Margin Notes

GUEST WRITER BEN DOWLING RECOMMENDS FRANKLY IN LOVE BY DAVID YOON

Jul
28

frankly in loveIn Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li, a Californian Korean-American, narrates his journey through his final year of high school, desperate for his first “Summer of Love”. But he will have to find the girl first. Early on, Frank and the white and wealthy Brit Means hit it off, so all should be golden, right? Not exactly. As the son of Korean parents, having a romantic relationship with a partner who is not Korean (the world’s most ethnically homogeneous culture and racial identity, we are informed) is rarely welcomed by mom or dad. Frank’s older sister Hanna and her African American boyfriend have already vanished to the other side of the country and are no longer spoken of in the Li household – so Frank knows what is at stake.

Race and racism are key to this unique coming-of-age story. Frank refers to himself and his fellow first-generation Korean American friends as the “Limbos”; who, ever since being born, have all been regularly thrown together at family gatherings. The parents drink and share stories in their mother tongue, whilst their children, who only truly speak the language of the only home they have ever known, try to enjoy each other’s company without ever having had anything in common outside of a shared culture. Yet it is through his fellow “Limbo”, Joy, herself dating a Chinese American boy, that a clever, covert plan is concocted: if they pretend to date each other, they will be awarded the time and freedom they need to date their real partners. The excitement that ensues as this plan is put into place gives the novel some real pace and takes the story in a direction that comes as a surprise.

One question that, as an immigrant myself, I love to ask students who were born in other parts of the world is, “Where is home to you?” Frankly in Love complicates this issue by helping the reader understand that, even if you have never set foot on the land that your parents were born and raised upon, the power with which this place casts over you and your family complicates the notion of what home is. As Frank complains, he “just wants to be carefree, like in those teen movies where all the kids (meaning all the white kids) get to… act out their love dramas… on moonlit lawns to gaze up at the stars and wonder about the universe and fate… not B.S like the racism of their parents.” The story tackles race and racism in a very interesting way. There are many current Y.A novels tackling these complex issues, but rather than focusing on the devastating effects of racist violence or xenophobic political climates, real or dystopian, Frankly in Love, looks at the tough question of what a young, liberal teenager does when the most racist people he knows are the two people whom he loves so much. Frank’s mom and dad, without any pause or irony, will openly state that “ninety-eight percent” of black people are criminals, without any of the knowing irony that they as immigrants themselves could be the targets of racism. And, also, they know that Frank’s best friend is African American.

I lived in Korea for seven years, and more than the U.K, I miss it as home. In Frank’s parents, David Yoon has created two adults who, despite their flaws, I feel quite sure I have met a thousand times over back in Seoul. There are some long passages of dialogue, written exclusively in Korean, which, as a mirror, was fun for me to practice seeing if I could still understand it. Yet, like Frank himself, I had no idea what was being discussed, as the adults around Frank and Joy come into conflict over ideas just as complex as race, which eventually threaten to tear everyone apart. The passages written exclusively in Korean were of personal interest as I wanted to see if I could still read the language, but, like Frank, I had great difficulty following these parts that include the discussions about issues that eventually threaten to tear the families apart.

Though Frank’s voice may not be for everyone – this is an academically gifted student applying to schools in the Ivy League whose view on certain situations, the cutesiness to his inner voice, and his dialogue with like-minded friends can grate at times – this is a wonderful addition to my high school classroom library. Students in Grade 12 may make a particular connection with Frank and his friends as they move towards the exciting precipice of the end of high school. I have already recommended it to a Canadian student of Korean descent in grade 11, who came to me the next day and just gave a very firm nod. In Frank, David Yoon has crafted a nuanced character who, as the child of immigrant parents who have given up everything for their children, quite literally carries the full weight of their expectations on his shoulders. I know there are many students, regardless of where their parents are from, who can identify with that.

 

Ben Dowling teaches ELA9 at Fredericton High School. He has just gotten a lovely new armchair and Frankly in Love is the first of many that he hopes he shall consume in it.

GUEST WRITER ELIZABETH ANDREWS RECOMMENDS GOOD ENOUGH BY JEN PETRO-ROY

Jul
14

goodenough2Jen Petro-Roy knows first-hand what is like to live with, and recover from, an eating- disorder.  Drawing from her own experiences, she created Good Enough—a realistic piece of fiction aimed at middle level students.  Structured as a journal, the story documents the experiences of the main character, Riley, as she undergoes treatment for anorexia nervosa.  Riley is struggling. No matter how hard she tries, she feels she isn’t “good enough”, that she will never measure up to her sister (the amazing gymnast) and that she isn’t a good enough runner, daughter, or friend.  Food however, and controlling her eating, well…that is something she is “good” at.

