If you are reading this after the start date, don’t worry. You can join any time. The monthly online discussions through Google Hangouts have been interesting and insightful!

The 2016-2017 SEA Teen Book Club is starting again. I received several messages asking me if I would do this. I have so many things on my to-do list my initial reaction was, “No!” Then I realized it wouldn’t be difficult  if I used what I already intended for Sean’s literary analysis class. I consider reading and discussing these books to be Sean’s lit class for the year. Sean is in 11th grade. His high school transcript this year, and for the past two, has included the books he read and the overall purpose and structure for choosing them. This year in lit class, we are exploring a variety of literary styles and genres that authors have chosen when writing about social issues. The author of each book chosen for this year’s lit class used a different method to convey the story. There will be an ongoing discussion about how the variety in technique and structure changes the story and the way readers access it. Most of the books have illustrations woven through them. We will discuss how mixed-media lit affects the narrative when compared to books without illustrations. If this all sounds a bit dry or boring, trust me it won’t be. I have found that discussing how authors choose to package and convey their story can be very interesting. I also think there are real benefits to one’s own writing to be gained from studying the writing of others. If your child just wants to read the books without the discussion, that’s okay too. Because this is Sean’s lit class, he and I have to make it academic.

I write discussion questions and give links to ancillary material for each month’s book. If you would like a copy of what is in his transcript to include in your child’s transcript, or you would like the study questions, all you have to do is subscribe to this website, and then comment below that you are a current subscriber to SEAHomeschooler.com and would like a copy of the transcript, or you can send an email to [email protected] Your child does not have to be in the book club for you to receive this. Over the next couple of months, I will put up the list I used for Sean’s 9th and 10th grade lit classes.

I have included the Amazon links to the books on the list from SEA Homeschoolers’ Amazon Store.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: Sherman Alexie is a member of the Spokane Indian Reservation. This is a first person narrative written as a diary. This book has both comedic and darkly poignant elements woven through it. One of the things that makes Alexie’s writing so powerful is the humor he uses when discussing serious issues. The story compares and contrasts elements from the Spokane Indian and white culture. I am looking forward to exploring this as a theme. Alcoholism, bullying, and poverty are other themes in the book. In addition to the thematic elements, we will discuss the method Alexie chose to use as a vehicle for his story.

Illuminae:  This book is science-fiction. The story is told through emails, interviews, images, and hacked documents. This book is more along the lines of action and adventure. The interesting way the author chose to move the action along really benefits the pacing. Sean asked to read this book. He will be working on the One Year Adventure Novel, and we consider reading adventure fiction as research for the novel he will write. In addition to the books on this list, he will re-read several fantasy or science fiction books, in particular revisiting the Red Rising Trilogy, the Mistmantle series, and Igraine the Brave. The last two were Sean’s favorite books when he was younger. I want to revisit those books so we can discuss the elements in them that made those books great to Sean.

Grapes of Wrath: We ended 10th grade with the environmental sciences portion of earth science left to do. This book was chosen in part because it gives insight into how people can be affected by environmental depredations. I plan to make some connections to both soil chemistry and environmental science while reading it. The protagonists in the Grapes of Wrath are migrants and face a great deal of prejudice because of that. With the global immigration crisis going on right now, I think the topic of what it means to feel forced to move is one worth exploring. The other thing we will look at is how people migrated to California and stayed. Ironically this movement in California’s population led to California needing more water in its arid ecosystems. This is causing problems today for California and everywhere west of the Rocky Mountains. What irony that the environmental catastrophe during the Great Depression led to a boom in California’s population, which led to California needing more water, which is causing environmental issues now.

I recognize this book is dense. The book following it is a quick read. So there will be five weeks to read the Grapes of Wrath, and three weeks to read Audacity.

Audacity: This is a fictionalized account of a true story written in verse. The protagonist is a poor, Jewish immigrant and a suffragette. This is going to allow for so much discussion of interesting topics including the style the author decided to use to present the material. I paired the Grapes of Wrath with Audacity so we could continue talking about what it means to be an immigrant.

The Truth Commission: This book is considered darkly comedic. This is from the book’s description:

“Normandy tells this story, and the more surreal and personal one unraveling at home, as a “narrative nonfiction” project, complete with footnotes, illustrations, and asides to her creative writing teacher. The narrative/book is smart, darkly funny, sad, and heartening as Normandy learns some hard truths, how to stand up for herself, and how to take charge of her own destiny. While there is no reconciliation in sight, there’s no doubt that the truth has set her free.”

I like the idea of reading a fictional account with a “narrative nonfiction” (which of course is fiction) woven through it. Sean is working on the how to of writing essays this year, and I plan on discussing some of the elements he is working on and evaluating the techniques the protagonist uses while he is reading this.

The next two books are purposefully paired.

