Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes


Title: Speak
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
Date: September 2005
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 93 minutes
UPC: 758445115925

Plot Summary: Melinda Sordino enters her freshmen year of high school shunned by her classmates who label her a “squealer” for calling the police to a house party over the summer.  The truth, which she can’t come to terms with, and hasn’t told anyone, is that she was raped at the party by a popular upperclassman.  Melinda spends the year as a selective mute, unable to share the truth about what happened, and unable to connect with her old friends or her parents, who are occupied with work (and her father’s unemployment) and are clueless about reaching out to their daughter.

Melinda finds refuge in her art class, where she is assigned to study the subject of trees in her projects through the year.  Although she doesn’t confide in her teacher, she uses her assignment as a form of expression, an outlet she desperately needs.  She also converts an unused janitor’s closet into a safe haven where she can retreat during breaks.  As the school year comes to an end, she finally finds the courage to speak out about her experience.

Critical Evaluation: This 2004 film, based on Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 novel of the same name, features a very young, pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart as the lead, who has such a remarkable performance that it’s hard to believe that she was only 13-years-old when she filmed this role.  The message of the film is very clear – both that it is important to speak out about these kinds of experiences (in addition to rape, the message can extend to abusive relationships and bullying), and also that it is difficult for victims to do so.  The film, directed by Jessica Sharzer, handles the heavy topic with care, revealing the truth about Melinda’s experience in an effective series of flashbacks, and also providing lighter moments (for instance, the Sordino family’s attempt at hastily defrosting their Thanksgiving turkey leads to her father absurdly trying to break it into pieces with an ax).  The original novel is considered an important contribution to the YA canon (it was named the School Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year in 1999), and the film does it justice.

Annotation: Melinda Sordino’s enters her freshmen year of high school shunned by her classmates, who don’t understand that she called the cops on a house party over the summer because she was raped.

About the Director: Jessica Sharzer made her directorial feature debut with Speak, based on the acclaimed best-selling novel by Laurie Halse Anderson. The film premiered at Sundance in 2004 and was later simulcast on Lifetime and Showtime in an unprecedented network event. Speak was nominated for both a Writers Guild Award and a Directors Guild Award in 2005. Sharzer has written screenplays for Universal, Showtime, HBO Films, and Endgame Entertainment. In television, she wrote a one-hour drama pilot for FOX with Ashton Kutcher’s company Katalyst and a Nashville-set drama pilot for CBS. She has also directed Showtime’s acclaimed drama The L Word.

Currently, Ms. Sharzer is completing Timber, based on the true story of activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari, for director Michael Apted. She is also attached to direct Cruddy, based on Lynda Barry’s cult novel, with Betty Thomas producing and Thomas Haden Church to star. Sharzer holds an MA in Russian Literature from Berkeley and an MFA in Film & Television from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Her thesis film The Wormhole won various grants and awards including the Student Academy Award in 2002.

Jessica Sharzer was awarded a Production grant at NYU in 2001 for The Wormhole. (Source)

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Issues

Curriculum Ties: Could be viewed in any course that has discussions about depression, rape, bullying, etc. (examples include health and psychology classes).

Discussion Ideas:
1) What made it so hard for Melinda to talk about what happened?
2) Did her family and friends have a responsibility to find out what was wrong?
3) If you were in a similar situation, would you talk about it?  What might be some reasons that you wouldn’t?
4) Think of examples of people that it would be safe to tell (for example – parents, teacher, guidance counselor, etc.)

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: rape, depression, bullying, alcohol

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the film and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the film from teens who have viewed it.

Selection: I read and loved the novel years ago, and was interested in viewing the movie version.


Speak at

“Speaking Out” – Laurie Halse Anderson on writing Speak (The ALAN Review)

Trailer for “Speak”:


April 26, 2010 Posted by | Movies | , | 1 Comment

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date: February 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0385736824

Plot Summary: Mary has never known anything but the fenced-in village where she grew up, where guards protect them from the Unconsecrated that dwell in the surrounding forest, but when she was a child her mother used to tell her about the ocean, stories passed down from her many-greats-grandmother.  A vast expanse of water where she can be safe from the Unconsecrated seems unbelievable to Mary, especially with her father missing and likely turned.  When her mother becomes Infected, her brother Jed, a Guardian, can’t help but blame Mary for not protecting their mother, so she is sent to stay with the Sisterhood in the Cathedral, where she learns that an Outsider has entered the village, a girl named Gabrielle.  When a new, fast Unconsecrated appears outside their fences, Mary knows that Gabrielle has been turned, and when the village is breached she sets out with Jed and his pregnant wife, Beth, her best friend, Cassandra, a young boy named Jacob, and brothers Travis and Harry, one of whom she loves and the other she is promised to wed, along paths through the forest that she knows must lead to other safe villages, and perhaps even to the ocean.