The story begins as Riley is forced into treatment and is required to journal her experience.  Each day she documents her struggles and successes on her journey to recovery.  With the help of her therapist, and some newfound friends, Riley works hard to silence the negative voice inside her head so that she can begin to heal.

One thing I love about this book was the realness of it; Riley’s journey is not linear. There are setbacks and leaps of faith. There is growth and failure. And this does not just apply to just our main character, Riley, but to her parents, friends, and those in therapy with her.  This really reveals how this disease impacts a person’s life and the lives of those around them.  While the book ends on an optimistic note, Jen Petro-Roy leaves the reader with a healthy dose of realism:  Riley, like every other eating disorder survivor, will battle this disease forever. However, the most important thing is that she learns is that she is “good enough” and that she has the strength, and, ability, to overcome it.

While this is a difficult topic, the author presents it in an age-appropriate way.  She also fills the story with humor, warmth, and hope. I found myself laughing and connecting to Riley on the first page.  There is so much that students can relate to in this text, even if they have no prior understanding of disordered eating. They will connect with bullying and Riley’s experiences with school.  They will relate to her lack of self-confidence and feelings of inadequacy—feeling like you can never measure up to others.  This book will be perfect for students who enjoy character development; the driving force here is the connection to Riley and the desire to understand and empathize with her experience.

Finally, you may be wondering, how can I use this in my teaching?  For starters, I think it would make an excellent read-aloud.  It is a great piece of first-person fiction and the voice is strong right from the start.  Hearing this would be almost better than reading it; there are so many opportunities for expression and comedic timing.  You could also set the pace well this way and use it to build suspense for the reader, encouraging engagement from students that normally wouldn’t connect to this type of book.  There are also numerous examples of great writing for you to use for a writer’s notebook.  I know I have about twelve sticky notes in my copy, flagging some great writing opportunities.  My recommendation though would be to read this first, before reading it to your students. I think it will really help you make some choices in how you want to present it.

 

Don’t hesitate to add this to your collection of realistic fiction.  It would transition well to Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Skinny by Donna Cooner, or even Butter by Erin Jade Lange; although, these suggestions would be better aimed at grade 8 or 9 students.  Happy reading!

By HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN and MEG WOLITZER

Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)

 

GUEST WRITER ELIZABETH ANDREWS RECOMMENDS: TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH BY HOLLY GOLDBERG SLOAN AND MEG WOLITZER

Jun
30

9780525554561To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer will capture the interests, and hearts, of students that love realistic fiction.  I would argue that this title is also the perfect text to help transition a reader to this genre if it isn’t a typical choice for them. The book is a quick and engaging read, aimed at late elementary and middle level students. Presented in the form of emails and letters, students will need to draw on their reading and viewing strategies to comprehend the clever organization and text features. With a quirky cast of relatable characters, the authors have managed to skillfully blend representation and authenticity into the lives of two very-endearing protagonists.  Wondering if this book should become a permanent part of your classroom library?  The answer is undoubtably, YES!

In a nutshell, the book is a series of communications by, and about, the two main characters: Avery Bloom (Night Owl) and Bette Devlin (Dogfish).  Bette is an adventurous girl from California.  She loves surfing, thrill seeking, and keeping a watchful eye on her dad.  When Bette finds out her dad is in a serious relationship with a man from New York, and that the two plan to have their daughters meet at the prestigious summer camp, CIGI, Bette sees no option but to take matters into her own hands.  She puts her sleuthing skills to the test and tracks down Avery via email.  Avery is cautious, anxious, and clever, and although she is hesitant to believe Bette’s claims, soon comes to realize that she’s going to need to work with Bette if there is any hope of keeping their dads apart. Through their regular communication and experiences at camp, the girls from an unexpected bond, showing the reader that family is what you make it.

