Saturday, August 28, 2010

(Kinda) Review: Mockingjay

So, I'm having trouble putting my thoughts about Mockingjay into words.

But since I did review both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I couldn't just ignore Mockingjay.

So, my thoughts are below.  Be warned on two counts, few but dear readers:  I ramble and there are spoilers.

Collins, S.  (2010).  Mockingjay.  New York:  Scholastic.

390 pages.

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Appetizer:  For those of you not in the know, Mockingjay is the final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy.  The books follow a teenage girl named Katniss who takes the place of her younger sister in a televised fight to the death among children and teens from poor districts for the amusement of the rich Capitol.

Mockinjay is set during the districts' rebellion against the capitol.  Katniss is now seventeen and must decide whether she wants to accept the role of becoming the "mockingjay" or the face of the rebellion and encourage the people to rebel.

As you can imagine, it's very dramatic.  Dark.  Beautifully written.  Tense.  Dark.  Captivating.  And dark.

As a whole, the Hunger Games books have done an AMAZING job of capturing the interest of students who generally don't like to read ever.  I've had undergraduates admit that they started reading for fun again because of The Hunger Games.  It is so exciting to see.

Having said all of this, I had some trouble with Mockingjay.

I was fine for the first two-thirds of the book.  As with the other books, I enjoyed Katniss's emotional struggle with what she has done and what has been done to her.  I loved the realization that it is through Katniss's authentic-ness that she won over people to her cause.  I thought it was tragic what Peeta had to endure while held prisoner by the Capitol.  I liked that Gale finally had more of a role.  I also liked that the hunger games became a metaphor for the larger battles in Katniss's life.  I liked some of the new characters introduced (Boggs!).  Although, I was very disappointed that some other characters disappeared from the story entirely after a quick sentence that they'd died tragically.

My big problem was....


My big problem was with when Katniss became a soldier.  As she and others traveled through the capitol to reach President's Snow's mansion I was more reminded of the movie Black Hawk Down than a YA novel.  I was fine with the messages about war and peace that were included, but I felt like those messages were shared at the expense of a story I had been captivated by up until that point.

The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking: Book TwoAnd with the Katniss's uncertainty over who to trust--Snow or Coin--I couldn't help but be reminded of the Chaos Walking series.  And to be honest, I thought that book did a better job of constructing foils between leadership styles and the conclusion that pretty much all war leaders aren't exactly super-awesome-straight-forward peeps who will be content with only a tiny taste of power.

I also had a lot of trouble with the bombs that were sent down in little parachutes in front of the president's mansion and who those explosions killed.  After the ending of that chapter, I honestly thought the following seven or eight pages were a dream sequence.  Honestly.  It wasn't just that I didn't want to believe what had happened had...happened.  But the language about it as Katniss recovers was just so vague and metaphorical that it made the events hard to believe.

Now, having said all of this.  I did still find the ending of the book to be satisfying.  All my questions were answered and I did feel like (those left alive) could find peace (kinda).

So, yeah, rambling done.

What did all-ya-few-alls think?

Dinner Conversation:

"I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of dust settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood.  Over there was the kitchen table.  The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house.  How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray?" (p. 3).

"I'm going to be the Mockingjay" (p. 31).

"And now Coin, with her fistful of precious nukes and her well-oiled machine of a district, finding it's even harder to groom a Mockingjay than to catch one.  But she has been the quickest to determine that I have an agenda of my own and am therefore not to be trusted.  She has been the first to publicly brand me as a threat" (p. 59).

Tasty Rating:  ????????  Two stars, four stars...I can't decide.  Internets, help me make sense of how I feel about this book!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Literary Feast Invitation: I Am Number Four

Hello again, few but dear readers.

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)I'm sorry it's been so long between posts.  But I was distracted.  By a mother-daughter road trip.  And by Mockingjay.  And by how I would be a bad daughter for ignoring The Mother on the mother-daughter road trip by reading Mockingjay instead of paying attention to The Mother or all of the pretty places she was attempting to drive me to see.

I did manage to find the fine balance between looking up and saying "ooh" from time to time, acknowledging The Mother's existence AND reading Mockingjay.  It was difficult work.

But that's not actually why I'm blogging.

