The Alan Review
Current Editors
Steven Bickmore sbick@lsu.edu
Jacqueline Bach jbach@lsu.edu
Melanie Hundley melanie.hundley@vanderbilt.edu
Volume 24, Number 2
Winter 1997


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Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover Fiction

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Cottonwood, Joe
Babcock

Reviewed by James E. Davis
Professor of English
Ohio University
Athens, Ohio
Babcock by Joe Cottonwood Love
Scholastic, 1996. 240 pp. $15.95 ISBN: 0-590-22221-X 

Babcock is an unusual seventh-grade black boy. He likes dragonflies, poetry, and music, probably in that order. He also has only one name, is overweight, and carries a briefcase. He sits on people who make fun of him, including a skinny, blonde Kirsten. Their becoming friends and adventurous Uncle Earl moving in with the family change Babcock's life forever. He emerges from his cocoon, loses weight, accepts new people, and learns to accept loss. Against much opposition, primarily from Kirsten's mother, he fights for his friendship with Kirsten. Set in fictional San Puerco, California, which Cottonwood has used before, this comically realistic story of an unlikely hero's challenges and dreams is well-paced, complex, and thought-provoking. It should be of interest to readers in similar situations.

The ALAN Review James E. Davis 
Winter 1997 Ohio University

Powell, Randy
The Whistling Toilets
Reviewed by William R. Mollineaux
Teacher of English
Sedgewick Middle School
West Hartford, Connecticut
The Whistling Toilets by Randy Powell  Tennis/Friendship/Values 
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. 243 pp. $17.00 ISBN: 0-374-38381-2 

When fifteen-year-old junior tennis star Ginny Forrester's game starts to unravel and her behavior on and off the court becomes vague and distant, she is sent home to Seattle in an attempt to salvage her sagging career by playing in a small-time tournament. To keep Ginny calm and focused, her parents and her coach convince Stan Claxton, Ginny's best friend and neighbor, to be her "coach" for this tournament. While helping Ginny pull her life and career together, Stan learns a great deal about himself and others, discovering things are not always as they appear. Even beauty can be found in the most unlikely places -- four toilets that whistle … like Bing Crosby.

Permeated with humor and crisp dialogue, this fast-paced story is about friendship, discovering and being who really are, and what's really important -- topics that young adults will find pertinent.

The ALAN Review William R. Mollineaux 
Winter 1997 Sedgewick Middle School, West Hartford, Connecticut 

 


Myers, Walter Dean
Slam!
Reviewed by Chris Crowe
Associate Professor of English
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah
Slam! by Walter Dean Myers  Basketball/Friendship/Inner-city Life 
Scholastic, 1996. 269 pp. $14.95  ISBN: 0-0590-48667-5

Like many inner-city kids, seventeen-year-old Greg "Slam" Harris figures to make it big in the NBA, but his single-minded devotion to basketball leads to trouble with school, family, and friends, trouble that ultimately forces him to re-evaluate his attitudes. By the end of the novel, Slam has learned two valuable lessons: how to determine what's important in life and how to work within a system that is not his own.

Myers relies on Slam's engaging African-American voice, peppered with street and basketball jargon, to tell this story of overcoming conflict on the streets and on the court. Initially, the language may be off-putting for novices to this dialect and jargon, but patient readers will find themselves irresistibly attracted to Slam and his story. The game scenes are superb; they capture the tension and the pace of basketball better than any I have read in a long time.

The ALAN Review  Chris Crowe 
Winter 1997 Brigham Young University 

 


Ingold, Jeanette
The Widow
Reviewed by Robert C. Small, Jr.
Dean, College of Education and Human Development
Radford University
Radford, Virginia
The Window by Jeanette Ingold Blindness/Disabilities/Family Relationships 
Harcourt Brace, 1996. 181 pp. $12.00 ISBN: 0-15-201265-6

 
An intertwining of many stories, The Window is told through the narrative of Mandy, blinded in the accident that killed her mother. She is taken in by her grandmother's brothers and sister-in-law, who discovered her existence after an agency traced them down to find her a home. As she lives in their home, she discovers their stories and her story. In a new high school, she also becomes a part of the stories of Hannah, who befriends her and draws her into the life of the school but also into her own troubled family life, and Ted, a deaf boy who quickly becomes her boyfriend.

Although the plot has a number of coincidences, the knotting together of these people's stories carries the reader over them; and, through skillful weaving of the stories and a compelling narrative voice, Ingold makes us both care about the people and want to understand their stories.

