Smackdown Books 2019

Piecing Me Together
We Are Okay
Hello, Universe
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
The Marrow Thieves
The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
The Poet X
Children of Blood and Bone
Far from the Tree
Long Way Down
The Goat
Amina's Voice
Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess
The First Rule of Punk
24 Hours in Nowhere
The Astonishing Color of After
Obsessed: : A Memoir of My Life with OCD
Train I Ride

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nazi Hunters is Ultra Cool

Well, I feel like this round was a real milestone for me. Not because of anything relating to the books, but because this is my first successful blog post using my own login! That being said, I really feel like going for gold here, so I am also going to attempt a picture or two in order to keep up with you techno-savvy kids who are posting videos and the like.

Ultra was...alright. It turned out to be better than I expected, but that doesn't say all that much, as I was expecting it to be terrible. I think that Brad echoed - I'm pretty sure it was Brad but don't want to mess things up by going back to check - my sentiments exactly when he said that it was like a Scholastic book that a distant relative would've purchased for me circa 1990. I was really excited when I read page one and thought that it was non-fiction, but was then disappointed when Travis crushed my dreams and told me otherwise. Don't get me wrong, there are some positives for this book: it would be easy to teach (although it would never be my choice) and it is a straightforward read and therefore easily accessible to many grades. For me, I just found it too predictable and the characters, underdeveloped.

Now Nazi Hunters. Tracy and I had this book in the first round, and I loved it. I couldn't put it down; not just because I was stuck in the Canmore hospital with a sick student and had nothing else to do, but because I found the investigative/spy/capture aspect of it engrossing. I have read and watched my fair share of Holocaust texts but this novel is the first one that brought something new to the table. I knew nothing of Adolf Eichman prior to reading this book, and unlike those Social Studies/Phys Ed teachers who make up the upper echelon of the education system, I am not overly well versed in geography and the events that lead up to formation of Israel; so this book actually taught me many things, and not all of them directly about the Holocaust. After I read it, I spoke to my grade sevens, eights, and nines about it, and many of them have bought their own copies and absolutely love it - most of them commenting on the 'spy' aspect of it and the geography-type-stuff that they learned.

Needless to say, the Vimy vote goes to Nazi Hunters.

 **interesting tidbit about this picture: apparently Nazi hunters around the world called for a ban against Hitler wine (didn't know that was a thing).

Glory wins... insert pun here.

I have read, and enjoyed, three titles by A. S. King, though I see a clearly discernible pattern in the themes of these works; it would seem that moody, introspective stories sell.  To be fair, one could level similar criticisms against others in young-adult genre -- chief amongst them, John Green -- but perhaps this represents the genesis of author-loyalty for our students; after all, I'd read a take-out menu if Vonnegut wrote it.  Nonetheless, my colleagues at DDM and I agree that young 'Glory' is well-conceived and deftly hits on bona fide themes that will appeal to young readers.

Which is not to say that Famous Last Words, by Katie Alender, was without virtue; I can enjoy a pulp as much as the next guy.  If one can contrive a healthy dose of obliviousness in the face of Reed's constant presence, which has no apparent function beyond sledgehammer foreshadowing, this is a fun story, stylistically in-keeping with the story's mien; an homage to film noir of the era?

Hat's-off to A. S. King for a good read, but me thinks the game is afoot, and the next round will not be won so easily.


Swing Votes, Bibles, Heart Shaped Paper Clips, and a Guest Appearance by Jeff Probst.

Dia and I felt like the loner contestant on Survivor, the odd man out, the one no one wants to work with. We are the swing vote. The vote with POWER.  With Westmin voting in favor of I'll Give You the Sun and all of the ABM staff voting for The Night Gardener our two votes would decide the fate.   The swing vote can change the game in a moment, breaking all of your little literary hearts (Dia and I may have cackle laughed more than once at the prospect of this). Surprisingly no one tried bribery, and in our lunch time meeting no one really managed to sway our vote one way or another.  The good news is, that this time there was no yelling in our meeting and we all all left with our self-esteem intact.  It should be noted that Annabel and Andrew were not there. Make inferences as you wish.

