Margin Notes



Sadie.jpgSadie goes missing just months after her thirteen year old sister Mattie has been found dead – murdered just outside of Cold Creek. Sadie has been declared a runaway, but West McCray, a podcast producer, thinks there’s something more to the story.

Readers learn about Sadie, Mattie, and their absent mother, Claire, through McCray’s interviews with May Beth Foster, the manager of the trailer park where the girls lived, and other people he connects to Sadie along the way. The book jumps between McCray’s interviews and Sadie’s perspective, where readers learn in small doses about what Sadie’s been up to and where she’s headed. Sadie defies society’s obsession with stories such as hers, keeping both McCray and readers at bay – she’s always one step ahead, revealing details about her journey, her life, and her suffering only in part.

Sadie explores the ways in which society is at once mesmerized with stories of dead women and, somehow at the same time, complicit in women’s suffering. The book questions assumptions about addiction and challenges systemic issues surrounding abuse, neglect, social services, patriarchy and objectification. It challenges the media’s obsession with highlighting pain and sensationalizing crime.

the girlsA downloadable podcast accompanies the book, making it accessible to a wide range of students. Readers can listen in on McCray’s interviews, feeling his anticipation as he unravels Sadie’s story and steps closer to finding the missing teen.

The book is fast paced and engaging, offering something we can all connect to.

After all, Girls go missing all the time.

Amy Bourgaize teaches at Fredericton High School. She has read 50 books so far this year.



People Kill People.jpgReading Ellen Hopkins’ latest novel, People Kill People, was like watching a car crash in slow motion.

Born out of the social dichotomy of Trump-era nationalism, People Kill People weaves the lives of six Tucson, Arizona teens together, after one purchases a gun (the seventh character?), to a devastating conclusion. Stitching this tapestry together is Hopkins’ choice of narrator, giving voice to the basest aspects of humanity: our fear and self-doubt. Hopkins uses this ‘devil on your shoulder’ voice brilliantly not only to tap into our own fears and insecurities, but to actually humanize the extreme views and perspectives of her characters. In making the reader see the dark side in themselves, Hopkins forces the audience to empathize with even the most unlikeable of characters by illuminating how circumstances, uncertainty and emotion sometimes simply seem to make our decisions for us, leaving the characters and the reader feeling pulled along an unavoidable collision course with tragedy.

Apart from wonderfully writing her character vignettes, the novel belongs to this demonic presence that uses such subtle but menacing language and tone to slip under your skin. People Kill People pulls no punches and uses mature language and content to grapple with the complexities of the characters’ lives: mental health, suicide, teen parentage, family dynamics, racism, drug use, and friendship. Stylistically, Hopkins employs two other useful techniques; each character has their own font, and the demon-puppet-master-narrator inserts itself via italics within the vignettes, providing colour and context through short poetic intermissions as the mood and plot of the novel intensifies.

For such an emotionally difficult read, it is highly engaging and hard to pull away from. Many students will see something of themselves or someone they know in the novel, but the mature language and themes, as well as some more complex vocabulary, particularly in the poetic structure, may make it a challenging read for some.

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.



Ghost boys coverThrough her book, Ghost Boys, Jewell Parker Rhodes once again distills challenging world topics such as racism, police brutality, and gun violence and provides us with a beautiful piece of work for young readers.

Ghost Boys is the story of 12-year-old, Jerome Rogers. He likes school and learning but is bullied for it. He has an adoring little sister, and hardworking parents who rely on his grandmother to help raise the kids. But one day, he’s out playing with a toy gun in a park near his house and is shot and killed by a white police officer that deems him as a threat.

The story alternates between Jerome being alive and dead, as he struggles to understand how this could have happened and navigating the world between life and death. Following his death, Jerome meets another ghost of a young black boy killed many years before him, Emmett Till, who begins to help him process the events that ultimately led to his murder. Through this lens he sees the effects that his death has on his family, his classmates, and the family of the officer who killed him.

This book offers a heartbreaking simplicity that challenges the reader to look at and begin to understand the effects of systematic racism and what it would take for meaningful change. The author takes on this massive subject that has plagued our society for many years and delivers it with a balanced thoughtfulness that is appropriate, and I would argue essential, for a middle-school audience. It provides many opportunities for discussion among readers and offers them a pathway to start to unpack many large societal issues and begin to empathize with people who may have these experiences.

Lauren Sieben is a UNB pre-service teacher currently interning with Sara BeLong teaching Grade 6 English at George Street Middle School. She has always had a passion for reading, specifically YA titles.



