Margin Notes

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.

GUEST WRITER BEN DOWLING RECOMMENDS FRANKLY IN LOVE BY DAVID YOON

Jan
21

Frankly in Love

In 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 – 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 brings to light 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 lots of current Y.A novels currently tackling these complex issues at the moment. 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. 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 discussion of the complex issues regarding race. It is these 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 AMY BOURGAIZE RECOMMENDS SADIE BY COURTNEY SUMMERS

Jan
14

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.

GUEST WRITER WILL MILNER RECOMMENDS PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE BY ELLEN HOPKINS

Dec
19

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.