Funny, Interesting Characters Make This Printz Winner A Great Read!

Cameron’s life is not so hot.  He claims the high point is when he almost drowns in the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World.  His popular twin sister doesn’t want anything to do with him and his prospects for college seem very dim.  Things become even worse for Cameron as he starts hallucinating frightening fire giants and punk rock angels.  Medical tests reveal he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease.  He is now somewhat of a celebrity at his school because he is dying.  Cameron is not sure how to feel about this.  While in the hospital, the punk angel, Dulcie, convinces him to leave the hospital.  She tells him he does not have Mad Cow; instead there is an evil force in the world only he can stop.  Once he finds Dr. X, Cameron will be cured.  So Cameron goes on a fantastical road trip with his friend Gonzo, who is a little person who turns out to be a huge hypochondriac. 

One of my favorite moments is when Cameron is at the The Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack and Bowl.  This is a place where everyone is happy.  No one gets angry.  Library Girl says to him, “I mean, suppose you take your anger and you channel it into a painting.  Pretty soon, you don’t care about getting back at that idiot who pissed you off anymore because you’re totally into your painting.  And then maybe that painting hangs in a gallery someday and it inspires other people to find their thing, whatever it is.”  This reminds me of the moment in “Bowling for Columbine” when Michael Moore interviews the creators of South Park.  Instead of shooting the classmates they hated, they made raunchy cartoon about them.

I keep recalling moments in this book and smiling.  There is so much going on during this story that ties it all together.  Thankfully it does not feel over stuffed.  Bray does a beautiful job of throwing it all “out there” and then reeling the story back in so there is a satisfying ending.  I absolutely loved it and would recommend it to teens and adults of either gender.  Bray’s excellent writing and storytelling made this a worthy Printz winner. 

Some ideas for discussing with teens: 

Which did you think was real?  What was going on or his dreams of being back in the hospital? 

Will you ever look at lawn gnomes the same?  What do you think was the significance of his character? 

Did you think the Dulcie being trapped in the snow globe had anything to do with the snow globe on his dad’s desk in the beginning of the book? 

Library Girl asks, “What if those so called negative feelings are useful?”  Discuss. 

So many people think happiness is most important.  Talk about The Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack and Bowl.  Would you want to be there? 

Talk about Mad Cow Disease.  

As Cameron is having his adventure, do you see moments he remembers from the beginning of the book, before he became sick?  For example the snow globes, Disney and the TV shows. 

How do you feel about your life?  Are you Cameron before mad cow or after?  What will you do now?

I Kissed A Zombie And I Liked It

High School senior, Ally hates romance.  She and her friends run a gossip newspaper at their school where they make fun of classmates.  She normally dates guys just so she can trash them later.  She can’t wait to go away to college and get out of her small town.  That is until she meets Doug.  She just thinks he really into being goth!  He’s pale, never changes his suit and speaks really softly.  When he gets up to perform with a local vampire band he knocks her socks off when he sings Cole Porter. 

Vampires, werewolves, zombies… they all exist.  The local Megamart raised zombies from the dead to work in the stockroom.  When the other supernatural creatures found out, they came out of the shadows and demanded equal rights.  Most of the girls think vampires are cool and can’t wait to turn when they are finally 18.

This is such a hilarious spoof on supernatural romance.  Doug has an amazing personality, but he smells of embalming fluid and lives in a grave.  The vampires are really annoying emo guys.  Ally is so irritated with herself for falling in love and even considering changing her college plans to be with Doug.  This is a fun, quick read with a strong and funny female character and a love story based on character rather than just physical attraction.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Do you still think vampires are romantic after reading this book?

Doug is gross but has a great personality.  How does he relate to some of the guys you know?

Talk about Ally’s hatred of romance.  Is she realistic to you?

When Doug crumbles Ally is sad but is able to move on.  Talk about that.

Ally and her friends have a pretty snarky student paper.  Is this something your school would allow?  Is it too much like bullying?

Have any of you ever heard Cole Porter’s music?  What does the type of music we like say about us?

Claudette Colvin Deserved Every Award!

I am so happy the story of this brave woman is finally out there for young people to read.  Claudette Colvin was a teenager during the Bus Boycott in Montgomery.  She refused to give up her seat just months before Rosa Parks.  She was dragged off the bus, humiliated and abused.  The civil rights leaders did not want to use her as the face of the movement for several different reasons.  She bravely became part of the lawsuit, Browder v. Gayle.  This case ended bus segregation.  Colvin became a forgotten figure in civil rights history.  She knew Dr. King and remembered Rosa Parks as the secretary of the local N.A.A.C.P.    Author, Phillip Hoose couples her fascinating story with plenty of pictures, making this a quick and inspiring read. 

Awards:  National Book Award, Newbery Honor Book, Top 10 Editor’s Picks: Teens,  Booklist Top 10 Biographies for Youth; Publishers Robert F. Sibert Award – Honor

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Would you have been brave enough to do Claudette did?

Why do you think the civil rights leaders felt she was unsuitable for their cause?

How do you think history would have changed had the bus boycott not taken place?

How do you think Claudette’s bravery would be seen today?

How would the civil rights movement have been different with today’s technology, cable TV, facebook or Twitter?