Bumped by Megan McCafferty

I am a huge Megan McCafferty fan.  Like, ridiculous fangirl, over-the-top, absolutely love her.  Jessica Darling is in my Top 10 Favorite Fictional Characters.  I recommend Sloppy Firsts: A Jessica Darling Novel (the first in the series) to everyone I know.  So when I saw that Megan was writing a dystopian YA novel, I was pretty much in heaven.  One of my favorite authors writing in my favorite genre?  I was guaranteed to love it!  Then, when Megan offered me an ARC (thank you!), I jumped on it.  When the package arrived, I was almost afraid to read it- what if I was disappointed? What if I had built it up too much? Could it be as good as I imagined it would be?

I was silly to worry. Bumped is fantastic and novel read, unlike anything else I have read.  The publisher’s summary does a great job, so I will let it do its job:

When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.

I was immediately intrigued after reading the back copy a few months ago.  For a long time, I have been fascinated by MTV’s Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom. I feel like those two shows are a great way for parents and schools to begin talking to teens about safe sex and pregnancy.  I know that Megan was partly inspired by her own similar idea, so Bumped doesn’t shy away from some tough issues. Needless to say, I love that Megan takes on the hot-button issues, injects some sarcasm and humor, and still manages to make her reader think, and I mean really think, about the issues at hand.

Bumped is not for the faint of heart.  The reader needs to understand that the world in which Melody and Harmony exists glorifies teen pregnancy.  McCafferty doesn’t shy away from sexual language, but every word and scene choice is carefully made.  This is not a book that is meant to glorify and celebrate teen pregnancy.  Yes, that is the world it is about. But that’s not what the book is actually about, if you understand what I mean.  I think teens who read this will think about what these girls go through, and the choices they make.  There was a fantastic article in the NY Times this weekend which focused on the use of MTV’s Teen Mom in the classroom. While many adults are horrified by the popularity of the show, the article points out just how many teens are learning from the experiences of the girls on the show and the conversations that result from watching the show.  I think Bumped can and will do the same.

I’ve read a few reviews of Bumped and it seems they are mixed. But from what I see, many reviewers/readers don’t understand that McCafferty has her tongue planted firmly in cheek for the duration of the book.  This is a satire, and a very effective one at that.  Bumped is a critique.  It’s a critique of a juxtaposition- the focus on purity in religion coupled with secular society’s focus on sex and sexuality.  It satirizes the world we live in,pointing out the ridiculous path we are headed down. I loved it! I found myself putting the book down and thinking a lot as I read, and I was dying to talk to someone about it after reading.  It’s that type of book.

In the foreword, McCafferty refers to Bumped as her first “young adult” novel.  This is definitely a book that straddles the line between young adult and adult.  It’s certainly not a book for middle school students.  However, my more mature high school readers have rated it 5 stars on Goodreads.  They inherently understood that it was a satire and appreciated how much it made them think.  This may be a classic case of a book that is so perfect for YA readers that many adult gatekeepers think it is too much for them.  McCafferty does a fantastic job and I highly recommend Bumped, though I would be sure you read it yourself before putting it in your classroom library.

 

 

*ARC courtesy of the author

What Every Teacher Wants to Hear

Today was my last class with my seniors (they spend 1 semester with me and then swap to another English teacher for the next semester).  We spent the last few minutes of class reflecting on what worked and what they would change for my next group. It was a productive conversation and they had some great ideas.

As we wrapped things up, I reminded them that they can always come borrow books and to email me if they want any recommendations or want to share books with me.  They started chatting amongst themselves as they packed up and one student stopped me as she got ready to leave the room. She said one simple sentence and continued on to her last period class.

“Thank you for reminding me that I love reading”.

Needless to say, I smiled for the rest of the day. :)

 

Speak Loudly

This week, Wesley Scroggins,an associate professor of management at Missouri State University (and fundamentalist Christian), wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO, in which he characterized Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as filthy and immoral, calling it “soft pornography” because of two rape scenes. He is demanding that Speak, along with a few other books, immediately be pulled from the district.  This leaves me infuriated.

Melinda Sordino is one of my all-time favorite YA characters.  I can still remember the first time I got a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. My aunt was a seventh grade language arts teacher at the time and she used to hand books to me on a weekly basis. One of those books was Speak. I was immediately drawn to the cover and remember that I read it, from cover to cover, that night. I was only in junior high, but I knew this was an extremely powerful book.

Six years later, as a freshman in college, I volunteered with my campus’s Sexual Assault Services. I still remembered Melinda, even though I hadn’t read the book in years. For the next two years I saw real-life Melindas. I also saw the other characters in her life- her classmates. I was a part of SCREAM (Students Challenging Reality and Educating Against Myths ), a group which uses improv and theater to address interpersonal violence. This involves issues such as harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, emotional, physical, and verbal abuse, and same-sex violence. Most of the skits I was involved with centered around dating violence and sexual assault. I will never forget performing for various high schools around the state, watching their faces during the performance and listening to the questions those students asked at the end of the performance. Not every high schooler has access to something like SCREAM Theater. But EVERY adolescent should have access to Speak.

Why?  Take a look at these statistics, courtesy of RAINN.

  • Every two minutes someone in the United States is a victim of sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.
  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.
  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

How DARE Mr. Scroggins characterize Speak, an important and vital book for YA readers, as filth?  Apparently he is unaware that young readers can actually be the victims of horrible things like sexual assault.  In fact, as Jordan Sonnenblick once said, there are children everywhere experiencing things everyday that we won’t let them read about.  Mr. Scroggins, Speak might not be right for you or your child.  But it could be life-saving for a teen out there.  You have every right in the world to keep your own children from reading the book, but stay the hell away from everyone else’s children.

There has been an outpouring of rage on Twitter and book blogs.Authors are stepping forward in defense of Speak, as are readers (both teen and adult).  Check out the #SpeakLoudly hashtag on Twitter for hundreds of responses.  At 8pm there will be a live tweet of #SpeakLoudly.  Do your part and Speak Loudly!  Speak up and speak loudly.

What I Will Be Looking for at BEA!

On Wednesday I will be heading into the city for BEA.  This will be my second year at the convention and I am looking forward to actually meeting some people this year.  (Are you going to be at BEA?  Leave a comment with your email address if you want to meet up and say hi!)

I am looking forward to networking and meeting fellow bloggers, but I am also looking forward to the authors and publishers.  It’s always fun to see the new and upcoming titles.  I will be keeping my eye out for a few galleys. I discussed BEA with my classes, and they placed requests for galleys I absolutely, positively must be on the lookout for. I’m pretty sure it’s under penalty of death. :)

I love Anna Godberson’s The Luxe series so I am hoping to pick up a copy of her newest, Bright Young Things, set in the 1920’s. (Harper)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper) sounds amazing. It is set in a world where love is considered a disease. Sounds a bit dystopian, so you know I want to take a look at it.

The Magnificent Twelve: The Call by Michael Grant (HarperCollins) has been getting rave reviews on Twitter from Paul W. Hankins. I also love Grant’s dystopian series, so I imagine this will be just as good.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown) sounds amazing. Dark fairy tales that come to life? Sign me up!

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (Dial) is a sequel to Incarceron. Enough said. Where do I sign up?

I have some avid James Patterson fans in my class. Witch & Wizard: The Gift by James Patterson (Little, Brown) is high on my must-get list because they are begging for it! The first novel is the series is making the rounds through my classroom right now.

Hush by Eishes Chayil (Walker) sounds a bit old for my readers, but I am drawn to the description. Written pseudonymously, it tells the story of a teenager who confronts her memories of and guilt about abuse she witnessed in her Hasidic community.

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton). Since we finished The Giver earlier this year, dystopian novels have been huge in my classes. I introduced this title and had kids salivating over it. Another “must-get” in the eyes of my 6th graders.

We just finished our Holocaust unit, so Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Houghton Mifflin) immediately caught my students’s attention. Annexed is fictionalized account that follows Peter van Pels from the attic he shared with Anne Frank to Auschwitz.

Dystopian? We love it. Zombies? Their popularity is growing. Needless to say, the gimme gimme’s started when I talked about The Enemy by Charlie Higson (Disney-Hyperion). The Enemy is a dystopian novel where teenagers older than 16 are turned into flesh-eating zombies.

The Limit by Kristen Landon (Aladdin) caught my eye because it sounds a bit like historical fiction, yet it is a fantasy. The story is set in a world in which children are taken to “workhouses” when their families exceed their monthly debt limits.

Gross plots always catch my students’s attention. Needless to say, they were clamoring for more information about Thaw by Rick Jasper (Carolrhoda Lab). All we know is the short jacket description, which sounds awesome. In the story, the cryogenically frozen bodies of 27 federal inmates thaw out—and disappear—after a blackout. Ew. Creepy. And I can’t wait to take a look at it!

Wendy Mass is one of my all-time favorite middle grade authors. Her books rarely stay on my shelf and I’m sure her newest title will be no different. The Candymakers (Little, Brown) is a mystery involving four children and a candy contest. Sounds a bit like Willy Wonka, eh?

And of course, I MUST MUST MUST get a copy of Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (sequel to Chains). I have been waiting desperately for this one for over a year!