Since I am a little less distracted now, Monica and I would like to invite all-ya-few-alls to our next book tour.

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies)We will be reading I Am Number Four, a YA sci-fi story of alien superheroes.  And I do love me my alien superheroes, FBDR.

The blurb on the dust jacket is as follows:

Nine of us came here.  We look like you.  We talk like you.  We live among you.  But we are not you.  We can do things you dream of doing.  We have powers you dream of having.  We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen.  We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books--but we are real.

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them.  But they found us and started hunting us first.  Now all of us are running.  Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in.  We have lived among you without you knowing.

But they know.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.

I am Number four.

I am next.

(to which my response is, "Way to count."  My understanding from the movie Contact was that aliens would be STELLAR at math.)

I kid.  I kid.

Also on the book jacket, Michael Bay (director of transformers) has called Number Four "a hero for this generation."  I do wonder about about Mr. Bay's knowledge of YA literature and I do have to question his judgement...I have sat through Transformers:  Revenge of the Fallen.  But I won't let that stop me.

I kid some more.

I am greatly interested in this book's premise.  And so was monica after I typed the winning combination of "sci-fi..superhero...alien...DEATH!"

Monica and I will have comments posted for you on Monday of the first eight chapters.

Hope to see you back here!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

May I Emboss That For You?

Excuse the continued lack of posting, my few but beloved readers.  I have been slacking.  So, instead of sharing with you the grown-up books I've been slacking with, I thought I'd share about one of the non-reading (but still book related!) ways that I have been slacking.

So, for my birthday I had asked my parents for an embosser.

This request came out of nowhere for both my parents and me.  As a child I could remember playing with my dad's embosser of his initials (which also happened to be mine--thus making all of his books mine according to my logic) but I'd never really thought seriously about getting my own.  Until I wanted one.  NOW.

So after my dad gave me the embosser (he chose one that looks like a fat baby stapler) I got to choose the design.  I went with a complex leafy one that includes the phrase "from the library of" under my name (whole name!  No way my books will be confused for belonging to my Dad.  Although Coffeehouse Angel,  The Birthday Ball and The Cinderella Society would be very tempting for him, I have no doubt).

I'd show you a picture, but the emboss does include my full legal name.  We mustn't make it too easy for the stalkers of the world, mustn't we?

The insert arrived a few days ago.

I've discovered I derive great joy from trapping a leaf of paper between the embosser's mouth and imprinting my name upon it.  It could be the joy of putting my name on something, similar to the joy I used to have of running around scribbling on the insides of book covers when I was four.  I suppose it's also the joy dogs feel with marking their territory.  But that's gross, right?  So, let's not go with that analogy.

Or it could be the sound itself.  I can actually hear the the paper 'chshhhs' as it's being scrunched, which gives me the same feeling I get when I pop a particularly icky zit.  Very satisfying.  (But still with the gross analogies.  I am sorry, FewButFaithReads.)

There's also a slight fear that comes with embossing.  Mid-press, the thought, "Oh shiz, is this my book of did I borrow it from the library or a professor?!" regularly enters my mind.  The risk makes it that much more enjoyable.

The problem is, few but faithful readers, I've run out of books to emboss.  I'm cut off from the hundreds of books I share with my students (the intended target) and even my own home library.  I'm left starving to emboss something.  My parents seem to have grown vaguely disgruntled by all of the embossed post-it note and stationary piles throughout the house.  I could emboss each of the books I do have with me several times.  But I fear that'd look tacky.  Like I expect gnomes to sneak into my room and steal my books (and my understanding is that the gnomes get pissy when they know that you suspected their arrival.  Gnomes love a good surprise).

And this brings me to the reason for this post, FBFRs.  Who among you would like their books to read that they are from my personal library, to forever feel that their personal books were, at some time, stolen from me, hmmm?  I would bring the embosser to your home.  I may even let you push down on it for a few of your books?

Doesn't that sound like fun?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Mockingbird (The End!)

Hello again, dear readers!  Monica and I have zoomed through the end of Mockingbird. Despite the initial angst, we both definitely enjoyed the book.  You can see our specific comments below.  And we'd love to read what you have to say about the story as well.  But be prepared readers, there be spoilers here!

