Listing of Materials

  • ABC/CLIO: The American Mosaic: The African American Experience
  • All Killer No Filler/Sum 41
  • American Cheerleader, published by Macfadden Performing Arts Media, LLC
  • Another Kind of Monday by William E. Coles, Jr.
  • Asta in the Wings by Jan Elizabeth Watson
  • Breaking Point by Alex Flinn
  • Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson
  • Career Cruising: Career Cruising
  • Cruddy by Lynda Barry
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Deal with a Ghost by Marilyn Singer
  • Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
  • Easy A, directed by Will Gluck
  • Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
  • Eva by Peter Dickinson
  • Facts on File: Science Online
  • Fray by Joss Whedon
  • Getting It by Alex Sanchez
  • Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
  • Hope in Patience by Beth Felhbaum
  • Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
  • It’s All About Us by Shelley Adina
  • Jason Castro/Jason Castro
  • Just Like You/Allison Iraheta
  • Killzone: Liberation for Playstation
  • Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  • Mercury by Hope Larson
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • Orange County, directed by Jake Kasdan
  • Scholastic: Grolier: Lands and Peoples
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, directed by Edgar Wright
  • Seventeen Magazine, published by the Hearst Corporation
  • Shadow People by Joyce McDonald
  • Simon Says by Elaine Marie Alphin
  • Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
  • Slot Machine by Chris Lynch
  • Son of Interflux by Gordon Korman
  • Surviving Ben’s Suicide by Comfort Shields
  • Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
  • Tangerine by Edward Bloor
  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich-Smith
  • Teen Vogue, published by Conde Nast
  • Teenage Dirtbag, directed by Regina Crosby
  • The China Garden by Liz Berry
  • The Craft, directed by Andrew Fleming
  • The Fruit of My Lipstick (It’s All About Us #2) by Shelley Adina
  • The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White
  • White House Autumn by Ellen Emerson White
  • Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Bibliographic Information:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs, Quirk Books, 2011 (ISBN # 1594744769)

Plot Summary:

Jacob Portman worships his grandfather Abe.  Abe is a World War II survivor with fantastical stories, including anecdotes about the children’s home in Wales where he was placed after his family was killed.  Jacob has always loved the stories, and been impressed by the photographs his grandfather has kept – photos of children who can levitate, hold aloft boulders five times their weight, and with a mouth in the back of their head as well as front.  Until he gets older, and peer pressure shames him into renouncing his grandfather and all his stories.

Now Abe is getting old, and Jacob is the only person who can handle him.  He sees monsters everywhere, so his family has locked up his collection of weapons.  As Abe is dying, victim of a vicious clawed attack, he charges Jacob with going “to the island… to find the bird”.  When Jacob finds a mysterious, fifteen-year-old letter addressed to his grandfather, he knows where he must go.

Jacob and his father travel to Wales, where he explores the ruin of the house that used to be and uncovers more mysterious examples of trick photography.  After a trip through a cairn tunnel following the mysterious children (some of whom he recognizes from these photos), he finds that he has traveled back in time… to the day a Nazi bomb destroyed the orphans’ home.  Spending time with the children, including a pretty orphan named Emma, and the mysterious “Miss Peregrine”, he learns that his grandfather was definitely hiding large portions of the story from him.  Is Emma Jacob’s soulmate?  Is it just a coincidence that Jacob’s father is an ornithologist… or something more?

Critical Evaluation:

On the surface, Jacob is a spoiled slacker with no direction, but this feckless outside is just to disguise a “reluctant hero”.  He solves his own problems via good old-fashioned ingenuity (a cell phone provides a flashlight; if he’s not strong enough to open a trunk, throwing it over a staircase will, etc.), which will appeal to readers of both genders.  The presence of a fossilized “bog man” and an underwater U-boat graveyard also add interest for male teen readers in particular, as the author artfully interweaves some fun facts along with the mythological aspects (the actual mythology is handled lightly and does not confuse readers with too many Welsh terms).  Some readers may be a little squeamish about the theory that Jacob is basically crushing on his grandfather’s childhood sweetheart, but the author does a good job of handling with delicacy.  Some small items are red herrings or unresolved, and the ending is either open-ended for mysterious purposes or for a sequel, which may be a little bit frustrating for some.  But the story set forth in these pages is so unique that it is worth the trip.

