Thursday, July 14

Startling Reads

Quick reviews of the books I read on the Cape:

Stay by Deb Caletti

Stay is an emotional and linguistic masterpiece. Readers experience teen Clara's obsessive and dangerous relationship with Christian, and the aftermath of this turmoil in alternating chapters. The climax occurs when Clara's scary past and happier present collide. You'll be on the edge of your seat for this one. Caletti figuratively explains the most difficult of emotions with precision, ease, and delicacy.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Alice used to have a different name. She lived in a nice house with her parents. Then her life came to a crashing halt when Ray kidnapped her during a school field trip. She's been held captive and abused constantly for five years now, and one false move could lead to the harm of "Alice's" long lost family. Does she remain the "living dead girl," escape and reclaim her life, or pray that this torture will end her death?

After by Amy Efaw

This is the type of book that I would instruct for you to not read the back cover. It's a much more exhilarating and horrifying read if you merely jump into "After." Teenage Devon: honor student, soccer player, ends up in jail. Why? Read and you'll find out.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Asher's first novel is one of those books that all teens must read; along with Speak, The Giver, Looking for Alaska, Nineteen Minutes, etc. Thirteen people receive tapes of their dead classmate's story, which detail the events leading up to her suicide. Shows how our actions always affect another- an important read.

The Red Thread by Ann Hood

This novel follows several couples as they adopt daughters from China through Maya Lange, the owner of the Red Thread Adoption Agency. Emotional and heart-wrenching, this story details the rigid confines of love and how we can blur those lines.

The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam

This book of poems slams opposite events, objects, and ideas together in a beautiful mess of contradictions. The section, "Little Commentaries" manages to be humorous and thought-provoking. It's a book worth reading more than once.

The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck

Gluck voices tales of heaven and earth from a God-like narrator and his woeful yet dutiful creation, humankind. While the garden imagery became a bit repetitive, the unique perspectives made the poems refreshing.

I still have to go back and review the books I read in the beginning of the summer, but these were still swirling around in my mind. Time to teach my first ever writing workshop at the Agawam Library. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 23

Reading Changes Lives

Last semester, I took Advanced Reading. I was the only undergrad in the class, which was a bit intimidating at first, but I ended up really really enjoying it. This was the first class where I felt like English and Education merged together, when usually my majors are completely separated. It was also a great introduction to what kind of classes I would take if I decided to go into Library Science.

In this class, we read The Hunger Games, which I already reviewed here, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. Also, we had to pick a teen author for our midterm presentation, and I re-read Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is such a fantastic resource for kids to learn about racism and segregation. This story takes place in the 1930's and focuses on the Logan's, an African American family who struggles to hold onto their family's land in a time of hate and poverty. Cassie Logan, the novel's protagonist, along with her three brothers, are exposed to this hatred for the first time, and learn about the social injustice surrounding them.

I had read this book back in Middle School, but did not really remember it when I picked it up again this spring. It's a perfect Middle School read, and an incredible introduction to this historical period, racism, and segregation. These topics are illuminated by the strong-willed Logan family and their story. I would highly recommend this book to be used in the classroom, English and History both.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

This is a story of two outcasts that form a life-altering friendship: Eric Calhoune, an obese teen who joins the swim team his senior year and tries not to lose weight to keep from abandoning his high school partner in crime, Sarah Byrnes. Sarah's disfigured facial scars from a childhood accident ostracize her from her peers, and her only defense is her sharp mind and quick comebacks. But when Sarah stops speaking and is committed to a mental ward, Eric becomes determined to help her, but quickly finds that this issue may be more complicated for a high school kid to handle. He asks for help from his peers and his swim coach, which is a great model for readers of who to turn to when a problem becomes bigger than you.

This book deals with countless teen issues: abuse, abortion, religion, suicide, etc. and has been banned in various school districts because of this. It is my opinion that these issues MUST be discussed. This book is a way for teens to explore morally confusing issues in a safe, educational way, and allows a starting point for these issues to be discussed with parents. We held a debate in my class about banning or not banning this book, and it got heated. These are difficult issues to talk about, which makes them that more important.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Wintergirls is one of my all time favorite teen books. Anderson's language and writing style within this tumultuous whirlwind of eating disorders is incredible. The emotions drip from the pages, and Lia, the narrator, is a honest portrayal of a teen girl that has lost her way under the pressures of adolescent life. Lia and Cassie were best friends since elementary school and created their own dangerous eating disorder, promising each other to be the thinnest they can be. Years later, when Lia is eighteen, and her and Cassie are no longer friends. Cassie dies alone in a hotel room and calls Lia thirty-three times before her death, but Lia never picks up. The guilt and desire to be thin drags Lia back into her eating disorder in this poetic, stream of consciousness writing. This is honestly the most life-changing adolescent novel that I have ever read, and the writing is mesmerizing. I own the book, and it is filled with underlines and stars, marking the lines that are horribly beautiful.

Laurie Halse Anderson's books have been banned as well, and have caused much debate in the literary world. Her novel Speak was challenged vigorously. Laurie Halse Anderson responded by writing a poem, threading her readers' letters about how Speak changed their lives. This video is of her reading this poem, and it is amazing.

That's all for now! More reviews to come!

