Friday, September 25, 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson tells a story masterfully, and this book is definitely masterful. This story of Hayley Kincaid and her father gives us such a deep and brutal look into the lives of a family living with PTSD. Through it all Hayley tries to control (or run away from) her own life while watching her father continue to hide from his own demons.

I loved the way chapters in Hayley's father's voice were interspersed throughout the book. I felt it gave depth to his character and gave us a window into what he was dealing with.

I think the reason this book touched me in the way it did is because I work everyday with young people. These young people are so often scarred by the actions of their parents. They come to school each day hiding these moments of their lives, but often acting out and struggling because of them. As teachers we don't always take time to learn what demons our students are fighting, and we focus on the ways in which they act out or fail to achieve.

Hayley and her dad became real people to me, and I found myself sobbing at the end of the book. I hope that we can provide ways for young people to share and deal with their demons and truly meet the needs of the whole child, and not just their academic needs.

I have loved everything I've read by Laurie Halse Anderson - and this book is no exception!

Ten Things we did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

Let's pretend that I'm fourteen and telling you about this book. Then I would say it was awesome, and funny, and mushy, and one of the best books I've ever read. Let's face it, any book that sets up a 16-year old girl (April) with the most gorgeous guy in the world, parents who can be played, and a best friend with a "modern" (and missing) Mom has to be great, right? And living with Vi while her parents are out of the country, spending her food money on a hot tub, throwing wild parties, and skipping school sounds like so much fun and adventure, right?

I'll give you that - the girls had a great time and probably shouldn't have done all that they did.

Now, as an adult reader, I found the book to be predictable and shallow. However, it was an enjoyable read and one that I wouldn't have any problem recommending to a teen. I just would tell them not to do any of the things April did. Actually, I can't imagine any teen getting the opportunity to do the things April shouldn't have done. It's true, she made some bad choices along the way. In the end, however, I think she tried to tell her readers that she would do things differently - and that, if given the chance, they should too. It's incredibly easy for teens to glamorize the idea of being on your own like April was, but in the end we realize how much more it means to be in a loving, stable family and to have your parents by your side, and not across the globe.

Here's an author video with Sarah Mlynowski:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe

 I began reading The Summer Girls when I decided I needed a light summer read. I checked all three books out of our public library's digital collection and raced right through them on my iPad.

This series is quite predictable. Three half-sisters, best of friends in their youth, have gone their separate ways and barely keep in touch. Their paternal grandmother convinces them to join her at the beach house where they spent a lot of time as little girls. She is growing old and knows her days on the beach are numbered. It is her hope that she can reunite the girls.

All three girls come from very different places, and all intend to only spend a weekend. However, circumstances prevail, and as you can guess, they all are convinced that they should spend the summer at the beach.

Predictable? You bet! All three girls learn about themselves, quit drinking, exercise, get their act together, fall in love (either before or after getting their act together), and, in the end, save the beach house. To make the ending even happier, their grandma also falls in love, and the whole story comes together with an incredibly happy, hokey ending.

But if you're looking for a light, fun, summer read - with a very happy ending - this trilogy is perfect for you.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

From the very first page, and the introduction of Sarah as a young girl, being given her own slave, Handful, I was hooked on this book. The details of Sarah's life - a prisoner in many ways of her own family -  were beautifully told in her chapters. I could feel myself walking in her shoes, questioning all of her family's values. Why couldn't she receive an education and become a lawyer? Why did society hold so many women down. In many ways, why do we still?

But, oh, how my heart ached as I became attached to Handful and her family, slaves of Sarah's family. Her first-hand accounts of brutal beatings, of the law of the land, of the terrible fate awaiting any slave who questioned this life.

From the beginning Handful had such a spark - and the comparisons in her personality and drive (and hopelessness, at times) were so parallel to those of Sarah. Both went through life with similar challenges, and yet how can one compare the life of a wealthy southern girl to that of a southern slave? It can't be compared. And yet, so eloquently Sue Monk Kidd is able to help us see that the world holds down many people.

As is often true with historical fiction, I loved reading the author's note at the end of the book. Learning which characters she created from her imagination and which were based on real people is fascinating to me. Knowing in greater detail the stories behind the story give even more meaning to a book that reached inside and squeezed my heart. I am now a richer and wiser person having read it.

