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True Crime: Books, Podcasts, and Documentaries

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 07:00

With Season 2 of the popular podcast Serial nearing the end of this current season, the FX original limited series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and the runaway Netflix hit Making a Murderer, our fascination with crime stories doesn’t seem to wane. Maybe the draw is that we want to see justice served, or we want to know if we could spot the true crime in a situation, or maybe it has something to do with the fact that, as one of the lawyers in Making a Murderer says, “We could all say that we’re never going to commit a crime. But we can never guarantee that someone else won’t accuse us of a crime.” Whatever the reason, one thing it does is challenge our worldview.

CC image via Flickr user Tony Webster

 

For readers that enjoy a suspenseful or thriller type mystery, true crime can be a great nonfiction option. True crime can also be a great gateway to other narrative nonfiction for readers that don’t see themselves as nonfiction readers; through it they might find themselves spellbound. Here is a list of heart-pounding true crime books and other media.

                               

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century by Sarah Elizabeth Miller

One of the most followed crime cases of the late 1800s, Miller reexamines the brutal crime that left Lizzie Borden’s father and step-mother hacked to death with an ax, and why so many thought it was Lizzie’s doing.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson (2010 Best Books for Young Adults)

Relive the heart-racing account of the twelve-day chase and capture of John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices in this historical thriller.

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos (2003 Printz Honor Book, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults 2006, 2003 Best Books for Young Adults, 2004 Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults)

Shortly after graduating from high school, Gantos accepted an offer of $10,000 to help sail a boat full of hash from St. Croix to New York, eventually landing him in prison.

                          

The Nazi Hunters: How A Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (2014 Award for Excellence in Nonfiction)

What does it take to catch a Nazi war criminal in hiding? Sixteen years after the end of World War II, a team of undercover Israeli agents hunt and capture Adolf Eichmann, who was hiding  in a remote area of Argentina, bringing him to justice.

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin (2009 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and 2009 Best Books for Young Adults)

Examines life in incarceration and the death penalty with in-depth interviews of teenage prisoners convicted of murder and awaiting execution.

Spies of the Mississippi: The True Story of the Spy Network That Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement by Rick Bowers (2011 Finalist for Award for Excellence in Nonfiction)

Documents the activities of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission that compiled secret files on more than 87,000 private citizens with the mission of maintaining white supremacy.

                          

Can I See your I.D.?: True Stories of False Identities by Chris Barton (2012 Nonfiction Award Nomination)

A collection of ten stories of con artists, hoaxers and fugitives living under a false identity either for criminal purposes or for self-preservation.

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen

Revisit the lives and legendary misdeeds of 26 notorious women. From Delilah to Calamity Jane to gangster moll Virginia Hill, Bad Girls asks if we would still consider some of these women bad, or just a part of bad circumstances.

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby

After being shot at close range, a police officer and his family run for their lives leaving everything they know behind. A shocking and unrelenting memoir told by both the officer and his daughter as they recount the year that everything changed.

                               

Lucky by Alice Sebold (2009 Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners and 2007 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Unflinching memoir of the aftermath of being raped on a college campus, that follows the investigation and prosecution of the author’s attacker, as well as her own struggles dealing with life “after.”

In Cold Blood: A True Account of A Multiple Murder and Its Consequences by Truman Capote (2007 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

One of the top-selling true crime novels in the U.S. reconstructs a senseless murder of a Kansas farm family. With precision and empathy, Capote follows the crime that shocked a small community through its investigation to the capture, sentencing and execution of the murderers.

Columbine by David Cullen (2010 Alex Award Nomination)

A myth-busting examination of the 1999 Colorado high-school shooting massacre. Through extensive interviews and police reports, explores the big question with no easy answers, “Why did this happen?”

Podcasts

Serial

By the creators of This American Life, tells an investigative story throughout an entire twelve episode season.

 

You Must Remember This: Charlie Manson’s Hollywood

This storytelling podcast about the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. Their twelve-part series “Charlie Manson’s Hollywood” explores the murders committed in the summer of 1969 by followers of Charles Manson and the events leading up to them, and the effects they had bringing the 60’s to an end.

This American Life; The House on Loon Lake

As kids, Adam Beckman and his friends broke into an abandoned house in the 1970s to find everything perfectly preserved, creating a mystery around the family who once lived there but seemed to disappear without a trace. Later as an adult, Beckman returns to find out more about the family, only to discover he is not the only one seeking answers.

True Murder: The Most Shocking Killers in True Crime History and the Authors That Have Written About Them

Host Dan Zupansky interviews authors that have written about the most shocking killers of all time in this weekly series.

Criminal

Stories about people who have done crimes or had crimes done to them and everything crime-y in between.

 

Sword and Scale

True crime narratives that seeks to explore the human elements of some of the greatest horrors of our time.

 

Documentaries and Miniseries:

                          

Making a Murderer

This ten-part Netflix original series follows Steven Avery, a DNA exoneree. While trying to expose inept and corrupt local law enforcement, finds himself accused of a new crime.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

This six-part HBO original series examines New York real estate mogul Robert Durst, who is at the heart of three killings spanning four decades.

Capturing the Friedmans

2003 Documentary about a father and son, who seemingly typical, are  then charged with a series of horrible and shocking crimes.

                           

The Central Park Five

Filmmaker Ken Burns chronicles The Central Park Jogger case through the perspective of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.

West of Memphis

With dubious lack of proof, three nonconformist teenage boys are convicted of horrendous murders. Evidence surrounding the murders is exposed showing the wrongful conviction of three boys who lost eighteen years of their lives imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.

Also see the 1996 documentary about the case Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.

