Posts Tagged 'poverty'

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Genre: Realistic Fiction

372 p

2019 Iowa High School Book Award

Dill Early, Jr. is struggling in his town where he is now famous for being the son of the preacher who was convicted of having child pornography on his computer.  He and his mom are struggling under all the legal bills and he doesn’t see how he can ever really get out of this small town.  Lydia, his sarcastic friend, is also a bit of an outcast because she refuses to conform to traditional norms.  She has a fashion blog where she showcases unique stores all around their area and encourages everyone to be themselves at all costs. Their other friend, Travis, is a large red haired senior who loves a fantasy book series and often carries a staff with him.  The three of them are often ridiculed in their community and if they didn’t have each other to lean on their lives would be truly miserable.  Lydia, at least, has very supportive parents at home who are not living hand to mouth and can afford to spoil her a bit.  Dill and Travis, on the other hand, have parents who do not seem to like who they are very much and keep trying to change them.  All three of them have aspirations for after high school but do they have the courage to go for them? Do they have the strength to break away from the expectations that have been set for them?

This powerful story gets more and more powerful as it goes on.  The character development is so well done that the reader really feels like he or she knows these people and is living alongside them.  There are many issues these teenagers are dealing with that seem especially unfair for people so young, but these situations exist all over America and it’s time we all start addressing it.  Travis and Dill feel like they are trapped and have no way out of the life set for them by their parents, while Lydia is counting down the days until she can leave this town far behind. In the end, they all must find the courage to do what they need to in order to not only survive, but thrive in their own lives.

 

Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

nearly gone

Genre:  Mystery/Suspense

# of Pages:  386

RAC:  Yes

Nearly lives in a crappy trailer with her mother who works as an exotic dancer.  She is trying desperately to keep her head down, work hard, and hopefully earn a special science scholarship.  She reads the missed connections ads every Friday in the hopes of finding a message from her father who abandoned her years ago.  Nearly has an unusual talent where she can feel what people are feeling simply by touching them, so she tries not to touch anyone ever.  One day she sees a mysterious ad in the missed connections section and doesn’t think much of it until a cheerleader, whom Nearly tutored,  from her school is taken and attacked at an away basketball game.  After the attack, the clues in the ad suddenly make sense.  She goes to the police, but they do not believe her story and instead decide to follow her and see if she had anything to do with the attack.  Each week a new ad with clues come out and each week there is a new attack of someone that Nearly tutors.  Can she find who is doing this before it is too late?  Who could be capable of such crimes and what do the numbers written on the bodies mean?

This mystery combines several elements to make a fairly complicated story.  There are many characters and sometimes they can be a bit confusing, but in the end they are all fairly memorable.  Nearly has many things going on besides the attacks in her life which makes it unclear which part of her life is actually behind trying to frame her for these terrible crimes.  Most readers will not put together the final resolution, but the pieces do indeed fit together.   Mystery fans will be satisfied.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  407

RAC Book:  Yes

The Scorpio race is a difficult race run every November in the small town of Thisby.  The races encourage people to ride water horses, horses who emerge from the water and must be caught, in a dangerous race to the finish.  Many people die in these races.  Sean works for a tyrant who uses him for his talent with these water horses, but manages to keep control of him by refusing to sell Sean his favorite horse, Corr.  Sean therefore feels obliged to stay and work in terrible conditions while the boss’s son torments him just to stay by his beloved horse.  He has won the race four times and believes he will win again, but the truth is that he hates it.  Puck is a young girl who was orphaned along with her two brothers when a water horse killed their parents.  She has recently learned that her older brother plans to abandon her and they are about to lose their house.  She decides she must ride in the races and win to keep her family together.  Can she survive the rough terrain or will she lose everything in this fateful race?

There are many issues at work in this story.  First, there is tradition.  The races have been run a certain way for a long time and no one wants to see that change.  Puck tries to change that not only with the horse she wants to race, but simply the fact that she is female.  There are many strange rules involved in this race, but since it has been done a certain way for so long it is considered unthinkable to change anything.  This could easily be tied to other traditions or beliefs held in the past that were eventually challenged and changed.  Work conditions and poverty are another issue discussed.  Both Sean and Puck have difficulty making a life for themselves in Thisby, but this is their home and they cannot imagine leaving.  With the economic downturns we have had in the last few years this is also easy to understand and identify with.  People simply must do things they do not want to in order to survive.  Finally, loyalty is a very big issue.  Family loyalty, loyalty to a horse, and loyalty to a town are all discussed.  The question becomes what would a person be willing to do in order to remain loyal to someone or something that was important to him or her?  The race itself is not as exciting as readers might hope for considering they build up to it for the entire story.  The general set up of the race actually takes a slow path, but in the end this book will leave readers with a lot to think about long after they are finished.