Shel: I was surprised Caitlin's dad was originally so hesitant to complete the chest. I had visions of them sawing wood, hammering nail..doing other construction=y type stuff...dancing with sugarplum fairies, I don't know. But then even when Dad was FINALLY on board, we didn't really see much of the process.

Monica: I laughed. So hard. When she showed up at school covered in slashes and gashes from trying to cut down a tree with a quarter. I know I shouldn’t laugh, really, but picturing Mrs. Whatshername’s face as Caitlin blithely announces that she “was cutting” is just too funny.

Shel: I know! I thought that whole section was wonderful. Caitlin was so determined and proactive. It really set an energetic pace. I feel like this book has changed to an angst-light diet.

Monica: Thank goodness. I didn't think I would be able to take much more -- and it's always a relief when a book contains healing ideas, rather than just misery.

Shel:  I LOVE the exchange between Josh and Caitlin on page 154: "He turns his head to me and whispers, Loser.
I know, I tell him, but I'm going to keep trying." Cuteness and perseverance alert, Batman!

Monica: You have to wonder what Josh thinks of her at that moment. Because her response makes sense to *me*, but he... must kind of have the wind knocked out of his bullying sails.

Shel: I know and that's part of the fun of that moment.  But speaking of Josh, the playground scene where everyone is all "this is why we hate you, Josh" and then they're like "we do see the potential for good in you, Josh." felt a little forced. I had trouble picturing the kids actually having that conversation.

Monica: Eh. I agree. It makes me wonder if the author has ever seen a group of kids interacting -- maybe the ones she hung out with as a child had really rocking interpersonal skills, but if it was my class, everyone might have kicked some stones around awkwardly with their feet, and then said, "We still sort of think you're okay," and then went and played on the jungle gym.

Shel: I also really, really dislike the author's note. REALLY. I feel like Erskine did an AMAZING job of getting her messages across without ever teetering off into annoying preachy-land. And then there is the note, camped in annoying preachy-land, explaining the messages that were already beautifully articulated in the story. I would have preferred if the story stood alone at the end. Like the cheese that stands alone at the end of the song.

Monica: THANK YOU! I am so glad it wasn't just me. I have decided to ignore it altogether and pretend I never read it, because seriously? "Ignore and ignorance share the same root"? Sigh. I was much happier when I was coming to those conclusions on my own, not being walloped over the head with them.

And there you have it, few but beloved readers.  Our last words about Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird.

Of course, these don't have to be the last words if you decide to post a comment or two, we can keep the conversation going.  And you all should know my now, I'm always happy to talk books more.

Also, don't wander to too far away.  We'll be announcing our next literary feast book within the next few days.  I won't tell you the title yet.  But I will say that three are dead and the number four figures prominently.

Cryptic enough for you?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Mockingbird (Chapters 12 - 24)

All right, friends! We are up to chapter 24 in Kathryn Erskine's occasionally heartbreaking Mockingbird, and thus far, I have to say I'm impressed. Not just that I'm enjoying the book, but that Shel managed to convince me to read something not featuring unicorns. ;)

Ready to jump on in with the feast? As usual, spoilers abound, so reader beware!

Shel: Okay, after a few days away from this book, I feel better equipped to handle any and all angst. Bring it on, I sayz.

Monica: I had to hide it in my car and not think about it for a few days. And then, when I hit that part in chapter 16 -- "Practice teaching woodworking steps to Scout" -- I lost it again. However, I armed myself with chocolate and soda and kept on keeping on. Caffeine is a beautiful distraction from sorrow....

Shel: Aw, I wish I'd thought of chocolate.... I also kind of wish some of Caitlin's drawing were included throughout the book. I want to see that girl's art skillz.

Monica: Shel, that would make this book too happy. Drawings are happy. We don’t do happy, here.

Shel: I don't know. A portrait without eyes...I see some creepy potential there.

Monica: Good point – and wasn’t that an awesome scene? Watching the art teacher through her eyes, where she notices that his mouth is smiling but his eyes aren’t? I literally cheered for her. Way to notice the disparity in emotions, Caitlin!

Shel: I know. I think she'll like working with that teacher next year. They could really help each other. All of this talk about searching for closure kind of reminds me of The Higher Power of Lucky. The more I think about it, the more the books feel like they have a similar vibe.