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin (Dial) sounds amazing. Two girls become as close as sisters, but one doesn’t know the other is a fairy in disguise, sent here to trap the girl into fulfilling a promise made by her ancestors.

Those are the galleys I will be keeping my eye out for. If you are going to BEA, what will you be looking for? Are there any books I missed?

Popular Book Fair Picks

The spring book fair was held last week at my middle school.  As the language arts teacher on my team, I escort all of our students to the fair and I love it.  I get to spend about 20 minutes with each class, browsing and making book recommendations.  They also love telling me about books that I haven’t read yet.  It’s always a lot of fun to see which books are popular, as I take over 100 students over the course of the day.  I see a lot of the same books being bought over and over.  Many times, it’s because someone in 1st period saw it, raved about it, and convinced students in later classes to buy the same book.  I love watching these social reading experiences!

Mark Teague’s The Doom Machine was very popular with a lot of my students. They were intrigued by the cover and even more excited when I listed some of Teague’s other books. Kids love reading books by familiar authors.

During my first period class, a group of girls purchased Alphas by Lisi Harrison. They decided to read it together as a book club, even going so far as to assign pages to be read each night so that they could discuss it at lunch the next day. I found myself laughing at dismissal because one of the girls read ahead and the rest were mad at her. Gotta love it!

My romance lovers were drawn to the fantastic cover of A Novel Of The Titanic – Distant Waves. I haven’t read it yet, but found myself talking about it over and over as we tried to figure out what it was about. Thanks for not putting a summary on the back, Scholastic! (Can I just say that I hate it when publishers don’t put jacket copy on the back cover of a paperback? It stops so many kids from buying the book!)

I also had a few students pick out books for their younger siblings. For baseball-loving younger brothers, one student purchased Six Innings and The Brooklyn Nine. I love both of these books and they are very popular with my students, who are now sharing the love with their siblings.

Students looking for scary stories seemed drawn to a few major titles. Most popular were Neal Shusterman’s Full Tilt and Dread Locks: Dark Fusion # 1. Mary Downing Hahn is always popular, so All the Lovely Bad Ones went home with more than a handful of students, too.

Some other popular choices were-

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

I picked this book off my TBR pile because I could have sworn it was a middle grade Cybil nominee. Apparently, I have lost my mind (not a surprise if you know me) because it is not a nominee. However, it must have been fate because boy, am I glad I read Eve Yohalem’s gripping novel, Escape Under the Forever Sky!  I am always looking for great adventure novels to hand to my students and this one is perfect for middle grade readers. I finished it during reading workshop today and immediately handed it off to a student.

Thirteen-year old Lucy’s mom is the American ambassador to Ethiopia. At first, living in Africa sounds great to Lucy. She is a budding conservation biologist and dreams of spending her days on game drives and observing wildlife. Instead, she is practically held prisoner in the ambassador’s residence because her mother thinks the city and the country are too dangerous for Lucy to travel through. Instead, she is forced to go to boring state dinners and can only go on game drives every two weeks. So when she and her friends cut out of school to go to the city market, she knows she is asking for trouble. Her mother completely flips out when she catches Lucy in such a dangerous place and grounds her for a month. No game drives, no friends, no going out. Nothing but sitting on the verandah and sending sporadic emails to her friends.

Lucy is angry and resentful, so she plans an escape to a local coffee shop with her best friend Tana.  She even manages to send her “babysitter” home with the promise not to do anything stupid.  But when Lucy is kidnapped by Tana’s new driver, she realizes that her mother might have been right about the dangers she could face on her own.

Beaten and left to drink parasite-filled water, Lucy knows her only hope is to use her gymnastics training and her knowledge of the African bush to escape.  Otherwise, her kidnappers plan to kill her.  When she does manage to get away, she is alone and injured in the African wilderness and must avoid almost-certain death from a variety of means. I could not put this book down and found myself on the edge of my seat the entire time. Lucy is a normal 13 year old in an extraordinary situation. However, Yohalem makes it believable.

Readers will find themselves fascinated by the information about Africa and Ethiopia. I can see myself sharing with with adventure lovers and animal lovers alike. At a little more than 200 pages, this is a quick read that will keep students interested and on the edge of their seats. Highly recommended for classroom and school libraries!

This would also make a great read aloud because each chapter ends on a cliffhanger or leaves the reader wondering. The action-packed pages will keep even the most dormant reader’s attention and students will be left wanting to know more about Ethiopia and the African bush.

 

*Review copy purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs

Gary Paulsen Interview!


