Sixteen (Short Stories By Outstanding Writers For Young Adults) Edited By Donald R. Gallo

Their impressions radiate through an emotional prism of hope and hate, love and death, despair and joy…

Check out the Murderer’s Row of authors featured in this collection: Joan Aiken, Judie Angell, Robin F. Brancato, Robert Cormier, Diane Duane, Bette Greene, Rosa Guy, M.E. Kerr, Robert Lipsyte, Kevin Major, both Mazers, Richard Peck, Susan Beth Pfeffer, Ouida Sebestyen and Marjorie Sharmat.

We’re only missing Judy Blume and Norma Klein!

It is clear that this book was intended for use in high school English classes (the cover looks familiar enough that I suspect there were still copies hanging around in the uh… less rigorous classrooms at my high school); hence, it includes an introduction explaining how this is a book of short stories for TODAY’S YOUTH and deals with many important THEMES and ISSUES. It also includes a blurb preceding each story, informing the reader exactly which THEMES and ISSUES are about to be presented (“Kids from single-parent homes may sometimes have more difficulties than other kids.”) Each story is then followed by an rather extensive biography of the author, highlighting their expertise of the specific THEMES and ISSUES (“After teaching English to high school students in Hackensack, New Jersey, and raising two adolescents of her own, Robin Brancato knows teen-agers.”) And finally, just to be sure you’re getting it, there is a section of short-answer questions that you write out and turn in for extra credit by the end of the week (“Are Jack and Dottie really in love? How can you tell?)

As usual for these collections, the stories vary wildly in quality and content and there are sixteen of them so we should really get started:

“I, Hungry Hannah Cassandra Glen…” By Norma Fox Mazer

In a bold move, right out of the box we start with Norma Mazer and desperate poverty in Buffalo, NY, as young teenagers Hannah and Crow scheme to get themselves invited to a neighbor’s funeral repast because they are literally starving. After dutifully attending the service, the lurk around the widow’s apartment waiting for the limousines to show up so that they may invite themselves in, and casually contemplate suicide to alleviate their hunger (Crow has like eight siblings, and his father was cut down to half-time at the chemical plant, Hannah’s single mom was laid off from the paper-bag factory) and make out their wills. Getting by the widow’s suspicious sister, they gleefully fill their pockets with cold cuts.

Extra Credit Question:

Write a description of someone you know, using similes to describe that person’s looks and mannerisms.

“May I Have Your Autograph?” By Marjorie Sharmat

Sharmat’s I Saw Him First remains one of my least-loved titles that I’ve reviewed here, and this story is definitely in that vein. Wacky without actually being funny, it is narrated from the point of view of Rosalind, whose BFF, Wendy, has drug her along on an excursion to stalk her favorite Punk Rock star, the notoriously elusive Craig the Cat:

On the album jacket, Craig is wearing a black cat costume and he’s sitting on a garbage pail with a bottle of spilled milk beside him. He is holding his guitar in his long, furry arms.

So, Brian Setzer with Morrisey’s temperament and KISS’s makeup? Yeah, that sounds like something an adult would think of.

Wendy is successful in her quest.

Extra Credit Question:

Write a story about an adventure you had with one of your friends. Try to choose something that reveals some aspect of your friendship with each other.

“Midnight Snack” By Diane Duane

 There are literal unicorns living in the New York City subway system. Beth and Jerry go dumpster diving at Shop Rite and feed them because they do not have adequate adult supervision.

 Extra Credit Question: 

What is the relationship between Beth and Jerry at the beginning of the story? How has it changed by the end of the story? What exactly has caused that change?

“Pigeon Humor” By Susan Beth Pfeffer

Tracy’s father dropped dead in his girlfriend’s apartment, taking the easy way out of a messy divorce. After the funeral, Tracy goes to spend the night with her aunt and uncle, and goes to her worshipful younger cousin’s band concert:

The second number, unfortunately, was something else again. It favored violins, and an entire chorus of off-tune kids. It took a few moments for Tracy to realize what song they were mangling, and then it came to her. “Yesterday.”

