Book Reviews: Mormon Fundamentalism

You may remember the headlines from spring of 2008, when a polygamous compound in Texas was raided on suspicions of child abuse and over 400 children were taken from their parents during the investigation. It was shocking to a lot of people that there are communities in our country where families have one husband, several wives, and many children. These communities generally exist on private land in the American West (as well as Northern Mexico and Western Canada) and practice various interpretations of Mormon Fundamentalism.

I bring this up because I just read two recent teen books that take place in fundamentalist polygamous communities. I decided to review them together, along with a nonfiction book on the topic that I read several years ago. The fictional stories are all the more heartwrenching because they are based on how real girls and women are living in actual communities in our country.

Click on the covers to find library copies of the books.

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning it much---if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle---who already has six wives---Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever. What I appreciate about this author is that she is obviously writing from a familarity with general Mormon culture, but also did her research to make this book about fundamentalists entirely believable. The author does not gloss over the control and violence issues created by the Prophet's increasingly secretive and paranoid ways. The action in this story builds up to an extremely tense climax, which moved me to tears several times. (And not just because of the heroic librarian!) This book will make you thankful for the freedoms you enjoy, and hopeful for the teen girls and boys in these communities.

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka

In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected, and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands. At fifteen, Celeste is repulsed at the thought of becoming a sister wife, yet feels ashamed for craving the attention of Jon, a boy her age. Not knowing much about the outside world, she feels powerless to change her destiny. Her assignment as a sixth wife to a caring man makes her desperately unhappy, but rebelling will bring shame, and possibly punishment, upon her family. Celeste must decide what she is willing to sacrifice...her family or herself. Although the basic plot sounds a lot like The Chosen One, this book is set apart by several characteristics. It is told from the perspectives of three teen girls, which adds layers of understanding to the story. It is also a gentler story overall, and Celeste's eventual path feels like more of a choice than an act of utter desperation. This book is true to the details of life in a fundamentalist community, and will engage you as you realize how different and alike you are at the same time from the characters.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

This book surprised me when I read it five years ago, and some of the content has really stuck with me over time. Jon Krakauer researched a crime committed by Mormon Fundamentalists, and in the process revealed a lot of information about the history of such groups and their current practices. One thing that made me particularly sad was the plight of young men in polygamous communities. A lot of them are driven out of their communities and away from their families for reasons that boil down to supply and demand. They are seen as a liability in a group that marries off multiple women to a single (usually older) man. Not everything Krakauer says about the Mormon church in general is entirely accurate, but I appreciated the light he shed on fundamentalist sects in this writing. It provided a good background that really helped my understanding and empathy for the characters in the two books reviewed above.


A Movie & Some Anime

Today, we got a double dose of Japanese culture. First, 14 people showed up to watch the original Japanese version of the movie Shall We Dance?. The movie was about a straightlaced Japanese businessman learning to do ballroom dancing and we watched it with subtitles. We took a 1/2 hour break, then had anime club! Some people stayed after the movie, and others came just for anime, so we had a total of 20 people for that. Our drawing challenge this month was "ninjas" and we had the most random collection of entries ever! There were a four normal ninjas and ninja cartoons, then we had ninja versions of a Scotsman, an alien, Mega Man, animals, a jellyfish, among other things. And, although both events were great, we probably had the most fun in between them when I taught everyone some Charleston swing dance and the "cheater" waltz! We will have to have some basic dance classes in the future.


Cardboard Wars!

A teen book group at a Massachusetts library had a unique fundraiser last week...a cardboard tube battle! Check out this article from a local paper. Also, another local paper published a video from the event. I don't know about you, but I'd totally go to their group!


Monthly Feature: Word Nerd

I have officially changed the name of our monthly vocabulary challenge to Word Nerd, but the rules are the same:
  1. Once a month, I will post a sentence with vocabulary words in boldface.
  2. You have one week to look up the words, translate the sentence into normal language, and post a response in the comment section (with first name and last initial, please).
  3. Participants must be students in grades 6 to 12 who regularly visit Sellers Library.
  4. After one week, the person with the most accurate translation will get a prize.
  5. If no entry is entirely correct, I reserve the right not to pick a winner.
Here is the Word Nerd sentence for November:

Edward Cullen, an enigmatic vampire known to have a penchant for cars, endeavors to keep Bella safe with a preposterously expensive Mercedes that earns her a lot of bothersome attention.