Reader’s Annotation:

Jacob is a slacker who doesn’t care about anything, trying his best to get fired from his job at the family business – until his beloved grandfather Abraham dies, and he decides to vindicate his memory by going to the place of Abe’s youth.  His parents think he’s gone crazy, and when Jacob travels to Wales and meets a group of differently abled children who seem neither alive nor dead, he’s not sure any more himself.

Author Information:

From author’s website (http://www.ransomriggs.com/bio/):

I was born on a 200-year-old farm in rural Maryland, where at the tender age of five I decided that I definitely wanted to be a farmer when I grew up, because being a farmer meant driving tractors.  Then, partially as a result of my new ambition, my mom moved us far away to Florida, where there were relatively few farms but lots and lots of old people and not very much for kids to do.  In retrospect, it was precisely because there wasn’t a lot to do, and because the internet didn’t exist and cable TV was only like twelve channels back then, that I was forced to make my own fun and my own stories — and that’s what I’m still doing, only now I get paid for it.  So thanks, sleepy Florida fishing village!

I grew up writing stories and making videos in the backyard with my friends.  I knew I wanted to do one or both of those things in some professional capacity when I got older, but I didn’t know how.  For three summers during high school I attended the University of Virginia’s Young Writer’s Workshop, and I still consider it one of the shaping experiences of my life.  I met so many great, brilliant people, and it convinced me that it was possible to make a life for myself as a writer.

Genre:

Realistic/Fantasy/Historical/Illustrated Novel

Curriculum Ties:

History (Nazi and WWII era orphans)

Booktalking Ideas:

Read the end of chapter 1, where Jacob discovers his grandfather in the yard.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

14+

Challenge Issues:

Eminently possible – Grandpa meets a quite bloody end, and the subject matter gets a little eerie in places.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the book was added to our collection.

Why Included:

Though just published in June of this year, the novel has amassed nearly 3,000 reviews on Goodreads.com, with an average of four stars.  Mr. Riggs is inventive with a smooth prose style, and seems poised to develop into a major YA author in future.

Mercury by Hope Larson

Bibliographic Information:

Mercury, Hope Larson, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010 (ISBN # 1416935886)

Plot Summary:

Mercury is the parallel story of two teenage girls, 1859’s Josey Fraser and present day’s Tara Fraser.  Except for an unkempt, wild-haired religious fanatic mother, Josey lives an unremarkable life on the Nova Scotia frontier – until a mysterious peddler with a gift for finding gold, Asa Curry, wanders on in.  Josey is captivated by Asa, and he returns her feelings.  Her mother disapproves, but by now her father has partnered with Asa to search for gold.  When Josey’s father turns up missing and Asa is blamed, will Josey be vindicated in her belief in him?

Tara and her mother have been the victim of a disastrous fire that destroyed their family home and Tara is currently living with her cousin, preparing to return to the same school system she left two years earlier.  There she meets pleasant, handsome Ben, and gets a present from her aunt – a family-heirloom necklace Tara’s mother got from her grandfather.  The necklace is a drop of quicksilver preserved in glass, and it seems to be able to locate metal.  Money is one of the only obstacles to Tara’s staying in Nova Scotia as opposed to moving away with her mother.  Will the spirit of Josey help her find the fabled golden treasure, or is her future sealed?

Critical Evaluation:

The setting of the story in Canada is different, and Ms. Larson charmingly includes footnotes to explain Canadian-only elocutions (like “kims” for “kilometers”, and particular chain restaurants in Nova Scotia, which could just as easily have been left out to avoid any threatened confusion), and some charming details in the illustrations (Ms. Larson must own the same ubiquitous copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” that I do, as it was unmistakable in her drawing).  Josey’s storyline is presented in white-on-black, whereas Tara’s story is black-on-white, making the switches in story direction easy to follow for teens.  The Canadian setting is very important for the purposes of the story, and teens will learn some new facts (who knew that there was a west coast-east coast mock feud in Canada the same way it is established in the United States?)  The personality of each character is also well delineated and everyone has their own distinct voice.  Teens will root for Tara and Josey and want to find out more about the mysterious Asa.

Reader’s Annotation:

Modern teen Tara is temporarily separated from her mother after a fire which burned down their house, wearing the community’s hand-me-downs, and preparing to reenter the same school district she thought she’d left behind three years ago.  Can the ghost of her ancestress Josey really help her to find a buried treasure that could solve all her problems?

