Entry #10-Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Primates-graphic novel
Primates-graphic novel

Personal Response: This graphic novel was a joy to read. I grew up watching the National Geographic specials on Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey so this book resonated with me. Seeing women with very little else except passion pursue a field that had at their time not been very well developed is fascinating and awe-inspiring. I loved reading about their frustrations, triumphs and obstacles. Dian Fossey’s appendectomy story was fun to read, and features my favorite panel from the entire book. So expressive and hilarious!


Critical Response: This graphic depiction of three leading ladies in their field is well written. The subtle hints of Dian Fossey’s smoking and her opinions on poaching leading to her murder are very well put in the illustrations. The expressive drawings, like the one above, make the story flow and give the reader that extra little laugh that will keep them interested. The story is compelling to teens because it is a true story about three woman succeeding where no man has. On top of that, they have had almost no training for being out with primates and their lack of training lead to some great discoveries. The interwoven stories of all three women make the book a fast read and a smooth one. Readers get the feeling that what Goodall, Fossey and Galdikas were doing was not easy, but it gave them great joy. Every teen wants to have some mental security that they might find their perfect career someday very soon after high school or college. They can feel the social pressure mounting to start thinking about college and money. This graphic novel is great for taking a step in a scientists shoes and gives teens, especially girls, hope and motivation to be in the sciences. With so few women interested in science in this time, it is awesome to see approachable graphic novels that can link teen readers to the brilliant women scientists who have gone before. This graphic novel is fun, educational, makes the reader think and gives insight into what it can be like to live a life where your passion thrives in your job.


Entry # 9-Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

Poisoned Apples

Personal Response: I thoroughly enjoyed this book of poetry. The intersection of modern life and fairy tales is enticing to read because I constantly was making those connections to fairy tales I know and love through the poems, many of which are incredibly snarky and a little bit dirty. Reading about eating disorder and body image through the lens of fairy tales made great material for poetry. Photoshopped Poem was especially snarky. That reminded me of my own poetry as a teenager, short and very sarcastic. I do wish that the author’s note was at the beginning of this collection. Heppermann has a great philosophy about the fluidity of fairy tales into real life which I think should be made known the reader at the beginning of the book. Knowing what the author’s thoughts are on their writing can be inviting to the reader, especially to teenagers. Getting inside the author’s head is always a treat, as far as I am concerned.

Critical Response: This collection of poetry has appeal with young adults because of the content. Every teen, especially girls, deals with body image and many struggle with an eating disorder. Poisoned Apples takes a lot of the mystery away from eating disorder and uses fairy tales to show how common body image problems are. We have discussed how well loved fairy tale retelling are for young adults, and this poetry is no exception. It is familiar territory most teens have at least a taste of. Because of the snarky tone, teenagers can relate to the poems.  A voice of rebellion is woven through the poems and every teenager wants to know that they are unique so the rebellious nature of the poems is easy to identify with. The pictures the collection has along with the poems enhances the already great poetry. Each poem has it’s own photograph that plays up the theme. Giving teens a visual with the poetry makes it even more fun to read. If a teenager is not as great at conjuring pictures in their mind, the photographs can pick up the slack. The photograph that accompanies the poem Runaway is especially poignant. The poem talks about living on the streets and having a dog named Baby Bear and the picture is of a teen girl in sunglasses, on the street, with a dog. The image makes the poem that much more vivid in the mind of the reader. This poetry is perfect for anyone but teens have so much to latch into in this book. Every young adult library should have a copy.

