YA NF – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Chasing King’s Killer, Educated: A Memoir

McNamara, Michelle. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. Harper, 2018. 978-0-06-231978-4. 328 pp. $27.99. Grades 11+.

Michelle McNamara, author of TrueCrimeDiary.com (and wife of comedian Patton Oswalt) had not yet completed I’ll Be Gone in the Dark when she passed away suddenly in 2016. With the help of her editor and two of her fellow crime researchers, the book was eventually completed. In it, the authors chronicle the crimes of the “Golden State Killer” (GSK), formerly known as the East Area Rapist and/or the Original Night Stalker. A prolific serial criminal, the GSK committed at least fifty rapes and twelve murders in California between 1976 and 1986. He left a maddeningly broad swath of clues, yet even after the advent of DNA profiling the case was never solved. Detectives possessed a DNA profile for “the responsible” (McNamara’s preferred term), which enabled them to connect crimes across California to one perpetrator, but they had no identity to attach it to. The case remained unsolved for over thirty years. But as McNamara warned the GSK in her chillingly prophetic epilogue: “A ski mask won’t help you now … This is how it ends for you.” Indeed, an arrest was made just months after the the release of her book.

THOUGHTS: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is a masterful, deeply compassionate true crime narrative that is destined to be a classic of the genre. It also necessarily includes descriptions of sexual violence and brutal murders. It’s appropriate for older teens who appreciate Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, are interested in criminal justice, or who are just intrigued by the recent arrest of a suspect in this case. 

True Crime (364.15)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Swanson, James L. Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin. Scholastic Press, 2018. 978-0545723336. 374 pp. $19.99. Grades 7+.

Outstanding historical nonfiction author James L. Swanson returns with a riveting look at the life, last days, death, and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Swanson opens the book with the little-known 1958 attempted murder of King by a mentally ill woman named Izola Curry. King healed from his stab wounds, but the assassination attempt changed him; he realized the dangers of leading the Civil Rights movement, but King persisted in his cause. Swanson then focuses on the ten years leading up to King’s 1968 murder. This tumultuous decade included the Montgomery Bus boycott, the Freedom Riders, the March on Washington, the death of John F. Kennedy, and the beginning of the Vietnam War (which King strongly opposed). Intertwining King’s final years with the movements of a small-time criminal named James Earl Ray, Swanson skillfully depicts their “deadly collision course.” A chapter on April 4, 1968 entitled “The Last Day” includes a heart-stopping, minute-by-minute overview of King’s final hours. The book’s gripping final section, Manhunt!, covers the FBI’s two-month search for Ray. Photographs, diagrams, and meaningful captions enhance nearly every page of Chasing King’s Killer. Extensive back matter includes an essay on Civil Rights landmarks to visit, a chronology of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day federal holiday, and a timeline of James Earl Ray’s arrests, prison record, and escapes.

THOUGHTS: April 4, 2018, marked the 50-year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. There could be no better time to read this excellent piece of nonfiction for young adult readers!

Biography, True Crime (92)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District


Westover, Tara. Educated: A Memoir. Random House, 2018. 978-0-399-59050-4. 334 pp. Grades 10+.

In her memoir, debut author Tara Westover brings readers along on her journey from her childhood as “an ignorant girl who’d crawled out of a scrap heap” to the upper echelons of academia. She grew up on a mountain in rural Idaho called Buck’s Peak, the youngest of seven children in a family headed by her survivalist father and midwife mother. Her parents were so dedicated to staying off the grid that their younger children had no birth certificates, no visits to the doctor (despite several severe injuries), and no formal schooling. Tara’s homeschooling experience was unstructured at best, and she spent most of her childhood lending a hand at her father’s scrapyard. Eager to escape an abusive older brother, Tara began to eye college as a possible route to a different kind of life. After four years at Brigham Young University, where she often felt like a fish-out-of-water, Tara began graduate studies at Cambridge in England. Through education, her worldview expanded exponentially: “I felt an animating surge of adrenaline, of possibility, of a frontier being pushed outward.” Tara Westover is a gifted writer, vividly depicting her early years on Buck’s Peak, her adolescence, and her journey into a future that is different from her past. She also takes a loving, nonjudgmental approach in portraying her extremist parents, even as she rejects the pain and violence associated with their way of life.

