Margin Notes

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS BY JULIA WALTON

May
19

25695640._UY630_SR1200,630_For some time now, the iconic movie, A beautiful Mind has been the standard portrayal of schizophrenia, but Julia Walton’s Word’s on Bathroom Walls is the new benchmark, conveying insight into what it’s like to live with such a disruptive mental disorder. Walton’s compelling protagonist, sixteen-year-old Adam Petrazelli, is coping with this extraordinary life challenge.  

To further enhance the awkward social position this puts Adam in, Walton mirrors this in the structure of her book by having Adam meet with his counsellor every week, but refuses to talk to him; so each session is an hour of uncomfortable one-sided conversation. Each chapter begins with the psychiatrist notes – succinct medical information about Adam’s diagnosis and meds – followed by a dated journal from Adam’s perspective to his psychiatrist, sharing his daily struggles and answering the questions he’s been asked the previous session. This is crucial to the success of the story as the reader anguishes with Adam at his social blunders specific to the challenges that accompany a mental disorder like schizophrenia when the medications stop working.  

From his inability to distinguish between reality and hallucinations, to his worries about dealing with a new stepfather, hiding his schizophrenia from his peers, and navigating a newfound romantic relationship, Adam is a sympathetic character and you will find yourself rooting for and sympathizing with when things don’t go as planned. This book is a must read for all those who want to understand what causes someone to behave a certain way and want to gain a unique and empathetic point of view about mental illness in 2020. 

 

GUEST WRITER REZVAN DEHGHANI RECOMMENDS SUNNY ROLLS THE DICE BY JENNIFER AND MATTHEW HOLM

Apr
21

Sunny Rolls the DiceSunny Rolls the Dice is the third book of the bestselling Sunny Series written by the award-winning siblings, Jennifer and Matthew Holm.

This funny middle-grade graphic novel addresses, with a light touch, some of the difficulties students have transitioning into middle school.

For tweenagers, the transition to middle school usually holds a combination of nervousness, fear and doubt, but Sunny Rolls the Dice approaches the challenge in a really amusing way through its main character’s humorous stories. For Sunny, the main character, middle school becomes a complicated transition, especially in terms of her appearance and relationships. In fact, while she tries to imitate whatever her best friend, Deb, does (only to keep her friendship with Deb), she still wants to maintain her own sense of identity and independence by making new friends and playing cool games with her male classmates, even if those games are not so “girly”!

Sunny Rolls the Dice is set in the late 1970s, when Sunny, who is in the seventh grade, takes the “Are You a Groovy Teen?” quiz in Teen magazine and obtains the lowest score possible. Unlike her friends, Sunny still wears galoshes on rainy days, which is scored as an absolute zero based on the Groovy Meter. She also plays Dungeons & Dragons with a group of boys, which is not something that “cool” girls at her age do. So many times she gets confused by the variety of messages she receives from her friends and also teen magazines about how girls should look and act to be groovy. These messages lead her to avoiding playing the game she loves.

Initially, Sunny struggles to change her self-image based on her friends’ comments, but eventually she stops trying so hard to be measure up to her friends’ standards and chooses to be cool in her own way: by being her true self! What I adore about this story is that Sunny, in the end, chooses to do what she really enjoys and sticks to it regardless of whatever her friends’ negative feedback might be.

This book will be most popular with middle school students who are facing the dilemma of remaining true to themselves or acting and looking groovy enough to be accepted by their peers.

The main reason I highly recommend Sunny Rolls the Dice is because of Sunny’s decision to go her own way and not really care about what her friends’ reactions might be. The story also offers parents and teachers the opportunity to discuss the significant issue of popularity with middle school kids. The following questions have been suggested by some of the readers of this amazing graphic novel:

  • Do you find it tough to make new friends while sticking to your own self-image
  • What does it mean to be popular in middle school?
  • What products do tween kids buy in order to seem more popular?
  • Can middle school girls play “boyish” games like D&D and still be cool? And is being cool really that important?

Rezvan Dehghani, originally from Iran, is an EAL/ ESL instructor at Devon Middle School in Fredericton, NB.