The ALAN Review  Robert C. Small, Jr.
Winter 1997 Radford University

 


Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover Fiction

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Easley, Mary Ann
I Am the Ice Worm

Reviewed by Megan Lynn Isaac
Assistant Professor of English
Youngstown State University
Youngstown, Ohio
I Am the Ice Worm by Mary Ann Easley  Adventure/Native Americans
Boyds Mill Press, 1996. 127 pp. $15.95 ISBN: 0-56397-412-6 

Fourteen-year-old Allison Atwood survives a plane crash above the Arctic Circle only to find herself stranded among the Iñupiat. Cut off from all the conveniences she equates with civilization, Allison faces a rabid fox attack, three-day blizzard, and assorted other surprises. Even more challenging, however, are her relations with the Iñupiat families who provide for her until a mail plane reaches the village.

Easley poignantly describes the hardships, degradations, and destruction of the Iñupiat people as they teeter between their traditional way of life and the "advantages" of modernization. She also convincingly captures Allison's arrogance toward and ignorance of people different from herself. But Allison's eventual growth and maturity never extend beyond a vague acceptance of her hosts. The dignity and the beauty of the Iñupiat are inadequately acknowledged and explored in the book.

The ALAN Review Megan Lynn Isaac 
Winter 1997 Youngstown State University 

 


Allen, Paula Gunn, and Patricia Clark Smith
As Long As the Rivers Flow: The Stories of Nine Native Americans
Reviewed by Jeanne M. McGlinn
Assistant Professor
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Asheville, North Carolina
As Long as the Rivers Flow: TheStories of Nine Native Americans by Paula Gunn and Patricia Clark Smith  Native Americans/Biography 
Scholastic, 1996. 176 pp. $15.95  ISBN: 0-590-47869-9 

This collection chronicles the lives of nine Native Americans from the Seventeenth Century to the present. Here are stories of the warrior Weetamoo, a female leader of the Pocassets who fought against English occupation in Algonquin country; Will Rogers, a Cherokee cowboy, humorist and movie star; and Maria Tallchief, who became the "highest-paid ballerina in the world."

Through these stories, which blend factual details and personal memoirs, the authors give a new view of the history of the United States that includes the Native American struggles to maintain their separate cultures and identities. In the end we know more about the injustices suffered by Native Americans and how they have survived against terrible odds. But we also learn about their rich diversity and individual achievement.

The ALAN Review Jeanne M. McGlinn 
Winter 1997  University of North Carolina at Asheville 

 


Napoli, Donna Jo
Song of the Magdalene
Reviewed by Margaret J. Ford
Library/Media Specialist
Campbell Memorial High School
Campbell, Ohio
Song of the Magdalene by Donna Jo Napoli Saints/Biblical History/Culture 
Scholastic, 1996. 240 pp. $15.95  ISBN: 0-590-93705-7 

Even though the life of a saint is a non-traditional topic for a young adult novel, Donna Jo Napoli creates a powerful fictional biography for Mary Magdalene, or Miriam of Magdala, which believably embodies the bravery of Old Testament heroines like Jael, Deborah, and Miriam, her namesake. Challenging tradition, Miriam questions the role of Jewish women who forbid her to sing in the House of Prayer, travel through Magdala alone, and love the cripple, Abraham, branded an "idiot" by virtue of the twisted body that imprisons his mind. Her quest, and the novel, climax with an encounter with Joshua/Jeses, the only Biblically recorded incident in this account.

The historical, cultural, and linguistic times which surround the stories of the Bible are beautifully woven into a fabric that also tells about coming of age in ancient Galilee. World history, world literature, and docudrama are only a few possible curricular links extending this novel for the high-school reader.

The ALAN Review  Margaret J. Ford 
Winter 1997  Campbell Memorial High School, Campbell, Ohio 

Block, Francesca Lia
Girl Goddess #9
Reviewed by Connie S. Zitlow
Associate Professor
Ohio Wesleyan University
Delaware, Ohio
Girl Goddess #9 by Francesca Lia Block Short Stories 
HarperCollins, 1996. 181 pp. $14.95 ISBN: 0-06-027211-2 

Block's nine stories in Girl Goddess #9, with the mythical, lyrical prose of her Weetzie Bat novels, read like modern fairy tales. She explores various kinds of love in nontraditional families and between friends and lovers: baby goddess "Tweetie Sweet Pea" and Peach Pie hunt for elf homes with their parents, but they know winter will come; La talks to imaginary "Blue" until she begins to heal after her mother's death; "Pixie and Pony," dressed in pale-pink taffeta minidresses, slam dance with their Mohawked dates at the prom; Winnie finds out her boyfriend Cubby is gay; and after a Devil Dog crashes his motorcycle, Désirée and Dobey want to escape the heat and death in L.A. In the longest tale, Tudd Budd, who lives in Manhattan with her two moms, Anastasia and Izzy, journeys to the Pacific and finds out Izzy was Irving Rose, her father. The stories are told with vivid descriptions and imaginative names (lady ivory, alabaster duchess, Raven White) and include surfers, bikers, rock-star groupies, and dancers. The girl goddesses face the death of a parent, experience hollow sexual relationships, and worry about losing a friend. Amidst their transitions, they all search for life's beauty and meaning.