(Yes, this is based on the beginning of Breaking Dawn. Use http://www.thesaurus.com/ to help you translate it!)


Newest of the New

Here are the latest additions to our teen section. Some of the health and beauty titles were purchased with the AAAS grant money from the Teens and Tans program. Come in and look for something new!

  • Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories about Beauty edited by Ann Angel
  • Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in their Lives by Sharon Flake
  • Rage: A Love Story by Julie Anne Peters
  • Someone to Love Me by Anne E. Schraff (Bluford High)
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  • Fault Line by Janet Tashjian
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • Pay the Piper: A Rock 'N' Roll Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
  • Skin: The Science Inside by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Boyology: A Teen Girl's Crash Course in All Things Boy by Sarah O'Leary Burningham
  • Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change by Bonnie Burton
  • Ask CosmoGirl! about Beauty: All the Answers to Your Questions about Hair, Makeup, Skin, & More by Cosmogirl (2 copies)
  • Born Beautiful: The African American Teenager's Complete Beauty Guide by Alfred Fornay
  • Teen Beauty Secrets: Fresh, Simple, & Sassy Tips for Your Perfect Look by Diane Irons
  • In Love and in Danger: A Teen's Guide to Breaking Free of Abusive Relationships by Barrie Levy
  • Respect: A Girl's Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Coutrney Macavinta and Anthea Van Der Pluym
  • Just Us Girls: Secrets to Feeling Good About Yourself, Inside and Out by Moka with Melissa Daly


Realistic Fiction from our Book Groups

A lot of the reading I do is in preparation for our teen book discussion groups, so here are short reviews of three titles that have sparked interesting discussions lately. Don't forget to click on the book cover to look for an available library copy!

Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes

After five bored freshmen start randomly singing and playing along with a radio commercial during detention, they decide to put their diverse musical talents together to form an avant-garde pop band. As social outcasts, they name their band after the equally outcast frozen lemonade machine at their school. Somehow their blend of ukelele, bass, trumpet, congas, and singing gains them a cult following and propels them to local stardom. But is it really possible to transcend your school's accepted social order without some kind of backlash?

The Last Chance Texaco by Brent Hartinger

At 15, Lucy Pitt has landed in a foster care group home that is the last stop before juvie. She's been in state care for eight years, so she does her best to be inconspicuous in her new home and school. However, her hot temper and sharp sense of justice get her noticed in both places. A fight on the first day of school lands her a long string of after-school trash duty with her tormentor, one of the most popular guys in school. And when she starts breaking house rules to investigate suspicious fires in her neighborhood, she puts not only herself, but the entire group home, in danger.

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Mina was just trying to do the right thing when she wrote the letter. But, in trying to apologize to a classmate, she got herself completely ostracized by her church and its youth group. When that same youth group mounts a campaign against the teaching of evolution in her science class, Mina finds herself the object of ridicule, scorn, and harassment as she tries to figure out exactly what she believes. The battle lines are drawn, pitting her passionate science teacher against the powerful church preacher. And Mina has to reinvent herself even as she is questioning everything she has ever believed in.


Rock On!

Yesterday, 25 people showed up to play Rock Band after school. It was a little crazy, but a lot of fun! We started with Rock Band: The Beatles, but as more people arrived we switched to Rock Band 2. A bunch of people were willing to sing, so it gave Avis and me a break! It probably helped that we have the house rule of letting the singer pick the song to play. Some people who attended were really amazing players, so a lot of people watched the game when they weren't playing. Of course, everyone enjoyed the snacks, demolishing two big bags of cookies, a giant package of string cheese, and some clementines. We will definitely do this a few times over the winter, so be sure to check the schedule when it comes out next month.


Teens and Tans Discussion Questions

In addition to having great table discussions, our Teens and Tans participants covered our tables with Sharpie comments and drawings. Check out some of my favorite responses:

What new information did you learn today? How will it change what you do? What will you share with your friends?

What messages do you see in pop culture about tanning? How else does the media deal with issues of skin color? How does this make you feel?

What places do you go outdoors? How can you protect yourself? What if people make fun of you?

Why do some people like to tan? How can you talk about the dangers of tanning without making anyone feel bad about their skin color?


New Reviewed Books

The Delaware County Library System office gets lots of teen books for review, and the deal is that we can have them for our libraries if we take the time to review them. So, here are the new additions to our teen collection that I reviewed in the past few weeks:
  • Privilege by Kate Brian (Privilege series)
  • Crazy Diamond by David Chotjewitz
  • A Voice of Her Own: Becoming Emily Dickinson by Barbara Dana
  • Wild Orchid: A Retelling of "The Ballad of Mulan" by Cameron Dokey
  • The Blonde of the Joke by Bennett Madison
  • The Frost Child by Eoin McNamee (Navigator trilogy)
  • Sprout by Dale Peck
  • The Stone Child by Dan Poblocki
  • Bad Apple by Laura Ruby
  • The Espressologist by Kristina Springer


Teens and Tans!

Even though it was gorgeous outside today, 24 teens showed up for our Teens and Tans program. We started the event with a presentation by Janet DeSipio, a Physician Assistant at Bryn Mawr Skin and Cancer Institute. She brought a slide presentation and talked about the structure of skin, skin cancer, and skin care. It was interesting, educational, and a little bit scary! The group asked a lot of great questions and the presentation actually went on longer than I had expected. That's good, though, because it meant that everyone was paying attention and actually learning something!

After the presentation, we rotated through four tables to discuss issues of sun exposure, tanning, and skin color. Members of the Teen Advisory Board kept the discussion at each table on track, and everyone was able to write on the table covers while they talked. Everyone enjoyed covering the tables with graffiti, but they also showed a lot of interesting thoughts. I will share some of the ideas in a future post.

While we were eating healthy snacks (good for the skin!), we looked at the ingredients on a variety of daily-use facial sunscreen products. I purchased four at Target and two at the beauty counters at Macy's. Ms. DeSipio recommended looking for ingredients that block UVA rays, especially recommending at least 3% avobenzone. (Some brands of sunscreen use trademarked names for formulations of UVA-blockers, such as Helioplex, Parsol 1789, and Mexoryl.) We found that five of the six face sunscreens had these ingredients. The only one that didn't was the cheapest, a Target store brand, and we tossed it in the trash!

At the end of the program, Roslyn was the lucky winner of the Neutrogena gift basket, and five other people took home those bottles of daily-use sunscreen. Everyone at the event went home with a gift bag of sample products from Ms. DeSipio and book called The Science Inside Skin. If you missed the program, check out a copy of the book from the teen nonfiction section. There are also several other new books on skin care, health, and beauty, so look for those as well.

Funding for this program was from Neutrogena through a grant from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Thanks!!

Ms. DeSipio giving her presentation to the group.

A group talking and writing about one of our discussion questions.

The lesson of the day.

Skin & Beauty Books

When I was researching for our Teens and Tans program, I found that there are not a lot of great books for teens that are just about skin care. So, here are some teen health and beauty books, as well as some skin care books published for adults, that you might find helpful.
  • Skin: The Science Inside by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual: For Everyone from Beginner to Pro by Bobbi Brown
  • Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty: Everything You Need to Look Pretty, Natural, Sexy, & Awesome by Bobbi Brown and Annemarie Iverson
  • Ask CosmoGirl! about Beauty: All the Answers to Your Questions about Hair, Makeup, Skin, & More by CosmoGirl
  • The African American Woman's Guide to Successful Make-Up and Skin Care by Alfred Fornay
  • Teen Beauty Secrets: Fresh, Simple, & Sassy Tips for Your Perfect Look by Diane Irons
  • Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin by Ellen Marmur, M. D.
  • Teen Makeup: Looks to Match Your Every Mood by Linda Mason
  • Skin Health Information for Teens: Health Tips about Dermatological Concerns and Skin Cancer Risks edited by Robert Aquinas McNally
  • Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd
  • You Being Beautiful: the Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty by Michael F. Roizen, M. D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M. D.
  • Dr. Susan Taylor's RX for Brown Skin: Your Prescription for Flawless Skin, Hair, and Nails by Susan C. Taylor, M. D.
  • The New Science of Perfect Skin: Understanding Skin-Care Myths and Miracles for Radiant Skin at Any Age by Daniel Yarosh, Ph.D.


Real-Life Frindle

In the children's book Frindle by Andrew Clements, a boy invents and popularizes the word frindle as a substitute for pen. He is at odds with his teacher, who goes to great lengths to stamp out the word. Of course, this only makes it more popular with the kids at his school and beyond.

So, it cracked me up to read about a high school in Connecticut that has banned the use of the word meep. This is a totally made up word, used by Beaker, Road Runner, and sometimes appearing as an expression in manga. Apparently, students at the school were uttering disruptive "meeps" and planning a "mass-meep" using Facebook. If the lesson of Frindle holds true in real life, someday we'll see meep in the dictionary!

Read the local news article, or listen to an NPR interview.

New Moon Madness!

Last night, 36 people came out to celebrate the New Moon movie at our release party. We did it a week early so it didn't interfere with anyone's actual movie viewing, and the bonus was that it was Friday the 13th! Huge thanks to the Teen Advisory Board (TAB) for funding this event and suggesting some of the activities. The TAB purchased the cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson, as well as all of the Twilight products we used for prizes and some of the craft supplies.

Some of our activities came from the hilarious new dating advice book The Vampire Is Just Not That Into You. We took two magazine-style quizzes to test our compatibility with the vampire of our dreams and we also wrote vampire love poetry. I wish I had more than one copy of the book in our collection because a lot of people wanted to check it out!

After watching the relevant scene in the Twilight movie, we made glitter gel, so that we could sparkle like a vampire in the sun. Scooping it into the containers proved to be more of a challenge than I bargained for. Next time, we will use funnels! It did turn out really cute, though. We also did a Mad-Lib of the initial meeting of Bella and Edward. I had to collect a lot of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but it was really funny, especially after watching the serious scene in the Twilight movie.

Later, we had a cupcake decorating contest in honor of the beginning of New Moon when Alice sets up an elaborate celebration of Bella's birthday. Everone got a devil's food cupcake with white icing and directions to do something related to the Twilight series. After that, it was a free-for-all of candy, pretzels, red and black icing, and creativity! Emily was the overall winner and she won a New Moon shirt, while our four runners-up (Anila, Jasmine, Kaitlyn, and Jolene)won Twilight Sweetarts. We watched some of the New Moon movie trailers while we enjoyed the cupcakes and some other snacks.

At the end, my book display of vampire fiction was demolished, and a lot of people also took my newly-updated list of vampire books. If you missed the list, extra copies are now down in the teen section. I hope everyone had a great time!

Robert Pattinson was a popular guest at our party!

The winning entry in our cupcake decorating contest!

A cupcake runner-up: I loved his hair

Another runner-up: Edward and Bella

One more runner-up: a pretzel werewolf


Book Review: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee
Click on the book cover to see which libraries own it.

SUMMARY: Lee takes readers on a delightful journey through the origins and mysteries of the popular, yet often overlooked, world of the American Chinese food industry. Crossing dozens of states and multiple countries, the author sought answers to the mysteries surrounding the shocking origins of the fortune cookie, the inventor of popular dishes such as chop suey and General Tso's chicken, and more. What she uncovers are the fascinating connections and historical details that give faces and names to the restaurants and products that have become part of a universal American experience. Readers will learn about the cultural contributions and sacrifices made by the Chinese immigrants who comprise the labor force and infrastructure that supports Chinese restaurants all over the world. This title will appeal to teens who are interested in history, Chinese culture, and, of course, cuisine. (School Library Journal)

OPINION: I heard Jennifer 8. Lee give a humorous and revealing presentation on Chinese food at the Pennsylvania Library Association conference last month, and immediately bought and read her book. Her voice in the book just as entertaining as her voice in person. This is the best kind of nonfiction; it is informative with out being dry or boring. The connections Lee unravels take you through time and across continents, touching on a diversity of issues that you wouldn't normally associate with America's favorite takeout meal! I highly recommend grabbing a few cartons of Chinese takeout (don't forget the fortune cookies) and digging into this book.


Live Online Homework Help

Don't forget that the Delaware County Library System offers FREE online homework help to all library cardholders from any computer with internet access. You can use it at home, at a friend's house, at the library...anywhere!

The service is open Sunday through Thursday from 3:00 to 10:00 pm. It offers help to everyone K-12, and even beginning college students and adult learners! You can get help in your core subject areas: Science, Math, English, Writing, and Social Studies.

All you have to do to use the service is log in with your library card and last name. It operates like a chat room, with some extra teaching features like a two-way whiteboard that you and the teacher can use to illustrate problems. The website is safe and effective, and way cheaper than paying someone!

What are you waiting for?!? It's FREE!!!


November Book Recommendations

If you are always wondering what to read, try the Teen Scene email newsletter from NextReads! Every month, a list of suggestions arrives in my inbox and it is exciting to see what is featured because even I haven't heard of everything. The list includes descriptions of each book and its cover art, so it's like one-stop shopping. This month's newsletter includes new books like Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (two authors that I love!), as well as a themed list of books by Native American authors. Check it out!


More New Books

We just can't stop expanding the teen collection! These are the newest books:


  • David Inside Out by Lee Bantle
  • Paparazzi Princess by Jen Calonita (Secrets of My Hollywood Life series)
  • Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita
  • Earthgirl by Jennifer Cowan
  • Holidaze by L. Divine (Drama High series)
  • Keep It Movin' by L. Divine (Drama High series)
  • Deep in the Heart of High School by Veronica Goldbach
  • Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  • Better Late Than Never by Marilyn Kaye (Gifted series)
  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind by Marilyn Kaye (Gifted series)
  • Dead Is So Last Year by Marlene Perez (Dead series)
  • The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan (Cirque du Freak books 1-3)
  • The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle by L. J. Smith
  • The Vampire Diaries: The Fury and Dark Reunion by L. J. Smith


  • The Worst-Cast Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht
  • The Blueprint for my Girls in Love: 99 Rules for Dating, Relationships, and Intimacy by Yasmin Shiraz
  • New Moon: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion by Mark Cotta Vaz
  • Monster Madness: King Kong, Godzilla, and other Classic Creatures of the Silver Screen by Zach Zito, Mel Neuhaus, and Michael Lederman


  • Fullmetal Alchemist, volume 2, by Hiromu Arakawa
  • The Licensable Bear (TM) Big Book of Fun! by Nat Gertler
  • Kasumi, volume 1, by Surt Lim


Women's Self Defense

Today, 27 people came out to our Women's Self Defense class, which was sponsored by the Fit for Life grant. We had 16 teens and 11 adults, which was a good mix for our first-ever joint program. Mark, an instructor from Ageless Exercise, spent about one hour teaching us how to evade various attacks. We talked about everything from being aware of your surroundings to various pressure points on the neck and face. Mark showed us how to break certain kinds of attacks, including someone putting an unwanted arm around you, having your arms grabbed, or being choked. We also learned some moves that would inflict enough pain to give us time to escape from an attack. We (gently) practiced all of the moves he showed us using each other for partners. It was a great class and I think everyone learned something useful.

We worked in pairs to learn how to avoid being grabbed.

We learned how to escape from someone grabbing our wrists...

...and then knee them!

Mark taught everyone to hit with hammer fists because it is more effective and less painful than a knuckle punch.


Teen Read Month Contest Winners

We celebrated Teen Read Month during October at the library. This year's theme was Read Beyond Reality, so we did programs and book displays to promote the theme all month long. Every time teens checked out books or attended a special program, they got to put an entry slip into our drawing. The Teen Advisory Board contributed three Barnes & Noble gift cards as prizes and I randomly selected the winners today:
  • $25--Sarah B., grade 10, entered at book checkout
  • $15--Tyaisha B., grade 6, entered at Nintendo Night
  • $10--Eric D., grade 7, entered at Anime Club

Overall, 93 teens entered while attending programs and 63 teens entered while checking out books, for a total of 156. Congratulations to our winners, and thanks to everyone who participated!

Beyond Reality Zine @ Your Library

We published our Beyond Reality edition of the library teen zine* last week, but I didn't have a big chance to hand it out since I was sick. So, I am just reminding everyone to make sure you ask me for a copy of the zine and see the great work that our contributors did. The zine pages have a variety of formats, from collages and comics to short stories and book reviews. There's something for everyone! Thanks to all of our writers (Genni, Kaitlyn, Stephanie, Nikki, Nitha, Martha, Sarah, Katie, and me) for making this zine one of our best!!

* A zine is a self-published magazine. Ours is written by several teens and myself, and we publish it two or three times a year on a different thematic topic using the library's photocopier!

Manga Donation!

If you have noticed an increase in our manga collection this year, it's because I've been doing some creative collection development. Traditionally, libraries buy items on a regular schedule from their suppliers. We just don't have the money to invest in a great manga collection, so I've resorted to buying manga at thrift stores, sifting it out of donations to the book sale, and even taking ones that people bring in for book swap. But, our biggest increases have come from donations by older library teens/20-somethings who are cleaning out their collections. Tim M. and Caitlin C. have made some great contibutions to our teen manga section this year, and Tim has come through again! We are going to catalogue 13 installments of Bleach by Tite Kubo and 4 installments of Peach Girl by Miwa Ueda that he just donated. Thanks, Tim!!!