The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death

Daniel Pinkwater is one of my favorite authors, so I knew I wanted to include one of his books in my database project. He writes for children and teens (and even has a few books for adults). I considered including Young Adult Novel, The Last Guru, or The Education of Robert Nifkin but decided on The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death because it’s writing is slightly more fast paced and complex, and because I had lent The Education of Robert Nifkin to someone and forgotten who had it.

The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death (1982) is out of print, but is included in 5 Novels, which the bibliographical information below refers to.
Author: Daniel Pinkwater
ISBN-10: 0374423296 ISBN-13: 9780374423292
City and Publisher: New York: Farrar Straus Giroux
Copyright Date: 1997
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: Walter Galt and Winston Bongo believe they are the inventors of Snarking Out, a process which involves sneaking out of the house and going to the Snark movie theater while wearing a hat with a brim. When they meet Bentley Saunders Harrison Matthews, known as Rat, they discover they are mere students in Snarking Out, and are drawn into the world of avocado science, flamenco dancing chickens, alien realtors, and of course master detectives and master villains.

Plot Summary: The only thing that kept Walter Galt from going crazy with boredom at Genghis Khan high school was meeting Winston Bongo, the nephew of the wrestler known as the Mighty Gorilla. The two spend their nights Snarking Out, which involves sneaking out of the house in a hat with a brim to attend the midnight double feature at the Snark Theater. When they meet Rat, she introduces them to her uncle, Flipping Hades Terwilliger, who has Snarked Out six thousand two hundred and sixty three times, crushing their dreams of fame as the inventors of this activity. Their disappointment is soon forgotten when Uncle Flipping disappears and they join in the hunt for him. They meet a series of increasingly eccentric characters, including the chicken man, and have increasingly odd experiences as they attempt to find Uncle Flipping, the inventor of the Alligatron.

Critical Evaluation: The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death is a wild romp with a cast of the fascinatingly insane. The novel’s strength is in its characters and the strange places they go. The plot does bunch up a bit at the end of the book as Osgood Siegerson, the greatest living detective, reveals a good deal of exposition regarding Uncle Flipping and the master criminal Wallace Nussbaum. But Pinkwater is a master of comic timing, if not dramatic timing, and the little details in this book will have the reader aching with laughter.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up
Curriculum Ties: The book draws strong influences from 50s and 60s counterculture, and in tandem with Young Adult Novel, could also serve as an interesting introduction to absurdism or Dadaism.
Booktalking Ideas: Build a giant avocado out of paper mache (at least two feet by three feet). Attach enough wires so it looks like a mysterious computer. Use a pointer to “indicate various parts” and give Osgood Siegerson’s talk from pages 443-444, beginning with “The Alligatron is, to put it as simply as possible” and ending with “powered by the electrical current present in the avocado.” Then describe the book as excellent absurdist humor suitable for people who have ever been bored in school, enjoyed a Laurel and Hardy movie, or wished to give a speech in a public park about English colonial rule or how eating raw zucchini cures cancer. Provide a short plot summary.

Genre: Humor
Influences from Other Genres: Horror, Mystery, Absurdist Fiction

Challenge Issues:
Both Rat and Osgood Siegerson smoke. Rat, Winston, and Walter, all underage high school students, go into a shantytown beer garden and have a beer. They meet strange characters and let themselves be taken into dark and shadowy places with them. The pivotal activity in the book, Snarking Out, involves sneaking out of the house while one’s parents are sleeping. A large part of this book’s appeal is the eccentricities of the characters and the places they go. When I read it as a teenager living in the suburbs, I was disappointed that I couldn’t sneak away to any place in my town that was as cool as the places in this book. The activities in the book do influence readers, particularly those who are drawn to them by the mundanity of their own existences. There are ways to lead an interesting and absurdist life without smoking or going to beer gardens, however, and this book is more likely to instill an interest in old movies and absurdist jokes than to start readers smoking. As always, a parent’s best defense against problematic ideas is to engage in open discussion about the pros and cons.

