Grade 9 Summer Reading
The Car - Gary Paulsen
Used to being ignored, Terry, 14, is now alone. His parents have abandoned their marriage, not realizing that they each made the decision at the same time. Armed with a great set of tools, some experience with engines, and a detailed set of instructions, he works night and day on a kit car that his father had begun to assemble in the garage. When the little convertible is complete, he decides to drive from Cleveland to Oregon, where an uncle lives. On the outskirts of town, heavy rain forces him to the roadside. There he is joined by the Shakespeare-quoting Waylon, who is seeking shelter from the storm. The Vietnam vet convinces Terry to let him ride along, and later they are joined by Waylon's army buddy, who rides a Harley Davidson. This curious trio tours the West, encountering hostile rednecks, residents of a religious commune, and a history-teaching hermit, among others. This novel features a simple plot and an easy-to-read text; an intense young boy on his own; and the unmistakable message that one must always continue to learn if one is going to survive. The characters are familiar, and to a degree predictable, but they will be interesting to YAs. Excluding several segments on engines, the action is brisk. Paulsen fans will enjoy the book; those with an interest in cars will love it. Reading Level = Grades 6-9
13 Reasons Why - Jay Asher
When Clay Jenson plays the casette tapes he received in a mysterious package, he's surprised to hear the voice of dead classmate Hannah Baker. He's one of 13 people who receive Hannah's story, which details the circumstances that led to her suicide. Clay spends the rest of the day and long into the night listening to Hannah's voice and going to the locations she wants him to visit. The text alternates, sometimes quickly, between Hannah's voice (italicized) and Clay's thoughts as he listens to her words, which illuminate betrayals and secrets that demonstrate the consequences of even small actions. Hannah, herself, is not free from guilt, her own inaction having played a part in an accidental auto death and a rape. The message about how we treat one another, although sometimes heavy, makes for compelling reading. Give this to fans of Gail Giles psychological thrillers. Reading Level = Grades 6-9
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeline L'Engle
Fifty years ago, Madeleine L’Engle introduced the world to A Wrinkle in Time and the wonderful and unforgettable characters Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe. When the children learn that Mr. Murry has been captured by the Dark Thing, they time travel to Camazotz, where they must face the leader IT in the ultimate battle between good and evil—a journey that threatens their lives and our universe. A Newbery Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time is an iconic novel that continues to inspire millions of fans around the world. Reading Level = Grades 5-8
Coffee Will Make You Black - April Sinclair
From newcomer Sinclair, the coming-of-age story of a black girl in 1960's Chicago. Jean ``Stevie'' Stevenson is a child of the working poor. Her father is a hospital janitor, her mother is a bank teller, and Grandma owns a popular South Side chicken-stand. Sixth-Readingr Stevie, meanwhile, is tired of her mother's rules, her refusal to countenance ``black English,'' her attempts to make Stevie a dreaded ``L7'' (square). Stevie's dream is to be popular and cool, and her wish is granted when ``all the way cool'' Carla invites her to a party. Soon Stevie has had her first period, her first kiss (from sexy Yusef), and is learning that cool is not necessarily kind, for that dog Yusef has his classmates spy while the two show themselves to each other. All this is fresh and authentic. The trouble starts with Stevie's arrival at high school, which coincides with the ``black is beautiful'' period (it's 1967). Here, the flow is disrupted by obvious setups intended to make points about race and sexual orientation. Stevie and Carla happen on their white art-teacher having a date with a black man--puppets miming the interracial experimentation of the period. At school, the sympathetic Nurse Horn puts Stevie in a quandary: Is it possible to be friends with a white woman, who may even be ``funny'' (lesbian)? The question overshadows Stevie's almost consummated relationship with Sean, a straight-arrow senior, and although the good nurse answers it in best Ann Landers style (``because you have a schoolgirl crush on me doesn't make you a homosexual''), Stevie ends up dwarfed by her author's agenda. Sinclair's story works fine when she gives her characters room to breathe. Reading Level = Grades 9-12
Mercy - Jodi Picoult
Cameron MacDonald is both the chief of police in the Massachusetts village of Wheelock and the reluctant figurehead chieftain of the MacDonald clan, which immigrated there in the late 1700s. Thus it is to Cam that his cousin Jamie turns after he accedes to his suffering wife's wish and helps her to die. Cam, who longs to travel and free himself from his family obligation, arrests Jamie for first-degree murder but then hires a lawyer for him. On that same day, exotic young Mia wanders into the village and is hired by Cam's wife, Allie, to help out in her florist shop. Cam and Allie have reached a comfortable plateau in their marriage, but both sense that something is missing. Mia and Cam are irresistibly drawn to each other, she to his established place in local society and he to her itinerant lifestyle. The story explores love and the intricate balance of give and take that marriage demands. Reading Level = Grades 7-10
Walk Two Moons - Sharon Creech
An engaging story of love and loss, told with humor and suspense. Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle's mother leaves home suddenly on a spiritual quest, vowing to return, but can't keep her promise. The girl and her father leave their farm in Kentucky and move to Ohio, where Sal meets Phoebe Winterbottom, also 13. While Sal accompanies her eccentric grandparents on a six-day drive to Idaho to retrace her mother's route, she entertains them with the tale of Phoebe, whose mother has also left home. While this story-within-a-story is a potentially difficult device, in the hands of this capable author it works well to create suspense, keep readers' interest, and draw parallels between the situations and reactions of the two girls. Sal's emotional journey through the grieving process-from denial to anger and finally to acceptance-is depicted realistically and with feeling. Indeed, her initial confusion and repression of the truth are mirrored in the book. Overall, a richly layered novel about real and metaphorical journeys.Reading Level = Grades 6-9
Tears of the Tiger - Sharon M. Draper
