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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Prom, Pulling Princes, and Esperanza Rising

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson
(Alysa's review here.) When the new math teacher embezzles most of the prom budget, a skeptical high school student from the wrong side of the tracks in Philadelphia must get over her doubts about the importance of prom and step up to make it happen. Dealing with an overzealous, pregnant mother, a large loud family, her best friend’s crazy Russian grandmother, a high school drop-out boyfriend, and school administrators who are out to get her makes the prom last on the priority list of Ashley Hannigan. In the end, Ashley must decide what aspects of her life are truly important as she becomes more and more involved in the high school prom.
Anderson’s style is more of a Catcher In the Rye approach than is sometimes comfortable, but it fits her protagonist fairly well. Where most books with this sort of plotline would conclude with a prom’s-not-the-most-important-part-of-life message, this one does the opposite for a ghetto-raised, unambitious main character. I’m skeptical about the accuracy of the poor-life portrayed here, but points to the author for validating life in the hood the best way she could. She does a nice job of putting the reader in Ashley’s shoes and helping us understand the supposed thought process of the teen from the wrong side of the tracks.

Pulling Princes by Tyne O’Connell
(Alysa's review here.)Calypso, a teenager from Los Angeles, attends a posh boarding school in Great Britain because her parents claim it builds character. She’s generally an outcast among rich, spoiled, and titled “young ladies,” but this year, she swears it will be different. Why? Because in a school where status is determined by the number of boys you’ve “pulled” (kissed) and how “fit” (attractive) and how old those boys are, she has a plan to impress the upper crust of boarding school society with a cool American boyfriend (in reality, her mother’s gay Personal Assistant). And that’s only the beginning…
This book (and the others in the Calypso Chronicles) is completely frivolous fun for teenage girls. Most boys would never read again if you tried to make them read this, but for your average twelve or thirteen-year-old girl, it’s a great read. My personal favorite parts are the contemporary British slang (beware of some semi-inappropriate wording and implications) and the fencing matches. These books don’t really have much to them as far as morals, themes, symbolism, deep messages, or anything close to that, but if you’re trying to get a girl to like reading or you’re just looking for something completely frivolous and unintellectual, this is definitely what you’re looking for!

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza is jerked from the life of a privileged Mexican ranch owner’s daughter and transplanted into the life of a destitute migrant worker in California. She has to learn to stop longing for a life of easy privilege and start learning to live in discomfort and work like she never has before. When her mother becomes very ill, it’s up to Esperanza to earn money to bring her grandmother to the United States. Unrest among the Mexican migrant workers, especially those who are not satisfied with their working conditions, brings on even more issues for young Esperanza to deal with. Esperanza Rising is a coming of age experience like no other.
I think of this book as a kind of bubble gum version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Esperanza Rising achieves the same feeling and messages without the uncomfortable swearing and semi-inappropriate situations of Steinbeck origins. Perfect for grades six to eight, I think this book can be used to explore Mexican immigration issues in our day as well as the classic coming of age experience. It isn’t a horribly high reading difficulty level, but the issues and themes are well-developed and deep. I recommend it for teaching as well as reading for fun.

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