Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #23: Burned April 5, 2010

I couldn’t sleep tonight.  So, as I often do, I turned on the bedside light and grabbed the book I’d been reading.

I remembered my thinking when I was reading Jen Bryant’s books The Trial and 1928: Views from the Scopes Trial, that I still didn’t GET the whole verse novel thing.

I get it now.


Burned by Ellen Hopkins

Simon Pulse, 2006

Courtesy of

From Booklist

Gr. 9-12. Full of anger at her father, an alcoholic who abuses her mother, Pattyn begins to question her Mormon religion and her preordained, subservient role within it. She is confused by her mother’s acceptance of the brutal abuse, and although she is furious at and terrified of her father, she still longs for his love and approval. As the consequences of her anger become more dramatic, her parents send her to spend the summer with her aunt on a Nevada ranch. There she finds the love and acceptance she craves, both from her aunt and from a college-age neighbor, Ethan. Told in elegant free verse, Burned envelopes the reader in Pattyn’s highs and lows, her gradual opening to love, and her bouts of rage, confusion, and doubt. It exposes the mind of the abused, but regrettably offers no viable plan to deal with the abuser, a reality perhaps, but a plot element that may raise eyebrows in the adult community. Still, this will easily find rapid-fire circulation among its YA audience. A troubling but beautifully written novel. Frances Bradburn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Strengths: Simply:  One of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read.  Rivals the quality of Zusak’s The Book Thief, my top 5-star read.  Hopkins’ free verse is effortless and eloquent and makes strategic use of structure in subtle and artful ways.  Pattyn (a beautiful and hauntingly appropriate name derived by her violent father) is shatteringly real; Hopkins is a genius at building and developing her character.  I came to love Pattyn in all of her confusion and pain and daring to hope for something less hopeless than what she’s known all her life, and her fear that she will find it.  I was sucked irretrievably into her life, swallowed by the anguish that drove her existence.  Only once or twice have I read a book that made my heart break, and left me aching at the end.   Hopkins has elevated the verse novel to its highest, most breathtaking form.

Potential Flaws: In my eyes?  Absolutely none.

My Rating:

Beautiful.  Painful.  Moving.  And at the risk of sounding trite…a masterpiece.


What I’m Reading #17: Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial March 17, 2010

Since I had picked up Jen Bryant’s Trial at the same time, I decided to follow it up with her other courtroom-drama-verse-novel, Ringside, 1925.  This was Bryant’s treatment of the Scopes trial in Tennessee over the teaching of evolution.


Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008

Courtesy of


Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2008:
“The colorful facts she retrieves, the personal story lines and the deft rhythm of the narrative are more than enough invitation to readers to ponder the issues she raises.

Product Description

The year is 1925, and the students of Dayton, Tennessee, are ready for a summer of fishing, swimming, some working, and drinking root beer floats at Robinson’s Drugstore. But when their science teacher, J. T. Scopes, is arrested for having taught Darwin’s theory of evolution in class, it seems it won’t be just any ordinary summer in Dayton.
As Scopes’ trial proceeds, the small town is faced with astonishing, nationwide publicity: reporters, lawyers, scientists, religious leaders, and tourists. But amidst the circus-like atmosphere is a threatening sense of tension–not only in the courtroom, but among even the strongest of friends. This compelling novel in poems chronicles a controversy with a profound impact on science and culture in America–and one that continues to this day.


Strengths: This one had more meat to it than The Trial. It felt like Bryant fleshed this one out more.  There is a wide range of characters whose perspectives Bryant uses to tell the story, which I liked, as well as using different verse styles to create a unique voice for each character.

Potential Flaws: I still can’t help but think verse novels are somehow easier to write.  I kept thinking, “I could do this.”  In this case, I felt at times like Bryant wrote out a rather simple narrative and then broke it into verse.  Her variations are cosmetic: line length, page placement.  Nothing using rhyme or more structured verse, which I felt would have added some dimension.

My Rating:

As with The Trial, I was just not particularly excited about this one.  Comparably, it was better, but there was definitely room for improvement.


What I’m Reading #4: The Apprentice’s Masterpiece January 17, 2010

I wanted to stick with my historical fiction streak, but wanted something a little different.  So I picked up Melanie Little’s book, The Apprentice’s Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain.

I forget where I tracked this one down.  I do remember, however, being snagged by two things in particular.   First, the cover: despite its muted and somewhat mottled appearance, the hooded falcon on the cover is striking, as is the font of the title (it incorporates three religious symbols within the print–a Jewish star, a Christian cross, and the crescent moon and star symbol often associated with Turkish Moors/Muslims.)

Second, it’s a verse novel.  With verse novels becoming more and more popular, I decided to give it a go.


The Apprentice’s Masterpiece by Melanie Little

Annick Press, 2008

Courtesy of

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 Up—In this novel set in 15th-century Spain at the time of the Inquisition, prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance destroy the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The effects of this dismal history are dramatized in this story of two teens—Ramon, a Converso or converted Jew, and Amir, a Muslim who has been brought as a slave to Ramon’s family. Written in prose poetry, the story’s focus shifts from Ramon to Amir and then back to Ramon. Amir is treated by the Benvenistes as another son, making Ramon jealous and straining the relationship between them. Each teen has to make compromises in order to survive, and Ramon’s choice estranges him from his father. Both protagonists demonstrate their courage as they struggle against the mortal danger in which they are placed. This riveting story is peopled by flesh-and-blood characters and replete with horrific historical detail. The challenging format renders it most appropriate for strong readers. This selection would be a good companion to Alice Hoffman’s Incantation (Little, Brown, 2006) and Kathryn Lasky’s Blood Secret (HarperCollins, 2004).—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I was torn on this one.  I did like it.  I think my reactions to it are more related to personal preference than any real problem with the book itself.  I am still waffling about verse novels.  As a former teacher of English, I fully respect them, particularly with their power to engage struggling readers.  I don’t necessarily agree completely with the assessment of School Library Journal (see above) that labels the format as “challenging.”  Unique?  Yes.  Different?  Yes.  But I don’t reserve the format for “strong readers.”  It was definitely a fast read.  But it isn’t for everyone.

That being said…

First and foremost, historical material.  I’ve seen a lot of books about witch trials.  This is one of VERY few YA books I’ve found about the Spanish Inquisition.  For that reason alone I loved it.  It was a smooth, almost effortless read.  Two very memorable protagonists–one of which makes some un-herolike decisions.  Again, we see my predilection for deliciously flawed characters.

Potential Flaws:
I felt that the book seemed a little predictable at first.  Plot-wise, the friction between the two main characters was expected.  The plot was trending where I expected it to go–and that was starting to lose me.  However, a sidestep in the plot about a third of the way through the book redeemed it and snagged me back in.  I found myself wishing for a more fleshed-out version of the story–I craved a full-blown novel, and was less excited about it in verse form.  But, again, personal preferences shine through here.

My Rating:

Bonus points for digging back to the Inquisition.