A hard-hitting story of the unraveling of a young black man who was the drunk driver in an accident that killed his best friend. Andy cannot bear his guilt or reach out for help, and chapter by chapter his disintegration builds to inevitable suicide. Counselors, coaches, friends, and family all fail him. The story is artfully told through English class assignments, including poetry; dialogues; police and newspaper reports; and letters. From time to time, the author veers off into overt lessons on racial issues, but aside from this flaw the characters' voices are strong, vivid, and ring true. This moving novel will leave a deep impression. Reading Level = Grades 9-11
Eragon - Christopher Paolini
Eragon, a young farm boy, finds a marvelous blue stone in a mystical mountain place. Before he can trade it for food to get his family through the hard winter, it hatches a beautiful sapphire-blue dragon, a race thought to be extinct. Eragon bonds with the dragon, and when his family is killed by the marauding Ra'zac, he discovers that he is the last of the Dragon Riders, fated to play a decisive part in the coming war between the human but hidden Varden, dwarves, elves, the diabolical Shades and their neanderthal Urgalls, all pitted against and allied with each other and the evil King Galbatorix. Eragon and his dragon Saphira set out to find their role, growing in magic power and understanding of the complex political situation as they endure perilous travels and sudden battles, dire wounds, capture and escape.
In spite of the engrossing action, this is not a book for the casual fantasy reader. There are 65 names of people, horses, and dragons to be remembered and lots of pseudo-Celtic places, magic words, and phrases in the Ancient Language as well as the speech of the dwarfs and the Urgalls. But the maps and glossaries help, and by the end, readers will be utterly dedicated and eager for the next book, Eldest. Reading Level = Grades 6-9
Shooter - Walter Dean Meyers
Cameron, Carla, and Len were fascinated (for different reasons) with guns and target shooting at the Patriots' club range until the day Len brought his Kalashnikov rifle, his AR-18, and his Ruger pistol to school, and shot and killed football jock Brad Williams, and then himself. Here is yet another school shooting story that begins with bullying and ends with disaster--a type that is becoming almost a sub-genre of YA fiction. Yet Walter Dean Myers, winner of many awards for his young adult novels, brings freshness and new anguish to this familiar tale (and growing social problem) of unstable victim tormented by bullies to homicidal rage. Following the example of his own masterwork Monster, Myers uses different perspectives in the aftermath of the "incident" to reveal the characters and to tell the story: interviews with Cameron and Carla by The Harrison County School Safety Committee, newspaper reports, a police report, Len's handwritten "die-ary" of his deranged thoughts, and finally, a grim medical examiner's report. The contrasts and contradictions in these various perspectives challenge readers to produce their own versions of why Cameron and Carla became Len's followers and what could have prevented this tragedy and others like it in real life. Reading Level = Grades 7-12
Twisted - Laurie Halse Anderson
Socially inept Tyler Miller thinks his senior year of high school is going to be a year like no other. After being sentenced to a summer of character building physical labor following a graffiti prank, his reputation at school receives a boost, as do his muscles. Enter super-popular Bethany Milbury, sister of his tormentor, Chip, and daughter of his father's boss. Tyler's newfound physique has attracted her interest and infuriated Chip, leading to ongoing conflicts at school. Likewise, Tyler's inability to meet his volatile father's demands to be an asset, not a liability adds increasing tension. All too quickly, Tyler's life spirals out of control. In the wake of an incident at a wild party that Bethany has invited him to attend, he is left feeling completely isolated at school and alienated at home, a victim of twisted perception. Tyler must tackle the complex issues of integrity, personal responsibility, and identity on his own as he struggles to understand what it means to be a man. His once humorous voice now only conveys naked vulnerability. With gripping scenes and a rousing ending, Anderson authentically portrays Tyler's emotional instability as he contemplates darker and darker solutions to his situation. Readers will rejoice in Tyler's proclamation, I'm not the problem here…I'm tired of feeling like I am. Teenage concerns with sex, alcohol, Readings, and family are all tackled with honesty and candor. Once again, Anderson's taut, confident writing will cause this story to linger long after the book is set down. Reading Level = Grades 9 –12
Okay For Now - Gary D. Schmidt
As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.” In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival. Reading Level = Grade 6- 9
Grade 10 Summer Reading
Lucky - Alice Seabold
When Sebold, the author of the current bestseller The Lovely Bones, was a college freshman at Syracuse University, she was attacked and raped on the last night of school, forced onto the ground in a tunnel "among the dead leaves and broken beer bottles." In a ham-handed attempt to mollify her, a policeman later told her that a young woman had been murdered there and, by comparison, Sebold should consider herself lucky. That dubious "luck" is the focus of this fiercely observed memoir about how an incident of such profound violence can change the course of one's life. Sebold launches her memoir headlong into the rape itself, laying out its visceral physical as well as mental violence, and from there spins a narrative of her life before and after the incident, weaving memories of parental alcoholism together with her post-rape addiction to heroin. In the midst of each wrenching episode, from the initial attack to the ensuing courtroom drama, Sebold's wit is as powerful as her searing candor, as she describes her emotional denial, her addiction and even the rape (her first "real" sexual experience). She skillfully captures evocative moments, such as, during her girlhood, luring one of her family's basset hounds onto a blue silk sofa (strictly off-limits to both kids and pets) to nettle her father. Addressing rape as a larger social issue, Sebold's account reveals that there are clear emotional boundaries between those who have been victims of violence and those who have not, though the author attempts to blur these lines as much as possible to show that violence touches many more lives than solely the victim's. Reading Level = Grade 9-12
The Great and Only Barnum - Candace Fleming
