Book Reviews: Urban Underground

Posted: May 25, 2013 in Book Reviews

images-5In spite of being written by the rockstar author of the ever popular Bluford High Books, Urban Underground series – in a word – sucks. This says a lot about a good editor, and the editor of Bluford series clearly has it going on. I was really excited when Urban Underground first came out and my first review reflects this, yet after reading them I don’t even have them on my shelf anymore. Cause my kids don’t read them. Here’s why…..

SCHRAFF, Anne. The Fairest. (Urban Underground). 179p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95. 978-1-61651-007-7. Grades 5 -8.  Another uneven entry in the Urban Underground series. The excellent cover depicting a young man with scorpion tattoos draws in the readers with hopes of a book about a boy, gangs, or even someone with the lifestyle that gets a cool tattoo. Unfortunately, the inside story doesn’t live up to the cover: it’s about who is going to win Princess of the Junior Fair. Young and enthusiastic teacher Ms. Amsterdam puts up flyers and announces the rules on  many of the 179 pages. The rules include no campaigning. Drama …but sort of boring drama, or drama without much action if that makes sense….fills the rest of the pages with boys rating girls, campaigning for girls and Jasmine trying to overcome her mean image by theoretically raising money for abused children with a coffee cup in the entrance of the school. Any child who considered themselves abused would be horrified, and would see clearly that the students at this high school are not them. Some of the more action packed scenes involve Jasmine finding a rotten chicken sandwich in her locker and the mystery of who put it there. In the end will the pretty mean girl become the princess? Or will Sami, the not so pretty but nicest girl around be recognized for who she is by the Juniors of Tubman High? Readers can easily guess the answer. – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall,  CA 

images-4SCHRAFF, Anne. Like a Broken Doll. (Urban Underground). 182p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95. 978-1-61651-005-3. Grades 5 -10.  One of the better (as there are several plot lines to follow) but not best, of the Urban Underground series. Who is stealing money from girl’s purses and the Cheerleader’s carwash? Is is Sereeta? She happens to be on the scene each time. Not to mention that Chelsea saw Sereeta cutting herself and all the students saw Sereeta’s mom come drunk to school. This gives Sereeta’s boyfriend Jaris (boyfriend? they kiss twice – chastely – in the book) lots to be worried about and involved in. Then there is Quincy who also happens to be around when some of the money is stolen. His family surely needs the money – as Jaris finds out by talking to Quincy and  Quincy’s mom who readily tell all the details of their financial issues. Or – could the girls be making it up? It’s rumored that when Ryann reported the missing $100, her parents gave her another $100. And she sure has been coming to school with lots of new clothes. The issues raised are resolved easily and neatly and no where near realistically. The cutting issue is raised in Chapter four and “resolved” in chapter seven. Once again there is a disconnect with the cover: the broken doll is clearly Sereeta, but the cover depicts the torso of a young man and barbed wire.  – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall,  CA 

images-3NOTE: One of Us was the first book I read and is probably the best of the bunch….

SCHRAFF, Anne. One of Us. (Urban Underground #5). 180p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-61651-004-6.

Grades 5 and up – Things are looking up for Tubman High student Derrick when he gets a job at the 99 cent store and is praised by his boss. On his way home from work, however, he almost loses his life after witnessing a murder. B.J. lets him go, but Derrick’s vow of silence throws him into a moral dilemma that eats away at him, especially when an innocent man is brought in for the murder. Schraff’s books are brilliant and right on relevant for “urban” teens with reading levels of 3.5 and above while never talking down or sacrificing action, story, character or issues. Fans of the Bluford High books and librarians looking to engage reluctant teen readers are going to be thrilled. This new series will be a hit with reluctant readers, readers of color and the “urban” teen. Gutter space is too crowded, but the publisher plans to add space in future editions. Adding color and a cool font to the cover will make these books even more impossible to keep on the shelf. Other titles in the “Urban Underground” series include: Outrunning the Darkness; Shadows of Guilt; A Boy Called Twister; If You Really Loved Me.  Look for future titles: Like a Broken Doll; The Quality of Mercy; The Fairest; To Be a Man; and Wildflower. -Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, San Leandro, CA 

images-2SCHRAFF, Anne. Wildflower. (Urban Underground # 10). 183p. Saddleback. 2010. $8.95 ISBN 978-1-61651-009-1. Grades 5-8. This middle class African American family is at odds. Mom and Pop argue over everything: what 14 year old Chelsea wears, who she goes out with, the fact that Mom talks to Grandmother and Grandmother doesn’t like Pops. On top of that, Mom is reluctant to support Pops in his dream of buying the garage he works at as a grease monkey. Pops is on Chelsea’s every move with immature, inappropriate rants.  Pops’ abusive  behavior  is never addressed by Mom or anyone else. Know it all Jarris, old and wise beyond his 16 years has moralistic advice for everyone on what they should do, and sides with Pop on Chelsea’s attire, helping her to see the light. (And what exactly is the issue? She wears short shorts and skimpy tops, as well as has some minor connections with a bad boy). Jarris has  his own worries about if Mom and Pop might get divorced, what is going on with his friends at school and generally everyone’s business.  While students may be attracted to the cover, there isn’t much drama action or development inbetween the  boring moralistic and immature abusive harangues at Chelsea, aka the “Wildflower.” – Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library Juvenile Hall,  CA 

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