Monica: Is... is this a book I should read? Is it bad that I haven’t?

Shel: Not at all. It was a Newbery winner a few years ago. I assigned it to my students a couple of times. They were 'eh' about it. And apparently there's been a sequel. Anyway. I really love the conversation between Michael and Caitlin in chapter fifteen. They're talking on two completely different wavelengths, but they still manage to say just the right words. Adorable!

Monica: I’ve been amazed at how the author has managed to get across such basic ideas as “Look, we can all get along even if we come from different backgrounds and have different ways of looking at the world,” without getting preachy.

Shel: Yeah, that is very impressive. Especially since I HATE preachy with the hate of...10,000 things that are hateful. Oh! And take note! Pages 98 and 149: Reading woodworking books and connecting closure with the chest. IT HAS BEGUN!

Monica: Of course, poor Mrs. Johnson thinks she's having a fit. No, Mrs. Johnson! She has just discovered Closure!!

Shel: I really love all the focus on empathy in the book. I feel like it's not only a major theme of the book, but that it's also the underlying ideology driving the story: empathize with Caitlin's experience, empathize with members of a community who have survived a school shooting, EMPATHIZE!

Monica: You have to admit, it would solve pretty much every problem. If you're able to completely see where your neighbor is coming from, it makes most disagreements nonexistent. Unless your neighbor is a total jerk. Obviously.

Shel: P.S. So, now I'm starting to get why this book is called Mockingbird. But I still feel like "Devon's Chest?" or something is just as fitting and symbolic. Do you think an earlier version of the manuscript was titled that? I choose to believe it was. *looks up to the sky with hopeful thoughts*

Monica: But “Devon’s Chest” is a boring title. I would never read something called “Devon’s Chest.” Plus, honestly… I have to hope that they’re going to get past the chest – I recognize that is has now become the symbol for closure, but… to have the title focus only on Devon, rather than the struggle of his family / community, would sort of cheat everyone, I think. So huzzah for “Mockingbird”!

Shel: True, but I think if "chest" were somehow involved in the title, some twelve-year-old boys who hate books would give this one a chance. They would, of course, become disappointed when they finally figure out the chests are metaphorical.

Okay. We'll drift away from the topic of chests, metaphorical and otherwise, and head back to the book. Join us on Monday, kids, when we'll tackle chapters 25 to the end! Hasn't this book whipped by? Feel free to drop in with your thoughts, or with ideas on what we should read next. Can't wait to hear from you!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Mockingbird (Chapters 1-11)

MockingbirdHey tweety birds!

So, we've made our way through the first third of Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird. Monica and I have found ourselves immersed in Caitlin's perspective. You can find our conversation below. Keep in mind that Monica and I lurve to talk over the details of books' plots, so there are spoilers below.

So, look over what we have to say about the book, then feel free to share your own insights about Mockingbird.

(And by the way, each time I type Mockingbird, I almost type MockingJAY. Who has Hunger Games on the brain? I do! I do!)


Shel: I think Erskine did an amazing job of getting in Caitlin's perspective. At the funeral I really felt like I was seeing it through the character's eyes. I felt overwhelmed like she did.

Monica: Ditto. I was looking for a sweater to stick my head under, for sure. Plus, I love how we can see how overwhelmed everyone is – her father (letting her hide under his shirt even though he normally doesn’t), the completely useless relatives and neighbors (offering food and sympathy and getting on Caitlin’s nerves), the teachers….

Plus, best of all, there are only a few run-on sentences! I admit, that was my one worry about this book, brought about by my experiences with The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time…..

Shel: Have you ever eaten a salad with apple sauce as the dressing? That does not appeal.

Monica: I too would pick out all the green stuff and just eat the apple sauce. Or, honestly, I might just have eaten more Pop Tarts and skipped the semi-natural food altogether. (Her poor father. I suppose it’s hard to explain “No, I don’t want to eat dinner at dinner time” to someone who requires such consistent scheduling.)

Shel: Those peeps had better finish building Devon's chest before this book ends.

Monica: I think we can be pretty confident they will. I feel like I’ve been beaten over the head by a Totally Not Subtle stick, myself. (Broken chest! Shot in the chest! Unfinished chest!) If they don’t, it will *only* be because we’re waiting for the upcoming sequel, “Devon’s Chest.”

Shel: SCHOOL SHOOTING?!!!!!! REALLY?! No!!!!!! I'm school shooted-out. I just finished Hate List. And I'm still getting over the emotional drain from that book. *Weeps* Ugh. And after I'd reviewed that book, you were all "Shel, I could never read that book." And now I'm making you read another book with similar themes. I'm sorry, Monica.

Monica: Sheeeeeeeeeeeeel! SHEL WHY!? Seriously!? I was assuming car crash, and you give me a school shooting?! Sigh. I wonder if they’re going to go into more detail, or if (because of the way we experience things through Caitlin’s point of view) the adults will keep us pretty much in the dark about the specifics of the event.

Shel: We need fluff STAT!

Monica: None. There will be no fluff at all. The fluffiest that I’m seeing on the horizon is when I close the book and see the cute little cartoon bird on the back cover.

Shel: Okay, I do like the scene where she tries to teach Josh manners. I foresee a friendship between those two.

Monica: Gaaah, I can’t handle how every single child in this book is going through major emotional upheavals. I can’t wait to see more of him, though; so far, I really appreciate the way Caitlin hates him because he’s a bully and a jerk, rather than for the fact that his cousin happened to kill her brother. At least she’s loathing him for something he can control. ;)

Shel: Also, her exchange with Michael is so cute! Aw, wee little boys with mourning Bambi eyes. Cute!

Monica: I have to laugh, because I’m finding her interactions with him so frustrating. I want to know WHY he has mourning Bambi eyes, and she’s just talking to him about manners! It makes sense that it doesn’t cross her mind to find out why he is sad, which of course makes the book even more realistic, but… darn it, Caitlin! Act totally out of character and delve into that poor boy’s issues for me!

Shel: Also, I want gummy worms.

Monica: Sour ones for me, please!!

Okay, after we're done with our run to pick up some gummy worms, we'll being venturing through chapters 12-24 of the book. We'll post the discussion sometime on Wednesday. Hope to see you back here (with your comments!) then!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

REVIEW: Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

Back to the romantic comedies!  After reading Hate List I needed some fluff.  And the Georgia Nicolson series is fluffier than a pink princess prom dress.

Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Book 10)Rennison, L.  (2009).  Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?  New York:  HarperCollins Children's Books.

296 pages.

Appetizer:  My friends, we have reached the end!  The very last of Georgia Nicolson's diary confessions.  (But let's be honest here, that girl was trouble.  Can you imagine her college years?  If Rennison wanted to write some adult books, she could begin with Georgia at some crazy, hazy college party where she's just offered a goat a lick of her drink.  And then after college, Georgia would grow up to be Bridget Jones.)

So, where was I?  Yes...introducing the plot.  Well, the book pretty much picks up where the last one left off (and where was that?  Don't remember.)  Apparently Georgia was dancing a little too close-close with Dave the Laugh, causing Masimo, the (then-current) boyfriend to storm off and potentially become the not-so-current boyfriend.

So, ATMBISBM? begins with Georgia once again on the rack uncertain about love.  Masimo sends Georgia a letter, recommending she take a week to think about their relationship and decide if she's ready to be in a mature relationship.  Georgia decides to become more mature, but not even her best friends think she can manage it.  And even with her efforts, Georgia can't help but want a laugh with her mate Dave the Laugh.

I laughed out loud a handful of times as I was reading Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?  Which was pretty much my goal in picking this book.  So, mission accomplished.

But I was also surprised that I found myself getting a little annoyed with Georgia as I was reading.  Through most of the book, she seems to avoid making decisions about which guy to choose.  I wanted her to take control and actually make the decision about who she wanted sooner.

But I couldn't fault her too much, because I also decided to think about my personal experiences with le love this year in high school and I remember on a few occasions when I decided to delay a break-up or two because I was afraid of hurting that not-for-me-after-all-guy's feelings.

But having said that, the end of the series was satisfying with Georgia ending up with the guy that I'd figured was right for her somewhere around book two, three or four.  (Although, I do have to say the ending was abrupt.  And excepting a few wise words from on of Georgia's pals about friendships and youth, it very much feels like the series could just venture forth into another book.)

