Tag Archives: novel

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

One of the projects in my high school creative writing class was a photo journalism assignment with a twist:  after taking pictures of an event, we sifted through the images and selected one or two to serve as the inspiration for a short story.  The only caveat was that the story had to be completely removed from the actual event in the photo.

Reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, I kept thinking of that creative writing assignment and wondering if Riggs went through a similar process to come up with the plot and characters for this novel.   From authentic, vintage photographs culled from the personal archives of several special collectors comes an unexpected, well-plotted and highly unusual story peopled with fascinating characters.   This imaginative cross-over novel begs for a sequel.

When he was a child, Jacob believed the bizarre stories his Grandpa Portman told him about horrific monsters and he was enthralled with the strange photographs he shared of the levitating, invisible, and freakishly strong children with whom he’d once lived.  As time passes however, Jacob loses interest in fantastic tales and his family grows stronger in their opinion that Grandpa is losing his mind.  Then a shocking family tragedy occurs that sets Jacob on a path to visit the remote island where his grandfather once lived and uncover the secrets of the children’s home where the stories and photos originated.  Jacob’s discoveries will leave him doubting all he ever knew about his family history and believing in things he never dreamed possible.

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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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Just Listen

By Sarah Dessen
Classification: YA Fiction
Genre: Realistic fiction, Chick lit
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Friendship, family, eating disorders, sexual assault, bullying

Reader’s Annotation:  Annabel has a secret and her unwillingness to share it is costing her the trust of her most-needed friends.

Summary:  Keeping her assault by her best friend’s boyfriend a secret, Annabel Green finds herself ostracized at school.  Annabel is also losing interest in the modeling jobs her mother keeps pressuring her to book.  Unfortunately, Annabel does not feel comfortable speaking up at home because her older sister’s eating disorder has already caused tension in the family.  Annabel slowly becomes friends with Owen Armstrong, whose passion is music, but their relationship is threatened by Annabel’s inability to open up and confide in others.  Annabel continues to hold her tongue and alienate those who would help her until a friend inspires her to share her story.

Notes: Just Listen is not quite as harrowing as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, but compelling and just as honest.
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Eva Underground

By Dandi Daley Mackall
:  YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: living abroad, Poland, communism, freedom of press

Reader’s Annotation:  In Communist Poland in the months leading up to Cardinal Carol Wojtyla’s ascent to the papacy, American teen Eva Lott learns just how privileged her life in the West has been. 

Summary:  Struggling to heal after losing her mother to cancer, Eva Lott finally feels she has something to look forward to—senior year on the varsity swim team and many memories to be made with her best friend Mel and her boyfriend Matt.  Eva’s father has also been struggling to cope with his wife’s passing and he has an idea too:  he and Eva will move to Poland where Professor Lott will participate in an underground movement promoting free press in the communist state.  Livid, Eva spends her initial weeks in Poland contemplating her escape back to her suburban Chicago life.  Then she meets Tomek, a university student working with the movement.  As Eva learns the reasons for the sadness behind Tomek’s smile, she also comes to find incredible beauty in the people of Poland and their struggle to reclaim their own heritage in the wake of war.

Notes:  The unusual setting of this book provides fresh insight into life in a communist state.  
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A Countess Below Stairs

By Eva Ibbotson
: YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Early 20th century, British household servitude, Russian revolution, eugenics

Reader’s Annotation:  Anna Grazinsky is meant to be a Russian countess but her country’s revolution leaves her family penniless and Anna takes a job as a maid in the household of a British lord in an attempt to rebuild her life.

Summary:  The Grazinskys are renowned among Russian aristocracy for their hospitality as well as their wealth, and their young daughter Anna is expected to take her place in society as a shining star.  Then the tsar is assassinated and the now penniless family flees to England where Anna takes a job as a maid in the household of Rupert Frayne, the Earl of Westerholme.  Rupert’s fiancé, Muriel Hardwicke, brings all manner of distress to the household with her philosophies regarding eugenics.  Though Rupert finds himself drawn to Anna, he is bound by his word and financial destitution to the wealthy Muriel.  In a strange post-revolutionary world where a maid may be a countess, the rich have no class, and the aristocracy has no money, the love of two virtual strangers strains to prevail against the odds. 

