Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Mod. 6)

does my head look big in this

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Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big In This. Orchard Books: New York, 2005. ISBN 9780439919470

Plot Summary:

Amal is an Australian-Palestinian girl living in the suburb of Melbourne. She has decided to make the most important decision of her life: to wear the hijab full time. Attending a snobby prep school, Amal is uncertain of what lies ahead. The story takes place after 9/11 when tension between Muslims and the rest of the world are high. Can Amal navigate the rough waters of school, friends, family, and faith? Will her strength in her beliefs be resolute and unshakeable when she’s faced with adversity because of her decision?

Critical Analysis:

This was a wonderful book. I really enjoyed it. The story about this young woman is so compelling. The very informal and conversational tone to the book pulls you into it, and into the character’s mind.

Amal has made the decision to wear the hijab full time. I’m really glad I read this book, because it’s important to understand that for most women, wearing the hijab, or any other form of head covering by any other religion, is a personal decision, and it’s usually one that comes with a lot of thought and care.

“I’m terrified. But at the same time I feel like my passion and conviction in Islam are busting inside me and I want to prove to myself that i”m strong enough to wear a badge of my faith.” (pg. 7)

“The veil, dear.” Her voice is annoyingly phony. “So you’ve been made to wear it from today?”
“Nobody has made me wear it, Mrs. Walsh. It’s my decision.” I shift in the chair, my butt numb from the hard wood.
“Your decision to cover yourself up?” she asks with the faintest hint of skepticism.
I look at her with a bewildered expression. “Yes, it was my decision.” (pg. 39)

This book does a wonderful job of showing Amal as a “normal” girl, while still addressing some of the cultural issues that some Muslims face. Her friend, Leila, for example, is pressured by her mother to get married, even though she is still a teen. This has nothing to do with religion dictation, but rather cultural or societal expectations.

“It depends on what you mean by religious,” Leila answers. “Mom’s following her own customs more than Islam. She doesn’t really have an in-depth understanding about the religion, you know? Whereas my relatives in Turkey are all educated about Islam. The girls pray and some of them wear the veil and they go to university and work, because they know that it’s their right to do that in Islam. Mom’s more into following social customs.” (Pg. 151-152)

This book takes place 1 year after 9/11 and does a great job of showing racism of others in the heat of the anti-Muslim hysteria and how Muslims themselves felt, watching their religion being warped and twisted by people who don’t even understand the religion.

“Terrorists bombed a nightclub in Bali on Saturday. It’s horrific.”
It’s like a sandpit in my throat.
Ms. Walsh’s voice booms over us: “I know how distressed you’ll all be about the weekend bombings in Bali. please make sure to talk to your teachers and the school counselor if you need to. I’m sure you’ll all have the chance to share your feeling and emotions in class.”
It’s agonizing. I can’t feel only grief. Or horror. Or anger. It’s too mixed up. Incongruous, disjointed, and completely insane thoughts flash through my mind. Mom and Dad wanting to book a trip there for their anniversary. What song was playing when the bomb went off? Were there honeymooners? Oh my God, how could honeymooners be killed like that? Did the bombers watch as their inferno turned human life into carcasses? Was I going to be incriminated for their crimes? Was I going to be allowed to share in my country’s mourning or would I be blamed? ” (pg. 249-250)

Amal learns a lot about herself and her faith in this compelling novel. I highly recommend it!


Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal:

“Australian 11th-grader Amal is smart, funny, outspoken, a good student, and a loyal friend. She is also a devout Muslim who decides to wear the hijab, or head covering, full-time. The story tells of her emotional and spiritual journey as she copes with a mad crush on a boy, befriends an elderly Greek neighbor, and tries to help a friend who aspires to be a lawyer but whose well-intentioned mother is trying to force her to leave school and get married. Amal is also battling the misconceptions of non-Muslims about her religion and culture. While the novel deals with a number of serious issues, it is extremely funny and entertaining, and never preachy or forced. The details of Amal’s family and social life are spot-on, and the book is wonderful at showing the diversity within Muslim communities and in explaining why so many women choose to wear the hijab. Amal is an appealing and believable character. She trades verbal jibes with another girl, she is impetuous and even arrogant at times, and she makes some serious errors of judgment. And by the end of the story, she and readers come to realize that ‘Putting on the hijab isn’t the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning of it.'”

