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ASU English Education
PO Box 870302
Tempe, AZ 85287-0302
Phone: 480.965.3224
Fax: 480.965.0605
Language & Literature Building Rm 215

The 2005 Honor List—A Wealth of Books to Compare

Ken Donelson, James Blasingame Jr., Alleen Pace Nilsen

We are refraining from describing our 2005 Honor Books as incomparable because part of their appeal is the way they invite comparisons both on the basis of their subject matter and on the techniques the authors have chosen to use.  The one we are the most excited to take into a literature class is Marilyn Nelson’s poetic A Wreath for Emmett Till, which teachers and students can compare with Chris Crowe’s Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case (Dial, 2003) and with Crowe’s earlier fictional account, Mississippi Trial, 1955 (Penguin/Putnam, 2002). 

Peeps and Twilight from this year’s list are both about vampires, but Peeps is a sci-fi, horror story, while Twilight is a love story.  We’ve already overheard our students comparing Elsewhere to Alice Sebold’s popular The Lovely Bones (Little Brown, 2002), while John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska, which won the Printz Award, reminded us of both John Knowles’ A Separate Peace and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

looking for alaskaLooking for Alaska

John Green. New York: Dutton, 2005. 227 pp. Grades 10 and up.  $15.99.  Grades 10 and up.  ISBN 0-525-47506-1

John Green’s story of high school juniors at Culver Creek a small but reputable southern Georgia boarding school, is for our times what the Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace were for their times. The characters are complex and memorable, and their life experiences provide an accurate chronicle of how convoluted and confusing growing up has become. The literary quality is impeccable as it invites readers of all ages to join in the characters’ search for life’s answers.   Although upper middle school students could read and understand the plot, I think high school students will be better able to comprehend the issues of self-governance, searching for spirituality and dealing with tragedy.  (JB, Jr.)         


Chris Lynch.  New York: Atheneum,  2005, 165 pp. 16.95.  Grades 10 and up.

 ISBN  978-0-689-84789-9.

I’m a man of advanced years (that’s a nice, if reasonably vague way of putting it), and this book bothered me. It bothered me a lot, and I’m sure Lynch’s novel would bother a far younger male even more, but the book hit home with me, not because I ever raped a girl; but because I was a nice boy, a good boy raised by parents who were proud that I was a good boy and maybe even prouder that they were constantly reminded by people in our small town about my goodness. No one ever told anyone, as far as I knew, of my dark side.  But I knew.  And it’s not clear that Keir knows about himself.  When he starts to rape Gigi, she says no.  He refuses to admit that he hears anything that would stop him.  As this powerfully moral  book ends, Gigi has escaped, and Keir is left  to “wait for whoever is going to come for him,” knowing, but not understanding, the consequences of his action.  (KLD)


lennonJohn Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth 

Elizabeth Partridge. New York: Viking,  2005,  232pp.,

$24.99.   Grades 10 and up.  ISBN 0-670-05954-4.

Partridge admirably reports most of the incidents in Lennon’s life that would interest readers.  She summarizes Lennon’s childhood—sad and confused—the founding of the group that ultimately became the Beatles—troubled and angry—and the changes in Lennon when he met Yoko Ono—many and puzzling.

I’m not sure how to sell this book to teens.  If a student gravitates towards this book, will it be because of the student’s love of music? Will the student even know about the Beatles? Will the story of a disturbed and puzzled man grab students?  The book is not quite a coffee table book though it comes close to it.  (KLD)


wreathA Wreath for Emmett Till

Marilyn Nelson, Illustrated by Philippe Lardy.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005 42 pp.  $17.00. Grades 8 and up.  ISBN 0-618-29752-3 (trade).

