Caroline the Future Librarian

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

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 Amazon.com.

• 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.

Extras:

Stephen Chbosky at IMDB.com.

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

Riot by Walter Dean Myers (Audiobook)

Title: Riot
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: Listening Library
Date: September 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0307583383

Plot Summary: Claire is the fifteen-year-old daughter of an Irish mother and a black father living in New York City in 1863.  The Civil War is raging, and the battle at Gettysburg just shifted the upper hand in the war back to the Union.  In July, a draft is instituted, which enrages the working class Irish in New York.  Rich citizens are able to buy their way out of the draft, and many of the Irish immigrants (who left Ireland during the Potato Famine) are living in poverty, and don’t want to fight to free slaves that will become competition for available jobs.  Furious groups of rioters roam the city, looting stores and attacking blacks.

As a child from both worlds, the riots cause Claire to think about her identity for the first time.  They also provide a chance for her to prove to her parents that she is no longer a child, and that she can make decisions for herself rather than relying on them for protection.

Critical Evaluation: Myer’s screenplay-like style translates well into the audiobook format.  There is a narrator who describes the action and directs the camera, while a full cast delivers the dialogue – which makes the presentation feel like an old radio drama.  It is easy to visualize the scene when it seems like real conversations are taking place between the characters (as opposed to having one reader doing all the voices).  The audio format also allows for sound effects and background music, an effective way to bring the story to life and draw in the audience.  For instance, the first scene depicts New York City in modern time, the 1950s, the turn of the century, and the 1860s – in each of these time periods, the street scene is described as we travel back in New York’s history.  Each of these vignettes has different background music, from hip hop to jazz, ragtime to fiddle music, which is used to draw us into the time periods that we associate the music with.  Sound effects in later scene, whether the rumbling of an angry mob in the background, or the gunshots of soldiers, brings to life the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 as depicted by Myers.  The audiobook also includes an interview with the author.

Reader’s Annotation: During the Civil War, a draft in New York City incites groups of rioters, primarily recent Irish immigrants, to loot stores and attack  black citizens.  Claire, the daughter of an Irish mother and a black father, finds herself caught between the two sides and struggles to define her identity.

Author Information: Walter Dean Myers is an author of young adult literature, including the New York Times bestseller Monster, which tells the story of a young man on trial for murder.  Myers particularly depicts stories of young African Americans living in Harlem, and addresses topics like gang activity and drug use.  He has won the Coretta Scott King Award for African American authors five times.

Myers was born in West Virginia and was given away to a couple that raised him in Harlem.  He dropped out of high school when he was seventeen to join the army, but remembered the encouragement of one of his teachers to keep writing.  Working at a construction job years later, he began writing about what he describes as “the most difficult period of my own life, the teen years” (Source), beginning his successful career as a novelist.

Myers says of his work, “I hope that the next book, story or poem that I write will be worthy of the time the reader spends with it. If it is then my life is successful. If it’s not, then I’ll try again.” (Source)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Curriculum Ties: American History, Sociology

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss the events and factors that led up to the riots.
2) Does Claire identify more with her Irish mother or black father?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: violence, some death, racism

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the audiobook 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 available for viewing on Amazon.com.

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

Selection: I was looking for a good historical fiction title and chose this one for several reasons – I was familiar with Walter Dean Myers and knew that he was a well-known YA author, I was trying to include more audiobooks and was interested in this one because it was performed by a full-cast, and I thought the issues that were being raised about race and identity gave it more depth.

Extras:

Walter Dean Myers’s website.

Video of Anthony Morgan Choir of New York recording music for the Riot audiobook:

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Audiobooks | | Leave a comment

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)

Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperAudio
Date: September 2006
ISBN-13: 9780061153921
Read by: Neil Gaiman

Plot Summary: Tristran Thorn was raised in the village of Wall, on the border of England and Faerie.  When he sees a star fall on the other side of the wall that creates the boundary between the two worlds, he promises to retrieve it for the most beautiful girl in the village, who has rejected his previous advances.

Tristran is not the only one interested in the fate of the fallen star.  On the other side of the wall, a witch and her two sisters plot to find and capture it for themselves, so they can use it to make themselves youthful again.  And a pair of brothers are vying to be the next Lord of Stormhold after the death of their father.  In order to ascend the throne, they must retrieve the Power of Stormhold – a topaz necklace that will be found with the star.  And in the midst of this there is Yvaine, a beautiful and bright woman who injured her leg when she fell from the heavens…

Critical Evaluation: As audiobooks go, it is always wonderful to find one that helps the story to come alive for the listener.  When the author reads the book, the audience is lucky to be hearing the story as it was intended to be told.  Listening to Neil Gaiman read Stardust was a pleasure, particularly because his British accent lent an air of authenticity to the voices of his characters.

By creating a wall that separates England from the world of Faerie, Gaiman uses a technique that I find makes fantasy stories like this more believable.  I think it is always more effective to have characters from the “real” world enter into the realm of fantasy – imagine if the Pevensies had been raised in Narnia, or if Alice had always been in Wonderland.  He was also able to use this boundary as a significant part of the plot – if Yvaine crossed into Wall, she would be transformed into a lump of rock.

I was familiar with the film adaptation of the Stardust story, but I’d never read the book before listening to this audio version, so I enjoyed noting where the plot had been changed for the movie, and getting deeper into the story.  For instance, there is a scene in the film where a unicorn appears to rescue Yvaine.  In the book, the unicorn is first encountered when it is fighting with a lion over a crown – a much more symbolic introduction.  The plot with the witch, particularly the ending, is quite different in the book (but perhaps not dramatic enough for movie audiences).  Also, Tristran is renamed Tristan in the film.

I was surprised how much more adult the book was than the movie.  There are somewhat descriptive sex scenes, a bit of graphic violence, and one use of the “F” word (otherwise, not much profanity).  I have a copy of the graphic novel version of the story (illustrated and unabridged), and Vertigo Comics recommends it for “mature readers.”  In my opinion, it would be appropriate for high school students, particularly older teens, who are crossing over from young adult fantasy into adult fantasy.  The amount of content is not overwhelming.

Reader’s Annotation: Tristran Thorn ventures into the realm of Faerie to retrieve a fallen star to impress the most beautiful girl in his village.  What he doesn’t know is that the star is actually a woman, and that he is not the only one seeking her.

Author Information: Neil Gaiman is the author of several works of fantasy and science fiction for adults, young adults and children.  He has written short stories, novels, comic books, and screenplays.  Many of his books have been adapted into films, including Stardust and Coraline.  Gaiman has won several awards and honors for his writing, including the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, and the Newbery Medal.  Gaiman grew up in England, and currently lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Gaiman describes his writing behavior and his experience of creating Stardust: “As far as I’m concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning. It’s not writing when you don’t want to, and writing late at night if you want to. I’m a fairly undisciplined writer. I’m the kind of writer who, if a deadline is looming and I’m not there yet, will go off and take a room for a couple of weeks in a cheap hotel somewhere that I don’t know anybody, and do nothing but put my head down and finish the book or the project. It depends on what I’m writing as to how I actually write. Stardust was written in longhand because I wanted to inject the kind of feeling to recreate the kind of sentence structure, emotion, the whole thing that people had in, say, the 1920s. I wanted a slightly archaic voice. Most of all, I didn’t want to do what I know that I do when I’m working on a computer. I work on a computer as if I’m working in clay. You put down the kind of thing that you mean and then you look at that for a few seconds. And then you work into it, you delete this word, you add that word. You change the tense. You decide that isn’t quite what you meant and you use a thesaurus or whatever. There is no discontinuity. There is no break between your first and second draft. There is no first or second draft. What you have is an ongoing, improving first draft. With Stardust, I wanted to write a novel that could have been written, with perhaps the exception of two rather mild sex scenes, one moment of ultraviolence and the word “fuck” written very small, it could have been written in the 1920s.” (Source)

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Track the development of Tristran and Yvaine’s relationship.
2) View the movie version and discuss the differences.
3) Think of other titles that juxtapose real and fantasy worlds.

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sexual content, some graphic violence, an instance of profanity

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the audiobook 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 Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and others available for viewing on Amazon.com.

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

Selection: I chose this audiobook because I was looking for a fantasy written for adults that would also appeal to teenagers.  It was an added bonus to have Gaiman reading his work.

Extras:

Neil Gaiman’s website and blog.

Stardust Film trailer:

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Audiobooks | , | 1 Comment