Lighter Than My ShadowKatie Green’s graphic novel, Lighter than My Shadow, is an emotional dive into the world of eating disorders, abuse, and recovery. Throughout Green’s book, readers can feel her guilt, shame, and awkwardness through her series of intimately drawn pictures showing how her body, mind, and spirit changed throughout her life and through her path to self-discovery. Green’s work is a documentary told through the art of illustration and we not only meet Katie herself, but her friends, family members, and abusers.

We also meet a few others along the way. While their names are not shared, they certainly show the importance of character-building and how to show an emotion, rather than describe it. Katie’s fears are symbolized through two means. First, we see a simple scribble – her emotions bottled up and created through a dark, menacing, and faceless creature that follows her throughout her life.

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Secondly, we see a monster within Katie’s actual body – her eating disorder that has come alive within her.

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So often as English teachers, we focus on the written word, but how often have you stepped back to take a look at the bigger picture? This is what Green’s work will force you to do – step back. Look at your own hurdles. See the bigger picture.

By reading Lighter than My Shadow, I have thought more about the difficult choices my students are faced with every day. We truly do not know the battle that is happening in anyone’s lives but our own. Green teaches us that compassion and empathy are truly the roots that maintain the strong foundation for not only our relationships with others, but our relationship with ourselves. I would recommend this graphic novel to both English and Personal Development teachers, as there can never be enough literature on the acceptance of one’s own body and the understanding of someone’s struggle.

Laura Noble is a high school English teacher at Leo Hayes High in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Laura is currently completing her Master’s in Education and is an avid reader of young adult fiction, true-crime, and feminist literature.



On the Come Up CoverOn The Come Up by Angie Thomas is a book I am excited to have on my bookshelf, and I strongly encourage L.A. teachers to read it. In addition to a compelling story, this novel makes a strong case for rap music and its place in the L.A. classroom. Through her main character, Angie Thomas demonstrates that in order to write good rap, you need command of the English language. She makes it clear that rap is a process that requires skill and practice. She proves it is a genre not to be dismissed.

Written from 16-year old Brianna’s perspective, this is the story of a talented young rapper’s quest to make it big. She is the daughter of a revered rapper and community hero “Lawless” who was tragically killed when Bri was a young girl. Her family struggles to make ends meet and there isn’t a lot of extra cash when the bills are paid. So, Bri runs a side hustle at school where she sells candy bars to make some spending money. Everything changes when she gets thrown to the ground and searched by school security who suspect her of dealing drugs. Bri lives to rap but she also loves Star Wars and Tweety Bird and playing Mario Cart with her two best friends. She doesn’t do or deal drugs. But none of that matters because the incident at school starts a spiral of Bri being profiled and labeled because of the color of her skin and the neighborhood she lives in. Her situation escalates when she vents her frustrations in a rap that gets a lot of airtime. Now she’s worshiped by some and reviled as a dangerous thug by others.

Due to the myriad of themes covered in it’s 447 pages, I found On The Come Up to be a lovely hybrid  between a window and a mirror book. Through her characters, Angie Thomas manages to deftly tackle issues surrounding racial profiling, family, poverty, addictions, gang violence, LGBTQ+, and the confusing/wonderful world of teen romance. And overarching within all of these is the theme of identity. Of people thinking or believing you’re something you are not. This is a story of Brianna navigating the murky and messy waters of discovering who she is versus who the world tells her to be.

I cannot wait to pitch it to students,  especially those who fell in love with Angie Thomas’ writing after reading The Hate U Give.

Megan Young Jones is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches Grade 7 Language Arts at George Street Middle School in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her favorite genres to read are historical fiction and true crime.





Kristin Lattimer seems to have it all together: She is a successful high school athlete with a college scholarship lined up; she has a popular track-star boyfriend who she is ready to take the next step in their relationship with; and she was recently elected homecoming queen by her classmates.

All of this suddenly changes when a routine trip to the doctor reveals that Kristin is intersex. Although she outwardly appears to be female and has always identified herself as female, she discovers she has male chromosomes and certain male ‘parts.’

While Kristin is struggling to come to terms with her diagnosis on her own, her diagnosis gets leaked to the entire school and her peers are anything but supportive. Kristin’s once seemingly ideal life has crumbled before her eyes and she must rely on herself, her family, a support group, and an unlikely friend to re-discover herself and whether she fits into the category of male, female, or none of the above.