The construction of the text in this book was an admirable feat in many ways. Marilyn Nelson, an English professor at the University of Connecticut, took an affecting and powerful subject, the 1955 racially motivated murder of Emmett Till, a gentle teenage boy from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi, and illuminated it through a rare literary form, the heroic crown of sonnets.  Nelson explains that the form of the poem provides “a kind of insulation” from the intensely disturbing and painful subject matter.  Although the readability might be suitable for younger students, high school students will be best equipped to handle the allusions, as well as handle the truth about the ugliness of what human beings are capable of. (JB, Jr.)


elsewhereElsewhere.  Gabrielle Zevin.   Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005,  277pp., $16.00. Grades 10

and up. ISBN  0-374-32091-8

All of us are curious about the hereafter, and Gabrielle Zevin offers us a glimpse into what may be coming. The Prologue begins with a hit-and-run death.  Aboard a ship, The Nile, Liz Hall awakes in a strange bed near a strange companion, Thandiwe (Thandi) Washington, who has a small red wound at the base of her skull (from a drive-by shooting that killed her).  Liz discovers that she has almost no hair (from the operation where doctors tried vainly to save her life), but since all this is a dream and she’ll wake up soon, she doesn’t worry about all the confusing things that happen around her.   Unfortunately she doesn’t wake up from the bad dream but things get less confusing and more interesting.  (KLD)



Stephanie Meyer.  New York: Little, Brown, 2005.  $17.99, 498 pp.  Grades 9 and up.  ISBN 0-316-16017-2.

Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight takes place mostly in the small town of Forks in the Olympic Peninsula of northwest, Washington.  Because the sun shines less often in Forks than in any other community in the United States, a very old, affluent, and accomplished family of vampires has settled in the area.  Isabella (Bella) Swan’s parents have been divorced since she was an infant, but she has regularly visited her single father who is the Forks police chief, and now she is moving to Forks from Phoenix, Arizona to attend her junior year of high school.   Bella is an ordinary enough high school girl, but coming to Forks from her big-city life in the American Southwest, she finds a new kind of popularity based largely on the fact that Edward Cullen--the most beautiful boy in school and, yes, he is one of the vampires—falls madly in love with her. (APN)


Scott Westerfeld.  Penguin/Razorbill, 2005.  ??  pp. $16.99. Grades 8-up.  ISBN 1-59514-031-X.

Peeps is another vampire/love story, which fits into the literary definition of a “romance” in that the good parts are like daydreams while the bad parts are like nightmares, but based on how most high school readers define “romance,” Peeps is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Twilight.  Nevertheless, if I’m worried about how Stephanie Meyer sets girls up to expect miracles from their boyfriends, I should be equally worried about the way Scott Westerfeld portrays both his male and female characters.  But in my own mind, Peeps was so far removed from reality that I viewed it more like a science fiction horror movie or a video game than a cozy novel.  Peeps is slang for people who are “Parasite Positive,” a euphemism for vampirism.  However, as in the case of the narrator, 19-year-old Cal Thompson, a New Yorker recently from Texas, some Peeps can maintain an almost normal life if they keep their parasites fed with red meat and exert utmost control over their actions.   They can also save the world from mutant creatures that are much worse than the old alligators in the sewers.  (APN)


crisscrossCriss Cross

Lynne Rae Perkins. New York: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2005.  337 pp.  $16.99.  Grades 7 and up.  ISBN: 0-06-009272-6  


In this Newbery award winner, Criss Cross is the name of a radio show (something like Mad TV ) that fourteen-year-old Debbie and her lifetime friends, Phil, Lenny, and Hector listen to as they congregate in and around an old pickup truck. It is also the plot vehicle for Lynne Rae Perkins’s novel which follows the movements of the members of a small community (and one outsider) as they cross each other’s paths, occasionally making important connections that will change their lives, but more often “inadvertently sidestepping each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing [a] tiny room.”  It is a good read for seventh grade and up, and it is even better for personal reading by anyone old enough to wonder why the universe seems to have such a weird sense of humor, or as one character puts it: “They say, ‘God works in mysterious ways.’ Although, no one wants to be the one He’s working on that way.”  (JB, Jr.)



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updated: October 10, 2008