Tag Archives: crime

The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel

The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History: The Story of the Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel. January 29, 2019. Scholastic Nonfiction, 333 p. ISBN: 9781338251197.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1200.

Robert M. Edsel brings the story of his #1 NYT bestseller for adults The Monuments Mento young readers for the first time in this dynamic, narrative nonfiction project packed with photos.

Robert M. Edsel, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Monuments Men, brings this story to young readers for the first time in a sweeping, dynamic adventure detailing history’s greatest treasure hunt.

As the most destructive war in history ravaged Europe, many of the world’s most cherished cultural objects were in harm’s way. The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History recounts the astonishing true story of 11 men and one woman who risked their lives amidst the bloodshed of World War II to preserve churches, libraries, monuments, and works of art that for centuries defined the heritage of Western civilization. As the war raged, these American and British volunteers — museum curators, art scholars and educators, architects, archivists, and artists, known as the Monuments Men — found themselves in a desperate race against time to locate and save the many priceless treasures and works of art stolen by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 7-12. While Adolf Hitler and his Nazi officers were organizing the genocide of Jews, they also orchestrated the looting of millions of pieces of art and culturally significant items from museums, churches, and private collections throughout Europe. Although dubbed the Monuments Men, about 350 men and women from 14 nations volunteered in the Allied armies’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program from 1943 to 1951 to help preserve a shared cultural heritage. In this young readers edition of The Monuments Men (2009), Edsel focuses on 10 Monuments Men and Rose Valland, an art historian and member of the French Resistance. With precise details, incredible adventure, and mounting intensity, the author describes the responsibilities of these artists, architects, curators, and historians. Arriving in damaged cities, they tried to salvage important documents, art, and buildings. Their biggest role, however, was as art detectives endeavoring to locate the Nazi’s stash of hidden treasure, while racing against time. Although they didn’t serve on the front lines, booby traps, snipers, and other dangers made their mission risky—and even deadly. Complemented by rarely seen images of WWII, these amazing stories from history not only depict true heroes but also encourage readers to question the value of art throughout humanity and civilization. Monumental, indeed.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
During World War II, a team of so-called Monuments Men was formed to search for and recover the enormous collection of art treasures that Hitler and his minions looted from museums, churches, and private collections all across Europe. The tale is focused on a small, although representative, number of the approximately 350 men (and women) who served up until 1951, locating hoards of some of the world’s best loved and most culturally significant art, much of it stashed in damp tunnels scattered across Germany. Edsel’s backstories of the 10 Monuments Men covered in the tale help breathe life into these scholarly—and highly driven—men. Although the war is presented mostly as a backdrop to their energetic detective work, enough information on the struggle is included to keep the quest in context and to remind readers that these unlikely soldiers were often in peril. Based primarily upon his adult work The Monuments Men (2009) along with two others on the same subject (Rescuing Da Vinci, 2006; Saving Italy, 2013), Edsel’s effort for younger readers is still lengthy. Numerous well-placed photographs (many more than in the adult version) are included and appear on most pages. Although the book is richly engaging and highly informative, its audience may be limited to those readers who already have some awareness of the extent of Nazi thievery and the nearly inconceivable danger the art was placed in. Figures profiled all seem to be white. Excellent backmatter is included. A high-interest work on an important topic. (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Robert M. Edsel is the best-selling author of Saving ItalyThe Monuments Men and Rescuing da Vinci and co-producer of the award-winning documentary film The Rape of Europa. Edsel is also the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, and a trustee at the National WWII Museum. After living in Florence for five years, he now resides in Dallas, Texas.