The ALAN Review Connie S. Zitlow 
Winter 1997 Ohio Wesleyan University 

 


Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover Fiction   

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors

Vick, Helen Hughes
Tag Against Time

Reviewed by Anne Sherrill
Professor of English
East Tennessee State University
Johnson City, Tennessee
Tag Against Time  by Helen Hughes Vick Time Travel 
Harbinger House, 1996. 189 pp. $9.95  ISBN: 0-57140-006-0 

 
Tag, the twelve-year-old son of an Arizona archaeologist, visited the cliff-dweller Indians of Walnut Canyon hundreds of years ago. At that time he was given a prayer stick that enables him to return during later periods. His mission is to influence preservation of the site's treasures. Despite times when garbage littered the ruins of former homes of those he came to love and robbers carted off relics, Rag eventually sees the site rebuilt and a museum created. The return home to the 1990s has all the ingredients of first-class adventure.

Along with Tag, the reader learns about tin lizzies, World War II, and sixties hippies. The author used history and archaeology consultants to aid authenticity and includes a map of Arizona sites mentioned. This sequel to Walker in Time offers an exciting and educational read for the early adolescent.

The ALAN Review Anne Sherrill 
Winter 1997  East Tennessee State University 

 


Schinto, Jeanne, ed.
Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology, and the Future
Reviewed by Richard F. Abrahamson
Professor of Literature
University of Houston
Houston, Texas
Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology, and the Future edited by Jean Schinto Science Fiction 
Persea Books, 1996. 272 pp. $12.95  ISBN: 0-89255-220-4 

In the introduction to Virtually Now: Stories of Science, Technology, and the Future, Jean Schinto writes, "This anthology was designed for people who don't ordinarily read science fiction." I confess I am such a person, but these stories kept me reading and thinking about just how effective some of them would be in English classrooms.

The book brings together fifteen stories by such fine writers as Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, and Ursula Le Guin. Two good bets for classroom use are "The Hole" and "The Onion and I." In "The Hole," a teacher and his class are trapped in a museum after an explosion. The heavy-set teacher refuses to let the students out until the rescuers have made the hole wide enough for him to squeeze through first. The crowd is stunned by the teachers' selfishness and waits outside to kill him. "The Onion and I" tells the story of a family selected as pioneers to be scanned into cyberspace and live their lives in a virtual town.

In these days of e-mail, fax machines, and the information super highway, the stories have an uncomfortable plausibility to them. That sense of "just maybe this could happen" will keep teens reading.

The ALAN Review  Richard F. Abrahamson 
Winter 1997 University of Houston 

Windsor, Patricia
The Blooding
Reviewed by Charles R. Duke
Dean, Reich College of Education
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
The Blooding  by Patricia Windsor  Supernatural 
Scholastic, 1996. 272 pp. $15.95  ISBN: 0-590-48309-4 

With the trappings of a gothic novel -- a handsome, mysterious male; a pale woman with an undiagnosed illness; innocent children; and werewolves -- Windsor creates an eerie story of shapeshifters who by day lead a normal life and by night roam the English countryside, killing sheep and drinking animal blood to stay alive. Maris, an American teenager serving as an au pair to an English family, is drawn irresistibly into this world of blood-letting and primal instincts as she searches for a unique identity, something she finds lacking in her normal life. But she must decide which life is the most important for her. Not for the faint of heart, the novel could disturb some teenagers because of several graphic killing scenes. The story moves quickly and has a haunting quality that stays with readers for some time. Suitable only for mature readers, ages 12 and above.

The ALAN Review Charles R. Duke
Winter 1997  Appalachian State University

Yolen, Jane
Passager
Reviewed by Ted Hipple
Professor of Education
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee
Passager  by Jane Yolen  Historical Fantasy 
Harcourt Brace, 1996. 76 pp. $12.95  ISBN: 0-15-200391-6 

Where did Merlin come from? In this brief fantasy, the first of a projected trilogy, Yolen provides an answer: at eight years of age he was left by parents in a forest, to survive or not, a practice not uncommon in medieval England among families unable to provide for their children. This intelligent and creative youth did survive, eating berries and nuts, sleeping in trees to escape vicious dogs, being always on the watch. One day, he saw a man training a passager, an immature falcon; the man also saw the boy and later captured and began civilizing him, much as a falcon might be trained. The book ends with the boy receiving the name "Merlin," a term for a small falcon. Presumably the future books will deal with an older Merlin. Though beautifully written, Passager is interesting but not compelling reading. I'm doubtful whether it will have the widespread appeal Yolen usually gets and richly deserves.