The performance is so hilariously bad that Tracy can’t stop laughing, and tries to cover for it by saying that she just got the lame pigeon-based joke her uncle had told hours earlier.

Extra Credit Question:

Why does Tracy have mixed feelings about her father’s death?

“Priscilla And The Wimps” By Richard Peck

So, this was my favorite in the collection, probably because it is the first story in the collection to actually have a story, instead of just being a description of some things that happened.

Narrated by a student at what appears to be RATSO LUV CHARLEEN HS, which is terrorized by Klutter’s Kobras, a gang lead by (who else?) Monk Klutter, shaking the weaker students down for money for “hall passes.” Klutter makes the mistake of roughing up Melvin Detweiler, the runty BFF of Amazonian Priscilla Roseberry (“I’m not talking fat. I’m talking big. Even beautiful, in a bionic way”) after class one afternoon when the faculty has fled the building for the day. Priscilla stuffs Monk into his own locker and:

This is where fate, an even bigger force than Pricilla, steps in. It snows all that night, a blizzard. The whole town ices up. And school closes for a week.

DUDE! DARK!!!!

Extra Credit Question:

What do you think eventually happened to Monk?

UH, OBVIOUSLY HE DIED A GRUESOME DEATH, ENTOMBED IN HIS OWN LOCKER UNTIL HIS CORPSE STANK UP RATSO LUV CHARLEEN HIGH ENOUGH FOR ANYONE TO CARE!!!!

“Welcome” By Ouida Sebestyen

Teeanged Tina endures a long car trip with her mother and aunt to visit the rural home of her father’s elderly aunt and her mentally-disabled adult son, it slowly emerges that Tina’s parents are divorcing and the class tensions that led up to the situation.

Extra Credit Question:

In what part of the country does this story take place? What details lead you to this conclusion?

“Future Tense” By Robert Lipsyte

Gary, the smuggest writer in his 10th grade English class is baffled when he can’t impress the new teacher, Mr. Smith. He starts turning in more and more ridiculous stories about how Mr. Smith is a space alien, part of an advance party to conquer the earth. Unable to get a rise out of Mr. Smith, Gary becomes convinced that he has inadvertently stumbled across the truth…

Extra Credit Question:

Some people enjoy reading science fiction a lot; others hate it. What makes you like it or not like it?

“Turmoil In A Blue And Beige Bedroom” By Judie Angell

Dramatic monologue while waiting for a telephone call; the format dates back at least to Dorothy Parker, and turns up frequently in these anthologies and teen magazines. This time the narrator is waiting for a boy to call her for a date to a party, but all of her friends keep tying up the line announcing that they’re going stag.

Extra Credit Question:

Of what significance is the color of the room?

“Furlough- 1944” By Harry Mazer

 On leave before being deployed to Europe, Airman Jack has to decide whether or not to GO ALL THE WAY with the girl he had met on vacation the previous summer.

Extra Credit Question:

What objects, expressions, and events in this story are characteristic of the 1940s?

“Do You Want My Opinion?” By M.E. Kerr

 Some of Kerr’s loopy humor is preserved in this speculative piece about a society in which there aren’t any taboos on teenagers getting sexually involved- instead it’s getting intellectually involved that is forbidden, making high school aged John crazy with desire for all of the deep conversations he wants to have with every girl in school about Salinger, Soviet-American relations and Picasso’s work.

Extra Credit Question:

At what point in the story did you realize it takes place in a future time?

“Fourth of July” By Robin F. Brancato

My second-fave in the collection, in which 16 year old Chuck has been stuck working late at the local filling station during the town’s 4th of July celebration, desperately trying to save up enough to buy a car of his own. His girlfriend, Kate, and his BFF, Bobby, stop by and it is revealed that his rich-kid classmate, Jack, had stolen his savings the previous year, and despite a long record, had been let off by the judge. Now Jack’s back in town, and Bobby urges him to settle the score, while Kate tries to convince him to avoid him at all costs.

