Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saraswati's Way

I am a sucker for books where the author frames realistic life challenges through truth and trial, where the character finds ways to stand deeply grounded within their identity and integrity with honor and conviction. Monika Schroder must be too, given how she wrote this book. Over and over, Schroder wove hope into the challenges of growing up homeless and penniless in a place where it appears that it must be easier to give up the fight.

Young Akash' father dies, leaving his family saddled with enormous debt. Akash goes to work for the man whom they owe money to, only to learn that the owner is taking advantage of him. Akash' brilliant math brain tallies within seconds of seeing the pay ledger how monumental his task is and how at the current rate, he would never be able to pay off the debt. Knowing that his math skills are just waiting to grow in ability and money-earning in the future, Akash steals away in the night, hitching his dreams of honoring his family on his academic strengths and gifts. Hardships follow Akash, but he keeps his wits about him, finding ways to negotiate the trials of street life in Delhi. He finds people who can support him sprinkled amidst folks who seek to take advantage of him, and he pursues his dream to once again attend school with a fervor.

One of the pieces I loved the most about this book lies within the characters. The author seems to know India well(she teaches in New Delhi), and she well knows the power of the male gender within the Indian culture. I applaud her decision to realistically include males whom both torment and support Akash, and as I read, I was aware of my own quiet searching for positive male role models for this smart young man. I enjoyed the way Akash maintains his focus on Saraswati, Goddess of knowledge and wisdom in the Hindu culture. What I enjoyed the most was the smooth reading storyline and the way Schroder writes. I will seek out her first book from the library and can't wait to read her new book that comes out this fall.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Waiting For You

Waiting For You by Susane Colasanti is a book i have literally read 4 times. Yes, it was that good. I have enjoyed every single book of hers and think that they are extremely well written and keep me hanging on the entire time. I really enjoyed this book, and thought it was super sweet.

Marisa has always struggled with her anxiety problem, and her freshman year was a total disaster which ended with one true friend and everyone else thinking that she was depressed and weird. So, for her sophomore year, she is determined to erase that reputation, and walk into a new, happy, friendly one.
Everything seems to be going as planned, she is making more of an effort to make friends, and people seem to be wanting to actually be her friend. Then she is partnered up with Nash, a boy that she has known since she was little, but stopped being friends with when middle school started. She starts wondering why she ever stopped being Nash's friend in the first place, but she has bigger things to worry about. Her world starts going into the downward spiral that she knows so well as depression as her parents start growing further and further apart. Her best friend has become obsessed with IMing this guy she has never met in her life, and her boyfriend who she thought was perfect starts seeming not so perfect anymore. It just seems like there is no one to go to. And then there is Nash. The guy that she can tell anything and know that he will keep it secret. Plus, there is the mysterious man on the radio who seems to know everything, and exactly what she is feeling.
With the help of Nash and the mysterious radio man, Marisa learns to hold on, and step in to the new life she has been waiting for.

"It's about how you're like a lighthouse always searching into the distance. But the thing you're looking for is usually close to you and always has been. That's why you have to look within yourself to find answers instead of searching beyond."
-Susane Colasanti (Waiting For You)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ruth and the Green Book

I am always joyfully surprised when historical fiction is effectively used in picture books. I mean I usually get pretty darn excited when I come across books where the author conveys there tremendous respect of their readers through their written message. I commonly hear teachers limit the use of picture books to young readers and then witness only silly, funny books being read to young readers. What kind of craziness is this? I mean really: have you sat with a young person lately? Have you witnessed their brilliance? Try reading them something powerful, some text with a thorough grain of wisdom and truth in it, and prepare to be educated? Young readers get it; they know what life is all about, and it can be with books like this one that the truth of what they know comes out.

Calvin Alexander hits a home run for history in this picture book, bridging racism and Green Books. What is that, you say? You are not too sure what Green Books are? Ahhh, there's the catch: I didn't know what a Green Book was either until I read this book. Had I been African- American living in the South during the '50's and '60's, I definitely would have known. I find it ironic that this is the first I have heard of Green Books, given their historical significance. Thank goodness folks keep unearthing these direly important parts of history and then creating great books for us to read and learn from. And thank goodness I keep finding my way to further cultivation of my social justice stance and actions.

This book reminded me of Almost to Freedom by Vanda Micheaux Nelson in terms of its surprise and truth (I will write about that brilliant book in another entry). In Ruth and the Green Book, Alexander traces the journey of a young African American girl who drives with her family from Chicago to Alabama to visit her grandmother in 1952. The singing and talking that happens in the car resonates with many of us, but the silence, tension and fear from racism and Jim Crow laws makes sense to me through my own book learning and listening. Here it is no different. I loved learning about The Negro Motorist Green Book sold at Esso Gas Stations and the "tourist homes" that formally offered overnight lodging to Black travelers. My mind is percolating now about Green Books and I keep wondering what my parents knew about the connection between Esso Gas Company, where my father worked for years, and that company's public support and actual equal viewing of African Americans.

