“Drama” Raina Telgemeier

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). To be published September 1, 2012. Graphix (Scholastic Inc.) 233 pp.

In this graphic novel, 7th grader Callie tells of her love for theater and set design. When her middle school prepares to put on a production of “Moon over Mississippi” she is thrilled at the chance to design the set. While working on the production, she is mixed up in various love dramas and triangles, while trying to figure out her own amorous feelings for someone who doesn’t even know she exists.

“Drama” is a good read for students aged 9-12, especially those interested in theater. Its graphic novel format will also encourage reluctant readers to give it a go.

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“Choke” Diana Lopez

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) published July 1, 2012. Scholastic. 230 pp.

Windy hates the way she looks, and she hates 8th grade. She desperately wants to be part of the in-crowd but, in all her years in middle school, has only managed to keep herself out of the out-crowd and in GP (General Public) land. Things seem to change for the better when she meets Nina, the beautiful, fun, popular new girl. When Nina takes her under her wing, Windy’s stock soars. Suddenly, she gets to hang with the popular girls, even getting to sit with them at lunch, hang out in the mall, and walk with them in the halls! Life couldn’t be better, and Windy feels like 8th grade has suddenly begun to improve.

That’s what Windy thought, except things soon started to get weird. Nina always wears a scarf around her neck and has invited Windy to take part in the Choking Game in order to be her best friend, or Breath Sister. Afraid of destroying the social status she’s managed to gain, Windy agrees to play – especially when others in the in-crowd are suddenly sporting scarves of their own. Nina explains that no one will be harmed in the game, and all she has to do is let someone choke her until she passes out. The “rush” she will get upon regaining consciousness is what makes the game so much fun.

Despite her misgivings, Windy plays the game, gets her own scarf, and soon finds herself embroiled in a web of lies and fear. In order to find popularity through her association with Nina, she finds herself losing not only her best friend Elena, but her own sense of what is right and wrong.

I had never heard of the Choke Game, and “Choke” does a good job explaining why someone would want to play it, as well as the consequences of playing it. Lopez includes an Online Resources page to help readers find more information, as well as support material for anyone playing the “game.”

Despite the inside cover indicating Scholastic has decided “Choke” is appropriate for grades 3-7, I completely disagree. The mature subject matter of kids dying and getting permanent brain damage by choking themselves for fun is not one I would like to sit down and discuss with a group of 8, 9 and 10 year olds. I think mature 6th-8th graders could handle reading “Choke,” including 9th-10th graders. It is also a good Hi-Lo (High Interest-Low Level) book since the vocabulary is very simple, with a very interesting storyline.

“El Regreso” by Norah McClintock

Orca Book Publishers, 2011; Language: Spanish

This Spanish translation of “Back” by McClintock accurately portrays how continuous thoughts of revenge, along with a mob mentality, chase away all reason and blur choices between right and wrong. It invites class discussion, and will stay with readers long after the last sentence has been read.

As told through the voices and points of view of numerous neighbors, Eden rescues Jojo’s pregnant girlfriend Shana after Jojo tries to throw her off a porch for not obeying him and getting rid of their baby as he’d demanded. Because Eden also went against his wishes, Jojo assaults and puts him into a coma. After serving only 2 of a 5-year sentence, Jojo returns home to his old neighborhood where he is expected to return to his old ways but, surprisingly, stays close to home lovingly caring for his sick mother.

Ardell, Eden’s brother, has spent the intervening years vowing revenge, and is going to make sure Jojo pays for putting his brother into a coma, especially when Eden later dies. He spends days spying on Jojo with his friends, making sure neighborhood stores don’t sell to him and preparing his move. Despite assaulting Jojo’s old girlfriend, and threatening to hurt her child, the neighbors band behind him. Only Shana believes Jojo has changed. Everyone believes Jojo needs to pay for what he did to Eden, and all manage to look the other way when Ardell makes his final move. All, that is, except for one person who chooses to make a difference.

Good for a High School Spanish class, or for High Schoolers who enjoy reading books in Spanish.