Entry #8-Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein


Personal Response: Since this is the sequel, or should I say, companion book to Code Name Verity, it has a lot of the same elements that Verity has. The World War Two female pilot motif is continued, which I like, but it also seems rehashed. That is a personal note though, and I think it makes sense to keep in the same vein as far as teen readers go. I liked this book better than Verity, but I kept looking for twists that were not there, and read far too deeply into details that might serve me to understand Rose and her experience as the book went on. That is sometimes the trouble with books that are written about the same group of people and that might have an unreliable narrator. I do not enjoy being tricked or mislead all that much in books and that is why I do not read thrillers or horror books all that much. I think I liked this book better than Verity because Rose has the quality of being very self aware, like me. Her retrospective story telling made her story more enjoyable because I already knew she was out of harm’s way when writing it.

Critical Response: Like Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire has the same historical context of World War II. Since it has a prequel in Verity, readers already have a jumping off point if they need it, but reading Verity is not necessary for making Rose Under Fire make sense. The book continues with the same historical vein and tells the reader, in a more descriptive way, how terrible concentration camps were. The vividness of this book is useful because it is a true depiction of who things worked in Ravensbrück and the reader can do some further research if they wanted to. There is plenty of material on that aspect of the time period and Rose Under Fire uses Rose’s unadulterated, innocent perspective of such places as a way to introduce the reader to how the mind works when it is posed with a situation as quickly life altering as being in a concentration camp can be. You do not have to be a survivor to understand how grueling time spent in one was and Wein does an excellent job making the experience vivid and real for the reader. The fact that she also talks about some people not believing the camps could be so bad adds to the historical accuracy. So many people still deny that the Holocaust ever even occurred or that things could have been as bad as described, and readers, especially teens, can learn about that through this book.

Entry # 7-Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

OutofEasy Personal Response: Of all the historical fiction we read for this week, this one is my favorite. This book has a strong female main character who aims to go to college and she is extremely smart and I rooted for her as a reader. Jo is impulsive when it comes to danger and makes all these quick decisions that really alter her life very soon after she makes them. There is no waiting around to see what happens with her. It is instantaneous. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. She wants a recommendation letter from John Lockwell, she pushes until she gets it, even putting herself in the line of fire to get it. Jo lives in a dangerous place in a dangerous time, with several bad people after her, like Cincinnati and the mob plus, a murder she is cooked up in that keeps the plot moving. I loved the subtlety with which the author made Patrick in love with James from Doubleday bookshop. It is only in one paragraph that is it said, but it quite clear.”I looked at my hand and then James out in the street. Patrick wasn’t in love with Kitty”. Out of the Easy has been my favorite read this semester.

Critical Response: This book did a great job blending details about the 1950 into the story. There are references to people who actually lived in New Orleans during the time, the clothing is appropriate and attitudes toward mental issues, homosexuality and women are all expressed very well for the time. Jo is a likable teen and her independence makes her a great heroine for the story. Her want and need to go  beyond New Orleans rings true for many teens who might read this book. Striving to make the most of her life but still go for her dreams, even though it seems impossible. The language of the characters is appealing and this book is a fast read. Teens will like that aspect of it too. The juxtaposition of Jo’s living situation with that of the rich adds a lot to the story as well and enlivens the story even more, giving the reader something to compare Jo’s living circumstances to. Teens will love this book because of how well it is written and the fact that it is about a girl struggling with all the same big decisions about college and life that teens struggle with still today.

Entry #6- Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach


Personal Response: I enjoyed the way the author wrote this book as teenager recalling the events of the story in an interview and intermittently throwing in conversation with interviewer. It made for a much more interesting story. I got caught up in the story and then be interrupted just like Gabe is while telling the story. It made the story more entertaining for me, and brought me back continuously to the realization that Gabe is recalling all of the events, rather than living them out though the book as it progresses. Details might be changed. He might be leaving out details to protect someone, like Gore. He even says a few times that he wants to keep her out of trouble but he seems like a very reliable narrator. It is hard to say.

Critical Response: One of the main requirements of contemporary fiction is that it tells a story that has not happened, but could happen to anyone. This book hits that nail right on the head, and does it with humor. The humor in this book is very attractive to teenagers. It is the kind of humiliating things that happen to Gabe, like when he and his grandfather unwittingly get their picture taken out on the beach after swimming in their more-revealing swimwear, that make it a fun read. Gabe is going through the same kinds of teenage embarrassment that happen to everyone. The reader feels for Gabe because they can relate to him. The fact that Gabe is a larger guy also adds to the feeling of embarrassment one can feel as a teenager. Teenagers are uncomfortable in their own skin sometimes, and Gabe comes to terms with that, as all teenagers must do. It is great way to make a connection with young adults. Awkwardness is one of this books strongest assets.

Entry #5-The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming


Personal Response: I do not usually read historical non-fiction but when I do, I always like it, to some degree. Learning about people who I will never meet from a different time is always fascinating. The Romanovs are a family who I knew very little about, other than that they ruled Russia for a long time and were murdered. I am always interested in why things like this happen and what makes people tick so it was great to hear the details of what the Romanov family was really like and how they came to be hated enough to be killed. That sounds bad, but you have to be doing a pretty terrible job to have your whole family killed when you are in charge of a land mass as large as Russia, and then some. Learning of what happened to Rasputin was also a point of interest for me while reading this. He is made out to be a very bad person in the animated film Anastasia so it was neat to see what he was really like and what his relationship with the royal family was. Rasputin was just a manipulative, sneaky man with the right connections, taking advantage of people, but the way he died was the most interesting thing. Being supposedly poisoned, stabbed, shot and thrown in a river is quite the theatrical death.

Critical Response: Non-fiction told as a narrative can be very appealing to teens and this book is no exception. Rather than rattling off facts, this book takes the reader on a journey into a story that has only recently been fully uncovered. The photos that accompany the narrative are very helpful for the reader to examine as they go along. Young adults have visual as well as textual references to make with the photos and they really round out the book as whole. It gives the reader the opportunity to decide for themselves what they think of historical figures rather than relying on the author’s descriptions. The narrative is quality, easy and fun to read because it is full of tidbits of information about the family, where they lived, how they lived in almost perfect isolation, and also tells the reader about life for the common people of Russia. Having the mirroring stories of the common people and the royals makes the history of the Russia a more excellent read and provides comparison for teenagers to learn about two sides of a true story that has a lot of mystery and intrigue.

Entry # 4- Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

GrasshopperJungle June 27 13 Personal Response

This book is really gross. It has all sorts of bodily descriptions that I found unnecessary but while it was totally disgusting, I found the book as whole to be hilarious. It had this comedic quality that made me want to keep reading it because it was so over-the-top ridiculous in the “history” Austin was telling. Andrew Smith said that his books are about connections and as I read the book, and new, seemly useless details about his great-grandfather appeared, the book became a snowball of unfortunate connections that somehow made sense at the end.

Critical Response

Given the nature of descriptions about male anatomy, angst and sexuality, this book is definitely more appealing for boys. Where Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (see post # 3) is a book more for girls, Grasshopper Jungle is a book for boys. This book is surely entertaining for all teens with all the adventure of finding out about secret experiments, sneaking into spooky antique shops at night and uncovering all of the many connections that can be made between a smelly lemur mask, a lawn flamingo and a globe of glowing goo. It is funny and gives the reader a glimpse into the wild mind of a teenage boy in a small town in Iowa. Austin and Robby explore their sexuality, which is something every teen has to at least think about at some point in their transition from a child to an adult. Grasshopper Jungle is a great gateway for that exploration.

As for it being science fiction, it is but it is on the outskirts of science fiction because the main issues focused on in Austin’s narrative are internal ones, while the larger external problem of giant man-eating bugs is a backdrop and keeps Austin and his friends on the move. If there weren’t giant bugs, the entire book would be about a guy and his two pals sorting out who they are, and that is it. Grasshopper Jungle is about sorting oneself out but also about giant bugs. It is a great dynamic that makes the book very odd and unlike other science fiction the world has seen thus far.