Friday, April 18, 2014

Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Did you love Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine as much as I did? Book love: how is it we continue to be given these amazing gifts in the form of books by authors? I fell in love with Mockingbird on my first read and have since read it twice since. When I noticed Seeing Red on the shelves at my local library, I snagged it superfast. It's true: I was looking for another favorite book, and I found it. This time it was NEW BOOK Love!

I love the pace and structure of Seeing Red. It was a slower read for me, and I celebrate that. Some books I read are quick reads. I read the beginning chapters all invested and then pretty soon, I am losing just the tiniest bit of interest or life invades my reading time and I decide to skim a little. I still get the gist of the book and all, but it just isn't a fave then. I know an author has hit the mark when my reading slows down and I savor my living into the storyline. I first experienced this when Red started talking to his father. You see, his father had died a few months prior, and he was still talking to him. Especially when he gets into a difficult spot. Some of the folks in the story seem to struggle with kind, respectful, and welcoming ways of being help Red search for and create even more moments to talk with his deceased father.

Red is a young teen trying to prevent his mother from making the family move out of state. The bills have grown far too high with no way to pay them now that Red's father is dead, and Red's mom struggles to figure out any way to make ends meet other than selling the garage where Red's father used to fix cars and the house where the family still lives on the same property. The longer Red struggles to find ways to keep his family local, the more the primary plot emerges (and trust me: some of those attempts get him in a heap o' trouble). In the process, we readers get drawn into a phenomenal drama. Erskine artfully ties together race and equity issues, the Ku Klux Klan, and a community struggling to see how to maneuver and live in this historical fiction story.  While Red becomes a favorite character of mine, Miss Georgia is a heart winner!!

I love how Kathryn Erskine includes music of the times in her books. She even creates playlists and posts them on her blog for some of her books like Seeing Red and Mockingbird! I love how she carefully develops characters, and I love how she frames stories that make me want to read slowly. Tom Newkirk, author of The Art of Slow Reading, would be proud!! Thank you, Ms. Erskine, for writing your books!!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

I don't often see books as perfect. True, picture books move me more often than chapter or YA texts, but perfect? Not so fast. This one however might make the list.

Grandfather Gandhi, co- authored by one of Gandhi's grandchildren Arun Gandhi and children's book author Bethany Hegedus, offers readers a window into the common struggles discovered within anger and humanity, child to adult. The illustrator, Evan Turk, offers pictures that are nothing short of magnificent. My including them here don't come remotely close to offering you a chance to see what you will see when you hold the book in your hands. His work is gorgeous.

Young Arun visits his grandfather at his India. Trying his best to fit in, he adjusts his ways and lets go of his great loves like practicing his John Wayne swagger and playing sheriff. While playing soccer with friends, he is pushed down and erupts in anger. Disturbed by his reaction, he races to the only person he can think of: Grandfather. We readers are guided through a young boy figuring out who he is and how he can live in the shadow or beside his beloved and endearing grandfather.

You will want to share this book. You will want to study the images. You will want to lean into this book....a whole big gigantic bunch. Grandfather Gandhi. Brilliant.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Everything Breaks by Vicki Grove

My family laughs at me. When I am reading a book, they ask the title, waiting to hear some macabre, dark line. It’s true: I read some pretty grim shit. I don’t like sci fi at all, and dystopia is frequently lost on me, much to their dissatisfaction. High-school love stories really do not rock my boat. But I love a good heartbreaker….WHEN, and that is a big WHEN, the story takes us into authentic resolutions. This weekend midway to my in-law’s farm, I read the closing pages of Everything Breaks. I nodded to myself in the backseat and said out loud, “ That was good.” The audience I forgot I had, Laurie and Alysa, sat in the front seat, critically grinning, ready to pounce on my book choice again—I could hear them waiting to hear the title, opening the door for them to laugh at me. As I waited for the kickback to the title, Laurie said, "I want to know how good it really is; I may want to read it.”

Wait: what? Who knew she was really listening? Like really listening? Turning past joking and into curiosity? 

Everything Breaks is that good. I loved it. And I think Laurie would really like it too. In fact I can think of a number of readers who might like or love it. 

High-schooler Tucker has three close friends. As they prepare to make their grand entrance to their end-of-the-year junior bonfire, he drinks too much and can’t drive as planned. Needing to expel what he drank, he barfs by the side of the road while his buddies drive on to the bonfire. Unfortunately they too had been drinking, make a critical error on the road, and die in a fiery, brutal accident. The junior class is devastated, but Tucker can’t even figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, not to mention make sense of the tragedy.

Author Vicki Grove wisely instills a solid character to help Tucker find some footsteps. Including Greek mythology works very effectively in this story, and Ms. Beetlebaum uses her adult smarts and experiences to do a little walking with rather than talking to Tucker. 