It is unlikely that Barnum ever actually said "There's a sucker born every minute," but he freely admitted to being a master of the "humbug"—a spectacle that both fooled and entertained the public. This highly readable biography uses primary sources, including Barnum's own words, to trace the man's roller-coaster life from his boyhood in Connecticut to his early career as the creator of the country's most famous "museums" (comparable to sideshows) to his later role as the master of enormously successful circuses, winning and losing several fortunes along the way. Fleming captures Barnum's exuberant personality and describes how his gift for promotion and dedication to delivering what the public wanted made him the world's most famous showman. She also reveals the private Barnum, a man who valued culture, had deep religious beliefs, and devoted considerable time and funds to charity and public service. Fleming is admiring of Barnum, but does not dismiss his weaknesses and faults. The text is supplemented with sidebars and reproductions of period photos and illustrations, including several of Barnum's advertisements. The bibliography includes Web sites and a selection of primary- and secondary-source books, and notes are done in paragraph format. This book goes beyond traditional biography to give students an objective and informative glimpse into the sometimes-exploitative world of 19th-century entertainment. An outstanding choice for all middle level and secondary collections. Reading Level- Grade 7-10
On Hitler's Mountain - Irmgard Hunt
Growing up in the beautiful mountains of Berchtesgaden -- just steps from Adolf Hitler's alpine retreat -- Irmgard Hunt had a seemingly happy, simple childhood. In her powerful, illuminating, and sometimes frightening memoir, Hunt recounts a youth lived under an evil but persuasive leader. As she grew older, the harsh reality of war -- and a few brave adults who opposed the Nazi regime -- aroused in her skepticism of National Socialist ideology and the Nazi propaganda she was taught to believe in.
In May 1945, an eleven-year-old Hunt watched American troops occupy Hitler's mountain retreat, signaling the end of the Nazi dictatorship and World War II. As the Nazi crimes began to be accounted for, many Germans tried to deny the truth of what had occurred; Hunt, in contrast, was determined to know and face the facts of her country's criminal past.
On Hitler's Mountain is more than a memoir -- it is a portrait of a nation that lost its moral compass. It is a provocative story of a family and a community in a period and location in history that, though it is fast becoming remote to us, has important resonance for our own time. Reading Level = Grade 7-10
The Guinness Book of Me: A Memoir of Record - Steven Church
My obsession is not with breaking records," Church clarifies, but with people who set out to break them—specifically the ones in the tattered edition of the Guinness Book of World Records Church bought at a book fair when he was a kid. Imaginative meditations on the unseen lives of the man with fingernails so long they curve in on themselves or the overweight twins who worked as motorcycle stuntmen are woven around an account of Church's own life, starting with an accident-prone childhood that left him with a dozen scars down one side of his body, including a 16-stitcher on his cheek that still draws wary looks nearly 20 years later. The theme of alienation emerges as Church considers his reactions to his younger brother's death in a car accident; expressing his rage with a violent, aggressive style of playing basketball eventually gives way to finding an emotional outlet in creative writing. Church examines many powerful memories—of his father speeding through a cornfield to gather ears of corn in the bed of a pickup truck, or of the author himself blowing off an important interview to watch a basketball game with a professor's 10-year-old son—that mark him as a rigorously observant and emotionally perceptive writer likely to stay on readers' radar. Reading Level = Grade 8-12
First They Killed My Father - Loung Ung
In 1975, Ung, now the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World, was the five-year-old child of a large, affluent family living in Phnom Penh, the cosmopolitan Cambodian capital. As extraordinarily well-educated Chinese-Cambodians, with the father a government agent, her family was in great danger when the Khmer Rouge took over the country and throughout Pol Pot's barbaric regime. Her parents' strength and her father's knowledge of Khmer Rouge ideology enabled the family to survive together for a while, posing as illiterate peasants, moving first between villages, and then from one work camp to another. The father was honest with the children, explaining dangers and how to avoid them, and this, along with clear sight, intelligence and the pragmatism of a young child, helped Ung to survive the war. Her restrained, unsentimental account of the four years she spent surviving the regime before escaping with a brother to Thailand and eventually the United States is astonishing--not just because of the tragedies, but also because of the immense love for her family that Ung holds onto, no matter how she is brutalized. She describes the physical devastation she is surrounded by but always returns to her memories and hopes for those she loves. Her joyful memories of life in Phnom Penh are close even as she is being trained as a child soldier, and as, one after another, both parents and two of her six siblings are murdered in the camps. Skillfully constructed, this account also stands as an eyewitness history of the period, because as a child Ung was so aware of her surroundings, and because as an adult writer she adds details to clarify the family's moves and separations. Twenty-five years after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, this powerful account is a triumph. Reading Level = Grade 8-12
The Autobiography of A Face - Lucy Grealy
Diagnosed at age nine with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that severely disfigured her face, Grealy lost half her jaw, recovered after two and half years of chemotherapy and radiation, then underwent plastic surgery over the next 20 years to reconstruct her jaw. This harrowing, lyrical autobiographical memoir, which grew out of an award-winning article published in Harper's in 1993, is a striking meditation on the distorting effects of our culture's preoccupation with physical beauty. Extremely self-conscious and shy, Grealy endured insults and ostracism as a teenager in Spring Valley, N.Y. At Sarah Lawrence College in the mid-1980s, she discovered poetry as a vehicle for her pent-up emotions. During graduate school at the University of Iowa, she had a series of unsatisfying sexual affairs, hoping to prove she was lovable. No longer eligible for medical coverage, she moved to London to take advantage of Britain's socialized medicine, and underwent a 13-hour operation in Scotland. Grealy now lives in New York City. Her discovery that true beauty lies within makes this a wise and healing book.
