Too often book reviews focus on personal opinions of a book, but as teachers of readers, it’s not all about us. This post is one of some in an occasional series in which I review and recommend books for student readers.
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart belongs in a middle school teacher’s literature repertoire for “what’s hot.” My students come in to my classroom familiar with Gemeinhart’s first book, The Honest Truth, so it’s easy to get them reading a book by an author they already know and love.
This book takes a darker turn, as it takes place on a prison island for teen boy detainees. All of the adults are conveniently killed off, and what results is a Lord of The Flies-like scenario. Gemeinhart is not the first to write about teens surviving in a world without adults, but he’s one of the first to do it in under 250 pages. This is the kind of book that’s perfect for a reader who wants a plot-heavy adventure, but isn’t patient enough to read through the 400+ pages of some teen books.
How to booktalk it:
Jonathan has been sentenced to Slabhenge, a prison reform school for teens. At Slabhenge, the adults get to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast while the prisoners eat oatmeal and a common punishment is kneeling on the Sinner’s Sorrow, a device that’s designed to cut into your knees.
One day, at roll call, lightning strikes a puddle that all of the adults are standing in. The adults are dead; the prisoners are alive.
[Read out loud from page 53 to the break on page 55]
Cheering and Steering Readers:
Some readers might find the early pages a little slow, particularly because there are a lot of character introductions. Readers have to wait 50 pages for the adults to die off, which might be frustrating for the reader who wants to get to the “real” story right away.
Kids who have background knowledge in escape stories and who can visualize gloomy prison-y settings from movies and TV shows will have a much easier time reading this book than students who don’t have that kind of knowledge.
Encourage students to draw out scenes from this book and to make character lists. Some characters are important and pronounced; others pop up only once or twice.
Supporting Conference Questions
What are some of the problems these characters are facing? How would you like to see these problems resolved? (Note: this is a great book for exploring conflict/resolution, as there are some very obvious problems and others that are a little more subtle.)
Do you think this book realistically shows off teen behavior? Why or why not?
What lessons do you think the author wants you to take away from this book?
Where to get it:
Scar Island is available through Scholastic Reading Club (https://clubs.scholastic.com/), so if you would like a deeply discounted classroom copy, you can purchase one here.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher, comic book reviewer, former admissions officer, and a recipient of the NCTE/ALAN Gallo Grant.
Tagged: Readers Writers Workshop
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