About the Author: Daniel Pinkwater is a prolific author, having written (and sometimes illustrated) more than 80 books. He also is a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, a job which he got at the suggestion of a woman who does not exist. He lives with his wife Jill, who is also an author, and at least one Alaskan malamute. (More details at and

Fairy Tale

I included Fairy Tale in this database after finding it on several young adult booklists for 2009 (see I also wanted to include a variety of supernatural creatures in order to provide an accurate cross section of the paranormal genre.

Cyn Balog
ISBN-10: 0385737068 ISBN-13: 9780385737067
City and Publisher: New York: Delacorte Press
Copyright Date: 2009
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Advisory: Morgan Sparks is a very well adjusted high school student, mostly due to the stability of her relationship with her childhood sweetheart since they were in diapers, Cam Browne. When Cam starts acting strange a week before their sixteenth birthday, Morgan finds out that the fairies want him back.

Plot Summary: Morgan Sparks is comfortable in high school; she has a role as her high school’s fortuneteller and a boyfriend and (best friend since birth), Cameron Browne. Cam is a perfect, star-quarterback, can-do-anything kind of guy. When a stranger shows up at his house, accompanied by a pink floating blob that looks kind of like hair gel, Cam starts to change. Morgan finds out Cam is really a fairy, switched with Pip, the Browne’s real son, at birth. Cam is destined to return to the fairy world and be their king, and Morgan must figure out a way to stop his fate and keep him at her side.

Critical Evaluation: Fairy Tale is believably written in Morgan’s first person voice. Her feelings for Cam and the increasing weirdness of their situation allow the reader great empathy with her. The plot is a little problematic. Themes of destiny and choice are interwoven throughout. When Pip, the boy that was meant to live Cam’s life, shows up, a magic spell makes everyone believe he has been living Cam’s life all along and entangles Morgan’s feelings. But as she comes to love Pip, the book makes it clear that love is not something the spell can create. However the reader can’t help but be uncomfortable as Morgan exchanges one boy for the other, especially as her relationship with Cam was so well developed and the things she loves about Pip are so similar to what she loves in Cam.
Fairy Tale is a good book for teens interested in fairies, but not an excellent one. Although the mythology is there, the book takes place entirely in the real world. Only two characters are actually fairies.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up
Curriculum Ties: Fairy Tale has elements of the folk story Tam Lin, wherein a human woman must hold onto her lover as fairies try to drag him back to their realm. This modern version (with an entirely different ending), could be included in a class on folk tales or traditional fantasy.
Booktalking Ideas: Bring in a snippet of traditional recording of Tam Lin which mixes into Third Eye Blind’s Never Let You Go and play it before you give a short summary of Fairy Tale as a modern version of an old love story.

Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Fairies, Psychic Powers (Fortune Telling)
Influences from Other Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy

Challenge Issues:
Fairy Tale is fairly non controversial, aside from the supernatural elements present in all books in the paranormal genre. Morgan’s switching of affections from one boy to the other does feel a little icky, but it is not offensive.

About the Author: Cyn Balog has a degree in communications. She worked in a number of different jobs and industries before selling her first book, Fairy Tale, in 2007. She has sold two more books, which will be released in 2010 and 2011 (more details at


Wings is included because it was on the New York Times Bestseller List, Children’s Chapter Books (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from and it is also an ALA Best Books for Young Adults 2009 nominee (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from Film rights have been optioned by Disney and it will be produced by the same company as the Twilight movie. (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from

Author: Aprilynne Pike
ISBN-10: 0061668036 ISBN-13: 9780061668036
City and Publisher: New York: HarperTeen
Copyright Date: 2009
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: Laurel has always been a little different from her peers, eating only sugar and fruit. It’s not until she moves from home school to high school that she begins to realize how different she really is.

