Tag Archives: characters

Chinese Handcuffs

by Chris Crutcher, 1989

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  Suicide, high school sports, friendship, family

Reader’s Annotation:  Dillon Hemingway’s world is changed forever when he witnesses his brother’s suicide.

Main Characters:  Dillon Hemingway, a triathlete who aspires to be an Ironman
Preston Hemingway, Dillon’s brother who has committed suicide
Stacy Ryder, Preston’s girlfriend, friend of Dillon’s
Caulder Hemingway, Dillon & Preston’s father
Jen Lawless (aka J. Maddy), star basketball player, friend of Dillon’s
T.B. Martin, Jen’s stepfather
Coach Kathy Sherman, women’s basketball coach, teacher & mentor to Dillon

Summary:  Only a short while ago, Dillon Hemingway was dreaming of competing in a triathlon.  Now, in the aftermath of his brother’s suicide, Dillon is coping with his own grief and confusion, his parents’ separation, and his friends’ secrets.  Dillon begins writing letters to his brother Preston as a way of sorting out his feelings and he relies on the steady support of Coach Kathy Sherman.  As more and more secrets are revealed, Dillon is faced with difficult decisions involving safety, trust and the law.  Between a sinister biker gang and an unscrupulous lawyer, Dillon must think clearly and act fast to help those he cares about.

Controversial content:  violence, sexual abuse, killing of an animal, gang rape

Also by Chris Crutcher:  The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Running Loose, Staying Fat for Sarah Brynes, Stotan!

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The Crazy Horse Electric Game

by Chris Crutcher, 1987

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  accident & aftermath, disappointment, friendship, family

Reader’s annotation:  When a near-drowning leaves him crippled, star athlete Willie Weaver is forced to confront a life much different from the one he thought he was supposed to live.

Main characters:  Willie Weaver—a gifted athlete and the formidable pitcher on his town’s baseball team
Big Will—Willie’s father who is deeply proud of his athletic son and who has always related to Willie through sports
Sandy Weaver—Willie’s mother who blames herself for the loss of baby Missy to SIDS
Johnny Rivers—Willie’s best friend who enjoys telling longwinded jokes that end in cheesy puns
Jenny Blackburn—Willie’s longtime best friend and new girlfriend, a star athlete in her own right who particularly excels in basketball

Summary: A near-drowning leaves star athlete Willie Weaver damaged, a devastating blow for the Weaver family who never healed from the death of baby Missy.  Willie is bewildered by his sudden handicap.  With his best friend/girlfriend drifting away and his father increasingly frustrated, Willie senses the need for a new environment in which he can sort out his new identity.  He boards a bus and ends up in Oakland where he finds an unlikely savior in a pimp named Lacey who sets Willie up at a school offering “One More Last Chance.” Can Willie, and the family and friends he’s left behind, ever recover from the tragedy?

Controversial Content: Racism

Also by Chris Crutcher:  Running Loose, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Stotan!

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Stotan!

by Chris Crutcher, 1986

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  Friendship, teams, high school

Reader’s annotation:  Four high school swimmers volunteer for a grueling week of training in preparation for their final season as a team.

Main characters:  Walter Dupree (narrator), has older parents who are not much involved in his life
Nortie Wheeler, works with young kids at a daycare
Jeff Hawkins, formerly with the Marine reserves
Lionel “Lion” Serbousek, an orphan who lives alone in a run-down apartment
Max Il Song, swim coach, Korean
Elaine, also a swimmer, friend of the team
Devnee, Walker’s girlfriend
Marty O’Brian, a schoolmate who promotes a local newsletter called “Aryan Press”
Gail Stevens, school administrator

Summary:  Frost High School swimming coach Max Il Song devises a challenge for his four man team:  Stotan Week, in which each athlete will strive to become a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan.  Together, best friends and teammates Walker, Nortie, Jeff and Lion push themselves past their known limits and find not only a higher level of athletic performance but also a deeper understanding of life and friendship.

Controversial content:  Racism, violence, child abuse.

Also by Chris Crutcher:  Running Loose, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

 

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Running Loose

by Chris Crutcher, 1983

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic/Issues

Age Level:  14+

Subjects:  Sportsmanship, love, death and friendship

Reader’s annotation:  In this coming of age story set in a small Idaho town, Louie Banks learns how lives are set by fleeting moments and seemingly simple decisions.

Main characters: Louie Banks, a football player

Carter, another football player, Louie’s best friend & role model

Coach Lednecky, the football coach who believes in winning no matter the cost

Boomer Cowans, a fellow football player who has no problem playing dirty

Becky Sanders, Louie’s long-time crush

Summary: Louie is a student athlete at Trout High School, a small town school with a student body of less than 125 students.  He is devoted to football until Coach Lednecky asks the team to carry out an illegal move that will injure Washington, the rival’s team best player who happens to be African American.  When Boomer follows through with the coach’s orders, Louie doesn’t hesitate to unmask Coach Lednecky, challenging the older man’s leadership and hinting at the deeper issue of racism.  But Louie’s concerns fall on deaf ears and win him no love with the rest of the team.  Convinced he did the right thing, Louie accepts the consequences of his actions.  In fact, when he’s kicked off the team, Louie manages just fine without football because he has Becky, a beautiful cheerleader and loyal friend, and a part-time job cleaning up at the Buckhorn, a local bar.  But when Louie’s life takes a tragic turn he must confront the reality that his actions have effects that he could never anticipate.