From Booklist:

“Like the author of this breakthrough debut novel, Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian “whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens.” At 16, she loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab, to be strong enough to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even if she confronts insults from some at her snotty prep school, and she is refused a part-time job in the food court (she is “not hygienic”). Her open-minded observant physician parents support her and so do her friends, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular. Her favorite teacher finds her a private space to pray. The first-person present-tense narrative is hilarious about the diversity, and sometimes heartbreaking. For her uncle who wants to assimilate, “foreign” is the f-word, and his overdone Aussie slang and flag-waving is a total embarrassment. On the other hand, her friend Leila nearly breaks down when her ignorant Turkish mom wants only to marry her daughter off (“Why study?”) and does not know that it is Leila’s Islamic duty “to seek knowledge, to gain an education.” Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen’s conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere. Rochman, Hazel –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.”

From Kirkus Review:

“Determined to prove she’s strong enough to ‘wear a badge of my faith,’ Amal faces ostracism and ridicule as she dons her hijab with both good humor and trepidation. . . . Abdel-Fattah’s fine first novel offers a world of insight to post-9/11 readers.”


Books by Fattah:

Ten Things I Hate About Me ISBN: 9780439943710

Where the Streets Had a Name ISBN: 9780330424202

When Michael Met Mina ISBN: 9781743534977

Books Written by Muslim Women:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ISBN: 9780375714832

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai ISBN:  9780316322409

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi ISBN: 9780062085481

Discussion Topic: What other faiths use outward symbols of religion and a commitment made to God? Do these other faiths differ from Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab?



Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alre Saenze (Mod. 6)


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Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division: New York, 2012. ISBN 9781442408920

Plot Summary: 

Dante and Ari can’t be any more different than they already are. But when the boys meet, they bond, and together, they redefine each others’s worlds, learning that there is more to the universe than themselves. A powerful coming of age novel.

Critical Analysis:

This book got me right from the start.

“For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.” (pg. 2)

In terms of technical writing, it was very beautiful and well done. The pace is slow, but not slow enough to but you off, but to make you understand and get to know Ari and Dante, our main characters. The character arcs are really well developed. The book is about two boys trying to figure themselves out. They both show a decent amount of growth from beginning to end.

The book does a good job of addressing homosexuality. For Dante, it’s pretty easy for him to come to terms with. Not so much for Aristotle. In fact, it’s his parents that really clue him into it. That’s another thing I love about this book, the parents are so supportive. In the LGBTQ+ community, it is uncommon (among the people I know) to have supportive parents. The scene where Aristotle is talking with his mom and dad makes an impact.

“If you keep running, it will kill you.”
“What, Dad?”
“You and Dante.”
“Me and Dante?” I looked at my mother. Then looked at my father.
“Dante’s in love with you,” he said. “That’s obvious enough. He doesn’t hide that from himself.” (Pg. 348)

This conversation was wonderful. For Ari to have parents who want to help him open up to himself makes his journey that much easier. We see the doubt that Ari has and the struggle he’s having with coming to terms with his feelings. This self doubt really makes you feel for him. Even with parents telling him it’s okay to be gay, he’s still struggling with what’s proper or traditionally done.

Another thing this book does is showing that masculinity doesn’t mean not showing no emotion. In fact, the men in this book seem to be more emotional than the women portrayed. For example, Ileana. She is very emotionally detached when it comes to Ari, whereas later in the book, we see Ari and his dad having a real conversation where his dad starts crying with no shame. It’s also more profoundly shown in Dante’s willingness to be completely honest with his feelings. Toxic masculinity is one thing that really feeds homophobia. I think the book did a good job of showing positive masculinity.

I also love that both main characters were Latino.



Review Excerpts:

From Kirkus Review:

“Meticulous pacing and finely nuanced characters underpin the author’s gift for affecting prose that illuminates the struggles within relationships.”

From Booklist:

“Sáenz writes toward the end of the novel that “to be careful with people and words was a rare and beautiful thing.” And that’s exactly what Sáenz does—he treats his characters carefully, giving them space and time to find their place in the world, and to find each other…those struggling with their own sexuality may find it to be a thought-provoking read.”

From The Horn Book:

“Ari’s first-person narrative—poetic, philosophical, honest—skillfully develops the relationship between the two boys from friendship to romance.”


Other books by Benjamin Alire Saenz:

The Inexplicable Logic of  My Life ISBN 9780544586505

Last Night I Sang to the Monster ISBN 9781933693583

He Forgot to Say Goodbye ISBN  9781416949633

Other LGBT books:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green ISBN  9780525421580

Pantomime By Laura Lam ISBN 9781509807772

Empress of the World by Sara Ryan ISBN 9780142500590


Discussion Topic:

How can we enforce positive masculinity as opposed to toxic masculinity?

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac (Mod. 4)



Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker: a novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two. Dial Books: New York, 2005.

Plot Summary:

Ned Begay wants to join the war, especially when he hears that Navajos are being recruited specifically. He lies about his age so he can enlist, goes through boot camp, and finds himself involved in a top-secret task performed only by Navajos, as a code talker. Code Talkers were a crucial part of WWII. They helped US efforts by sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code using their language. This is a story of the legendary Code Talkers.

Critical Analysis:

This book is so important for multicultural literature and literature in general. WWII is one of the most highly discussed wars and shows up so often in books (such as The Book Thief or The Librarian of Auschwitz). However, even in our history classrooms, the contribution of the Navajos are barely touched on, if even mentioned at all. They were key in our win in the war, and without their sacrifice and bravery, we would have been severely impacted. That’s why I think this book is so important.

Not only is the historic impact of this book significant, it’s significant to Native American literature. The choices, especially for young adults, are few and far between. Not much is written on Native Americans and there is very little representation for their ethnic group in literature.  This book focuses on Navajo Native Americans and the treatment that they received before, during, and after the war.

The book is very well written. It is styled with Grandfather telling his grandchildren about the events. Using this narrative voice mutes the horror of war a little, making it more palatable for children. While I understand the desire to not subject kids to the horrors of our world, and to keep them innocent for as long as we can, we gain nothing by keeping them in the dark and uninformed. But it’s also just a fantastic way to tell this kind of story. While you read, you feel as if you are sitting around a campfire, listening to the grandfather tell his story. It’s very inclusive in that you feel like you are apart of it. The flow and pacing were really well done, and the characters were well developed.

I would highly recommend this book to others, especially for those interested in military novels, history, or multicultural literature.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“In the measured tones of a Native American storyteller, Bruchac assumes the persona of a Navajo grandfather telling his grandchildren about his World War II experiences. Protagonist Ned Begay starts with his early schooling at an Anglo boarding school, where the Navajo language is forbidden, and continues through his Marine career as a “code talker,” explaining his long silence until “de-classified” in 1969. Begay’s lifelong journey honors the Navajos and other Native Americans in the military, and fosters respect for their culture. Bruchac’s gentle prose presents a clear historical picture of young men in wartime, island hopping across the Pacific, waging war in the hells of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima. Nonsensational and accurate, Bruchac’s tale is quietly inspiring, even for those who have seen Windtalkers, or who have read such nonfiction works as Nathan Aaseng’s Navajo Code Talkers (Walker, 1992), Kenji Kawano’s Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers (Northland, 1990), or Deanne Durrett’s Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers (Facts On File, 1998).”

From Booklist:

“Six-year-old Ned Begay leaves his Navajo home for boarding school, where he learns the English language and American ways. At 16, he enlists in the U.S. Marines during World War II and is trained as a code talker, using his native language to radio battlefield information and commands in a code that was kept secret until 1969. Rooted in his Navajo consciousness and traditions even in dealing with fear, loneliness, and the horrors of the battlefield, Ned tells of his experiences in Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The book, addressed to Ned’s grandchildren, ends with an author’s note about the code talkers as well as lengthy acknowledgments and a bibliography. The narrative pulls no punches about war’s brutality and never adopts an avuncular tone. Not every section of the book is riveting, but slowly the succession of scenes, impressions, and remarks build to create a solid, memorable portrayal of Ned Begay. Even when facing complex negative forces within his own country, he is able to reach into his traditional culture to find answers that work for him in a modern context. Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“When WWII broke out, Navajos…were recruited by the Marine Corps to use their native language to create an unbreakable code….Telling his story to his grandchildren, Ned relates his experiences in school, military training, and across the Pacific….With its multicultural themes and well-told WWII history, this will appeal to a wide audience.”