We have actually spent the last twenty four hours mulling over our decision, and it has not been an easy one.  We feel torn. We spent the whole break this morning saying in unison, "ahhhhhhhhhh what should we do." I looked in my dead grandma's bible and I found the perfect rule to help us make our decision and live with it as the swing vote:

If you upset a round in Smackdown, take a paperclip and fold it into the shape of a heart.  Place the paperclip underneath the keyboard of your fellow Smackers for one night.  Remove it in the morning.  They will forget this ever happened. 

Our thoughts/thoughts of the poster:

The Night Gardener is a book that most definitely could be on any shelf in any classroom.  Many of my grade 7s have read the book this year already, some admitting that they found it hard to read late at night because they thought it was too creepy.  It is accessible to a wide audience of readers. The black pages were one of the reasons I was so excited to read this book this past summer.  The whole book was packaged with the horror/gothic reader in mind.  It has this slow rise that brews and bubbles throughout the story.  The imagery in this book is fantastic as is the suspense. What is in that room?  Where is that mud coming from?  How did the leaves get there?  Why is that kid so mean to the kid with the crutch?  Can they escape the terror? Many of us on the ABM team felt that students would enjoy this as a read aloud, but that students may struggle with is the unique language spoken by Molly and Kip.  We have seen similar situations in books like The Knife of Never Letting Go and Blood Red Road. 

When I was watching the Oscars on Sunday night  Graham Moore's acceptance speech rang true to me when I thought about I'll Give You the Sun.  He said, "I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or she's different or she doesn't fit in anywhere.  Yes you do.  I promise you do.  Stay weird.  Stay different, and then when it's your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message along."

This is one of these "weird" books, but damn it (can I use that word?) it is so beautifully written. There are young adults out there who need this book, so they can feel a sense of belonging.  There has been a lot of talk in the Twitterverse this year about needing more diverse books, and baby this is one.  Besides Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe I cannot remember such an eloquently written book on this topic in a while.  Usually teen romance has me rolling my eyes and thinking get on with it already, but I never felt that way while reading this.  The other night when I was reading the part about Brian and Noah I actually got so lost in their moment I forgot their gender.  This book didn't feel forced, it was full of tension and uncertainty, shame, and pride- something many LGBT teens feel.  Nelson really had her work set out for her with the plot she created, and I think she handled tying it up well.  During our lunch time discussion I brought up the fact that this is the only book besides Under the Egg that I have read in the last two years that really addresses the fine arts, specifically art so well.  That part of the book drew me in when both Noah and Jude were creating art, or all of the references to artists.  That is a niche market that is not often addressed.  That was another audience for this book.  Our problem with the book was the voice of Noah.  Is that REALLY how a thirteen year old talks?  Is that how a thirteen year old thinks? We felt like it was a stretch at times.  Just because you add the immature jest of "toilet licker" doesn't make the voice realistic.  We also struggled as a junior high staff having this book sitting in our library, or in our classroom without ensuring it had the right reader.

Again, both books could easily go through.  Both very different, both outstanding.  It became the argument of which lens we should view these books; student as audience or literature that is art?

There have been so many diverse/weird/unique/make you think books this year.  Dia and I raise our fists in solidarity for books like Glory O'Brien, The Knife of Impossible Memory and Grasshopper Jungle.  We love to celebrate the weird, because well, we are slightly weird.

So with that, our swing vote goes to:

What does Probst always say Smackers? "Expect the Unexpected."  Wait.  That's Big Brother.  Wait. Do we watch way too much reality tv? Wait? Whose idea was it to let me write this? Wait. Who gave me login access?

We made our swing vote using the lens of student audience to make our decision, but all you Sunners will have your chance in the next round to help it rise from the dead.  Dia and I may join you. I am also quite sure we broke the universe.

Zombie with caution my friends.