As I flipped through the pages, I felt like I was reading a modernized version of the Parent Trap, starring Hailey Mills—one of my all-time favorite movies.  The central focus of the novel is on the bond that develops between Bette and Avery. What I love most though, is the inclusion of  relatable and authentic characters representative of our world, particularly when it comes to skin color, ethnicity, age, family status, and sexuality.  While other texts I have read mention same-sex parents, or even had a central conflict relating to same-sex parents, none have celebrated it in quite the same way.  It wasn’t something a character was upset about, nor was it a side story. This book made it a focal point and made it beautiful and normal and worth celebrating.  While there were dissenting voices in the text, they were brushed aside, acknowledged, but not given power.  Despite some serious themes, this book was perfectly balanced with loads of lighthearted humor and zany antics.  I think that students will be able to interact with it on different levels, depending on their own experiences and prior knowledge.

Finally, the teaching potential in this book can’t be overlooked.  There are so many opportunities for mini-lessons and excerpts that would make great mentor texts.  I would focus on the text features, organization, context clues, inference, and voice (particularly in relation to word choice and expression).  While I feel that this book would make a fantastic read-aloud, I think that it would be important to discuss or find ways to help your students keep track of who is telling the story, as it does have alternating narration.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wollitzer is a delight.  In fact, reading it has inspired me to pick up other books by these authors.  Be sure to check it out!

Elizabeth Andrews is a guest blogger for Margin Notes. She teaches grade 6, 7, and 8 Language Arts, Art, and Music at Chipman Forest Avenue School in Chipman, New Brunswick. She is self-declared nerd and lover of science fiction and fantasy.

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” ~ Tyrion Lannister (A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin)

 

GUEST WRITER ROXANNE MORNEAULT RECOMMENDS THE MIGHTY HEART OF SUNNY ST. JAMES BY ASHLEY HARRING BLAKE

Jun
16

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The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake tells the story of a twelve year- old girl named Sunny, as she begins her “new life” after a recent heart transplant.

Throughout the novel the reader learns that Sunny is unhappy with many of the decisions she made in her “old” life. (pre-heart transplant).  Secrets were told and friendships were broken, which causes Sunny to create a to-do-list that she wants to accomplish as the new Sunny.   Her list includes doing awesome amazing things that she could never do before including finding a new best friend and finding a boy to kiss.

As Sunny sets out to complete her list, she meets her mother who abandoned her 8 years ago. She feels confusion and has a lack of trust. Although she wants her mother to be a part of her life, her mother’s alcoholism, and new family are barriers to their relationship.

When Sunny meets Quinn, she instantly has a new best friend.  Together they look for boys to kiss so that Sunny can cross this off her list.  Sunny and Quinn’s friendship makes Sunny question which feelings are hers and which belong to her unknown heart donor as she finds herself attracted to Quinn.  In the end, they end up sharing a kiss and discovering that they have feelings for each other.

This novel would be a good read for many students as Sunny is a character that many teens could relate to.  There are themes of health, friendship, adoptive and biological parents, and romantic relationships.  Also, this novel explores the idea of trying to change who you are and whether this is possible.

Roxanne teaches grade 7 and 8 LA at Sunbury West School.

GUEST WRITER ERMA APPLEBY RECOMMENDS I’M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT BY KIMBERLY JONES AND GILLY SEGAL

Jun
02

I'm Not Dying With You TonightWhat would you do if a riot broke out right in front of you? Would you freeze, scream, hide, or run? For Lena and Campbell this situation throws them into a life-changing situation where the only goal is to survive.

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight places the reader into the situation where they may ask themselves, “What would I do?” Lena and Campbell represent two very different worlds. Lena is the high school student who is noted for her sense of style, her devoted boyfriend, and her well planned out future. Campbell, on the other hand, is the “newbie” at McPherson High School, who just wants to get through the school year at a new school.

Narrated in alternating chapters, Lena and Campbell recount the evening that should have been a routine high school football game. Managing the canteen for the event, both characters are expecting an evening of preparing hotdogs, pop, and snacks for the crowd. But, this game is not an ordinary event; it is a match against McPherson’s biggest rival, Jonesville. Tensions within the crowd heighten; customers waiting in line at the canteen become impatient; first a soft drink cup is thrown over the crowd, and then it all breaks loose.

Page after page, Jones and Segal take readers on a journey of survival. When the outbreak of violence expands to blockades throughout the city, both characters share a sense of fear: “…we have to get out of here. This is the most unsafe move I’ve ever made.”

From helicopters to SWAT members, this is certainly a page turner that is written for a variety of readers. Filled with wonderful mentor texts for vivid vocabulary, the authors have created a novel that makes the reader feel as if they are actually on the sidelines of all the action.

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.

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.