Plot Summary: When Laurel moves from home schooling in a small town to high school in a slightly larger town, she has a lot of anxiety about fitting in. When she meets David, a warm, friendly, science-minded guy, he begins to help her feel she might have a chance at being happy in high school. When she is shocked as a wing-like blossom begins to grow on her back, he helps her even more with his acceptance. Together they traverse the mysterious intersection of human and faerie, meeting creatures and facing situations neither of them could have ever imagined.

Critical Evaluation: Written slowly and not quite dreamily, Wings unfolds as a generally sweet story. Although the characters aren’t always sure of themselves, most of them are good guys. The villain shows up in time to lend a little mystery and evil, but no one else performs any bad deeds, even unintentionally.
The biology of Laurel’s condition (fairies are actually walking and talking plants) is fairly interesting, as is the budding romance between Laurel and David (and the triangle created when Tamani appears). Despite the lack of conflict, Wings is an engaging story. It will be eaten up by girls in love with fairies. Laurel is a shy but generally attractive character, and girls may both identify with her and dream of being her.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 and up
Curriculum Ties: A modern take on traditional fairy legends, Wings could be assigned as a companion novel to a folk tale or mythology unit. Wings also covers aspects of plant biology, and would be an interesting just-for-fun read for students in a botany or biology course. At a more advanced level, the sexual symbolism of Laurel’s flower could be discussed in a semiotics course, and if her eating habits were also examined Wings would create plenty of fodder for a feminist critique.
Booktalking Ideas: Mention that Wings will be the next movie produced by Twilight’s producers. Explain that it depicts a fairy in a way that has never been seen before and provide a short plot summary.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Fairies
Influences from Other Genres: Mythology, Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Popular Science

Challenge Issues:
Wings is a very sweet story, and there is not a lot of controversy in it. One potential worry is Laurel’s diet. Much is made of the fact that she eats very little, and teens with body eating issues may not need additional encouragement to diet. Laurel is in reality a plant though, and hopefully girls will realize that human animals need a bit more nourishment.

About the Author: Wings is Aprilynne Pike’s first book, intended to be the first in a series of four. Pike has a BA in Creative Writing but, like many authors, worked at several jobs before completing her first novel. Most interestingly, she has worked as a doula and a childbirth educator for pregnant teens. Pike shares something with Stephanie Meyer, the author of the popular Twilight series; they are both Mormon. (More details at


I discovered Wounded through an Amazon search for werewolves in the teen book section. It is included in order to provide a wider range of titles included for the paranormal genre, as it is about werewolves, was written more than five years ago, and is a very dark book.

Series Title: The Wereling
Author: Stephen Cole
ISBN-10: 1595140417 ISBN-13: 9781595140418
City and Publisher: New York: Razorbill
Copyright Date: 2005
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Advisory: Tom Anderson’s normal family vacation takes a strange turn when he sees a malevolent beast in the forest. When he wakes up in the strange house of a strange family with an even stranger daughter, he learns there is more to the world than what most people think.

Plot Summary: Tom Anderson is a sixteen year old boy dragged along on a family vacation. His solo excursion into the woods leaves him wounded at the Folan house, where he is locked in every night. He discovers the family has a monstrous secret, and helps their oldest daughter Kate (who is seventeen) escape. Their flight across the country is full of danger. They must fight and escape members of a secret clannish group and defeat the apocalyptic plotting of Papa Takapa, a man with a maniacal vision.

Critical Evaluation: Wounded is very fast paced. Fight, flight, and general adventure run through every chapter. The world of the werewolves is brutal. They hunger for meat and set up their daughters for rape. A fledging romance between Tom and Kate never quite bubbles to the surface. Tom and Kate are the most developed characters, but most of the others are like cardboard monsters, scary but lacking fleshy truth.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 16 and up
Curriculum Ties: Wounded is a great pleasure read.
Booktalking Ideas: Talk about how brutal the werewolf culture is. Explain that Wounded describes the plight of two teenagers who must flee for their lives.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Werewolves, Magic, Voodoo
Influences from Other Genres: Horror, Suspense

Challenge Issues:
The culture of werewolves is brutal and violent. Kate’s mother is a psychopath, and has plans to arrange her daughter’s rape. These dark themes are not pleasant, but teens may also have violent or brutal people in their lives. Tom and Kate are frightened but manage to escape, and learn to lean on each other for strength.

