Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan

I have long been a secret fan of war books. Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried tops a long list of adult novels I have really appreciated and enjoyed reading. I have found a few teen novels that have really engaged me, but not a ton. Maybe it has to do with the voice of the character but for some reason, whether I am a girl or I have no experience with war or who knows, many of the y.a. books just haven't caught me. Dear Blue Sky is housed in the juvenile category of the library because the main character is a eighth-grade girl, and we all know that kids will read about characters older than they are but not younger so the juvie category makes sense, but this one caught me. In a good way. Well, not that war can be good in general terms but for me, the book really hooked me. Be warned though: the content is wicked intense and me, this is a keeper.

Cassie's older brother heads to Iraq to serve in the Army. The entire family reels with his absence, and the outer story of this book percolates around how they make it through those first few months of life with Sef at war. But the inner story centers on Cassie and how she is making it through. Like how does she continue to be the same big sister she was before Seb left and also take the important place that her big brother had with their youngest brother who has Down's syndrome and struggles mightily to live up to being the superhero of his brother? How does Cassie stay true to who she is when her friends and family members keep doing unusual things? What does Cassie need to do to keep uncovering who she is as a growing teen?

And then there's this small thing called the war, and Cassie's own judgment of "those people" who live in Iraq. The author, Mary Sullivan, brilliantly connects Cassie with an Iraqi teen who also struggles with the war's effects on her actual daily living. Blue Sky's reality: the war is outside (and sometimes INSIDE) her own increasingly blown-up home. The two communicate electronically for much of the book, and Blue Sky offers Cassie a completely different way to hold and consider the war. Life changing, view changing, and compassion opening, this book really names some of the great struggles we often have with war and don't take the time to uncover it all, much less deal with it.

I really loved this book. When an author writes in ways that I can naturally bridge into an unfamiliar  experience and then help me continue connecting with characters and the actions they take, I know I have a keeper. I will definitely recommend this book to others. In fact, I know of several past kindergartners who family members may still be in Iraq. I think this might open some conversations....thanks to Mary Sullivan for writing this important book.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tex by Dorie McCullough Lawson

Picture books rely on the reader's immediate and definitive engagement. The balance between text and illustration must be balanced and continuous, inviting and particularly directional. Color-filled illustrations that take the reader to their own dreamed mind-space. When a picture book works, I feel my own small worlds of focus, life experience, memories, and professional knowing come into alignment, this inner converging and calming.

Alright, so that might be a pretty gigantic task for one solitary picture book. But stick with me here: I used to dream of being a cowboy. I always struggled with the title because I could see me with the whole western get-up but not the leather-fringed skirt. Now you see why cowboy and not cowgirl. But I digress. I dreamed of horses and land, barns and poop, hay and chores...the whole nine yards. I read Little Britches by Ralph Moody so many times I know some of the words by heart still. And Tex took me right into that big, unlived dream from my childhood. Size matters, and the photos of the boy out in the fields, riding horses, working the ranch...all took me right back there. My dream may not come true but his just might.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Running on Eggs by Anna Levine

Are you looking for a book that makes you...
look at running through a different lens?
wonder about life split by a no-man's zone?
rethink the words and friendship?
think about the conflict between the Jews and Israelis?
think about said conflict through the eyes of two teen girls?
and a well-intentioned, compassionate brother?
explore blame?
consider friendship?
catches you from the first sentence?

Read Running on Eggs. You will be glad you did. Really. Just read it. Find it. Then maybe sneak me a line and tell me what you think.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

I wasn't sure about reading this one. I loved the cover and the title, and I felt a keen engagement with the opening lines. But then, for just a few moments, I got lost, right when she was in the diner with her parents. I just felt like I kept missing important pieces-- which I obviously did as I reread the first chapter just now! When this Margaret character (who ends up becoming really important to me) shows up. I decide to stick with it. I actually told Alysa some fib about how I wasn't ready to read Insurgent yet because I was just not ready when the fact is that I HAD to figure out why I wanted to read this book that I usually would put down and something inside of me know what I mean. Next time I will tell her that I am stuck in a book that I totally don't understand. That ought to go over well. 

"...None of us are superheroes. These sadnesses that we have never fully go away. And sometimes they rear up, and if we're not careful, if we don't find ways to remind ourselves of what we know--who we know we can be--they make us forget what we've learned, and take us back to the dark place where we started. The place where every decision is a wrong one." (Page 333)

Every so often, this book offered me a little glimpse of how to get through some of the trials life always offers. I mean the deep and dark trials most of us face some time in our life. I think that is why I keep reading these young adult books that have some pretty gruesome story lines in them. I keep wanting to understand how we do it, how do we make it through these dark times. This fabulous, albeit dark, daunting, and important read is one of the most engrossing I have read in a long time.

Short hint at the storyline: Lida has some pretty painful losses she is carrying around inside. Her new high school is out in the beautiful sticks of some national forest--like place way out in the middle of nowhere called the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Because of some of her actions at home, her father and stepmother send her to this wilderness high school for troubled teen girls (yep, the ones where inevitably someone screws up and gets hurt in real life). Amidst some rather tough gals, Lida finds her way albeit in with a few surprises all the way to the end. If you like stories with tough girls figuring out how to survive in the rather surprising environment of "No Return," you just might like The Girls of No Return.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O'Brien

This beautiful story of a grandmother, a granddaughter, and the lives we live together and apart is such a keeper. I read this book this morning early, right after my morning writing time. Now, a half hour later, I keep turning to the book sitting beside me, its beautiful cover seeming to call me. I felt transported in this book, entering the lives  of two people whom I don't know but totally could. This Remarkable.

Dara's grandmother, Lok Yeah, is a refugee from Cambodia. Lok Yeah loves to tell stories to her granddaughter, and Dara loves to listen to them. Lok Yeah tells of gorgeous moments, of flowers and fruit, of growing up with her brother like Dara is with her own brother. Sometimes Lok Yeah tells the painful story of war in Cambodia, of loss, of how she and her brother survived, toting Dara's mother along in the war-torn fields and forests. When the grandmother receives word that her brother has died, she is devastated. It takes the miracles only a wise child brings to recenter her dear grandmother as she grieves.

I feel so fortunate to keep finding these books. This one, like so many, keep informing my life, my questions, my foundations.