Then she died, and although her death was ruled accidental, it's clear she had been on a steady downward spiral through the last couple of years of her life. Ann Patchett's stunning and conflicted story of her 20-year friendship with Grealy (Truth and Beauty) uncovers the raw underbelly of Lucy Grealy's personality, her unending quest to be special, first, best, and most of all, lovable. Reading Level = Grade 9-12
Wasted - Marya Hornbacher
Eating disorders are frequently written about but rarely with such immediacy and candor. Hornbacher was only 23 years old when she wrote this book so there is no sense of her having distanced herself from the disease or its lingering effects on her. This, combined with her talent for writing, gives readers a real sense of the horror of anorexia and bulimia and their power to dominate an individual's life. The author was bulimic as a fourth grader and anorexic at age 15. She was hospitalized several times and institutionalized once. By 1993 she was attending college and working as a journalist. Her weight had dropped to 52 pounds and doctors in the emergency room gave her only a week to live. She left the hospital, decided she wanted to live, then walked back and signed herself in for treatment. This is not a quick or an easy read. Hornbacher talks about possible causes for the illnesses and describes feeling isolated, being in complete denial, and not wanting to change or fearing change, until she nearly died. Young people will connect with this compelling and authentic story. Reading Level= Grade 9-12
Go Ask Ogre- Jolene Siana
When she was 17, Siana wrote a series of letters to punk rocker Ogre, the front man of the '80s band Skinny Puppy. The letters speak of depression and cutting, drug abuse and sex, music and poetry. At one concert, Ogre told her that he saved all her letters and one day would return them. True to his word, two boxes arrived at her door nine years later; inside were illustrated letters and journals filled with her most intimate thoughts and fears. Like most cutters, those who injure themselves as a physical manifestation of their inner pain, Siana felt powerless as her life spun out of control. Rereading the letters years later, she realized that expressing herself through this way had saved her life. The letters share what it's like to grow up weird and how one girl could rise above her background. Almost every page of the book is filled with heartbreaking artwork and photos, which brilliantly link the journal entries and letters together, allowing readers to get a look inside the mind of a very creative but disturbed young woman. At the end of the book is a letter from Siana's therapist and a list of resources for teenagers who may be experiencing the same problems and emotions that the author wrote about. Reading Level = Grade 9-12
Prozac Nation - Elizabeth Wurtzel
Twenty-six-year-old Wurtzel, a former critic of popular music for New York and the New Yorker, recounts in this luridly intimate memoir the 10 years of chronic, debilitating depression that preceded her treatment with Prozac in 1990. After her parents' acrimonious divorce, Wurtzel was raised by her mother on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The onset of puberty, she recalls, also marked the onset of recurrent bouts of acute depression, sending her spiraling into episodes of catatonic despair, masochism and hysterical crying. Here she unsparingly details her therapists, hospitalizations, binges of sex and drug use and the paralyzing spells of depression which afflicted her in high school and as a Harvard undergraduate and culminated in a suicide attempt and ultimate diagnosis of atypical depression, a severe, episodic psychological disorder. The title is misleading, for Wurtzel skimps on sociological analysis and remains too self-involved to justify her contention that depression is endemic to her generation. By turns emotionally powerful and tiresomely solipsistic, her book straddles the line between an absorbing self-portrait and a coy bid for public attention. Reading Level = Grade 9-12
Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in LA - Luis Rodriguez
The award-winning and bestselling classic memoir about a young Chicano gang member surviving the dangerous streets of East Los Angeles, now featuring a new cover.
Winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award, hailed as a New York Times notable book, and read by hundreds of thousands, Always Running is the searing true story of one man’s life in a Chicano gang—and his heroic struggle to free himself from its grip.
By age twelve, Luis Rodriguez was a veteran of East Los Angeles gang warfare. Lured by a seemingly invincible gang culture, he witnessed countless shootings, beatings, and arrests and then watched with increasing fear as gang life claimed friends and family members. Before long, Rodriguez saw a way out of the barrio through education and the power of words and successfully broke free from years of violence and desperation.
Achieving success as an award-winning poet, he was sure the streets would haunt him no more—until his young son joined a gang. Rodriguez fought for his child by telling his own story in Always Running, a vivid memoir that explores the motivations of gang life and cautions against the death and destruction that inevitably claim its participants.
