book review: Blow, by Jodi Lundgren

[I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher (James Lorimer) via NetGalley. A version of this review has been submitted to NetGalley and will also be posted on Goodreads.]

I am always looking for good high interest-low reading level books for my adult basic ed students. Generally, I look for a few things in these books: clear, simple writing; interesting, fast-paced storyline; characters that are easy to relate to.

Jodi Lundgren’s YA novel Blow satisfies these three requirements. I estimate the reading level to be around Grade 9/10, making it a good match for my lower literacy young adult students. The book is definitely a page-turner; I read it very quickly and found that it maintained my interest–I wanted to know what would happen next. Even though some of the plot seemed slightly farfetched and simplistic, I was willing to suspend disbelief. Finally, I found the portrayal of the narrator (a shy, naive teenager who wants to fit in with her peers) likeable and realistic.

Another reason I liked this book and would recommend it to my students is the Canadian small town setting: it takes place in Red Deer, Alberta, and contains subtle but satisfying references to Canadian culture (e.g. Tim Horton’s, the RCMP, graduated driver’s license systems). I also appreciated the author’s references to social issues like racism and racial profiling. (Some of it is a little bit heavy handed, but for better or worse, heavy handedness seems to be a common feature of high-low readers. I’m on the fence about it, because although I personally don’t love it, I recognize that at a lower reading level it appeals to students who have not yet learned sophisticated textual analysis. Heavy handedness is an effective teaching tool, in other words.)

I would definitely recommend this as a purchase for my program’s collection of high-interest/low reading level books. I probably would not use it as an assigned text, only because I think it might not appeal so much to my older students who are further away from high school age. However, I would recommend it to younger students who are looking for an individual novel study.

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