Her website is www.monumentsmenfoundation.org

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The Greatest Treasure Hunt in History Educator’s Guide

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Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig. January 29, 2019. Fiewel & Friends, 448 p. ISBN: 9781250155825.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them―for good?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Underage smoking, Homophobia, Drug abuse

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 10-12. Margo Manning: socialite, heiress . . . art thief? By day, she avoids the paparazzi, who have dubbed her Mad Margo. At night, she dons a platinum wig and commits heists with a group of drag queens. Margo, a consummate planner, eliminates any variables that may get them caught. Still, it’s a dangerous game they’re playing, and while Margo may not need the money, her friends do: Leif strains to pay the pricey tuition at his dance academy so he doesn’t have to return home to his deeply religious parents; mechanic Davon, essentially orphaned, makes ends meet by working at a drag club with his found family; and Margo’s best friend, Axel, and his younger brother, Joaquin, struggle to support their sick mother after their father is arrested for embezzlement. When the heist of a lifetime comes their way, the crew find themselves with difficult choices to make. At the same time, Margo is surrounded by upheaval in her father’s company, and she’ll need all her wiliness to navigate her way out. Roehrig (Last Seen Leaving​, 2016) takes a sharp dive out of thriller territory with this high-stakes adventure. Balancing Oceans 11–level heists, corporate espionage, and gender and sexual identity politics isn’t easy, but Roehrig manages it with aplomb, skillfully threading in Hamlet references to boot. Clever, thrilling, and a wildly good time.

Publishers Weekly Annex (February 25, 2019)
In this action-packed thriller, heiress and party girl “Mad Margo” Manning seems to have it all-clothes, parties, fast cars, and loyal friends. What she doesn’t have is the attention of her father, Harland, who spends time between running his businesses and dealing with a mysterious ailment. Margo attempts to rectify this by organizing heists to steal goods for hire with a team of her best friends, all in drag (code names include Liesl Von Tramp and Dior Galore). She knows how irate Harland would be if she ever got caught. When Harland suddenly dies from mysterious ailments, Margo takes it upon herself to figure out what happened. Using her skills as an art and jewel thief, as well as the expensive, state-of-the-art equipment that only an heiress can afford, Margo and her crew follow the evidence to catch a killer. With a knack for infusing tongue-in-cheek humor into darker subject matters, Roehrig (White Rabbit) effectively creates a likable thief whose actions seem justifiable. Margo’s crew is equally likable, each contending with their own issues, making them relatable despite their less-than-legal hobby. With a nod to Hamlet, Roehrig’s five-act structure keeps the dramatic tension high with cinematic break-in sequences that render this tale ripe for adaptation. Ages 13-up.

About the Author

Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV—as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.

His website is calebroehrig.com

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The Plotters by Un-su Kim

The Plotters by Un-su Kim. January 29, 2019. Doubleday Books, 304 p. ISBN: 9780385544382.  Int Lvl: Ad; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A fantastical crime novel set in an alternate Seoul where assassination guilds compete for market dominance.

Behind every assassination, there is an anonymous mastermind–a plotter–working in the shadows. Plotters quietly dictate the moves of the city’s most dangerous criminals, but their existence is little more than legend. Just who are the plotters? And more important, what do they want?
Reseng is an assassin. Raised by a cantankerous killer named Old Raccoon in the crime headquarters “The Library,” Reseng never questioned anything: where to go, who to kill, or why his home was filled with books that no one ever read. But one day, Reseng steps out of line on a job, toppling a set of carefully calibrated plans. And when he uncovers an extraordinary scheme set into motion by an eccentric trio of young women–a convenience store clerk, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed librarian–Reseng will have to decide if he will remain a pawn or finally take control of the plot.
Crackling with action and filled with unforgettable characters, The Plotters is a deeply entertaining thriller that soars with the soul, wit, and lyricism of real literary craft.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: 

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Reseng, 32, has been a professional assassin for 15 years, minus a short factory-worker stint at 22, while playing house with the love of his life. That he’s survived this long—never mind his risky career, he’s also a two-pack-a-day smoker with a beer-for-breakfast diet—is remarkable. Pulled from a garbage can as an infant, nunnery-raised until he turned four, Reseng then grew up fostered by a killer called Old Racoon, living in his “gloomy, labyrinthine library” named the Doghouse. Discovering literacy at nine (he never went to school), Reseng now avoids boredom and loneliness by reading books, from Sophocles to Calvino, in between his murderous assignments by “the plotters”—the elite, beyond-the-law puppet masters who control their putative democracy in post-military-dictatorship style. Reseng’s life continues smoothly enough until he finds a bomb in his toilet. Fortunately, he was Beer Week-upchucking; other-end purging would have been fatally explosive. His search for the bombmaker leads him to two orphaned sisters and a cross-eyed librarian from his past and onward to an ultimate plot that might save the world—or might not. The winner of prestigious prizes in Korea, Kim makes his anglophone debut, thanks to Kim-Russell, who captures his dark, dark wit and searing sarcasm in an irresistible sociopolitical parable designed to delight and dismay.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
An assassin in Seoul’s underworld is embroiled in a rivalry between the mysterious men who literally call the shots. Reseng, the hero of the first novel by Kim to appear in English, is a coldblooded killer whose lone-wolf persona seems stitched out of equal parts Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch. An orphan, he was raised for most of his life by Old Raccoon, a shady fixer who lives in a massive but neglected library while plotting murders. Reseng has been the don’t-ask-questions type until he learns that a colleague didn’t follow through on killing a prostitute like he was supposed to. And when that colleague is found dead, he’s moved to start investigating the “plotters” who make his world move. The answer to Reseng’s inquiries aren’t particularly engaging or surprising: Corporations and government leaders in South Korea plan killings to preserve power, amassing a small army of “washed-up assassins, gangsters, retired servicemen and former homicide detectives, tired of working for peanuts.” And of course, Reseng is a target himself, via a bomb installed in his toilet. The novel is somewhat redeemed from its stock plotting in its more visceral moments: There’s a lively gallows humor to scenes where Reseng pays regular visits to the man who cremates gang-war victims, and he casually slices off one man’s fingers as coolly as you might make a salad. Kim makes a few gestures toward literary gravitas, like a flashback to a woman in Reseng’s more innocent past and some riffing about the source of human violence. (“A handful of villains isn’t enough to affect the world. The world is like this because we’re too meek.” ) But between the convoluted plotting and myriad stylistic intentions, Kim hasn’t identified a clear target to hit. An energetic mashup of thriller tropes that doesn’t quite jell.

About the Author

Un-su Kim was born in 1972 in Busan and is the author of several highly praised novels. He has won the Munhakdongne Novel Prize, Korea’s most prestigious literary prize, and was nominated for the 2016 Grand Prix de la Littéraire Policière. He lives in Jinhae-gu, South Korea.

 

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Fakers by H.P. Wood

Fakers: An Insider’s Guide to Cons, Hoaxes, and Scams by H.P. Wood. October 2, 2018. Charlesbridge Publishing, 176 p. ISBN: 9781580897433.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.4; Lexile: 1040.

From the Trojan horse to fake news, scams have run rampant throughout history and across the globe. Some con artists do it for fun, others for profit. . . and every once in a while, a faker saves the world.

In this era of daily online hoaxes, it’s easy to be caught off-guard. Fakers arms kids with information, introducing them to the funniest, weirdest, and most influential cons and scams in human history. Profiles of con artists will get readers thinking about motivation and consequence, and practical tips will help protect them from falsehoods. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is–except in the case of this book!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. In a world where tricksters are always in the news, even as the word fake is bandied about indiscriminately, a book exposing cons and making young readers aware of how to approach schemes is essential. Luckily, Wood’s nonfiction title is also an entertaining read, with chapters divided up in ways that separate and link everything from Ponzi schemes to spoon benders to mass-media hoaxes. Any type of deceptive con one can think of is included. Want to know about shell games? It’s covered. War tricks like the Trojan horse? It’s here. Cartoonlike pictures emphasize the fun in funny business, slyly featuring everything from sleight-of-hand hieroglyphs to chunky, pizza-eating rats. Extensive chapter notes and resources, as well as a long index, lend the work gravitas. As the author points out, even computer-savvy young people are easily deceived, and she wants readers to not be “one of the guys and gals getting gotten.” If they take this book as a guide, they should have a head start in preparedness.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
In this lively look at the history of human trickery, Wood takes readers on a tour of cons, frauds, hoaxes, impersonations, and scams. The swindle is as old as history. The shell game, once called cups and balls, originated in ancient Rome. One example of a newer type of fakery, the “long con,” is the pyramid scheme, and Wood recounts the scams used by two of its most infamous practitioners, Carlo Ponzi and Bernie Madoff. No book about fakery would be complete without a discussion of P.T. Barnum’s many famous humbugs. Wood also reveals the tricks behind such carnival games as the ring toss, ball toss, and guessing games. Scientists have fallen prey to or helped perpetrate such hoaxes as the Rabbit Woman, the Lying Stones, and the Piltdown Man, but a long time passed before skeptical scientists were convinced the platypus was not a hoax. Deceptive practices in medicine have undoubtedly caused many injuries and deaths, but Wood recounts one medical hoax that saved dozens of Italian Jews when doctors in a Rome hospital convinced Nazis the Jews were afflicted with a dangerously infectious disease called Syndrome K and better kept in quarantine. These and more are all covered in lively prose that’s delivered with a healthy sense of irony. Clark’s full-color cartoons match Wood’s tone and are augmented by archival illustrations and photographs. A delightfully revealing look at scammers and their scams. (further reading, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