At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Always Running is ultimately an uplifting true story, filled with hope, insight, and a hard-earned lesson for the next generation. Reading Level = Grade 7-10
**Stitches - David Small
Reading Stitches may feel unexpectedly familiar. Not in the details of its story--which is David Small's harrowing account of growing up under the watchless eyes of parents who gave him cancer (his radiologist father subjected him to unscrupulous x-rays for minor ailments) and let it develop untreated for years--but in delicate glimpses of the author's child's-eye view, sketched most often with no words at all. Early memories (and difficult ones, too) often seem less like words than pictures we play back to ourselves. That is what's recognizable and, somehow, ultimately delightful in the midst of this deeply sad story: it reminds us of our memories, not just what they are, but what they look like. In every drawing, David Small shows us moments both real and imagined—some that are guileless and funny and wonderfully sweet, many others that are dark and fearful—that unveil a very talented artist, stitches and all. Reading Level = Grade 5-9
Winterdance - Gary Paulsen
Fueled by a passion for running dogs, Gary Paulsen entered the Iditarod--the 1150-mile winter sled-dog race between Anchorage and Nome-- in dangerous ignorance and with a fierce determination. Winterdance is his account of this seventeen-day battle against Nature's worst elements and his own frailty. Reading Level = Grade 4-8
Flesh and Blood So Cheap - Albert Marrin
On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City burst into flames. The factory was crowded. The doors were locked to ensure workers stay inside. One hundred forty-six people—mostly women—perished; it was one of the most lethal workplace fires in American history until September 11, 2001.
But the story of the fire is not the story of one accidental moment in time. It is a story of immigration and hard work to make it in a new country, as Italians and Jews and others traveled to America to find a better life. It is the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses, as garment workers discovered the endless sacrifices required to make ends meet. It is the story of unimaginable, but avoidable, disaster. And it the story of the unquenchable pride and activism of fearless immigrants and women who stood up to business, got America on their side, and finally changed working conditions for our entire nation, initiating radical new laws we take for granted today.
With Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Albert Marrin has crafted a gripping, nuanced, and poignant account of one of America's defining tragedies. Reading Level = Grade 7-12
Half-Broke Horses - Jeanette Wells
For the first 10 years of her life, Lily Casey Smith, the narrator of this true-life novel by her granddaughter, Walls, lived in a dirt dugout in west Texas. Walls, whose megaselling memoir, The Glass Castle, recalled her own upbringing, writes in what she recalls as Lily's plainspoken voice, whose recital provides plenty of drama and suspense as she ricochets from one challenge to another. Having been educated in fits and starts because of her parents' penury, Lily becomes a teacher at age 15 in a remote frontier town she reaches after a solo 28-day ride. Marriage to a bigamist almost saps her spirit, but later she weds a rancher with whom she shares two children and a strain of plucky resilience. (They sell bootleg liquor during Prohibition, hiding the bottles under a baby's crib.) Lily is a spirited heroine, fiercely outspoken against hypocrisy and prejudice, a rodeo rider and fearless breaker of horses, and a ruthless poker player. Assailed by flash floods, tornados and droughts, Lily never gets far from hardscrabble drudgery in several states—New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois—but hers is one of those heartwarming stories about indomitable women that will always find an audience.
Reading Level = Grade 6-10
Grade 11 Summer Reading
Almost Astronauts - Tanyan Lee Stone
Stone adopts a tone of righteous indignation in chronicling the quixotic efforts of 13 women to win admission into NASA's initial astronaut training program in the early 1960s. The women were all pilots (one, Jerrie Cobb, had more hours in the air than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter), earned high scores in preliminary tests, and even counted a senator's wife among their number. But resistance came from all directions—including NASA regulations, which were weighted toward men; media coverage that reflected contemporary gender expectations; political maneuvering by then vice president LBJ and other officials; and the crushing opposition expressed by renowned aviatrix Jackie Cochran in a 1962 Congressional hearing. Properly noting, however, that losing "depends on where you draw the finish line," the author closes with chapters on how women did ultimately win their way into space—not only as mission specialists, but also as pilots and commanders. Illustrated with sheaves of photos, and based on published sources, recently discovered documents, and original interviews with surviving members of the "Mercury 13," this passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.
Reading Level= Grade 6-9
Wicked - Gregory Maguire
Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, has gotten a bum rap. Her mother is embarrassed and repulsed by her bright-green baby with shark's teeth and an aversion to water. At college, the coed experiences disapproval and rejection by her roommate, Glinda, a silly girl interested only in clothes, money, and popularity. Elphaba is a serious and inquisitive student. When she learns that the Wizard of Oz is politically corrupt and causing economic ruin, Elphaba finds a sense of purpose to her life?to stop him and to restore harmony and prosperity to the land. A Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and an unknown species called a "Dorothy" appear in very small roles... The story presents Elphaba in a sympathetic and empathetic manner-readers will want her to triumph! The conclusion, however, is the same as L. Frank Baum's. The book has both idealism and cynicism in its discussion of social, religious, educational, and political issues present in Oz, and, more pointedly, present in our day and time. The idealism is whimsical and engaging; the cynicism is biting. Sometimes the earthy language seems appropriate and adds to the sense of place; sometimes the four-letter words and sexual explicitness distract from the charm of the tale. The multiple threads to the plot proceed unevenly, so that the pace of the story jumps rather than moves steadily forward. Wicked is not an easy rereading of The Wizard of Oz. It is for good readers who like satire, and love exceedingly imaginative and clever fantasy.