Critical Evaluation: With the current wave of interest in zombie books and films, Ryan set out to tell a story that few others had – not of the zombie apocalypse, but of life generations and generations after The Return, as she calls it.  The first in a projected trilogy (the sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves, has just been released in hardcover), The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set in a very grim society, ruled by the devote Sisterhood.  When their very existence is so fragile, even the teenagers must act like adults, so it is normal for Mary to think about her upcoming marriage to Harry, which is called the Binding.  She is a character that thinks things through (the first-person narration of the book keeps the reader privy to her thoughts) and when her life becomes endangered, she takes action to protect herself and those she loves.  The heavy use of vernacular in the novel (terms like Unconsecrated, Guardians, Binding) are not difficult to understand but serve continually remind the reader that this world is unlike our own.  The ending doesn’t answer all of our questions, leaving it for the next two books to address.  Forest was selected as a Best Book for Young Adults by YALSA.

Reader’s Annotation: Mary’s life in the village has always been safe, with the Unconsecrated on the other side of a guarded fence, but when the village is invaded she must set out with her brother and friends to seek out other safe havens, and possibly even the ocean she has always dreamed of seeing.

Author Information: A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Carrie Ryan graduated from Williams College and Duke University School of Law and spent a few years as a litigator before quitting to write full time.  After a failed attempt to break into the chick lit market, her fiancé encouraged her to write what she loved and she began writing a young adult novel about zombies.

When asked where she gets her inspiration, Ryan says, “Anything and everything. The first line of The Forest of Hands and Teeth came to me after I read an article about the possibility of overfishing tuna. The issue of collective memory came to me when I realized how my memories of my grandmother have been slipping away and how I can’t remember the details of the stories she used to tell over and over again.” (Source)

Genre: Horror

Curriculum Ties: None

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Are the Sisterhood ultimately successful at protecting the village or are they responsible for the invasion?
2) Compare Mary’s relationships with Travis and Harry.
3) Why do you think Travis chooses to stay with Cass if he reciprocates Mary’s love?
4) How does the ocean that Mary dreams of compare to the reality?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: some gruesome details, violence, mild sexuality

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: This book was suggested to me months ago by a coworker when it was still only available in hardcover.  Now that it has been released in paperback, it is a young adult bestseller in our bookstore.


Carrie Ryan’s website and blog.

Book Trailer for The Forest of Hands and Teeth:

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Books | | 2 Comments

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Audiobook)

Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date: January 2006
ISBN-13: 9781419387241

Plot Summary: In a series of letters to an unknown recipient, a teenager named Charlie describes the events that take place in his first year of high school.  After the suicide of his best friend, Michael, Charlie starts high school without a group of friends.  After meeting Patrick in his shop class, Charlie starts hanging out with a group of seniors that include Patrick’s step-sister Sam, on whom Charlie develops a crush.  They draw him into their activities, including a weekly performance of The Rocky Horror Show.

Charlie tends to be introverted and thoughtful, and his letters tend to be his observations about his experiences – thus his status as a “wallflower.”  By the end of the story, his friends, most of whom are heading off to college, encourage him to become more actively involved in life.  Charlie also becomes aware of a repressed memory that profoundly affects him.  This controversial novel addresses topics such as drugs, alcohol, homosexuality, abortion and rape.

Critical Evaluation: Although it might not seem like a book about a high school freshman would appeal to an older teen audience, sixteen-year-old Charlie is confronted with mature situations and controversial issues that interest an older age group than the protagonist.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, published by MTV in 1999, has remained a popular coming-of-age novel for the past decade (and one of the most frequently challenged) – while specific examples of popular music might sound dated (especially considering that the setting is the early 1990s, so it was dated even at the time of publication), the issues it addresses are timeless and quintessentially adolescent.

The audiobook production that I listened to was narrated by Johnny Heller, an award-winning narrator, who didn’t sound convincingly teenaged but did a passable job.  I know that this title is very popular among teenagers (I work in a bookstore and it is requested all the time), but I wasn’t very impressed by it.  Charlie is reported to be some kind of genius, as evidenced by his relationship with English teacher, Bill, who assigns him additional books to read and review, including The Catcher in the Rye and On the Road, but his descriptions of events are so simplistic that he sounds more like a remedial student.  I wasn’t inspired, but then again, I don’t like The Catcher in the Rye, so maybe I’m not the intended audience.

Reader’s Annotation: During his first year of high school, Charlie, who tends to be a wallflower and observe life rather than participate, becomes friends with a group of seniors who broaden his perspective by introducing him to sex, drugs and rock and roll.  The influence of their friendship helps him cope with his realization of a repressed memory from his childhood.

Author Information: Stephen Chbosky grew up in Pennsylvania, and was influenced by the books of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was in high school.  After graduating in 1988, he met Stewart Stern, screenwriter of Rebel Without a Cause, who became his mentor.  Chbosky went on to study screenwriting at the University of Southern California, and now lives in Los Angeles.  In addition to his popular book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is semi-autobiographical, Chbosky wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film Rent, based on the Broadway musical.

