Now that summer is here, and I finally have time to read, I have been diving head first into the stacks of books that have been piling up around my house all school year. This week I finished four books, which is some pretty fast reading for me. Here is the run-down of what I read and how I liked it.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher – This was by far the best book that I read this week. Another teacher at school recommended it to me, and I am so thankful that she did. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is the story of a friendship forged between to middle school outcasts, one is fat and the other is scarred from a childhood accident. Even after Eric lost the weight that once brought him and Sarah Byrnes together they remained friends. Now Eric must help Sarah, the toughest person he has ever known, uncover and deal with the secrets from her past to prevent them from repeating in her future.
Crutcher’s book is not only well written, it is compelling. I was a bit skeptical when I began reading, I was worried that too much of this was going to be a forced story about troubled teens that has a heartwarming ending. However Crutcher’s background (he was a social worker) gives the story a feeling of reality.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is not only a great story about friendship it also dives into other contemporary, controversial topics: God, religion, identity, abortion, and the morals of killing are all addressed. This is an awesome book that puts many big topics in perspective and formats them in a user friendly way for teens. You should read this book.
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Flash Burnout by K.T.Madigan – I can’t remember where I first heard about this book, but when I was perusing the school media center for books to take home over the summer this title jumped out at me. Flash Burnout is the story of fifteen-year-old Blake who has a girlfriend and a friend who is a girl. This is certainly not the first time that this story has been told, yet Flash Burnout was still an enjoyable read that seemed new.
Much of Blake’s story is told through the lens of his camera as he works towards earning an A in Photography 2. The camera allows Blake to explore tough topics, like meth addiction and its fallout. Flash Burnout was not the best book that I have ever read, but I enjoyed it.
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Unwind by Neal Shusterman – I read this book on advice from a friend in one of my reading classes. (No, I am not taking classes to learn how to read. I am learning how to teaching reading.) Unwind is the story of three kids, Connor, Risa, and Lev, and their struggle to survive in a United States that has recently gone through the second Civil War. The second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights, with the Pro-Lifers battling the Pro-Choicers. Neither side wins and instead a compromised is reached: life is considered sacred and cannot be ended until the age of 13. From 13 to 18 parents can choose to have their kid unwound – they are kept alive and used as an organ donor for those in need, or those wealthy enough to pay.
This book contains a lot of controversial ideas, many of them focusing on what is a child’s right to life. Risa, an Unwind who meets up with Connor and Lev, sums it up best:
Which was worse, Risa often wondered–to have tens of thousands of babies that no one wanted, or to silently make them go away before they were even born? (Shusterman 115)
I would recommend this book to a student who I thought could handle these topics, or who was ready to have a discussion about them. Despite it’s, in my opinion, bad cover, this book is definitely worth reading. Even though it is set in the future it makes reference to everyday items that many young readers will know. This helps put the book into perspective for all readers and helps the reader to come to the understanding that even though the world in which the story is set is fantastical, the questions that are being asked are real.
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How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman – I read Pete Hautman’s National Book Award Winning Godless a few years ago and I was enamored. Not only is Hautman from Minnesota, where the story takes place, Godless was a good book. I had high expectations for How to Steal a Car, expectations that were not met. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, and I think many young readers would too, but it wasn’t the story that I wanted. I found the narrator, Kelleigh, unbelievable and hard to trust (maybe because she spent so much time stealing cars, a very untrustworthy pastime). The story line didn’t grab my attention like Godless did. Is it unfair to compare a book to its older book sibling?
How to Steal a Car is a quick read, it took me less than a day. If you have time, and it is sitting around, go for it. Or, maybe pick up Godless instead.