THOUGHTS: This is a top-notch choice for a school-wide read, and it’s a must-have for every library’s biography section!

Biography (92)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley School District

YA NF – Girl Code; The 57 Bus

Gonzales, Andrea, and Sophie Houser. Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting it Done. Harper, 2017. 978-0-06-247250-2. 264 p. $17.99. Gr. 7-12.

Teenagers Andrea “Andy” Gonzales and Sophie Houser met at a summer camp called Girls Who Code, where they teamed up to create a video game called Tampon Run.  Much to their surprise, the video game became wildly popular, solidifying their celebrity status in the tech world.  This book, told in alternating perspectives between Andy and Sophie, gives readers an inside look into their lives, beginning before the invention of Tampon Run and continuing with the impact the game had on their lives after it went viral.  By the end of the book, the girls are heading off to college and sharing their hopes and aspirations for the future.  Also included in the back of the book is a coding appendix that provides readers with coding basics.  A solid addition for any school looking to add to their STEM collection.  THOUGHTS: I felt this title was geared more towards girls than boys.  Not only were there many details included about the menstrual taboo, but there were many references to the lack of female coders in the tech field.  These messages are empowering for young girls who wish to make the topic of menstruation less taboo or who wish to work in the STEM field, but may not speak as strongly to boys.  Pair this title with Reshma Saujani’s New York Times bestseller, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World.

005.1; Computer Programming       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Slater, Dashka. The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017. 978-0-374-30323-5. 305 pp. $17.00. Gr. 8 and up.

In November of 2013, teenagers Sasha and Richard didn’t have much in common. Sasha attended a small private high school, had a small circle of supportive friends, and identified as genderqueer (preferring they/them pronouns). Richard attended large, public Oakland High School and had already spent a year in juvenile detention. Their lives overlapped for a few short minutes each day on Oakland’s 57 bus. One afternoon, while Sasha was napping in the back of the bus, Richard flicked a lighter near Sasha’s skirt. It erupted in flames and left the teenager with second and third degree burns requiring surgery and months of rehabilitation. Sixteen-year old Richard, who admitted to being homophobic in a police interview, faced a potential life sentence if he was tried as an adult with a hate crime enhancement. Author Dashka Slater takes a remarkably even-handed look at the two young people, the crime, their respective support systems, and role of the justice system in what happened next. In particular, she examines whether a teenager can ever truly act as an adult, and whether adult prisons are an appropriate place for juvenile offenders to serve their sentences.  THOUGHTS: While not a typical true crime story, The 57 Bus is an extremely compelling portrayal of a hate crime and its aftermath. The author deftly illustrates how gender is not always binary, and neither is right/wrong, guilty/not-guilty, just/unjust.

364.15; True Crime     Amy Pickett, Ridley School District

 

Sasha, an asexual white teen from a middle-class background who attended a small private school in Oakland, California, was napping on the 57 bus one afternoon when Richard, an African American teen from a poorer neighborhood who attended a large public school, made the rash decision to light Sasha’s skirt on fire. The skirt went up in flames, and Sasha was hospitalized with severe burns while Richard was arrested and charged as an adult for committing a hate crime. Using interviews, documents, letters, videos, diaries, social media posts, and public records, the author pieces together the entire story in a very impartial manner.  Beginning with the incident itself and then backtracking to provide information on Sasha’s and Richard’s backgrounds, the second half of the book is dedicated to the outcomes and aftermath of the incident. This excellent title raises many timely questions about gender, race, class, hate crimes, and the justice system, and it, therefore, deserves a place in every junior and senior high school. THOUGHTS: Potential uses for this book in an educational setting are boundless.  It could be paired with other outstanding titles like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give or Nic Stone’s Dear Martin to explore the issues of race and justice.  Social studies teachers may choose to have students read this book and then write a response declaring whether or not they felt justice was ultimately served and why.  Alternately, a mock trial could be set up requiring students to use evidence from the book to defend either Sasha or Richard. The insightful discussions this book could spark about hate, impulsiveness, and forgiveness are sure to stick with students long after they have finished reading it.

