The Perks Of Being A Wallflower: Why Did I Wait So Long To Read This Amazing Book?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I had heard people say this book changed their life.  With the film coming out in September, I knew I needed to read the book fast.  Why did I wait so long to read this?  This book is exceptional, painful and full of hope!  Charlie is writing letters to an unknown person chronicling his freshman year of high school.  His only friend committed suicide, leaving him friendless to start high school.  Through his letters we learn about his brother and sister, and the new family he makes as two seniors befriend him.  His English teacher challenges him to participate in life rather than just being an observer. I love the relationship between Charlie and the teacher.   Charlie hints that something has happened to him in his past which makes him different.  But he is not sure what that is.  There are many profound moments in this book where Charlie evolves as he both participates and observes his life with his new friends.  One of my favorite moments in the book is when Charlie’s parents are forbidding his sister to see her boyfriend who hit her.  When she tells her parents “he is her whole world” her mother sharply tells her never to say that again, not even about her.  This is great advice for everyone.  Another phrase that is largely repeated is “we get the love we think we deserve.”  I would recommend this book for a mature teen reader.  Charlie goes through so much during his journey but in the end he is still filled with hope.  That is what makes me love this book most of all.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Who do you think Charlie is writing to?

Discuss what it would be like to start high school without any friends.

Why do you think Charlie’s sister didn’t do anything when her boyfriend hit her.

Discuss this passage from page 17: “You know… a lot of kids hate their parents. Some of them got hit.  Some of them got caught in the middle of wrong lives.  Some of them were trophies for their parents to show neighbors like ribbons or gold stars. And some of them just want to drink in peace.”

Why do you think Charlie felt brave enough to approach Patrick at the football game?

Talk about what Charlie says about girls wearing boy’s jackets and the idea of “property.”

Discuss “we accept the love we think we deserve.”

Discuss when Charlie’s mom tells his sister never to say someone is their whole world.

Talk about Kurt Cobain or any other icon in this context: “I thought the magazine was trying to make him a hero, but then later somebody might dig up something to make him seem like less than a person.”

Talk about Mary Elizabeth gaining a “superior position” by introducing Charlie to all of those great things. (pg 130)

Discuss this passage when Sam was talking to Charlie about being a friend to Patrick. “At those times, you weren’t being his friend at all.  Because you weren’t honest with him.” (pg. 201)

Talk about the abuse and what that did to Charlie as a person.

What do you think will happen when Charlie returns to high school?

The Hunger Games Meets The Bachelor In New Teen Series

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

Kiera Cass has created a future dystopian United States where a royal family rules and everyone lives in a caste system.  The ones being the royals and the eights are homeless people with no welfare and no education.  America Singer is a five, which means her family are artists and musicians.  She sings and plays several instruments.  Whether her family eats is based on whether her father sells paintings or she and her mother get performance gigs.  Kind of like Cinderella meets” The Bachelor”, the handsome prince Maxom is at the age where he needs a bride.  To keep the country’s moral up, eligible girls from all castes compete to win his heart and become the country’s future queen.  The families of the 35 girls are given money for as long as the girl stays in the competition.  For America’s family this is the answer to a lot of problems.  Most girls would kill for this shot, but America is already in love, a forbidden love to a boy in a lower caste.  Marrying him would mean a much harder life than she already has.  When she is picked to go to the palace her boyfriend encourages her to go and then dumps her, leaving America angry and confused.  In this state she meets Prince Maxon and takes out her frustration on him.  Maxon is a sheltered, well mannered boy whose experience with girls is nonexistent.  He is completely baffled by her.  She explains how much this competition means to her family, but she doesn’t expect him to fall for her.  Instead she strikes a deal with him.  Friendship.  She will be his friend on the inside, helping him navigate through all the women.  The things I enjoy most about this book is that growing friendship and Cass’s world building.  She creates a world where U.S. History is not widely known and people are kept in the dark.  The United States was taken over by China because of the nation’s debt to China.  A war ensues and the solution results in a new version of the U.S. which has none of the same freedoms.  There are curfews and low caste families are denied birth control.  Premarital sex is also illegal.  I truly enjoyed this book.  Teen girls are going to gaga for it with the dreamy boys and the clothes.  It is an easy sell for reluctant readers.  I am looking forward to the sequel The Elite which will come out sometime in 2013.  I am also curious about the TV series that is being shot for the CW.  Keira Cass has updates on both the show and the sequel on her website at www.kieracass.com.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Talk about the caste system and compare it to countries like India that have one.

Why do you think Aspen had his arm around the girl as America left for the palace?

What was your first impression of Maxon?

Talk about the growing friendship between Maxon and America.

America had never been around a bunch of girls.  They were catty and she was not.  Why do you think girls act like that?  If they were not around other catty girls would they be catty themselves?

Compare the book to the show ” The Bachelor.”  Compare it to The Hunger Games.

Talk about the old history book with the pages ripped out.  Why would someone want to hide U.S. History?

Discuss Maxon’s ignorance about how other people lived.  Talk about his decision to create the food program.

Discuss how her feelings for Maxon changed.

Who would you choose Maxon or Aspen?  Who do you think America should choose?

Great Teen Read About Body Image and Bullying!

Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies

One of the things I love most about Erin Dionne’s books is that she really gets what it is like to be a bullied teen.  She understands what it means to be different and uses that to create memorable characters in realistic situations.  Her ways of dealing with bullies are ideas teens can use in their own lives once they muster the courage.  Celeste loves Oreos and Twinkies.  She would rather eat potatoes than other vegetables.  Now that she is in eighth grade and trying on hideous bridesmaids dresses she is less than happy with her size.  Especially since mean girl, Lively, uses every opportunity to call her a cow.  To make matters worse, Lively is out to steal her best friend, Sandra.  Sadly Sandra succumbs and ditches Celeste to join the mean girl gang.  At the same time Celeste’s aunt signs her up for a challenge modeling plus size teen clothing.  Celeste is mortified and afraid this will just be more fodder for the mean girls.  Celeste decides to lose weight in order not to be considered for plus size modelship and to try and sabotage the competition.   These situations lead her on a journey of self discovery and new friendships.  Watching her transformation from low self esteem to a braver young lady is fun and empowering to watch.  Dealing with Sandra after she was so cruel was difficult, but I love how Celeste handled it.  Many teen girls will see themselves in Celeste and will relate to her struggles.  I highly recommend this book for them.  I loved it as much as Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt and Other Round Things.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

What makes a girl like Lively pick on a girl like Celeste?

Discuss how Celeste handled her faltering friendship with Sandra.

What is it about girls like Lively that attract other others and make them give up more meaningful friendships to be part of their group?

Discuss this passage: “I no longer needed Sandra to stick up for me, or make me feel good about my life.  Realizing that was like losing a couple of pounds just from breathing.  I felt lighter.” (Pg. 190)

Talk about the conversation between Celeste and her cousin Kathleen with they talked about pageants and the modeling challenge while making candles. (Pg 194)

What would you do if you were Celeste and overheard what happened to Lively? Is it right to use that kind of ammunition on someone?

Hunger Games Read Alike Mixes Roman Gladiators With Modern Times

Girl in the Arena

I saw this book on a list of Hunger Games read alikes and thought it had a great premise.  The book takes place in current day Boston with gladiators who fight to the death.  They are not slaves, but they are under contracts with strict rules.  If you, your wife or children break the rules you will be shunned from the gladiator community and lose all the wealth and status they’ve obtained.  Lyn’s mother is now married to her seventh husband, Tommy G.  According to Glad Culture rules, a “glad wife” cannot marry more than seven gladiators.  She is now considered Uxor Totus. If she moves on to men outside the glad culture, she will be shunned and lose all her possessions.  Lyn and her mother, Allison, are huge celebrities and high up in the Glad Culture.  Tommy is about to fight Uber, a hot new gladiator who has killed all his opponents.  According to Glad Culture, she must marry Uber because he picked up a piece of her jewelry she gave to Tommy for good luck before he fought Uber and was killed. If not, her family will lose everything.  The book is a quick read.  It is interesting how the character’s lives are not their own but they are terrified to break free from the culture that binds them because they will lose everything.  Lyn reminds me of the character Marida from Pixar’s Brave.  Lyn has to be brave enough to make her own fate and to protect her brother, who has special needs, at the same time.  She uses the only power she has, her celebrity, to try and break free.  That becomes complicated when she starts to develop feelings for Uber.  Lise Haines does a great job of world building as she creates this Glad Culture where Lyn and her family live.  Like The Hunger Games, Caesar’s, which we can assume is the casino on steroids, is like The Capitol.  They have little regard for the lives of the men and their families.  They are easily thrown away.  One of the things I love most about Lyn is that she could make the easy choice and just marry Uber. But instead she makes hard choices.  Like Katniss, she is a strong character that teens will admire.  There is plenty of action and little bit of a love triangle that will also keep their interest.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Take a look at the prologue.  Discuss how Glad Culture came to be.

Talk about how Lyn’s mother wants her to go to Glad Wife College.

Why do you think people stay in the Glad Culture?

Would you marry Uber or make the same choice as Lyn?

How did you feel about her mother’s casket?

Compare Lyn and Katniss.  Compare Uber and Peeta or Gale.

Which is more appealing, Uber or Mark?

Talk about Lyn’s relationship with her seventh father, Tommy.

Later in the book we find out the creator of the early modern gladiators, Joseph Byres, is ashamed of what he created.  Discuss.

Discuss gladiators in Roman times.

Do you think this culture has a place in the modern world?