What Are The Four Words?

I’m late to the game reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian… and now I know what all the fuss is about. It’s wonderful.  This passage will put a lump in the throat of any teacher…

“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.”

I’m sure you guessed.  The four words are: “you can do it”. Despite sentiment like this, the book’s been banned in a few places in the U.S. — probably for laugh out loud moments like this one when the narrator says to one of his teachers:

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.” 

There is also some sexual content that might offend some readers. Don’t be put off. As a story of resilience, bravery, and loyalty The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian can’t be beat. In the place of or alongside Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies the novel would be a great addition to a group novel study unit. 

Why teens love dystopian stories…

Divergent won the box office race last weekend as teens raced to see the popular YA novel brought to life (my daughter saw it twice in three days).  Slate.com film critic Dana Stevens has a slightly snarky take on why teens find dystopian stories so appealing.

Why teens love dystopias” – article with study questions.

Her article is not an easy read, but might provide an example of how an engaging topic and strong prior knowledge can help students bridge vocabulary challenges.  The final paragraph of the article includes the words:  “realpolitik”, “allegorical”, “multitiered”, “affiliation”, “constrictively”, and “malevolent”. Rather than pre-teach the vocabulary, consider challenging the students to closely read the final paragraph and construct meaning using strategies they devise.

The Rosie Project


A fast read, and a great companion / counterpoint to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, or The Reason I Jump or as a great contrast to Sisters Brothers, Romeo and Juliet or The Great Gatsby. Chapter 2 stands alone as a charming character study of a man on the Asperger’s spectrum: Chapter 2 of The Rosie Project.

From GoodReads.comNarrator Don Tillman 39, Melbourne genetics prof and Gregory Peck lookalike, sets a 16-page questionnaire The Wife Project to find a non-smoker, non-drinker ideal match. But Rosie and her Father Projectsupersede. The spontaneous always-late smoker-drinker wants to find her biological father. She resets his clock, throws off his schedule, and turns his life topsy-turvy.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

If you’re looking for a clever novel for a grade 9-11 student, then I’d recommed Elsewhere. Here’s the plot:

Do you ever wonder what happens to you when you die? Is there a long white tunnel you go through before the pearly gates and angel wings? In this imaginative look at the afterlife, when you die you go to Elsewhere, a place where you age backward until, as an infant, you are returned to Earth. Liz dies at age 15, right before her birthday and her driver’s license. She is really mad that now she’ll never get to be 16. She does everything she can to try and get back to Earth. She spends all her days at an observation post watching her family and friends until she finally accepts where she is and begins to “live”. This book fascinated me. I’ve done a lot of reading about what happens when you die and Elsewhere makes a lot of sense to me. If you believe in reincarnation, thiis book makes a case for it. I also like that while you’re in Elsewhere you continue to learn and grow and hopefully take that back to Earth when you go again.

From: Orion Library Teen Blog

The book would work well as a choice with another clever text about “closure” —London Calling by Edward Bloor.

They’d be an interesting counter point to the film What Dreams May Come.