The Imposter

After disappearing without a trace in 1994, a thirteen-year-old boy is found three-and-a-half years later, thousands of miles away in Europe. The boy tells a story of kidnap and torture when he returns, but everything  is not as it seems. Is this the the boy that disappeared or an imposter?

— Danielle Jones, currently reading Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

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2016 Hub Challenge Check-In #6

Sun, 03/06/2016 - 07:00

Not signed up yet for YALSA’s 2016 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since the awards were announced counts, and the challenge runs until 11:59pm EST on June 23, so sign up now!

We are six weeks into the 2016 Hub Reading Challenge, with over 150 (and counting!) participants. I have already had some really satisfying reading experiences from the list of eligible titles. If you, like me, are still only a few titles in, do not fret! We have fifteen weeks left to read, so it’s definitely not too late to jump on board if you’re just joining us! Let us know what you’ve been reading or listening to in the comments below, and find us with the #hubchallenge hashtag on Instagram, Twitter, and the 2016 Hub Challenge Goodreads group.

 

 

This past week I finally tackled a title that’s been on my to-read list for months; Laura Ruby’s mesmerizing Bone Gap, winner of this year’s Printz Award. I’d heard only awesome things about it from sources I totally trust, but I’d been putting off reading it – something about the jacket blurb wasn’t quite hooking me, and it just never seemed like exactly what I was in the mood for. My to-read list (like yours, I’m sure!) is long enough that it can take months – or years – for me to get to those books. But this is why I love the Hub Challenge; it’s that extra little incentive to pick up a title I’ve been intending to get to but haven’t started yet. And once I did start reading Bone Gap, it only took a page for the writing to reel me in, and I couldn’t put it down, so I’m grateful for the extra push to read it now.

Also this week, I read the first three volumes of A Silent Voice by Yoshitoki Oima, the only manga on the 2016 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top Ten list. I promptly brought it back to work the following day, book-talked it, and had a student take it immediately. The premise has strong appeal for a lot of my students – one main character on the margins, another lashing out, the long-lasting repercussions of bullying and ugly behavior, the question of redemption, and motive, and forgiveness. I found myself troubled by the pivotal role suicide plays in the plot (both in the volumes recognized for the list, and later volumes), and curious to see what other readers thought of how that was portrayed. Even though I was frequently quite frustrated by many of the characters’ behavior, it’s really stayed on my mind since I finished reading, and I’m planning on finishing the series.

What have you been reading for the challenge this week?

If you’ve completed or conquered the challenge, fill out the form. Happy reading, everyone!

-Carly Pansulla, currently (re)reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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Learn From Their Mistakes: Drugs and Alcohol in YA Literature

Fri, 03/04/2016 - 07:00

Teens are growing up, learning who they are, and developing their beliefs. Some teens, or their friends and family seek alcohol or drugs to numb themselves, push down a secret, because of peer pressure, or to avoid conflict. In these YA novels, teens cope with their own addiction or the drug and alcohol abuse of family and friends. 

 

Other Broken Things by C. Desir

After doing a stint in rehab, Nat is in AA. Feel good friends and an ex-boyfriend all want her to go back to being the drunk party girl, but meeting an older man, Joe, in her meetings along with confronting turmoil at home, Nat doesn’t think she wants to go back to being the drunk, but not before she also opens up about a big secret. Desir’s novel that confronts who you were before and who you want to be after a life-altering incident.

Pearl by Deirdre Riordan Hall

This novel focuses on how substance abuse of a loved one effects the protagonist. Pearl’s mother is a drug-addicted former rock star whose biting words have hurt Pearl and poor money management has led to their homelessness. The ramifications of drug or alcohol abuse are felt emotionally and in Pearl’s case even affects her physical safety, so the far-reaching effects can connect teen readers.

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

When siblings do wrong, usually the others are inadvertently or intentionally punished for their mistakes. Peyton drives drunk and puts their family into a tailspin, so Sydney must explore who she is when all of the focus is on her ‘perfect’ brother.

Finding Hope by Colleen Nelson

Hope continues to leave notes and money for her brother Eric who has been kicked out of the house because of his meth addiction. After heading to boarding school, she works through her issues while the dual narrative uncovers that Eric is hiding a dark, explosive secret. Meth and heroin addiction are fast-moving and all-encompassing drugs so Nelson’s realistic approach to the destruction of the person and their family is moving.

Juvie by Steve Watkins

Sadie has taken the fall for her older sister, Carla, on a drug charge. But the consequences are very real and spending time in juvie challenges Sadie’s views on family, loyalty, and relationships, especially when Carla’s drug abuse got her mixed up in this. This look at the judicial system’s treatment of illegal drug activity is informative and thoughtful.

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

Eden’s world has been upended after her brother’s best friend rapes her. She turns inward, unable to tell anyone and becomes reckless, with her body and alcohol as readers follow her freshman through senior year. With an expected publication date at the end of this month, Smith’s book will be integral in showcasing the dangers of not speaking out.

Far From You by Tess Sharpe

Taking a different angle, this debut novel is more mystery than problem novel. Sophie is a recovering drug addict who was sent away to heal, but when a murder puts her sobriety into question, she’ll fight for the truth and her exoneration. Drugs are just one element of this complex story that makes readers sympathetic to a girl trying to get on track.

Whether the protagonists, parents, or siblings are struggling with addiction, it’s no secret that there is collateral damage. Exploring each character’s situation is part of the process of understanding. Each of these books can be used in reading circles to discuss the what ifs and what would you do or as a parent/teen reading group to open up a line of communication about tough issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has resources specifically for teens to learn about the dangers of substance abuse and how to get help. 

— Alicia Abdul, currently between books

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