In addition to being a journalist, Patricia McCormick is also a writer. Until 1999, when her first novel Cut debuted, she was a journalist. She has written for numerous periodical publications including The New York Times, Parents Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. Her first novel, which was reviewed in my previous blog, is about a 13 year old girl who self-harms. She has written three other novels since then: My Brother’s Keeper, about a boy struggling with his brother’s drug addiction, published in 2005; Sold, about a 13 year old Nepalian girl who becomes a victim of human trafficking—being sold into prostitution, published in 2006; and Purple Heart, about a man who is honoured with a Purple Heart but does not feel that he deserves it, published in 2010. All her novels are realistic fiction, and her stories bring these very real-life issues to the forefront.
The topics McCormick addresses through her novels allow teachers to make connections with real-life events and news in addition to further developing reading and writing skills. Although the reading level of these novels is most appropriate for grades 7 or 8, I would also ask myself if the material is age appropriate. I believe that Sold would be more appropriate as a grade 9 or 10 novel at the college (applied) level even though they would be readable to students in intermediate school. Using these novels in essential (remedial) high school classes would be high interest to the students; however, it would require more teacher direction since their reading ability is weaker.
Even though you or I as the teacher may not think the novel is inappropriate, there will be parents with different values and beliefs concerning when such controversial or serious issues should be presented to their children. If you are doing a choice novel study, I highly advocate using a parent permission form to ensure that the parent is okay with the selection their child has made. Here is one of the forms (novelpermission) that I use in my grade 11 English class since several of the novels have controversial content or profanity. I have not ever had a parent complain about one of these novels while using this form. When they receive this communication, they get an idea of what the novel is about and how it has educational merit; thus, instead of objecting to the content that their child talks about at the dinner table, they already know that what is being read has an educational purpose. If you are doing a group novel study, where the whole class is studying the same novel, it could be problematic to chose a novel with possibly objectionable material; if you have a parent who objects, you may be required to provide an alternate novel study for that student. I have seen this happen several times so far in my teaching career.