A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the scandal at the center of this book involves an alleged affair between a teen girl and her art teacher. There is some other heavy stuff: Her sister takes pills for depression and her grandfather nearly dies. Other than that, there is a little swearing and some sweet kissing between Tola and her boyfriend.
What's the story?
Did Tola Riley have an affair with her art teacher? Tola says no, but her mother certainly thinks so, and the school board has suspended him -- and then there are the gossipy students who keep posting to a blog established just to track her scandal. Tola's got other stuff on her plate, like her grandfather's failing health, her father's new marriage, and more trouble at school due to a missing pig from science lab. She keeps painting through it all, weaving together her pain with famous fairy tales (though her art is often equally misunderstood).
Is it any good?
This book deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, but the author is able to present it in a way that won't overwhelm readers. They will certainly feel sorry for the misfit girl, but they will also be able to laugh at how absurd high school life can often be (especially when Tola must deal with nerdy boys who throw notes like, "SHOW US YOUR BOOBS!" at her table, and a boring stepfather who talks about his orthodontic patients during dinner).
Readers may get tired of all the references to fairy tales in Tola's storytelling and artwork, but other devices work well. For example, each chapter ends with "comments" from other characters, from Tola's sister to nemesis. These comments help readers piece together what really happened between Tola and her teacher, and also explain why Tola feels so alone in her life.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the TruthAboutTolaRiley.com blog. This is a Web site that Tola's nemesis starts so students can blog rumors about her. Ask your teens if this is realistic. Do you ever read rumors about other students online? This might be a good way to remind your teens about the rules of the road for social networking.
Tola is obsessed with fairy tales, and at the end even depicts herself as Rapunzel in a mural. Can you think of any other modern books or movies that are based on fairy tales? Why do we keep returning to these old stories, even in today's modern times? How does Tola's story both embrace fairy tales, and reject them?
Even though Tola says nothing happened with her teacher, do you believe her in the beginning? Why or why not? Why does Tola wait until near the end of the book to admit what really went on?
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