GUEST WRITER LAURA NOBLE RECOMMENDS COMICS WILL BREAK YOUR HEART BY FAITH ERIN HICKS

Apr
07

ComicsOur world is inundated with nerd-culture. We pay the expensive prices for movie tickets and wait in line to get the best seats on opening night. We travel far-and-wide to ride the superhero rides, for a chance to get our picture taken with leotard and cape-sporting characters. Many of us go as far as permanently inking our bodies with our ride-or-die favourite characters or our favourite alliances. In other words, you’d be hard-pressed to find a young person who hasn’t at least passively watched a superhero movie or television show. Superheroes are just that – heroes. Extraordinary people who go to extraordinary lengths to do things for others.

Comics Will Break Your Heart shows its audience a side of comics that many people haven’t thought about before – the origin stories. Not of the characters within the books, but of those who create them. Who are the writers? The artists? Who chooses the colour of the capes and the distribution of the work itself? Faith Erin Hicks reminds us of something that we so often forget – we are all creators of our own worlds. We imagine scenarios in our heads – what could happen vs. what we want to happen in our real lives.

Mirroring a Romeo and Juliet type love affair, Hicks writes a coming-of-age story for wannabe-nerds and hardcore-nerds alike. Mir, a devotee of nerd culture, is conflicted about leaving her small-town life behind after high school. Weldon, a rich kid exiled to small-town Nova Scotia for a summer, is trying to get his act together. The unlikely pair try to overcome their family’s intertwined histories to make new lives for themselves, but their last names seemingly leave them suffocated. Their families battled against each other in an ugly, long-winded court case for the rights to the comic series, The TomorrowMen.

This YA novel will surely appeal to those who are familiar with the history of comic books and their worth on our current superhero culture, but also to an audience who loves coming-of-age stories. A simple love story about friends, family, and their interconnectedness, Comics Will Break Your Heart gives students a new romance novel for daydreamers, artists, and nerds alike.

Laura Noble is an English teacher at Leo Hayes High School and is currently finishing her Masters in Education. She is an avid reader of true crime, feminist literature, and realistic fiction.

GUEST WRITER LINDSAY PEREZ RECOMMENDS THE PARIS PROJECT BY DONNA GEPHART

Mar
31

Paris ProjectMiddle school student Cleveland Rosebud Potts has a dream: A dream to escape her life in Sassafras, Florida and travel to Paris, France where everything will be “parfait”.

Cleveland comes up with an idea – The Paris Project: A list of six items that will prepare her for Paris. There is only one problem: Life.

This novel follows Cleveland’s journey to deal with what life throws her way as she checks the items off her list to say “Good Riddance!” to Sassafras, Florida only to learn “C’est la Vie“.

The Paris Project is a great addition to any middle or high school classroom library. Students will connect and relate with Cleveland’s journey as she navigates her way through middle school.

Lindsay Perez teaches at Nashwaaksis Middle School.

GUEST WRITER ANGELA LARDNER RECOMMENDS WHAT IF IT’S US BY BECKY ALBERTALLI AND ADAM SILVERA

Mar
24

What If It's UsArthur is in New York for the summer when he meets Ben at a post office. Ben is bitter at the world and is there to mail out his ex-boyfriend’s items when he notices Arthur’s awkward ways.

However, when a marching band and proposal at the post office separate Ben and Arthur before they can exchange numbers, let alone names, it seems like their stars are not aligned. But Arthur will not be deterred.

Arthur decides to go to extreme measures to find Ben; he wants the romance and the chance to see what the universe has in store for them. And Ben is curious about him, too. When they finally do find one another, it is a balancing act of getting the perfect first date (four or five times over), the disappointments of unmet expectations, and the realization that life is not a Broadway show, most of the time.

Ben has been in relationships before; this is Arthur’s first one. Together, they help one another find love and true friendship. They control their fate and destiny, with a few ups and downs along the way, in true teenage drama.

This book explores what it means to find your first love and to follow your heart. It makes you believe in love at first sight and takes you back to your teenage years of puppy love, crushes, jealousy, and suspicions. It has all the drama of balancing the fine edge of ending a relationship yet trying to remain friends with that someone, while also trying to start a new relationship with someone new.

Angela Lardner is a teacher at Stanley Consolidated School. She teaches English 9, English 112, English 122 as well as Resource. Her greatest joys are reading and her 2 dogs: Thor and Apollo.

