Deuker, Carl. Payback Time.
Dan "Mitch" (as in Michelin Man) True is getting by. Life is full of little disappointments-- he isn't made newspaper editor, he's overweight, and girls aren't interested in him. But it's okay, because he has plans. He throws himself into his assignment as a sports reporter for the school paper, especially when it means spending a lot of time with Kimi, who does photography and is determined to get into an Ivy League college. When the two uncover a possible big story about a new football player, they hope that breaking the story will help them with their college plans. But what will the effect be on the new player? This story will keep readers guessing until the end.
Strengths: Once again, Deuker slam dunks a novel. Mitch is a realistic and likable character, the football play-by-plays are enough to keep sports fans reading about a news reporter, and the mystery was top notch. Deuker is just one of the best yound adult novelists out there, and the best part of his work is that it is geared to older students without being in any way inappropriate for younger ones. Brilliant work. I'm glad he takes his time crafting superb novels-- I'll be waiting avidly for Swagger, the basketball novel he's writing now.
Weaknesses: None that I can see!
Wiles, Deborah. Countdown.
Franny has lots to worry about in 1962-- her uncle is trying to dig up the front yard for a bomb shelter, and occasionally shows up in his WWI gear; her sister is sneaking off; her mother is preoccupied; and the Cubans have missiles. Every time there is an air raid drill, it might be the end. A lot on your plate when you are 11. This highly atmospheric novel is accompanied by pictures, quotes, and vintage illustrations, which lend a scrap book feel to the story, which makes the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis a lot more accessible to students than a history book. This is the first in a trilogy.
Strengths: This made me feel like I lived through this time period; obviously, Wiles is drawing heavily on her personal experience.
Weaknesses: Might be a hard sell. I've been pitching history hard this year, and students are just not as interested in it as they should be.