Author Information:

Hope Larson is the author of ChiggersGray Horses and Salamander Dream, the latter of which Publishers Weekly named one of 2005’s best comics. She is 26 years old, vegetarian, and lives with her husband, acclaimed cartoonist and graphic novelist Brian Lee O’Malley, in Los Angeles, CA. You can visit her online at http://www.hopelarson.com.

From an early interview with the author (http://drawn.ca/archive/663/):

Salamander Dream was originally serialized on your web-site where it was snapped up by a publisher. That was a clever way to use the internet.

I don’t really see myself as a web-cartoonist at all. Everything I do is intended for print eventually. But pretty much every cartoonist I know and a big chunk of my audience is on the Internet so it seemed like a natural thing to do.

The whole book is still available for free on the Internet. How has this affected the marketing of the book?

I have no idea. There’s a debate going right now at The Engine about whether it was a good idea putting the book on-line and keeping it on-line. That was one of the things that was important to me, though. I knew that after the book came out I wanted to leave it on-line as well. But we really have no idea how that’s working out.

Why is that important to you?

Because it’s so hard to find a comic book in a store. You have to put so much effort into actually finding stuff and you might have to pre-order it or you’re going to have to go into a store and deal with a jerk who’s not going to be very helpful especially if you’re a girl or somebody who doesn’t read a lot of comics and you’re not familiar with that whole system. That can be really intimidating.

So I wanted it to be available and I was thinking if people like it, maybe they will take the extra step and actually buy it.

Genre:

Graphic Novels/Historical/Fantasy/Romance

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Booktalking Ideas:

Compare and contrast Josey’s life with Tara’s life.  Is Tara, whose house burned down, more or less hampered than Josey, who lives in a cabin with no modern conveniences?  Or are they in the same position?

Reading Level/Interest Age:

13+

Challenge Issues:

A few mildly spicy jokes and a couple instances of profanity.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the book was added to our collection.

Why Included:

Mercury is one of the 2011 ALA Best graphic novels.  Plus, what teen girl interested in graphic novels wouldn’t love an author who admits she put her first comic out free because of the difficulty of a woman’s being assisted at a comic book store?  Judging by watching sales staff at a major comic book store in Manhattan have three long, involved, enthusiastic dialogues with men patrons of varying self-admitted levels of comics knowledge before me, as I wandered lonely as a cloud for 20 minutes, this is a real concern.

White House Autumn by Ellen Emerson White

Bibliographic Information:

White House Autumn, Ellen Emerson White, Feiwel and Friends, 2008 (ISBN # 9780312374891)

Plot Summary:

Meg Powers is settling nicely into her new life at high school and as the daughter of the first female President.  She tries to answer some of the letters she receives (ignoring the death threats), and faces extensive interviews with aplomb and only a tiny bit of terror.

And then, Meg’s whole world falls apart, and the entirety of the United States with her.  Someone tries to assassinate her mother, and the last time Meg saw her, she was defying her.  As they keep an uneasy vigil at her mother’s bedside and Meg pitches in to help comfort her younger brothers while she herself feels like falling apart, she starts taking it out on everyone she knows.  Her sweet, sincere boyfriend Josh is cowed and resentful, and hometown friend Beth is the only person who will tell it to Meg like it is.  The way the shooting tears this formerly close-knit family apart is intense, and Meg takes it out on the secret service agents who let her mother get shot and let her get kicked off the tennis team, where she had been ranked number one.  As Meg’s mother moves into recovery, will Meg ever stop being afraid?

Critical Evaluation:

Meg continues on as one of the great literary teens – still sarcastic, still slouching, and fighting her tendency to “be a jerk”.  Readers will most likely disagree with this assessment, as Meg is a lot like most teens.  The thread of Meg’s resentment of her mother carries through from the prior installment in the series, but is not overdone and seems perfectly reasonable in context.  Meg has learned the value of the “nice if geeky guy” (her boyfriend Josh) as opposed to the showstopper, and struggles with her sexual feelings in a poignant and realistic way.  The fun and enviable milieu of life in the White House, with fresh baked cookies on demand, will capture teens’ imagination, and life with one pesky and one sweet younger brother is convincingly essayed.  The First Family even has pets!  Teens will root for Meg to keep her spot on the tennis team and for her mother to pull out of danger.

