or those with mouths in the back of their heads, were just realistic enough to make me think. The rest of the story was brilliantly constructed to reflect the young man’s journey from insanity to self-confidence and awareness.
Wish You Were Dead
Todd Strasser
Young Adult Thriller
After a girl begins blogging about her hatred towards cruel kids in her school, several of the kids are kidnapped and tortured. The culprit of the crimes is not at all who readers suspect.
Even after all that we know about the cruelty of bullying, the number of books for teens about the topic is staggering. Todd Strasser creates a fast-paced plot and mystery through changes in dialogue and various perspectives. I kept thinking about the possibility of bullied adults and kids enacting revenge on their tormenters. This thrillogy (similar topic, but not a sequel)goes beyond victims’ snapping and retaliating- Strasser looks at calculated and planned torture. But his stand against bullying left me a little lost. His bullies appeared cold and unrepentant to the end.
Blood on My Hands
Todd Strasser
Young Adult Thriller
After a popular girl is discovered murdered and her friend is found holding the bloody knife, the police hunt for a murderer and a young girl struggles to clear her name and find the real killer.
My initial thought was that I was reading a Danielle Steele novel (you know, never get attached to the first man the woman loves). Once again the popular and mean girl is found dead or dying and the police must step through a variety of kids the deceased has tortured to find the real murderer. Sexual overtones skip through the mystery and I found this story’s close as much as a surprise as the first novel. The final book in the thrillogy does not release until the middle of November. I already have the story preordered…even though I am disturbed, I am hooked.
Shawn Carter
Rapper and social activist Jay-Z traces his life and the rise of hip-hop music.
I wanted to make sure my text set included books that might not be ones I would immediately select, but that looked at self-reflection and awareness from a variety of perspectives. Oprah Winfrey had touted Jay-Z’s work as a fascinating journey through the misunderstanding often facing young African-American music artists. I was immediately engaged by Jay-Z’s descriptive language and used examples from his text to help my students learn to write interesting paragraphs. Unfortunately, the references to other artists and song lyrics were confusing for me. I managed to finish the book, but wouldn’t recommend the autobiography without parental consent. The reference to drugs and use of controversial language requires a more mature reader.
Hate List
Jennifer Brown
Young Adult: Social Issues
Following a school shooting by her boyfriend, a young girl is accused of being an accessory to the murders by sharing responsibility for a list of names of people the couple hated.
While I was initially relieved to be reading a novel again, I found this story to be haunting. The guilt and questions felt by the young girl were raw and cutting. Did she not know her boyfriend? Had she encouraged him to commit the murders for her? Was she evil or a hero for stopping the shooting? Her lack of self-knowledge was understandable and I wanted to discuss this novel with my peers. How many of us have griped about someone being mean to us? What if our confidant took our complaints seriously? I also thought of Cousin Eddie misunderstanding Clarke Griswold’s hatred of his boss in Christmas Vacation. But by this point in my reading journey, I realize teen and young adult characters reflecting on their lives to find themselves and their own value, speak to me. I bring something different to the reading experience than would my 15 year old students…years of reflection.


Learning From What Doesn’t Work
Gay Ivey and Douglas Fisher

Ivey and Fisher review accepted reading techniques and prove their efficacies wrong.
This article was selected for the English Department to read. As part of our school’s improvement plan, literacy and self-selected reading is being prioritized. We used the article to bring about discussion for staff and maybe, just maybe, make some people feel a little uncomfortable.
An Important Community Read

A community selects Thirteen Reasons by Jay Asher for their group read.
I love it when English teachers are cutting edge! The community cited awareness of verbal and psychological bullying as a prime factor in selecting Asher’s book. In case I didn’t realize the impact of meaningful novels for teens, this article left me with no doubt.
Cris Tovani on Rigor/Hard
Mary Lee

A frank discussion (blog)of Cris Tovani’s presentation about academic rigor.
So, simple texts are not always best? Exactly. Sometimes, asserts Lee, Tovani’s expectation of rigor vs difficult text, proves that kids need to be prepared for texts. By comparing adults’ own interests to reading, I was able to connect to how my students might struggle with a challenging text.
Becoming a Classroom of Readers
Donalyn Miller

Miller presents how she turned her secondary classroom into a class of readers and thinkers.
Aha! I needed this article to help explain to my colleagues why reading helps kids in all of their subjects. By wide reading and self- directed reading, students gain power of thought and become lifelong learners/readers. So often kids who need to read the most, are stuck with Dick and Jane books. I wouldn’t want to pick up a book that I know is far behind my peers. Who could I talk to about Jane? Would there be sequels? Would I need discussion to figure out what Father and Mother wanted the children to do and why? Nope, and that is why only by allowing reading, will you gain readers.
Reversing Readicide
Kelly Gallagher

Mentioning that top CEO’s find many American workers to be smart, but poor thinkers. Gallagher looks at how schools have contributed to the decline of reading and thinking.
When discussing literacy with several colleagues, I found myself wanting to bang my head into a wall. Literacy is not just a trend. Despite many trends coming and going in education, literacy is not one of them. English teachers are notorious blame placers. We often blame the previous teachers for students’ shortcomings or television or cell phones. While we always can find someone to blame, we still have to fix the problem. Gallagher gave some real world classroom applications that I can use or use to help other teachers. For example: Do not over or underteach a book. In order to promote a love of learning, we must first allow kids to develop tools and practice their trade. I felt really important after reading this article.

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