04 September, 2013

Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills - Review and Recipe


Thanks to Claudia Mills and FSG for inviting me to kick off the Zero Tolerance blog tour!
Make sure you check out Claudia's guest post and giveaway, too. 


Publication date: 18 June 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN 10/13: 0374333122 | 9780374333126



Category: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Keywords: School controversy, friendship, family, values, morality
Format: Hardcover, eBook
Source: Library; Netgalley


Synopsis:

Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother's lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school's ironclad no weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who's known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he's not the person she assumed he would be--and that the lines between good and bad aren't as clear as she once thought. Claudia Mills brings another compelling school story to life with Zero Tolerance.

Review:

I was initially drawn to read this by the great cover art by Vera Brosgol (author-illustrator of Anya's Ghost -- note, not all her artwork is SFW ;) Sierra's worried brows striking just the right gesture of uncertainty towards the green apple on top of her head, William Tell-style, with the subtle background behind her forming a target. The symbolism of the apple is so clever--not just its part in setting off the events in the book, but also the reference to apples for teachers, that iconic fruit for teacher's pets. I started this late one night and finished around 3 am, earning it the Stay up all night rating!

Careful plotting and great characters are what make this middle grade novel by Claudia Mills so compelling to read. The book centers not necessarily around the zero tolerance policy that Sierra unwittingly breaks, but around the idea that right and wrong aren't always clearly defined. For a goody-two-shoes like Sierra and the other good girls she hangs around with, everything seems black-and-white... until she gets suspended and put on a track towards expulsion.

Her perspective shaken off its axis, Sierra starts to see people differently: Mr. Besser, the school principal she had previously viewed with an almost worshipful eye; her lawyer dad, who might not be handling the situation in a completely above-board way; and her friends, especially a cute boy named Colin who sticks up for her, but maybe not for the reasons she wishes he would. Then there's the hyperactive Luke, perennially suspended but not exactly bad-to-the-bone. Sierra starts to make impulsive, spiteful decisions she will later regret. As the consequences start to pile up, she needs to re-balance her views of good and bad if she is ever going to be able to make things right again.

There are a couple of words used that might make this objectionable for parents (assuming it's assigned for school reading), however I think Sierra's attitude towards swearing and how it changes throughout the book is a great way to broach the topic with tweens and younger teens (who, lets face it, probably swear a lot more than their parents think they do). Counterbalance that analysis with the school's creed: RULES - RESPECT - RESPONSIBILITY - RELIABILITY, and you've got quite a lot to talk about. The author provides a discussion guide with activity ideas on her website. 

I think this would make a great family tv-movie. Nick Offerman would make a great Mr. Besser; Joel McHale and Alison Brie could play Sierra's dad and mom. I don't know of any young actresses that could really pull off the various emotions and attitudes that Sierra goes through, do you?

Lastly, Sierra's mom keeps trying to keep her spirits up. She's affectionate and loving, but most noticeably (as most good moms do) she keeps feeding Sierra comfort foods. As the book goes on and Sierra becomes more and more disgusted by her own actions, she develops aversions to particular foods. I can't say I blame her! If only she hadn't brought that knife to school by accident... So below, I've included some ideas for apple nachos--if you're a kid, have an adult help you with the chopping and heating parts. You can vary the amounts as you wish, but for a lot of the toppings just a tablespoon of each will do. Recipes for the sauces follow. I'll try to update this post with more photos when I can make the other variations. And please, remember to leave the knife at home!

Enjoy!


Apple Nachos


"The Sweet Sierra"

Ingredients:
An apple, any variety
A lemon
Assorted toppings

Equipment:
A knife
A cutting board
A mixing bowl
A serving plate (or a container with an air-tight lid if you're taking it to school)

Makes 1-2 servings

  1. Wash and dry an apple. You can peel the skin off if you want to, but I like to keep it on unless it's a variety that has a bitter or waxy skin. 
  2. With an adult's help, chop the apple into quarters. Carefully cut out the core with the stem and seeds, then slice each quarter into thinner slices. These are your "chips".
  3. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl.
  4. Toss the apple chips in the lemon juice and let them soak for a minute. This will stop them from turning brown right away. Drain and pat the apple chips dry with a paper towel.
  5. Arrange the slices on a plate and add your choice of toppings. You can drizzle the sauces on or put them on the side for dipping.
  6. Eat it right away, or take it to school with you.
Suggested Toppings:

The Sweet Sierra (pictured above)
the sweet and sour variation
Dulce de leche or caramel sauce + raisins + mini chocolate chips + shredded coconut

Media Circus
the nutty variation
Peanut butter sauce + raisins + chopped pecans + banana slices


The Principal Besser
the school lunch variation
Nacho cheese (yes, apples taste great with cheese!)
+ diced tomatoes, olives, and jalapeƱos (optional)


The Gerald Edward Shepard, Esquire
the fine dining variation
Extra-virgin olive oil + balsamic glaze or vinegar
+ pine nuts + crushed dried basil or oregano + parmesan cheese
(You can toss a little crushed garlic in there if you're really feeling brave)

The Cornflake
the French toast variation
Maple syrup + crumbled shredded wheat or other cereal + cinnamon sugar


The Angie Shepard
the tough cookie variation
Cookie butter sauce + slivered almonds + dried cranberries


The Comfort of Friends
the hot chocolate variation
Chocolate syrup + mini marshmallows + whipped cream*


*You're going to want to eat this right away, unless you for some reason have access to a refrigerator at school. You can also toast this combo after adding marshmallows but before adding the chocolate syrup and whipped cream!

Credit: I first found this recipe on Allyson Kramer's blog.

***

Caramel sauce (based on Ree Drummond's ingredients)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp half and half, heavy whipping cream, or milk
1/2 Tbsp butter
Tiny pinch of salt
A few drops of vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together all the ingredients except the vanilla. When the sauce has melted and blended together (about 1 minute), stir in the vanilla. Turn off the heat and keep stirring all the while to help it cool down. When it is no longer very hot, pour over apple nachos.

***

Peanut butter sauce
2 Tbsp peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
1 Tbsp half and half, heavy whipping cream, or milk
1 Tbsp white or brown sugar
Tiny pinch of salt
1 tsp maple syrup or light corn syrup

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together all the ingredients until well blended. Turn off the heat and keep stirring all the while to help it cool down. When it is no longer very hot, pour over apple nachos.

***

Cookie butter sauce
2 Tbsp cookie butter, regular or crunchy
1 Tbsp half and half, heavy whipping cream, or milk
1 Tbsp white or brown sugar
Tiny pinch of salt

In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together all the ingredients until well blended. Turn off the heat and keep stirring all the while to help it cool down. When it is no longer very hot, pour over apple nachos.

***

I used a Granny Smith apple for The Sweet Sierra variation since it's a little tart -- it balances out all the sweet stuff and I thought this represented Sierra's character changes throughout the book. I used Gala apples for all the rest but you can use any kind you like or have available. I also used Mallow Bits for the hot chocolate variation, but use regular mini-marshmallows if you're going to toast it.


3 comments:

  1. I woke up this morning, visited here to see what the first stop on my blog tour looked like, and was BLOWN AWAY by the amazing, brilliant, mega-creative recipes. You are a genius! I adore these! I can't wait to make all of them, in honor of each character, and eat them all. Thank you so much for launching my tour in such an inspired way.

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  2. Hi Claudia! You're so welcome. Let me know which is your favorite. I'm partial to the Angie Shepard (mmm cookie butter) but the Principal Besser is fun, too. Classic cafeteria combo, haha :)

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  3. I'd dip mine in that caramel sauce. Yum!

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