H. P. Wood is the granddaughter of a mad inventor and a sideshow magician. Instead of making things disappear, she makes books of all shapes and sizes. She has written or edited works on an array of topics, including the history of the Internet, the future of human rights, and the total awesomeness of playing with sticks.

She lives in Connecticut with a charming and patient husband and a daughter from whom she steals all her best ideas. Her website is www.hpwood.net

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The Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

The Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. July 31, 2018. Doubleday, 304 p. ISBN: 9780385542722.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A mesmerizing debut set in Colombia at the height Pablo Escobar’s violent reign about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both

Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to their gated community in Bogotá, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways. But Petrona’s unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

Inspired by the author’s own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricably linked coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras has written a powerful testament to the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Alcohol, Criminal culture

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 15, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 18))
In this incomparable debut novel, Contreras draws on her own experience growing up in turbulent 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, amid the violence and social instability fueled by Pablo Escobar’s narcotics trafficking. In vividly rendered prose, textured with generous Spanish, Contreras tells the story of an unlikely bond between two girls on the verge of womanhood: Chula, the daughter of a middle-class family, and Petrona, the teenager hired to serve as the family’s maid. While Chula’s family can afford to protect themselves behind the suburban walls of a gated community, Petrona must support her many siblings as they struggle to survive the inner-city slums. Despite their differences, and driven by Chula’s curiosity about Petrona’s odd habits, the two become inseparably close until decisions must be made that will alter their futures forever. Contreras’ deeply personal connection to the setting lends every scene a vital authenticity, and a seemingly unlimited reservoir of striking details brings the action to life, like the trumpets and accordions on Christmas Eve, or the messy Afro of Petrona’s suspicious new boyfriend. A riveting, powerful, and fascinating first novel.

Kirkus Reviews (May 1, 2018)
The perils of day-to-day existence in late-20th-century Colombia—a time of drug lords, guerrillas, kidnappings, and car bombs—are glimpsed through the eyes of a child and her family’s teenage maid, whose relationship exposes two facets of the class divide. Choosing a young girl to deliver a perspective on political chaos and terror is a mixed blessing in Contreras’ debut, set in Bogotá in the lawless era of Pablo Escobar. Her chief narrator is 7-year-old Chula Santiago, whose dreamy insights and immaturity both intensify and limit what the narrative can offer. Chula is the bright younger daughter of an oil worker employed by an American company and whose income allows the family to live in the relative safety of a gated neighborhood. The Santiagos’ maid, Petrona Sánchez, introduces a different perspective. Her family has been destroyed by the paramilitary that burned down their farm and abducted her father and elder brothers. Now Petrona, her mother, and her siblings live in “a hut made of trash” in the capital’s slums, prey to gangs, drugs, and thugs. While the two girls develop a bond, their separate experiences include political assassination, desolation, addiction, and dangers of many kinds alongside the fancifulness, games, and easy, often thoughtless distractions of childhood. Chula and her sister are indulged by their parents and leave town when threats appear at their most extreme. Petrona, struggling to support her family, falls under the sway of a shady but charismatic boy, Gorrión. Through Chula’s eyes, events take place in a drifting, foreshortened present, and her incomprehension at times denies the story a quality of three-dimensionality. But a sudden gear change reorders matters, plunging the narrative into a flurry of dangerous developments from which everyone emerges redefined. A tragic history is filtered through fiction, and the results are patchy: sometimes constrained by invention, sometimes piercing.

