A Story Of Teen Friendship In the Age Before Cell Phones And Facebook

Dreams of Significant Girls

An Iranian Princess, A Cuban exile rich girl and a German bad girl become roommates at a posh, Swiss boarding school in the 1970s.  This is a story beautifully told by one of my favorite authors, Cristina Garcia.  Dreams of Significant Girls follows three very different girls for three summers.  Ingrid is a wild girl who is always looking for trouble and men.  Vivien is the daughter of a Cuban Exile family who had to leave Miami after her father’s trip to Cuba made him a pariah.  Shirin is an Iranian princess who comes from extreme wealth and is brilliant in math and science.  The three are roommates for the summer.  It does not start off well.  The girls are dealing with their issues on their own.  Things get really tense when Shirin decides to show up at the dance with the boy’s school, only to get assaulted and then witnesses Ingrid in a compromising position.  When Ingrid is kicked out for something Shirin did, Shirin feels guilt that causes her to change over the summer.  She comes back with Arabian stallions for the girls to ride together and a whole barrage of expensive gifts.  Their friendship grows and their adventures together begin.  I very much enjoyed this story.  The richness of the characters will draw readers in.  I loved the setting of the Swiss boarding school with the different cultures and affluence.  It will be interesting for teens to read this and understand what it was like to get a hold of a boy without texting and Facebook.  I also found it interesting to read about the impact World War II had on the families.  I am a huge fan of Cristina Garcia and it is a pleasure to read everything she writes.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Discuss when Ingrid said, “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Shirin’s Arabian stallions saved my life.” (pg. 135)

Discuss how Shirin changed after the first summer.

Discuss the hypnosis.

Why do you think Shirin broke into the sweet shop and pharmacy?

Discuss how Vivien’s relationship with her father changed.

If you could go to a Swiss boarding school for the summer, what classes would you want to take?

Which are you most like, Vivien, Shirin or Ingrid.

Talk about Ingrid’s wild ways.

Discuss Omar’s relationship with Vivien.  What would you do in her shoes when he came with the poetry?

Discuss the girl’s decision to pose nude for Ingrid’s art show.

Discuss Ingrid’s behavior at the garden party and swimming that made her notorious.

This story took place back in the 1970’s before cell phones and social media.  What would you life be like if you were a teen back then?

Fans Of Reality TV Will Enjoy This Teen Read!

You Look Different in Real Life

Justine is famous.  She is part of a group of five teens who were part of a documentary called Five at Six.  Filmmakers made a film about her, Felix, Nate, Kiera and Rory while they were in Kindergarten.  They were also in a second film called Five at Eleven.  Justine is now sixteen and the filmmakers are back, but she is not sure she wants to do this anymore.  Her friendship with Rory is over because of something Justine did.  Nate and Kiera won’t speak to her.  Felix is her only friend left from the group and he can’t wait to do the next film.  The filmmakers come to town and start shooting but they are disappointed in the material so far, not exciting enough for them.  To drum up some drama, they take all five to a team building camp.  But when one of them goes AWOL, the rest run after her.  The filmmakers give Justine the camera to take with her.  With the film in her hands, she has some tough calls to make.  I enjoyed this book very much.  I think young readers will relate to the different issues going on with the five teens.  Fans of reality TV will like that aspect too.  One of the teens is on the Autism Spectrum and the author handles that beautifully.

Some ideas for discussing with teens:

Would you want to be part of a reality TV show or movie?  How would it change your life?  Would you want to watch yourself on the movie screen?

Discuss Jasmine’s interaction with Rory.  What is your first impression of their relationship.  How about her relationships with Nate, Felix and Kiera.

Discuss Rory’s Autism.  Do you know anyone like her?  Have you tried to be friends with that person?

Discuss Kiera’s interaction with her mother.

Discuss the filmmaker’s decision to use the painful conversation between Kiera and her father in the film.

Discuss how Justine’s relationship with Nate changes throughout the book.

Talk about when Nate says, “You were telling our story.  And I think that is your story.”

What do you think will happen to the five next?

New Timely Teen Read Tackles The Stuggle Of Being Homeless

No PlaceDan is a baseball star and dates the hottest girl in school.  But Dan has a secret.  His family is losing their home and they have to move in with an Uncle who resents his parent’s joblessness.  Things don’t work out at his Uncle’s house and his parents make the decision to move to Dignityville, a tent community for the homeless.  Dan makes friends with a girl named Meg whose brother is a lead organizer who is trying to make Dignityville a permanent place for those in need.  That of course, causes problems for his girlfriend, Talia.  There are many in the community who don’t want that to happen, including Dan’s uncle.  The book does not sugar coat what is happening to Dan and his family.  Inch by inch they lose things, like their phones, their car and their well being.  Dan’s friends are going to see his favorite band and don’t invite him because he can’t afford the ticket.  Everything is made harder by poverty.  Todd Strasser does an excellent job framing this story for a bigger discussion.  On one hand those with jobs think of the people in Dignityville are lazy, while there are many there who are trying to find work and can’t.  There are people like Dan’s mother who just gave up after finding nothing for years.  This book is a great read for both male and female readers.  Homelessness and poverty are everywhere, young readers may have classmates struggling with this, or maybe they are struggling with it themselves. Either way, readers will be able to connect with the characters and the challenges they face.

Some ides for discussing with teens:

Talk about Dan’s relationship with Talia.  His relationship with Meg.  How are they different?  Which relationship would you want?
Talk about how Dan’s relationship with Talia is changing now that he is homeless.
Discuss the moment when Dan’s Uncle Ron speaks out at the meeting.  Do you think he would have done that had he known that Dan’s parents were there?
Discuss Dan’s conversation with Noah about college and becoming a doctor.
What is your opinion of Dan’s parents.  Is Dignityville worse or better than being at his Uncle’s house?
Talk about how your life would change if you became homeless like Dan and his family.
Discuss the choice Dan’s father made.  What do you think is next for his family?
Read page 176 aloud and discuss.