REVIEW: Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie


Released on September 11, 2012, Personal Effects tells the story of seventeen-year old Matt, whose brother T.J. was killed 6 months ago fighting in Iraq. Ever since receiving the news about T.J.’s death, Matt has been having trouble at school, getting into fights and failing classes. Matt’s relationship with his father, which has never been good, is getting worse as Matt’s father is unwilling to discuss T.J. and his death. When the army delivers T.J.’s personal effects, Matt discovers letters that will show him a new side of his brother, and a part of his life that T.J. hid from his family. Personal Effects showcases the grieving process that takes place after losing a loved one, as well as highlighting Matt’s personal growth as he learns to accept truths about T.J.’s life, and begins to create a better relationship with his father.

This story is highly recommended for young adult readers between the ages of 14-18, and especially for male readers. Personal Effects is the debut novel for author E.M. Kokie, and is a great addition to young adult literature on the topic of the aftermath of war and the effects that war has on the families of soldiers. The focus of this novel is on the family of a soldier fighting in Iraq, but Matt’s emotions revolving around letting go of his brother and learning to mature and move on with his life are relatable to all young adult readers.

Personal Effects is a novel with authentic characters learning to accept and deal with their grief and move on with their lives. Matt’s personal growth through searching for the truth about his brother’s life allows him to learn about the importance of family, of love, and of acceptance.

Recommended Age:

Full Citation:
Kokie, E.M. (2012). Personal Effects. Berryville, VA: Candlewick Press.


All Good Children

I just finished reading All Good Children, written by Catherine Austin. It was an interesting premise, but the writing of the book did not really take me in, and it took me quite a while to engage with the characters and the storyline.

All Good Children is yet another YA dystopian novel. Maxwell Connors is a fifteen year old ‘troublemaker’. He is used to getting into trouble at school and likes making trouble for his teachers. Max lives with his mother and his younger sister Ally: his father died before the book opens. When Max and Ally return to school after missing the first week of classes, they realize that all of their schoolmates are behaving very strangely. All their friends listen to all the rules and hardly ever talk. Max thinks they are all acting like Zombies. He quickly realizes that the vaccinations given in schools are making children obedient. Max must work with his mother to save their family and escape before he and Ally receive vaccination.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was Max’s character. Although he could have been an annoying character, always acting out and trying to get attention, Max’s softness and affection for his younger sister is his most redeeming quality. it was really great to see such a strong brother-sister relationship.

However, I really felt that this book was quite slow to get going, so by the time the action picked up a bit (to be clear, it is never action-packed) I was not all that interested. Like other dystopian novels, this book definitely makes the reader think about what life would be like if we changed certain things in our society, and what consequences might arise. However, unlike other very popular dystopian novels for young adults, such as the Hunger Games, I’m not sure that All Good Children will become as well known, simply because there is less action.

Sex and Sexuality in YA Literature: The Difference Between You and Me

Last week, I read The Difference Between You and Me, written by Madeleine George.

I really enjoyed reading this book! The story is told from the perspective of two female teenagers as they navigate high school, relationships, and their own sexuality. Jesse cuts her own hair and wears fisherman’s boots. Emily is the Vice-President of student council and wears cardigans. However different they are from one another, these two girls feel a strong attraction for one another and begin a secret relationship, in spite of the fact that Emily already has a boyfriend. 

I think that the topic of this book is great for young people to read. It’s so important to have different stories told, not only so people can find characters they relate to, but also to see examples of different kinds of relationships. Jesse and Emily’s relationship is never easy, and has a lot of problems, even though they both feel so strongly for each other and have so much passion for their relationship. Beyond having examples of lesbian relationships in YA books, I think it’s important to see examples of relationships that were never meant to be.