364.15; Hate Crimes      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area School District

YA NF – How Dare the Sun Rise; March Against Fear; Martin Luther; American Fire

Uwiringiyimana, Sandra, and Abigail Pesta. How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 978-0-06-247014-0. 288 pp. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

This excellent memoir relates how one “war child” went from stateless refugee to leading activist. Growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sandra Uwiringiyimana enjoyed a happy childhood in a large, loving family. Her parents strongly valued education and envisioned a life for their daughters beyond an arranged marriage; her siblings were both her playmates and protectors. However, the possibility of war was a constant cloud on the horizon. When she was ten, Sandra’s family fled to a refugee camp in Burundi that was attacked by a rebel militia. With a gun to her head, Sandra said goodbye to life, but the rebel spared her and she escaped into the darkness. Miraculously, after the massacre she reunited with some of her family, and together they began a journey that would ultimately bring them to Rochester, New York. Sandra’s challenges continued as she learned to navigate American culture, race relations, and her flashbacks to the Gatumba massacre. Sandra’s passion for education and human rights have driven both her activism and her quest to heal from the trauma she suffered. THOUGHTS: Sandra Uwiringiyimana has written a moving account of her harrowing years as a child of war, and the strength and support she found to rebuild her life. It stands alongside other standout titles such as Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara, Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

In her closing Information and Resources section, the author highlights three organizations:

  • Jimbere Fund, whose mission is to revitalize distressed communities in rural Congo (www.Jimberefund.org)
  • The Maman Shujaa, a women’s movement for peace, women’s rights, rights of the indigenous, and nature (www.HeroWomenRising.org)
  • RefugePoint (www.RefugePoint.org) helps refugees in life-threatening situations find safety and rebuild their lives

92, Autobiography    Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

 

Bausum, Ann. The March Against Fear. National Geographic, 2017. 978-1-4263-2666-0. $19.99. 144p. Gr. 7 and up.

The March Against Fear is the story of the last great, but sometimes forgotten, civil rights march. James Meredith was one of the first wave of recruits into the newly integrated Air Force, and he was the first African American to successfully integrate the University of Mississippi. It was that courage and determination that gave him the idea of marching across his home state of Mississippi to encourage African Americans to register to vote. A year earlier the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed but still a majority of African Americans had not registered to vote. Meredith thought that fear of retaliation was holding people back from registering, and this Walk Against Fear would be the thing to inspire them to register. On the second day of the march Meredith was shot. Fortunately, he didn’t die, but with the shooting his walk turned into a march and his cause was taken up by civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael. This march and the violent confrontations that the people who took part in it endured pitted King’s nonviolent response with Carmichael’s demand for “black power.” Following the march, all across the country there was growing unrest and frustration with racism and protests were held in at least 20 major cities. The media focused on what they thought was Carmichael’s call to violence and “black power” became the legacy of the March Against Fear.  THOUGHTS: Ann Bausum spoke to our students in support of the publication of this book. Our students and some teachers were mesmerized by this bit of history that they had never heard of. This book has powerful quotes and engaging photographs on solid black backgrounds that make it a pleasure to read. It would be an excellent book to use for Social Studies book clubs at the 7th through 9th grade level.

323.1196; Civil Rights      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Ciponte, Andrea Grosso and Dacia Palmerino.  Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic Biography. Plough Publishing House, 2017.  9780874862072. 160 p. $19.95. Gr. 8 and up.

Beautifully illustrated and well researched, this graphic novel follows the life of Martin Luther, the man who challenged the Catholic Church and inspired the Protestant Revolution. It is a fast read that captures the tumultuous times in Germany at the beginning of the 16th century, a time of poverty, plague and suffering. Martin was the son of hard working, strictly religious family. He excelled in school and was granted the opportunity to study at the University in Erfurt with the hopes of becoming a lawyer and improving his family’s lot. When caught in a violent storm, Martin has an epiphany which brings him to the church. Obsessed with salvation and faith he pores over the scriptures as he seeks to reconcile his growing doubts with the practices of the Holy Catholic Church. His major complaints against the Church over the sale of indulgences and the true meaning of faith and grace lead him to post the infamous 95 Theses on the door of the Cathedral. The novel presents Luther’s reasoning on the questions of faith, his friends and foes in his struggle to clarify his theology, and his efforts to bring the word of God closer to the people of Germany.  The good the bad and the ugly of Luther’s life is exposed, including his end of life tirades against Jews, Anabaptists and the peasants of Germany.  Ciponte’s drawings are gorgeous and colorful – evocative of some of the great masterpieces of the Renaissance.  THOUGHTS: Could be used as a companion text for students of world history to bring this revolutionary time period to life. Having a degree of background knowledge would help the reader understand the events in this retelling.