I know these books are out there, just waiting for me and you to stumble across them, use them in our daily lives and learn from them. And if you are like me and don't know a thing about Green Books, I encourage you to track this book down. It is a keeper!

Friday, May 13, 2011

will grayson, will grayson

Written in two voices, will grayson will grayson came highly recommended. The book by John Green and David Levithan has been so positively reviewed within the GLBTQ YA community--gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer young adult, for those of you whom I caught off guard--that I had to read it. The authors are accomplished writers without question and they certainly found a way to write a story about boys and love. Boys and love? I rarely put those two ideas together as a direct story line within current YA books these days, but they did it with humor, surprise, and honesty.

will grayson, will grayson is a story about two young men who have the same name and whose lives intertwine unpredictably. A giant of a teen, aptly named Tiny, serves as the able friend who maneuvers the giggles, gifts and trials as friend of one will grayson and maybe boyfriend of the other. This book started a little slow for me but the degree of national interest kept me coming back for more. And I am glad I did: I ended up staying home from work one day to finish it (come on: it was a Friday, I had writing to do NOT on this blog, and it was sunny). (If you lived in Portland, Oregon and had had the sloppy spring we have had, I fully believe that you would not blink an eye at the sun reason for staying home, but I had more reasons. This book is one of them!)

I loved that this book held three teen boys in a tension I often read through a girl's lens. I also loved that these three boys came to their creative senses and found ways to solve their own issues together. The way the authors wove both gay and straight dating into the text worked masterfully for me. Boys and love: who'd of thunk? I sure am glad that David and John did.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Outside of a Horse

"There's nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse."
Old English Proverb

The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby held me tightly within its grips. The story line captured me: what girl doesn't love horses? And the tension between a girl and her father who has just returned from war and is completely lost: who doesn't want to show up and be present when grief gets in the way of living? Add in other tensions many families experience including divorce, money issues, and young children and I likely am caught by the book. But Rorby wrote her text in a way that found me more intrigued. She framed the issues with a gentle fierceness, especially when you consider the life of the teen through whom this book is written. Her compelling composure and commitment to her father is unfailing, and she returns again and again to who he was before the war. I loved reading through her eyes.

I keep coming across these books that link returning Iraqi War vets with the young teens waiting for their return. If you are like me, you have read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, you know war veterans, and you have seen some of the movies created in the last 20 years around surviving the wars of our world. And if you are like me, you have read some of the newer books with this theme of young person waiting for war-vet parent to return. This book, The Outside of a Horse, picks up with the return of 13- year- old Hannah's father, Jeff, from the Iraq War. Jeff's reentry to home offers repeating challenges of PTSD that vets often bring back from their horrific experiences within the wars they fought. He drinks tons, gets falling down drunk every night, and struggles mightily with having a reason to regain his own health. It is the daughter who returns again and again to his side, while also giving him space to find his way. And in time**spoiler alert** he does, with a horse to thank.

I hope you find this book as rich as I did. I would love to hear how you liked it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Water For Elephants

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen was by far one of the best books that I have read this year. It's also one of the best books that I have read that is set in the time of the Great Depression. I thought that it was extremely heartfelt, heart wrenching, and fascinating. I really enjoyed it. I thought that it was very well written and captivated the reader. I also loved how the character was an old man and remembering back to his young adulthood in the circus. It is a book that I could read again and again. From the first sentence I was sucked in.

When Jacob Jankowski's parents die in a terrible accident while he is in his final exam at Cornell to become a veterinarian, he knows that he must leave this life that is slowly crumbling to pieces. He hops on a train which turns out to be a traveling circus called BENZINI BROS MOST SPECTACULAR SHOW ON EARTH. Jacob's world changes at once. He finds himself getting a job as a veterinarian for the circus and realizing that this was what he was meant to do. But then, he falls in love with his boss August's wife, Marlena. He is suddenly exposed to August and his abusive side, while trying to fight for Marlena and her safety. With the help of Rosie an elephant, Jacob learns to find his way.

This was a book was very intense and brought tears to my eyes, and I thoroughly enjoyed to the fullest.

I will end this with a quote from the book:

It's only when I catch Rosie actually purring under August's loving ministrations that my conviction starts to crumble. And what I'm left looking at in its place is a terrible thing. Maybe it was me. Maybe I wanted to hate him because I'm in love with his wife, and if that's the case, what kind of a man does that make me?

- page 229-230