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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults

Topic Two - Realism

Topic 1-Young Adult
Topic 2-Young Adult
Topic 3-Young Adult
Topic 4-Young Adult
Topic 5-Young Adult
Topic 6-Young Adult
Picture Books
Traditional Literature
Historical Fiction/Biography
Fiction, Fantasy, and YA
David Shannon, Author
Author Study - Louis Sachar

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Dancing in my Nuddy-Pants by Louise Rennison
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Cormier, Robert.   1974.  The Chocolate War.  New York: Pantheon Books. 



   This disturbing novel about the misuse of power sets its tone from the first sentence, “They murdered him.”  This is a dark tale of what happens in a school when bullies rule and adults in authority consent to this behavior by looking the other way.

     Jerry, the main protagonist, is a typical teenage boy who becomes the victim in the story when he stands up to the bullies. The events in the story are foreshadowed by the poster he has in his locker which asks, “ Do I dare disturb the universe?” He is a likeable but reserved person.  His mother’s death has affected his home life and his Dad is hardly there.  He attends a private high school that is run by the Catholic Church.  The school is in financial trouble and to raise money all the students are to sell chocolate.

     Within this school is a group called the Vigils that the other students fear. Archie Costello is its leader.  He thinks up “assignments” that they make the terrified students perform.  Each time he assigns something to students he must reach into the black box and draw a marble.  If he gets a black one, he must do the assignment.  He has never lost. For example they assigned Goober, a friend of Jerry’s, to loosen every screw on all the furniture in room nineteen. No one dares acknowledge that this is going on.

     Brother Leon is in charge of the school but he is not a nice man. He would pick a student out and humiliate him in front of the whole class just for enjoyment.  Everyone was wary of him.  He enlisted the aide of the Vigils to help with the chocolate sale.

     Jerry was in Brother Leon’s homeroom.  The Vigils assigned Jerry to refuse to sell chocolates a number of times to encounter the wrath of Brother Leon.  Instead of deciding to sell the chocolates after he performed his “assignment,” Jerry continues to refuse the chocolates and becomes admired by some of the students who did not want to take part in the sale.  The sale of chocolates begins to suffer as many students chose not to sell very many.  This annoys the Vigils and Brother Leon and they decide he must be taught a lesson.

     At the end of the story Jerry is conned into a boxing match with a student named Janza and is badly beaten and ends up in the hospital.  During the match he realizes what he inadvertently did, “ A new sickness invaded Jerry, the sickness of knowing what he had become, another animal, another beast, another violent person in a violent world, inflicting damage, not disturbing the universe but damaging it.  He had allowed Archie to do this to him.”  Archie escapes any punishment for his part in this with Brother Leon’s help.

     Readers may find no catharsis at the end of this story with good triumphing over evil or that we should “disturb the universe” but the realistic story will continue to be pondered over.


Rennison, Louise.  2002.  Dancing in my Nuddy-Pants: Even Further   

     Confessions of  Georgia Nicolson.  New York:  HarperCollins. 



     This book is the fourth in a series written by  Louise Rennison about a teenage girl named Georgia Nicolson.  Georgia tells her lighthearted story in diary form beginning in November to February.  She, being a teenager, uses some funny language as many teens do.  This makes her a very realistic character but at first that may make it difficult to understand to what she is referring.  Booklist says about it, “Most of the fun stuff comes from the language, of course, and once again a glossary is provided for those who don't know their "conk" (nose) from their "bum-oley" ("quite literally their bottom hole").” She refers to breasts as nunga-nungas, Angus the cat being able to impregnate the neighbor’s cat as “trouser snake addendum,” and her Dad as “Loonleader.”  The language helps to set the lighthearted tone of the story. Rennison tells this coming of age story in a new and interesting way.

     The plot of the story is told in a diary that relates a series of events that occur to Georgia at school, home, and with her boyfriend, Robbie the Sex God.  Hornbook says about the plot, “Fans won't care that this time around there's (incredibly) even less plot than usual; their only complaint may be that this is the final book in the series.”

Georgia is a free spirit who is into snogging with the Sex God (kissing her boyfriend).  Georgia calls her friend Jas and tells her that she is dancing in her nuddy-pants, “I danced for ages round the house in my nuddy-pants.  Also, I did this brilliant thing-I danced in the front window just for a second whilst Mr. Across the Road was drawing his curtains.” She is unashamedly self-centered.  She says, “Still, I can’t think of everyone else.  I am not God.  I have enough to worry about thinking about myself.”  When she worries about school, she is worried not about school work but whether she fill have enough time to do her nails, foundation, and eye stuff. Even with all that Georgia is a likeable character.

     Georgia is dealing with a guilt involving a situation of being torn between being attracted two young men at the same time.  In the beginning of her journal she tells that she kissed Dave the Laugh even though she is going out with Robbie who is in a band called The Stiff Dylans.  She considers it a bit promiscuous and refers to it as a “brilliant display of red-bottomosity.”  She feels a certain degree of jealousy when Dave the Laugh begins to go out with Ellen.  This theme of growing up with liking two people at the same time is a common theme that young people can relate. The ending will satisfy readers that Georgia is contemplating making Dave the Laugh her new boyfriend after breaking up with Robbie.


Chbosky, Stephen.  1999.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  New York: 

     Pocket Books. ISBN:  0671027344.


     This coming of age story is written in journal form. Kirkus Review says, “Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst--the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking.”    

     It starts out with Charlie, the main protagonist, writing to a stranger after hearing a girl talk about this person to a friend of hers.  Charlie is worried because he is about starting high school.  He begins by telling about how he felt when his friend Michael committed suicide.  The tone and plot of the story is set with this revelation as the reader wonders about Charlie’s mental stability that he chooses to write to a stranger and when he says, “I don’t really remember much of what happened after that except that my older brother came to Mr. Vaughn’s office in my middle school and told me to stop crying.”  He reveals further, “Then, I started screaming at the guidance counselor that Michael could have talked to me.  And I started crying even harder.  He tried to calm me down by saying that he meant an adult like a teacher or a guidance counselor.  But it didn’t work and eventually my brother came by the middle school in Camaro to pick me up.”

     Kirkus Review tells about the unique plot of the story, ‘Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he's gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion).” Unrealistically, nothing bad seems to happen to the young people who use drugs.

     Near the end of the story we discover what Charlie meant when he wrote in his journal,  “I want you to know why my mom is guilty.  I should probably tell you why, but I really don’t know if I should.  I have to talk about it with someone.  None one in my family will ever talk about it.  It’s just something they don’t I’m talking about the bad thing that happened to Aunt Helen they wouldn’t tell me about when I was little.” Charlie goes into a catatonic state when he remembers being molested by his Aunt Helen when he was little.

     In the epilogue Charlie writes his final letter and updates the reader on his progress and what happened.  He receives support from his family.  He says, “The time it started to feel like everything was going to be all right was the time when my sister and brother stayed after my parents had left.”  Charlie becomes philosophical and looks at the causes and effects of behavior on the people in his family that made them the way they were. The reader is left with the feeling that Charlie has resolved some major issues and will really be okay.


Garden, Nancy.  1982.  Annie on My Mind.  New York:  Farrar Straus

     Giroux.  ISBN: 0374303665.


     This coming of age story written more than twenty years ago is about two young girls who are homosexual.  Liza, the main protagonist, tells the story in flashback.  She relates the story of her last year in a private high school and the special relationship she develops that year with a girl named Annie who is from a public school.

     The bittersweet sad mood is set from the beginning of the story when the reader realizes that something has happened to split these two girls.  The story begins with the words, “It’s raining Annie.”  creating a feeling of sadness.  As the story unfolds Liza is trying to write Annie a letter after being unable to correspond with her because of some feelings or situation that happened.  She hasn’t written to Annie for several months and seems torn between not contacting her and contacting her. The story is unclear why Liza hadn’t written other than guilt may have prevented her.

    The character who tells the story is seventeen year old, Liza.  She is very self-assured and plans to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduation.  Her family lives very comfortably and she along with her brother Chad attends a private school.  Annie, on the other hand lives in a poor part of New York.  She has a beautiful voice and her personality and interests are different from Liza’s. Neither girl has a very close friend until they meet each other.

     The plot of the story is about a problem some young people experience when they discover their sexuality is somewhat predictable but at the time it was published was groundbreaking.  It is about Annie and Liza and how their relationship develops and the conflicts that happen because of it.  Liza had never thought of herself as being gay but she is attracted to Annie.  Annie has known this about herself due to a friendship with a girl when she was younger that had gotten somewhat physical.  Their feelings for each other continue to grow.  Liza shows this when she says, “Have you ever felt really close to someone” So close that you can’t understand why you and the other person have two separate bodies, two separate skins? I think it was Sunday when that feeling began.”

     The climax of the story happens when Liza volunteers to feed her teachers’ cats while they are gone two weeks at spring break.  She and Annie spend every day at the house. Just before the teachers get home they get involved physically and are discovered by a student and Mrs. Baxter, a pious woman who works at the school.  Mrs. Baxter catches Liza and Annie and discovers that the two teachers are gay. Liza is expelled and relieved of her position as student council president. The two teachers eventually get fired. After her hearing, Liza gets reinstated at the school and finishes her year there.

     This book realistically portrays the feeling of family members and community members about the issue of homosexuality.  Liza lies to her mom about the true nature of the relationship the girls had.  Liza says after she lied to her mom about how physical the relationship had gotten, “The relief on Mom’s face was almost physical.  I hadn’t been aware that she’d looked older when I first came in, but now she looked herself again.”

     At the end of the story Liza contacts Annie.  She remembers her last conversations with her teachers.  Ms. Widmer had told her, “ Don’t punish yourselves for people’s ignorant reactions to what we all are.” While Ms. Stevenson said, “Don’t let ignorance win, let love.”




Created by J. Ketola as a requirement for
LS 5623 Advanced Literature for Young Adults
Texas Woman's University
Denton, TX
October 6, 2004