About the Author: Stephen Cole is a prolific writer; he is the author of the children’s series The Astrosaurs, numerous books in the Doctor Who series, many stand alone novels, and several non-fiction guides to popular movies and TV series. He has worked as a managing editor for both the BBC and Ladybird books, and founded his own company, Rocket Editorial Ltd, in 2002. (Detailed bibliography at and more biographical details at


I read and enjoyed Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, and was excited to include his vampire novel in my study of the paranormal genre. Peeps has been honored by both teens and the ALA; it is included in the YALSA Teen Read Week Teen’s Top Ten List 2006 (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from and is one of the ALA Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten 2005 (Back Cover).

Series Title:
Author: Scott Westerfeld
ISBN-10: 1595140832 ISBN-13: 9781595140838
City and Publisher: New York: Razorbill
Copyright Date: 2005
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: New York’s monstrous underbelly is policed by a secret agency of hunters, scientists, and record keepers, called the Night Watch. Hunter Cal Thompson must find and capture maniacs driven mad by a parasite which makes them hunger for human flesh, despite carrying it himself.

Plot Summary: Cal is part of the Night Watch, an agency of the secret government of New York, dedicated to keeping a lid on Peeps. Peeps aren’t your everyday magical vampires; they’re Parasite-Positive individuals, infected by a virus which makes them maniacal. The parasite spreads through saliva; it creates a maniacal need to bite and rend human flesh and in order to encourage the Peep to hide away creates a hatred of all the things they once loved. Cal carries the disease but not the mania. When the Night Watch assigns him to find and capture the woman who infected him, Cal meets Lacey, and discovers that both the Night Watch and the disease are not what they seem.

Critical Evaluation: Despite the fantastical peeps themselves, most of the horror in this book is derived from nature itself; every other chapter contains an engaging description of a real life parasite. True devotees of paranormal or horror genres might be disappointed by the lack of magic and mystery, but Westerfeld’s use of the natural world creates a very believable scenario. Gruesome descriptions of Guinea worms, wolbachia, and even lice build a truthful terror for the reader, which enhances the chapters that advance the plot.
Westerfeld’s characters are likable and believable. The story is told through Cal’s point of view and he is insightful but not omniscient. The adults in the story often have secrets and quirks, and their motivations remain somewhat mysterious to Cal.
Teenagers, particularly boys, may identify with the nineteen year old Cal. His disease makes him almost constantly horny, but he can never act on it because he would infect his partner. This coupled with his inexperience makes him rather awkward around girls.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14 and up
Curriculum Ties: The information on parasites contained in this book makes it an excellent just-for-fun tie in with biology classes. Westerfeld provides a bibliography of non-fiction materials at the end of the book which includes books on parasites and icky things as well as Charles Darwin’s The Origin on Species. Peeps is to some extent a science fiction story which examines how a new parasite might shape the evolution of humans and society. It could be use to engage the imagination of students and help them think about how evolutionary biology and symbiosis shape the human condition.
Booktalking Ideas: Read selections from the chapter on Toxoplasma (including the part about infected people being more attractive to the opposite sex). Then talk about how vampirism might just be a parasite as well.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Vampires, Animals who are Vampires
Influences from Other Genres: Science Fiction, Popular Science

Challenge Issues:
Peeps does contain premarital sex, but with perhaps one of the best deterrents attached (at least for most of the book). People who carry the virus turn their lovers into raving monsters. And even kissing is enough to spread the disease. Carriers are constantly horny but cannot ever act on their feelings or they will create more fiends. The descriptions of real life parasites in every other chapter are also perhaps enough to make teens think twice about the physiological consequences of any form of intimacy…or even leaving the house.

