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Bad Apple

School scandal story for teens is solid at its core.

What parents need to know

Educational value
Not applicable
Positive messages

There is a good cautionary message to teens about how hurtful rumors can be (and that you shouldn't believe everything you read).

Positive role models

Tola is not exactly a happy, well-adjusted teenager, but readers can learn something about her willingness to keep going amid all the rumors -- and her willingness to pursue her art even amid criticism.

Violence

Tola gets into a phyiscal confrontation with her nemesis, but it doesn't get too much past threats. Her grandfather nearly dies.

Sex

Some kissing. Main character is accused of having an affair with her art teacher.

Language

Words like "boobs" or "asshole" here and there.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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. 

Parents say

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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?

QUALITY

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. 

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Laura Ruby
Genre:Coming of Age
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperTeen
Publication date:October 6, 2009
Number of pages:256

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Kid, 12 years old June 16, 2011

Great Book

This is a pretty good book if you like stories like Rapunzel or Rumpilstilsken and so on..... I LOVED IT
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing