Category Archives: Quick Reads

Resistance, Book I by Carla Jablonski, illustrated by Leland Purvis, color by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, 2010     ISBN: 9781596432918

This graphic novel for middle school readers revolves around two young French children, Paul, and his little sister, Marie, who get involved with the Resistance after hiding their best friend Henri Levy in their family’s wine cellars when the Germans take over his family’s hotel and his parents disappear. When Paul and Marie uncover a decoded message that Henri’s parent’s are alive and in hiding in Paris. The two children convince their mother and the Resistance leaders to let them take Henri to his parents, a trip that turns out to be hair-raising.

Before setting off, Marie decides that since Henri won’t be there for his thirteenth birthday, she and Paul should give him a Bar Mitzvah. None of them quite knows what to do, but they cobble together a very touching ceremony in which Marie calls upon the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Gods, “and any other ones I forgot,” as a blessing over the wine, and Paul takes the role of the father and tells Henri that he must now be responsible and go out and do his part to heal the world.

The use of the very popular graphic novel format provides an appealing and accessible entry into the story, even for reluctant readers. The pace of the action, and the development and maintaining of tension throughout the story keeps the reader involved right until the very end. The minimal text manages to provide a surprising amount of character development, and with the evocative drawings, manages to convey the horrors of the time, but also the daring of many people who found large and small ways to resist the Germans, and the strength and courage that comes of true friendship.

A page at the beginning briefly discusses the Nazi invasion of France, the occupied and unoccupied zones, French anti-Semitism, and the existence of thousands of Resistance fighters, both organized and individual. An author’s note at the end talks more about the Resistance, about collaborators, and the Vichy government. The author challenges the reader to think about what he or she might do in similar circumstances, and points out that history is a living, dynamic thing, with few black and white areas.

How Beautiful the Ordinary edited by Michael Cart

Bowen Press / Harper Teen, 2009      ISBN: 9780061154980

Editor Michael Cart has collected twelve stories about LGBT youth identity in the form of short stories, graphic fiction, and verse, by well-known young-adult, and adult authors including Francesca Lia Block, Gregory Maguire, Jacqueline Woodson, Ariel Schrag, Emma Donoghue, and others.

There is something for everyone in this collection: stories of ghosts and girls trapped in walls serving as metaphors for transgendered teens trapped in the wrong body; handsome highway men and soldiers for a stable boy to lust after; stories of first love; and of first making love. One graphic short story is about two teens who make conflicting wishes when they meet a genie, leaving all three of them tortured; the other is about the San Francisco Dyke March.

While there is some sex, most of it is left to the imagination, good as in Julie Anne Peter’s “First Time,” and unsettling, as in William Sleator’s “Fingernail,” a disturbing story about the sex trade between older western men, and young boys in Thailand. In this particular story, the Thai “boy” is already a young man of twenty and thus technically legal, unlike much of the sex trade that actually takes place there between men and underage boys. But the abusive relationship that he finds himself in is almost equally disturbing.

Some of the stories may actually be of more interest to older readers than to teens: in particular, David Levithan’s “A Word from the Nearly Distant Past,” in which Levithan recounts the experiences of generations past as they dealt with being in the closet, dealing with the AIDS crisis, etc., and exhorts the younger generation to make sure that they live for future generations, as much as for themselves. Emma Donoghue’s “Dear Lang,” is a letter from a lesbian mother who has been denied access to her now sixteen-year-old son by his biological mother, in which she tells the story of how she came to be barred from his life, and how she is just now taking the chance of having another child with a new partner.

One of the best stories is Jacqueline Woodson’s insightful “Trev,” about a transgendered child, and the struggles he has with his family and at school to be who he really is. Trev’s mother both reassures him that he isn’t the reason his father left, and yet whispers her wish to him every night at bedtime, that Trev will wake up “my sugar and spice, and everything nice.”

Recommended for all teens.

Angry Management by Chris Crutcher

Greenwillow Books, 2009     ISBN: 0060502479

Using the plot device of an anger management group for troubled teens, Crutcher presents three novellas that explore the reasons why each member has been referred to the group.

There are a couple of familiar characters from Crutcher’s other novels or stories: Angus Bethune, the fat teen with two sets of gay parents from “Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories,” finds friendship and the surprising possibility of love with Sarah Byrnes, the burned girl from the novel “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes,” as they take a road trip to Reno to find the mother who abandoned her to her violent father shortly after he purposefully burned her hands and face on a wood stove.

In another novella, Crutcher explores the spiraling damage of a hate crime badly handled by a school principal and superintendent. Matt Miller, a straight-laced Christian teen finds himself speaking out on behalf of Marcus James, the only black, and only out gay teen in their rural high school.

Then there is Montana West, the adoptive daughter of the school board president, a rigid and controlling man. With the help of a teacher, Montana decides to challenge the school’s decision not to run her article on medical marijuana in the school paper. Meanwhile, at home, her father has decided to return a little girl to the foster care system, and Montana faces him down on that issue as well.

These novellas are absorbing, engaging reading, and make a good choice for reading aloud, or recommending to reluctant readers. They would serve very well for classroom or book group discussion, and are likely to lead readers to Crutcher’s other books, as well as to other books about teens facing extremely difficult obstacles.

The device of the angry management group is almost extraneous; it either should have been better fleshed out and incorporated into the book, or left out altogether. However, this is a minor detraction from an excellent book that should be in every teen collection.

The Mandrake Broom by Jess Wells

Firebrand Books, 2007     ISBN: 1563411520

Set in Europe in the 14-1500s this is a well-researched, complex, and exciting historical novel about the efforts of a family of women to hold onto, and pass along medical and herbal knowledge in the face of witch hunts. Luccia Alimenti, daughter of a female medical professor at the University of Salerno is entrusted and ordered by her mother to carry out this task, which she does against all odds. Never dull, there is plenty of danger, adventure, and love in this small package.

Published as an adult novel, teens who enjoy historical fiction will find this a worthwhile read.