My one main complaint about this book is how Emily’s character is portrayed. When reading the book, I really did not like Emily’s character. After discussing the book with people in my class, I realized that this dislike was shared by many others. However, I felt that we were set up to dislike Emily. Jesse is a well-rounded character. We see her interactions with people other than Emily, such as friends and her parents. However, we only ever see Emily interact with Jesse and hear her own descriptions of how she thinks things are going. Without seeing Emily’s relationship with her parents, it is hard to understand her fear of being in a relationship with Jesse. It felt as though Emily was a foil created by the author in order to show Jesse’s character development. I would have liked for Emily to be a bit more 3-dimensional.

YA Book Trailer: A Northern Light

This week we created book trailers for my YA materials class. My partner and I chose to make a trailer for A Northern Light, written by Jennifer Donnelly.

This Book Talk Trailer was made by Allison and Sarah for educational purposes only. All materials were either created by Allison or Sarah or taken from a creative commons Flickr Account. The photo of Grace Brown is from wikipedia: and the music was provided by the Movie Maker program.

Enjoy The Show!

You can find the link to our trailer here:




Here is the factsheet for our trailer:

Book Trailer: A Northern Light

Full citation: Donnelly, Jennifer. (2003). A Northern Light. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

Plot summary:

In 1906, Mattie Goakey is sixteen years old and responsible for taking care of her father and younger sisters on the failing family farm. Despite her father’s disapproval of Mattie continuing her education, she takes her final exams and gets into Barnard College. Over the course of the summer, Mattie must decide between staying home with her family, getting married, or going to New York to attend college. Mattie begins working at a local hotel, and is given a stack of letters to burn by a young female guest at the hotel. The plot thickens when the guest, Grace Brown, is found dead after a boating accident with her boyfriend. Grace’s boyfriend mysteriously disappears.

Mattie’s coming-of-age story is interwoven with the story of Grace Brown’s mysterious death. Over the course of a few months, Mattie must make tough decisions about her future, but knows she is the only person who may be able to find the answers surrounding what happened to Grace on the lake, and why she is dead.


-Mattie: 16 years old, the eldest of 3 sisters, she loves to write, read and look up words in the dictionary

-Grace Brown: The mysterious hotel guest at Big Moose Lake who “drowns.”

-Royal Loomis: The handsome young farm boy who wants to marry Mattie. He doesn’t understand Mattie’s love of words and reading. Instead, Royal dreams of being a farmer.

-Weaver: Understands Mattie’s desire to go to college. He works at the hotel with Mattie to save money for college. Reacts strongly to any stereotypes towards him because he’s African American.

-Mattie’s Father:  Grieving over the loss of his wife, he doesn’t understand Mattie’s desire to leave especially after her older brother Lawton left.


This novel is set in New York State, in the Adirondack Mountains. Mattie and her family live on a farm, but Mattie spends the summer working at the Glenmore Hotel on Big Moose Lake.


Jennifer Donnelly is the author of six books, “Revolution, The Winter Rose, A Gathering Light, The Tea Rose and Humble Pie and A Northern Light.

Intended audience: Young Adults ages 13-17.

Appeal Factors/ Noteworthy Information:

The death of Grace Brown is actually a true story. Grace Brown was murdered in the summer of 1906 by her boyfriend, Chester Gillette. During Gillette’s trial, it was discovered that Brown had been pregnant at the time of her death. Gillette was ultimately executed for his actions.

This story is focused around a young adult who is trying to decide what she wants for her future. This topic is something that young adults today can still related to.


British Carnegie (2003),LA Times Book Price for YA Literature (2003), YALSA’s Top Ten Best Books for YA (2003.

REVIEW: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

ImageMost people who think of World War Two immediately think of the Holocaust, and the war against Germany. However, there is less attention in popular culture to the atrocities that were happening simultaneously elsewhere in the world. Ruta Sepetys’ book Between Shades of Gray focuses on the experiences of a Lithuanian family during the Soviet occupation, as Stalin moved his perceived enemies into labour and extermination camps.

