Criss Cross

20 Sep


Title: Criss Cross

Author: Lynne Rae Perkins

Author’s Webpage:

Learn about the author:

ISBN #: 978-0-06-009274-0

Link to Booktalk:

Recommended Audience: Middle School and High School

Criss Cross is a thrilled coming of age novel that appeals to adolescents. Perkins captures the bliss of childhood innocence in an unusual fashion. Throughout the novel, the style of writing changes in between chapters refocusing the readers attention to the story line. The story follows five adolescents as the school year closes and the promising summer vacation begins. Each teenagers journey intersects with another in a surprising turn of events as they come into their own element.

Hector, an awkward lanky young man, finds his confidence through music. Guitar becomes his way of expressing his feelings about life and his secret love of Meadow, the eye candy in his guitar class. Even though Meadow is too infatuated with Dan, the heroic idiotic football star, to notice. His older sister Rowanne is the beauty of the family with her undeniable charm. She supports her brother in his search to find the man inside by taking him the local coffeehouse where he finds his passion for guitar. Eventually Hector becomes the man of mystery behind the guitar.

Hector, Phil, Lenny, and Debbie become the dynamic clan of the neighborhood.  Debbie shows her independence from her mother’s ancient ways by changing clothes in the rhododendrons with her partner in crime Chrisanne before school each day. Her kind hearted nature leads her in the direction of findings her first love, Peter, before he moves back to California. All of the characters are forever changed through their summer journey crossing into adult territory.

Kafka on the Shore

6 Sep

Kafka on the Shore

Written by Haruki Murakami

Reviewed by Sean Tourtellotte

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. New York: Vintage Books, 2005. Print. ISBN 978-1-4000-7927-8

Set in modern day Japan, Kafka on the Shore, is the surreal story of a 15 year old runaway who calls himself Kafka and an elderly man named Nakata who, due to a strange accident as a boy, has lost much of his early memory including his ability to read and write.  Haruki Murakami tells the story of these two characters using alternating chapters, slowly weaving their two fates together.

Kafka’s story begins just as he decides to run away from his father in Tokyo to seek out his long lost mother and sister, and hoping to avoid an oedipal prophecy that seems to be taking shape as his journey develops. After leaving home, Kafka finds a friend in a librarian who takes Kafka under his wing and allows him to live and work in the library as long as he needs to. While in the library he develops a strange relationship with Miss Saeki, the library owner, and her 15 year old spirit.

Nakata’s story is no less bizarre. As a child growing up in the midst of WWII he has an inexplicable accident in which he and his grade school classmates suddenly lose consciousness while on a field trip in a nearby woods. While his classmates regain their consciousness in a matter of hours, Nakata remains in a coma for several weeks. When he comes out of it, he has lost his memory and his ability to read and write, but he has gained the ability to talk with cats and to cause strange things to fall from the sky. After a gruesome run in with a local cat thief in which he loses his ability to speak with cats, Nakata sets out on a mission to find a mysterious entrance stone.

Somehow, Murakami turns these strange events and characters, which might seem haphazard and random at first glance, into an utterly entrancing story that plays with the mind and dissolves the boundaries between the real and the unreal. While the writing style is simple and straightforward—bordering plain—this novel still manages to deliver a psychological and emotional punch that will not be easily forgotten.


Author Page

Documentary on the Author

Feature Article on the Author

The Kite Runner

30 Aug

The Kite Runner

Written by: Khaled Hosseini
Reviewed by: Rebecca Morse
Recommended Audience: High school students to adults

Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. 1st ed. New york: Riverhead Books, 2003.  ISBN # 978-1594480003

The novel The Kite Runner is a work of historical fiction that brilliantly weaves historical events with a compelling fictitious story that goes back and forth between the present and past events of the novel. The Kite Runner begins in the year 2001. Immediately in the first paragraph, Amir, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, recalls his memory of a life defining moment that occurred twenty six years ago, as a twelve year old boy. It is Amir’s memories of his childhood in Afghanistan that the majority of the novel is based upon.

The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir’s coming of age and the experiences that have shaped him. The historical backdrop of Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule provide a gripping setting that heightens the plot and dramatic events that unfold in the novel. As readers, we see the growth in Amir’s character from that of a young, spoiled and naïve boy to that of a mature and experienced man, who is the narrator and provides the lens for which the story is told.

I highly recommend this novel as it is not only a well written work of literature, but also an educational body of work, as it recounts important historical and political events regarding Afghanistan and the U.S. The use of flashbacks and flash forwards keep the reader intrigued and captivated from the first page to the very last. The Kite Runner opens the door to a world that is both cruel and heartbreaking. However, the reader is taken on a journey through the pages of the novel, where hope still exists and where one can still find friendship, love, and humanity in often the most unlikely places.

Resources to further to explore The Kite Runner:

Author’s Website:

Review of the novel The Kite Runner

Review of the movie The Kite Runner (which includes the film trailer)

Khaled Hosseini on The Kite Runner:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

23 Aug

Haddon, M. the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
1st ed. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. 1400032717

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Written by Mark Haddon
Reviewed by Katherine R. Blacker
Recommended Audience: High School

As a reader, you are immediately caste into the life of a fifteen-year-old boy named Christopher John Francis Boone. He is affected by Asperger’s syndrome, a highly functioning form of autism and is the first person narrator of this novel. He introduces himself by stating, “My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all of the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,507.” Sherlock Holmes is his idol and he takes on the role of detective when a neighbor’s dog named Wellington is mysteriously murdered by a garden fork. Christopher stumbles onto the body of the deceased dog in his neighbor’s yard. The neighbor, Mrs. Sheers comes out of the house and suspects that Christopher has had something to do with the dog’s horrific death and calls the police. When a police officer arrives on scene and tries to confront Christopher by touching him, Christopher reacts by hitting the officer and is arrested. Christopher is eventually released and is now under suspicion for being involved with the dog’s death. Christopher decides to embark on a sleuthing journey to find Wellingtons true killer. Throughout the rest of the novel he conducts an investigation by looking for clues and recording them into a book he calls his “murder mystery novel.” But this investigation takes an interesting turn as Christopher comes closer to catching the dog’s killer he discovers more complicated events about his past.

This book is engaging, funny and heartfelt. The author Mark Haddon is able to blend a fictional story about a boy pretending to be a detective while relating it to events in our society today. The plot seems far-fetched. But it is interesting that as the reader progresses through the novel, the story becomes involved with more about the boy as an individual than a dog being mysteriously killed by a garden tool. This book is honest and is a beautifully eloquent window into the mind of a young boy just searching for answers about life and portraying the dishonesty and immaturity of the adult world.

The official website for the author Mark Haddon.

An interview of Mark Haddon where he discusses the sources of his creative inspiration.

Ella Minnow Pea, A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable

18 Aug

Dunn, Mark. Ella Minnow Pea, A Progressively Lipogrammatic
Epistolary Fable
. MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 2001.
ISBN: 0967370167

Book Talk

Ella Minnow Pea, A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable
Written by: Mark Dunn
Reviewed by: Michael Feliciani
Recommended Audience: High School

Nollop is a small autonomous island off the coast of South Carolina known for its devotion to education and language as  well as its rejection of modern technology. It is named after Nevin Nollop, the creator of the well-known pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” In honor of Nollop and his pangram, an enormous statue was created, in his likeness, on the island with the phrase written across. Years later, the tiles begin to fall from the statue’s inscription. As each letter falls, the town council members interpret this as a message from Nollop that the letter is no longer needed in the vocabulary. The council members ban the use of the letter and enforce a three strike system to regulate its use. The first strike is a public denouncement, a choice of a lashing or stockades the second, and the third offense is banishment from the island.

As the novel progresses, more tiles begin to fall and the town’s people must deal with this new way of life. Censorship in the destruction of books, newspapers, and radio programs become rampant on the island. People begin to report on one another and soon, whether by choice or by banishment, large portions of the islands citizens leave in exodus. The remaining citizens must find a way to revert this change in the island’s laws before there is nothing left to save.

