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Final Novels for Ms. Green's 8th Graders

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Valerie Green


Throughout my 8th grade Language Arts course, I have tried to instill a love of reading in all my students. Numerous studies have shown that increasing students’ volume of reading is one of the most important levers in increasing their achievement. Moreover, reading is so much more than an academic skill. Reading informs us, transports us, empowers us, and brings us joy. It is through reading that we learn about ourselves and the world around us.

So far, students have read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Pearl, Warriors Don't Cry, and many short stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces.

As our final novel, students in my English classroom will choose a high-interest novel relevant to their lives. My goal is to allow each student to pick the novel and enter a unique exploration through journaling, projects, socratic seminars, and application to their daily lives. As they make the transition from middle to high school, students will carry forward the lessons and themes of all the books they have read this year.

The five novels I have selected are: Speak, Go Ask Alice, Finding Fish, Manchild in the Promised Land, and Slam. In order to keep costs down for students, I am hoping to fundraise the money to buy the books myself. Each student will need a novel so they can read both in class and at home.

The summaries of the books are below:

8th Grade Choice Novel

Speak, published in 1999, is Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult novel that tells the story of Melinda Sordino's rape, recovery, and confession. After being raped at a party, Melinda is ostracized by her peers because she will not say why she called the police. Unable to verbalize what happened, Melinda nearly stops speaking altogether,expressing her voice through the art she produces for Mr. Freeman's class. This expression slowly helps Melinda acknowledge that she was raped, face her attacker, and recreate her identity.Speak is considered a problem novel, or trauma novel. Melinda's story is written in a diary format, consisting of a nonlinear plot and jumpy narrative that mimics the trauma she experienced. Since it was published, the novel has won several awards and has been translated into sixteen languages. The book has faced censorship for the sexual content of Melinda's rape. In 2004, Jessica Sharzer directed the film adaptation, starring Kristen Stewart as Melinda.

Go Ask Alice
An unnamed fifteen-year-old diarist, whom the novel's title refers to as Alice, starts a diary. With a sensitive, observant style, she records her adolescent woes: she worries about what her crush Roger thinks of her; she loathes her weight gain; she fears her budding sexuality; she is uncomfortable at school; she has difficulty relating to her parents. Alice's father, a college professor, accepts a teaching position at a different college and the family will move at the start of the new year, which cheers Alice up. The cautionary tale about the life of a troubled teen caused a sensation when published because it effectively captured the experience of adolescents.

Finding Fish
Baby Boy Fisher was raised in institutions from the moment of his birth in prison to a single mother. He ultimately came to live with a foster family, where he endured near-constant verbal and physical abuse. In his mid-teens he escaped and enlisted in the navy, where he became a man of the world, raised by the family he created for himself. Finding Fish shows how, out of this unlikely mix of deprivation and hope, an artist was born -- first as the child who painted the feelings his words dared not speak, then as a poet and storyteller who would eventually become one of Hollywood's most sought-after screenwriters.
A tumultuous and ultimately gratifying tale of self-discovery written in Fisher's gritty yet melodic literary voice, Finding Fish is an unforgettable reading experience.

Manchild in the Promised Land
The novel is indeed one of the most remarkable autobiographies of our time. This thinly fictionalized account of Claude Brown's childhood as a hardened, streetwise criminal trying to survive the toughest streets of Harlem has been heralded as the definitive account of everyday life for the first generation of African Americans raised in the Northern ghettos of the 1940s and 1950s. When the book was first published in 1965, it was praised for its realistic portrayal of Harlem -- the children, young people, hardworking parents; the hustlers, drug dealers, prostitutes, and numbers runners; the police; the violence, sex, and humor. The book continues to resonate generations later, not only because of its fierce and dignified anger, not only because the struggles of urban youth are as deeply felt today as they were in Brown's time, but also because the book is affirmative and inspiring. Here is the story about the one who "made it," the boy who kept landing on his feet and became a man.

Seventeen-year-old Greg "Slam" Harris can do it all on the basketball court. He's seen ballplayers come and go, and he knows he could be one of the lucky ones. Maybe he'll make it to the top. Or maybe he'll stumble along the way. Slam's grades aren't that hot. And when his teachers jam his troubles in his face, he blows up. Slam never doubted himself on the court until he found himself going one-on-one with his own future, and he didn't have the ball.



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