Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.

“You're the one who doesn't understand, I've been standing on the edge with you for years.”

I went on an Anderson binge at the very beginning of this year. In about a month, I read Speak, Catalyst, Twisted, Chains, and Fever 1793. Basically, I read almost every Anderson book in our media center (with the exception of Forge, which has been checked out by a student every time I try to grab it). I'm pretty sure that I've read a majority of Anderson's teen works (I mean, I read Wintergirls last yep). And I consider myself to be a huge fan of her writing. I think Speak is a fabulous novel that all high schools students should read, and when I taught it last school year to my struggling readers class, they loved it (side note about that class-I miss teaching it. But if it were up to me, I would teach everything). We also included Catalyst and Wintergirls as choices in our big book battle project last school year (which we are doing again this school year with some new titles).

So, I have no idea why I jumped over The Impossible Knife of Memory. Perhaps I can blame it on the fact that at the time, I wasn't buying any books and was reading a great deal of young adult fiction readily available in our media center, and we don't have a copy of this one (no worries, I requested it). In any case, it jumped out at me as a suggestion on Amazon when I was ordering for a book swap, so I purchased it on a whim. It's Anderson. I knew it would be good.

And I was definitely right. However, I don't think this is Anderson's strongest work, but I still loved it. 

Hayley Kincain and her father have been on the road for the last few years. This has allowed them to constantly travel, but when Hayley's father decides to return to his mother's house and enroll Hayley in a regular school, things get bad. Hayley's dad, Andy, is a veteran, and since returning from Iraq, he has yet to deal with what he saw and did while on tour. And while Hayley does all she can for her father, he has to confront his demons.

What I really liked about this book was the focus on the relationship between father and daughter, given Andy's bad mental state. Personally, I have no connection to a veteran with PTSD. I know some about the disorder and what it does, but I've never been impacted by it. Seeing Andy struggle through Hayley's eyes gave me a lot of perspective into the disorder and what can trigger it. As someone who teaches about PTSD in both of my subject areas, I found to this to be very helpful, even if coming from a work of fiction.

I find, very often, that when I teach about PTSD in relation to Vietnam (it's a focus in our American lit curriculum), I have a hard time connecting that information to my students. Now, at least, I have more to share (and I am more inspired to seek out other works that discuss it in more detail). 

Anyway, the relationship between Hayley and her father is complex, and while she does all she can, she can't fix his demons for him. I think that in and of itself is an important concept for teenagers. I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids try to battle each other's demons. Heck, I do it myself. So that lesson and message was one I found a lot of value in. 

I also quite enjoyed the scene where Hayley's father comes to school as part of a Veteran's Day event and speaks to a few of the kids. We do a similar event (it's actually this week), so looking at the build-up and struggle of veterans to speak about their experiences...well, it was a fresh perspective on what it's like. It also gave me even more respect for the men and women coming into our building, and everything that they have sacrificed.

All that being said...there were parts I didn't like. I think the romance was cheesy and distracting from the core message of the book. I also found Hayley to be a bit contradictory in her words and manner, and wished, at many points, that she would just DO something.

I also, quite frankly, felt the ending and climactic scene were a bit of a let down...almost a cop out. I think I expect a little more from Anderson, and well, I just didn't get it at the end. 

Overall, definitely a book I will be recommending to the right student, and a great addition to Anderson's canon.

“Killing people is easier than it should be.” Dad put on his beret. “Staying alive is harder.”

*Finishing this marked another book read for #15in31. I was on a roll!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Harry Potter Readalong.


I'm so excited to say that I'll be joining the Harry Potter Readalong hosted at the Estella Society. I have reread the Harry Potter series multiple times since they first came out, with my most recent reread in time for a reread. :)

The readalong is very loose-read as much or as little Potter as you want. Post about it. And enjoy.