Reader’s Annotation:

Meg Powers thought her life as First Daughter was a little odd before, but that’s nothing compared to the worry, fury, and panic that is unleashed when her mother is the victim of an assassination attempt.  Meg is kicked off the tennis team and has to deal with the guilt she feels when the last words she said to her mother before the shooting were spoken in anger – will she be able to forgive herself and heal the relationships she’s fracturing in her pain?

Author Information:

See “The President’s Daughter”

Genre:

Realistic/Politics/Series

Curriculum Ties:

Civics

Booktalking Ideas:

Read the beginning of chapter 15, where Meg returns to school for the first time after the assassination.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

14+

Challenge Issues:

A sprinkling of profanity, some making out, and some very realistic waking nightmares Meg has about what it would be like if her mother died.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the book was added to our collection.

Why Included:

This was another one in the pantheon of books where my local library had eclectically bought the first in the series and not the subsequent books.  The series should definitely not be separated and those teens who start reading will want to continue on with Meg until the finish.

The Fruit of My Lipstick (It’s All About Us #2) by Shelley Adina

Bibliographic Information:

The Fruit of My Lipstick (It’s All About Us #2), Shelley Adina, FaithWords, 2008 (ISBN # 9780446177979)

Plot Summary:

Gillian Chang is preparing for a fine start of the semester.  She loves God, music, her boarding school, and she’s got her first serious boyfriend, Lucas Hayes, who is even a Christian.  Her parents put a lot of pressure on her to achieve and get into an Ivy League college, and her grandmother, Nai-Nai, thinks Gillian is too brash and loud.  When Lucas starts to imply that he feels the same way, what will Gillian do?  When she finds herself breaking family dates in order to spend time with him, her parents aren’t pleased, and she must start a life of deception.  When she gives up the art class she loves in order to take up sessions with a personal trainer, her friends are alarmed.  Her response is to attack them and cause a schism in the group – but it’s really important for Lucas to do well representing the school in the Physics Olympics, and she probably shouldn’t make too many waves.  When Gillian is suspected of being the person selling exam answers to the entire junior class, everything comes to a head, and Gillian will have to make some harsh decisions.

Critical Evaluation:

Interestingly enough I found Gillian a far more likeable narrator than Lissa, the heroine who started us off on our series journey – she is less wishy-washy and more self-confident.  All of the girls’ old tormentors are back, including Vanessa, though she is not the focus of the book this time.  Plenty of name-dropping with regards to designer lines and destination vacations will be familiar to readers.  There are subtle clues that Lucas might not be all that which he seems sprinkled throughout the book, but enough muddying of the waters to make it realistic that perhaps Gillian is just overreacting.  A cheating scandal adds mystery and is not resolved until the end of the story.  A field trip to the site of a Japanese internment camp near San Francisco adds welcome gravitas.  On the whole, the plot is much less clunkier and more organic than it was in the series debut, where author was frequently reaching for conflicts (the book was one of three YA’s nominated for the 2009 Christy Award, which has honored the best of Christian fiction for 10 years).

Reader’s Annotation:

Gillian Chang is a talented musician, gifted student, committed Christian, and now, for the first time in her life, she’s “a girlfriend”.  What will she do to keep Lucas Hayes interested in her; and is he worth the sacrifice she’s making?

Author Information:

See “It’s All About Us”

Genre:

Chicklit/Christian/Series

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Booktalking Ideas:

Read the end of chapter 3, where Gillian muses that maybe Lucas is right and she does talk too much.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

14+

Challenge Issues:

There is a bit of incipient domestic abuse, which might be a little bald for Christian fiction, but it is handled well and not too extreme.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the book was added to our collection.

Why Included:

I was a little reserved about wanting to keep the first book in the array until I read the second book, but many of the issues of blandness, etc. have been resolved, making this a fine choice for Christian teen girls.

Killzone: Liberation for Playstation

Killzone:  Liberation, Playstation 3, Sony Computer Entertainment America, ©2006.

Summary:

Killzone:  Liberation is a sequel to the original (2004) Killzone release for PS2.  Set in a sci-fi/dystopian world where the action centers on a different planet, Killzone: Liberation has your character, a human soldier, trying to mow down hordes of the once-human Helghast foes.  The game can be played as an individual, via multiplayer mode, or co-op mode, where friends team up to play the same character.  You also get yourself an “NPC” (non-player combatant) assistant randomly in some levels.  As shooter, you have an aerial view of the action, and the game has frequent built-in checkpoints where you can return if your soldier is wiped out.  Unfortunately, my playing was hampered by the fact that it was making me nauseated, so not possible to explore too many of the in-game features.  I believe this game would be best played by teens or families in a group using the multiplayer mode.

