Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Today, after cleaning my house, I curled up on the couch with my coveted ARC of Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen. Let’s just say- it’s a good thing I put dinner in the crockpot before I started, because once I began reading I was completely hooked. Ruby is my favorite Dessen character and this is perhaps her best work yet. I can not wait to pass it on to her fans in my class.

Ruby’s life has never been easy. Since her parents divorced when she was five, her mother’s life has slowly spiraled out of control. The only consistent part of Ruby’s life was her big sister, and protector, Cora. But when Cora turned 18, she left for college and never came back. “It’s just you and me, baby,” Ruby’s mom says. Day by day, Ruby becomes the adult in their relationship, making sure her mom has a job, a clean house, and her bills paid. But her mother uproots them constantly, moving to new houses and new schools, to outrun the creditors and bad landlords of their past. As abnormal as life is, Ruby settles in to the routine of it all. That is until one day, her mother is gone. At first, Ruby assumes she will be back when the money runs out or she wears out her welcome wherever she is. As the days and then weeks go by, Ruby realizes she is completely and totally on her own. She develops a plan to fly under the radar and make it to her 18th birthday, when she will legally be capable of caring for herself. Everything is going according to plan, until she is discovered by her landlords.

Before she realizes what is happening, she has been plucked out of her home, her school, and her comfort zone. Her sister has shown up for the first time in years, with a husband in tow, to claim Ruby and take her home. Suddenly, Ruby is living in a mansion, in a gated community, and attending Perkins Day. She has transferred from one of the largest and most overcrowded schools in the county to a prestigious prep school. A prep school to which her new brother-in-law has donated an entire athletic complex. A prep school where almost everyone comes from money and is money.

Life couldn’t be more different or uncomfortable for Ruby or her new “family”. Suddenly, she and Cora are forced to face their own past. And when Ruby meets Nate, her new neighbor, she must confront her own fears and insecurities. Which is more important- caring for yourself or for someone else?  What is the definition of family?  What is friendship?  Questions that once seemed so easy to answer are now seemingly impossible.

Sarah Dessen has done it again. Lock and Key is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. The characters of Nate and Ruby are wonderfully drawn. Harriet is the stressed out, caffeine-addicted, independent woman we all know and love. Trust me, she’s somewhere in your life! The relationships between Ruby and Cora, Cora and Jamie, and Ruby and Jamie are realistic and complicated. The ending does not leave you wanting more- all the loose ends are tied up while still leaving the reader hopeful. And the symbolism of the lock and key? Absolute magic. (Viking is missing out if they don’t create some type of marketing based on the KeyChains! I am dying for one!)

Lock and Key will be released April 22, 2008.


Kidlitosphere Happenings

A few things are going on in the kidlitosphere today!

  • Check out this month’s Carnival of Children’s Literature. Hosted by Wizards Wireless, the theme is “Book Awards”. I’ve already spent some time perusing the awesome posts, and will be doing some more reading later. Check it out!

And now it is pack to reading my ARC of Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key. Oh, and I should probably write my lesson plans for the week. Just as soon as I finish my book….

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson was my #1 “must get ARC” at ALA Midwinter ’08.

Wow. Just wow. I read this in one sitting, unable to put it down. I’m not even sure how to review it, because I don’t want to give anything away. Jenna Fox has been in an accident. She spent the last year in a coma and doesn’t remember anything from her old life. She has to relearn how to walk, how to talk, and how to do something as simple as smile. She doesn’t even know who she is. However, she does remember historical facts and can recite Walden from memory. While in a coma, she was moved from Boston to California. Her family’s new home is sterile and void of any of Jenna’s old belongings. There is nothing to trigger her memories. She has no friends and no family other than her mother, father, and a grandmother who seems to despise her. Something isn’t right and she can’t even begin to figure out what that something is.As she struggles to rediscover who she is, her parents refuse to answer any of her questions. Their cover story begins to unravel and nothing is as it seems. At the risk of spoiling what is an amazing story, I’ll stop there. But you must pick up a copy of this book. If you haven’t preordered this yet…..well, get on that!

An amazing science-fiction story, I would classify Pearson’s novel as dystopian. It’s a frightening look at where our society is headed and what might happen in our future. It raises questions of medical ethics, bioethics, humanity, and how far we are willing to go to save someone we love. The plot doesn’t seem outlandish or out of the realm of possibility. In fact, it seems frighteningly possible.