In 1942, Lina is fifteen years old and preparing to go to art school when she, her mother, and her younger brother are arrested because her father has been declared an enemy of the state. Lina’s father, a University professor, has already been arrested and taken from his family. Thrown onto a crowded train, Lina and her family do everything they can to stick together and stay alive, giving up all of their valuable possessions. Once they arrive at the camp, all the prisoners are forced to do hard manual labour every day, with very little food and no medication. Subjected daily to horrors and humiliation, Lina and her family must struggle to survive.

This story is highly recommended, not only for young adult readers, but for all readers over the age of 13. Lina is an incredibly brave protagonist, a budding artist who attempts to keep an account of life in Stalin’s work camps through her art. The love that Lina and her family have for one another is the only thing they have in the camps, and the only thing that could possibly keep them alive. Comparisons have been drawn between Lina and Anne Frank, both courageous and smart young girls, who are subjected to undeserved evils. Sepetys’s award-winning story introduces strong and memorable characters, and will make readers want to know more about this time in history.

Between Shades of Gray is a story that will stay with the reader long past finishing the last page of the book.


Recommended Age: 13+

ALA-ALSC Children’s Notable Book
Golden Kite Award or Honor Book
William C. Morris Finalist
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
YALSA Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is author Sherman Alexi’s first novel written for a YA audience. This novel follows Arnold, a fourteen year-old native high school student, as he decides to leave his school on the Spokane Reservation to attend an all-white school. Suddenly, Arnold is a traitor at his old school, and an outcast at his new school. All of the usual high-school experiences are amplified by the fact that Arnold has a stutter and a lisp, making him an easy target for bullies.

As Alexi explains on his website, the novel is semi-autobiographical. Written with a strong blend of words and cartoons, this book is told through the eyes of Arnold as he navigates his new life, and deals with some very heavy losses in his old life. Although the descriptions of life on the reservation are very real and draw attention to the poverty, alcoholism, and violence often present on reservations, the tone of the novel remains positive and uplifting.

One of my favorite aspects of this book were the illustrations included, which not only illustrate events in the book, but also allow Arnold to add extra commentary to the things he sees everyday. For example:


These illustrations allow Arnold to portray his world as he sees it, and to give the reader a better understanding of the life he is describing. The illustrations were actually done by Ellen Forney, and she did a great job with them!

All in all, this is a great read.

The Effectiveness of Verse Narrative

I just finished reading My Book of Life by Angel, written by Martine Leavitt. To be honest, I wasn’t extremely interested in reading this book, because reading in verse isn’t my favorite. I have to say, this book took me by surprise. Although the subject matter covered throughout the book was definitely hard to read in some parts, the fact that it was written in verse added to the narrative rather than taking away from it.

My Book of Life by Angel is told through verse by Angel, a sixteen year old runaway who is tricked by her boyfriend Call into prostitution and drug addiction. Angel’s story begins when her friend goes missing and she decides to stop using drugs at the same time as Call brings home eleven year-old Melli to work for him as well. Angel decides that it is her responsibility to save Melli from her own experiences, and hopes to be able to escape her dangerous life.

I found that Angel’s story was extremely well-suited to being told through verse. Without prose, the writing was less descriptive but no less meaningful. In fact, writing in verse allowed for the audience to understand Angel’s hopelessness in her situation and her desperation to save Melli without long or graphic descriptions about the atrocities they face. This book discusses the everyday horrors that sex workers deal with through Angel’s eyes, as she writes it all down in her notebook. It is a quick read, but hard to put down before finishing.

Although Leavitt invented the characters for this book, she explains in an author’s note at the end of the book that the circumstances surrounding disappearing sex workers did happen in Vancouver in the 1980’s. I think that this author’s note would make young readers really engage with the story as they realize the reality and the dangers of prostitution, told through Angel’s story but related to actual events. The list of names of missing women is long and horrifying, and sheds light on a difficult and often ignored topic.