Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Good Grief!

I guess everyone feels grief in their own way - and there are a lot of different types of loss.  I noticed that the past few books here have dealt with the death of someone.  Sorry to be so 'Debbie Downer'.... but it isn't going to get much lighter.  At least this post isn't about someone dying - something to get excited about!

I had heard so many great things about the book, Eleanor and Park, that I actually stopped reading the books I am supposed to be reading for the state book award committee I am on and started listening to it.  At first, I felt disappointed.  I wasn't being drawn in as I have been with other 'great books' recommended to me by my many librarian friends. 

Perhaps because this book is meant for an older crowd, it has plenty of pages to build up steam, but when it did - it blew my socks off.  As I just spent the last 20 minutes of my lunch hour in my car sobbing along with the 'at the same time heartwarming and heartbreaking' end to the book, I can tell you that it is worth the long introduction and build-up.

Eleanor is the new girl - and much like with 'When Life Gives You O.J.', she doesn't look like anyone else.  Long curly red hair and a not-so-size 2 waist quickly give her the nickname of   'Big Red'.  As a person who also wasn't the skinny kid in high school, I felt every bit of the shame in her nickname.  Listen up, some kids aren't meant to be super thin.... read: I am of good German farmer stock and inherited a few too many masculine traits from my dad. It happens.

There is something about Eleanor.  Either you knew her in high school, or you felt like you were her.  Either way, she becomes a sort of kindred friend of yours that you want to protect from her horrible life.  I know I live in my own little bubble - if I don't want to see something, it doesn't exist, but this book gently breaks into the subject of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse in a way that feels organic and real.  I was left wondering who in my high school I may have overlooked.  Was that going on in the houses of any of my friends?  Should I have noticed something I didn't?

And then she meets Park and her life is never the same.  They find in each other a friend and champion they didn't know they needed, but will never live without.  It is those first experiences with love and connection that shape us into the fully grown adults we are today.  Even when the heartbreak comes, it is always worth it - and isn't that a good lesson to learn?

Books that make you go, "hmmmmm." And then sweep you off your feet. :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

And Then Life Gave You O.J.

I have to admit, it has been a long time since a book made me cry.  Maybe I was all cried out?  Maybe I was just reading really crappy books.  Either way - I guess I wasn't quite sure what to expect when picking up the book, When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica Pearl.  I guess perhaps I was thinking it was going to be an odd sort of 'make the best of what you have' story.  Instead, I found a heartwarming story of the new girl in town.  Zelly isn't just the new kid, she also looks different than all of the other people in her new town.  Everyone in her small town in Vermont has blonde hair and blue eyes... she has a crazy brown 'fro; talk about feeling like you don't belong.

After moving into town in the spring when her grandmother, Bubbles, passed away,
she makes one good friend, Allie, before the school year ends and her new friend goes off to camp.  Left all alone, Zelly feels like the only thing that will make her feel less lonely is if she either gets a letter from her friend at camp or gets the dog she has been asking for forever.  When they lived in Brooklyn, Zelly understood why they couldn't have a dog.  Now that they live in Vermont, if she can't look like everyone else, perhaps she can have a dog just like everyone else in town.

Her grandpa, Ace, comes up with a great plan for how to show her parents how responsible she is by taking an old orange juice jug and treating it as if it were the dog she has always wanted.  At first it just seems silly, but when she meets a new boy in town (who looks just like her), he convinces her to take it seriously.  I will let you guess what she names her 'practice dog'.

All goes well until Allie returns with new camp friends and Zelly begins to feel like a dog isn't worth all of the ridicule she is facing.

Throughout the book, Zelly is a great example of what life is like when you are the new kid - especially when you don't quite fit in with your surroundings.  The interactions of Zelly and her grandfather show both love and the understanding that comes as a child grows older and realizes that adults have feelings too; that point in each persons' life when they realize that the world doesn't revolve around how they feel and what they are doing.  The loss of Bubbles has affected Zelly deeply, but it isn't until she realizes how much her grandfather misses his wife that she begins to understand what life might be like for her 'crazy' grandfather.  

Will all of her hard work pay off?  You will just have to read to find out, but enjoy the fun and frustration until you get there.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dealing with Grief

As a reader, I tend to shy away from reading books about dead family members.  It hits a little too close to home and brings up sad memories.  This time of year, however, the sadness is here whether I read the books or not, so I thought I would pick up a book that had been recommended to me several times by different librarian friends of mine.... and that book is Love, Aubrey.
Love, Aubrey is about a young girl whose father and sister are killed in a car accident and whose mother is so consumed with grief she leaves home not remembering that Aubrey is still there.  For weeks, Aubrey is left alone in here house until her Grandmother comes to rescue her.  The book chronicles that first summer and school year after the accident as Aubrey makes new friends, learns to deal with her grief, and to forgive her mother for the things that are out of her control. 