About the Author

Ingrid Rojas Contreras is an award-winning author who was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, Guernica, and Huffington Post, among others. She has been a fellow at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, and has received scholarships and support from VONA, Hedgebrook, The Camargo Foundation, Djerassi Artist Residency Program, and the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. She is the book columnist for KQED, the Bay Area’s NPR affiliate. She has taught at Stanford University, the University of San Francisco, and currently teaches writing to immigrant high school students as part of a San Francisco Arts Commission initiative bringing artists into public schools.

Her website is www.ingridrojascontreras.com/

Teacher Resources

The Fruit of the Drunken Tree Reading Guide

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The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A true Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. October 1, 2017. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 320 p. ISBN: 9780374303235.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Racial slur, Graphic description of recovery from burns, Detailed description of a hate crime

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 7-12. Slater handles the sensitive subject matter of adolescence, hate crimes, the juvenile justice system, and the intersection of race and class with exemplary grace and emotional connection. Sasha, a genderqueer teen riding the 57 bus, was asleep when Richard Thomas, an African American teen, decided to play a prank by playing with a lighter by her skirt. But the skirt caught fire. Sasha spent grueling amounts of time in a hospital burn unit, and Richard spent the rest of his high-school career mired in a long trial and awaiting sentencing. In this true-crime tale, Slater excels at painting a humanistic view of both Sasha and Richard, especially in the aftermath of the crime. Readers will enjoy that Sasha’s life is completely developed, while other readers may have a few unresolved questions surrounding Richard’s upbringing. Ultimately, this book will give readers a better understanding of gender nonbinary people and a deep empathy for how one rash action can irrevocably change lives forever.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2017)
In the fall of 2013, on a bus ride home, a young man sets another student on fire.In a small private high school, Sasha, a white teen with Asperger’s, enjoyed “a tight circle of friends,” “blazed through calculus, linguistics, physics, and computer programming,” and invented languages. Sasha didn’t fall into a neat gender category and considered “the place in-between…a real place.” Encouraged by parents who supported self-expression, Sasha began to use the pronoun they. They wore a skirt for the first time during their school’s annual cross-dressing day and began to identify as genderqueer. On the other side of Oakland, California, Richard, a black teen, was “always goofing around” at a high school where roughly one-third of the students failed to graduate. Within a few short years, his closest friends would be pregnant, in jail, or shot dead, but Richard tried to stay out of real trouble. One fateful day, Sasha was asleep in a “gauzy white skirt” on the 57 bus when a rowdy friend handed Richard a lighter. With a journalist’s eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness. (Nonfiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Dashka Slater has written many books, including Baby ShoesThe Sea Serpent and Me, which was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Escargot, and Dangerously Ever After. She is also an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in NewsweekSalon, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones. 

She lives in California. Her website is www.dashkaslater.com

Teacher Resources

The 57 Bus Discussion Guide

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Ranger Games by Ben Blum

Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family, and an Inexplicable Crime by Ben Blum. September 12, 2017. Doubleday Books, 432 p. ISBN: 9780385538435.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

Intricate, heartrending, and morally urgent, Ranger Games is a crime story like no other

Alex Blum was a good kid with one unshakeable goal in life: Become a U.S. Army Ranger. On the day of his leave before deployment to Iraq, Alex got into his car with two fellow soldiers and two strangers, drove to a local bank in Tacoma, and committed armed robbery.

The question that haunted the entire Blum family was: Why?Why would he ruin his life in such a spectacularly foolish way?

At first, Alex insisted he thought the robbery was just another exercise in the famously daunting Ranger program. His attorney presented a case based on the theory that the Ranger indoctrination mirrored that of a cult.