Liars vs Sister Mine

We are Liars was an overall good read.  Definitely in the vein of Drowning Ruth and other books about mysterious families, which I enjoy.  I love a good mystery about a family with money and a legacy and this one unfolds nicely.  Not a masterful read but a good one.  I particularly like the short stories about the king and his three daughters that held hidden meanings and themes.  Like someone else said, it was m'eh but I believe their was potential for fantastic.  I am happy we moved this one forward.

Sister mine was horrific and in all honestly I only needed about 3 chapters to know that.  This book was not worth my time to finish so I bailed.  I will admit I am a book bailer.  I will not finish a book just because.  The author needs to hook me in order to have my valuable time and this book failed miserably.

P.S-Super disappointed the I'll Give You the Sun didn't move on.  I was looking forward to reading that!

Are you Kidding Me?

When I got the email this morning that Night Gardener was moving on past I'll Give You the Sun - I was absolutely stunned.  Night Gardener was a good book but for me, not even comparable.  So...I got online to "lay some smack" and there is only a single post about this battle and the post is pro - I'll Give You the Sun...and overwhelmingly.

SO...if you are moving Night Gardener on - you have some 'espaining to do.  Get posting so I can figure out what the heck is going on in the world.

Ultra vs Nazi Hunters

Morning everyone.

For round 3 team Spruce Avenue had to review Nazi Hunters and Ultra. 

Ultimately we chose, at a vote of 2-0, to advance Nazi Hunters on to the next round.

Ultra was an interesting read. We liked how it blended together the two different narrative styles - the interview/podcast and 1st person storytelling. We connected more closely with the text and generally agreed that the text would be a great resource for a grade 7 classroom. It would not be a challenge to teach literary concepts through Ultra but I don't know if I could use it beyond grade 7 or 8. The whole storyline of his dad and that he was running to honour/overcome the loss of his him was obvious and the hallucinations could have been less frequent but there was a certain charm to the novel.

Nazi Hunters, we thought was a unique narrative. Both Christine and I expected that it would be just another WWII story of genocide and the search for humanity. We were wrong. Nazi Hunters was an enjoyable read. It was an engaging spy story about Israel's secret attempt to reveal and capture Adolf Eichmann, one of the key members of the Nazi party. One angle to the story that I was captivated by was the close connection that each member of the Palestinian group had to the holocaust. Whether they had lost their wives, children, parents, friends, etc. each member was deeply moved to be a member of the team and understood the extreme significance of what they were doing. Everyone from the pilot of the flight to the reconnaissance team was honoured to be assisting and in many cases brought to tears at the thought of success.

Nazi Hunters is the novel that we are advancing because of it wide appeal at many different grade levels. I think that it indirectly discusses the effects of the Holocaust, the fear of Nazi Germany, and the ruthlessness of Nazi leaders while reading as an spy/capture novel. We believe that Nazi Hunters, is better, even without its teachability, than Ultra and are advancing it to the next round.

See you all in Round 4!

Travis and Christine.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Nazi Hunters vs. Ultra: Battle of the M’ehs

Well, if you can’t say something nice…be brief.

Needless to say, neither of these books were terrific reads.  Ultra has its charms, to be sure, but reads like a YA book that your Mom ordered from Scholastic circa 1981 because a distant relative (that you just met) noted at a family function that he was going to run a marathon, and you feigned 11-year old interest.  And then your Mom thought that this would be a great book for you to read having read the one sentence plot encapsulation.

It is periodically innocuously charming.  There’s the wacky sidekick best friend (named Kneecap, of course, because why wouldn't she be?).  A few mysteries/secrets that you figure out a few pages in, and then wait 150 pages for the shoe to drop.  I thought the structure (the talk-show interspersed with the actual narrative events, with an occasional hallucination thrown in) was an interesting choice, but I wish it was used with a little more intentionality and purpose.  All and all, methodically purposeful, predictable, and…okay.  I guess.