Although lengthy, this interview by Oprah of Sue Monk Kidd is well worth watching.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Allyson Healey, an organized and sensible, quiet high school graduate, is off on a school trip in Europe with other students from her class. The other girls are a bit more daring, but Allyson always follows the rules and does what is expected of her. At least, that is until she and her best friend skip the tour's select version of a Shakespeare play and instead attend a street version of Twelfth Night. It is during this performance that Allyson becomes entranced with actor Willem, and within minutes, agrees to leave the tour and make a side trip to Paris with him.

Willem introduces Allyson (whom he calls Lulu) to a bit of Paris and they end up together (as we expect they will) spending the night in an artist's flat. In the morning when Allyson awakens Willem is gone and she is alone. What follows is a year where Allyson struggles with life - not getting along with her new college roommates, arguing with her parents, almost failing out of college, and just feeling rejected.

Although a little slow moving, Just One Day is an enjoyable, light read with a predictable, but satisfying ending. On the whole I enjoyed it, but I must admit I had to keep from imagining that any of it could be real simply because Allyson did so many dangerous and naive things. To leave her tour group with a man she had only met moments earlier? To run around Paris, and later to travel back again, relying only on the kindness of strangers? Even to allow these past events to cloud all of the good fortune and coddled life. She was crazy - and if she had been my child she would have been grounded for life! But as a fun, romantic read about a girl traveling the world - I could enjoy that, and even wish I were in her shoes.

The video below is of author Gayle Forman and a little more about writing Just One Day.

The Boy Book by e lockhart

The boy book is the continued story of Ruby Oliver, now a junior in high school, who is struggling to understand how friendships come and go in our lives. Ruby and her friends wrote about their dating experiences (with a bit of wishful thinking mixed in) in a book, where they all chimed in about the rules of all possible dating issues. Throughout the boy book we are introduced to a variety of "rules" from their diary of sorts: The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them.

 I enjoyed getting to know Ruby and being reminded of all the heartbreak of high school. I think e lockhart shares some of her adult knowledge with her readers through this book. The author allows us to see that it's okay for Ruby to see a therapist to work out her issues, that best friends don't always remain best friends, and that boyfriends can come and go.

In high school we all have our share of heartbreak. However, when we look back on those days the problems we thought were overwhelming don't seem so bad after all. I remember when my daughter had been through a couple years of college and she told me she wished she had known when she was in high school that the little things just didn't matter that much. She thought she worried way too much about boys, friends, clothes, cliques and more. Looking back, she realized that she spent way too much time worrying about it, when she should've just been enjoying life.

The boy book was a fun and quick read. I found that the situations and characters in the book seemed real. It's a book that I can easily recommend to high school students!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Prodigy & Champion by Marie Lu

 Now that June and Day have escaped the Republic they are ready to join the Patriots. We first find them in Vegas, where they blend in with other soldiers and citizens quite well, while making enough of a show to be recognized by Kaede and Tess.

They immediately hear the news that the Elector has been killed, which leaves the elector's son, Anden (whom June met in Legend), as the new leader.

June and Day agree to this plot and June allows herself to be caught so that she can be taken to Denver. Her job is to gain the trust of the new elector, assist in getting the rebels into the city, and finally, assassinate Anden.

Of course, things aren't all they seem - and it's often difficult to tell which faction is in the right. There are plenty of twists and turns - and friends who suddenly become enemies. But through it all, June and Day remain faithful to eachother, which keeping a sole focus of saving Day's brother Eden along the way.

Prodigy is a great continuation of Legend - and when I completed it I couldn't wait to grab a copy of Champion and continue the series!

Champion proved to be a fantastic final book to the Legend trilogy! It was as exciting and fast-paced as the first two books, and there were many additional twists and turns as June and Day attempted to protect the republic from the rebels and from the Patriots.

By this time both Day and June have become heroes among the people - and have changed their allegiance to the republic.

Once again I was struck by the possibilities that the Legend series offers. A country facing huge challenges due to drought and water shortage. Countries around the world taking advantage of the situation and becoming world powers. Cruel and corrupt leaders. Massive amounts of technological knowledge. It is the perfect illustration of a country losing its ethical and its democratic beliefs.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire Legend series by Marie Lu - and I hope that you do as well!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

I ran into this book when it was a freebie in the Kindle store. Because I love Jodi Picoult, and because I was curious about the second author, Samantha Van Leer, I decided to download it and find out more.

I was thrilled to discover the relationship between Jodi and Samantha. What a great idea: for a mother and daughter to write a book together! At this point I wanted to tell my book club to download their free copy, but I neglected to do that. Bad call on my part!