The ALAN Review Ted Hipple 
Winter 1997 University of Tennessee 

 


Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover Fiction and Poetry

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Glenn, Mel
Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems

Reviewed by Anne Shaughnessy
Fort Clarke Middle School
Gainesville, Florida
Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems by Mel Glenn Poetry/Mystery 
Lodestar Books, 1996. 100 pp. $14.95  ISBN: 0-525-67430-2 

In these poems, Mel Glenn turns his talent for writing free verse into a compelling who-done-it. The collection opens with the voice of Robert Chippendale, an English teacher for twenty years at Tower High. Early one February morning, Chippendale punches in for the last time. Not long after, as he begins a third lap around the school track, a shot rings out and Chippendale falls -- dead before he hits the ground.

In the poems that follow, Glenn gives voice to the students and staff whose lives Chippendale has touched. Many remember Chippendale fondly, but not all. Most recall the encouragement, confidence, and beautiful words Chippendale gave them. Others see in his death a scary reminder of the violence and turbulence in their own lives. For a few, Chippendale "ain't nobody important," and his shooting merely the latest exciting thing to have happened at school.

As in his previous volumes, Glenn allows these high-school students to speak honestly and directly. These poems will attract even those who do not like poetry.

The ALAN Review Anne Shaughnessy 
Winter 1997  Fort Clarke Middle School, Gainesville, Florida

 


Heisel, Sharon E.
Eyes of a Stranger
Reviewed by Marjorie M. Kaiser
Professor
University of Louisville
Louisville, Kentucky
Eyes of a Stranger  by Sharon E. Heisel Mystery/Kidnapping 
Delacorte, 1996. 168 pp. $15.95  ISBN: 0-385-32229-1 

 
Intended for mature high schoolers, this page-turner combines suspenseful action with rich character development in a fluid and natural style. Sixteen-year-old Marissa lives with her Uncle Paul after the death of both of her parents. She assists her uncle in the running of a carousel in a small park near Portland, Oregon. Challenged by a deformed leg, Marissa despairs of ever having a male interested in her. As the plot unfolds, she finally gets the male attention she has yearned for. But is it the kind she wants? As an independent young woman, Marissa develops the strength during the course of the novel to assure her own survival.

In her first young adult novel, Heisel has turned out a brilliant combination of fine writing, relevant themes, and accessible style. The author's symbolic use of the carousel and her realistic creation of both scene and character make for a beautiful if frightening story.

The ALAN Review Marjorie M. Kaiser 
Winter 1997  University of Louisville 

 


Byars, Betsy
Dead Letter
Reviewed by Jennifer Moreland
Media Specialist
Redlands Middle School
Grand Junction, Colorado
Dead Letter by Betsy Byars  Mystery/Detective Stories 
Viking, 1996. 147 pp. $13.99   ISBN: 0-670-85860-4 
"I don't want to die. I can't die. He's going to kill me. I know it." Thus reads a mysterious letter hidden inside the lining of a
secondhand coat that has become the property of Herculeah Jones, super sleuth. With her reluctant sidekick, Meat, Herculeah sets out to discover who wrote the letter. Was the writer the victim of a murder? And if so, is the murderer still lurking somewhere? When Herculeah's hair starts frizzing, a mystery is definitely afoot, and danger is sure to follow.

Dead Letter is the third in a series of mysteries about spunky Herculeah Jones, daughter of a police detective and a private
eye. Action and suspense abound in this fast-paced mystery, which is refreshingly free of gore. Fifth- and sixth-grade mystery readers will find it a worthy addition to the genre.

The ALAN Review  Jennifer Moreland 
Winter 1997  Redlands Middle School, Grand Junction, Colorado 

 


Nixon, Joan Lowery
Don't Scream
Reviewed by Ruth K. J. Cline
Professor Emerita
University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado
Don't Scream by Joan Lowery Nixon  Mystery/Mental Illness 
Delacorte, 1996. 165 pp. $15.95 ISBN: 0-385-32065-5 

Jessica is excited when two new boys appear in her high school. One of them, Mark, lives next door to her, but he is a sociopath under the government protection program. The other, Scott, is shadowing Mark because he knows of the danger. Instead of revenge, Scott is trying to protect people. The death of two cats, jealousy over leading a high-school volunteer program, and a neighbor's death complicate Jess's life. The computer nerd Eric helps solve the mystery and looks more attractive to Jessica. Appropriate as personal reading for younger students, this mystery is a fast read with the major obstacles overcome without adult guidance.

The ALAN Review Ruth K. J. Cline
Winter 1997 University of Colorado 

 


Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover and Paperback Fiction

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Wisler, G. Clifton
Caleb's Choice

Reviewed by Sati Maharaj-Boggs
Assistant Professor of English
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
Caleb's Choice by C. Clifton Wisler Underground Railroad 
Lodestar Books, 1996. 150 pp. $14.99  ISBN: 0-525-67526-4 

 
When fourteen-year-old Caleb Dulaney's family loses all their material possessions, he is shipped off to live with his paternal grandmother in North Texas until his father can earn enough money for the family to be together again. His uneventful arrival at his grandmother's small travelers' lodge provides no indication of the secrets he will uncover about his good-natured grandmother and his fiery cousin Edith, and no indication of the troubles ahead.

Set in 1858, this fast-paced, easy-to-read novel proves that history can be intriguing and exciting. Wisler draws readers into this masterful, and often humorous, tale about the little-known underground railroad movement in Texas with the novel's opening sentence: "If it had not been for Aunt Alma's [broken] teacups and my cousin Pierre's [black] eye, I might never have come to Collin County at all" (p. 1). In Collin County, Caleb discovers that he can undertake adult responsibility when he defies the law and chooses to deliver two fugitive slaves to their freedom. This novel is skillfully and vividly written and could be a winner with junior-high and even high-school students. It would, therefore, be an excellent addition to any English or history class.

The ALAN Review Sati Maharaj-Boggs 
Winter 1997 Appalachian State University

 


Gregory, Kristiana
The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart
Reviewed by Joyce A. Litton
Library Associate
Ohio University
Athens, Ohio
The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart by Kristiana Gregory  Revolutionary War 
Scholastic, 1996. 173 pp. $9.95   ISBN: 0-590-22653-3 

The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart is a fictional account of the ordeal of the American army, its supporters, and its detractors at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, from December 1, 1777 to July 4, 1778. Told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Abigail, the novel describes the ill-clad soldiers, the inadequacy of medicine, and the day-to-day activities of the Stewart family. One discovers how household tasks such as laundry and soap-making are accomplished. Fictional characters interact with historical figures. An epilogue which tells what happens to them after the war, a six-page history of the Revolutionary War, portraits, documents, and maps all add to the strong educational value of the book. Because the story is about hard times, young adult readers might prefer a bit more romance or foolishness to leaven the serious tale.

The ALAN Review  Joyce A. Litton 
Winter 1997  Ohio University 

Rinaldi, Ann
Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley
Reviewed by Mike Angelotti
Professor of English Education
The University of Oklahoma
Norman, Oklahoma
Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley by Ann Rinaldi  Historical Fiction/Memoir 
Harcourt Brace, 1996. 352 pp. $6.00  ISBN: 0-15-200877-2 (pbk.) 

Here is a beautifully written story true to the historical facts of the life of Phillis Wheatly, America's first black poet. Yeet its credibility rests in its imaginative treatment of Phillis Wheatley the human being, of how a young African slave might have learned to read and write American English in pre-Revolutionary-War Boston. The novel is written as Phillis Wheatley might have written a memoir covering the period in her life from ages seven through approximately twenty-one; that is, from Keziah's abduction from a Senegal rice field by her vengeful uncle's warriors to her interview with General George Washington as "free nigra woman" Phillis Wheatley. Especially moving is her description of the "middle passage" between Senegal and Boston on the slave ship Phillis. Complementing a study of Phillis Wheatley's poetry might be her running commentary on the significance of writing and on her writing process. Her easy conversational style should make historical detail pleasantly consumable to young readers studying the period. In fact, Ann Rinaldi's fascinating "Author's Note" discusses the interplay of fact and fiction in the story. This book has strong interdisciplinary potential. It was much enjoyed and is highly recommended.

The ALAN Review  Mike Angelotti 
Winter 1997  The University of Oklahoma 

Denenberg, Barry
When Will This Cruel War Be Over?
Reviewed by M. Jean Greenlaw
Regents Professor
University of North Texas
Denton, Texas
When Will This Cruel War Be Over? by Barry Denenberg Civil War 
Scholastic, 1996. 156 pp. $9.95  ISBN: 0-590-22862-5 

 
Scholastic has created a new series of diaries written from the perspective of young persons living in historical time periods. These "Dear America" books are intended to allow the reader to get a contextual feel for the era by getting into the skin of someone who views an event in history from the inside.

The "cruel war" of the title of this work is the Civil War, and the diary is from the viewpoint of a young woman living in Gordonsville, Virginia. The book is very painful to read, for several reasons. Throughout the book, the casual references to the inferior abilities of the "Negroes" make one wince. The constant presence of death and suffering, from war-related casualties as well as illnesses that could be easily cured today, gives one pause; and the rather wimpy beliefs and behavior of some of the women jolt the modern reader. Each of these details, however, helps to make the book a powerful statement of the time. One comes away from the reading with a better understanding of life during the Civil War, which is far removed from the sanitized version sometimes depicted in textbooks. Photographs, letters, and music of the period are appended.

The ALAN Review  M. Jean Greenlaw 
Winter 1997 University of North Texas 

Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover Fiction and Nonfiction

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Staples, Suzanne Fisher
Dangerous Skies

Reviewed by Bonnie O. Ericson
Professor of Secondary Education
California State University, Northridge
Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples  Friendship/Racism 
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. 232 pp. $16.00  ISBN: 0-374-31694-5 

Dangerous Skies is one of the most powerful works of adolescent fiction I have read in a long time. Staples, who so successfully conveyed the exotic Pakistani land and culture in Shabanu and Haveli, turns to the Chesapeake Bay area for the setting of this suspenseful and poignant story of the mixed-race friendship of Buck and Tunes Smith. Buck and Tunes share the same last name and the same age, 12, but Buck is descended from early English settlers, while Tunes' ancestors were slaves from Africa. Family relationships and old friendships are tested when Buck and Tunes find a body, and Tunes becomes the prime murder suspect. Tunes goes into hiding, but Buck locates her and learns the terrible secret of the real murderers' motive. Yet those in more influential positions remain unconvinced of Tunes' innocence, and her case goes to trial. This is a gripping story with stunning prose and a realistic ending. Readers will not soon forget the characters of Dangerous Skies.

The ALAN Review  Bonnie O. Ericson 
Winter 1997  California State University, Northridge 

Holland, Isabelle
The Promised Land
Reviewed by Edna Earl Edwards
Professor Emerita of Education and English
State University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia
The Promised Land by Isabelle Holland  Identity/Foster Family 
Scholastic, 1996. 155 pp. $15.95  ISBN: 0-590-47176-7 

In this sequel to The Journey Home, Holland continues the story of Maggie and Annie Lavin, orphans now 15 and 10, in the extended Russell family that includes a three-year-old son and Mrs. Russell's unwell mother. Products of the orphan trains in early America, the girls remember New York City and their Catholic religion, which is not fully tolerated by the Kansas prairie Baptists.

Maggie and Annie are happy with the Russells, but then their Uncle Michael from Ireland comes and wants to take them back to New York. They face this decision, the hard Kansas winter, the care of Mrs. Russell and her mother when they become ill, and peer relationship problems.

Holland provides insight into early American times through animal-loving Annie and conscientious Maggie. Girls will admire the toughness of the orphans as they struggle to find where they belong.

The ALAN Review Edna Earl Edwards 
Winter 1997  State University of West Georgia

 


Desetta, Al, ed.
The Heart Knows Something Different: Teenage Voices from the Foster Care System
Reviewed by Nicholas J. Karolides
Professor of English
University of Wisconsin-River Falls
The Heart Knows Something Different: Teenage Voices from the Foster Care System edited by Al Desetta Foster Care 
Persea Books, 1996. 237 pp. $24.95   ISBN: 0-89255-215-8 

The voices are compelling. These teenagers reveal the nature of their lives by opening the shutters to their past -- their family experiences with neglect, desertion, brutality, and death; life inside the system; efforts to define their identity. The concluding section focuses on their aspirations for the future. Deeply personal, the entries express the pain and dislocation of separation, the rage at the brutality visited upon them, the despair at not being cared for. Also portrayed are the coping and fortitude, the joy of finding acceptance, self-worth and love. The group and foster homes are revealed through their eyes. Some writers offer advice to the system's staff for improvements; many express gratitude to individuals. These writers speak to their peers, inside and outside, with words of encouragement and eloquence that emanate from the immediacy and sensitivity of their statements. This book offers rich grist for the mill of secondary school classroom and personal discussion.

The ALAN Review  Nicholas J. Karolides 
Winter 1997  University of Wisconsin-River Falls 

Cooney, Caroline B.
The Voice on the Radio
Reviewed by Susanne L. Johnston
Lecturer in English
University of Wisconsin-Stout
The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney  Trust/Betrayal/Commitment 
Delacorte, 1996. 183 pp. $15.95  ISBN: 0-385-32213-5 

Caroline B. Cooney does it again with The Voice on the Radio. In this sequel to The Face on the Milk Carton and Whatever Happened to Janie?, it has been one year since Janie Johnson discovered she had been kidnapped as a child. Janie is a high-school junior and in love with Reeve. She finally feels that her life is somewhat normal and begins to reconcile with her biological family, but the voice on the radio destroys her trust. Cooney plots an engaging and realistic picture of betrayal, commitment, unconditional love, and forgiveness. Readers will not put the book down until they have seen how Janie comes to terms with those she has hurt, and with those who have hurt her.

