Monday, January 17, 2011

Bridge to a Classic

I was in the bookstore last month (why, oh why do I go in there) to see the newest YA books and I came across Jane by April Lindner.

The novel is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. This time our female protagonist is Jane Moore, who becomes a nanny when she has to drop out of college due to finances (her parents die in a car crash; her brother and sister take what they can get and leave their younger sister hanging). Shy, plain (per her description) and naive, Jane gets the job most prized: the nanny for famous rock start Nico Rathburn.

She moves to his estate and, well, the rest is pretty much history (if you know Jane Eyre, then you know what I mean).

While I could not put this book down, I won't say it is one of my top realistic fiction novels. However, I am not sure if part of that is my age or not. [I am quite cynical by nature, so a young and naive girl marrying one of the world's most famous rock stars doesn't register with me] I think if I had read this book as a 15-year-old, I would have loved it.

I do think it is a perfect bridge to the classic novel and that is the wonderful quality of YA literature like this. The themes, the plot, the characters, and even the setting--though they are all 21st century--will provide the connections that some of our students will need in order to read the Bronte novel. While I would not teach it as a whole class novel, I would most definitely have it in my classroom library.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I loved Jennifer Donnelly's A Northern Light when I first read it, and it is still one of my favorite YA historical fiction novels. So, I was eagerly awaiting her newest book--Revolution. Rather than write my own summary (I hate writing summaries!), below is taken from Donnelly's website (I think she writes it better anyway):

As you might expect from the title, the book is about a revolution. On one level, it’s about the French Revolution and one of its smallest victims. On another level, it’s about the revolution inside, about the changes we as human beings go through as we struggle to make sense of our world and its tragedies.

Without giving too much away, the story centers on two girls – one who lives in present day Brooklyn and has suffered the loss of her younger brother. And one who lived in 18th Century Paris and witnessed one of the worst crimes of the French Revolution. Their stories converge when Andi, the Brooklyn girl, travels to Paris and finds a diary hidden inside an old guitar case that belonged to Alex – the French girl.

Here's how we described the story on the book jacket:

BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.


There is so much to say about this novel that, frankly, I don't know where to start. In order for me to say as much as I want, I will refer to an old stand-by, Carol Jago's Criteria for choosing whole-class novels.

# 1: Written in language perfectly suited to the author’s purpose
Like Donnelly's other novels, that language is lush, beautiful, haunting, and intoxicating. The "diary" entries pull you in making you a part of 18th century Paris. Then, there's the modern language (inner speech too) of Andi. We feel her pain, although we don't know until close to the end of the book, what "really" happened to send spiraling down.

# Exposes readers to complex human dilemmas
Definitely! Not only do we learn extensively (and I mean extensively--Donnelly did her homework and even provides a comprehensive list of sources) about the Revolution, but Donnelly seamlessly parallels the revolution of two hundred years ago to aspects of Andi's life (hint: once you learn the whole story of Truman's death, you'll get it).
Power, class, (in)justice, and on and on.

# Includes compelling, disconcerting characters
Most definitely. Andi is a puzzle that the reader wants to solve. Yet, she's relatable. Anyone who has gone through a tough trauma or loss will understand what she is going through. Then, there's her father and mother--neither of whom is being the parent he/she could be--yet, we can understand why. We take them with their flaws.
And, then, there's the characters from two hundred years ago (I won't spoil!)

# 4Explores universal themes that combine different periods and cultures
Please! I really can't give away what I want to, but trust me! This criterion fits this book perfectly.

#5: Challenges readers to reexamine their beliefs
I think this criterion is inevitable. As Andi realizes several times in the book--as much as she was taught and thought she knew about the French Revolution, she didn't know the whole story. I think teen readers will learn a tremendous amout from this novel. Here, in Alabama, 9th graders study world history and have world literature--this book would be perfect to add to the curriculum.

#6: Tells a good story with places for laughing and crying
While I didn't cry, I know there would be many who could and would (I am not a cryer). I think teens who are going through tough times like Andi is, and there are more and more that are, will be more affected. While there are not laugh out loud places, Donnelly adeptly balances sorrow and joy.

I loved this book! I stayed up late reading it and put it down only because I had to get some sleep.

There are some other great areas for study in this book besides the obvious. For example, music plays a HUGE role for Andi. Donnelly has provided a playlist. You can also learn about what inspired her to write the novel.