In the midst of his own personal crisis, and in the hopes of helping both Alex and his splintering family cope, Ben Blum, Alex’s first cousin, delved into these mysteries, growing closer to Alex in the process. As he probed further, Ben began to question not only Alex, but the influence of his superior, Luke Elliot Sommer, the man who planned the robbery. A charismatic combat veteran, Sommer’s manipulative tendencies combined with a magnetic personality lured Ben into a relationship that put his loyalties to the test.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence, Drugs, Alcohol

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
This debut work is a stunningly well-executed examination of one man’s abrupt fall into disgrace and another man’s fascination with that fall. The men (one, a gung-ho U.S. Army Ranger on his way to Iraq in 2006; the other, the author of this book) grew up together as cousins in Colorado. The defining moment for author Blum’s cousin Alex, and for this wrenching book, was Alex’s sudden and seemingly inexplicable involvement in a bank robbery on the verge of his being shipped to Iraq, a moment that blew up his life and those of his relatives. Blum spent seven years puzzling out this act, interviewing Alex, family members, and friends. He also investigates the Ranger culture that instills blind obedience, and the evil influence that one special-operations commander held over Alex. The result is a well-researched, spellbinding work of narrative nonfiction that opens up the psychology of Ranger training, as well as giving the reader a compassionate view of the interlocking forces that can feed into one spectacularly bad decision.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
A vigorous, empathetic chronicle of a crime foretold—or at least engendered, possibly, on a boot camp drill field.Though the mostly peace-minded citizens of Tacoma, Washington, may not know it, the military-industrial complex looms large there, with a joint Air Force and Army base constituting the area’s largest employer by far. Blum tells the story of a group of four soldiers, including the author’s cousin, Alex, who donned blue jeans and ski masks and tried to boost a bank. The news of the subsequent arrest shocked the respectable, intellectually competitive Blum family. “Alex was the most squeaky-clean, patriotic, rule-respecting kid we knew,” writes the author, who digs into the case to tease out why an Army Ranger, part of a unit already under the spotlight for having tortured prisoners in Iraq, did something so transgressive. Among the theories the legal defense tested, he finds the notion that the heist was the result of a kind of brainwashing to be somewhat compelling, while the thought that the robbery was a training exercise isn’t as absurd as it might appear on the face: “As far as Alex was concerned,” one of his fellow soldiers says, “it wasn’t real.” In time, Blum looks closely at a charismatic leader who cooked up the scheme as an exercise in sociopathy and convinced his comrades to take part because it was cool and fun. “With him,” writes the author, memorably, “you could become Donkey Kong or Cobra Commander or Wile E. Coyote, swallowing a pound of TNT and exploding and reconstituting again in time to pant so hard at a passing pretty girl that your tongue spilled out onto the floor.” In the end, Blum writes, judge and jury did not accept any such Looney Tunes scenario, and how they arrived at their verdict affords the author some fine courtroom back and forth. A lighthearted romp à la Ocean’s Eleven it’s not, but Blum’s well-wrought account suggests that any crime is possible so long as it’s made out to be a game.

About the Author

Ben Blum was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He holds a PhD in computer science from the University of California Berkeley, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and an MFA in fiction from New York University, where he was awarded the New York Times Foundation Fellowship.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and stepdaughter. His website is www.benblumauthor.com

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She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper. June 6, 2017. Ecco, 272 p. ISBN: 9780062394408.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 610.

A propulsive, gritty novel about a girl marked for death who must fight and steal to stay alive, learning from the most frightening man she knows—her father.

Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school into a world of robbery, violence, and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life.

Nate made dangerous enemies in prison—a gang called Aryan Steel has put out a bounty on his head, counting on its members on the outside to finish him off. They’ve already murdered his ex-wife, Polly’s mother. And Polly is their next target.

Nate and Polly’s lives soon become a series of narrow misses, of evading the bad guys and the police, of sleepless nights in motels. Out on the lam, Polly is forced to grow up early: with barely any time to mourn her mother, she must learn how to take a punch and pull off a drug-house heist. She finds herself transforming from a shy little girl into a true fighter. Nate, in turn, learns what it’s like to love fiercely and unconditionally—a love he’s never quite felt before. But can their powerful bond transcend the dangerous existence he’s carved out for them? Will they ever be able to live an honest life, free of fear?