92, Graphic Biography               Nancy Summers, Abington SD

 

Hesse, Monica. American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017. 978-1-63149-051-4. 255 pp. $26.95. Gr. 10+.

Monica Hesse, author of the excellent young adult WWII mystery Girl in the Blue Coat, returns with a compulsively readable true crime case study. In American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Hesse relates the story of Accomack County, part of Virginia’s Eastern Shore peninsula, where dozens of abandoned buildings were set ablaze in 2012 and 2013. The story hinges less on whodunnit (the arsonists are already serving time) than why-dunnit. American Fire’s subtitle teases the answer, which Hesse reveals through depictions of the county’s cultural history, the crime of arson itself, the painstaking efforts of law enforcement, and an intense but ill-fated love story. THOUGHTS: American Fire is narrative nonfiction at its best. Written for adults, it’s also a perfect choice for teens who are listeners of the S-Town podcast, readers of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon, or simply enjoy puzzling out a seemingly random crime spree. One gripe: an Eastern Shore map would have been helpful! Hopefully one will be included when the paperback edition is released.

364.16; Crime     Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Children’s Nonfiction – Unsolved; Tricky Vic; Tree of Wonder

unsolved

Powell, Marie.  Unsolved.  New York:  Crabtree Publishing, 2015.  978-0-7787-8073-1.  $14.56. Gr. 3-6.

This nonfiction text, which is part of the series Mystery Files, explores unsolved mysteries.  Some of the areas included are Princess Anastasia Romanov, Amelia Earhart, and the Lost Colony of Roanoke.  The text includes a glossary, index, and a “Find Out More” section with a webography.  This would be a great addition to any elementary or middle school library.  Each two page spread examines a different topic and includes photographs and/or illustrations.  Although this book may be used for informational purposes, students will also enjoy reading it for recreation.  THOUGHTS:  A great addition for any children’s library collection.  It will especially appeal to students looking to explore unsolved mysteries of the past.

001.94       Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

 

 

trickyvic

Pizzoli, Greg. Tricky Vic. New York: Viking, 2015. 978-0-670-01652-5. 39p. $17.99. Gr. 3-6.

With the subheading “The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower,” Tricky Vic sets out to explain what seems highly unlikely. This is the story of Robert Miller, aka “Count” Victor Lustig, a high-stakes con man who went from small schemes, to playing Al Capone to, yes, proposing to sell the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal. Each event in Miller’s life is richly described and while his face is done only as a fingerprint (the author’s, actually!) the illsutrations are chock full of primary sources: photos, documents, and even his certificate of death. In addition to the colorful narrative, pages are adorned with additional facts, diagrams, and humorous drawings.  Thoughts: Pizzoli’s clever collage of illustration, photos and more blend well with his story-like fact-filled text. Whether you have heard of Tricky Vic, been to France, or none of the above, you will find yourself intrigued by this con artist extraordinaire!

364.16 Criminals/Biography      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary

 

 

treeofwonder

Messner, Kate. Tree of Wonder. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015. 978-1-4521-1248-0. 29 p. $16.99. Gr. 1-4.

This book introduces us to the Almendro tree, native to Latin American rain forests and the many creatures who make their homes there. Descriptive text explores a different animal on each page, with a blurb at the bottom that gives more informational details. As the reader progresses, the number of creatures doubles each time, noted in their silhouetted pictures. At the end of the book, Messner has included many resources, including information on conservation groups and books and websites for additional research. She includes a few pages of rainforest math using concepts and numbers from the book as well.  Thoughts: A beautifully written and illustrated addition to a rain forest section that would be good for earth day and other units. The math tie-in is a definitely bonus!

577.34 Rain Forest      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School