Despite being a science-fiction novel (a genre better known for being full of clunky science/technology jargon), Pearson writes captivating, lyrical prose. Scattered throughout the book are poems, written from Jenna’s point of view and seemingly in her own mind. Each one is beautiful and could stand on it’s own, outside the book.

Each of the characters are captured perfectly. Jenna struggles with her own identity while trying to figure out who her parents really are and what her relationship was and will be with them.

This was a perfect book for me to read right now. It fits in perfectly with my unit on ” The Giver” and I can’t wait to pass this on to a few of my students. The questions it brings up will be wonderful for letter-essay reader’s response and for comparison to Lowry’s novel. Pearson has really outdone herself and this should be a runaway success.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox will be released April 29, 2008. Pre-order your copy now!

*A note on the cover- how gorgeous is it?? One of my favorites for 2008 so far!

** Also, I was thrilled that Mary Pearson incorporated an eco-artist into the story. Eco-art is something my class will be working on later this year and it is rarely mentioned in popular literature! Kudos to Mary Pearson for that!

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick has been sitting in my to-read pile for about 3 months now. I’m not sure what inspired me to pick it up today, but I am so glad that I did. I spent the last 2 hours reading and crying, feverishly wiping tears off my face so no one around me would notice. Sonnenblick has written an extremely powerful book that every student should read.

Steven is your average 8th grader- he can’t talk to girls to save his life, the girl he loves has no idea he exists, and his little brother, Jeffrey, tends to annoy him more than anything else. Steven’s greatest love in life are his drums and practice pads. He is a gifted drummer who is lucky enough to be in the All-City Jazz Band. In fact, he and his friend Annette are the only 8th graders in the whole city who are selected for the All-City Jazz Band. Steven spends all of his free time at school and at home practicing his songs and preparing for the city-wide concert later that year. Music is his thing and the concert is his one moment to shine.

One morning, Steven decides to be the good big brother and make Jeffrey “moatmeal” (translation: oatmeal) so that Jeffrey doesn’t wake their parents up. As Steven grabs the oatmeal from the cabinet, he leaves 5 year old Jeffrey on the kitchen stool, a big no-no in his over-protective mom’s eyes. Steven thinks his mom is a little too overprotective, and really, what can happen in 5 seconds? But while he has his back turned, Jeffrey falls off the stool and his nose begins to bleed. When their parents rush downstairs after hearing Jeffrey’s cries, they are unable to stop the bleeding. From that moment on, Steven’s life is turned upside down.

Jeffrey’s illness becomes the focal point of Steven and his family’s life. Steven struggles with being an 8th grade kid and the older brother of a very sick little boy. Steven is such a real character- I felt like I knew him and almost like I would be him if I was in the same situation. While Jeffrey’s illness is the most important aspect of the family’s life, it is not always the most important part of Steven’s life. This is a struggle for him. How normal can you be when your life at home is anything but normal? Sonnenblick handles the storyline with a deftness I did not expect. I laughed out loud while tears ran down my cheeks at many points. I am very seriously considering this as my next class read-aloud, despite the fact that I know I will cry through a great deal of it.

No More Dead Dogs

 No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

Wallace Wallace, middle school football star, has a problem. His English teacher asked the class to write a book review for their latest novel, the award-winning Old Shep, My Pal. His problem? Wallace has made a promise to himself that he will never tell a lie, after his dad lied to the family throughout his childhood. For 13 years, he has been as honest as the day is long. Wallace writes an honest review- he hated the book! Well, his English teacher is infuriated by his review, because it doesn’t even prove that he read the book! But Wallace really did hate the book- he is sick and tired of reading books where the dog dies. From Sounder, to Old Yeller, to Where the Red Fern Grow- the dog never makes it out alive!

Wallace’s punishment for refusing to write a glowing book review is that he must serve detention until he hands in an appropriate book report. His detentions will be served during football practice, so he is forced to miss games and practices. The worst part? He must serve his detention at drama club rehearsal…..where they are rehearsing their school play- Old Shep, My Pal. 