She Rides Shotgun is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Strong language, Racial taunts, Discrimination, Violence, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Murder, Death of a parent

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 15))
When short-timer Nate McClusky kills a member of the Aryan Steel prison gang in Susanville, California, the victim’s brother (who happens to be the gang’s president) sends a death warrant from Supermax—not only for Nate but also for his ex-wife, Avis, and his daughter, Polly. Nate survives his last week in prison but returns home to find Avis dead. Picking up 11-year-old Polly from middle school, he intends to drop her off with a relative until circumstances suggest the only way to keep her permanently safe is to take on Aryan Steel and hit them where it hurts. Polly is at first terrified (and contacts the police) but soon displays an aptitude for crime—she’s her father’s daughter, after all—and decides she wants to be more than just a passenger. Meanwhile, in chapters that read like mid-period James Ellroy, Detective Park searches the bleak and barren parts of California for the girl who now regrets her call for help. From its bravura prologue to its immensely satisfying ending, this first novel (Harper previously penned the short story collection Love and Other Wounds, 2015) comes out with guns blazing and shoots the chambers dry. It’s both a dark, original take on the chase novel and a strangely touching portrait of a father-daughter relationship framed in barbed wire.

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 1, 2017)
In his first novel, Harper returns to the seamy criminal fringe he explored in his story collections (Love and Other Wounds, 2015, etc.) for a grim yet moving tale about an ex-con’s efforts to protect his young daughter.Meek, intellectually precocious 11-year-old Polly finds her tattooed, heavily muscled father, Nate, waiting outside her school in Fontana, California. Having been in prison for more than half of Polly’s life, Nate has now been granted an early release. Unfortunately, though, the head of the Aryan Steel gang has just put out a call from his prison cell for his gang members to kill Nate, his ex-wife, and their daughter. Polly’s mother is knifed before Nate can reach her, but he takes Polly on the run to evade hit men while planning how to stop the vendetta. His love for Polly overpowers and empowers him, but there is no sentimentality here—he recognizes with paternal pride that she shares his “buried rage.” He trains her to fight, then takes her along when he robs stores and attacks his Aryan Steel enemies. Although she remains attached to her teddy bear, Polly discovers she takes after her badass daddy more than she or he imagined. The novel combines striking images, like Nate’s “gunfighter eyes” and the “old man of a car” he shows up driving, with disturbingly raw violence—a drug mule gutted by a crooked sheriff to get out the merchandise, the same sheriff gouging out an eye. Even more disturbing are the characters’ raw emotions: after witnessing Nate hold an Aryan Steel member’s back against the coals from a barbecue-grill fire until he gives desired information, Polly finds herself smiling. Yet there is a moral core here. Acknowledging that his vengeful behavior is “dumb and selfish,” Nate knows he isn’t good for Polly. And despite her developing toughness, Polly retains her urge to save the innocent. For all the darkness and even ugliness displayed, the characters’ loyalty, love, and struggle for redemption grip the reader and don’t let go.

About the Author

Jordan Harper was born and educated in Missouri. He’s worked as an ad man, a rock critic and a teevee writer. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

His website is www.jordanharper.com

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. April 18, 2017. Doubleday, 352p. ISBN: 9780385534246.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racial taunts; Discrimination; Violence; Alcohol; Criminal culture

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 12))
During the early 1920s, many members of the Osage Indian Nation were murdered, one by one. After being forced from several homelands, the Osage had settled in the late nineteenth century in an unoccupied area of Oklahoma, chosen precisely because it was “rocky, sterile, and utterly unfit for cultivation.” No white man would covet this land; Osage people would be happy. Then oil was soon discovered below the Osage territory, speedily attracting prospectors wielding staggering sums and turning many Osage into some of the richest people in the world. Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, 2010) centers this true-crime mystery on Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who lost several family members as the death tally grew, and Tom White, the former Texas Ranger whom J. Edgar Hoover sent to solve the slippery, attention-grabbing case once and for all. A secondary tale of Hoover’s single-minded rise to power as the director of what would become the FBI, his reshaping of the bureau’s practices, and his goal to gain prestige for federal investigators provides invaluable historical context. Grann employs you-are-there narrative effects to set readers right in the action, and he relays the humanity, evil, and heroism of the people involved. His riveting reckoning of a devastating episode in American history deservedly captivates..