Notes:  In this story, all of the characters, principal and minor, are richly drawn, engaging the reader from beginning to end.  This book is a worthy read for fans of historical romance.
Flags: 4

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A Company of Swans

By Eva Ibbotson
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Ballet, early 20th century, English society, sexism, South American colonies

Reader’s Annotation:  When Harriett Morton runs away from her oppressive father’s household to join a traveling ballet company bound for the Amazon, she falls in love with enigmatic Rom Verney and refuses to return home even after her father tracks her down.

Summary:  Harriet Morton’s father is Merlin Professor of the Classics at Kings College in Cambridge.  Professor Morton is sexist, frugal and narrow-minded, and he envisions for his daughter a life married to a respectable academic.  He has even selected the perfect candidate:  fussy, unimaginative entomologist Edward Finch-Dutton, whose great ambition is to classify as many species of fleas as he can discover.  Harriet has other ideas for her life.  A gifted ballet dancer, she is offered a position in the corps of a traveling company journeying to the Amazon.  Harriet goes against her father’s wishes and after her debut performance meets British exile Rom Verney.  They quickly fall in love, but their dreams for the future are threatened when Harriet’s father and would-be fiancé track her all the way to South America.

Notes:  This historical romance has all the sophistication and story-telling finesse of adult romance writers Jude Devareaux and Judith McNaught without the steamy (and usually cheesy) love scenes.
Flags: 4

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Anahita’s Woven Riddle

By Meghan Nuttal Sayers
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Personal identity, cultural identity, family, love and marriage, community, responsibility, women’s rights

Reader’s Annotation:  A nomadic weaver in the deserts of Persia, Anahita agrees to marry the man who correctly solves the riddle she has woven into her wedding carpet.

Summary:  In 19th century Persia, women marry according to their families’ wishes.  Content with her weaving and hoping to apprentice herself to her tribe’s dyemaster, Anahita would rather not marry just yet.  Striking an unusual compromise with her father, Farhad, Anahita agrees to weave a riddle into her wedding carpet and marry the man who solves the riddle.  This arrangement causes tension within Anahita’s tribe, first among the conservative families who feel Anahita has over-stepped her place as a female, and then with the entire tribe when Anahita’s would-be husband (the Khan who represents the tribe to the shah’s government) angrily cuts off the tribe’s water supply, forcing a difficult migration for the nomadic shepherds.  In the face of the tribe’s criticism, Anahita nearly quails, but impending battles for migratory rights force Anahita to look beyond her own future to that of the entire community.  As the number of her suitors increases to include, among others, her childhood friend Dariyoush, her schoolteacher Reza, and the mysterious Arash, Anahita realizes not just her childhood but her entire way of life may be coming to an end.

Notes:  Filled with details of desert landscape and nomadic life, this story transports the reader to a seemingly mythical place.  Though there are no flying carpets in Anahita’s world, her story has a magical quality.
Flags: 4

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By Laurie Halse Anderson
Classification: YA Literature
Genre: Issues, realistic fiction
Age Level: 15+
Subjects: High school, family, bullying

Reader’s Annotation:  After years of being bullied, Tyler considers using violence to make himself heard.

Summary:  For years, Tyler has been relentlessly terrorized by Chip Milbury, the son of his father’s boss and the twin brother of his secret crush.  When Tyler gets caught vandalizing his high school, he is sentenced to community service which he fulfills by working for the summer with the school janitorial staff.  Rage has been slowly building within Tyler as a result of Chip’s bullying and his father’s constant pressure.  When Tyler is accused of circulating lewd pictures of his crush, he is tormented at school and threatened with military school by his father.  How will Tyler cope?  The reader goes inside the mind of a young man cornered as he contemplates a pistol and all his options.  Is violence Tyler’s only way out?  Who will be the victims?

Notes: Tyler is an outstanding male protagonist from the author of Speak, offering a fresh, relevant perspective in a post-Columbine world.
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The Midwife’s Apprentice

By Karen Cushman
:  YA Literature
Genre:  Historical fiction
Age Level:  10+
Subjects:  Medieval village life, self-discovery, midwifery

“Just because you don’t know everything don’t mean you know nothing.” ~ from The Midwife’s Apprentice

Summary:  An unnamed girl who can only remember begging and scrounging and being tormented by villagers is taken in by a midwife.  With only a cat for a companion, the girl works hard and slowly learns to observe the midwife in her tasks.  Finally, the girl knows what she wants:  a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in the world.  All are within her reach if only she can overcome her own feelings of worthlessness. 

Notes:  This Newberry Medal Book is a good read for the plucky protagonist as well as for the historical elements and the subject of midwifery.
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