In preparation for the release of the Watchmen movie on March 6th, I decided to reread the greatest graphic novel of all time.  (If you disagree, you are wrong.)  Watchmen, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, is by no means an ordinary graphic novel.  If you’re looking for something light and fluffy where the hero is someone you can look up to and is seemingly above reproach, you might want to read something else.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985.  America won the war in Vietnam, Nixon is still President, and masked heroes are outlawed.  The novel begins with the death of one of these masked heroes, the Comedian.  Rorschach, a masked hero who is still active, thinks something is fishy about this murder.  He is convinced, and rightly so, that someone has started killing off or, in some other way, getting rid of current and former masked heros.  Rorschach makes the rounds and visits his former colleagues in crime-fighting:  Nite Owl, Ozymandius, Dr. Manhattan, and the Silk Spectre.  They all discount his ravings until their own lives are disrupted.  Who is getting rid of masked heroes?  Why?  What ultimate purpose could he or she have?  And what will become of the Watchmen?  Well, I’ll leave that for you to discover…

(Note:  The description written above doesn’t begin to come close to being an adequate account of everything that happens in this graphic novel.  I could write all day about the events in the book and their larger cultural, political, and social meanings.  This is more than just a graphic novel.  It is one of the greatest books of all time, in my opinion.  Just trust me.  Read it!)

A word of caution:  Read Watchmen before you see the movie.  The movie may not make a lot of sense if you don’t know what is going on.  And, if you’re a true nerd like myself, half of the fun is figuring out what has been changed in the transition from graphic novel to big screen.  (And from what I hear, a lot, particularly the ending, has been changed.  One reason the novel’s writer, genius Alan Moore, has taken his name off the film.)  I hope the film lives up to my expectations, but it will no doubt fail to come even close to the greatness of the graphic novel.

Black Box

Julie Schumacher’s Black Box is a great read for anyone who has suffered or knows someone who has suffered from depression.  The title refers to the black box on the labels of some medications which indicates that the person taking those medications should be monitored closely.  It is also a metaphorical phrase in this novel.  It represents depression with seemingly no way out.

Elena Lindt’s sister Dora has just been admitted to the psychiatric ward of Lorning Hospital.  Dora has been dealing with depression for a while (though her parents and Elena didn’t even realize what it was).  She seems to have lost herself.  She sleeps all the time, she doesn’t eat, she’s lost interest in nearly everything, and her family doesn’t really know what to do.  Elena knows that it’s her job to save her sister.  She’s always looked out for her sister.

Elena watches over her sister.  She writes her notes when Dora’s at Lorning, and when she comes home, Elena keeps close tabs on what is happening with her sister.  Every time Dora has a relapse, Elena feels partly to blame.  When Dora tries to end things for good and must be sent to a treatment facility, Elena does not know what she could have done.  Even her parents seem to blame her for what has happened to Dora.  What was she supposed to do?  And how can she be responsible for the actions of her older sister?  Are things ever going to get better?

Read Black Box for a gripping story of what one young lady  goes through when her sister is suffering from depression and how she copes with her new and terrifying world.

Hurricane Song

Paul Volponi’s Hurricane Song:  A Novel of New Orleans tells the story of Miles, his dad, and those who found “refuge” in the SuperDome during Hurricane Katrina.  Volponi paints a vivid picture of what life, and even death, was like during those days in the SuperDome.  Rival gangs terrorizing each other and the innocent people around them; people dying from lack of care, murder, and suicide; the stench of death and excrement enough to choke anyone; and hope reduced with each drop of rain and gust of wind.

Miles and his father must put aside all of their differences if they want to make it through this tragedy.  Are they strong enough?  Or will the storm outside destroy them along with everything else?  Read Hurricane Song:  A Novel of New Orleans by Paul Volponi to find out.

I’ve read some of Volponi’s other young adult novels (Rucker Park Setup, Black and White), and the language in those books was a bit too strong for my taste.  In Hurricane Song, however, I felt that he captured the setting and feeling of this period in history accurately.  This is probably my favorite of his books so far.

Living Dead Girl

With a title like Living Dead Girl, I didn’t expect this book to be light and fluffy, but I was not prepared for it to be as disturbing as it was.  This novel by Elizabeth Scott gives readers a look at what life might be like for someone held captive by a pedophile.

Alice was ten when Ray kidnapped her.  She is now fifteen, and Ray is looking for a new little girl to replace her.  Alice is dead inside, and she will do anything to escape Ray’s torture, including picking out her replacement–the new Alice.  She knows this means her life will soon end, but it really ended the day he took her.  That’s when she became Alice, and she just wants it to be over.  Even if it means that another girl must take her place.   She can’t ask for help because Ray will kill her family.  And, really, no one wants to see what’s really going on.  Alice knows her only choice is to die.

Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl is a gripping account of what a child living with a pedophile might go through and how this abuse becomes cyclical.  No matter how hard I try, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget this book.

If you enjoyed Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones or Patricia McCormick’s Sold, you might want to read Living Dead Girl.

Note:  This book is definitely for mature readers.  I don’t think I would recommend it to most teens.  Many of my students (and a few adults I know) would not be able to handle the book’s subject matter.

Facts of Life

Gary Soto’s anthology of stories, Facts of Life, deals mostly with tweens finding their own places in the world.  Many of the stories deal with characters of Hispanic origin.  I think this book may be more suited to middle school, but some of my Hispanic students may relate to characters in the stories.

As you can probably surmise, I don’t have a lot to say about this book.  I can’t say that I really enjoyed it because I didn’t relate to many of the characters, and plots were thin to nonexistent in some of the stories.  There just wasn’t enough teen angst to suit me.


This was a weird one.  Laura Kasischke’s Feathered is the story of two girls going to Cancun for spring break.  Just by reading the book jacket, I knew things would not go well, but I wasn’t prepared for just how weird one of the main characters was.   Her voice didn’t seem to be that of a typical senior in high school.  It was waaaay too serious.  I just felt like there was something off about her (Michelle) through the entire story.

Of course, the two girls in the story do something they know is stupid, and it gets them into big trouble.  I’m not going to tell you what it was, but I will say that there are a couple of parallels to the Natalie Holloway case.

I don’t want to give the ending of the story away, so I’m not going to say much more.  One huge plus for this book is the author’s writing style.  It is very poetic and full of imagery (which makes sense when you find out that she has published seven collections of poetry).  That being said, I think this book is best reserved for more serious readers who like a very slow build up of drama.  Those who are just looking for a suspenseful book that gets to the mystery right away will be waiting a while.