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?