Reading Level= Grade 8-10
Basketball Junkie - Chris Herren
In this blunt, self-deprecating memoir, Herren tells his story as one of the greatest high school athletes to come out of southern New England. Fall River, Mass., has a storied basketball tradition, and Herren's achievements on the court made him a local hero as well as bringing him to the attention of national recruiters and Sports Illustrated. Overwhelmed by expectations, Herren avoided school and abused drugs and alcohol. Although Herren managed to make it to the NBA, his life continued to spin out of control until he OD'd in his car and was found unconscious with a bag of heroin on the seat beside him. Herren offers explanations for his downfall but doesn't make excuses. Neither does he glorify the partying and excess that made his life a blur. What he does achieve is something more valuable: giving a stark portrayal of the surreal existence led by young sports stars in a world of rapacious agents, vicious rivals, oblivious fans, and educational institutions that enable their "student" athletes to get away with almost anything. In the end, this is a sobering, cautionary tale for star-athletes-to-be.
Reading Level= Grade 9-12
The Natural - Bernard Malamud
Roy Hobbs was a natural at baseball, but his career is sidetracked by a crazed woman that kills famous sports athletes with a silver bulleted gun right before his tryout with the Chicago Cubs. Roy never had a chance to play with a Major League Baseball club until he was in his mid-thirties and well past his prime and was signed to a minimal salary to play for the NY Knights. Despite his age, Roy played better than anyone else during stretches in the baseball season, and raised the expectations of the Knights ballclub from a bunch of losers to true contenders.
In his story, Malamud explains the highs and lows of any sports athlete - being in the zone and hitting slumps. The major differences between Robert Redford performing like Roy Hobbs, and the true Roy Hobbs in Malamud's book, is that Hobbs is not superhuman - or a "Wonderboy" as his bat exclaims.
Hobbs is a normal guy with exceptional ballplayer skills - but he makes human mistakes.
Reading Level= Grade 11/12
River Cross My Heart - Breena Clark
Ten-year-old Johnnie Mae Bynum is haunted by the memory of her sister Clara, who drowned in the Potomac River at a point where the neighborhood children had been routinely warned against swimming. Five years older, Johnnie Mae had always been charged with Clara's care, so Clara's death stirs up guilt and confusion. Had she pushed Clara into the water or was she only guilty of neglect? The drowning changes the dynamics within the Bynum family, still coping with the move from South Carolina to the Georgetown area at the insistence of the mother, the strong-willed Alice Bynum, who wants opportunities for her children that she perceives exist in the North of the 1920s. Hence Alice both admires and fears Johnnie Mae's defiant resistance to segregated swimming pools, which chafes her own sense of racial injustice and political expedience. Clarke's first novel beautifully ties together themes of family tensions after the death of a child, a young girl's coming-of-age, and racial animosities in a small community.
Reading Level= Grade 9-12
** Our Cancer Year - Harvey Pekar
It was they year of Desert Storm that Harvey Pekar and his wife, Joyce Brabner, discovered Harvey had cancer. Pekar, a man who has made a profession of chronicling the Kafkaesque absurdities of an ordinary life (if any life is ordinary) suddenly found himself incapacitated. But he had a better-than-average chance to beat cancer and he took it — kicking, screaming, and complaining all the way. Pekar and Brabner draw on this and other trials to paint a portrait of a man beset with fears real and imagined — who survives.
Reading Level= Grade 7-10
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (Book 1) - Alexander McCall Smith
The African-born author of more than 50 books, from children's stories (The Perfect Hamburger) to scholarly works (Forensic Aspects of Sleep), turns his talents to detection in this artful, pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious) Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective. A series of vignettes linked to the establishment and growth of Mma Ramotswe's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" serve not only to entertain but to explore conditions in Botswana in a way that is both penetrating and light thanks to Smith's deft touch. Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first: women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine. The desultory pace is fine, since she has only a detective manual, the frequently cited example of Agatha Christie and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages as she shines her own light on the problems that vex her clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case linger pleasantly. General audiences will welcome this little gem of a book just as much if not more than mystery readers. Reading Level= Grade 8-10
** Blankets - Craig Thompson
Revisiting the themes of deep friendship and separation Thompson surveyed in Goodbye Chunky Rice, his acclaimed and touching debut, this sensitive memoir recreates the confusion, emotional pain and isolation of the author's rigidly fundamentalist Christian upbringing, along with the trepidation of growing into maturity. Skinny, naive and spiritually vulnerable, Thompson and his younger brother manage to survive their parents' overbearing discipline (the brothers are sometimes forced to sleep in "the cubby-hole," a forbidding and claustrophobic storage chamber) through flights of childhood fancy and a mutual love of drawing. But escapist reveries can't protect them from the cruel schoolmates who make their lives miserable. Thompson's grimly pious parents and religious community dismiss his budding talent for drawing; they view his creative efforts as sinful and relentlessly hector the boys about scripture. By high school, Thompson's a lost, socially battered and confused soul-until he meets Raina and her clique of amiable misfits at a religious camp. Beautiful, open, flexibly spiritual and even popular (something incomprehensible to young Thompson), Raina introduces him to her own less-than-perfect family; to a new teen community and to a broader sense of himself and his future. The two eventually fall in love and the experience ushers Thompson into the beginnings of an adult, independent life. Thompson manages to explore adolescent social yearnings, the power of young love and the complexities of sexual attraction with a rare combination of sincerity, pictorial lyricism and taste. His exceptional b&w drawings balance representational precision with a bold and wonderfully expressive line for pages of ingenious, inventively composed and poignant imagery. Reading Level= Grade 9-12
The Future of Us- Jay Asher
Josh and Emma are about to discover themselves--fifteen years in the future
It's 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They've been best friends almost as long--at least, up until last November, when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh's family gets a free AOL CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they're automatically logged onto Facebook . . . but Facebook hasn't been invented yet. Josh and Emma are looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.
Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates--it's all there. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they're forced to confront what they're doing right--and wrong--in the present.
Reading Level= Grade 7-9
Every Second Counts - Lance Armstrong
The five-time Tour de France winner and Number 1 New York Times bestselling author returns with an inspirational account of his recent personal and professional victories—and some failures—and an intimate glimpse into how almost dying taught him to really live.
Since the release of his megabestseller, It’s Not About the Bike, Lance Armstrong has enjoyed a new series of thrilling rides, culminating with the extension of his string of Tour de France victories to a record-tying fifth in 2003. Continuing the inspiring story begun in his first book, Every Second Counts captures the mind-set of a man who has beaten incredible odds and considers each day an opportunity for excellence.
Armstrong’s previous book recounted his journey from a grim diagnosis of testicular cancer to a stunning recovery that culminated in his winning the 1999 Tour de France. His new book addresses the equally daunting challenge of living in the aftermath of this experience and making the most of every breath of life.
Reading Level= Grade 7-12
Nickel and Dimed - Barbara Ehreneich
In contrast to recent books by Michael Lewis and Dinesh D'Souza that explore the lives and psyches of the New Economy's millionares, Ehrenreich (Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, etc.) turns her gimlet eye on the view from the workforce's bottom rung. Determined to find out how anyone could make ends meet on $7 an hour, she left behind her middle class life as a journalist except for $1000 in start-up funds, a car and her laptop computer to try to sustain herself as a low-skilled worker for a month at a time. In 1999 and 2000, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Fla., as a cleaning woman and a nursing home aide in Portland, Maine, and in a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, Minn. During the application process, she faced routine drug tests and spurious "personality tests"; once on the job, she endured constant surveillance and numbing harangues over infractions like serving a second roll and butter. Beset by transportation costs and high rents, she learned the tricks of the trade from her co-workers, some of whom sleep in their cars, and many of whom work when they're vexed by arthritis, back pain or worse, yet still manage small gestures of kindness. Despite the advantages of her race, education, good health and lack of children, Ehrenreich's income barely covered her month's expenses in only one instance, when she worked seven days a week at two jobs (one of which provided free meals) during the off-season in a vacation town. Delivering a fast read that's both sobering and sassy, she gives readers pause about those caught in the economy's undertow, even in good times.
Reading Level= Grade9-12
Grade 12 Summer Reading
The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver
Clear-eyed and spirited, Taylor Greer grew up poor in rural Kentucky with the goals of avoiding pregnancy and getting away. But when she heads west with high hopes and a barely functional car, she meets the human condition head-on. By the time Taylor arrives in Tucson, Arizona, she has acquired a completely unexpected child, a three-year-old American Indian girl named Turtle, and must somehow come to terms with both motherhood and the necessity for putting down roots. Hers is a story about love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places.
Reading Level = Grade 9-12
Snow Falling on Cedars- David Gutterson
San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries--memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense-- one that leaves us shaken and changed.
Reading Level = Grade 11/12
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth"). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don't burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: "It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion."
Reading Level = Grade 11/12
Peace Like a River - Leif Enger
Hailed as one of the year's top five novels by Time, and selected as one of the best books of the year by nearly all major newspapers, national bestseller Peace Like a River captured the hearts of a nation in need of comfort. "A rich mixture of adventure, tragedy, and healing, " Peace Like a River is "a collage of legends from sources sacred and profane -- from the Old Testament to the Old West, from the Gospels to police dramas" (Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor). In "lyrical, openhearted prose" (Michael Glitz, The New York Post), Enger tells the story of eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been controversially charged with murder. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers, and its remarkable conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates. Leif Enger's "miraculous" (Valerie Ryan, The Seattle Times) novel is a "perfect book for an anxious time ... of great literary merit that nonetheless restores readers' faith in the kindness of stories"
Reading Level = Grade 9-12
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films (Reservoir Dogs...); top five Elvis Costello songs ("Alison"...); top five episodes of Cheers (the one where Woody sang his stupid song to Kelly...). Rob tries dating a singer whose rendition of "Baby, I Love Your Way" makes him cry. But maybe it's just that he's always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think (awful as it sounds) that life as an episode of thirtysomething, with all the kids and marriages and barbecues and k.d. lang CD's that this implies, might not be so bad.
