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Books We Like

Posted on 8/8/2014 by Mia Jordan

Books We Like

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin. (Recomended for grades 7-12.)

Benedict Arnold was known as a husband, a father, a friend, a rival, a soldier, a rebel, an enemy, a hothead, and a hero. Now, Benedict Arnold’s name has become synonymous with the word traitor in popular American history. Why is the man so reviled even today? What did he do that was deemed so wrong by his contemporaries that it echoed down through history?

The infamy of Benedict Arnold will be enough to make teen readers curious, but the emotional roller coaster of his life and his fierce character will draw readers into his story. The many personal writings from the time period are used by the author to great effect to demonstrate Arnold’s character, feelings, and motivations. The well-researched quotes were also used to highlight and explain Arnold’s many conflicts and complicated relationships with his contemporaries. Maps are provided to give visual reference to the many battles of Arnold as he fought his way to fame in the American Revolution.

The sources used in the book are referenced and recommended for further reading in the book’s source notes. Arnold’s story is told in chronological order, divided into ranges of dates of important periods in his life, but it isn't a dry recounting of events. Every action that Arnold took was filled with passion as he tried to live as grand a life as possible. The narrative telling of Arnold’s life is done in exciting and personal language. The quotes add time-period specific vocabulary that is well explained and given in context. Violence is mentioned in relation to the war, but it was not too graphically detailed as to be disturbing to teen readers. This biography of Benedict Arnold is a unique and balanced perspective on one of the major characters of American History and is recommended for reading for teens.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. (Recommended for grades 9 and up.)

Before Hannah Baker, a high-school girl who felt she had no options left, killed herself, she mailed out tapes explaining her thirteen reasons why to those she blamed for her decision. Each reason relates to someone’s actions or in-actions towards her and so the tapes are passed from one person they name to the next.

When the tapes reach Clay, a high-school boy who had had a long-time crush on Hannah, he listens in dread to find out what part he might have played in her death. Listening to the tapes and trying to understand, Clay feels closer to Hannah than he ever had before. It wasn't any one thing that someone did that caused her to kill herself, it was little things that built up upon one another.

Suicide is a sensitive topic and often treated negatively or as taboo in our society. Here, in this realistic-fiction audiobook, it is given a human face and voice, Hannah’s, as she explains to Clay and to the listener her reasons why. Both Hannah and Clay are characters that the listener can identify and empathize with. This audiobook is especially effective as the listener listens along with Clay as Hannah tells her story. Clay’s thoughts and reactions meld with Hannah’s description of events and leave the listener with a deeper perspective of the situation than they would have had with only one voice alone reading the story.

Each tape Clay listens to is a flashback leading to an inevitable ending that has already happened. The listener will be drawn into Hannah’s and Clay’s internal conflicts as they, while separated by death, contemplate the actions and in-actions of each other and those around them. There is a moral to this story. It is to always consider your actions or in-actions and how they affect those around you. Hannah Baker is dead, but her death did not have to happen.

Due to mentions of topics such as rape, sexual harassment, voyeurism, and suicide that may be disturbing to younger readers, this book is recommended for purchase for high school audiences and up.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers. (Recommended for grades 8-12.)

Stuck in a violent prison, awaiting the judgment of the jury on his guilt or innocence, sixteen-year-old Steve lives in a state of constant fear and self-doubt. Is he the monster that he is accused of being or is he a good person? He isn't sure and neither does anyone around him seem to be. He is desperate for someone to believe in him even when he can’t fully believe in himself.

The reader will be drawn into Steve’s struggle and wait tensely with him for the answer. If the jury believes he is a monster, he could face 25 years to life in prison for felony murder. His fate is in the hands of a court whose members seem preoccupied with their own affairs and who don’t seem to see him as an individual human being.

To escape the stress of his situation, Steve tries to disconnect himself from the reality of what is happening by writing his experiences as a screen play. The format of the book is the screen play written by Steve, mixed with Steve’s first person journal entries and various images of Steve. The screen play features what is happening in Steve’s present, with flashbacks to his life before prison. This disjointed writing style and the tense and distressed tone of the book allows the reader to feel Steve’s own confusion and his disorientation with his situation.

The reflective character-driven plot focuses the reader on Steve’s internal struggles with self-doubt and fear as his case progresses to its conclusion. Drawn into the drama of Steve’s life, the reader will not want to put the book down. This is realistic fiction dealing with the internal struggles of an African American male teenager when faced with a situation that may seem extreme, but that many teens would be able to empathize with. This book deals with the issues of identity that all teens face: whether identity is something that is self-determined or something that is imposed by others. This book contains some mentions of violence that may be disturbing for younger readers and is recommended for purchase for teen audiences.