John Green's review. What can be said after John Green has already done it, better than you could ever dream? Can I just write what I put on my friend Amy's Facebook wall, "John Green loved it and you will, too"?
This is the love story that you should hand to high school readers who want romance, but not Nicolas Sparks sap. This is real, against the odds romance, full of the difficulties that teenagers actually face. Eleanor's poor, redheaded, big, and has the worst stepfather. Park's the only half-Asian kid in Omaha, too effeminate for his father, and feels far too alternative for his small town. After a harsh start, the pair bond over music and comic books, slowly growing in their feelings for each other. The progression of their relationship feels realistic--although they spend all their time thinking about each other, they do little more than hold hands and memorize facial features.
I loved the use of alternating narrators; we get Park's appreciation of the things that make Eleanor insecure. He thinks, "The whole sky was the color of her skin." She pines, "There's only one of him, she thought, and he's right here." Rainbow Rowell perfectly captures the all-consuming feeling of first love, while hinting at all the darkness that will cause it to fall apart. I don't want to spoil this book, it's just too good. Please read it, then hand it off to someone with whom you can discuss it.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Mary Roach into what happens to bodies after death in every possible way. She writes about donating bodies to science, being used as a test dummy, how cremation works and where mortuary science is headed, among dozens of other things. This is a sticky book, one that I have been thinking about a lot since I started reading. On a flight to Medellin, I remembered an interview from the novel which states that it is safest to have a window seat near an exit row. Guess where I sat? When I get in a packed taxi, I take heed Roach's suggestion that the middle seat in the back is safest. Like Malcolm Gladwell's books, Stiff is packed with information to which I will continue to refer back.
Why won't I be recommending it to my kids? It's pretty gruesome. Throughout history, cadavers have not been very well treated and Roach doesn't shy away from touchy subjects. I think that it would cause nightmares for some students, especially those who have lost a loved one. Still, I have a few students that I will track down in about four years and say, "Check this book out. You'll love it."
Monday, May 6, 2013
See You at Harry's got a lot of blog love when it was first released, but I couldn't bring myself to read it because I find the cover dated. When I saw that an educator I really admire, Gary Anderson, adored it, I knew I had to pick it up. I'm so glad I did. This is a beautifully crafted, modern story that makes me want to read everything Jo Knowles has written. (This review was just paused for ten minutes while I read the synopses of all her other books and then looked to see if my school library has them.)
Like many middle schoolers, Fern finds her family embarrassing. She has a mother who spends more time meditating than parenting, a father who will do anything to keep the family restaurant running, a hippie older sister who doesn't seem to be going anywhere, a gay older brother who is coming to terms with himself, and a toddler brother who always seems to be sticky and underfoot. As she navigates her way through the beginning of middle school, she thinks that bullying on the bus is a problem, until tragedy strikes and she must learn how to cope with true problems. I don't want to spoil the book, although I will say that the horrible event is not what I anticipated. What impressed me most was Knowles' descriptions of how the family deals with the unimaginable. It features one of the saddest scenes I've encountered in a long time, leaving me in tears during the D.E.A.R. time at our school. Everything about the novel feels so real, and judging by the dedication, for good reason. When my kindle-happy girls ask me what they should be downloading to read this summer, See You at Harry's will be at the top of my recommendation list.
Posted by Miss K at 6:56 PM
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
You may have noticed that I'm not a huge nonfiction fan; I never have been. Still, I want to be able to recommend some nonfiction titles from our list and the only one I have read is the fantastic Chew On This (my review). When I found Chasing Lincoln's Killer in our staff room, I figured I would give it a try.
Author James Swanson has been obsessed with Lincoln since childhood. His diligence and attention to detail paid off in a highly detailed and engaging book. Swanson has a gift for taking historical documents and recreating a story which appeals to young readers. The events unfold over twelve days and Swanson keeps up a fast pace. It helps that he is able to include some gruesome descriptions that middle school students love. I found myself cringing when I read, "The doctors probed Lincoln's bullet wound with their bare, dirty fingers, sticking their pinkies inside Lincoln's brain." This is the kind of history that fascinates my sixth graders.