But, alas, that is not the case.  The series has ended.  And crud, kiddies, does that make me feel old.  I still remember all the way back to the first book when something called a "cassette" was mentioned.  It is a true mark of my age that I know what that is.

Now maybe I'll finally finish the 39 clues series next.

Dinner Conversation:

"One minute, I am the girlfriend of a Luuurve God, skipping around like a Sex Kitty on kitty-kat tablets and the next minute I am at Poo College in Pooford.  Doing a degree in poonosity and merde" (p. 1).

"She [Mum] said, "Hang on a minutes, what are you doing here?"
I said, "Er, I live here."
She said, "You were supposed to be staying at Jas's though."
"Well...she was a bit...tired."
"You fell out then?"
"What did you do to upset her?"
Oh, that's nice, isn't it?  Nice and supportive" (p. 5).

"What is the point of parents?  They wonder why the youth of today goes wrong.  If they would merely give us what we wanted and keep away from us, all would be well....
Instead of Mum just lending me her black Chanel stilettos and everything being nice and easy, I am now going to have to sneak into her wardrobe, smuggle them out in my bag, wear them, sneak back into her room and replace them.
They force us into a life of crime" (p. 92).

"Gor blimey, Mum and her mates talk WUBBISH.  I am glad that me and my mates are not so superficial.  They are just talking about men and clothes and men.
I can just dollydaydream about my boyfriend and what I will wear when I next see him" (p. 151).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: The Bride's Farewell

Rosoff, M. (2009). The Bride's Farewell. Doubleday Canada.

224 pages.

I decided, fellow readers, to try and work my way through a few of the 2010 Alex Award winners -- books initially written for adults that appeal to younger audiences as well.

These are the best books, in my opinion, because I can haul them out in public areas and look like a grown-up, while at the same time enjoying the superior literature that YA books always offer. Win win!

I'd already read Stitches earlier in the year, so I closed my eyes, pointed wildly, and landed on The Bride's Farewell, by Meg Rosoff.


So guys, everything I read about this book kept referring to it as a deep and beautiful romance, with lessons about love, and family, and searching for home.

These same reviews neglected to warn me that the book is also really depressing! I suppose I should have known it would have edgy and gloomy, given the author, but... but it had such a positive title! I just was not prepared.

I'm going to try to give you a run-down of the book and my opinions, but it's going to be seriously difficult to not give away any of the sad little spoilers that are liberally sprinkled throughout the text. Not that the book comes to any sort of surprise ending, but watching the buildup of Sad after Sad after Sad does at least make you somewhat relieved at how everything all turns out.

Pell Ridley, the novel's protagonist, has had the kind of life that presumably resembles that of any intelligent farmgirl in the mid-19th century. It is expected that she will marry her childhood sweetheart and live out her days within walking distance of her family (a creepy and abusive preacher father and a mother who has given birth to too many children in too many years), popping out babies and being generally discontented with her life.

Thank goodness for the reader, Pell announces Thank you, but no, and takes off in the middle of the night with nothing but her gorgeous white horse and her mute younger brother, Bean, who silently glares at her until she lets him come along. She loves horses more than people, and she's certain that she can find work a stable, maybe?

Bean manages to get lost while the he and his sister are at a horse fair, and Pell is forced on a cross-country semi-adventure to try and find him. Along the way she meets gypsies, poachers, and horse breeders. She experiences the horror of workhouses, must deal with the scorn and occasional violence of townspeople, and does, eventually, fall in love.

Watching the pieces fall into place in Pell's life, as each of her (spoiler -- surviving!) family members (along with Jack the horse) find their own individual lives, separate from hers, is sometimes tragic and sometimes moving and always a little bittersweet. Pell grows up fast -- and the end, when it comes, happens perhaps not exactly as one would hope, but certainly in a realistic way.

And for those of you who wanted an adorable romance filled with happiness and all-encompassing joy? The books only 200 pages. Read it for the sweeping beauty of the prose, if for nothing else.

Dinner Conversation:

"Toil and hardship and a clamor of mouths to feed? Not now, Pell thought. Not ever."