About the Author: Westerfeld pulls the ideas for his books from his real life interests and research. He is married to author Justine Larbalestier. He originally started out writing science fiction for adults, but finds it more interesting to write for teens because of their tendency to play with language. (Pavao, 2006 Retrieved July 31, 2009 from


I found Evernight through its appearance on several lists (including Best Teen Vampire Fiction and Best Vampire Books) on Goodreads (see I enjoyed the Gothic flavor and decided to include it in my study on the paranormal genre and this database.

Series Title: Evernight
Author: Claudia Gray
ISBN-10: 0061284394 ISBN-13: 9780061284397
City and Publisher: New York: HarperTeen
Copyright Date: 2008
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: Bianca is a shy girl, used to her small town and the small group of friends she’s known since kindergarten. When she moves to the creepy boarding school Evernight, her parents can’t protect her from finding both love and terrible secrets.

Plot Summary: When Bianca’s schoolteacher parents get a job at Evernight, a boarding school bedecked in gargoyles and mysteriously dying squirrels, she thinks she will never fit in with her beautiful, worldly classmates. Luckily she meets Lucas, who is even more of a misfit than she is. Bianca struggles first to determine his feelings, and then her own. After an incident at the Winter Ball, she begins to actually fit in with the pale, youthful students. Unfortunately Lucas has a secret to match the gravity of her own, and the two must struggle to be together despite everyone around them.

Critical Evaluation: Evernight starts at a slow burn. Nearly half the novel reads like a normal boarding school story; the misfit girl meets and admires the misfit boy, and the reader is lulled into thinking the story is only about the “will it happen?” of their romance. Mystery and evil overshadow each gothic-romance tinted chapter, but it is not until the midpoint of the novel that something supernatural actually happens. Once it does, the book picks up the pace, and begins to incorporate a little humor. The humor gives way to danger and adventure, and the ending is both satisfying and yet leaves the reader wanting more.
Readers who enjoyed Twilight will most likely enjoy Evernight as they share the same elements of romantic danger and a strong male love interest.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 13 and up
Curriculum Ties: Vampires who are hundreds of year old attend Evernight Academy to get back in touch with the modern world. They attend classes on modern technology, learning how iPods and cell phones work. Evernight would be an interesting tie in to students studying technology’s effect on human society and behavior.
Booktalking Ideas: Ask teens how they would describe cell phones to someone from a thousand years ago. Then read the plot summary as written above and tell them they will have to read the book to figure out how the two subjects relate.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Vampires
Influences from Other Genres: Historical, Boarding School, Romance

Challenge Issues: At the end of this novel, Bianca runs away from home with Lucas. This might cause consternation for some adults, but the Romeo and Julio effect is tempered by the fact that she possibly plans to return home after spending just a little more time with him. They do spend the night in bed together, but just to sleep.

About the Author: Like many authors, Claudia Gray has worked in a number of careers; her resume includes stints as a disc jockey and a journalist. She has a presence on many social networking sites, including Facebook, Livejournal, and Twitter. (More details at

The Darkangel

I fell in love with The Darkangel Trilogy when I was a teenager, so when I saw that it was included in the paranormal chapter of Teen Genreflecting (Herald, 2003) I decided to include it in my study of the genre. The Darkangel is the only book in my study that takes place on a world very unlike our own. It is really a precursor to the paranormal genre, a fantasy book with vampires in it. The Darkangel has several awards and honors including the International Reading Association’s annual Children’s Book Award 1982, ALA Best Books for Young Adults 1982, ALA Best of the Best Books (1970-1982), New York Times’ Notable Children’s Booklist 1982, Parents’ Choice Award Superbook 1982, and the California Young Reader Medal 1986, (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from

Series Title: The Darkangel Trilogy
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
ISBN-10: 0316707414 ISBN-13: 9780316707411
City and Publisher: Boston: Little, Brown
Copyright Date: 1982
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: When the beautiful daughter of the village syndic is carried away by the darkangel, Aerial follows them to claim vengeance. The darkangel makes Aerial his servant instead, to care for his blood drained wives, and Aerial must discover how to free them all.

