Monday, January 25, 2010


By Amy Efaw
Ages 14 up

It is the most heinous crime imaginable: A mother murders her own child moments after the baby is born. We’ve heard on the news these horrifying tales of infantacide.

But in this story, the infant survives.

A man taking his dog for an early morning walk is frustrated when his determined dog drags him toward a dumpster. But when he draws closer, he hears something stirring within the depths of the garbage. After removing multiple black trash bags, he finds the one the noise is coming from, and inside is a tiny newborn baby—still covered in blood and vernix, with a jaggedly cut umbilical cord.

The police investigation leads to Devon’s house. She is home from school with a fever and body aches she doesn’t understand, and she is hemorrhaging from giving birth. After being patched up at the hospital, Devon is transferred to a juvenile detention center.

In the detention center Devon must not only face the consequences of her actions, she must face the reality of her actions. Devon doesn’t remember the night her daughter was born. She doesn’t remember the night the child was conceived, and she certainly doesn’t remember any nefarious plan to murder her helpless child. Or does she? Things are not so cut-and-dried in this thought-provoking novel. The reader learns with Devon what happened that led to that morning the infant was thrown into the trash. Written in the present tense, this book doesn’t allow for distance—the reader is right there with Devon, experiencing her anguish as she peels back the layers to get to the heart of her own story.

Further, as the truth is revealed, the reader is unsure whether to hope Devon receives a favorable ruling or that she is punished for attempted murder. And because Devon is herself a child, the reader begins to look for excuses. One almost wants the pregnancy to be the result of something traumatic so Devon’s actions might be excused—but it is not, and the reader cannot. It is also difficult to root for Devon: She is frequently disagreeable and self-absorbed, and if she planned what she is accused of, it is unforgivable.

Though it is not possible to excuse her actions, the reader will come to understand Devon through her journey of self-discovery, and grace for Devon is possible.

Possible discussion topics: Consequences of one’s actions, making good relationship choices, the importance of support.

Caveats: Premarital sex, emotionally charged material, vivid description of the birth and subsequent abandonment of the baby, bad language, self-mutilation.

Some discussion questions to get you started:

    1. Devon is initially derisive of her mother. She is critical of her mother’s choice in men, her clothing, her jobs, that her mother treats her like a friend instead of her child, and that Devon’s mother had her as a teen. Later she is disappointed by her mother’s failure to show up at the juvenile detention center. What part, if any,—do you think Devon’s mother played in Devon’s actions. Is she a bad person? A weak person? Or just a broken person?

    2. Karma is an interesting minor character in this book. Why do you think she responds to Devon the way she does? What is her role in Devon’s journey of self-discovery?

    3. Since the reader is involved in Devon’s journey of self-discovery, we’re invited to make to a judgment about Devon’s guilt or innocence. Which do you think she is? Why? Can you excuse her actions? What should be the consequence for her actions?

    4. This book has a definite conclusion, but it also leaves some room for the reader to contemplate the future of the characters. What do you think will happen next to Devon? What would be an ideal scenario? What is a likely scenario?

If you liked this book you might enjoy: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Cut by Patricia McCormick, Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Scones and Sensibility

Ages 8-12

Do you hear the quotation “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes” and clasp your hands to your breast, knowing exactly who said this and what she meant?

Instead of a best friend do you have a bosom friend?

Do you realize the importance of a concluding “E” in the spelling of some names?

Do you hear the name Fitzwilliam Darcy and sink into a swoon?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this is the book for you.

Polly Madassa is a “twelve-year-old, nineteenth-century girl trapped in the twenty-first century.” Captivated by the ideals of Anne of Green Gables and inspired by the romanticism of Pride and Prejudice, Polly is convinced that she must no longer be “a material girl living in a material world,” but instead she must “become at once a young lady of impeccable breeding, diction, and manner.” Polly’s family owns a bakery which allows her to interact with and observe a number of different people in her small town, and what she sees speaks to her romantic heart: There are people all around her desperately in need of her help in matters of love.

Polly steps in to play matchmaker and to find the perfect love for her sister, Clementine; her bosom friend, Fran’s, father; the dear old widower who owns the kite store; and the curmudgeonly spinster with the vicious little dog. But by meddling in their love lives, she may actually be hampering the course of true love and ignoring her own heart.

Readers will get a kick out of this modern story of a girl who is swept up in the romance of L. M. Montgomery’s classic tale and is trying to live out the ethos of Jane Austen. And any girl who would rather slip on a lovely frock and a hat with a ribbon than pull on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt will identify with young Polly’s sensibilities.

As an added bonus this book is well written. Other than a few too many instances of the word “delicate” the dialogue is great: Polly consistently speaks as though she were in the nineteenth-century, except in times of genuine emotional distress when she convincingly slips into modern speech. And there is a fantastic juxtaposition between modern and old-fashioned. Polly wants to rely upon fate to find the perfect romantic partner for Fran’s father, and she is horrified when he takes the more practical approach of Internet dating. While this is a gentle story, there is real-life crisis between the pages. For example, Fran’s mother left her family for someone she met on the computer. So Polly’s railing at the modern world is at once humorous, convincing and moving.

Very sweet, often funny, and nicely paced, this book is a worthwhile read for any romantic soul.

Possible discussion topics: Changing values, idealized notions of romance, relationships, Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice.

Some discussion questions to get you started:

    1. Polly struggles with the notion of Internet dating because of its lack of romance as well as the fact that Fran’s mother left her family after she met someone online. What are your thoughts about online dating versus meeting people in other ways?

    2. Anne of Green Gables and Pride and Prejudice are beloved classics. What are your thoughts about Lindsay Eland using them as the basis for Scones and Sensibility?

    3. Polly feels like she was born in the wrong century. In what situations do you feel out of place? Have you ever felt like no one understood where you were coming from? What was that like?

    4. Polly is a hopeless romantic who believes in “enduring love.” What are your thoughts on romance? Is “happily ever after” a realistic concept? Why or why not?

If you liked this book you might enjoy: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Fairest by Gail Carson Levine, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart