Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

For this year’s summer school novel, I picked Nancy Werlin’s Black Mirror.  This is a gripping, young adult mystery novel that I find myself coming back to time and time again.  I have used it in my ninth grade English classroom and in summer school sessions with both ninth and tenth graders who are reluctant readers.  Written on about a seventh grade level, I would recommend this novel for high school students in ninth grade who struggle with reading or reading motivation.

Black Mirror tells the story of Frances Leventhal, an awkward, self-conscience teenage girl attending a prestigious, private preparatory school on scholarship.  From the start of the novel, readers find out that her older brother, Daniel, has died of a drug overdose.  As the story unfolds, readers watch as Frances struggles with her identity and the loss of her brother.  With each turn of the page, readers will speculate about who was involved in the events that led to Daniels death.  Was it suicide or murder?  If it was suicide, why?  If it was murder, who did it?  

The subject matter in this 250

 page novel is a bit mature for a middle school audience.  It deals with drugs and has a bit of unnecessary profanity. However, it is fine for a ninth grade reader and beyond, in my humble opinion.  This is a mystery novel that will keep young readers turning the page.  Werlin ingeniously ended many of the chapters with exciting cliffhangers, leaving students asking if we could read just one more chapter before the end of class. As a teacher, I can’t ask for more than that kind of enthusiasm, especially from reluctant readers. If you are looking for a unique, contemporary mystery combined with a coming of age novel, this might be the right pick for you.  

Check out the ELA Lessons section for lesson ideas for this novel.  (Coming soon!)

Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

What I am reading…

About a week ago, I was wide awake and searching my bookshelf for a book to take to bed with me.  It was about 10pm, and I figured I would be asleep after a chapter or so.  My pick?  Mountain Whippoorwill by Suellen Holland.  Published in 1985, this is an oldie but a goody.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the old, tattered copy of this short novel on my shelf.  Having read it tons of times when I was a young girl, I thought it would be a fun read down memory lane.

Mountain Whippoorwill tells the story of Tara, a teenage girl who lives with her bad-tempered, widower father in the Ozarks.  A budding fiddle player, Tara is coming into her own as she comes of age.  Readers watch her as she accompanies her teacher, and neighbor, to bluegrass jamborees where she overcomes her nerves to play and wow the crowds.  Her coming of age is further developed when she meets Dusty, a fellow musician.  As Tara learns more about herself and her music, she gains confidence and falls in love with Dusty.  As the story unfolds, Tara faces embarrassing teenage moments and more loss in her life.  Her triumphs prevail, however, and the story ends on a high note.

Throughout this beautiful story, Holland weaves the lines of “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” a poem by Steven Vincent Benet.  She describes the musical moments and brings the musicians to life.  If you listen hard, you can almost hear the music coming off the pages of this beautifully written story.  I highly recommend this novel, which I stayed up half the night to read again.  It is hard to put down, and it will leave your feeling warm and good about the world.

Mountain Whippoorwill by Suellen Holland