The book is easy and quick to read, and has an engaging storyline. Imagine that the characters in a book have actual lives. Now imagine that a reader becomes infatuated with one of the storybook characters and talks to him...and he takes a chance and talks back! And then, of course, they fall in love.

I think my favorite thing about this book is that it was written by a mother and daughter. What a wonderful collaboration! They have followed it up with another book titled Off the Page. This one didn't premier as a free book, however, so I guess that speaks volumes to the success of the first one (which is also no longer free - hence the bad call on my part, in not having my book club members download it immediately!)

Enjoy a little fairy tale today - and give Between the Lines a try! In the meantime, enjoy this interview with Jodi and Samantha.

I Was Here by Gayle Foreman

Gayle Forman's recent book I Was Here simply made me sad. The book is all about best friends Cody and Meg, who have been inseparable. The novel begins with Cody attending funeral and memorial services for Meg, and we learn how Meg has died, by committing suicide.

Cody is unable to understand how this bright, funny, outgoing best friend of hers could have done it - and especially how she could've done it without ever telling Cody just how sad she was. As Cody uncovers the secrets of Meg's death, she really uncovers the secrets of Meg's life - a life where Meg has dealt for years with depression.

Meg's family has been determined to keep her depression a secret, believing, as I think many families believe, that she will get better, and that she will be ostracized if others know what she's dealing with.

I Was Here is honestly and beautifully told, and is a message that young adults need to read. There are many young people struggling with depression. This book gives the clear message that reaching out to others is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength - and that telling someone is the first step in getting help, not just as a young person but as an entire family.

As much as I loved this book I couldn't help but feel concerned that there will be young people who read it without reading the entire message, and that rather than helping them it will be one thing that deepens their depression. I hope that I'm totally wrong about this! The resources that are provided in the book are excellent, and the message is clear.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

Prior to leaving on a trip I needed some reading material on my iPad, so I purchased a digital version of Amy Poehler's recently published, Yes, Please. I breezed through it on the plane and by the pool on a relaxing vacation.

I must say I enjoyed the short chapters and Amy's easy-to-read style. True to what I expected, the short tales from her busy life as comedian, actor and parent were humorous - and reminiscent of my own days with young children (minus the on-stage, famous actress part). I find Amy to be very personable, funny, and honest, and these peeks into her life were definitely honest and funny.

I have to say that when I got to the last part of the book I didn't feel as strong a connection because I was not familiar enough with the Saturday Night Live cast and especially the cast of Parks and Recreation. Although it was a show I watched a few times, it wasn't one that I followed on a regular basis. I think people who are fans of the show would be fans of this book. It gave a lot of insight to the funny "behind the scenes" moments, and I'm sure it would make the reader feel as if they knew all of the characters personally.

I found it to be an interesting, easy read. It certainly wasn't the highlight of my vacation - but it was an enjoyable diversion from some of the young adult novels I typically read. If you're a fan of Amy Poehler I'm sure it's one book you won't want to miss. Otherwise, she's young enough and talented enough that they'll be another memoir coming down the road for her one day.

Legend by Marie Lu

I started reading Legend on Friday, and didn't come up for air until I had read the entire book! My high school book club had recommended this one, and, to be honest, I wasn't all that excited about reading it. I took it home with me, but didn't really think I would read much of it. I wasn't looking forward to reading yet another dystopian story (because, really, what else is there in YA these days?)

However, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. I immediately felt an attachment to June, as well as to Day. Their characters were likable, and believable, and I cheered when they recognized how much they cared about each other. The only thing I didn't like about June and Day was that they seemed to act much older than their age, and I didn't like the fact that they were only 15, when they seemed so much older.

The premise of this book is that the energy and water issues of the US have divided the nation so much that it has splintered, and regions of the US have developed their own government structure. The regions are at war with one another, and this internal fighting has caused the US to drop far down in its standing as a world power. I found this issue to be very compelling and realistic - frighteningly so, in fact.

Overall I loved this book. And I'm quite sure that my book club members felt the same way. I look forward to reading Prodigy and Champion!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

On a recommendation from several of my book club members I began reading Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher.

This book tells the story of high school senior Logan, and the new girl in his life, Sage. As Logan becomes more and more crazy about Sage, she becomes more mysterious. Just as he begins to think her parents might be mistreating her he finds out the truth: that Sage is really a boy.