While this seems like a terrible form of torture, Wallace begins to make the best of the situation by sharing his thoughts about the play. Speaking honestly, he offers suggestions for dialogue and staging. Shockingly, his ideas are pretty good. Before he knows it, he has taken over the play! But nothing comes that easily. His team mates hate him, he still has an incomplete in English, and someone is sabotaging the play and trying to frame him!This was a very funny book.

Told in chapters that alternate viewpoints between Wallace, Rachel (the Drama club president), Trudi (Rachel’s boy-crazy best friend), and Mr. Fogelman (the English teacher/director), the reader is able to experience the story from all angles. I have to agree with Wallace, I admit it. I wish that sometimes, maybe just once, the dog didn’t have to die!

I have a few students in mind who would enjoy this book. It’s rare to find a book where the protagonist(s) aren’t blatantly aimed at one gender or the other. This isn’t a boy or girl book- both sexes will enjoy it! It has sports, drama, and a bit of rebelliousness in it. A great addition to my classroom library.

Hot Books in the New Year

It’s time for my monthly installment of books that I currently can’t keep in my classroom library. Some of these I have booktalked, to get the ball rolling, while others are strictly gaining popularity based on 6th grade word of mouth!  

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rulesby Jeff Kinney: As I said in my review, this was the most hotly-anticipated new title of the year in my classroom. The waiting list is currently 25 students long (of my 42) and includes both boys and girls, advanced and reluctant readers. It has also kicked off a resurgence of popularity for the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as you must have read #1 to get on the waiting list. Hopefully, when I receive my next two copies from Scholastic this week, I can get this into the hands of more readers! 

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)by Stephenie Meyer: This one baffles me. I adore this entire series, and have plenty of coworkers who can’t keep it in their classroom library. For some reason, it wasn’t attracting readers in my room. But, right before the holidays one of my girls decided to give it a try. She came back this month begging for New Moon (Twilight, Book 2). Because she liked the novel, I saw a friend of hers take it out this past week. We shall see! 

Albino Animalsby Kelly Milner Halls: When I booktalked this book, 5 hands immediately shot into the air asking if they could have it first. I think it is a combination of the subject matter, the amazing pictures, and the fun facts. A definite must for any classroom library! 

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: I recommended this series to my students who enjoy Lois Duncan and other paranormal stories. So far, they like it better than some of Duncan’s weaker works. Bray writes wonderful historical fiction without slamming them over the head with information. Plus, who wouldn’t want to have visions and be in control of the realms? 

The Periodic Tableby Adrian Dingles: My students just finished a unit on chemistry in their science class, where they focused on the periodic table. They’ve been laughing over this great book ever since! I have caught them reading different elemental descriptions out loud to each other, or sharing them even after they have read the book. The information is funny and accurate, so they remember it! I found about this book through the Cybil nominations a few months ago and I can not recommend it enough. 

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein: My sports enthusiasts love this novel. As one of my students said, “I won a writing contest once, like the main character. But I didn’t get a trip to the Final Four!”. It has everything- mystery, sports, platonic friendships, and a male and female main character.

Poetry Friday

I have spent much of this past week researching family genealogy, specifically my Scottish ancestry.  This inspired me to read some Scottish poets and when I stumbled on this poem, I knew I had to share it.  My family immigrated from Glasgow, so I loved this poem.


City! I am true son of thine;
Ne’er dwelt I where great mornings shine
Around the bleating pens;
Ne’er by the rivulets I strayed,
And ne’er upon my childhood weighed
The silence of the glens.
Instead of shores where ocean beats,
I hear the ebb and flow of streets.

Draw thy fierce streams of blinding ore,
Smite on a thousand anvils, roar
Down to the harbour-bars;
Smoulder in smoky sunsets, flare
On rainy night, with street and square
Lie empty to the stars.
From terrace proud to alley base
I know thee as my mother’s face.

When sunset bathes thee in his gold,
In wreaths of bronze thy sides are rolled,
Thy smoke is dusky fire;
And, from the glory round thee poured,
A sunbeam like an angel’s sword
Shivers upon a spire.
Thus have I watched thee, Terror! Dream!

While the blue Night crept up the stream.

This is an extract from a much longer poem by Alexander Thomson who lived from 1830 to 1867.
In the classroom today, I read a few selections from Laura Amy Schlitz’s Newbery-award winning “Good Master!  Sweet Ladies!”.  They really enjoyed the poems and I promised we will read more of them when we study the Middle Ages later this year!

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