"For those poor souls who can only think of the terrible fear and danger of a runaway horse, think of this: a speed like water flowing over stone, a skimming sensation that hovers and dips while the world spins around and the wind drags your skin taut across your bones. You can close your eyes and lose yourself in the rhythm, because nothing you do or shout or wish for will happen until the running makes up its mind to stop. So you hold steady, balancing yourself in the wake, and unhook your mind from the everyday while you wait at the silent center of it all and hope that the feeling won't stop till you're good and ready for life to be ordinary once more.

The problem being that she never was."

Tasty Rating: !!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Literary Feast Invitation: Mockingbird

I know, friends. I know. It has been a whole week-or-so since White Cat ended, and you have subsequently found your lives to be empty and desolate.
"Where are Monica and Shel?" you ask yourselves. "How could they have left us, bereft and alone, without any new Literary Feasts?"
Don't worry!
We're back with a new book -- Mockingbird, by the talented Katherine Erskine.

What does Booklist have to say about it?

Ten-year-old Caitlyn hates recess, with all its noise and chaos, and her kind, patient counselor, Mrs. Brook, helps her to understand the reasons behind her discomfort, while offering advice about how to cope with her Asberger’s Syndrome, make friends, and deal with her grief over her older brother’s death in a recent school shooting. She eschews group projects in class, claiming that she doesn’t need to learn how to get along with others, but solitude is neither good for her or her grieving father, and when Caitlyn hears the term closure, she turns to her one trusty friend, her dictionary, and sets out on a mission to find it for both of them. Along the way, Caitlyn makes many missteps, but eventually she does achieve the long-sought closure with great finesse, which is another of her favorite vocabulary words.

I personally am a little hesitant about this one, but Shel has urged me to buck up and brace for it -- and you all should as well!

We'll be starting this off on Friday with the firs 68 pages (through chapter 11), so hit up the library or Amazon, and grab yourself a copy. See you all soon!

REVIEW: Hate List

Are you ready for some serious reading?  Because that's what you'll get with Hate List.

Hate ListBrown, J.  (2009).  Hate List.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company.
408 pages.

Appetizer: Valerie Leftman was shot in the leg during a school shooting.  She'd been diving at the shooter at the time, but witness couldn't tell if she was actually trying to protect another girl, stop the shooter, or protect him.  

The shooter was her boyfriend, Nick.  They were each other's bright spots in their lives.  And they vented their frustration with the school bullies by writing a hate list of the people and things that upset them.

While Nick kills himself, Valerie survives the school shooting.  She has to come to terms with what her boyfriend, the person she relied upon most, has done and she must return to school to face the other survivors, most of whom think Valerie is at least partially responsible for the shootings.

The first part of the book is structured with chapters that go back and forth between the day of the shooting and Valerie's first day back to school months later.

The rest of the book deals with the aftermath of the shooting, from the time Valerie wakes up in the hospital and is suspected of having a role in the shooting, to being admitted for psychiatric observation, to looking over some newspaper articles and seeing how the media tended to portray the shootings with biases, to learning to express herself with art, to her meetings with her psychiatrist, to mourning, to finding she doesn't have to go through this alone or run away from her problems and finally to her graduation day.


As I was reading through the book, I almost didn't want to write a blog post, since my reactions to this book tended to be on a very personal level.

First off, like everyone else my age, I was in high school when the Columbine shootings occurred.  I remember very vividly watching the news reports in class as the reporters arrived on the scene and having one of my more idiotic teachers inform us that Columbine closely reflected the demographics of our own school.  So, what happened there could happen HERE.  A great thing to tell fourteen and fifteen-year-olds.  Just awesome.

I remember having extensive discussions about how, if there were a shooting, which teacher we would run to for protection  (Answer:  Thor, the aptly nicknamed math teacher).

I remember how a boy who used to wear a long black coat stopped wearing it after the shootings.

I also remember that I stopped adding to my own Burn List that I'd kept in my mind.

In the book, Valerie comes under scrutiny and suspicion from other students after it is publicized on many television shows and in newspaper that her Hate List of her difficulties with her school work, bullies and parents.  It's the list that Nick and her grew to share, was what guided Nick when he wandered the commons area of the school looking for people to shoot.

