2008 Edition Cover of WHAT'S IN A NAME by Ellen Wittlinger

2008 Edition Cover of WHAT’S IN A NAME by Ellen Wittlinger

These reviews have been copied from the New York Public Library’s Website – http://www.nypl.org


Publishers Weekly

PW Reviews 2000 February #1

Wittlinger (Hard Love) convincingly creates 10 distinct teen voices, each of which takes a turn narrating a chapter. While the chapters offer readers only a glimpse of each character, several of them feature in the other teens’ accounts, and bittersweet, even piercing musings run through many of the narratives (“It’s as if my emotions are twice the size of normal people’s,” says one character, pained by unrequited love. “I’m the Arnold Schwarzenegger of sensitivity”). The vignettes rally around a rather tenuous theme everyone in Scrub Harbor is caught up in a war over the town’s name. The wealthy population, the “Follys,” wants to change it to the more elegant Folly Bay, hoping to add value to their real estate; the poorer families, the “Scrubs,” want to maintain their traditions. Yet the teens’ cogent reflections fortify the volume. They reveal what runs deeper than their “Folly” or “Scrub” moniker. The dialogue can feel like forced teen-speak in spots (“You talk like a frigging moron. Get a life, why don’tcha,” the football star yells at his younger brother), but readers will likely respond to the realism of both the characters and their dilemmas. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

PW Reviews 2001 November #3

Wittlinger writes in 10 distinct teen voices for this story about a town’s war over what to call itself; the sides divide along class lines. “Readers will likely respond to the realism of both the characters and their dilemmas,” said PW. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)n Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

School Library Journal

SLJ Reviews 2000 February

Gr 7 Up-A subtle and completely realistic novel told in multiple voices. What starts out as a quest to change a small town’s name turns into personal journeys of self-discovery for 10 teens. The ongoing debate about which name is best for the town, Scrub Harbor or Folly Bay, lightly overlays the main story line, while the characters struggle to hold their lives together and figure out who they really are. One boy faces the fact that he is gay and chooses to “come out” via a poem published in the school literary magazine, while his football-star jock of an older brother is forced to deal with being irrevocably linked to his brother. An angry girl thaws with the help of a Brazilian exchange student, who in turn realizes that the language barrier helps rather than hinders his understanding of humans in general, and himself in particular. A transferring senior realizes that he isn’t the popular boy he used to be at his old school, and must reinvent himself to find his place in Scrub Harbor. The fact that these teens are all struggling to find out who they are, and that everybody is constantly in flux, becomes the main theme that links all of these seemingly unconnected narrative threads together. The teenagers are compelling, and there’s more depth to them and the story than readers might expect from the simplistic title.- Linda Bindner, formerly at Athens Clarke County Library, GA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.


Booklist Monthly Selections – #1 January 2000

Gr. 7^-10. Like Wittlinger’s novels Lombardo’s Law (1993) and Hard Love, a Booklist 1999 Editors’ Choice, these 10 connected short stories dramatize serious identity issues in a sharp, funny, touching contemporary narrative. Each short story is told by a different teenager at suburban Scrub Harbor High School, and the voices personalize complex issues of class, family, race, and sexual orientation. There’s sophomore O’Neill, who stops lying to himself and publicly admits he’s gay; yes, it helps, but it’s also difficult (“Are you sure?” his older brother, a football star, asks). And there’s Nelson, the popular black senior who tries unsuccessfully to connect with Shaquanda, a black girl bused to the school from the city. It’s revealing to read Shaquanda’s point of view about class, which follows Nelson’s (“Skin color is not the only thing”). What Wittlinger does is show you the stereotypes from the outside–prom queen, football star, computer nerd, immigrant kid, etc.–and then take you up close as the characters tell their own stories and reveal their yearning and difficulties. ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2000)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

The Horn Book

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2000 Fall

Each of the ten chapters in this thoughtfully structured novel is narrated by a different high-school student in Scrub Harbor–a town divided over a possible name change. The town’s identity crisis is a nifty backdrop for the novel’s main focus: each narrator’s own crisis of identity. Wittlinger’s characters struggle with who they are, discovering (or guessing) how others see them while figuring out how they see themselves in this intriguing, complex, and believable novel. Copyright 2000 Horn Book Guide Reviews

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2000 #2

Change is the name of the game in this thoughtfully structured novel. Each of the ten chapters is narrated by a different high-school student in Scrub Harbor-a town divided over a possible name change. “It’s not just a name-it’s an identity!” goes the slogan of those favoring the more real-estate-friendly “Folly Bay.” The town’s identity crisis is a nifty backdrop for the novel’s main focus: each narrator’s own crisis of identity. Wittlinger’s characters struggle with who they are-discovering (or guessing) how others see them while figuring out how they see themselves. In the process, they reveal their feelings about change-in circumstances and in their identities-and attitudes range from dread to anticipation to life-sucks-now-so-what-the-hell. Readers accumulate knowledge (and gossip) as the chapters progress, gathering people’s opinions of each character along with the individual’s own view of him- or herself. Throughout, each narrator’s experiences affect other people’s: when fifteen-year-old O’Neill decides to come storming out of the closet, his brother Quincy gains a new identity as “the football player with the in-your-face gay brother.” In a clever conceit, characters’ remarks about the town name-change may also be read as commentary on people. When new-kid Adam says, “It’s still the same place no matter what you call it,” he may as well be talking about O’Neill, who is still essentially the same person he’s always been, despite his new label. And when Quincy’s girlfriend Gretchen thinks, “The town was more than its name, wasn’t it?” she could be referring to any of the narrators, who all realize they are more than whatever they’ve been labeled. Male, female, gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor, popular, geeky, immigrant, exchange student-all bases are covered, but in an intriguing, complex, and believable manner that will keep readers engrossed. j.m.b. Copyright 2000 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

VOYA Reviews 2000 April

Asked to decide whether to change the town’s name, residents of Scrub Harbor weigh this identity issue while teenagers in this ocean-side suburb of Boston also search for their identities. Ten characters share their stories in individual chapters.Gorgeous country-clubber Gretchen dates Quincy, co-captain of the football team. While her mother spearheads the town’s name change, Gretchen slowly discovers that she wants to become her own person and not follow in her mother’s footsteps. O’Neillis just the opposite of Quincy, his older brother. Slight, bookish, and gay, O’Neill comes out by writing a poem that he posts outside the principal’s office. Biracial Nelson is from one of the few black families in Scrub Harbor. An honors student ontrack for Harvard, Nelson tutors Shaquanda, a black girl from Boston’s inner city and one of several urban students bused into Scrub Harbor. Although the reader has only a glimpse of each character who seems to represent a particular group of people, the characters are stock rather than stereotypes. Their stories intertwine much like those of the characters in Judith Ortiz Cofer’scollection An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio (Orchard, 1995/VOYA August 1995) but lack the depth that could make them memorable. Their emotions, however, ring true.-Mary Ann Capan. Copyright 2000 Voya Reviews

One thought on “What’s in a Name

  1. Pingback: What’s in a Name | Queer Young Adult Literature

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