Reading Level = Grade 11/12
Walkabout - James Vance Marshall
A plane crashes in the vast Northern Territory of Australia, and the only survivors are two children from Charleston, South Carolina, on their way to visit their uncle in Adelaide. Mary and her younger brother, Peter, set out on foot, lost in the vast, hot Australian outback. They are saved by a chance meeting with an unnamed Aboriginal boy on walkabout. He looks after the two strange white children and shows them how to find food and water in the wilderness, and yet, for all that, Mary is filled with distrust.
On the surface Walkabout is an adventure story, but darker themes lie beneath. Peter’s innocent friendship with the boy met in the desert throws into relief Mary’s half-adult anxieties, and the book as a whole raises questions about what is lost—and may be saved—when different worlds meet. And in reading Marshall’s extraordinary evocations of the beautiful yet forbidding landscape of the Australian desert, perhaps the most striking presence of all in this small, perfect book, we realize that this tale—a deep yet disturbing story in the spirit of Adalbert Stifter’s Rock Crystal and Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica—is also a reckoning with the mysteriously regenerative powers of death.
Reading Level = Grade11/12
Neverwhere - Nail Gaiman
Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart -- and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed -- a dark subculture flourish in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city -- a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known...Richard Mayhew is a young businessman with a good heart and a dull job. When he stops one day to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk, his life is forever altered, for he finds himself propelled into an alternate reality that exists in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations below the city. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.
Reading Level = Grade 9-12
** In the Shadows of No Towers - Art Spiegelman
For Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Maus, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were both highly personal and intensely political. In the Shadow of No Towers, his first new book of comics since the groundbreaking Maus, is a masterful and moving account of the events and aftermath of that tragic day.
Spiegelman and his family bore witness to the attacks in their lower Manhattan neighborhood: his teenage daughter had started school directly below the towers days earlier, and they had lived in the area for years. But the horrors they survived that morning were only the beginning for Spiegelman, as his anguish was quickly displaced by fury at the U.S. government, which shamelessly co-opted the events for its own preconceived agenda.
He responded in the way he knows best. In an oversized, two-page-spread format that echoes the scale of the earliest newspaper comics (which Spiegelman says brought him solace after the attacks), he relates his experience of the national tragedy in drawings and text that convey—with his singular artistry and his characteristic provocation, outrage, and wit—the unfathomable enormity of the event itself, the obvious and insidious effects it had on his life, and the extraordinary, often hidden changes that have been enacted in the name of post-9/11 national security and that have begun to undermine the very foundation of American democracy.
Reading Level = Grade 7-10
The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht
The sometimes crushing power of myth, story, and memory is explored in the brilliant debut of Obreht, the youngest of the New Yorker's 20-under-40. Natalia Stefanovi, a doctor living (and, in between suspensions, practicing) in an unnamed country that's a ringer for Obreht's native Croatia, crosses the border in search of answers about the death of her beloved grandfather, who raised her on tales from the village he grew up in, and where, following German bombardment in 1941, a tiger escaped from the zoo in a nearby city and befriended a mysterious deaf-mute woman. The evolving story of the tiger's wife, as the deaf-mute becomes known, forms one of three strands that sustain the novel, the other two being Natalia's efforts to care for orphans and a wayward family who, to lift a curse, are searching for the bones of a long-dead relative; and several of her grandfather's stories about Gavran Gailé, the deathless man, whose appearances coincide with catastrophe and who may hold the key to all the stories that ensnare Natalia. Obreht is an expert at depicting history through aftermath, people through the love they inspire, and place through the stories that endure; the reflected world she creates is both immediately recognizable and a legend in its own right. Obreht is talented far beyond her years, and her unsentimental faith in language, dream, and memory is a pleasure.
Reading Level = Grade 11/12
Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood," writes Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes. "Worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." Welcome, then, to the pinnacle of the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. Born in Brooklyn in 1930 to recent Irish immigrants Malachy and Angela McCourt, Frank grew up in Limerick after his parents returned to Ireland because of poor prospects in America. It turns out that prospects weren't so great back in the old country either--not with Malachy for a father. A chronically unemployed and nearly unemployable alcoholic, he appears to be the model on which many of our more insulting cliches about drunken Irish manhood are based. Mix in abject poverty and frequent death and illness and you have all the makings of a truly difficult early life. Fortunately, in McCourt's able hands it also has all the makings for a compelling memoir.
Reading Level = Grade 9-12
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime- Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon has written a moving novel about love and bravery through the eyes of a British autistic boy. Christopher discovers his neighbor's poodle dead, impaled by a pitchfork, and, because he adores puzzles, he sets out to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington . But Christopher is autistic, a boy who doesn't like to be touched and cannot decipher emotions beyond the tools his teacher has taught him, and so the task requires the huge effort of testing rules and facing his own fears. A literalist by neurology, he deconstructs life into a set of mathematical equations and physical laws. This unique perspective makes him a good detective on one level, where clues and logic rule, but it also fails him on another, higher one because he cannot understand the magnitude of what he uncovers.
That Haddon was able to write a book from Christopher's point of view with all his quirks and still make him lovable is extraordinary. By necessity, the writing is simple and unadorned, but the language of details elevates it from the mundane. The insertion of mathematical puzzles and drawings add to the reader's understanding of how Christopher's mind works. Haddon's real skill is an understatement that allows the reader to comprehend what is going on even if Christopher cannot. Although Christopher cannot grasp subtlety and nuances, the reader can, and that's where the true force of this exceptional novel lies.
Reading Level = Grade 8-11