While everyone is familiar with Lincoln's assassination by John Wilkes Booth, there is so much more to learn. Chasing Lincoln's Killer is the perfect blend of information and narrative retelling; I will be handing it to many students for the summer.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
This is the most likable that any of the characters have been: Cicely has matured, Linden shows some spine, and even Vaughn is a more well-rounded character. Plus, there is almost nothing about the bizarre South Carolina carnival that dominated too much of Fever. Rhine is not in a drug haze or ill in Sever, so she can be the strong heroine we want her to be. There are also a lot more plot twists and fun characters in this novel.
One thing didn't work for me: Gabriel. While I have always found him to be a bit of a drag, there is nothing in Sever that would explain Rhine's devotion to him. I didn't really care if Rhine ever ended up with Gabriel, so was not invested in his storyline.
It's sad to end a series when you've enjoyed it, although I am eager to see what Lauren DeStefano comes up with next.
Posted by Miss K at 9:59 AM
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The Classroom: The Epic Documentary of a Not-Yet-Epic Kid is the latest novel which tries to capitalize on the success of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Rather than going for the diary format of so many imitators, author Stephen Gilpin chose a loosely organized documentary. It wasn't enough. Although Trevor has his quirks, he is a bland character, and so are the other stereotypes that pepper the book. I kept hoping for more, and this went on for awhile, because The Classroom is too long for the audience it is geared towards. The cover of The Classroom will grab plenty of readers; I'm curious to see how many of my students actually finish it.
Posted by Miss K at 5:59 PM
Saturday, April 13, 2013
This is a story starter that I would love to share with my middle school students as an example of a true hook. That's about the only thing in Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers that I could share. Still, for mature teens and YA-loving adults, the novel is engrossing.
Jazz's father is the most notorious serial killer in history, and despite his being jailed for life, he looms large in Jazz's mind and in the memory of his community. When a copycat killer begins striking in Jazz's hometown, he needs to use the 'training' his father gave him to prevent the next murder. With his incredible ability to think like a serial killer, Jazz has to wonder if he didn't inherit more than he wanted from Dear Old Dad.
Lyga doesn't spare the reader any gruesomeness with his grisly descriptions of Billy Dent's crimes. I can see parents objecting, but know that it isn't very different from the "Saw" movies or many other types of media that fascinate teenagers. In fact, I read that I Hunt Killers is going to be made into a television show for ABC Family, with the main character as the daughter of a serial killer. I have no idea how they will be able to translate this novel for that channel, but would be interested in checking it out. Unfortunately, I'm sure the television show will leave out some of the more interesting aspects of the novel, such as Jazz's relationship with his African American girlfriend, Connie. Jazz admits that one of the reasons he was first attracted to Connie was because his father never had any African American victims, so maybe he is being "safe" by having this relationship. Details like these made I Hunt Killers more than a simple slasher or mystery novel.
The sequel, Game, will be released in just a few days. A benefit to being behind in my reading: I only have to wait three days to pick up where the story left off.
Posted by Miss K at 10:19 AM
Saturday, April 6, 2013
I adored Son: making connections between characters, learning more about the original community, and experiencing life from the perspective of Claire, a birthmother from Jonah's original community. The biggest treat of all was that Son is essentially three books, two about Claire and one about Gabe. Interestingly enough, my favorite was the second section, about Claire rebuilding her life.
There are a few references to events in Gathering Blue and The Messenger, but they aren't required reading to be able to enjoy Son. It might actually even be fun to go straight from The Giver to Son, and not have to wait twenty years like the rest of us did!
I wish the cover was jazzier, but then, The Giver doesn't have the most appealing cover either. I suppose it doesn't matter, because anyone who has read The Giver will be dying to check out Son.
Posted by Miss K at 10:18 AM
Saturday, March 9, 2013
DeStefano is able to do so, but I preferred Rhine's life in the mansion to a bizarre prostitution carnival or the streets of New York. It was brave of the author to kill off or alienate beloved characters in the first novel; unfortunately, they aren't replaced with characters that are as endearing as Jenna or Cicely.
The cover of the novel is actually a great representation of Rhine's state in most of the novel: she is either drugged or ill, listless and powerless. I often wondered why she didn't do more to improve her situation, which was frustrating. I would have given up on the series altogether, but DeStefano reels me back in with the final line of the novel. Will I be reading the recently released third book, Sever? I'm ordering it right now!
Posted by Miss K at 2:18 PM