CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 6. . . .December 6, 2013
The latest addition to the “HIP Edge” high interest/low vocabulary series, Sizzle, by Joan Axelrod-Contrada, struggles to balance accessibility with subject matter appropriate for a teenage reader. Sizzle is the story of 15-year-old Free whose flirtation with her 25-year-old guitar teacher, Trip, quickly leads to an unplanned pregnancy and forces Free to make a difficult decision. Novels in the “HIP Edge” series all follow the same format: the books are all about 112 pages long with one illustration per chapter and have readability level of grade 2.0-3.5. In executing this format, the novel creates an odd juxtaposition of an immature-feeling book with mature content.
The issues in the structure and style of Sizzle are noticeable in several ways. Firstly, the author’s attempt to provide information quickly and clearly often results in narration that feels forced and inauthentic, as seen in the mention of Free’s mother in the above excerpt. There is also the questionable decision of the author to try something edgy by inserting bracketed phrases in capital letters to reinforce Free’s emotions. For example, “I brush my hip (HIP!) against his leg (LEG!).” This strategy may facilitate the reader’s analysis when the teacher’s guide asks students to think about why the author chose this technique. However, this insertion during reading often seems forced and irritating. Finally, there are also issues with the childish design of the illustrations. The style of illustration may be off-putting because the design feels closer to illustrations found in a junior novel than the trends currently seen in graphic novels intended for adolescent or adult readers. Overall, these factors make the novel feel immature for the intended readers.
The strength in this novel’s appeal to adolescents may be its treatment of adolescent sexuality. Sizzle contains detailed descriptions of the affair between Free and Trip that give the story the edgy, mature quality many teens are looking for without being overly explicit. However, in its treatment of sexuality and teen pregnancy, it does seem to promote the sexist attitude that girls bring their problems on themselves. This is seen when Free is first trying to attract Trip’s attention by wearing revealing clothing. Foreshadowing what will happen, Free’s dad states, “A girl dressed like that can get herself into trouble.” Later, when Free comes home after an abortion, her father says, “I warned you about the way you dressed. But did you listen to me? No!” Free questions her father’s rationale but does not adequately address the stereotype. This has the effect of seeming to propagate the “asking for it” myth instead of reinforcing the multilayered circumstances.
As mentioned above, Sizzle is available with a 20-page teacher’s guide. The teacher’s guide provides a few pages of rationale for the format of the series that correlates with research on reluctant or striving readers. The guide also provides 13 worksheets with before, during, and after reading questions, along with some basic graphic organizers and extension activities. The guide is a nice addition to the novel and would be helpful for students working with this novel independently.
Overall, Sizzle may be a useful tool in classrooms working with reluctant readers, but it may not find the same level of success in sparking a passion for reading among striving and reluctant readers.
Recommended with reservations.
Beth Wilcox, a graduate from the MA in Children’s Literature program at the University of British Columbia, is currently teaching in Prince George, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.