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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Nonfiction Roundup

Our first review today is an account of the happenings at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during the five days after Hurricane Katrina. I will let you read the review for the details, but keep in mind that not only is this a compelling survival story, it is also a model of great and exhaustive research and journalism. In a New York Times Arts Beat interview, Fink was asked how she was able to recreate those days without being there herself. She replied,

“I spoke with hundreds of people, including those who were at the hospital, law enforcement officials, families of the dead, and experts. I collected materials created during the disaster and subsequent investigation — photographs, videotapes, e-mails, notes, diaries and interview transcripts. Some fantastic news stories, reports and books by others were also helpful, as were products like weather reports, architectural floor plans, and electrical diagrams of the hospital, and of course, I visited the sites where the events took place.”

The moral and practical dilemmas faced by the doctors, nurses and other staff landed some of them in legal trouble, and Fink’s account moves from survival story to courtroom drama. Severe weather and the resulting human disasters are becoming more common, so disaster preparedness and management are not issues foreign to teens. 

The next review is about a little-known American scientist, Mary Sherman Morgan. Rocket Girls, a biography written by her son, covers both an important period in the space race and reveals the conditions under which a woman scientist worked in the mid-twentieth century. For example, at North American Aviation Morgan was the only woman among 900 engineers! There is also the family story — her son only found out about his mother’s past as a scientist after her death. Consider handing this one to readers who enjoyed Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin.

Amir Ahmad Nasr is a popular Islamic blogger. In My Isl@m, he writes about discovering the Internet; he writes that blogging “expanded my worldview, ignited my passion and molded my core identity into that of an activist.” It introduced him to beliefs beyond his fundamentalist upbringing. Listen to Nasr talk about his book, or read his blog. His blog introduction begins, “Hi, my name is Amir. I write about how tech-savvy misfits and rebels are hacking business, culture, religion and politics.” In other words, he is using social media to change the world.

FINK, Sheri. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. Crown: Random House. 432p. diag. index. notes. 2013. Tr $26. ISBN 9780307718969; ebk. ISBN 9780307718983. LC 2013019693.  Five Days Memorial

High School/Adult–Hurricane Katrina demonstrated no sense of discretion as she ripped through a city both proud and vulnerable. Flood waters surrounded homes, jails, and hospitals alike. Memorial Hospital had been standing in uptown New Orleans since 1926, nursing the sick and saving lives, but the aftermath of the hurricane left it crippled, without power and surrounded by water. Loss of electricity means so much more than no lights. The elevators didn’t work, so staff carried patients up and down dark stairwells. The air conditioning didn’t work; everyone sweltered in the New Orleans heat and humidity. Ventilators didn’t work. Incubators didn’t work. Toilets wouldn’t flush. Evacuation was essential, except that the entire city was in crisis.  Fink spent years researching those terrible days at Memorial. There were countless heroic deeds as hospital staff carried patients up to the heliport, stood in their rooms and fanned them for hours, and ventilated them by hand through the long, frightening nights. But all of this is overshadowed by the decision to “leave no patients alive,” with the terrible implication that some critically ill patients might need to be hastened to their death. Fink leaves no moral argument unexplored. Again and again, readers are forced to contemplate the boundaries of human caregiving, to find concrete guidelines for “heroic measures” and “mercy killing.” Teens with an interest in a medical or legal career will find this book fascinating. Recommend it to nonfiction fans and to those with an interest in Hurricane Katrina as well.–Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN

MORGAN, George D. Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist . 250p. photos. Prometheus. 2013. pap. $18. ISBN 9781616147396.  Rocket Girl

Adult/High School–Only recently has the world become aware of the significant contribution of one woman who created the fuel used to power the first U.S. satellite into space in 1958. Mary Sherman Morgan survived a harsh upbringing in the 1930s on a farm in Ray, South Dakota. Taking a huge risk, she left her family to move to Ohio to attend college. After only a few semesters and very short on money, she was recruited to work as a chemist in a factory manufacturing explosives for the war effort. She ultimately became an engineer at North American Aviation, which had been given a government contract to find a suitable rocket fuel for launching satellites into space. Her work was top secret and almost invisible. At her funeral, her son talked with some of her colleagues who gave her full credit for inventing the rocket fuel hydyne. He started investigating and, while there is little hard documentation, he was able to write a play about his mother for the theater program at Cal Tech and, subsequently, this book. For teens who grew up reading Homer Hickam’s Rocket Boys (S & S, 2006) and October Sky (Dell, 1999), Rocket Girl provides insights on many levels. Mad Men views on women in the workplace were prevalent, and Mary Sherman Morgan continually bumped up against them. Despite her success, she never received the recognition accorded her male counterparts. This book grants her some of that recognition. Teens interested in expanding their knowledge of the early years of the U.S. space program will enjoy it.–Vicki Emery, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Fairfax County, VA

NASR, Amir Ahmad. My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind and Doubt Freed My Soul. 336p. notes. St. Martin’s. 2013. Tr $26.99. ISBN 978125001679-9. LC 2013004044.  My Islam

Adult/High School–Born in 1986 in Sudan, of Afro-Arab heritage, Nasr writes a vital, vibrant, and intellectually refreshing account of his journey from fundamentalism to freedom of thought. The book is “part memoir, part manifesto for liberty,” and readers easily go along for the personal/sociopolitical ride. The author grew up in the Arab nation of Qatar, where fundamentalism was a matter of course. Moving to multicultural Malaysia in 1997, he was encouraged to question but still clung to his fundamentalist belief system out of fear. In 2006, at the age of 20, he stumbled upon blogs by Arab dissidents–Jews against the Iraq war (something that in his mind was not at all possible due to his anti-Semitic indoctrination)–and other heretics. His carefully confined and constructed world was blown apart. He began his own blog. He writes, “the opportunity to speak freely and anonymously enabled me to shed my limiting social conditioning around taboo matters.” Teens will love the honestly articulated details and experiences that brought Nasr to his own truth about religion, politics, identity, culture, and current world issues. He writes about the Tunisian revolution in 2010 that ousted dictator Ben Ali and the Egyptian protests in 2011 that resulted in the resignation of dictator Mubarak. Both protests were successful due to youth involvement and social media, inspiring protests around the world, including the Occupy movement in America. Teens will be eager to read other book suggestions included in the text and pursue more learning and understanding.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.