Plot Summary: Aerial is the slave and companion of the beautiful Eoduin. After the darkangel carries Eoduin away to be his bride, Aerial seeks vengeance. She is captured instead and must weave garments out of her own emotions in order to clothe his piteous blood drained wives. Although she sees a spark of true beauty in the darkangel, Aerial must find a way to kill him and save her world before he captures another bride and becomes a full vampire.

Critical Evaluation: The Darkangel is a beautiful, intricately written book. It is set in a barren world that hints at space travel far in the future but is filled with the mythical creatures and tribalism of the past; it describes an alien and regressed society. Aerial is a classic fantasy heroine, underappreciated and shy but with the biggest heart in the land. She starts off clumsy and unattractive, but as she finds her confidence she also grows more attractive physically.

Reading Level/Interest: Age 13 and up
Curriculum Ties: The Darkangel is an excellent pleasure read and would also be an appropriate selection for a contemporary fantasy novel.
Booktalking Ideas:
Talk about how before there was Twilight, there was The Darkangel trilogy. Summarize plot as written in this post.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Vampires, Angels, Gargoyles, Dwarves, Wraiths, Talking Animals
Influences from Other Genres: Fantasy

Challenge Issues: The Darkangel is a dark book. Aerial’s attraction to a man who is cruel (to the point of tormenting small animals) may not be the best relationship model for teenage girls. At a deeper level however, The Darkangel carries a message of understanding and love. The darkangel is cruel because his heart has been hardened by a cruel stepmother, not because it is intrinsic to his nature. Aerial’s strength is that she can see past his behavior into his potential. This situation is further diffused as Aerial comes into her own strength and refuses to accept his cruelty.

About the Author: Meredith Ann Pierce is not only an author, she is also a librarian. She has written two trilogies and three stand alone books. She lives in Florida in a solar powered house. (More details at

City of Bones

I became interested in City of Bones through the recommendation of a classmate. Its appearance on the YALSA Teen Read Week Teen’s Top Ten List 2008 (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from made it a shoe-in for inclusion in my genre study.

Series Title: Mortal Instruments
Author: Cassandra Clare
ISBN-10: 1416914285 ISBN-13: 9781416914280
City and Publisher: New York: M.K. McElderry Books
Copyright Date: 2007
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: When Clary sees two men with knives follow another man into a dark room in the Pandemonium Club, she does what any normal teen would do and has her friend bring security. When she discovers that only she can see the men with knives, she realizes she may not be just any normal teen.

Plot Summary: Clary Fray lives in Brooklyn with her slightly offbeat artist mother. When she witnesses a murder committed by people no one else can see and her mother starts insisting they flee the city, she realizes her life may not be exactly what it seems. Before they can flee, crocodile like demons break into their home and her mother vanishes. Clary seeks refuge with the handsome Jace and his family of Shadowhunters, a clandestine group of demon slayers. Her search for her mother leads them all over the city’s secret underworld of werewolves, vampires, demons, and warlocks. The Shadowhunters have their own dark side and Clary’s quest grows entangled with the group’s history of subterfuge and betrayal.

Critical Evaluation: City of Bones reads like a paranormal Harry Potter, although the writing is not as gripping. The secret society, with its tumultuous history of revolutions and hidden motives, as well as the main character whose existence is deeply intertwined with that of the powerful villain, mirror Harry Potter’s world. The characters are interesting, but lack the charm needed to make City of Bones a page-turner.