Monday, May 16

It's Kind of a Funny Story

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini follows fifteen year old Craig's depression. He studies rigorously to be accepted in Brooklyn's Executive Pre-Professional High School, and once he gets in, begins to drown under the school's academic pressures. His stress causes him to smoke pot, struggle with an eating disorder and suicidal thoughts. On one particular night, Craig toys with the idea of killing himself, but instead checks himself into a psychiatric hospital. There, he meets a variety of wacky characters, along with Noelle, a young girl that cut her face with scissors to deal with her past filled with sexual abuse. Does Craig recover? You will have to read it to find out.

Reading this synopsis, one might think that this book would be tragically depressing. It was actually quite funny. Vizzini paints a quirky portrait of the various patients and Craig's narrative reveals a realistic portrayal of a sensitive teen trying to find his way. It is a great coming of age story that is honest, and told from a male's point of view, which is rare. It also provides insight into mental disorders and problems, showing that all people are just people- their personal struggles aside. Craig's explanation of "Tentacles" (things that stress him out) and "Anchors" (things that make him happy) is such a brilliant way to symbolize his way of thinking that all readers can relate to. Also, I enjoyed reading about Craig's love for maps and his discovery of his own artistic talents. I found the beginning of the book a bit slow, but once Craig was admitted, it progressed and became something that I could not put down. It had a bit of a John Green's Looking For Alaska vibe to it. The last page was...beautiful. I'm not going to post it here because it would ruin it, but it truly made the book even more amazing.

Also, It's Kind of a Funny Story was recently made into a movie. I liked it and it stayed pretty true to the text. Trailer here.

Sunday, May 15

The Hunger Games Phenomenon

Yes, I finally read The Hunger Games trilogy. I read the first one for my Adolescent Reading class, and frantically read the other two, Catching Fire and Mockingjay during my whirlwind of a semester.

From the School Library Journal-

"In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives."

Honestly, I wish that I had had the time to write this post directly after reading the first book because I initially compared this series to Harry Potter. Then after reading the second and third books, I became thoroughly disappointed. The Hunger Games started off with strong characters and an exciting plot. Suzanne Collins created a dismal but endlessly fascinating world of Panem that made readers want to learn more and more about the brutal Hunger Games. This society reflects our own world-gone-bad: the obsession with appearances, the overload of reality TV in our lives (this actually reminded me of life vs. death version of Survivor), and the presence of war. This makes the story believable, even though it is a science fiction setting. Katniss is a powerful protagonist who excels at everything, yet suffers emotionally, though she does not realize it. Her determination and strength made her highly relatable. I devoured this first book of the series, and it was one of the best teen novels that I had read in a while.

I wish that I had just stopped there. But of course, I was super anxious to discover what happened next, so I read the second and third books. The disappointment that followed these reads slightly tainted my enjoyment of the first one. I felt that The Hunger Games began to become repetitive, that the Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle annoyingly mirrored that of Twilight, and that Katniss's indecisiveness and youthful ignorance began to bug. In the third book, when we began to lose characters and enter even more tragic situations, I found myself not sad or even phased by these depressing events. I felt as if I did NOT know these characters. And that is a problem. It could not even compete with the pure sorrow following Rue's demise. So, Suzanne, I think you should have let it be- The Hunger Games would have been better as just one book, but that's just my opinion. I know a lot of people that enjoyed all three, so one would have to try them out to see.

And of course, they are making a movie. Errr... Katniss is blonde. Not okay. Click here to see the cast. This article explains their casting choices, and I have to say, I will definitely be seeing this in theatres in 2012!

"To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream."

The other book that I read during winter break was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It was simply incredible.

This highly autobiographical novel tells the story of Esther, her internship in NYC and her downward mental spiral that follows. The text's language is flawless. Its sharp honesty details the main character's emotional turmoil and is simply an invigorating read. Plath's writing causes you to feel as if you are stuck under the bell jar along with both Esther and Sylvia- as if their depression is yours. This book reaches almost too far into your mind, connects you almost too closely with Esther's depression. It is disturbing. This chaos of the mind is so realistic, so reachable, which makes it such an irresistible novel.

This book should be read by everyone. It portrays a fearless view of mental illness. It is the bell jar. Read Sylvia Plath's poetry as well: "Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," "Ariel," "The Applicant," etc. Also, her journals are held in the archives of Smith College, which I plan to visit this summer.

"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart:  I am, I am, I am."

Thursday, May 12

Let's start a Revolution

Hellooooo summer. I can finally catch up on my book reviews and my reading. Let's start with winter break...

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. The author of A Northern Light, which is another great read. Revolution paralells the life of Andi Alphers, a depressed teen whisked to Paris by her sometimes absent father, along with Alexandrine Paradis, a young woman trapped in the chaos of the French Revolution. Their lives, decades apart, meld together in this juxtaposition of teen drama and historical fiction, with a splash of understandable time travel thrown in. Music threads these two girls' lives together as well as creates a platform on which the novel escalates. Donnelly's knowledge of French history and music of the past makes this book an even more exhilarating read.

This was one of the better books that I read in 2010. In a whirlwind of vampires and demons in the YA section lately, it was truly refreshing to visit the French Revolution for a while. This is a story of grief, self-discovery, redemption, and martyrdom that shines.

Saturday, March 12

False alarm! A week ago, I was completely confident that I would have this endless amount of time to lounge around, read, and blog. And here we are, one day from the end of Spring Break, elbow deep in a poetry essay, trying to decide what the heck Yeats was trying to say. I feel like I have been doing homework all break, but it's still not done! So so sorry, but book reviews are going to have to wait till May.

Read Dickinson's "I felt a Funeral, in my brain" and Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium." That's what I'm doing at the moment :)