Evaluation:

The single player mode of gameplay is quite short and can be frustrating, with enemies that are wily and tough to kill.  This reviewer found herself killed quite often, due to the game’s learning curve – in addition to learning how to maneuver one’s weapon while being attacked by Helghasts, you are handicapped by a weak weapon and must move your way up the weapons “food chain”, and you also need to learn the terrain and hiding places of the game landscape.  Once I caught the gist of necessary motions (and took some Dramamine) the game became more fun – I felt like a police officer clearing corners in an abandoned building – but with no “team” to play with, the multiplayer mode daunted me.  It was enjoyable and did raise my adrenaline level, and I would rate it high in general as far as shoot-em-ups go.

Challenge Issues:

Some swearing, you do murder enemies, and plenty of red blood splatters around.

Why Included:

www.ign.com has rated Killzone: Liberation with a 9 out of 10, which according to their ratings rubric translates to “One of the best games out there. When this generation of games ends, people will look back and say, “This was one of the best games made for the system.” It might have a few flaws, but this is a must-buy.”  Also, my now-twentysomething cousins say they were crazy about this game.

Fray by Joss Whedon

Fray, Joss Whedon, Dark Horse Comics, 2004, ISBN # 1569717516

Plot Summary:

Nineteen-year-old Melaka Fray is a street kid surviving on her own in a desolate, destroyed portion of futuristic Manhattan (“Haddyn”).  When we meet her, she is falling off a roof with a ray gun and an emerald-encrusted necklace in her hand.  She is a runner for a radiation-mutated merman named Gunther, who seems to like her a little too much, and the police – specifically her older sister Erin – have her firmly on their radar.  Attacked by Urkonn, a fearsome sort of minotaur, she thinks she’s just about come to the end of her days – but no, he has come to bring her the news – she is a vampire slayer.

Melaka knows vampires as “lurks”, and greets this announcement with the skepticism you would imagine.  Though she should have some prophetic dreams, she claims she has none.

Until she meets Icarus, a creepy vampire whom she realizes she has dreams of killing, more than a thousand times, in fact.  For he’s the one who killed her twin brother, Harth.  Except Harth is alive, and he has been getting the prophetic dreams, heritage, and memories… all Melaka has is the superhuman strength.  Will she be able to vanquish Icarus using only the tools at her disposal, or is she doomed to die, leaving her now-evil brother with the vampire slayer legacy?

Critical Evaluation:

The graphic novel is tangentially tied by mythology to the universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and although no crossover characters appear due to the futuristic setting, the “Buffyverse” is a rich ground for future entertainment choices if teens like what they read.  Some of the made-up slang is a little unconvincing (“the laws” for “police” and “toy” for “stupid”), and the slayer mythology is a bit of a retread if anyone is familiar with the story of Buffy, but these are small potatoes.  The mythology is artfully woven as opposed to being presented in one big info-dump that might cause readers to shut off.  The time-honored reveal about Fray’s brother, presumed dead, actually being a deadly vampire, is nicely done and was not expected.  The artwork is vivid, with lots of primary and dark colors tinted brown and green, and while the letter balloons are occasionally too crowded, this should not detract overmuch from the reader’s enjoyment.

Reader’s Annotation:

Melaka Fray steals for a living, has a sister who’s a cop, and a dead twin brother.  She uses her superhuman strength and wits to get by on the street, but soon she is hoping that her skills can help her in her destiny… vampire slayer.

Author Information:

From Notable Biographies (http://www.notablebiographies.com/newsmakers2/2006-Ra-Z/Whedon-Joss.html)

Born Joseph Hill Whedon on June 23, 1964, the future scriptwriter grew up in Manhattan alongside two older brothers and two half-brothers. That Whedon ended up in television is not surprising considering his father and grandfather both worked in the field. Whedon’s father, Tom, wrote for Benson, The Golden Girls, Electric Company, and Captain Kangaroo, while his grandfather, John, wrote for classics such as The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Donna Reed Show. Whedon’s mother, Lee Stearns, taught high school and aspired to write novels. His parents divorced when he was nine and his mother remarried.