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 15, 2017)
Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding “headrights” that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the “Reign of Terror.” Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn’t stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann’s crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs. Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

About the Author

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the hunt for the giant squid to the presidential campaign.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, published by Doubleday, is Grann’s first book and is being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures.

Grann’s stories have appeared in several anthologies, including What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001; The Best American Crime Writing, of both 2004 and 2005; and The Best American Sports Writing, of 2003 and 2006. A 2004 finalist for the Michael Kelly award for the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth,” Grann has also written for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and The New Republic.

Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and, from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He currently lives in New York with his wife and two children.

His website is www.davidgrann.com.

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Killers of the Flower Moon Discussion Questions

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Overturned by Lamar Giles

Overturned by Lamar Giles. March 28, 2017. Scholastic, 352 p. ISBN: 9780545812504.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Nikki Tate is infamous, even by Las Vegas standards. Her dad is sitting on death row, convicted of killing his best friend in a gambling dispute turned ugly. And for five years, he’s maintained his innocence. But Nikki wants no part of that. She’s been working on Operation Escape Vegas: playing in illegal card games so she can save up enough money to get out come graduation day.

Then her dad’s murder conviction is overturned. The new evidence seems to come out of nowhere and Nikki’s life becomes a mess when he’s released from prison. Because the dad who comes home is not the dad she remembers. And he’s desperately obsessed with finding out who framed him—and why.

As her dad digs into the seedy underbelly of Vegas, the past threatens everything and Nikki is drawn into his deadly hunt for the truth. But in the city of sin, some sinners will do anything to keep their secrets, and Nikki soon finds herself playing for the biggest gamble ever—her life

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Alcohol; Smoking; Gambling

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2017 (Online))
Grades 9-12. If she knows anything, Vegas native Nikki Tate knows cards. She’s trying to earn enough money to escape Vegas after high school, and she comes by the trade honestly: her casino-owning father, Nathan Tate, was a big deal, until he was convicted of murder five years ago. Now, though, that conviction has been overturned, and Nathan Tate joins a long line of wrongly convicted black men. But the man who returns is not the father Nikki remembers, and the circumstances surrounding the murder he was imprisoned for have not disappeared. As Nathan digs into the past, Nikki, too, becomes more entangled in Vegas’ seedy underbelly, and the stakes are higher than she’s used to. Giles deftly imagines the tense, sinister atmosphere of underground Vegas, while grappling with the issue of race in the justice system. Nikki’s friendships and burgeoning relationship with the son of a rival casino titan are three-dimensional, and she herself is a tough-talking, sometimes impulsive heroine who’s smart even when she’s scared. A fast-paced, endlessly intriguing mystery.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2017)
A fast-paced mystery uncovers a truth hidden by the bright lights of Las Vegas.To bankroll her future escape from Las Vegas, Nikki plays illegal poker games, using her natural skill and training from her father, Nathan “The Broker” Tate. Those skills also help her run the family’s failing casino, which languishes because her father is on death row for murdering his business associate. After five years, though, her father’s conviction—like so many other black men, he’s found to be wrongfully convicted—is overturned and he returns home. Nathan is determined to reveal who framed him, only to quickly end up dead. So Nikki takes up her father’s quest and tries to untangle the mystery. Even her blossoming relationship with Davis Carlino—son of local magnate Bertram “Big Bert” Carlino—won’t get in the way of finding the truth. Then Nikki discovers how Big Bert and her father are connected…and that Davis could be part of it, too. Is Nikki about to become another Vegas cautionary tale? Nikki is a totally appealing character: gutsy, practical, and strong, at the head of a cast of well-drawn supporting characters. The interracial romance between Nikki and Davis, who is white, is handled deftly, as is Giles’ skillful evocation of the townies-vs.-tourists nature of Las Vegas. An utterly compelling whodunit. (Mystery. 14-18)

About the Author

L. R. Giles hunts monsters. When he catches them, he locks them in stories. His work has been featured in the Dark Dreams anthology series, he’s won the prestigious Virginia Commission for the Arts Fiction Fellowship, and he was a Top 10 Finalist in the international SciFi Now/Tor UK War of the Words competition. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia with his wife.

Her website is www.lamargiles.com.

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