As Chuck is closing up the shop, Jack pulls up in a brand new car, demanding that Chuck fill up the tank. Chuck fakes the fill-up, and contemplates throwing a lit M-80 into the open window of Jack’s car as he pulls away, but cooler heads prevail, and he settles for letting him run out of gas on a rural highway.

Extra Credit Question:

How does the date of the 4th of July contribute to the story? How does the date become symbolic?

“Three People And Two Seats” By Kevin Major

Dave is picked up by a standing-room only Greyhound in the middle of the night, until two pre-teen delinquents offer to share their seat, chain smoking the whole time and bragging about how they gave their English teacher a nervous breakdown in two weeks. BIG REVEAL: Dave is revealed to be an English teacher who also could not hack it. He tears up his business card in an act of symbolism.

Extra Credit Question:

By the time the bus reaches Gander, Dave has made a decision. How do you know what that decision is, and what led him to that decision?

“An Ordinary Woman” By Bette Greene

Mrs. Brooks is waiting for a locksmith to arrive to change all of her locks after her junkie daughter set the house on fire and ran away. The locksmith turns out to be a former student who remembers her fondly.

Extra Credit Question:

Do you think Mrs. Brooks has failed as a mother?

“The Gift-Giving” By Joan Aiken

There is one in every collection: the baffling allegory! This one is about a primitive society in which a blind woman send her sons to the four corners of the globe, when they return with gifts she is able to perfectly describe each item. When her favorite son dies she loses this power. When his niece carves a very complicate flute and plays his favorite tune, she regains it.

Extra Credit Question:

In what way is this story different from the others in this collection?

“She” By Rosa Guy

Nerdy West Indies teen Gogi has a contentious relationship with her U.S.-born stepmother, Dorine, who favors her older sister; she copes by hiding in the bathroom reading sci-fi magazines. One night she doesn’t realize she has been doing so until 1 am and Dorine has been laying in wait to make her do chores all night.

Extra Credit Question:

What expressions and feelings of the characters are possibly characteristic of people from the West Indies?

“In The Heat” By Robert Cormier

 Cormier is clearly considered the prestige author in this collection. His story is about having a dead mom, and was apparently so unremarkable I did not underline a single passage.

Extra Credit Question:

Death is one of the saddest events we can experience. How does Cormier convey the sadness in this story?

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9 Responses to Sixteen (Short Stories By Outstanding Writers For Young Adults) Edited By Donald R. Gallo

  1. Anonymous says:

    1. Discussion questions ruin everything.
    2. So, I love Diane Duane, and from checking out her website it looks like you got the expurgated version of her story, and probably all the others as well.

    • Uly says:

      Whoops that’s me.

      • mondomolly says:

        Interesting! I haven’t read any of Duane’s other work. The introduction makes a huge deal about how (with the exception of one non-specified story) these are all original for the anthology, but (going by the note below)I wonder how many got revised and republished in the subsequent 30+ years. I really feel like that this collection doesn’t show of the authors to their best advantage for the most part.

  2. Sheesh says:

    I remember that M E Kerr story from Seventeen. It struck me as OH LOOK SO QUIRKY as her writing sometimes does.

    • mondomolly says:

      OH, I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN. I generally like Kerr’s work, but when I read I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me all I could think was “Stop with the NAMES already!!!!”

      Unfortunately, this story doesn’t really have enough room for anything but quirkiness.

  3. The girl in “Pigeon Humor”, I couldn’t believe she was a teenager. She had the mindset of a ten-year-old.

    • mondomolly says:

      It’s a weird story, and funny in a way I couldn’t fully get into in a few sentences! Having seen more than a few grade-school concerts, I did love the description of suddenly realizing that it was “Yesterday” they were supposedly playing 😉

  4. Kitty says:

    I have been haunted by that Richard Peck story since I was a teen myself. I did assume that the kid died of dehydration in that locker before school reopened. DARK INDEED.

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