Early on, Whedon’s vivid imagination became his closest companion. In many interviews Whedon has noted that as a child he felt peculiar and lonely, like he did not fit in. Whedon escaped these feelings by transporting himself to parallel universes. He imagined his toys were quirky characters with special powers and he created unending storylines about their lives. Whedon also read tons of comics, including Spider Man and Fantastic Four and pored through science-fiction books.

Genre:

Graphic Novel/Dystopian/Adventure/Vampire

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Booktalking Ideas:

Read aloud chapter five, where we meet Fray’s brother, presumed dead.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

13+

Challenge Issues:

Some vague discussions of prostitution, light profanity, drinking, drugs, and of course violence.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the book was added to our collection.

Why Included:

In Joss Whedon’s works, the girls largely do it for themselves, which is a message that girls always enjoy.  The alternative bleak version of Manhattan also makes a nice change from more cuddly, soft graphic novels aimed towards girls, and teen boys may also be attracted by the artwork.

The Craft, directed by Andrew Fleming

The Craft, Columbia Pictures, directed by Andrew Fleming, 1996, ISBN # 0767853466

Summary:

After a suicide attempt, tormented Sarah moves to Los Angeles with her mother and stepfather.  On her first day at school, she attracts the attention of the school’s three neophyte witches.  Nancy has a terrible home life, Bonnie has severe scars from a burn accident, and African-American Rochelle undergoes daily racist bullying.

Sarah appears to have supernatural powers, which she is not very good at controlling – things happen to her constantly without her realizing.  Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle haven’t been getting anywhere without a fourth person to complete their circle, and it appears as if Sarah might be the solution.  For a while it appears as if they are getting everything they want – the boy Sarah likes becomes obsessed with her, Bonnie’s skin heals, Rochelle’s tormentor finds that she is the tormented – but there’s a problem, because no one quite knows what Nancy has been asking for.  They soon find out, though, as Nancy’s jealousy of Sarah causes a group schism that manifests itself in a pyrotechnic battle that could destroy all.

Critical Evaluation:

The movie is very well constructed and doesn’t tell us too much – we can surmise, for example, that Sarah was drawn to attempt suicide because of feeling conflicted about the strange magical happenings she can accidentally bring on, but the audience is led to make their own connections rather than having everything spoon fed to us along the way.  While it is not a particularly accurate representation of Wicca, it is an excellent background for telling the story.  A side plot with a crazy man toting a snake seems to be missing some essential parts that would tie it to the remainder of the story, but on the whole the storyline of the movie makes sense.  The worst behavior of high school students is very accurately represented – the cliques, jealousy, hatred of anything different, etc.  The movie shows quite clearly that actions have consequences, and that it is wise to consider before starting anything in motion that you might not be able to call back.

Viewer’s Annotation:

Sarah, saddled with magical powers she can’t control, moves to Los Angeles with her family after a failed suicide attempt and finds three girls who don’t think she’s a magical freak show – in fact, they all have some power themselves.  But when witches get caught in a power struggle, everyone needs to watch out.

Director’s Information:

From http://www.tribute.ca/people/andrew-fleming/3459/

Andrew Fleming studied filmmaking at New York University’s prestigious film school, where one of his three award-winning student films earned him a fellowship at Warner Bros. He co-wrote the screenplay for his feature film-directing debut, Bad Dreams (1988), about a young girl who survives the mass suicide of a cult group, but stays in a coma for thirteen years. Fleming later acknowledged that the film’s gore was excessive and when he later made another thriller called The Craft (1996), he kept the gore to a minimum. For his second feature, Threesome (1994), Fleming was both director and sole screenwriter. Openly gay, Fleming wrote his story about three college students, with Stuart, played by Stephen Baldwin, falling in love with Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle), but Eddy (Josh Charles) finding himself attracted to Stuart.

Both of Fleming’s first two films were largely ignored by the public, but The Craft (1996), about high school witches, was a moderate success. His next film also followed the antics of high school students, this time two girls (Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams) who become secret advisers to President Nixon in Dick (1999).

Genre:

Suspense/Horror/Witches

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Challenge Issues:

Some profanity and many depictions of wiccan ceremonies, at least five characters in the movie, including three of the teens, smoke, and some fairly violent activities.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the DVD was added to our collection.

Why Included:

This is an interesting look at the effects of peer pressure upon even the most outsider teens, and teens, particularly girls, often fantasize about having special powers that will enable them to “get even” with their tormentors.  This movie shows the potential consequences.