GUEST WRITER WILL MILNER RECOMMENDS STRANGERS BY DAVID A. ROBERTSON

Mar
17

StrangersAdmittedly, I was not ready for this book. I began with several others on the go and exams looming around the corner. I felt like it was going in fits and starts, and I was ready to give up. The thing is, once exams were over, I went back to it and finished it in a day!

David A. Robertson’s first instalment of The Reckoner Trilogy takes us to the (fictional) Manitoba town of Wounded Sky where we’re drawn into the lives of a community still reeling a decade on from a devastating school tragedy that claimed the lives of many of the town’s young people. We’re immediately thrown into the schemes of Choch, the coyote trickster of First Nations’ lore, as he plots to coerce Cole Harper back to the town that drove him away for his role as hero and scapegoat in the fire ten years ago.

After the tragedy ten years ago, Cole, along with his grandmother and aunt, moved to Winnepeg. As we see the broken and conflicted life that they have pieced together since leaving Wounded Sky, the inevitable becomes clear: Cole must return and face the demons that await him back home.

What follows is the beginning of a mystery that, while already well under way, really starts to unfold as soon as Cole touches down at the rural community’s airstrip. Cole is forced to face not only the conflicting emotions of his old friends and neighbours, but he must also try to reconcile his current life with his painful past.

Along the way, Choch is weaving his way in and out of Cole’s life, pulling strings, playing games and adding a supernatural level of uncertainty to Cole’s attempt to straighten his life, and his community, out. Trust is scarce, and suspicion is rampant – what really happened all those years ago, and why are people dying now that Cole has returned?

Strangers does contain violence, and mature language/content, so it is best suited to more mature readers. Its themes of family and friendship, and community and belonging ring with sufficient universality that most readers should find themselves drawn into Robertson’s story. Once hooked, as I was, it seems unfair that by the end of the book, Cole’s story has really just gotten started.

Will Milner is an English & Outdoor Pursuits teacher at Fredericton High School, where he also coaches soccer and track & field. When not teaching, or coaching, he can be found with his wife Jen outside with their dogs and playing with their daughter Olivia.

GUEST WRITER JOANNE MCDONALD RECOMMENDS PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING BY RANDY RIBAY

Mar
10

Patron Saints of NothingPatron Saints of Nothing engages the reader in a journey of self-discovery with Jay Reguero, a high school student in his senior year, who lives in Michigan with his American mother and Filipino father. His father, having left the Philippines to give his children a better life when they were young, expects Jay to go to an Ivy League college to make the move seem worth the stakes it has cost him—great personal shame and grief from some family members who deem him a traitor.

Disappointingly, Jay has an estranged relationship with his father, who has few meaningful conversations with him, and a shallow relationship with his best friend, Seth, who only shares his love of gaming and playing basketball. It is only Jay’s cousin, Jun, living in the Philippines with whom Jay has a deep relationship with from a memorable vacation when he was ten and the subsequent years of letter writing, that is, before Jay stopped responding to Jun’s letters.

Early on in the story, the reader discovers that Jun had been living on the street for a few years and was shot by the police for doing drugs. While questioning his parents, Jay is introduced to President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh campaign on cleaning up crime in the Philippines, leaving him feeling ashamed for not knowing or understanding what his Filipino family has been enduring while he has lived a fear-free existence in the United States. When an anonymous person messages Jay from a fake account, indicating that Jun’s death was not related to drugs and that he didn’t deserve to die, Jay embarks on a journey back to his “other” homeland to clandestinely uncover the truth behind his cousin’s death since no one will talk about it. From there, Jay is faced with getting in touch with his Filipino roots; developing an understanding of his father; and coming to grips with the fact that people aren’t always what they seem, which has to be okay.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good mystery or coming of age story and/or who is interested in mixed-race identity, family bonding, social responsibility, and current issues in the political sphere of the Philippines.

Joanne McDonald teaches grade 9 English, Writing 110, and Canadian Geography 120 at Oromocto High School. Over the past couple of years, she has become passionate about getting great books into the hands of her students and has reconnected with her old creative writing self.

GUEST WRITER DEVIN MCLAUGHLIN RECOMMENDS MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU BY BARBARA DEE

Feb
18

maybe he just likes you.jpgWith Maybe He Just Likes You, Barbara Dee explores sexual harassment and unwanted attention from peers in the middle school environment. The result is a gut punch of a story that will leave the you, the reader, frustrated but also uplifted at times. Overall, it is an emotional roller coaster and one middle school students will connect with in many ways.