The Nazi Hunters?  Well, I was expecting to love it.  But I found it…sort of tedious, actually.  Neal Bascomb has an (undesirable) gift for glossing over what would appear to be the most interesting or morally ambiguous situations in his account, while ponderously belaboring others.  And I’m beginning to tire of all these ostensibly non-fiction YA books that read like fiction.  You know, where the author blends imagined events (and they could ONLY be imagined) into historical, third person objective writing or quotations that are a matter of public record.  So, side by side with Eichmann detailing plans to a town’s leaders, a matter of public record, we get fictionalized moments such as this:

At last, in early December, Himmler himself summoned Eichmann to his headquarters in the Black Forest of Germany. “If until now you have killed Jews,” he told Eichmann, in a tone laced with anger, “from now on, I order you, you must be a fosterer of Jews.”

What happens is, of course, that the vestigial verisimilitude from the historical part bleeds into the fictionalized portion, so we are meant to consider the fiction actual reality, and we get this worrisome hybrid where I lose faith in the author’s veracity.  And in elements of the narrative. 

I blame Common Core.

Is it just me who finds this a little bit questionable?

Begrudgingly, Ultra moves on.  Although I’m shocked that it will be in the quarter finals…

A Race and a Chase: 

Ultra vs The Nazi Hunters

It's quite fitting that I started reading Ultra while working out on an elliptical, considering it's about a running race. I'm definitely not as athletic as Quinn is in the novel (you probably wouldn't catch me running...unless it was away from a bear..), but David Carroll really made me feel like I was jogging alongside his protagonist. At first, I wondered what kind of story I was in for - what interesting things could possibly happen to someone while running a race? What on earth would Carroll have to write about?

Well, for a start, we get Quinn's humorous interactions with other runners, friends and family (I loved his texts with his little brother, especially the "lame" jokes); his remembrances of his father (I predicted what had happened to his dad, early on, but that didn't stop me from tearing up at the end); and then the hallucinations...oh, the hallucinations! I wasn't expecting the novel to take a turn for the fantastic, but I thought these moments really reflected our main character's exhaustion and tied nicely with the memories of his dad. This novel (specifically, the inventive plot and the hallucinations) reminded me of  the film 127 Hours. If you've never seen it, check it out and let me know if you feel the same way.

I really did love this book, and I think it would work well as a novel study for a Division 2 classroom, or even for a Grade 7 one, depending on the reading level of your students. Carroll made me care about Quinn and his journey, and that's why I'd recommend this novel. The only complaint I have is minor, and it's a rather geeky one. In the novel, Carroll writes that the Hulk's catchphrase is: "It's clobbering time." Sorry, Mr. Carroll, but that's The Thing from The Fantastic Four. Whew! That was really bugging me...

So, I really don't enjoy non-fiction. I never have. If there's not a gripping plot, I struggle to finish the book. That being said, The Nazi Hunters was a somewhat interesting read and I did learn more about WWII. However, while I found the first chapter fascinating and moving, the major part of the novel (the search for Eichmann) was tedious and I kept forgetting who was who - even with the photographs. Some of my students (I teach Division 3), who enjoy learning about history, might enjoy this book, but I think most of them would put it down after the first couple chapters. The blurb inside the front cover promised me spies and intrigue, but I felt let down. I thought there would be much more chasing, hidden identities and gadgets. I think my knowledge of spies has been fueled by James Bond films. Bond, alas, is fictional. Sigh...

My vote: Ultra should race on and the chase is over for The Nazi Hunters.

Willa's Ghosts vs. Glory's Visions

Look, I'm no Carmen Sandiego.  I'm not one of those people who claim to have known that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, and even the worst CSI episodes used to keep me guessing until the end.  So I'm not bragging when I say that I knew the identity of the serial killer in Famous Last Words almost immediately, it's just that it was so painfully transparent. As Kevin mentioned in his post, if a YA protagonist is torn between an attraction to two guys, one of them is obviously evil.  Famous Last Words was a fun, dumb read, but that's pretty much all it was.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future, on the other hand, was definitely unique, but the strange, suspension-of-disbelief-necessitating aspects handled so skillfully I bought in completely.  I was well over halfway done when I realized with a surge of joy that there was no boy/love/lust/relationship angst (on the part of Glory, anyway...)  Then there was a boy, but he was almost beside the point, and Glory thankfully spent relatively little time dwelling on him.  There's a lot more I could say about the *many* things I loved about this book, but I'll save them for the next round, because it appears our group is unanimous, and my vote goes wholeheartedly to Glory and her bat-dust crazy visions!
Product DetailsProduct Details