I found the book to be incredibly realistic and heartfelt, much as it was described to me, however, I also found the book comforting.  Unlike in some books about children dealing with grief or about families dealing with a stressful situation, all adults did not abandon Aubrey.  Although I loved reading it, the book Captain Nobody's main character Newt is basically ignored by every adult in his life.  A fact that I found almost disturbing.  In this book, I found the fact that Aubrey's grandmother, aunts, uncles, and counselor were all supporting her recovery much more attuned to what might actually happen.  I also thought that the portrayal of Aubrey's mother as she dealt with an all-consuming grief and could not help Aubrey recover very realistic.

As Aubrey learns, it isn't just accidents that take your family members away, grief can do it as well.  It is hard to deal with situations that don't turn out the way you expect them, and it is even harder when they are completely out of your control.  This book offers a little bit of hope that although we all deal with grief in our own way, even the worst grief can be overcome and we all can be happy again.   The end of the book doesn't come all 'tied up in a big red bow', but it is as happy as a sad situation can possibly get.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

a WONDERful book

I love recommendations from fellow librarians.  As people who spend our entire lives surrounded by books, it is sometimes hard to tell the good from the bad and the good from the great.  Every one has a different taste in books, but for the most part, a great book is a great book to everyone.

Enter, Wonder, the first novel by JR Palacio.

Filled with references to other wonderful contemporary novels, kindness, and triumph over bullying, this novel is quite the 'great book'.  Auggie (August) Pullman is the recipient of a combination of genetic mutations and disorders that leave his face 'deformed'.  He has lived with it all his life and lived with the stares and shocked faces that greet him everywhere he goes.  After being homeschooled most of his life, Auggie's parents decide that he should start the 5th grade in a real school. 

Much like the book Schooled by Gordon Korman, another of my very favorite books, I found myself appalled at the treatment of Auggie when he gets to school.  Perhaps I just have blocked most of my middle school experience from my memory bank, or perhaps I simply still suffer from only seeing what I want to see, but  I just don't remember my experience that way.

Don't get me wrong - I totally remember high school like that.  I just don't remember middle school kids being that mean (especially in fifth grade).  Either way, both books help us understand that although some kids grow up differently than we do or look/act different, they are still kids, they still have feelings, and they still just want to find their place in the world.

Sometimes the narrator of an audiobook can make or break the way we feel about a novel.  It was definitely the narrator of Shakespeare's Secret who facilitated my love of that book.  In the exact opposite way, I actually had to turn off the audiobook of Wonder after only ten minutes; knowing that if I left it on, I would end up hating the book.  I ended up reading the book and loving it.  It didn't take long, as it is a fast read, and I found myself wanting to know what would happen to Auggie and his friends.

I would recommend this book to all children entering middle school as a way to teach compassion and understanding of those different than we are.  In an environment where everyone is trying to find their place, it might go a long way to understand that everyone is trying to do the same thing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hmmmm... It's a Mystery!

Oooh - Everyone loves a good mystery.  And this one is GREAT!  

As a child, I spent a lot of time reading realistic fiction (mostly Sweet Valley Twins,  which is funny considering how much twins freak me out).  It wasn't until library school when I read my first real mystery.  Yeah, I'd been forced to read mysteries in middle school, I am sure... I DID read The Westing Game, after all... but I had never picked one up out of my own volition.  I didn't even read The Boxcar Children, a childhood staple in most lives.  Perhaps it has something to do with how big of a baby I am and how I avoid suspense like it is the plague (I can't even play hide-and-go-seek for fear I pee my pants in anxious terror), but mysteries just never had much appeal.

Enter the aforementioned Shakespeare's Secret.  Perhaps it is that in children's mysteries, the suspense is minimal, or that it only lasts for a few pages, but I loved it.  It was awhile until I picked up another mystery, but I definitely wasn't disappointed in picking up the first in The Red Blazer Girls series, The Ring of Rocamadour.  

As the audiobook selector, I had a conversation about this particular series a few months back.  We owned several of the audiobooks, but not the actual books.  In our collection development policy, if we don't own the physical book, we shouldn't own the audio... so I had to convince our YA selector to purchase the copies or get rid of the audiobooks.  After a 15-20 minute discussion, we decided to keep them and purchase the whole set.  I am SO glad we did (and so is she).

I don't know if it is because they had to use their brains to solve the mystery or because they were the most sarcastic middle school girls I have ever read about, but I felt as if I would have been friends with them when I was younger.  I found myself immediately living with them in their city dwellings, fretting over school-girl crushes, and enjoying the 'Catholic humor' and adventure that ensued.  