For myself, I'm planning on rereading all 7 titles, as well as the 2 schoolbooks, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli (which has been sitting on my shelf for a long time). I'm pretty sure I read the 3 small books the last time I #potterbinged, but I'm not positive. In any case, they're great little reads in between the massive books at the end of the series. I'm sure I'll also watch a few of the movies (just my favorites), but I doubt I'll have an HP movie marathon like I did once before (we made themed drinks. It was fabulous).

In any case, I hope you'll consider joining in as well! It's a great event, and who doesn't love Harry Potter?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

#15in31 Challenge: SUCCESS!

So, October has come to an end and with it, the #15in31 challenge. I had posted about this challenge back in September, and at the time, I knew it would be a difficult month.

However, I ended up completing the challenge yesterday morning....nothing like ending a challenge on the last possible day!

Truthfully, I wouldn't have succeeded if it wasn't for being home sick one day from work (I had a horrible cold/respiratory thing going on, and read a few books while bed-bound), and the readathon. I also read a few more volumes of Fables, the graphic novel series I've been reading all year, so...

Why am I trying to discredit myself? I did it! HOORAY!

Here is the final list of books I read this past month (I linked to posts if they've been published, some are forthcoming):

  1. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck-POST
  2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins-POST
  3. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins-POST
  4. A Lost Lady by Willa Cather-POST
  5. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt-POST
  6. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
  7. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon-POST
  8. Fables Volume 15-Rose Red by Bill Willingham
  9. Fables Volume 16-Super Team by Bill Willingham
  10. Fables Volume 17-Inherit the Wind by Bill Willingham
  11. Fables Volume 18-Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham
  12. Fables Volume 19-Snow White by Bill Willingham
  13. Fables Volume 20-Camelot by Bill Willingham
  14. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
  15. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Overall, I'm pretty happy with my list. While 6 are graphic novels, I also read 3 classics, some non-fiction, and a few "fun" reads. I got to a couple books I've been meaning to read for a while (McCourt), and some newer titles that caught my fancy (Yoon).

It was a really successful reading month. I'm not sure what November has in store for me. I'm signed up for NaNoWrioMo, which I haven't participated in for a few years, but I think 5 books would be a success for the month, especially as I have 2 more volumes of Fables to read to finish the series. I'm also joining in on that HP readalong, so I'm sure I'll read a few volumes in November-they're always fast reads. :)

If I plan on doing a #15in31 in December, does anyone want to join? I always have more to time to read that month with 2 weeks off and lighter workloads (I'm usually in the middle of a novel in my American lit class, and I'll be reading another play in Shakespeare, so....less grading). Let me know if you're interested! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

“I was trying so hard to find the single pivotal moment that set my life on its path. The moment that answered the question, 'How did I get here?'

But it's never just one moment. It's a series of them. And your life can branch out from each one in a thousand different ways. Maybe there's a version of your life for all the choices you make and all the choices you don't.” 

I was excited to read Everything, Everything ever since reading a short synopsis with it's debut. There is something that sucks me in like a good YA novel with an interesting premise.

In Yoon's debut, Madeline has a rare disease where she is not allowed out of her home. Any germ or allergen can make her sick, so her mother has arranged for around the clock care, homeschool tutors, and regular check-ups to make sure Madeline is healthy.

But things all change when a new family moves in next door, and Madeline spots Olly (Oliver) outside. The 2 begin communicating, at first with notes on their windows, but then through e-mail before Madeline's nurse arranges for them to meet in person.

The novel carries on from there, with a love story between the two.

So, what did I love about this novel? Besides it's interesting premise, it very much reminded me of young love. When you're young and in love, you take risks you might not otherwise. You might stay out later, say things that might get you hurt, or take a chance on a kiss that you shouldn't. That's the beauty of young love. And I think Yoon captured that turmoil and risk well, and portrayed it in a way that felt honest and true. 

Because of Madeline's illness, and her confinement, she is slightly more immature than your average 18 year old, so her responses and insights rang true with me. And it reminded me of my own feelings of young love-that giddy rush and surge of butterflies.