Between the World and Me: I think Between the World and Me is one of the most accessible books for teens on the topic of white privilege. I think this book should be read by everyone. Sean and I read it last year. I look forward to reading it through with him again. The author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, is a masterful writer skillfully weaving imagery and literary techniques throughout this book. It is a wonderful book not just for its content but also for the quality of writing. Sean and I love authors who are what we call wordsmiths. Ta-Nehisi Coates definitely fits our definition of what this means. While reading this book, I plan on discussing what it must have been like to be African-American during the depression. When I think of the images commonly used from the Great Depression, almost all the people are white. I want Sean to understand this documentation is a historical representation of white privilege. The Great Depression must have impacted everyone regardless of ethnicity in the United States. It begs the question, why aren’t the photographic representations more reflective of this?

Monster: This book is about a 16-year-old African-American boy who is in jail during his trial. Based on the description of this book I expect the discussion surrounding this book will be big and profound. We will continue discussing issues Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about in Between the World and Me. The book is written in the format of part screenplay and part journal. In addition to the topics, we will discuss how the author’s stylistic choices affect the story.

Becoming Nicole: Sean and I also read this book last year, and I debated not including it. If I weren’t doing this for book club I wouldn’t have. Like Between the World and Me, I think the topic of this book is an important one. The issue of gender equality is one of the issues of our time. One of the discussions I see happening right now with my son’s generation is that of tolerance. Knowledge of and familiarity with lead to tolerance and acceptance. This book is non-fiction. In addition to the social issues, we will discuss the differences between fiction and non-fiction as a mechanism for discussing these important social issues. Here is the Amazon review for Becoming Nicole:

“Why IS it such a big deal to everyone what somebody has in their pants?” Excellent question, posed by an unusually astute transgender girl, the subject of Amy Ellis Nutt’s emotional and illuminating Becoming Nicole. It’s also a little ironic, since Nicole’s story makes a bit of a deal of it, but in a much different way than other stories we’ve been hearing lately, from celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and television shows like Transparent. Nicole, her twin brother Jonas, mom Kelly, and dad Wayne, are your typical middle class American family. They live next door to you–are shuttling from work, to Cub Scouts, to softball practice…. They’re also coming to terms with the fact that one of their own has Gender Dysphoria, a medical condition whereby a person does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. And so Wayne and Kelly Maines discover that they don’t have two sons at all, but a son and a daughter. This is a particularly hard pill for Republican, Air Force veteran, Wayne, to swallow, and his journey from denial to accepting and championing his daughter, is one of the more powerful and moving side narratives in a book chock full of them. That is why I really struggled to write this review, because Becoming Nicole is an important book that imparts important lessons, and the ones that resonate most have nothing to do with what’s in anyone’s pants: Be true to yourself, live an authentic life, exercise compassion.


Skink – No Surrender: The last book is a comedy, written by one of my favorite authors, Carl Hiassen. I decided to end on a funny note with a book written by an author whose writing is compulsively readable! I look forward to looking at those elements that make the book funny. All Hiassen’s books deal with social issues, and most deal with environmental issues. His method for relating those will be discussed.

If you would like to join the book club, email me at [email protected]. In case you’re wondering what the rules for joining the book club are.

  • You can read these books with your child or not.
  • Your child is not required to read all of these books. You can start, stop, and re-join at any time.
  • There will be a Skype session at the end of each book. If your child wants to participate in the Skype sessions, that’s fine. If your child does not want to participate in the Skype sessions, that’s cool too.
  • Audiobooks are fine.
  • How your child participates in and uses this book club is at your discretion. In other words, I am totally fine with you choosing how your child participates.
  • If you are interested in hosting one of the months please let me know which book. As you can see I have done some sort of planning and thought with each one of these books, I would be more than happy to work with you to discuss what my plans are/were.
  • The book club starts on Wednesday, September 14 and follows a monthly schedule except where otherwise noted.
  • If you have questions about something I didn’t bring up here then please ask.
  • I will be writing a description for this course for Sean’s transcript. I will be happy to share it with you if your child participates in the book club.

Sean and I will be reading these books together and doing some discussion afterward. One of the things I have done with Sean for quite some time is for both of us read a book at the same time and make notes to each other back and forth as we are reading. This is the best method I have found for Sean recognizing new vocabulary, literary tropes, and interesting stylistic choices. It helps Sean to see how real world connections can be made through great books. It also leads to the two of us to converse about all sorts of interesting social topics.

Sean has already read one book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, for school this year that is not on the list. I asked Sean what he thought of Fear and Loathing. He said Thompson is a great writer who is a logical cynic. One who is more interested in pointing out the faults of others than their good points. He is glad he read the book. It gave him insight into how politics work and how credible sources people trust are weird and shouldn’t be trusted. He learned reporters only report on some topics, and never tell people about things that are important to know. Sean ended by saying Thompson is brilliant.

I read this book along with Sean. It is good! It is hysterically funny in parts. It might be the funniest book I have ever read. The scene with Muskie on the train is so funny, and it is true. I am laughing right now just thinking about it.

Happy reading, Blair

The Red Rising Trilogy: If you and your children haven’t read this series, you are missing one of the best new sci-fi fantasy series to come out recently.


The Mistmantle Series: My son loved these. He has read this series three times. When he was 11 and sustained a concussion, he had me re-read this entire series to him. It was like comfort food.


Igraine the Brave: I made a point to read books with strong female protagonists to Sean. I read this to him and he chose re-read it a couple of years later. Cornelia Funke is a superb author.

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