The ALAN Review Susanne L. Johnston 
Winter 1997  University of Wisconsin-Stout

 


Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover and Paperback Fiction

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Lynch, Chris
Blood Relations

Reviewed by Jim Brewbaker
Professor of Education
Columbus State University
Columbus, Georgia
Blood Relations by Chris Lynch Family Relations/Urban Ethnicity 
HarperCollins Trophy, 1996. 216 pp. $4.50  ISBN: 0-06-447122-5 

 
Blood Relations  picks up where Chris Lynch's Mick  left off, with its fifteen-year-old title character lying senseless, bloodied by neighborhood roughnecks outside the home of Evelyn, an Hispanic girl Mick finds irresistible. Lynch's fans won't be disappointed in this, the second of three short novels in the Blue-Eyed Son Series, in which he turns an unwavering eye on American ethnicity as its worst. The novel is honest, gritty to the point of queasiness, yet hopeful.

Mick wants out of his Irish-American family, his neighborhood, the boundaries that define him. Severing family ties, though, is about as easy as dropping out of the priesthood -- maybe harder. A break comes during a May Day family binge, when Mick's brother and his buddies arrange to have their dogs kill a goat -- for laughs. Mick moves out and finds refuge with a neighbor. As the novel concludes, Mick has a part-time job and takes the first steps toward establishing true independence. The scene is thus set for Dog Eat Dog, the third and final Mick narrative, to follow.

The ALAN Review  Jim Brewbaker 
Winter 1997 Columbus State University 

Strasser, Todd
Rock 'N' Roll Summer: Playing For Love
Reviewed by Connie Russell
Eau Claire School District
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Rock 'N' Roll Summer: Playing For Lovs  by Todd Strasser  Teen Problems
Harper Paperbacks, 1996. 194 pp. $3.50 ISBN: 0-06-106256-1 

Frank and Eddie disguise themselves as female members of an all-girl band. As the band gets closer to a contract that can make Frank and Eddie wealthy, telling the truth about their identities becomes, in their minds, more difficult if not impossible. In addition, Frank may be losing his girlfriend Sabrina to his boss, and a snoopy reporter seems to be on to their disguises. While there's enough action in this book, the plot is shallow and the innuendoes minimize sensitive life issues. Although some may find this book a light, fast read, it lacks substance. Strasser's fans have come to expect more.

The ALAN  Review Connie Russell 
Winter 1997 Eau Claire Area School District, Eau Claire, Wiconsin 

 


McDonald, Joyce
Comfort Creek
Reviewed by Gerry McBroom
Assistant Dean, Arts and Sciences
TVI Community College
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Comfort Creek by Joyce McDonald Families/Father-Daughter Relationships 
Delacorte, 1996. 194 pp. $15.95 ISBN: 0-385-32232-1 

 
Set in a fictional Florida mining town, this first-person narrative investigates the problems a father and three daughters experience when the father is laid off and they move to a "swamp" with no electricity or water. Quinn, the sixth-grade narrator and middle daughter, describes her relationships with her father, her sixteen-year-old and nine-year-old sisters, her grandmother Nanny Jo Pearl, her friend Ed Earl, and other townspeople. Limited action makes the novel slow-going at the beginning, but the last half moves quickly with a heated town meeting followed by a fight in which her father is injured. All ends happily when Quinn gets an article published in the local newspaper and works out her relationship with her father, and the family moves to Nanny Jo's where her father will work. Quinn feels that the fictional place her grandfather always refers to as "Comfort Creek" really exists -- right where she is.

The ALAN Review  Gerry McBroom 
Winter 1997 TVI Community College, Albuquerque, New Mexico 

 


Rodowsky, Colby
Sydney, Invincible
Reviewed by Hollis Lowery-Moore
Associate Professor of Education
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas
Sydney, Invincible  by Colby Rodowsky Journalism/Family Issues 
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995. 140 pp. $14.00  ISBN: 0-374-37365-5 

Middle graders and junior-high readers will love looking ahead to high school as they read about Sydney Downie's junior year at Hawthorne Hills, a private girls' school. The year brings significant changes to Sydney's life -- her mother and Sam, Sydney's former creative writing teacher, are married and expecting a baby; her boyfriend, Wally, is frustrated with the constant battling of his parents; and Sydney is named school newspaper editor, even though she would prefer to do the "Dear-Abby"-type column. A fast-paced plot, believable dialogue, and likable characters will keep readers entertained. This novel stands on its own, but adolescents who read Sydney, Herself will find familiar characters and places.