Everything starts to unravel for Mila, a seventh-grade girl, when a boy in her school gives her an unwanted hug on the school grounds. As word spreads, things escalate and at recess one day, one of the boys, Callum, tells Mila it’s his birthday and requests a “birthday hug.” Thinking he must just be friendly, Mila agrees to hug Callum too, but the hug goes on for too long and leaves her feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. Mila goes to her friends, but they seem to question her actions and not those of the boys. She attempts to go to some of the adults in her life, but the results leave her feeling confused, angry, scared, and alone. This is the moment where the author’s use of first-person narration really enhances the subject matter. As the boys continue to harass Mila, we follow her thoughts as she navigates through the situations. We feel for her as she questions whether she is overreacting as well as when she feels helpless and victimized. It is honestly heartbreaking.

Dee has done a fantastic job making the reactions of the characters, and therefore the situation itself, incredibly believable for a middle school setting. Issues like consent, guilt, personal space, and the differences between flirting and harassment are issues central in today’s society and this novel. When used as a read aloud, this story will open a class up to some fascinating and very important discussions. I honestly can’t think of a single reason not to have Maybe He Just Likes You in your classroom. The book’s short yet significant chapters make it a quick read that should interest even the most reluctant of readers in your classroom.

My name is Devin McLaughlin and I am a Language Arts teacher at Harold Peterson Middle School in Oromocto, New Brunswick.

GUEST WRITER ROXANNE MORNEAULT RECOMMENDS FROM YOU TO ME BY K.A. HOLT

Feb
11

from you to meFrom You To Me by K.A. Holt is an emotional story of eighth grade Amelia who mistakenly receives a letter written by her deceased older sister as a sort of to-do-list before Clara (her sister) finishes middle school. The book takes you through Amelia’s attempts to cross off each item on her sister’s list as a way to pay tribute to her late sister and perhaps put some closure on her own grief.

Amelia is overcome with grief and allows her sister’s death to take over her life. She encounters many challenges that help her to grow emotionally and heal from the tragedy in her life. Amelia finds herself taking risks and challenges that the “old her” would not have taken.

This novel includes topics around growing up as a teenager and feelings of being isolated and not fitting in. This book would be great for a young reader who is not ready for a mature read but will relate to the emotional turmoil of being a teen.

Roxanne Morneault teaches Language Arts to grade 7 and 8 students at Sunbury West School in Fredericton Junction, New Brunswick.

GUEST WRITER ERMA APPLEBY RECOMMENDS THE HANDMAID’S TALE (GRAPHIC NOVEL) BY MARGARET ATWOOD

Feb
04

The Handmaid's TaleThirty-three years ago, Margaret Atwood introduced readers to the dystopian world of Gilead. Now, with the artwork of Renee Nault, this tale comes alive once again in The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel.

This story outlines the life of Offred, a handmaid in the new republic of Gilead, where declining fertility rates have forced the government to establish a society of suppression. As Offred struggles to adjust to her new role, she is plagued by memories of her past life and family. The restrictive rules of Gilead create biblically inspired handmaids to serve in each officer ranking’s home. The sole purpose of the handmaid is to conceive a child.

Initially written in the 80s as a satire, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel offers a viewpoint that is still relevant in modern society. The art of Nault adds a whole new dimension to this piece of literature. Striking a remarkable balance between detail and depiction, Nault’s illustrations depict scenes with clarity: the Red Centre, a night out at Jezebel’s, scrabble with the Commander, and the salvaging.

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel is 240 pages of full color illustrations that incorporate the major plot events of the original novel. Throughout the novel, Nault balances the pages with bold illustrations in both small panels and full page scenes that depict events significant to the story’s plot.

This is a wonderful genre of reading for students, which is inclusive of all reading abilities. While the illustrations are very detailed, they may not be suitable for all audiences. For example, some readers may find scenes such as the Wall disturbing. Overall, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel is an effective choice for sharing powerful literature with students.

Erma Appleby is an English Language Arts teacher at Oromocto High School, in Oromocto, New Brunswick. She enjoys the discussion that literature can ignite and the role that it plays in our lives.