Controversial content: Underage drinking, sexuality, verbal and physical violence, strong language

Also by Chris Crutcher:  Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

by Chris Crutcher, 1993

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre: Realistic/Issues

Age Level: 13+

Subjects:  Competition/High school sports, friendship, high school, freedom of speech/expression

Reader’s Annotation:  When his best friend suddenly stops speaking, Eric “Moby” Calhoune knows something terrible is going on and he is determined to help her through it.

Main characters:    Eric Calhoune, narrator, earned the nickname “Moby” because prior to joining the swim team he was overweight
Sarah Byrnes, terribly scarred from a childhood accident, Eric’s best friend, suddenly stops speaking and is a patient at the hospital
Sandy Calhoune, Eric’s mother who works as a writer for the local newspaper
Carver Middleton, Sandy’s boyfriend
Virgil Byrnes, Sarah’s sinister, overbearing father
Mr. Mautz, school administrator
Ms. Lemry, English teacher and swim coach
Dale Thornton, middle school bully with whom Sarah Byrnes forged a tentative friendship
Steve Ellerby, a fellow swimmer and friend of Eric’s, father is a preacher
Mark Brittan, a swimmer and model student, Christian
Jody Mueller, Mark’s girlfriend who breaks things off to pursue Eric

Summary:  Sarah Byrnes refuses to speak but her best friend Eric Calhoune still knows how to communicate with her.  To get to the bottom of the mystery that has become his friend, Eric seeks the insight of former school bully Dale Thornton and discovers a shocking secret.  Meanwhile, during Ms. Lemry’s Contemporary American Thought class, yet more secrets are uncovered, this time about Eric’s swimming rival, the seemingly perfect Mark Brittan.  As the revelations pile up, the time to take action draws near, but with an unsympathetic school administrator and two different but equally determined fathers standing in the way, can anyone get the help they need?

Controversial content:  Abortion, suicide, child abuse, fundamentalism

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Speech Team Memories & Bitter Melon

The first place trophy that came as such a surprise. (No, it doesn't live on my bookshelf anymore. I dug it out of a box in the garage specifically so I could post this photo.)

Many of my best memories of high school come from experiences on speech team.  There are the crystal clear memories:  scanning elimination lists, late-night dinners at Denny’s, my shock at winning my first ever tournament, and an incident mid-round involving my best friend/duo interpretation partner and a pair of pantyhose.  There are also the fuzzier images:  the judge with the pig tie, the record store near UC Berkley, the always cold classrooms.

Some years later, when I was a teacher, I chaperoned the speech team on a weekend invitational tournament.  That experience was not nearly as fun but my respect and admiration for my coach and moderator increased exponentially (Kristi Balleweg and Eileen DeBruno are forever my heroes!).

All these memories came back to me in a rush when I read Bitter Melon by Cara Chow.  The main character, Frances Ching, attends an all-girls prep school and joins the speech team at her teacher’s encouragement.  A former “speechie” herself, the author does an excellent job describing how it feels to enter an unfamiliar classroom, select a seat, size up the judge, psych out the competition.  Chow gets the roller coaster of nervousness and confidence just right.   And the trophy!  The brassy, hollow treasure that means both everything and nothing.

But Bitter Melon offers up more than just a glimpse into the geeky world of high school speech and debate.  The novel is as good as any Amy Tan book for its exploration of mother/daughter relationships and themes of loyalty to self and family.

Because the story is set in the 1989-1990 school year, there’s no internet or texting for these teens.  Frances and her peers pass notes on paper and share corded wall phones with their parents.  They also use AquaNet and the President Bush they refer to isn’t W.  The only period detail Chow is missing is the DJ spinning “My Prerogative” or “Straight Up” at one of the dances.  This is a great read for present day teens or for a child of the 80s.  Looking forward to more from this debut author!

Bitter Melon 

By Cara Chow

EgmontUSA, 2010

Classification:  YA Fiction

Genre:  Realistic

Age Level:   12+

Subjects: Mothers & daughters, Chinese Americans, high school, academics, speech & debate

Characters:

Fei Ting “Frances” Ching—hard-working, loyal daughter; a self-conscious loner

Gracie—a strict Chinese mom who wants her daughter to succeed in life

Theresa—Frances’ classmate, also Chinese

Nellie—Theresa’s mom and Gracie’s best friend

Ms. Taylor—a young, new teacher at Frances & Theresa’s school

Derek Collins—a boy Frances first meets at an SAT prep class who later turns out to be her biggest competition at speech tournaments

Summary:  Gracie Ching wants her only daughter, Frances, to attend UC Berkley and then go on to medical school.  Gracie works long hours at a low-paying job to afford tuition at a private girls school and she has Frances’ entire academic future planned out.  Now in her senior year, Frances has grown tired of her mother’s unrelenting pressure so when she accidentally enrolls in speech instead of AP Calculus, she doesn’t bother to change classes.  In fact, Frances kind of likes speech.  And her teacher, Ms. Taylor assures her she’s good at it.  At Ms. Taylor’s encouragement and with help on the homefront from fellow overachiever Theresa, Frances begins to find her own voice.  But will Gracie listen to what her daughter has to say?

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