Saturday, May 18, 2013

Eleanor & Park

I shouldn't have read 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

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is one of the nonfiction options on our summer reading list. Since I desperately need more nonfiction books in my stable of recommendable books, I checked it out. While I am not sure it is appropriate for the middle school students I teach, I will definitely be recommending it to high schoolers and adults who are not squeamish.

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

Is it strange for a book blogger to write that she's "back into reading"?  It's the only way I can say it...I can't get enough! After almost half a year of doing anything but reading, I am now glued to my kindle. Maybe it has something to do with all the incredible books I've been checking out.

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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

I'm starting my summer reading early.

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.