I hope Laurie reads it. I wonder what she might say about the world of grim living that I seem drawn to if she read this one. She knows life with me is hard and she is usually right about my needing to laugh more, but maybe she is figuring out that I read these books because I am looking for something. Maybe the clues I am searching for help make me find a little more peace in the disequilibrium of living. I started reading books with this goal in mind as a teenager when life was pretty brutal. Seems I am still searching them out. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

If you regularly read this blog, you know that I (Andie) love Laurie Halse Anderson’s work. She writes some of the best YA fiction and historical fiction I have read, and I simply stoke up months out when I learn she has a new book coming out. Her new book, The Impossible Art of Memory, leaves no doubt of the prowess and artistry that she brings to the printed page. My months of waiting have not been lost.

Carefully living life with her not-taking-care-of-himself father, Hayley battles her juggling act of caregiving for her father and being a high-school junior. The two have just settled in her grandmother’s home (where Dad Andy grew up) after living life on the trucking road for a few years. Hayley never quite knows who or what she might come home to, given Andy's dismissal of PTSD medication and his seeming desire to continue living out the battles of Iraq in his mind and body. She detests school and regularly misses it. Ironically Dad isn’t the only one with some memory loopholes. Hayley brings her own struggles into the mix; her mother died when Hayley was young, and she struggles to make sense of the swiss-cheese like memories she holds as truth for her younger life. Add to the confusion a boy and the picture gets really jumbled.

But not in Anderson's hands. She ties The Odyssey with this story aptly and wisely, keeping her readers entrenched in authenticity of resilience and the desire to find some grounding somewhere, elusive as it may seem to Hayley. Like her other books, I loved The Impossible Knife of Memory, but maybe I loved it more because I understand PTSD on a personal level. Anderson must have done her research again for this text, just like she did for the incredibly brilliant and another of my total top faves ever Wintergirls. Fabulous, engaging writing. Maybe her intent to give us, her readers, a place to ground in the uncomfortable messiness of living amongst such trauma--if so, I feel grateful for the creating. I found a little more to access. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

This book has accurately been described as haunting. If you are looking for inner trials and personal disequilibrium, look no further. Keuhn does a fabulous job of adding details to a story that circle and exclude, that kept me guessing and wondering and at times questioning myself.  She chooses to not name several key details, leaving the reader to infer for chapters (love that technique....coupled with how she writes). Andrew, the main character, battles with himself until he hangs by a thread. It is only with saying yes to what he has said no to for most of his life that he turns a corner into what wars within. Loss, betrayal, sadness, heartbreak, desolate: this book is all of those things. But it also is a story of survival, of holding onto who you are before tragedy struck and dislodged true center, of resilience. I loved this book because in my own way, I know it. I know what it is like to live dislodged, off-center.  Many of us do at one time or another in our lives, but to live through that as a teen---kinda a different story. 

Keuhn is a gifted writer. Charm and Strange won Young Adult Library Services' Morris YA Debut Award. Not surprising....when you feel bolstered and resilient inside, grab this one and disappear into Andrew's world. It is a rich, worthy read. Thank you to Ms Keuhn for crafting such a piece. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

I already think Kate DiCamillo is a literary rock star. Love love love her writing and now that she is the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, she just rose up even higher in my book. 

And now she pops out Flora and Ulysses. I will admit it: I picked it up in the library a time or two, not sure if I was ready to read it. Come on: the squirrel is spotted. Flora looks bookly. What might be illuminating about that? Then the book showed up in my holds collection and landed on the pile of 30-40 books beside my bed. (Please don't tell my partner how many books are over there--thank goodness she doesn't come over here and count or even return some of them.) So I had to dig into it....and then...

Shazam! Loved that spotted squirrel--who is actually not spotted but had a dramatically unfortunate experience with a possessed vacuum cleaner. And Flora: well, I totally love what Flora is trying to do. Fight the world of hate crimes, teach her parents well, and keep her new best friend near by. 

Loved it. Come on: how did I even imagine any other outcome? From the wickedly creative mind who created Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux comes another remarkable tale. 

Guess what I might read aloud in the early part of my reentry to the classroom next fall? Yep. You guessed it. I think it might be time, depending on my new group, to figure out what the squirrel might say or do next together.  Wanna come listen in?

Friday, March 7, 2014

counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I really appreciate Holly Goldberg Sloan's writing style. She eases the reader in with this gentle way of storytelling. Pretty soon, you don't even know what hit you; you DO know however that you will be searching for moments to sneak off into a quiet space and read. Just like in I'll Be There, her first novel that I reviewed earlier, counting by 7s grabs on and won't let go. At least it did that to me.

The basic storyline could be labeled a middle-schooler loses her parents and works with others to rediscover her inner center. Or the storyline could be outlier finds her way to community. Or engaged young scientist grows relationships with surprising people around her. Or dozens of other frames....all of these things happen. And most of them occur with the surprising rhythm that Sloan crafts into her books.

I was quietly captivated by this book. Not hit over the head but quietly, always quietly. Kinda like with her first book. I look forward to reading more from Goldberg  Sloan. I think I have a lot to learn from her as a writer-- good excuse to read more of her stuff, huh?