Of his inspiration for beginning the novel, Chbosky explained in an interview, “I was writing a very different type of book then, and in it, the narrator says, “I guess that’s just one of the perks of being a wallflower.” I wrote that line. And stopped. And I realized that somewhere in that title—the perks of being a wallflower – was the kid I was really trying to find. I stopped writing the book I was working on. And five years later, I wrote Perks.” (Source)

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Could be compared with other coming-of-age novels, such as The Catcher in the Rye.

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Are Patrick and his friends a positive or negative influence on Charlie?
2) Is it better to be a wallflower and observe life or to be more active?  Does it matter?
3) Compare Charlie’s relationships with his friends to his family relationships, particularly his siblings.
4) To what extent does the realization of his repressed memory affect Charlie?

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sex, drugs and alcohol, homosexuality, rape, abortion, incest

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I was familiar with the title as a popular teen read, and was particularly interested because my high school aged coworker actually hated it.  I’m inclined to agree with her, but I can understand it’s appeal and would definitely include it in a collection for young adults.


Stephen Chbosky at

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Audiobooks | | Leave a comment

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date: September 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0439023481

Plot Summary: In a futuristic version of North America called Panem, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in the poverty-striken District 12 (specifically in The Seam, which used to be called Appalachia), where she and her best friend Gale illegally hunt in the forest to provide for their families.  When the annual reaping occurs, a drawing to determine who will participate in the Hunger Games, her younger sister, Prim, is selected and Katniss intervenes to volunteer as the female tribute.  Along with the male tribute, Peeta, and their drunken mentor, Haymitch, Katniss travels to the Capitol to take place in the televised combat-based survival “game” which leaves one living victor.  Katniss finds herself playing for the cameras and giving the audience what they want, a survival tactic that leads to acting out a doomed love story with Peeta.  Does she have a chance of surviving the games?  How does she really feel about Peeta?  And most importantly, does she have a chance to retaliate against the Capitol that subjugates the Districts by killing their children in these games?

Critical Evaluation: The Hunger Games is a terrific example of excellent young adult literature that has a wide appeal, even to an adult audience.  The first installment in a proposed trilogy (the sequel, Catching Fire, is already released and the final book, Mockingjay, comes out in August 2010), Suzanne Collin’s dystopian vision of a desolate North America has all the ingredients of a compelling story – an engaging and resourceful narrator, an oppressive government, a life-and-death situation, and even a love story for the tender romantics.  While the violence between the young adversaries is disturbing, Collins makes it clear that the real evil is the influence of the corrupt Capitol that facilitates the mandatory games.

This book raises some ethical questions that aren’t clearly answered, requiring the reader to contemplate their beliefs.  Are the tributes wrong for murdering each other, and should they be held accountable?  Is it fair for Katniss to exaggerate her feelings for Peeta if his are genuine?  The Hunger Games leaves a mark on readers and gets them excited for the following installments.

Reader’s Annotation: In a post-apocalyptic version of North America, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to participate in the Hunger Games in order to protect her younger sister from dying in the combat-based survival game.  Does she have a chance of surviving, and can she strike back against the Capitol that enforces these televised games of mortal combat?

Author Information: Suzanne Collins was born on November 21, 1947.  Her father was an air force officer, which had an influence on her future writing, because he wanted his children to understand the impact of battle and its consequences.  Collins received her M.F.A. from New York University in Dramatic Writing and went on to become a writer for children’s television shows.  She worked on several Nickelodeon shows in the 90s, including Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo, before meeting the children’s author James Proimos, who encouraged her to try writing books.  She currently lives in Connecticut with her family, which consists of her husband, Cap, their daughter and son, and three feral cats that they’ve adopted from their backyard.

Collins was inspired to write The Hunger Games when she was channel-surfing between war coverage and a reality TV show, of which she says, “I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way.”  She was also influenced by the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, in which Athens requires tributes of 14 young people from Crete to be sent in the monster’s labyrinth. (Source)

Genre: Science Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Could be used in a unit on Greek mythology to compare with the story of Theseus.

Booktalking Ideas:
1) What factors helped Katniss survive the games?
2) Contrast her relationships between Gale and Peeta.
3) If you haven’t read Catching Fire, try to predict what happens next.  What are the consequences of standing against the Capitol?
4) Try to think of historical examples that contrast great wealth and great poverty within a society.

Interest Age: 11 and older.

Challenge Issues: violence and death, sleeping with the opposite gender (not in a sexual context)

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and others available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: This book was required reading for this course, but I almost definitely would have chosen it because of its popularity.  It was suggested to me as a favorite from another SLIS student who enjoys young adult literature.


Suzanne Collins website.

Link to Amazon Book Video of The Hunger Games.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | Books | | 1 Comment