Ultra vs. The Nazi Hunters

Hmm, I don’t like being the first in my group to post.  I always have great intentions to track down my group members and have fantastic conversations about what book should move forward before posting.  And then it’s the deadline.  And I need to get something posted, no time to talk.  So, my vote is for Ultra to move forward.  

Ultra is a little bit fantasy, a little bit heartstring-tugging, fast-paced and interesting.  It’s  a book I would recommend to kids without hesitation.  The main character is Quinn Scheurmann.  He has some super-powers (the fantasy part) due to a rare medical condition.  As a result, he can run.  And run and run and run.  He takes part in an ultra-marathon called the Shin-Kicker 100, running 100 miles through the wilderness.  Along the way, we learn more about the story that got him to that race, meet some interesting characters and get to watch him learn about himself.  It would have wide appeal to students, I think, and there is nothing too edgy for junior high or even some grade 5 or 6 students.

The Nazi Hunters would appeal to some kids and I actually quite enjoyed it.  The book tells a true story about a team of spies that works together to capture Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi responsible for the death camps.  The story is interesting, and if you know your history, you’ll know the good guys win.  And of course there are lots of opportunities for cross-curricular links here.  It’s tough going at times though and takes some focus and concentration to keep all the players and events straight.  I can see it appealing to a select group of students who have the stamina to wade through it and a keen interest in the historical events, but I don’t think it has the wider appeal and teach-ability of Ultra.  
I’ll Give you the Sun vs The Night Gardener

The last selection of books left us scrambling to come up with a winner.  This time Westminster was finally rewarded with unpredictable,thoughtful, fabulous and well written novels-- both of which would be perfect on our library shelves.  Probably not terribly surprisingI’ll Give you the Sun is the absolute winner despite the rather understated and uninteresting cover.  (The book ‘s characters create art that captures the essence of our existence apparently –perhaps the cover could not compete. )  There is something so attractive about flawed human beings who are driven to create and Brent’s comparison with Asher Levi is apt.  The fact that the book dealt with the emergence of sexuality in a note perfect way is a bonus too at this time.  I raved while reading and checked in with my fellow reading mates constantly to make sure they experienced the book in the same way.  
The Night Gardener gave us exactly what the cover promised.  This gothic children’s tale took us all a bit to get into, especially after I’ll Give you the Sun but captivated as well.  A morality tale well told.   Maybe the zombie?

Two cents:
am voting for I'll Give You the Sun. I liked The Night Gardener as well, and I hate voting out a perfectly good book, but I'll Give You the Sun was just so beautifully written, definitely memorable, and I think it could be the overall winner this year.  Renae
I agree with Renae.  Although, once I got into it, I enjoyed The Night Gardener more than I anticipated, I'll Give You the Sun was simply too beautiful to beat.  The artists' voices beat out the storytellers' voices by a slim margin in this battle.  Laura

So that's it from Westmin.   And you ABM?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Famous Last Words is History: Glory O’Brien is the Future

Within our little West Edmonton Callingwood and Hillcrest sub grouping. Katrina, Suanne and I had little trouble choosing our winner.