As soon as I put the audiobook on in my car, I recognized the narrator as the same one from a different book I had listened to, which always excites me.  I enjoyed the book so much, I also checked out the physical book so that I could be reading it at home, on lunch, before bed, and then listen to it in the car.  I would definitely recommend it to any parent looking for a fun 'girl book' for their daughter that isn't too mature and has just the right amount of 'sass'.

As my coworker says, now we just have to get recommending it to the right kids!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'll Be Seeing You....

As I have been recently avoiding books that make me cry, I was surprised when the book, See You at Harry's was recommended to me and I jumped at the chance to read it.  I was even warned.... this will be sad.  

I felt confident.  It has been a long time since I really had a breakdown.  I have been dealing with my life pretty well, and I even read a book about a widowed woman and laughed through the 300-some pages of her experience.  They say that humor is a more intelligent way to deal with grief.  If that is true, I am the smartest person alive.  As Chandler on Friends would say, "I'm not so good with the advice, can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?"

When this particular book was recommended as a 'most wonderful story', I took it home and spent the following nights engrossed in its pages.  It truly is a great story, and one that I didn't want to put down, but I spent the entire book much like I did while reading The Help.... with a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.  As I was warned that it was a sad story, I knew that something bad would happen... I just didn't know what.   That might have made it worse.  It sounds bad to say, but I was expecting an awful outcome... and what happened was just short of that.

At one point, I returned to the person who recommended the book in the first place to check with her as to what was about to happen.  As someone who often turns to the end of novels to read the last chapter to keep anxiety at bay, I was very nervous.  She wouldn't tell me what happened (very nice of her), but she did assure me that everything would turn out 'ok-ish'.

When bad things happen, it is sometimes children who get left behind and neglected. This isn't the first book I have read where something bad happens and a child is basically ignored while their parents get a grip on things.  While I would like to say that these types of books aren't accurate and don't portray what actually happens when tragedy strikes, I unfortunately know that they are.

As with Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford, another of this type of realistic fiction books that deal with family tragedy and children's coping skills, See You at Harry's gives an accurate portrayal of a family in grief.  When tragedy struck my own family, I watched as my aunt and uncle went through the heartbreak of losing their child and were so caught up in their own grief they left my cousins to fend for themselves.  I guess the other children are a casualty of the tragedy as well.  

Hopefully, this type of books provide comfort to grieving families and to the children left in them.  Perhaps if they read these novels, they feel as if what their family is going through is normal, which is half the battle in grief.... knowing that they aren't alone.  How unfortunate.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Feeling Less Than Stellar

For the most part, the past few months have been filled with some light and fluffy books.  But, when life hands you lemons, it might be best to make a Lemonade War.  The book, by Jacqueline Davies just happens to be one of my favorites of the summer.  We even used it as a Summer Reading Club prize this year to go along with our 'Food' theme.  

In the novel, two siblings (a boy and a girl) who spend a lot of time together making lemonade stands start to feel the pressure of competition when it is recommended that the younger of the two should skip a grade and they should start the fall in the same class.  As someone who felt the need to 'compete' with her siblings always, I felt a sort of kinship with the brother in this story.  The frustration of feeling like no matter what you do, it might not ever be good enough is so real that it brought back a flood of memories from my own childhood.

As the middle child, I feel as if I am predisposed to feeling like I am not as good as my siblings and that my parents never really noticed me as a result.  I am quite sure that my parents paid just as much attention to me as my siblings, but the actuality of the situation means nothing to a child.  It is all perception and feeling.  I spent my formative years being told that I was incredibly pretty - only to grow up thinking I wasn't smart.  My brother and sister were always told they were smart.... and because no one ever told me that I was smart too, I thought that I was pretty and dumb.  

No matter what actually happens, the competition that siblings feel for each other trumps reality.  I was talking with a friend a few weeks back and he remarked how his sister is so smart that she has always made him feel dumb.  This particular person is so incredibly gifted in art and music, I thought to myself - I would imagine that growing up in his enormous shadow, she felt she HAD to be smart in order to compete with his greatness, and that she feels inadequate when compared to him as well. 

As children, what makes us focus on our weaknesses to the point of ignoring our greatness?  It is something I have spent quite a few years of my adult life thinking about.  It took until I was 25 for my sister to tell me that she was always jealous of me.  That she and my brother never had to work for a grade, it just came naturally... but that I worked so hard to get what I wanted, it made her jealous.  I just couldn't believe it.  My brother said the same thing.  He had to take a semester off from college because he didn't know how to study, but I already knew when I got to college because I had been doing it for so long.  I can't help but think how weird it is to be jealous of the study habits of someone else.

That is what makes this book so wonderful.  It discusses these sibling relationships and the secrets we keep about them without being preachy.  It allows a child to understand that just as much as they envy their sibling, they are being envied as well.  Perhaps if I had read this book as a child, I would have spent less time feeling little and ignored and more time trying to figure out what my awesome qualities were.  I might have found them sooner.