The ALAN Review  Hollis Lowery-Moore 
Winter 1997 Sam Houston State University 

 Clip and File Reviews of
New Hardcover Fiction

Virginia R. Monseau and Gary M. Salvner, editors 


Hesse, Karen
The Music of Dolphins

Reviewed by Hazel K. Davis
Athens, Ohio
Paxton, Collin Wilcox, and Gary Carden
The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse Feral Children/Diaries 
Scholastic, 1996. 181 pp. $14.95 ISBN: 0-590-89797-7 

 
A toddler lost in the ocean after a plane crash is adopted by a family of dolphins and survives for thirteen years. Despite this fantastic premise, Hesse manages to capture the reader by providing the child's own version of her rescue/capture, a newspaper account of the rescue, and Mila's (from the Spanish word for miracle) diary typed into the computer at the government research center where she is taken. Large type, spacing, and length of entries (chapters) reflect Mila's development as she quickly acquires human language and behavior. Although she tries to adjust to the human world as she is allowed to see it, she longs for her dolphin family and her ocean world. Not easily put down, this novel helps the reader to reflect on what it means to be a human being.

The ALAN Review  Hazel K. Davis 
Winter 1997 Athens, Ohio 

Papa's Angels
Reviewed by Judy Beckman
College of Education
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Papa's Angels by Collin Wilcox Paxton and Gary Carden  Death/Christmas 
New World Library, 1996. 118 pp. $17.00  ISBN: 0-57731-004-7 

Momma dies at 33, leaving five children. Papa carves "Goodbye Sun" on her tombstone and retreats to the night-dark barn to grieve and drink. John Neal, Momma's youngest, believes their mother tells them that they must make Papa laugh. When he bans Christmas and fires off his double-barrel shotgun to frighten off Sandy Claws and quash his children's belief, the children respond. Acting on the challenge of Momma's words, her five Appalachian children drag in a Yule log and haul out her ornaments. They are certain that their mother will return in the Yule fire as do all the dearly beloved dead. Twelve-year-old 'Becca's diary gently whispers their story, with the grace of ageless wisdom. Paxton's and Carden's read-aloud gift possesses the power and richly drawn characters found in Capote's "A Christmas Memory." A heart that believes, not age, determines the audience.

The ALAN Review  Judy Beckman 
Winter 1997  University of Northern Iowa

Wilson, Nancy Hope
Becoming Felix
Reviewed by Michaeline Chance-Reay
College of Education Faculty
Kansas State University
Manhattan, Kansas
Becoming Felix by Nancy Hope Wilson Identity/Farm Life/Careers 
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. 184 pp. $16.00  ISBN: 0-374-30664-8 

 
Twelve-year-old Felix John Jacquith faces adult decisions and responsibilities as he enters seventh grade in the small town of West Farley, Massachusetts. He is torn between being a farmer and a jazz musician, just as his grandfather and namesake was before him. He has a talent for both and loves his clarinet as much as his cows. Unexpected events at home and school challenge him to reach deep into his heart, mind, and soul for answers to his dilemma.

Wilson's characterization of adolescents, teachers, and family members is sympathetic without being patronizing. Their strength, dignity, and depth of feeling for each other, their work, and the land make for a heart-warming story. Wilson's descriptions of the farm setting and daily life are outstanding. All students can benefit from this look at those who are still connected to the land.

The ALAN Review  Michaeline Chance-Reay 
Winter 1997  Kansas State University

 


Luger, Harriet
Bye, Bye, Bali Kai
Reviewed by Darien Fisher-Duke
Librarian
Brookland Middle School
Richmond, Virginia
Bye, Bye, Bali Kai by Harriett Luger  Homeless Persons 
Harcourt Brace, 1996. 150 pp. $11.00  ISBN: 0-15-200862-4 

Avoid this book. The plot, involving a family's unexpected and, to them, unthinkable change from middle-class to homelessness, has a lot of potential. Yet fifth grader Suzie Cooke, her family, and all their acquaintances talk and act unlike real people. They snarl, screech, snicker, and hiss for the most improbable reasons, and their motivations are either obscure or simplistic. Suzie rewards her one true friend with comments such as, "You're not that ugly, just mis-dressed." Few likable characters, and fewer believable ones.

The ALAN Review Darien Fisher-Duke 
Winter 1997  Brookland Middle School, Richmond, Virginia 

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