Logan immediately pushes her away, but he feels so drawn to her that he decides he would like to be friends. As they dance around this idea of being friends/dating while Logan deals with the fear that liking Sage makes him gay. I think the best we get from Katcher's book is the continual conversations Logan has with himself. This discourse helps readers become familiar with transgender issues.

At times difficult to read, Almost Perfect does a great job taking on a tough issue and laying everything out for the reader. Overall I thought it was an excellent book.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Thank you Annie! While discussing books with my niece she said she had just finished Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. When I read the back cover I downloaded it immediately onto my iPad and read it all the way home.

Wild is a true story of a young woman worn down by life: in particular, the death of her mom and the end of a relationship. Cheryl is anxious to do something different, but was she does is truly hilarious, shocking, and pretty stupid. Without any training, any experience, and really without any support, Cheryl takes off on a journey to travel the Pacific Crest Trail on foot.

Unprepared and alone, Cheryl treks through the better part of California. It amazes me continually that she survives the journey. At times she has me laughing out loud, but more often she had me reading with my mouth wide open, aghast that anyone would dare to try this alone!

Yes, now the book has been made into a movie, and everyone will be saying wonderful things about the book - but I just want to be clear in saying that I loved it before I heard about the movie or saw it on a best seller list! If you haven't found it yet, get moving!

Positive: A Memoir by Paige Rawls absolutely how you will feel when you finish this book.

Paige Rawls takes her true horrific middle school experience filled with bullying and pain and turns it into an uplifting lesson of overcoming the pain and becoming a leader.

Paige has been HIV positive from birth. After many normal and happy elementary school years, Paige tries to help a friend by telling her that everyone has disabilities to overcome. She then confides in her that she is HIV positive - and suddenly her friends are not what she thinks they are. In the first half of the book I am so saddened by the way that typical, seemingly nice middle school kids can treat others so terribly. I've worked in schools all of my life. As I read I began to think back on all of the situations where I've watched middle school students struggle. It truly amazes me that anyone can get through those years unscathed! But to face the kind of bullying that Paige faces is just heartbreaking.

The amazing thing about her true story, however, is the way that she overcomes! Where many would become overwhelmed with depression and pain, Paige is able to emerge as a confident young woman. It is a rare person who can take the suffering she faced and turn it into a way to help others. I am so impressed with her, and with all she has gone on to do.

Hear Paige tell a little bit of her own story below:

Paper Towns by John Green

As a huge John Green fan I knew Paper Towns was a "must read" (but you know, "so many books, so little time!) Well, I finally took the time to read it, and I am so glad I did!

Paper Towns grabbed me from the first page. I especially loved the beginning of the book - the wild scavenger hunt around town that Q and Margo go on as she seeks revenge on those who have hurt her.

I can't wait until the movie is released, and I've been seeing more students drawn to this book (and others by Green) because of the movie production. Some of my book club students felt that the rest of the book (where all Q can think about, worry about, talk about - is Margo and her disappearance) slowed down too much, but I was drawn into it. It is so true that people (and I think, especially young people) act according to how others believe they should act - and that much of our lives are spent taking on a fakey personality in order to be liked and accepted. Many of the teen books deal with this very issue - the way we have of hiding who we really are and what we really think - in order to find a place in the world.

Add Paper Towns to your list of "must reads". You will be glad you took the time! Enjoy this quick video clip with John Green below:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ruined by Paula Morris

Ruined, by Paula Morris, was one of our high school book club selections this winter. Overall the book was well-received by the students and most thoroughly enjoyed reading an discussing it.

Throughout the book, readers are introduced to the many customs and traditions of the people living in New Orleans. It was intriguing to read about the celebrations that make New Orleans special - and it lead us to a great discussion about our community customs and traditions, and what makes our area special.

Another large theme of Ruined is the understanding of  the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Since the hurricane took place almost ten years ago, when most of our book club members were in elementary school, the students really didn't remember much of the history of this huge catastrophe, and didn't realize the devastation and lasting damage it caused.

Our additional conversations revolved around the "class system" that was so clearly talked about in the book. The girls agreed that we have a similar class system in our high school - and they commented on how easy it is for people to judge others on their looks, their actions, their friends, and their activities rather than to get to know them individually. They had some great ideas for breaking down stereotypes, beginning at a very young age, but all felt that it's hard to overcome it if you live in a home that is very negative toward anyone perceived as being different.

Enjoy this trailer for Paula Morris' book, Ruined: