The Center for Children's Books

Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Controversial & Commendable - September 2011

Selected and annotated by Lauren Chenevert

Note:  Despite strong literary merit, the following titles have recently faced challenges in school and public libraries, for reasons such as language, sexual content, and/or violence.    

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Illus. by Ellen Forney. Little, 2007. 256 p. Gr. 7-10.
Junior, a Spokane Indian living on the reservation, decides to leave the reservation school in favor of a mostly-white school miles away.  Torn between the poverty-stricken reservation life and the chance for a brighter future, Junior must reconcile his cultural identity with his aspirations for success.

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Twisted. Viking, 2007. 256 p. Gr. 7-10.
A coming-of-age and -identity story set in the face of violent bullying.  Falsely accused of publishing nude photos of a female classmate, Tyler faces strong social backlash—yet learns to use the pressure as catalyst for the development of his masculinity.

Barnes, Derrick. The Making of Dr. Truelove. Simon Pulse, 2006. Gr. 10-12. 
A surprisingly thoughtful romp through teenage sexuality. Diego and Roxy face the on-again, off-again teenage relationship dilemma with flair.  Somewhere between Roxy’s showy rebound boyfriend and Diego’s secret sex advice column, though, the pair discovers how to make sex-life decisions based on their own wishes.

Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008. 420 p. Gr. 7-10.
In the futuristic nation of Panem, the totalitarian Capitol keeps its citizens obedient by holding the annual Hunger Games, a teenage survival-of-the-fittest competition that runs to the death.  When Katniss volunteers to compete in lieu of her younger sister, she must learn to adapt quickly—or else.

Dessen, Sarah. Just Listen. Viking, 2006. 384 p. Gr. 7-12.
Annabel Greene finds her sophomore year to be a lonely one—her former best friend Sophie has managed to complete extricate Annabel from her social circle for reasons unspoken.  Almost by necessity, Annabel strikes up a relationship with fellow loner Owen.  Together, Owen and Annabel eventually overcome the secrets of their past and discover true friendship in each other.

Mead, Richelle. Vampire Academy. Razorbill, 2007. 332 p. Gr. 9-12.
Set in the shadowy hallways of St. Vladimir’s Academy, mortal vampire Lissa and her protector, Rose, return to school after spending two years on the run. In the face of the school’s strict rules and harsh social climate, Lissa and Rose develop strong individual identities and a fervent friendship.

Patron, Susan. The Higher Power of Lucky. Illus. by Matt Phelan. Jackson/Atheneum, 2006. 134 p. Gr. 4-6. 
After her mother’s death, Lucky finds herself anxious that her father’s wife Brigitte is really here to stay.  Yet Lucky learns that running away from this fear—both literally and figuratively—doesn’t ease her vulnerabilities.

Schrag, Ariel, ed. Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age. Viking, 2007. 210 p. Gr. 7-12.  
In this collection, sixteen comic artists relive their junior high years with the goal of easing those minds currently enduring adolescence.  Largely biographical in nature, the stories range in focus from humorous to poignant, but the collective message suggests an encouraging future for all.

Selzer, Adam. How to Get Suspended and Influence People. Delacorte, 2007. 183 p. Gr. 7-10.  
As part of an assignment for his gifted program, eighth-grade Leon decides to make a sex-education video for the younger students.  Leon’s interpretation may not be totally well-received by the adults in his life, but this snappy novel shows Leon what it means to be truly understood.

Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. Simon, 2007. 335 p. Gr. 8-10. 
In a dystopic reconciliation between the pro-choice and pro-life forces, parents can choose to ‘unwind’ their teenage children—as long as all body parts are donated to medical science—if they so choose.  Lev, Connor, and Risa form a fast friendship as they fight becoming victims of these adolescent ‘abortions’ and question what it really means to be alive. 

Stroud, Jonathan. Ptolemy's Gate. Miramax/Hyperion, 2006. 512 p. Gr. 6-8.
The final volume of the dynamic Bartimaeus Trilogy finds Kitty, Bartimaeus, and Nathaniel drawn together again, navigating the tumultuous world of human magicians and creatures from the Other Place.  Fast-paced and suspenseful, this novel builds to a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. 

Wood, Maryrose. Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love. Delacorte, 2006. 192 p. Gr. 6-9. 
Felicia, Jessica, and Kat—the Sex Kittens—rule their school along with their male classmates, the Dawgs.  In the context of science class project partnerships, a quirky, flirtatious free-for-all ensues as Felicia tries to creatively reveal her crush on Matthew.