I.W. Gregorio, a practicing surgeon, was inspired by an intersex patient of hers to write None of the Above. Gregorio tackles many difficult issues in this book including gender identity, gender discrimination, and bullying. The novel also brings to light the plethora of resources and supports that are available to people diagnosed with intersex conditions and works to end the stigma surrounding intersex. I learned a lot about my own perceptions of what it means to be intersex and the effects in can have on a person’s life. I think this book could be extremely valuable to any student who is either going through a similar situation of being dejected by their peers or a student who simply wants to learn more about the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

After reading The 57 Bus, I became more aware of my reading gap with LGBTQIA2S+ texts. I decided to seek out a fiction book that could fit into this category. I specifically chose None of the Above because I had never encountered a text that addresses what it means to be intersex, let alone a text that uses the term intersex rather than the outdated ‘hermaphrodite’ (a struggle that comes to light in this novel).

Caitlin Foote is a pre-service teacher completing her B.Ed degree at UNB with a classroom placement at Oromocto High School. She is enjoying expanding her love of YA novels in order to relate to and recommend books to her Grade 9 ELA students.



the hate u give coverPublished in 2017, Angie Thomas’ debut novel The Hate U Give is written from the perspective of a young black teenage girl who makes the brave decision to speak out against violence by police officers against black individuals and the aftermath and chaos this creates. The book’s main character Starr struggles with staying in line with her life at a posh private school and doing the right thing, not only by her friend, but her community. This book takes a look at racially aimed violence by police officers and the outcry it sparks within society and how speaking out, while it is the right thing to do, will not always get you the justice you deserve.

Thomas’ fearless ability to take this controversial topic and bring it into a YA fiction novel truly amazed me because as I read this, I felt as if I was living through this with Starr and the pain she was feeling as she watched a police officer kill one of her best friends. Though fictional, she provided an in-depth look at the aftermath of such a horrific event – an event we often read about within the media but do not personally experience. This book, as white female, opens a window to a situation in which I cannot imagine experiencing. She writes this book in such a way that you do not feel separated from the main character or her experiences. I think this may be why it continues to be  the New York Times top selling YA book, because Thomas created a story based upon an extremely controversial subject and writes courageously about it. I think Starr, despite the tragedy of watching her best friend die due to racial profiling, is relatable to many young people today. She knows what is wrong with society and wants to help be a part of that change, and I think that is something people want to read about. They want a story about bravery, and not in the typical way.

Katie Morgan is a current student at UNB completing her B.Ed. as a pre-service teacher in high school English. As a guest blogger she is reviewing a YA novel for her teaching secondary English class.





Girls with Sharp Sticks Cover

Girls With Sharp Sticks tells the story of Philomena Rhodes, a young girl studying at a mysterious academy meant to prepare her for her future as a wife and mother by teaching her the skills she will need for these roles. Philomena and her friends are sent to this school by their parents, and kept under strict control by their male teachers and guardians, with little to no contact with the outside world. Slowly but surely, the students begin to uncover the truth behind the academy, and, in order to survive, the girls must rise up and learn to fight against the forces controlling them. The book is a perfect mix of action, drama, and romance, but at the heart of the story is the importance and strength of female friendships.

This book contains mature themes and language and would be a great read-alike for any students that loved the Divergent or Matched series. Written by Suzanne Young (the author of The Program series), Girls With Sharp Sticks has just enough plot twists and drama to surprise any reader. Every time I thought I could predict what was coming next, Young’s story defied my expectations and hooked me even more. With the story ending on a cliffhanger, Girls With Sharp Sticks will most definitely become a series that will intrigue any reader and make the perfect addition to any classroom library.

Kristin Estabrooks is a Mount Allison University graduate, currently studying for her Bachelor of Education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She is an avid reader who is slowly but surely reintroducing herself to the world of Young Adult literature.




The Trail Cover

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto is the survival story of 12 year old Toby, a boy set on hiking the Appalachian trail solo. The power of The Trail comes from its relatability. Unlike some of the other great young adventure stories like Hatchet, middle school readers could realistically attain some of the same experiences that Toby does. Especially for students that are close to the setting geographically (anyone in southern New Brunswick), hiking part of the Appalachian Trail is a realistic goal. Mt. Katahdin, Toby’s destination, is a mere two and a half hours from Fredericton. In this same vein of relatability, the author introduces the equipment and processes involved in the world of hiking in very accessible ways, ensuring that all readers, regardless of background knowledge, become immersed in the daily realities of hiking and back country

Toby’s adventures, while set in the demanding physical environment of the Appalachian Trail, encompass the psychological, social and emotional as well. In the end, his battles with the elements, his past, and the people he runs into along the way, teach him how to trust himself so that he can move forward in spite of the pain the world throws his way and the uncertainty we all face in making decisions when there is no trail to follow, no clear answer to what we should do.

Students close to the same age as Toby will probably get the most out of The Trail, however anyone who enjoys outdoor adventure stories will enjoy The Trail. That being said, it is worthwhile to note that one of the strengths of The Trail is its ability to make hiking and back-country camping relatable and understandable to people for whom these things are completely foreign concepts, and may just inspire kids to get outside and see what experiencing nature through hiking is all about!

Michael Reeder is currently in the UNB education program, hoping to teach English Language Arts to high school students soon. He has always loved reading and believes that, since reading is one of the most powerful tools and individual can use to advance their lives independently, instilling a love of reading in students is one of the most important things a teacher can do.



As teachers of reading, we know the importance and the power of book talks to increase the volume of our students’ reading. One type of book talk you may want to try is the Read-Alike Book Talk, where you take a book that has been flying off the shelf of your classroom library and share titles that have similar themes or characters or are of a similar genre. The following read-alikes for Refugee by Alan Gratz are a combination of titles written in verse and letter forms, graphic novels, pictures books, and biographies.


Refugee by Alan Gratz has been one of the most popular books in classrooms over the past few years. It is a historical (and present day) fiction novel that teaches us about what it was/is like to flee a country, seek refuge, and begin again. The novel tells three stories in three different time periods, all told through the eyes of three children. These children, Josef from Nazi Germany (1938), Isabel from Cuba (1994), and Mahmoud from Syria (2015) remind us to always, always have compassion and kindness for those around us, to not be ignorant, and to stand for what is right.

The Night Diary.jpgThe Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani tells Nisha’s story in India in 1947 when her country separated into India and Pakistan, creating division and violence between Hindus and Muslims as they fled their homes to cross the borders to safety. Nisha is half-Muslim and half-Hindu, leaving her feeling even more confused about where she belongs. When Nisha’s family decides to leave their home and become refugees, Nisha writes about her journey in letters to her mom, who died when she was born.


Other Words for Home.jpgOther Words for Home by Jasmine Warga follows Jude and her pregnant mother as they are forced to flee Syria and move to America, leaving her brother and father behind. As Jude adjusts to a new culture while also longing for her home, she realizes, “I am learning how to be sad and happy at the same time.” She is so wise and brave as she begins to find her way to feeling a sense of belonging while also feeling deep fear about her family’s safety back in Syria.


Inside Out and Back Again.jpgInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a historical fiction novel in verse that tells 10-year-old Hà’s story as she, along with her mom and brothers, are forced to leave their home in Saigon in 1975 because of the Vietnam War. After traveling by ship and spending time in a refugee camp, her family moves to Alabama to establish a new home. Hà dreams of what her new home will be like, but when she is met with racism, bullying, and constant worry about her father, adjusting to life in America is more difficult than she had hoped.


Grenade.jpgGrenade by Alan Gratz is a historical fiction novel that takes place on the island of Okinawa during World War II. When the Americans arrive on Okinawa to fight the Japanese, a group of middle school boys, including Hideki Kaneshiro, are recruited and given two grenades: one to kill an American soldier and one to kill themselves. Ray is an American Marine whose first mission is on Okinawa. When Hideki and Ray meet in the middle of a battle, they have some difficult decisions to make.


Sea Prayer.jpgSea Prayer [by Khaled Hosseini] was inspired by the story of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015. In the year after Alan’s death, 4,176 others died or went missing attempting that same journey.” This picture book is a letter a father writes to his young son about their home before the war and during their journey to escape the terror that came. He writes of his memories, his fears, his hopes, his promises, his love.


White Bird.jpgWhite Bird by R.J. Palacio is a graphic novel about one young Jewish girl being separated from her parents and hidden away by another family during The Holocaust during WWII. This beautiful story reminds readers of the powerful and miraculous nature of kindness and courage.



Anne Frank.jpgAnne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation beautifully illustrates Anne Frank’s voice and spirit from her diary, which details her experiences and feelings while being hidden away in a secret annex in her father’s business building for two years during The Holocaust.




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The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees, a non-fiction graphic novel written and illustrated by Don Brown, details facts, timelines, and world politics while also telling of the horrors, the losses, the pain and the hope many Syrian refugees have experiences and continue to experience as they have fled a war zone and tried to find new homes.



Escape from Syria.jpgEscape from Syria by Samya Kullab, Jackie Roche, and Mike Freiheit is a graphic novel that humanizes the current events in Syria and the realities Syrian refugees are facing today in camps and during resettlement in their new homes. The story is told by Amina as her family is forced to flee Aleppo, seek refuge in Lebanon, and cross the ocean to find a new home in the West.


Let me tell you my story.jpgLet Me Tell You My Story: Refugee Stories of Hope, Courage, and Humanity is the compilation of photos and stories collected by a group of photographers, filmmakers, painters, and writers over the course of two years as they documented the flood of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa to find a new home in the West. This collection is beautiful, haunting, and authentic.