However, I also think Yoon tackled some heavy topics well. Olly's home life is rough, with an abusive and drunk father. And while that storyline could have swung into cheesy land, I think Yoon navigated it well and responsibly (in a way that made sense and didn't trivialize what was actually happening). 

I also think Yoon brought up interesting points about risk and fear...and how sometimes, you have to fight fear to take a risk. Sometimes it is worth it. It gave me a little nudge to take a leap of faith now and then. 

“Everything's a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It's up to you.”

I think that's an important point for teens, and well, for me as an adult. It's okay to take chances and reach out for things you think are outside of your grasp. I need to do that more.

My one complaint with the novel had to do with the "twist." I think, as any avid reader, I've become quite attuned to "twists" and when they're coming, and that was true for this novel as well. However, I don't think the twist detracted too much from the story, and while I think a compelling ending could have been written without it, I still enjoyed the novel as a whole.

So if you're looking for a well-written contemporary teen romance, I suggest you give this one a chance. It was just what I needed on readathon day. 

“It's a hard concept to hold on to--the idea that there was a time before us. A time before time. 

In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.” 

*Everything, Everything was the 6th book I finished for #15in31! Hooray!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt.

“You have to give yourself credit, not too much because that would be bragging.”

Truthfully, I've never read anything by Frank McCourt, even though I own his books and have heard marvelous things. He was always one of those authors I just ignored...for no good reason, but because I was never drawn to their work.

So I forced myself to pick one of his works as a choice for #15in31. I thought Teacher Man would be the perfect choice, as I always seem to hit a wall every October (I think most teachers do-it's a long month).

Unfortunately, I struggled getting into this one. And if it wasn't for the readathon and the promise of other books on the horizon, I would have had a horrible reading month. But I persevered and finished it, while I enjoyed the end much more than the beginning, it was not my favorite book.

Perhaps it's just McCourt's style of writing, but I almost found him flippant about his role and responsibilities. His writing, in places, lacked the depth and detail I enjoy in memoirs about teaching. For me, well, teaching is a serious job. And it's also a job that is pretty lonely. Think about it...a teacher spends all day in the company of people that are not their equal. At least, that's how many feel. It's your responsibility to teach children content they don't know. You have to be professional. There are rules. Paperwork. And sometimes you just want to talk to another adult.

I'm serious, teaching, while rewarding, is incredibly lonely. 

And in teaching memoirs, I really look for the depth and analysis that usually comes with it. And while McCourt did dive in later in his book, I missed it. But I think that was a clash of styles. I just found his writing a tad too dry for my taste.

The other piece that was frustrating for me, and that is more of a frustration with the system than with McCourt, it the manner of class content. I'm sure things have changed drastically in the last 20-30 years of public education, but teachers, at least in my area, have very little say in their class content. There are certain books I have to teach. There are topics, etc that I have to get across because my kids will be tested on it. And while I loved McCourt's combination of creative writing and food...I know that would never fly in this day and age. So maybe I'm just bitter. ;)

However, I did enjoy some of McCourt's more touching stories about single students. There were quite a few that I was rooting for, so I was glad to hear about their lives after the classroom. I think that many teacher worry about those kids. And some do manage to make it. :)

I also enjoyed McCourt's astute observations about education, like this gem, 

"This is the situation in the public schools of America: The farther you travel from the classroom the greater your financial and professional rewards.” 

Yep. We all know this. Again, perhaps I am bitter (after only a few years in a classroom officially), but public education is very much under attack in the United States, so it almost makes me feel better to know I'm not alone. And that others see it.

Anyway, it was a fun read after I got through the first 75 pages or so. And while I did enjoy some of the snippets, I found it to be a dry read overall. And I'm not too excited about getting to Angela's Ashes. We shall see.

*Finishing Teacher Man marks the 5th book read for my #15in31 challenge! Huzzah!