Soto, Gary. 1994. Jesse.New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN: 0-15-240239-X.
Jesse takes us back in time to Chavez and the plight of the Mexican-American who could not find a job other than that of the migrant worker. As Jesse begins to come to terms with his own life, he leaves home to continue his education with his brother Abel. He leaves behind him a father who drinks too much, cannot communicate with his sons, and is the stereotypical male figure out of a job and with no direction, just bitterness left from being injured and unable to work. Jesse makes a choice to join his brother in continuing his education even though he has dropped out of high school. His love is his art class even though he works through other classes. During his journey in the story, he is confronted with the social and political issues of the time. His friends are very active in these issues while Jesse seems to take the place more of an interested and yet uncomfortable observer. He recalls times when he has done migrant work and continues to do manual labor to finance his living space as well as his college expenses. His brother, Abel, also follows this until Abel stops to follow his own direction, leaving Jesse to make his own choices. Jesse puts into his art the work and life of the migrant worker as he develops his own style of art expression and pride. The reader also experiences his friends and acquaintances through Jesse's eyes and through his interaction with them as the gap widens between each as they find their own direction or goal in life, i.e. Raul becomes a fighter for 'the cause' of the migrant worker.
While this book gets inside the head of Jesse and lets the reader experience his thoughts and feelings, there seems to be a limit to the time that this book will be read by the young adult in that the importance of Chavez and that time seems to be fading in the eyes of the young adult. I am now faced with having to inform my students of Cesar Chavez and how much he accomplished for the migrant workers rather than them knowing of him and wanting to know more about life for the average teen during that time. While the book is realistic in the time period, it may become outdated in that respect. However, the feelings that are expressed by Jesse concerning his family and their reaction/nonreaction to him are such that any young adult can identify with to some extent. The acquaintance he makes with Minerva who already has a child brings him into some serious considerations of his feelings about her, his brother's interest in her and also Leslie's feelings that develop with Minerva and her child. Jesse evolves into a young man who continues with his art, schooling and working in the fields. When his brother Abel was drafted, Jesse's world became a collection of unsmiling people who couldn't or wouldn't "set the crooked world straight." Jesse was still stuck between two cultures and two languages. While I found the story a good read, I really felt that the content was dated and the value of the book may be short-lived. For some reason the causes of that time are not as apparent in today's world as those seen in books like The Road to Memphis. Some readers will gain new insight into the daily life of someone who is trying to extend himself through education and his art who is also from a different socio-economic group with a different culture and language than their own.
Cormier, Robert. 1995. In the middle of the night. New York, NY: Delacorte Press. ISBN: 0-385-32158-9.
This story is captivating in its intensity of emotions. Denny is aware of a mystery in his life surrounding his father. The family's constant moves and the phone calls in the middle of the night are introduced as a matter of fact by Denny. As Denny matures in the book he begins to break some of the house rules which then lead him to discover the past of his father. Through his steps of discovery the reader is taken on a tense ride with Denny as he discovers what happened at the Globe Theater many years before. His search for the truth and his coming to understand his father's willingness to listen to the phone calls are intertwined with Denny getting caught in a situation where "the sins of the father" are almost passed on to Denny as a means of revenge for one of the victims, Lulu, and her unwilling but loyal brother, Dave. Lulu's revenge involves bringing Denny to an awareness of his sexual desires in order to gain control over him and reek her own form of justice upon Denny for her suffering.
The story itself leads the reader through a psychological experience that is believable in all of its ugliness. Denny's curiosity becomes his undoing in this battle and yet, on the other end of the spectrum, his curiosity brings him closer to his father. This read brings with it many possibilities for discussion/debate i.e. justice vs. revenge, truth vs. justice, and conflicts between characters. Within this story Cormier has brought to light a side of people that many of us would rather not face and he has done it in such a way as to make it real and alarming. Cormier has taken away the happily ever after and presented us with a realistic chiller that explores the mind and actions of someone less than desirable. I found the people to be presented clearly and thus the entire book becomes plausible. This story would be a catcher for many a reluctant reader as well as the avid readers. While this is in the realistic section, I would also have to put it in what I would consider the suspense novel category. As the parents are more in the background, I would compare it to Night of the Bat for action and thrills. Denny becomes the catalyst to end the torture of his father even though the ending of the story is ugly in and of itself, the reader is still left with the happy ending being at the cost of two human lives. The language is everyday style which adds to the attraction as well as Denny being the main focus through his thoughts, feelings and actions.
Chbosky, Stephen. 1999. The perks of being a wallflower. New York, NY: Pocket Books. ISBN: 0-671-02734-4.
The story of Charlie is told through his letters to another person who is never openly revealed to the reader. Charlie shows his life through letters to the reader in everyday language and his observations of the people around him. While you begin to know Charlie and some of his experiences, you don't discover the cause of his withdrawal from participating in life until the end. As you experience friends, drugs, sex, homosexuality, etc., you feel with Charlie the world from his angle. Each time he writes a letter, it is as if he is an onlooker of life just like a wallflower. He does what he thinks a friend would do even if it is something strange or uncomfortable. As he describes his family, he portrays a family that is estranged from each other even when he describes the special times with his mother. We are led to believe that the death of Aunt Helen was the beginning of his withdrawal from "participating" in his own life. While this is somewhat true, at the end we learn that her death was really the end of the experience that removed him from a normal existence. While we don't have the happy ending, we are left with the feeling that things are beginning to turn around for Charlie and while he is alone again and without friends around, he has learned enough about himself and what happened to be able to try "participating."
I found this book to be a depressingly good read. Charlie wrote in everyday language to the reader of his experiences which took me further into his mind and his experimenting with possibly reentering the mainstream. He continually tried to understand his feelings and his surroundings but could only relate experiences rather than experience them. Upon meeting Sam and Patrick, he discovered the two people who could make him feel something and begin to live again. His love for Sam developed to the point of taking him outside himself and then to ultimate discovery. His friendship with Patrick exemplified his existence of being just outside of life and letting things happen to him without reacting. In a way the reader feels like a fly on the wall observing the observer. The use of the intermittent letters rather than a diary/journal helped to draw in the reader and make the reader participate in Charlie's life. While the issues push the limits of realistic novels due to the graphic descriptions of masturbation, homosexuality, drugs etc., the story also shows the change in Charlie as he comes to the point of preparing to join the human race again. The story is problematic with the issues it raises but the reality is there for all to see. I can't think of any reader that could walk away from this book without having additional food for thought.
Garden, Nancy. 1996. Good moon rising. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux. ISBN: 0-374-32746-7.
This book follows a few months in the lives of Jan and Kerry as they come to terms with their decision that they are in love and that love is worth standing up for. Jan has just returned from summer stock and tries out for the lead in The Crucible. A new student who has never acted gets the part, Kerry, while Jan ends up with stage manager/assistant director. As the story unfolds, Jan turns down Ted for a steady boyfriend and devotes her energies toward the career of acting etc. Kerry needs coaching for her role in the school play which throws Jan and her together where they find that they can really communicate with each other. Needless to say, a homosexual relationship develops to the point that they know they are both gay and willing to stand up for their love. While most of the student body is fairly accepting, Kent and his followers try and turn everyone against the gay couple by a wide variety of tricks, pranks and attempts to ostracize Kerry and Jan from the cast, the play and from the student body as a whole.
While this realistic novel is placed more in the middle to upper class grouping, it does go into the gay realm. The two female main characters are described as questioning what they are experiencing and finally the decision they each come to as individuals. The situation itself seems very realistic and uncomfortable for each of them, including their doubts and misunderstandings with each other as their love deepens and grows. As a book that deals with a sex-related problem, it is carefully done without being overly explicit. The emotions are expressed well and with understanding which one would expect from this author. The accuracy of the response from others to this relationship helps the reader understand many of the emotions experienced by the couple. It is rather simplistic, however, in the end by having them feel that their parents will accept them both individually and as a couple. Maybe this feeling that all will be accepted by their parents is due to the acceptance of the student body and the principal, Mr. Taylor, who suspends Kent and his following for their actions toward Kerry and Jan. The book itself does use everyday language as it goes through the action and the dialogue between the characters. All in all, this book deals with a very touchy situation with a lot of care and thoughtfulness for the potential readership.