Reading Level/Interest: Age 12 and up
Curriculum Ties: City of Bones is a good pleasure read. Reluctant readers who liked Harry Potter might find this book to be a good next read.
Booktalking Ideas: Describe the Shadowhunters and the secret underbelly of New York. Then state that City of Bones tells the story of what happens when a girl who thinks she’s ordinary gets entangled with that world.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Demons, Vampires, Werewolves, Fairies, Psychic Powers, Runes and Mystic Symbols
Influences from Other Genres: Suspense/Thriller, Fantasy

Challenge Issues: At the climax of City of Bones, Clary and Jace, who have shared a kiss and a budding romance, find out that they are brother and sister. The story quickly back pedals, depicting their interactions as more of a Luke and Leia relationship. Nevertheless it is a bit of a sticky topic. The story is full of secrets, and one might wonder if this revelation will be reversed in a future title. Without that information, defending this controversy is a little more difficult. Perhaps the comparison with Star Wars may soothe a troubled parent.

About the Author: Cassandra Clare moved around and traveled a lot as a child, developing a love of books as something that stayed familiar. She worked for entertainment magazines and tabloids before writing City of Bones, her first novel. There are three books in the Mortal Instruments series and another trilogy set in the same world (although not the same time period) is forthcoming. (More details at and


I had come across the House of Night series a few times on my Amazon recommendations (I read a lot of books in the paranormal genre) but had never picked it up because I was worried it would be too juvenile. I immediately thought of it when choosing titles for the genre study. My choice was further solidified because it is an ALA 2008 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Readers (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from and Untamed, the fourth book in this series, is a nominee for YALSA Teen Read Week Teen’s Top Ten List 2009 (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from

Series Title: House of Night
Author: P.C. Cast
ISBN-10: 0312360266 ISBN-13: 9780312360269
City and Publisher: New York: St. Martin’s Griffin
Copyright Date: 2007
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: When Zoey Redbird is marked to join the House of Night, an academy for fledgling vampires, she has no idea of the changes that will come. She must struggle to make sense of the school’s strange rituals and her own even stranger powers.

Plot Summary: Zoey Redbird is an average sixteen year old until the day a vampire tracker shows up in the math hall and marks her to join the House of Night, an academy for fledgling vampires. Although she counts herself lucky to escape from her overbearingly religious family, she will miss her grandmother. She has a strange vision when she goes to say goodbye and ends up a starting school looking a little different from her fellow fledglings. Zoe’s strength and integrity allow her to make sense of the school’s rituals and wind up changing things for everyone.

Critical Evaluation: Marked is an “open-world” vampire novel, where humans know that vampires exist. While the world, the physical setting, and the plot of Marked are all intriguing, the writing itself is a little trite and stilted at times. The authors seem to have watched a few too many superhero movies, even trotting out the line “with great power comes great responsibility.” Zoey is remarkably self assured for a sixteen year old with an unsupportive family, and her inner doubts are resolved almost as quickly as they arise.
Nevertheless the book is very entertaining. Skimming over the more cliché moments helps. The authors include some interesting descriptions of Wiccan-style rituals, although readers who have seen The Craft might already be familiar with them.

Reading Level/Interest: Age 16 and up
Curriculum Ties: Marked is primarily a just for fun read. If a class were discussing portrayals of Native Americans in popular literature, Marked would be an interesting addition.
Booktalking Ideas: Read the passage on page seven that describes what happened to the boy who was marked at Zoey’s school last year. Then read the above plot summary.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Vampires, Wiccan Practices, Native American Spiritualism, General Magic and Occultism, Runes and Mystic Symbols
Influences from Other Genres: Horror, Magic Realism, Mythology, Gossip Girl Novel

Challenge Issues: In chapter seven, Zoey walks in on a senior female student, Aphrodite, attempting to perform oral sex on a senior male student. The situation is compounded by the fact that they are all destined to be blood drinking vampires. This moment is definitely adult in nature, and parents who wish to shield their children from any such ideas may wish to have them choose another book. However, the moment also serves to help establish that Aphrodite’s character is Zoey’s nemesis. Aphrodite represents the perversion of Zoey’s values, and part of the lesson in this book is how a person must stand up for what’s right.