I suppose it’s the worst kind of faint praise to note that I liked Famous Last Words a lot more than I thought I would. Alender did a pretty good job of creating characters that were intriguing and, oddly, kind of authentic. I throw that “oddly” in there because in spite of the fact that I kind of dig the character of Willa and I actually thought the dialogue was pretty well-crafted - with the exception of the overly schlocky serial killer Reed stuff at the end -the novel itself reads too much like a construct as opposed to a story. I’ve voiced this complaint about some YA works before, and although this is certainly not a problem unique to the genre, I do find it somewhat cynical when an author panders to an overly reductive perceived audience. Hmm, what would really get the typical teen mind a racing?Serial killers, Hollywood intrigue, passively dueling cute boy-men, duplicitous friend, family drama etc. are all, undoubtedly, viable interest points for many a young adult, but in casting so wide a net you’re inevitably going to catch a lot more minnows than sharks. Ok, I don’t even know if that metaphor makes sense, but I just think that maybe without so many moving parts we might have been able to engage in a story with more depth and nuance. Moving to Hollywood with mom and the new step-dad is intense enough, do we need to roll in Willa’s somewhat dubious fears that she may have killed her father? The loss of her father is profound and worth exploring. I want to know how a thoughtful young woman like Willa would process such a tragedy, but Willa’s foray into the spirit world actually detaches us from her emotional journey and, worse, seemed to be there simply to set up a tidy end to the Hollywood serial killer plot line. I guess I prefer Nancy Drew to Scooby Doo, but I felt vaguely disappointed that - and I’m sorry for yet another spoiler for those who have yet to read it - Willa needs to get saved by the ghost in the end. Any satisfaction we might have received knowing Paige gets her retribution is limited because we only know her second-hand throughout the book. I could go on, but despite all of this I think it is a book that many people will find enjoyable and Alender has kept her many threads neatly woven together, I just think she could have trusted Willa to carry the narrative a little more.

Trust in one’s main character is not a problem for A.S. King, whose Glory O’Brien is a really remarkable character. If someone had told me that I’d be championing a book about two young girls who temporarily gain the ability to see into the future by ingesting the remains of a bat, I’d offer an incredulous “Pardon?” But here’s the thing: that’s not what this book is about at all. That narrative device of looking into the future, actually serves to ground Glory even more significantly in her present struggles and allows us to see that Glory is not just fighting for her little space in the world, but she is fighting to save the world. If that sounds like it would be didactic or heavy-handed, it’s a credit to King’s skills as a writer that it is not either. She takes us beyond conventional reality to engage with some very big ideas, but those ideas serve at the pleasure of the larger narrative rather than turning into a lecture. The real genius of the novel is the way that King is able to use Glory and Ellie and their very realistically uneven relationship to explore some really nuanced aspects of grief and relationships. The dystopic vision that frames this novel is going to unsettle and probably turn off a number of readers, but I thought it worked in establishing just how substantial Glory’s personal struggles are and how high the stakes are. This really hit home for me when I read the author’s afterword in which she thanked her parents for “not succumbing to the consumerist pink nonsense that was shoved toward them from every direction as they raised their three daughters.” It underscored that this is not only an entertaining book, but an important one, particularly for young women.

Round 3 - who wins between We Were Liars and Sister Mine

Sometimes blogs are long and sometimes not...this blog is of the "not" variety.  Really no contest in this round at all ....We Were Liars is moving forward.   Neither book was loved by all but really so few of us could even tolerate Sister Mine that it seems incredible that it made it this far (must go back and read those blogs to figure that out).  I could rant about both but really I feel like neither book really deserves the "air time" and so no synopsis and no discussion about either book in this blog.

Blogged by Maureen on behalf of Team 2

Glory vs. Famous Last Words

I mentioned to my sister who teaches grade 7 in Calgary that I was reading Famous Last Words and she said that a number of her students had been reading and (mostly) enjoying the book. It's interesting enough, if not somewhat formulaic. Even jr. High girls know that when there are two potential love interests, one slightly older with a chiseled jaw and one a mysterious loner with black framed hipster glasses, one of them must actually be evil! This is one of those books that reminded me of Lois Duncan- some murder, some supernatural, nothing too-adult, nothing too literary. An easy read but nothing special.