Today I am thrilled to present an interview I conducted with the amazing Gary Paulsen.  His newest novel,
Notes from the Dog, is available in stores today.  A beautiful and touching story about the impact of breast cancer and the importance of friendship and community, I can’t recommend it enough.

 

 

Mr. Paulsen, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to interview you. I teach 6th grade and my students are always big fans of your books- especially HATCHET and the Brian series. Notes from the Dog is a bit of a departure from those novels. What inspired this particular story?

I know people who have had cancer and there was nothing about it that wasn’t ugly and sad. I had to find a way to write about cancer that was filled with joy and beauty and hope.

 

Gardening plays an important part in the growing friendship between Finn and Johanna. Do you garden? If so, are you a black-thumb like Finn or more of a green thumb?

I cannot grow weeds. Gardening has never been an interest–and I hope that came through with Finn’s bewilderment and outright horror at the beginning.

 
Dylan seems like a great dog. I just got a new puppy myself (Australian Shepherd) and found myself laughing at Dylan a lot, comparing him to my dog. The relationship between humans and their dogs is so special, and I know my students will relate to Finn’s relationship with Dylan. Is Dylan based on a dog you own or have owned at any point in your life? 

Dylan is probably parts of every dog I have ever loved. They are all smart and loving and wonderful friends. I wish I was as good a person as most dogs are dogs.

 

In almost all of your books, you place your characters in challenging situations, like Brian’s plane crash in HATCHET. You then let them struggle to find their way and to survive. In Notes from the Dog, Finn is struggling to survive in the everyday; he doesn’t like to socialize with people (and thinks he is terrible around “normal” people) so he avoids it at all costs. When Johanna befriends him he doesn’t even know how to react. I see this a lot with my own students and I think that’s why they identify with your wilderness survival stories- they are surviving their own trials and tribulations in everyday life. Why did you choose to have Finn struggling to survive adolescence? 

I barely survived adolescence myself, especially socially; it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, but I still remember not fitting in, feeling wrong, feeling isolated and ostracized and awkward. I wish I’d had a Johanna back when I was a kid. 

 

 Reluctant or dormant readers tend to flock to your books. What is your advice for kids who don’t necessarily like to read, or at least don’t like to read what a school, class, or teacher mandates?

 Keep looking for the right book. For every reader, however reluctant or dormant, the right book is out there somewhere.  If you don’t like novels, try nonfiction; if you think that the books are too long, find a shorter one; try fantasy, science fiction, humor, graphic novels, historical fiction, anything, everything.  Pick up as many books as you can and skim until one catches your attention.  I didn’t like to read when I was a kid, either, but the right book changed all that. Don’t get discouraged, don’t write off reading and books, keep looking for the right book for you. Ask your teachers and librarians and the bookstore employees–between them, there’s someone who can help you find your way to the right book.


Many of my boys struggle to get started with writing. Most of the time it’s because they feel like they can’t write what they want to write in a school setting. Violence, survival, and “gross stuff” have been looked down on by teachers for so many years. They’ve been told it’s not school appropriate or it isn’t good writing. Yet those same boys love your books because they identify with the life and death situations you describe and of course the “gross stuff” that goes hand in hand with surviving20in the wild. And who doesn’t love the idea of peeing on an electric fence?! I’m sure that’s inspired a lot of experiments, even in my east coast suburb (I’ve overheard conversations about trying the same with invisible dog fences)! Your books tell the stories those boys want to be able tell. Can you tell us a little about how you got started as a writer and what your writing routine is like today? 

I wrote because I had to, I walked out of my job as an electrical engineer and apprenticed myself to writers at a magazine who taught me. I write every day. On notebooks by hand (if I’m sailing or running dogs), on my laptop wherever I am (if I’m speaking to teachers and librarians or on an airplane) or my desktop computer at home. I make sure that every day, I write for at least a part of the day. I don’t feel right in my skin if I haven’t worked every day.


 I’ve read in some of your interviews that you were never really a great student. Education has been at the forefront of national news over the past few years, especially with No Child Left Behind. Do you have any advice for teachers today?

 No advice, just thanks. Thank you for putting books in the hands of children. Thank you for caring so much and working so hard and helping so many. 

 

 Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Mr. Paulsen! One last question- can you tell us what you are working on next? What can we20look forward to? 

 The next book is called WOODS RUNNER and it’s historical fiction about a boy during the Revolutionary War who had to rescue his parents who’d been taken prisoner by the British. I’m working on 6 other books, some funny, some serious, some long, some short, some about girls, some about boys. I’m having the most grandly wonderful time. I’m dividing my time between my sailboat in the Pacific and my dog kennels in Alaska and I’m getting more writing done than ever, which I can’t quite understand.

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