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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Check Out A Banned Book


The Chocolate WAr

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

In 1974, after suffering rejections from seven major publishers, The Chocolate War made its debut. An uncompromising portrait of conformity and corruption, it quickly became a bestselling and provocative classic for young adults.

The Chocolate War tells the story of high school freshman Jerry Renault whose prep school is run by a secret society. Its leader, Archie Costello is the master of intimidation. In the school’s annual fund-raising event, a chocolate sale, Jerry refuses to sell his allotment of chocolates. With Archie’s brutal cunning, Jerry turns from hero to outcast to victim.

The Chocolate War is listed as #3 on the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009” by the American Library Association. Author Robert Cormier is a recipient of the 1991 Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens.


The Pigman



The Pigman by Paul Zindel

Originally published in 1968, this novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Zindel, is an intensely moving story of believably alienated young people.

The protagonists in The Pigman are high school students, John and Lorraine. Seemingly bored with high school and life in general, they make prank phone calls to random people in the telephone book. Through a prank call, they befriend an elderly, lonely man, Mr. Pignati, who invites them into his home and his life. As two greedy and selfish individuals, John and Lorraine abuse the love and generosity of Mr. Pignati.

The Pigman is listed as #39 on the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990–1999” by the American Library Association. Author Paul Zindel won the 2002 Margaret A. Edwards Award in which The Pigman was recognized as one of the first authentic young adult novels.




Whale Talker

 Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

In Whale Talk, The Tao Jones (pronounced “The Dow Jones”), or T. J. for short, is the name given to the story’s protagonist by his birth mother. T. J. is intelligent, good-looking, and very athletic though he purposely chooses not to participate in high school sports.

One day his English teacher asks T. J. to organize a swim team despite the fact that the school doesn’t have a swimming pool and there are no swimmers in the school. T. J. recruits a team of school misfits—outsiders. His team works and trains hard despite much opposition, prejudice, and bullying in the school and the community.

Author Chris Crutcher was awarded the 1993 ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature and the 2000 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. Whale Talk is listed as #41 on the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009” by the American Library Association. Author Chris Crutcher is known as one of the most talented young adult authors to combine sports and personal development.


The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is the story of Jonas, an eleven-year old boy who lives in the community of Sameness. In this community, life is planned, there are no choices, there is no competition, and everyone lives, looks, and dresses the same. There are no decisions to make. Anyone who doesn’t fit in is released to the community of Elsewhere.

At the age of twelve, citizens of Sameness receive their life assignment. Jonas receives a very special assignment, one that he must accept and cannot fail at.

The Giver is a classic, must-read for everyone. Most notable awards for The Giver include the 1994 Newbery Medal and the 1994 Mock Printz Awardee. The Giver is listed as #11 on the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990–1999” and #23 on the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009” by the American Library Association.


Florida Fiction


Swamplandia by Karen Russell

Another Florida book that deals with family and choice, Swamplandia by Karen Russell has much darker overtones. At the center is a family coping with great change – the loss of their matriarch.

The book also weaves subplots such as the steady loss of their livelihood, the loss of a cohesive family, and the loss of innocence. The Bigtree family runs a roadside attraction like many that were so popular in Florida in the 1950s and 60s.  

With not so subtle comparisons to Disney World, a major theme park opens and steadily drains Swamplandia’s paying clientele until the family business is merely a shattered hulk of what it had been just as the family itself is cracked and broken.

Here the fantasies indulged by the children are dark and dangerous, such as the ghostly lover that lures Ossie, the oldest sister, far from home and the brother who escapes into the evil world of big cities.   Ava, the youngest child, goes to great lengths to rescue her family and along the way endures haunting abuse.

Ms. Russell’s writing is beautifully descriptive. She has written some of the best albeit quirky descriptions of Florida I have read:

“Air plants hung like hairy stars.” “Duckweed dragged like a wedding train behind our transom.” “The salt white of the sky over the interstate highway, the strange pink-and-white apartment complexes where mainlanders lived like cutlery in drawers.”

She creates Tim Burton images with words:

“With a grim spiderlike lacemaking Kiwi’s brain knit his surprise into a dull and terrible knowledge.” “Ossie said a spirit’s voice was as fine as a needle, tattooing her insides with luminous words.”

Her images and her characters will haunt you long after you close Swamplandia, as real as Ossie’s ghosts.



sky horse

 The Sky Horse by HL Carpenter

This young adult book is written by the mother/daughter team of Helen and Lori Carpenter and is set in a fictional small town in Florida.

Protagonist Tovi Taggert is new in town, starting high school, and almost six feet tall. If that wasn’t enough for this frustrated teen, boys are spreading rumors about her and girls are accusing her of attempting to steal their boyfriends.

While this may seem like just another tale of misfits and mean girls it deals with some very serious questions and interweaves issues with fantasy storylines.

I wish there had been more info on the Choking Game and the dangerous attraction it can have but the subject is dealt with candor and the writers are not overly preachy. The book examines issues that young and old face without the bad language and vulgarity. Can Tovi make friends among the popular teens and still be true to herself? Is it more important to be popular or truthful? What if you make a wish and it comes true but your life is even more complicated?

In the end, Tovi realizes that her choices are not easy but she has done her best for herself, her family, her friends, and the Sky Horse.


As Ye Sow

King Leopold's Ghost



The Dream of the Celt

“…the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky (and) seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

--Joseph Conrad

The connection between Europe and Africa is one of unrelieved cruelty and exploitation. Nowhere is that savagery more focused than in what became known as The Belgian Congo.

Created by King Leopold to support his personal treasury in the 1880’s, the Congo would yield between 3 and 10 million African dead on the Shoah of the rubber and ivory trade before the end of formal colonialism in the mid-20th century.

The incomprehensible horror of the Congo was chronicled as early as 1904 in a report by the Irish patriot Roger Casement to the British Consulate.

Adam Hochschild continued Casement’s work in his classic, King Leopold’s Ghost. 

Craig Timberg and David Halperin follow the AIDS track through the rubber and ivory trade in Tinderbox. Great novelists have also explored the scarring of the spirit left on those who experienced the Congo.

In 1902 Joseph Conrad took readers down the Congo River in discovery of The Heart of Darkness.

110 years later Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa closed the circle with his haunting reverie on the haunted reveries of the last months of the life of Roger Casement in The Dream of the Celt.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

-Carl Jung


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