Slam! by Walter Dean Myers

slam

Genre:  Sports/Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  266

RAC:  Yes

Slam is called Slam for a reason.  He can dunk a basketball right in the face of stiff competition.  When he is moved to a new school he has some trouble adjusting.  First, he is now separated from his friends, including his best friend, Ice.  He also has to focus on his grades because if they slip too much he won’t be eligible to play basketball, which is his favorite thing in the world to do.  His new school is much more difficult, so he is having trouble keeping up.  Plus, his coach and some of his teachers think he has an attitude problem, which does not help matters.  As Slam tries to deal with the many aspects of his life there always seems to be a new distraction to get in the way.  Friends from his old school try to convince him that Ice may be into something bad since he has a lot of money to burn all of a sudden.  Slam doesn’t want to see that Ice may be dealing drugs because he knows it could be the end of their friendship.  At the same time all of this is going on, Slam is fighting to get a place on the school basketball team.  Will he ever feel like he has some control over his life?

Fans of Walter Dean Myers will like this book as well.  Slam is a likable character with a lot of difficult, yet believable things going on in his life.  Many teenagers will be able to relate to dealing with friends, school, sports, and family at the same time.  Myers also weaves exciting sports action throughout the story which will make sports fans happy.  Most readers will wish that the story was longer just so they can follow Slam as he navigates through all the different people in his life for longer.  Teenage boys will be reaching for this one.

To Be Mona by Kelly Easton

mona

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Age Level: 15 and up

# of Pages: 218

RAC Book: No

Sage Priestly wants to be just like the most popular girl in school, Mona. She wants to be her so bad that she highlights her hair, loses weight on a crash diet, and throws out all of her black clothes and starts wearing pastel colors. The problem is that her mother has undiagnosed bi-polar disorder and cannot be depended on to get a job, buy groceries, or do any motherly duties. Her best friend, Vern, lives next door and tries to take care of her, but does not like the new changes she has made. Despite his efforts to become more than friends, Sage does not want to date him. Worse yet, she decides to date the high school jock who forbids her to see Vern. As Sage tries to deal with her mother spiraling out of control, the abandonment issues of her father, and completely changing her life, she starts to wonder if she really wants to be Mona at all or if she is happy being Sage.

This story has a good message to share with young readers, but takes a slow path to get there. The book has a few characters who do not seem to ever fully develop and one character that uses some very derogatory language which may offend some young readers. The ending is a little abrupt and it is unclear how Sage’s life will continue from this point. Mona’s character is not at all what most readers will expect and is a nice surprise in an otherwise fairly predictable book.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 422 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Ruby was abandoned by her mother just mere months before her eighteenth birthday. Despite her efforts to live alone, she is found out by her landlord and taken to social services. Soon she is living with her estranged older sister, Cora, in her huge house with her wealthy business minded husband. Ruby and Cora were close as children and so when Cora went off to college and never came back Ruby took it very hard. Soon she comes to find out that nothing was as simple as she thought it was. As she struggles to remain a loner in her new caring environment, she also struggles against becoming friends with the ambitious eager to please neighbor boy, Nate, who often gives her rides to school. She finds out that life isn’t just tough for the people who live in low rent housing, however, as she begins to get closer to Nate and catches a glimpse at his real life.

For fans of Sarah Dessen this book will not disappoint. Dessen has once again managed to create characters that are complex and interesting that readers want to know more about. In Cora’s opulent lifestyle it’s hard to imagine that anyone could be unhappy or unsatisfied in any way, but as Ruby begins to get to know the people who live in this world she sees that no one’s life is perfect. This book covers some serious issues such as abandonment, child abuse, infertility, alcoholism, and workaholics. A great read.

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  263

RAC Book:  Yes

Lakshmi is a child living in Nepal.  Due to poor farming conditions and a gambling stepfather, she is sold into prostitution.  Her and her mother believe she is going to work as a maid in a nearby city in order to send money home to her family.  When she makes the difficult journey and learns that she is to be held against her will in a house full of prostitutes, she tries to escape.  Lakshmi quickly learns, however, how difficult it is to break out of this situation.

McCormick did a lot of research on this situation in India and spoke to girls who have escaped.  This is a real issue that many students are not aware of.  In this fictional story, the reader is not shielded from the horrors of this young girl’s life, but there is a sense of hope as well.  Not all students will want to read about such a serious topic, but those who do will learn a lot.  Well written.


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