Other books by Joseph Bruchac

Skeleton Man ISBN 9780064408882

The First Strawberries ISBN 9780140564099

Dragon Castle ISBN 9780803733763

Similar Books:

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Sailsbury ISBN 9780440229568

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry ISBN 9780547577098

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ISBN 9781423152880



The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


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Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2009. ISBN 9780316013697.

Plot Summary: 

This is the story of a young boy named Junior, who is a wannabe cartoonist living in the Spokane Indian Reservation. But he wants more for his life than the constant reservation life that everyone gets sucked into. He leaves the reservation to go to an all white farm town high school. Based on the events of the author, this book is a contemporary coming of age about a boy who wants to break free from the mold others expect him to stay in.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was okay. It was written decently, but I just wasn’t very interested in the story. I didn’t feel immersed in it. I kept getting pulled out of the story, and had a hard time finishing it.

That being said, it did a good job in themes and in showing the Native American culture.

Alcoholism and poverty are among the two most common hardships those living on reservations face. This is made evident in the book. In fact, our main character’s parents are alcoholic.

The other thing I liked about this book was about overcoming disability. Junior was born with brain damage, but despite it, is incredibly intelligent and gifted in both drawing and basketball. He battles those related issues to do what he loves, which earns him respect at the white school he goes to, off the reservation.

If nothing else, the morals are good, and can show how we can overcome any issues facing us, but more importantly, how who we are/where we were born does not define who we become.



Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal:

The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.

From Booklist:

Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here.

From New York Times:

“This is a gem of a book….may be [Sherman Alexie’s] best work yet.”


Books by Sherman Alexie:

Flight ISBN 9780802170378

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven  ISBN 9780802141675

Other Books about Native Americans:

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume ISBN 9780330398121

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski ISBN 9780064461627

The Indian in the Cupboard by Scott O’Dell ISBN 9780007148981

Discussion Topic:

Why do Native American’s face the challenges they do? How are ways we can help?


The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge Mod. 1

lie tree


Hardinge, Frances. The Lie Tree. Harry N Abrams: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1419718953

Plot Summary:

Faith Sunderly is a proper young lady. At least, that’s what everyone thinks. But when her father shows up dead after leaving a scandal, she knows he was murdered. Determined to seek revenge and justice for her father, she becomes a sleuth and discovers secrets that will help her uncover the truth behind her father’s death.

Critical Analysis:

This book was okay. The language used was very beautiful and made sense for the setting. You could very much tell that the characters were English and from the Victorian age. This book was told pretty well. The concept is original and portrayed really well. (A Tree that offers a fruit only if you lie to it. The best part of this book are variety of morals and undertones. Revenge, justice, lies, truth, perception, feminism, and corruption of society are all a part of this book.

“He always filled Faith with awe. Even now he stared out toward the gray horizons with his unyielding basilisk stare, distancing himself from the chilly downpour, the reek of bilge and coal smoke, and the ignominious arguing and jostling.” (pg. 2)

“A lie was lie a fire, Faith was discovering. At first it needed to be nursed and fed, but carefully and gently. A slight breath would fan the newborn flames, but too vigorous a huff would blow it out.” (pg. 255)

The characters are really cool. All of them are well developed, especially our main character, Faith. I would say that our villains needed a little more development in as far as being relate-able. But this is a problem most authors face, so it’s not off-putting. For example, the Uncle Miles. He seems like a loving dotting uncle at first, but as you read, you find out he was involved in the death of Faith’s father.

Cultural Markers:

As stated previously, this book takes place in 19th century Victorian England. This is obvious from the language used. How the characters talk and the words used are uniquely British.

Unfortunately, it also is indicated by the enforced gender roles of the Victorian era.

“Listen, Faith. A girl cannot be brave, or clever, or skilled as a boy can. If she is not good, she is nothing. Do you understand?”

Obviously our heroine doesn’t understand. Throughout the book, Faith determinedly tries to break through gender roles, furious that her gender means she is less than.

“She had always known that she was rated less than Howard, the treasured son. Now, however, she knew that she was ranked somewhere below ‘Miscellaneous Cuttings.'”

Despite everyone telling her otherwise, Faith fights to prove her father was murdered. She is a character for women to look up to.

“What if I want to be a bad example?”

The story was told well, though the pacing was a little slow for me. I had to kind of trudge through it, especially at the beginning with all the set up.