Orange County, directed by Jake Kasdan

Orange County, Paramount Studios, directed by Jake Kasdan, written by Mike White, 2002, ISSN # 079217514X

Summary:

No, it’s not The O.C.!  No, it’s not Laguna Beach!  It’s Orange County, and it’s a rollicking  wish-fulfillment fantasy for the average teen.

Scholastic underachiever Shaun Brumder has been coasting through life until the surfing accident which killed one of his friends.  He becomes enamored of the work of Marcus Skinner, a novelist who teaches at Stanford, and suddenly his life has a purpose:  Get admitted to Stanford.  Unfortunately, the useless guidance counselor sent in the wrong student’s transcript, and class-president Shaun is left in the cold.  His estranged workaholic father and spacy mother, who needs Shaun to negotiate her life, are no help.  One of his classmates is related to a trustee, but Shaun’s crazy family puts on such a show that he might even be blackballed.

Cue the Stanford road trip with his sweet, civic-minded girlfriend and slacker, drugged-out older brother, where they accidentally give Shaun’s brother’s Ecstasy tablets to the dean of admissions.  While his estranged parents are bonding under the awfulness of Shaun, his brother is busy setting the admissions office on fire and getting the dean arrested.  Stanford is receding farther and farther in the distance… While attending a campus party, he learns that there is no magic bullet conferred upon Ivy League freshmen to separate them from high school seniors, and a meeting with his idol, Marcus Skinner, helps to show Shaun that artistic beauty can be found anywhere.

Critical Evaluation:

The movie is written by Mike White, one of the few screenwriters whose names might be known to teens due to his writing duties on Chuck and Buck and School of Rock, amongst others (he takes a small role in this movie).  This is an example of the subsection of teen movies where the son is parenting the parents, and is rather effective within that dynamic.  A lovely, supportive, charming girlfriend is a rarity in a teen movie, and we are refreshingly presented with one who is an average person, rather than one too smart for the room.  The two lead actors are not the most obnoxiously good-looking teens either, which helps to add to the quality of the movie.  Though having Shaun be a praiseworthy writer when he’s only been interested for a year and written one story may seem a bit implausible, it also sends an important lesson to teens that they should never be afraid to move in a new direction or change their minds about anything.

Viewer’s Annotation:

Everything has come easy to Shaun Brumder until senior year – great grades, wonderful girlfriend, and a surf-and-sun life of privileged ease.  That is, everything except his mess of a family, who just might keep him out of Stanford and ruin his future writing career before it starts.

Director’s Information:

From http://movies.msn.com/celebrities/celebrity-biography/jake-kasdan/:

Rather than make his name writing splashy blockbusters akin to his father Lawrence Kasdan’s breakthrough script for The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Jake Kasdan earned his prodigy stripes with the sly, low-budget film Zero Effect (1998) and his astute direction on several acclaimed TV series. Born in Detroit, Kasdan was immersed in filmmaking since his early childhood. Growing up on his father’s sets, Kasdan appeared onscreen in The Big Chill (1983), Silverado (1985), and The Accidental Tourist (1988), but he knew that he really wanted to direct. Becoming a playwright while still in high school, Kasdan also worked as a production assistant on his father’s mid-life crisis drama Grand Canyon (1991) and penned a behind-the-scenes book about the Western epic Wyatt Earp (1994). Though the book was scrapped after Wyatt Earp tanked at the box office, Kasdan established a positive relationship with cast member Bill Pullman that would soon help Kasdan’s nascent movie career.

Dropping out of college to focus on his writing full-time, Kasdan subsequently started directing with a stage production of one of his works at the Hollywood Playhouse. Ready to write and direct his first film, and publicly noting that nepotism didn’t guarantee him anything, Kasdan managed to sign Pullman to play the lead for his detective comedy Zero Effect. Featuring Pullman as brilliant, agoraphobic detective Daryl Zero and Ben Stiller as his edgy associate and public representative, Zero Effect’s clever, offbeat humor and excellent performances boded well for the then-24-year-old Kasdan, although more than one critic noted that the pacing was too low-key for the film’s good.

Genre:

Comedy/Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties:

None.

Challenge Issues:

Underage drinking/drugs, language, and sexual situations.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the DVD was added to our collection.

Why Included:

I well remember the drudgery of high school, the mountains of homework, and how seriously (and early) college prep and “career choices” are taken into account.  I thought it would be refreshing for teens to take a look at the process from the point of view of a late bloomer who needs a catalyst to point him towards his life’s direction.