Glory was better, although I wouldn't go so far as to say I loved it. I thought that unlike last year's Ask the Passengers, also by King, Glory made a bit better use of the magical gimmick of seeing into people's past and future. The future was maybe a bit over-the-top, even by crazy dystopian world standards, but it would make for an easy understanding on the part of students of the ways in which rights are slowly-and then quickly- eroded. Something which seems highly relevant today. It seemed to me that Glory still fell victim to some of those YA tropes (Glory even acknowledges the trope of the dead mother, only to enact the same situation herself) that I find to be a little annoying after a while. Honestly- what is with these YA girls who always meet guys that are 3-5 years older than them and already in college?! Nevertheless, the relationships at least possessed a sense of complexity and the story never promised any easy answers. This is definitely my pick to move forward (although I am still rooting for Ill Give You the Sun as the overall winner!)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Famous Last Words Vs Glory O'Brien

This was an easy one for me.  Famous Last Words was Ok - I can see some kids who would read it.  But it never grabbed me in any way and I thought there was no real depth to the book.  After I read it I went back to see what it had beat out and was surprised to see it beat our Afterworlds.
I had actually read all the books that were in the Glory O'Brien pool so I was excited to read Glory and see how it compared.  And I was not disappointed!  I love this book, I loved the voice of Glory and as she was telling the future, I could really see that happening.  Do I think you can drink a bat and see the future? No, but I thought the story of the future was really compelling.  As the books have been talked up multiple times in previous posts, I'll keep it short.  Glory O'Brien all the way!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sister Mine and Liars

I abandoned Sister Mine.  I am quite fond of fantasy, but maybe I'd like mine with a little less incest and possession.  Liars was better, at least it's a book I could actually recommend to a student.  Maybe I'm still smarting from the disappointment of Afterworlds, but am I the only one that feels dismay at the thought that the books in the running so far are representative of the best that 2014 YA had to offer?  Are we truly feeding our high school readers a diet of despair, hopelessness, self-centredness and lust?  Yes, I get the power of some grit and conflict, some intent to reflect the realities of life--I loved Code Name Verity--but to what extent do we promote wallowing in crapulence? What about notions of courage, bravery, standing up for right, defending the powerless?  Aren't there any more Harry Potters to be found?  Even Hunger Games and Divergent at least have some of the sense of courage and hopefulness in a hopeless time (at least in the first few books).  I've thought of myself as an avid YA reader up until this point.  I love fantasy, science fiction and a bit of romance, but, clearly, either I'm behind the trend, or I'm reading from a very different section.  Are we raising a generation of students who will never read Lord of the Rings because they're too busy waiting for the next Fifty Shades?  I hope for better:

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”― C.S. Lewis

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sister Mine

  I read Sister Mine last weekend in about two sittings and will read We Were Liars this weekend. I've only had a chance to talk to one of my team members but I thought that I'd better get some thoughts down while the book is still fresh in my mind.
  "The sun shining and the rain falling; the devil and his wife fighting for the coucou stick (wooden pot spoon)." My Mom would often say these words as the sun broke through the drizzling rain. I am no stranger to the dialects and beliefs of the islands of the Caribbean, so it was pretty easy for me to connect with this novel. The crappo (toad) outside our back door was some spirit of the dead come to visit. The Bahoo man lurked in the cane field and the duppie might come visit you at night if you weren't sleeping in blue. Needless to say, with my background knowledge I was transported back to my childhood days.
  What felt strange though was taking the stories and images born of my native land and embedding them into a foreign land. I also found that despite my background knowledge, some threads of the story were complicated in sections. However, Hopkinson's ability to create vivid images that appeal to all the senses compensates for the complexities. Kudos toHopkins for her ability to share an important part of the Caribbean culture with the rest of the world.
  I have been accused by my nieces, nephews and own children of traumatizing them with stories from my culture. You see, the stories I remember most are the ones told by my Mom on those nights when the electricity would go off and we would sit around the candlelight just before bedtime. I spent many scary, sleepless nights in panic mode. And yet I repeated the cycle with my own children. I made a promise as I started my teaching career that I would not be responsible for traumatizing any other children. Therefore, before recommending Sister Mine to a junior high reader I would consider the maturity level. For the high school level I think this would be a novel to get students talking. I can't wait to hear what the rest of my team thinks about Sister Mine.
  Well I'm off to read We Were Liars. DebP.