Overall, a good book with a good storyline.

Rating 3/5

Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“In a time when a young woman’s exterior life can be stifling and dull, Faith Sunderly’s interior life is cavernous. She has a sharp mind; a keen interest in the scientific research that has made her father, the formidable Reverend Sunderly, famous; and an irresistible impulse for sneaking, spying, and skulking around. Faith’s curiosity about the world around her, which she must keep hidden, is a source of personal shame and the one thing about herself she longs for people, especially her father, to notice. When the Reverend is invited to take part in an archaeological dig on the insular island community of Vane, the whole family packs up and moves with him. It doesn’t take long for Faith to suspect there are darker reasons the family left London in such a hurry, and just as she’s starting to put things together, her father is found dead. Setting out to prove her father’s death was a murder, Faith uncovers a web of secrets the Reverend has been keeping, all centered on one of his specimens—a small tree that thrives on lies and bears a fruit that tells the truth. Faith believes she can use the tree to find her father’s killer and begins feeding it lies. As the tree grows, so do Faith’s lies and her fevered obsession with finding out the truth. Hardinge, who can turn a phrase like no other, melds a haunting historical mystery with a sharp observation on the dangers of suppressing the thirst for knowledge, and leaves readers to wonder where science ends and fantasy begins. VERDICT Smart, feminist, and shadowy, Hardinge’s talents are on full display here.”

From Kirkus:

“Mystery, magic, religion, and feminism swirl together in Hardinge’s latest heady concoction… Hardinge creates a fierce, unlikable heroine navigating a rapidly changing world and does it all with consummate skill and pitch-perfect prose, drawing readers into Faith’s world and onto her side and ultimately saying quite a lot about the world. Thematically rich, stylistically impressive, absolutely unforgettable.”

From Publisher’s Weekly:

“Hardinge’s characteristically rich writing is on full display—alternately excoriating, haunting, and darkly funny—and the novel also features complex, many-sided characters and a clear-eyed examination of the deep sexism of the period, which trapped even the most intelligent women in roles as restrictive as their corsets.”


Similar Books:

10 Days a Madwoman: The Daring LIfe and Turbulant Times of the Origianl “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes ISBN 978-0147508744

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman ISBN 9781406314595

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine ISBN 9780007512362

Other books by Francis Hardinge:

A Face Like Glass ISBN 9780230763500

Fly By Night ISBN 9780060876272

Cuckoo Song ISBN 9780330519731

Writing Prompt:

This book is about a tree that bears fruit when told a lie. The fruit delivers a hidden truth. If you had access to this tree, what lie would you tell it, and what truth would you hope to gain from it?

Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers by Betsy Franco (Mod 6)


Franco, Betsy. Falling Hard: 100 Love Poems by Teenagers. Candlewick Press: Cambridge, MA, 2008.

Plot Summary:

This book is a compilation of poems about love that were written by teenagers. These poems are raw and gritty and reveal how teenagers think about love.

Critical Analysis:

I loved it. I can’t say it enough. This book is so raw and emotional. It shows us how teenagers view love and sex. This is extremely important, in my opinion. Parents don’t particularly like thinking of their children as young adults that have urges and needs. This book raises the awareness of their feelings and thoughts. I think it speaks to the need for sex education. Not teaching strictly abstinence, but how to have safe sex. The thing is, teens will do it. You may think they won’t but they probably will. There are people who wait, and power to them, but not all do. Not the majority do. In America, sex is somewhat of a taboo subject, especially around teens. This book shows us that there are teens who do think about sex, have sex, and that they love deeply and passionately. Teens can read this and feel validated in their feelings and thoughts, and parents can read this with a realization that their teens are probably thinking this. What really struck me were some of the ages. Twelve (my daughter’s age), and they’re already thinking about these things.

These teens are very talented. They are raw and emotional. They convey their feelings of love, lust, anger, desperation, longing, and so many other emotions. These poems are hard hitting and eye opening.

A poem called ” My Apologies” really struck out at me. This poem was written by fifteen year old Amy Collier. In this poem, she apologizes for her teasing. She goes into detail about what she wore, how she carried herself, and drew these boys in. It’s really honest. We hear a lot about boys being players. We hardly hear women acknowledge or embrace being teases. I thought it was interesting that this fifteen year old expressed this in her poem. (See Example Poem.)