Teenage Dirtbag, directed by Regina Crosby

Teenage Dirtbag, Vivendi Entertainment, written and directed by Regina Crosby, 2009, ISBN # 0883476011264

Summary:

Teenage Dirtbag is the story of wrong-side-of-the-tracks burnout Thayer and good-girl-privileged cheerleader Amber.  Thrown together by proximity due to their last names, Thayer is the ‘weird kid’ who actually enjoys dissecting the fetal pig in biology.  Failure to impress her with the fetal pig stunt has thrown Thayer into an inventive frenzy of teasing and hostility, in an attempt to compel her to notice him.  Though he is by no means a small person, Thayer is obviously the scapegoat of his family, and is beaten by his father and older brother on a regular basis.

Amber finds that despite all their casual contact she doesn’t actually know Thayer, until they are thrown together in creative writing class.  His poetry touches her, and they start a fast and furious communication-by-note via study hall.  Although it earned him a beating from his father the last time, he gets himself thrown out of study hall to keep her company, and she becomes the first person he confides in about his terrible home situation.  As opposed to surreptitious makeout sessions, their relationship is refreshingly advanced almost solely through notes and poetry.  Ultimately, despite the deep connection they share, Amber will not allow herself to move beyond the flimsy high school hierarchy to accept him into her world, and the audience is left to follow along with Amber as she tries to get answers about Thayer’s mysterious life after high school.

Critical Evaluation:

Everyone has known “that guy who ate part of the fetal pig in biology” (at least I have, and my high school was so uncool it was unreal), but few people have stopped to consider what the home life of “that guy” might be.  Many teen girls also know the intrigue of the “damaged boy who must be saved”.  This is not a fast-moving picture, even within the rules of a drama, but it is vividly effective.  The writer/director Regina Crosby (whose first movie this is, and who also plays a small role) manages to tell the entire story without Amber’s having had a boyfriend or even a date for two-thirds of the movie.  However, the story evokes its mood so well that the audience forgets that there are no concrete impediments to Amber and Thayer’s relationship, only the ever-present barriers of high school hierarchy and self-consciousness.  The issue of his abusive family is essayed both nakedly and sophisticatedly at the same time.  The story loses a little in the denouement, where we are expected to believe some pretty confusing and unlikely things about Thayer.  The “cheerleading” subplot does not quite come together and really adds very little the story.  But on the whole, these are minor quibbles to the charms of the world the movie creates.

Encapsulated, Teenage Dirtbag tells the story of a relationship that technically never was; yet was more real for a time than a lot of actual relationships, and that will speak well to teens of both genders.

Viewer’s Annotation:

Have you ever been halfway on your way to loving someone who seems right in so many ways – and then stopped yourself?  Amber laughs with Thayer, disobeys authority with Thayer, and has sexual dreams about Thayer – so how does she wind up married to someone else and he wind up dead (or does he?), without having even kissed Thayer?

Director’s Information:

From an interview with the writer-director (http://fastcheapmoviethoughts.blogspot.com/2010/01/joy-phillips-on-teenage-dirtbag.html):

What was your filmmaking background before you made Teenage Dirtbag?

REGINA: Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Bubkus. Take your pick of any of those. I have been writing in some form or fashion (TV, commercials, my diary) since as long as I can remember, but Teenage Dirtbag is my first script, and the first time I have directed anything.

I have been enthralled with the magic of movies since I was a little girl, specifically when my parents took me to see any of Steven Spielberg’s masterpieces. Those are the first films I remember that really registered. Now I frequently dream in movie format. Sometimes I think in my dream, “this movie is awful” and wake myself up.

Genre:

Drama/Coming of Age/Domestic abuse

Curriculum Ties:

Psychology/peer counseling

Challenge Issues:

Some scenes of underage drinking, drug usage, and profanity.  If challenged, I would have positive and negative reviews at hand to share with the challengers to show that the issues were indeed considered before the DVD was added to our collection.

Why Included:

Teens may be interested in this due to the presence of Scott Michael Foster, one of the stars of the eminently solid and watchable ABC Family series “Greek”, essaying a totally different role extremely well.  I believed him as someone I could conceivably have attended high school with, and if Noa Hegesh, an Israeli actress with heretofore-limited credits, can score a big break in Hollywood, teen fans of the movie will feel as much pride as they do when their favorite indie band makes it onto the pop-culture radar.

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