About the Authors: The House of Night series is written by P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristin. P.C. Cast has written two other series, Goddess Summoning and Partholon. She also teaches high school. Kristin is a communications major at the University of Tulsa. (More details at


Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors, so I was pleased to be able to include one of her novels in my study of the paranormal genre. Sunshine is a little unusual for the genre in both its tone and in the fact that it is a standalone novel. It is an “open-world” novel, where humans know that vampires exist. It won the: Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature (Retrieved July 19, 2009 from

Author: Robin McKinley
ISBN-10: 0425191788 ISBN-13: 9780425191781
City and Publisher: New York: Berkley
Copyright Date: 2003
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: Sunshine is the baker at her family’s coffeehouse, where her specialties are cinnamon rolls as big as your head and Bitter Chocolate Death. When she slips out to have some alone time at her family’s cabin on the lake (abandoned since the Voodoo Wars), a gang of vampires attempts to feed her to their captured rival and she finds out she has a few more affinities than just with baked goods.

Plot Summary: Sunshine has worked as the baker in her stepfather’s coffee house since she was sixteen. She spends her time making cinnamon rolls as big as your head and rich desserts with names like Death of Marat and Bitter Chocolate Death. While it is a life that suits her, she nonetheless one night feels too restless for family movie Monday and heads out to her parents’ cabin on the lake. It is an area mostly destroyed and deserted since the Voodoo Wars, a period of time about ten years past when vampires tired of being persecuted by human laws wreaked a lot of havoc. She is captured by a gang of vampires who attempt to feed her to their captured rival. Sunshine instead forges an unlikely (and seemingly unnatural) alliance with Constantine, who is a different sort of vampire but still a vampire. Returning to her normal life becomes impossible, as Sunshine must deal with her new circumstances and her new self.

Critical Evaluation: Robin McKinley is a master at balancing detail with broad plot strokes, creating a world that is achingly familiar yet entirely foreign, like a marvelously complete and exciting dream. Sunshine is a character that readers will want to be; who wouldn’t want to be the creator of such marvelous things as the Caramel Cataclysm and Killer Zebras, have a kindly tattooed biker boyfriend, and draw strength from the sun? The world and the characters are the strength of this book.
This is not to say the plot is weak. The plot is largely internal; it primarily deals with Sunshine’s struggle to define herself as her place in the world changes and the buried secrets of her heritage surface. There is a villain and there are characters who may be villains, and these details intertwine with McKinley’s unfolding description of the world. The climax, in which Sunshine and Con defeat Con’s vampire enemy, a bad vampire in a world where there is only one possibly good vampire, has more to do with Sunshine dealing with her own internal struggle than with any kung fu moves or general thrilling actions. McKinley’s strength is creating an interesting world and characters, rather than weaving a tight-knit story. The sum of Sunshine seems to leave the door open for a sequel, and readers used to paranormal series may be frustrated by the loose ends and possibilities that remain after the book is finished. However, other readers may enjoy that there is such fertile fodder for further imagining. Sunshine will occupy the mind long after it has been set down.

Reading Level/Interest: Age 16 and up
Curriculum Ties: Sunshine is a great pleasure read. It would also be an interesting inclusion as a somewhat anomalous novel in units on fantasy or post-apocalyptic visions.
Booktalking Ideas: Bring in giant cinnamon rolls to share and read the above plot summary.

Genre: Paranormal
Beasties and Supernatural Elements: Psychic Powers, Witches and Warlocks, Vampires, Werewolves, Fairies
Influences from Other Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

Challenge Issues: McKinley has written this novel for adults and there are a few adult moments. Sunshine is frank but not gratuitous when she mentions in passing the potential sexual abilities of male vampires. She also has pre-marital sex with her boyfriend and at one point travels by magic and ends up landing naked on top of her ally Con, although they stop before anything is fully consummated. This novel may not be appropriate for teens under 16 or so but most teens know about sex and many know quite a bit more about it than this book describes. Sunshine is also in her mid twenties, which may make her activities a bit more acceptable to parents.

About the Author: Robin McKinley wrote her first novel in 1978. Her books are primarily in the fantasy genre. She is married to the writer Peter Dickinson, and they live in England with two “hellhounds.” (More details at