Ella Minnow Pea provides an almost comical depiction of misinterpretation, devotion to ideals, and governmental control. The novel is written as letters between the citizens of Nollop, as modern technology is mostly rejected by the island people. As the story progresses, letters in their alphabet begin to become banned by the community. The reader can watch the devolution of the language in the actual letters between characters. As each letter is banned, the writings between the characters become less complex and the struggle for freedom of expression comes to the forefront of the text. This is a great novel for adolescents as it explores the concepts of individuality and freedom in a fun way.

Description of book:

Publisher’s Website:

Description of the book and the author:

Youtube Video describing the book:

Looking for Alaska

2 Aug

Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: Dutton Books, 2005. Print. ISBN 978-0525475064

Looking for Alaska

Written by John Green

Reviewed by Jen Pappas

Recommended Audience: Older High School

Listen to the booktalk

Fascinated by famous last words and the people who uttered them, sixteen-year-old Miles Halter is eager to live a life worthy of a great biography. Spurred by the dying words of the French poet Franҫois Rabelais, (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) he leaves the only home he’s ever known to attend an elite boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s here at Culver Creek that Miles meets Chip (or the Colonel as he prefers to be called), and Alaska Young – the beautiful, literary, reckless, wine-guzzling, possibly bi-polar object of everyone’s affections. Under the guidance of Alaska and the Colonel, Miles is initiated into the ills of adolescence: smoking, drinking, pranking, and yes, a tiny bit of sexual activity.

The book is divided into two parts: before and after – which should set off some serious foreshadowing alarms that things are not going to end well. But even given the ominous division, I was still unprepared for the culminating event that does take place at Culver Creek. The second half of the book (after) chronicles Miles’ personal journey through the “labyrinth” of suffering, a metaphor set in motion by Alaska early in the novel. As he struggles to make sense of what’s happened, Miles’ quest for his Great Perhaps starts to gain clarity and he begins a new pursuit, this time toward enlightenment.

Looking for Alaska is heartbreaking and smart in the same way S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is. Both novels – memorable and rich – avoid the obvious clichés, over-sentimentality, and lack of complexity other teenage novels fall victim to. The dialogue is clever yet real, and many of Miles’ observations reveal a sincere profundity well beyond his sixteen years. The inclusion of last words and Buddhist theory adds depth to the novel, encouraging readers to make important connections between the nature of life, death, suffering and hope. And while the adult characters in the novel are somewhat one-dimensional, ultimately this is a heartfelt, transcendent story we can all relate to.

Interview with John Green

Video interviews on

When You Reach Me

21 Jun


Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2009. Print. 978-0-385-90664-7


When You Reach Me

Written by Rebecca Stead

Reviewed by Eric Fuller

Listen to the booktalk.

Miranda and Sal have been best friends since birth. They are inseparable. They live in the same building. They have slumber parties. They walk to school together. They even protect each other from the elements of the big city such as the screaming homeless man, who sleeps with his head under a mailbox.  Everything seems perfect as Miranda’s mom is preparing to win big by making an appearance on the game show, $20,000 pyramid.  Until one day when Sal is punched by a bully. After this, Sal continually ignores Miranda.

Then things start to get weird. Miranda starts to get notes from an unknown author predicting the future. In these notes, the mysterious person claims that they will come to save a life. During this time Miranda makes friends with Marcus, the bully who punched Sal, and they discuss the possibilities of time travel. Miranda also makes other friends with whom she works with at a local sandwich shop.  This comes to an end when the owner reveals that he thinks Julia, a girl from school, stole money from him only because she is black. Miranda and Julia have never gotten along because Miranda thinks she is arrogant. However, they eventually call a truce and become friends.  As the notes continue, they tell of events in the near future right before they happen as proof.

Eventually Marcus tries to apologize to Sal. He scares him off into the middle of the street where he is almost killed before being kicked to safety by the screaming man, who dies instead. Later while Miranda is with her mother on the set of the $20,000 pyramid, she realizes that the screaming man was Marcus.

This book is a mystery science fiction hybrid that would be great for children around the junior high level.  It is a very imaginative book with short concise chapters that keep you on the edge of your seat. However, it still remains in the everyday world by addressing young adult themes like bullying and friendship.