Margin Notes

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.

GUEST BLOGGER LAUREN SIEBEN RECOMMENDS GHOST BOYS BY JEWELL PARKER RHODES

Dec
17

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.

GUEST WRITER LAURA NOBLE RECOMMENDS LIGHTER THAN MY SHADOW BY KATIE GREEN

Dec
12

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.

Lighter 1
Secondly, we see a monster within Katie’s actual body – her eating disorder that has come alive within her.

Lighter 2.png

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.

GUEST BLOGGER MEGAN YOUNG-JONES RECOMMENDS ON THE COME UP BY ANGIE THOMAS

Dec
10

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.

 

 

CAITLIN FOOTE RECOMMENDS NONE OF THE ABOVE BY I.W.GREGORIO

Dec
05

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.