My list was never as concrete as Valerie's in the book.  Mainly my mental list consisted of people  like "that one guy, who cut off my mom while driving, that one time."  (I'd added him to the list at my mom's urging.)

Having this list provided me with comfort, a way of organizing all the things that had been upsetting me.  But I 100% nothing/nobody on my burn list would ever end up actually burned.

WAIT!  That's a lie.  I'm lying to you.  There was that one time I burned a few photos of me and an ex at a dance over the sink, with a glass of water nearby.  (Safety first!)  But that was, like, in senior year.  And it didn't help much.

My personal experiences and the content of Hate List book raised a lot of questions for me about warning signs and the way school shooters are publicly viewed.  Jennifer Brown does an amazing job of showing Valerie's confusion over Nick's actions--what she always thought were their inside jokes and fantasies about death he took very seriously.  Brown does a great job of showing both Valerie and Nick as a complicated characters.  When the media and police misunderstood her, I couldn't help but feel outraged for Valerie.  How can these people be so mean to each other?!

Likewise, a few of Nick's interactions with Valerie that occurred early in their relationship made me write an "aww, cute" once or twice in the margins.  And then I'd have to remind myself, "Wait!  This guy is going to be a killer."

Plus, as I was going through this book, I was also reading a book on children's folklore that included these examples of how kids adjust songs like The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school
We have tortured every teacher, we have broken every rule
He have planned to hang the principal, we boarded up the school
Our troops go marching on.
Glory, glory hallelujah, teacher hit me with a ruler
I met her at the door with a loaded 44
And she ain't my teacher no more--
I wonder whyyyyyyy."

Supposedly, versions of children's versions of The Battle Hymn of the Republic have become more violent over the decades as our culture has changed, since "I bopped her on the bean" probably wouldn't have the shock value using a loaded 44 would.  Sigh.

I don't remember singing any of the folkloric version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but one of my professors did (and in fact, she sang it for us...she went with the slightly less violent version).

I do, however, remember singing some modified version of this Barney song:

"I hate you, you hate me,
Let's hang Barney from a tree.
With a shotgun, boom, right in the head,
Now the purple thing is dead."

To be honest, I only remember singing the first line.  I feel like I sang some other version that wasn't in the children's folklore handbook.

So, basically, I was left with questions about how our culture could contribute to a mindset that could cause a shooting, but also contemplating how people need safe ways to express their frustration and anger.

I wasn't left feeling that Hate List gave me any answers to these questions.  But I still appreciate that it raised the questions and provided such a complex view of the aftereffects of a school shooting.

But the majority of this book isn't about the shooting.  It's about moving beyond the trauma and dealing with the problems that contributed to Valerie's situation.  And despite one quirky character that was a little too quirky for me to believe to be real *cough* Bea *cough*, Valerie's experience feels real.  (Although, I wasn't too crazy about the last page.  I wanted her to do something else after graduation)

Dinner Conversation:

"The scene in the Garvin High School cafeteria, known as the Commons, is being described as "grim" by investigators who are working to identify the victims of a shooting spree that erupted Friday morning" (p. 3).

"After I ignored the third snooze alarm, my mom started pounding on my door, trying to get me out of bed.  Just like any other morning.  Only this morning was just any other morning.  This was the morning I was supposed to pick myself up and get on with my life" (p. 6).

"And then one day I was having a really crappy day and all I wanted to do was get back at everyone who was making it that way.  So I got this idea that I would write down all their names in a notebook, like the notebook was some kind of paper voodoo doll or something.  I think I had this feeling that just writing down their names in the book would prove that they were assholes and that I was the victim" (pp. 133-134).

"A tear slipped down my cheek and, not for the first time, I ached for Nick to hold me.
"It's just that I feel like such a bad person because even now sometimes I find myself still wishing he was just in jail so I'd get to see him again," I said.  Suddenly I was struck with that memory again, Nick holding me down by my wrists on his bedroom floor, telling me we could be winners.  Of him leaning in to kiss me.  I sat on the couch, feeling more alone than ever before.  Feeling colder that I'd ever imagined possible.  Feeling like, of all the horror of what happened, this was the worst of it.  This was the worst because, even after everything that had been done, I still missed Nick" (p. 207).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!


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