ASU English Education
Kenneth Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen
Anna of Byzantium by Tracy Barrett. Delacorte Press, 1999. 209 pp. $14.95. Grades 7 and up. ISBN 0-385-32626-2.
Barrett is a scholar whose writing of Anna of Byzantium was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She dedicates her novel to the forgotten women writers of the Middle Ages, who like Anna Comnena were actually as literate as were the men in comparable social positions. Princess Anna is the true-life author of The Alexiad, an 11-volume story of her fathers reign over the Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) from 1083 to 1118. Barrett explains in an authors note that she had to make-up many of the details of Annas personal life. Readers probably wont mind simply because they will be so grateful for a story that shows readers how much they have in common with a girl who lived nearly a thousand years ago.
Frenchtown Summer by Robert Cormier. Delacorte, 1999. 115 pp. $16.95, Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-385-32704-8.
Cormier does not claim that this book of 30 poems is autobiographical. In fact, the protagonist is named Eugene, but anyone acquainted with Cormier will assume that he is telling his own experience. He has undoubtedly lived each of the emotions and probably most of the actual experiences. Readers who know Cormiers other books will also be more in tune with the sense of mystery and foreboding that comes into the poems. He tells about a boy who got Saint Vitus dance and was forever after shunned, about a retarded man who one day simply wasnt there anymore, about an uncle who committed suicide, and about his own dark suspicions that are too awful to even be voiced.
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger. Simon & Schuster, 1999. 224 pp. $16.95. Grades 8-up, ISBN 0-689-82134-4.
Zines (homemade magazines) are at the heart of Wittlingers offbeat romance, and the pages are enlivened by excerpts from Bananafish, the zine put out by shy 16-year-old John, and Escape Velocity, the zine put out by far-from-shy Marisol, who describes herself as Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers. HarperCollins, 1999. 281 pp. $15.89. Grades 7-up. ISBN 0-06-02877-8.
Myers book has two distinctive qualities. One is its unusual format. There are no pages of plain print; instead, the story is told through a typed script for a movie written by Steve Harmon, a young African American on trial as an accused accessory to murder. The second distinctive aspect is the strong moral message. Steve was arrested essentially for doing nothing, and as he waits for the trial he has lots of time to ponder whether this makes him a monster, as claimed by the prosecution.
Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde. Harcourt, Brace, 1999. 194 pp. $17.00. Grades 7-10. ISBN 0-15-201899-9.
In this strange medieval tale, theres lots of humor mixed with the supernatural, mixed with horror, mixed with a bit of thwarted love. Seventeen-year-old Selwyn loves Anora, who prefers the richer Farold, and the two boys fight for her favors. Then Farold is found dead, stabbed in the back with Selwyns knife, and Selwyn is found guilty by public acclaim and sentenced to death. But because their world is full of superstitions about what to do with dead bodies and murderers, the populace decides to entomb Selwyn with Farolds decomposing body until Selwyn dies or whatever .
Safe at Second by Scott Johnson. Philomel, 1999. 224 pp. $17.99, Grades 7-10. ISBN 0-33923365-2.
Safe at Second is an unconventional sports book, but despite what the dust jacket suggests, it is not really so much about Todd Bannister as about his friend Paulie, who tells Todds tragic story. Todd was the high school baseball pitcher, hurler of no-hitters, strikeout king, a boy usually surrounded by pro scouts and college coaches an all-round nice guy who was the fitting subject of a feature story in Sports Illustrated. Then a batter drives a fast ball directly back at Todd and Todd loses one eye. While, of course, this is a traumatic change for Todd, it is also a change for Paulie, who never had a goal other than to be Todds friend and assistant.
The Smugglers by Iain Lawrence. Delacorte, 1999. 181 pp. $15.95. Grades 7-10. ISBN 0-395-32663-7.
The Smugglers is fast reading, in part because theres constant danger and violence, in part because strange things follow John. The last of the book is taken up with a literally foggy sea on which a wondrously enjoyable battle is fought between the smugglers and English revenue officials. Lawrences prose has the same marvelous ring as Leon Garfields books, and the chapters describing a wild coach ride in Garfields The Sound of Coaches (1974) and in Lawrences The Smugglers are equally effective and impressive. The Smugglers, along with Lawrences 1998 The Wreckers, sing of the sea and nautical adventures.
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Henry Holt, 1999. 231 pp. $16.95. Grades 7-10. ISBN 0-8050-6116-9.
When Holt was 13, she went to the Louisiana State Fair and paid $2.00 to see The Fattest Boy in the World. This wonderful initiation story has been percolating in her mind ever since. It is the summer of 1971, and thirteen-year-old Toby and his friend Cal live in Antler, Texas, where they are sure nothing of any consequence ever happens. The whole town is in the midst of the summer doldrums, but then 643-pound Zachary Beaver arrives and is left by his guardian in a trailer parked in the Dairy Maid lot. By the end of the summer, Toby has learned that Antler, Texas, is very much a part of the world. And when Zacharys guardian returns to take him to the next spot, Toby realizes that whether Zachary Beaver ever returns, Antler and Toby and Cal will be at the heart of Zacharys being, just as he is a part of them.