This story is told from the perspective of Parr Burrman, a teenage boy who lives on a farm with his family in a very small town. His sister, Evie, is an eighteen year-old who does not fit in because of her masculine mannerisms. At school Parr is teased that his sister is actually his brother. When the founder of the town, Mr. Duff, holds a party, Evie meets his daughter Patsy and soon the two are spending time together. Meanwhile, Parr develops a strong crush on a girl named Angel and spends some time with her highly religious family. Parr fears that one day Evie will leave the farm, thus passing on the family tradition of running it to him; he agrees to help a friend post a sign saying, “Evie loves Patsy.” This stirs up the whole town and even causes Mr. Duff to ask the police to tell Evie to stay away from Patsy. Evie eventually does leave, hoping to meet up with Patsy in New York City.
Kerr has an excellent way with dialogue, as all of her characters seem very believable and natural. This story seems like it would be a great read for any GLBTQ teen because it centers on a girl who has to come out to her family in a most difficult environment. The situation is made even tougher because her parents do not understand anything about homosexuality. The town in which she lives is backward and extremely religious, as well as small and given to gossip. Still, Evie is an extremely honorable character as she never gives in to others’ expectations of her. Her character is one to which teens may look for inspiration: She sets the example that they should live their lives as they wish, not as others decree.
I was impressed by Kerr’s pluck when dealing with the subject of lesbianism. I was pleased that she did not skirt the issue of religion because this is likely the largest factor working against the GLBTQ population in our country. Although many religions do not react as Angel’s family did in the story, others still see this group as sinful. Kerr set up an interesting plot that leaves the reader wondering when everything is going to come crashing down on Evie. However, I was happy that Parr learned an important lesson about life too: Do not fall in love too quickly. As he later saw, Angel was not the person he thought she was. This story presents a wonderful example of a strong female character to which readers can look up, no matter their orientation.
Junior is a Native American kid living on a reservation. His best friend for many years is named Rowdy. Junior is getting fed up with the limitations of living on the ‘rez.’ When his teacher, Mr. P, suggests that he transfer to Reardan High School, a white school outside of the rez, Junior believes he has to do it or be doomed to living miserably on the rez forever. At Reardon he makes friends with a beautiful girl named Penelope, but also has to deal with some racism. Perhaps worse, his fellow Native Americans look at him like a traitor. When Junior, or Arnold as he is known at Reardon, tries out for the basketball team and has to play against his old school, he is shocked by how much the Native American crowd seems to hate him. Arnold must try to manage two very different lives: one on the rez and the other with the white kids. During this time, he faces deaths in his family, an uncertain relationship with Penelope, and cruelty from those he has known his whole life.
Alexie is absolutely hilarious in his treatment of subjects that can be quite controversial. In this way, he manages to keep the tone of the book lighter but moving as well. The issues he describes and the language he uses can be rather heavy and strong, so this story may not be appropriate for young people under a certain age or without a certain level of maturity. Alexie points out many of the problems Native Americans face, such as alcoholism, poverty, and the inability to move up in society. Junior must face issues that many young people of ethnicity face regarding “passing” when with members of the dominant culture. He struggles to maintain some sense of Indian identity despite the fact that he often feels that there is little of which to be proud. Ultimately, he learns that he is able to be himself at Reardon, and that his white friends will accept him for who he is.
This is probably the only book that has ever made me laugh out loud. I believe this is a new modern classic, and like most modern classics, is susceptible to possible censorship. Personally, I felt like Alexie only helped this book by being brutally honest and shocking in his humor; the subject requires honesty, otherwise the audience that matters most – young readers – will not take it seriously. Despite its sometimes crude humor and language, the story is overall quite uplifting and sensitive. I believe that, especially in these harsh economic times, the issue of poverty in this book is extremely important for readers who need someone with whom they can relate.
Although The Giver may be Lois Lowry’s most well-known work, I really wanted to talk about another one of her exceptional stories. Number the Stars is a Newbery-award winner; it tells the story of Annemarie Johansen, a nine-year old girl living in Copenhagen during World War II. Annemarie’s best friend is Ellen Rosen, her Jewish neighbor. When the rabbi at Ellen’s church warns her parents that the occupying Nazis are going to begin deporting families, the Johansens offer to help by pretending Ellen is their daughter. In truth, Annemarie’s parents had lost their daughter Lise in a mysterious car accident. The night when Ellen is staying with them, however, Nazis come pounding at the Johansen’s door. They must do some quick thinking to prove that they are not hiding any Jews.
Annemarie’s parents decide that they must take Ellen out of danger, so the next day Mrs. Johansen, Annemarie, her sister Kirstie, and Ellen go to Uncle Henrik’s house near the boarder. There, Ellen’s parents reunite with her, and they must get on a boat to take them to Switzerland without being caught. When Annemarie’s mother twists her ankle, though, Annemarie has to find the courage to help in the escape plan.
This book quite accurately provides a look into the mind of a child during the War and is loosely based on a true story. The reader is kept in the dark, just as Annemarie is, about the events going on around her. Thus we understand her curiosity and apprehension. The story deals with Annemarie’s desire to help her friend, and the subsequent discovery of her own courage. Lowry speaks from Annemarie’s point-of-view with such honesty that readers will identify times in their own childhoods when they felt similarly. Despite the cruelty of that War, this novel shows that the ties between family and friends can be stronger than hate, as many Danes were able to smuggle Jews to Switzerland and ultimately save their lives.
I would highly recommend Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. I first read this book in college but find myself wishing I had been able to read it when I was younger. Many of us who love the literary arts would connect with the main character, Billie Jo Kelby, because she is a girl passionate about the art of music. Hesse composes the book using diary-like poems told from Billie Jo’s point-of-view. They are dynamic for their structure and rhythm, just like the jazz music Billie Jo loves to play on the piano. Personally, I have always preferred prose to poetry, but Hesse’s style blends the two so seamlessly and beautifully that lovers of each will be greatly pleased.
The story takes place in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowls and Depression of the 1930s. Although Billie Jo is only in her pre-teens, she understands that her Ma and Dad are struggling to make ends meet because of the poor harvests due to lack of rain. Dust is an ever-present force throughout the novel: “piling like snow across the prairie,” speckling their milk, and entering their mouths and noses. The dust feels even more oppressive when Billie Jo loses her mother in a freak accident for which she feels partly responsible. The novel takes a dramatic turn, and Billie Jo feels she no longer recognizes her father and has difficulty playing the piano because of her scar tissue. The story is quite tragic, and readers wonder if she will ever be able to heal.
Despite the subject matter, this book gives one an honest look into the strength of character that people living during this time had to possess. It is a beautiful account of a frightening situation that most of us could not begin to imagine enduring. For anyone who has ever dealt with the loss of a loved one or even an extremely difficult time, I greatly recommend this amazing novel.