hotlantaIn case the title of this post isn’t enough, I will begin by stating that this is not a good book. The plot is both contrived and almost overwhelmingly predictable, the characters are mere caricatures of African-American Atlanta society girls, and the editing is poor. I don’t really care about any of this because RELUCTANT READER GIRLS LOVE THIS BOOK!

Hotlanta by Denene Millner and Mitzi Miller is about twin sisters who are amongst the wealthiest people in Atlanta. Sydney spends her time working on various volunteer and fund raising committees with her seemingly perfect boyfriend. Lauren leads the dance squad, tries out for dancing spots in hip-hop videos, and flirts with all the best boys. The girls were born in the projects, but now, thanks to their entrepreneurial step-father, are living like heiresses. Their biological father has been incarcerated since the girls were young. The key turning points in the plot occur when Lauren starts dating a young man from the “wrong” side of town, Sydney’s perfect boyfriend proves to be not-so-perfect, and the girls’ father is released from prison.

The plot follows the traditional urban fiction plot established by such books as Coldest Winter Ever and Bitch (surprise! the step-dad is secretly a drug lord!), but lacks the gratuitous sex and violence. There is, however, enough brand-name dropping and rich-girl backstabbing to hold the attention of younger teens who regularly read the stronger stuff, or would if they were going to read instead of living their own drama-filled lives. Think cleaner African-American Gossip Girl. So far the teens I’ve talked with have loved it, and I’ve been able to successfully recommend it to some of my toughest patrons. The teens who read this kind of book love the familiarity of story as well as being held by the suspense, and are also glad that it’s only the first in a series of three.

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Teen Activism

Does anyone out there have any successful programs promoting political awareness in teens? I know of some GREAT books, but don’t know how to generate interest. When kids complain about not having enough computers in the library or not having a skate park in the neighborhood, I always urge them to write a letter or otherwise try to DO something about it. They give me blank looks.

I just finished reading Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler, and this passage (after teen years mis-spent on the streets as a thug and then in prison, Nathan has worked hard and gotten a great job as a newspaper reporter covering city hall) resonated:

Before, whenever I heard about decisions that affected the lives of blacks, I passively assumed they were irrevocable decisions made by faceless, powerful white folks who were out of reach. Now I got to see, firsthand, how the political process worked and how white citizens stormed City Hall when they wanted to get something done.

Blacks in Portsmouth seemed light-years away from understanding that process. They seldom organized and went to City Hall, mainly because they doubted it would make a difference. As a result, they were always reacting after the fact, always protesting after some historic black school had been closed or some right infringed upon– all because they hadn’t been at City Hall when the deals went down.

Substitute the word “blacks” with “teens” and the excerpt rings very true for the teens in my area. Baltimore is a city which needs to offer a lot more to its youth (even beyond safe streets, which it clearly lacks). It is also a small enough city that a united group of teens from one area of town could make a big difference. Is there a way to open their eyes to their latent power of change without actually giving them a cause (I certainly wouldn’t want to project my own agendas on to them)? Has anyone started an activism club, or a “improve our neighborhood” club? Please let me know!