Tag Archives: YA Literature

Chris Crutcher

After years of reading the works of dead people (both literally and figuratively—Barthes’ “The Death of the Author,” anyone?), I finally made the incredible discovery that a living author who is accessible to readers can contribute an amazing new dimension to the dialogue about a story, offering a layered experience of reading and understanding.  When I was coordinating a research project on the works of Chris Crutcher last semester, I was thrilled to correspond with him about his work as a therapist and an author and to get his take on recent incidents of “bullycide.”

Next week—January 24-28, 2011—is No Name Calling Week and because Chris Crutcher’s books usually deal with themes of bullying and harassment, I am going to post summaries of some of his books over the next several weeks.

Some info about the author:

Crutcher has been writing for young adults for three decades and is therefore a fixture in the genre of the young adult problem novel.  His writing is witty and sarcastic and particularly appealing to the reluctant adolescent male reader.  He incorporates sports into every one of his stories, delving deeply into the mind of the athlete, and within the entire body of his work, Crutcher features every major high school sport.

Crutcher’s books are frequently challenged or banned primarily for their religious perspective, homosexual content, sexual content, offensive language, or suicide.  Crutcher calls these “human things” and he continually expresses his concern about the ways in which these human things are avoided in conversations with young people.  He writes these elements into his books for the purposes of opening up dialogue.   He believes that talking about stories, talking about a character’s issues is a great way to start conversations with young people.

This video in which Crutcher talks about censorship reveals why he is such an articulate advocate for the the freedom to read.

What is truly awesome about Crutcher is the way that he personally gets involved when his books are challenged.  He writes letters, works with teachers, and even makes personal appearances.  On his own website, Crutcher provides information about challenges to his books as well as his responses.

This article discusses the most recent challenge concerning Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  I’ll put that title up first.  In the meantime, check out this short booklist for other titles that deal with bullying.




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Someone Like You

By Sarah Dessen
Classification: YA Literature
Genre: Realistic fiction, chick lit
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Friendship, mothers and daughters, self-discovery, teen pregnancy

Reader’s Annotation:  In her first serious relationship and with her best friend pregnant, Halley needs to grow up quickly.

Summary:  When Halley’s best friend Scarlett finds herself pregnant in the weeks following her boyfriend’s tragic death, Halley suddenly finds herself needing to be strong for the friend she used to lean on.  And Halley needs to learn her own strength quickly, since her shady boyfriend Macon is pressuring her to have sex with him and encouraging Halley in behavior that strains the already tense relationship she has with her mother.  Balancing family, school and her social life, Halley learns for the first time how tough it can be to reconcile who she is with who she wants to be.

Notes:  The emotional depth of the characters is what makes this simple story shine.  Halley is a very accessible and believable heroine.  Content to be aware of—underage drinking, drug use.
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Scrambled Eggs at Midnight

By Brad Berkley and Heather Harper
:  YA fiction
Genre: Realistic fiction
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Family, friendship, first love

Reader’s Annotation:  Cal and Eliot share an instant connection that soon blossoms into love, but their time together is limited by Cal’s impending cross-country move.

Summary:  Cal is increasingly resentful of her mother’s constant moving.  The two traverse the country so Delores can work as a serving wench and jewelry artisan at Renaissance Faires, taking fifteen-year-old Cal along.  Meanwhile, Eliot longs for the normalcy of his family life, something they seem to have lost as his dad has become more and more engrossed in his business venture—helping overweight people lose weight and find God.  Cal and Eliot meet by chance…or is it destiny that brings them together?  What will happen to their newfound love when Delores is ready to move again?  Or when Eliot’s dad discovers his son is associating with people he doesn’t approve of?

Notes:  This book would make a great beach read for it is a lovely, sweet summer romance story with instantly likable characters.
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The Silver Cup

By Constance Leeds
: YA Literature
Genre: Historical fiction
Age Level: 12+
Subjects:  Crusades, persecution, Christians and Jews, religion, self-discovery

Reader’s Annotation:  In medieval Germany, superstition and prejudice abound, so when young Anna takes an orphaned Jewish girl into her home, she faces open hostility from her entire village.

Summary:  The Silver Cup is set in 1095 in a small village of no more than 60 families.  The village is half a day’s travel from the city of Worms, Germany.  Anna is a hard-working 16-year-old, filled with compassion that shines through her lovely singing voice.  Unfortunately Anna’s father Gunther, still grieving for the loss of his wife, is too often away from home to conduct trading to notice much about his daughter.  Anna’s Aunt Agnes has nothing kind to say about her late sister’s daughter.  To Agnes, Anna is a burden, neither a competent housekeeper nor a worthy match for any of the young men of the village.  So there has been little joy in Anna’s life when a horrific massacre takes place in Worms.  Anna, stunned by the slaughter, rescues Leah, a young Jewish girl, and takes her into her home.  As a result, Anna is completely ostracized by her family and the rest of the village, yet discovers her first friend in Leah.  Remarkably, as she heals from her ordeal, Leah brings laughter and hope to Anna and Gunther’s home, and they each find the strength to face an uncertain future.

Notes:  This historical novel, with its engaging characters, is a great read that illuminates a kind of prejudice that persists in our modern world.
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The Shadow in the North

By Philip Pullman
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Mystery
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Women’s rights, weapons, warfare, technology, spiritualism

Reader’s Annotation:  Sally Lockhart encounters unspeakable evil when she investigates the business ventures of Axel Bellmann.

Summary:  In 1878 London, Sally Lockhart is undeniably unconventional.  Self-employed as a financial consultant, Sally is devastated when a client loses her money after investing on Sally’s advice.  Turning her devastation to recover her client’s money, Sally enlists the help of friends Jim Taylor and Frederick Garland to investigate the enterprises of the elusive businessman Axel Bellmann.  As the friends dig deeper and deeper, encountering illusionists, spiritualists, fraud and murder, they uncover a sinister plan involving weapons technology and find themselves all in mortal danger.

Notes:  This novel is the second book of the Sally Lockhart trilogy.  Books one and three, respectively are The Ruby in the Smoke and The Tiger in the Well.  Sally is 22 years old in this book, so not technically a teen heroine (though she is a teen in Book 1), but it is a very provocative book, treating themes still relevant more than a century after the book’s setting.
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Pretty Little Liars

By Sara Shepard
Classification:  YA Fiction
Genre: Chick lit, mystery
Age Level: 14+
Subjects: Friendship, relationships, high school

Reader’s Annotation:  Hanna, Aria, Emily and Spencer all thought they had moved beyond the dark period in their past when their friend Alison disappeared, but out of the blue someone called “A” enters their lives and refuses to let the girls forget.

Summary:  Three years after Alison’s disappearance her four best friends, Hanna, Aria, Emily, and Spencer, have grown apart yet are still haunted by their memories of the daring stunts and dark secrets they shared with their vibrant friend.  Suddenly, as the girls begin their junior year of high school, they are each contacted by someone called “A.”  Through text messages, notes and emails, the girls find that their secrets have not vanished.  So just who is A?  What does A want from Hanna, Aria, Emily and Spencer?

Notes:  Book one of series.  Content to be aware of—underage drinking, drug use, sexuality.  This book reads like a prequel or a pilot episode, laying the foundation for the rest of the series, so many plot developments are not resolved by the end of this book.
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A Northern Light

By Jennifer Donnelly
Classification: YA fiction
Genre: Historical, mystery
Age Level: 13+
Subjects: Women’s rights, education, children in poverty

Reader’s Annotation:  With the real-life mystery of Grace Brown’s death as a backdrop, this novel tells the fictional story of Mattie Gokey in Uttica, NY in 1906.

Summary:  In upstate New York in 1906, Mattie Gokey is working hard to hold her family together after her mother’s death and her brother’s desertion.  In a constant struggle against poverty, illness and hopelessness, Mattie cares for her three younger sisters, helps her father run their small farm, and studies to earn her high school diploma.  Her greatest dream is to attend Barnard College where she has gained acceptance and a full scholarship, but only Mattie’s good friend Weaver and her teacher Miss Wilcox are excited for her.  Mattie’s father says no, her sisters do not want her to leave, and her intended, Royal, simply does not understand Mattie’s desire for further education.  Then a traveler, a young woman by the name of Grace Brown, dies mysteriously.  As Mattie tries to piece together an understanding of Grace’s life and death, she realizes the importance of her own story.

Notes:  Though Mattie narrates the novel, many women’s stories are presented, offering an unflinching account of the hardships faced by women at this point in history.  These struggles resonate with women today as well, making this novel a thought-provoking read.
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