The flow is really quick, but the content makes you want to pause and contemplate. For me, I thought of my teenage years and the two boyfriends I had during that period.

I love that there are different forms of poetry in this book. A vast majority of them are free verse, but we do have some traditional rhyme and I did read a set of couplets.

There is, as with most poetry, a lot of imagery and symbolism. They did a particularly good job with the imagery. Their descriptions and similes were wonderful.

There’s also a lot of types of love expressed. Some are gay, transgender, some involve infatuations with older people in their lives such as teachers, some are about forbidden love, just to name a few.

Altogether, this book was highly enjoyable and I recommend it for teens, parents, teachers, and anyone having to deal with teens.

Example Poem:

My Apologies

To all the males
Whose hearts have been
By the spikes of my high heels
(Because it was on purpose
that I painted my toes Sonia’s
Sexier Than Red
and slid the S form of my foot
through lacy black pumps,
that I happen to
a pearl choker
onto my smooth neck,
and bound my anklets round the thin of my leg
to add an innocent undertone of
I was at fault for the
Silken blonde tresses
That fell upon my shoulders.
I enjoyed the confusion in your eyes
At my Monroe-meets-Hepburn dress
And if it were in me
I would have had
My way
With all of you
By now.
But it’s not in me.
Like a van Gogh in a museum,
It’s look but don’t
Even if you want to
Feel the texture.
I never keep the promise
My portrait seems to give.
Because I’ve cackled at your glances
Like a vicious bitch.
All this in hoping
That one of you
May not give me a reason
To laugh,
To be amused,
That I might take advantage.
But until then,
Once again,
My apologies.

Amy Collier, age 15

Everything is right about this. The lack of stanzas makes it feel as though it’s one rambling, which fits perfectly with the tone of the poem. The descriptions are wonderful. Her similes and metaphors are wonderful. This is such a mature poem for a fifteen year old. The writing and skill is mature and her poem expresses a message most adult women wouldn’t fess up to.

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins (Mod. 3)



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Hopkins, Ellen. Impulse. Simon and Schuster: New York, 2007. ISBN 9781416903567

Plot Summary:

Three teens with completely different backgrounds come together after making the same decision: to end their lives. Their attempt fails, and they are given a second chance, but only if they help each other and they learn to let go of their demons.

Critical Analysis:

This book is life changing. At least, it was for me. I will preface this with saying: I suffer from depression and anxiety. I have on multiple occasions, followed their path in wanting to end my own. And like them, I have been given a second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance to make my life better. So for me to say that this was life changing, I mean it. Knowing that I’m not alone in my struggles is one of the best feelings ever, and it’s why I specifically love kid lit, and have dedicated myself to becoming a library. Now on to the review.

In terms of writing style, she can’t be beat. Yes, there are many beautiful novels in verse (more than I was aware of before staring this course) but Ellen Hopkins is unique. Her books, in my opinion, are more poetic than any verse novel I’ve read. Her imagery and description is extremely powerful.

The flow and rhythm is lyrical. There’s a beat you feel with every stanza you read. While it’s free verse, as most verse novels are, there’s a pattern to the style. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

The most impressive thing about her book, and it’s an ideology that I hold as well, is that she is not afraid to speak the blunt truth. In fact, she dares to shout it out! It is in your face. The topics her books cover are real and most of the time, painful. Suicide, self harm, mental illness, societal expectation, drugs, religion, abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking, and so much more are discussed in her books, because these are the things her audience is struggling with. She writes the hard things, the taboo things. She gives a voice to the ones who have been shamed into silence. And that is incredible.

This is a fantastic read, and my favorite of all her books. I highly recommend this for anyone!

Example Poem:

“Back on the Road

And now it’s a gravel road,
rutted and scarred by winter,
slow going in this old four-by.
Everyone seems subdued, lost
in daydreams, anxiousness,
or the hypnotic lull of the sameness
outside the windows. This is high
desert at its most monotonous-
the cracked, white playa, giving
way to the miles and miles of sage,
greasewood, and cheatgrass.
And yet it’s riveting, beautiful
in its starkness.”

This excerpt is found on page 503. I chose it for its beautiful imagery. If there is one thing that Ellen Hopkins does well, it is setting the scene for her reader. You feel as though you are there in the desert. You can feel how the characters feel. Her vivid imagery is her biggest strength.