Monday, December 30, 2013

Reading like Hobbits: It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Shelia at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers give the meme a kidlit spin. 
Open your Amazon wish list or your "to be read" list in GoodReads as you visit participating blogs from the links above. You're sure to find  great titles to keep you reading well into the New Year.

*               *               *
I love to read.When my son and I saw The Hobbit, the perfect reading retreat, Bilbo Baggins' round and cozy house came to life--somehow it seemed to me, Hobbit's must love to hole up and read. I sure do.  I love to sink into stories and take long walks with words. Winter vacation gives me swaths of time to do just that. What a blessing these few quiet days have been. Fortunately, we had plenty of leftovers to see us through our post-Christmas reading binge. No cooking and minimal dish washing was required. I read eleven books. This post will have to come to you in parts. I find I can't do justice to eleven stories in one fell swoop, nor would you likely want to hang on and read that long either. So in no particular order, comes part one: 

Tissues, you'll need a fresh box handy when you sit down to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Will Traynor, financial-genius, former risk-taker, now lives at home with his parents and care-givers. Paralyzed after an accident and depressed he wishes for a dignified death of his choosing. His family hires spunky, former waitress, Lou, and of course, love slowly grows. I loved Lou's sense of humor in the face of Will's anger and depression. I love how she picked herself up to get the job done and worked her way through even the darkest of days. Though I predicted the ending, and found class and gender distinctions a bit stereotypical, I cried my way through it. I loved the story. Thanks for recommending it, Beth.

"You only get one life. It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible (194)."

Reena's life is definitely full; full of dreams and family and responsibility. Imagine being sixteen, pregnant, and abandoned. Though Reena Montero's family sticks by her, the boy she loves, Sawyer LaGrande, does not. He returns after a two year absence and finds Reena raising their daughter. What would you do if he came back to you?

I marked several spots in Cotugno's How to Love that I want to read aloud in or use for journaling in class--there is a lot to which students will connect. Reena dreams of being a travel writer and as a new mother she's weaned herself away from magazines and travel websites, but she admits, 

"I've still got a weakness for the blogs. I can waste whole nights clicking through: staring at the bright, hypersaturated images captured by women passing through San Diego or spending a year in Jakarta, reading stories about the food they've been eating and the people they've met along the way. It's torturing myself. I don't know why I go out of my way to do it.

So far, I haven't been able to make myself quit (222) ."  There are times in life when we torture ourselves or waste time with wanting, instead of filling time with being and accepting or doing--just this bit could be a perfect fresh start read aloud when we go back to school. I liked how that moment of Reena's captured feelings we all share. I also loved how these characters often said, "Tell me something good (231)." I wonder what my students would say if I asked them to do that.

Love is on the menu at the mental health center in Cook and Halpin's A Really Awesome Mess too, but it's the love that develops in families and between friends and helpers and in times of trouble. Thrown together in group therapy, these teens find ways to cope. On a field trip to a local fair the teens each pledge to face a fear or peel back a layer. Diana comes to this epiphany: 
      "'Yeah that's totally badass. Not killing yourslef even when you think you want to. Takes a lot more balls to stay alive, don't you think?'
     We all smiled because it was the truth: Living did take a lot more guts than giving up (152)."

Josh finds himself in a mess his senior year too. Jo Knowles' Living with Jackie Chan will remind you Jumping Off Swings; finally we get to find out what happened to Josh after the girl he got pregnant gave their child up for adoption. I know I won't be the only one to fall in love with Josh's Uncle, Larry. He's made of rainbows and as persistent as light. 
This scene between Josh and Stella, a neighbor and new friend, captures just a little bit of Larry's influence: 
"'You should get this for Larry!" She holds up an Einstein bobblehead. Its head shakes all over the place. 'I'm so smart. Yes I am, yes I am, yes I am,' she says as fast as his head nods.
I laugh.
'Oh, my God!' she yells.
A bunch of people look over at us.
'You just laughed!'
I stop smiling. 'And?'
'I don't think I've ever heard you laugh. I must have magical powers.'
I know this can't be true. I mean the laughing part. 'Funny,' I say.
She elbows me. 'Sorry I'm just not used to  seeing you look, you know, happy.'
'Way to harsh my mellow,' I say. Because honestly? She really did. Who wants to hear how depressing they are?
'Harsh your mellow? Wow. Larry is really rubbing off on you...You should laugh more's good for you.'
'Now who sounds like Larry?'

Living with Jackie Chan reminds me  what is right in families and between people. In times of crisis, we come together. We support each other. We see the ones we love through.

 In McGovern's Say What You Will, Amy is a senior who wants to finally make friends. Trapped in a body she cannot control, she convinces her parents to hire "peer helpers" instead of the para-professionals and therapists she's had all her prior years in school. Her favorite peer assistant is Matthew, a boy struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. McGovern's voice reminded me of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park, but softer. The discoveries Amy and Matthew make, the truths they unearth about themselves and others deepen their hope for love and the future.  


Two titles with magic and a bit of mystery that I enjoyed are Unthinkable by Nancy Werlin and Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick. Many of my girls like a good Cinderella story and Werlin and Rudnick's tales will appeal to those readers. 

Werlin's is the sequel to Impossible. It's been a long time since I read Impossible, so at first, I wished I'd brought it home from school to reread. Fortunately, Unthinkable didn't require it. The story spins the faerie curse from a new angle and the connections Werlin makes between Fenella's current plan to end the her life-curse and the past escape from the curse of the Mud Creature were just right. 

Gorgeous is for fans of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady or Royal families. Doesn't every teenage girl question her beauty and identity? I can see my girls delighting in the ride Becky Randle takes from trailer park to top of the world. Becky shows us that life may be tenuous, but love lasts. There are several laugh out loud moments in the lives of these quirky characters, but I found myself adoring Becky's commentary about English hats after a date at the races (with the Prince no less): 

"Rocher had told me that Ladies' Day was all about the hats and here they were; there was a whole other party going on atop every woman's head. There was a hat the size and shape of a spare truck tire slathered in peppermint strips, there was a stack of eight graduated gift boxes, each in lime green, the shades growing more intense until the tiny uppermost gift box sprouted a silk-and-wire palm tree. There was as safety-cone-orange derby with a cobalt-and-mocha checkerboard brim, anchoring a spray of peacock feathers. There were bows as wide and stiff as skateboards, and Himalayas of smushed taffeta, and an oval, sloping gingham platter supporting a wicker cornucopia spilling a full-sized velvet pineapple, some hand-carved wooden apples, clusters of hand-blown glass grapes and a few green sequined zucchinis. 
I'd been pounded and bruised by the English press but these hats were an England  I could love. (155-56)."
Becky Randle developed the kind the kind of pluck and confidence that I want my girls to have. She overcame feeling invisible, learned that looks are much less important than love and found a way through heartbreak and loss. Werlin's Unthinkable seemed darker, the character of Fenella more desperate. I enjoyed both books, but I laughed more with Becky in Gorgeous.

I'll lead with the last four next week. How's that?
I have four more titles to go from our Hobbit read-a-thon, but the cozy chair is calling and I'd rather read right now than keep writing, so you'll have to tune back in next week for part two.

 I like reading books much more than I like writing about them. It takes a special kind of self-discipline to keep count of or write up what I read--sort of like counting calories.  I don't do it all the time. If I had to write about or track every book I read, I'd likely quit reading. No, I wouldn't, but it sure would slow down the fun. Who wants that? I'll save the rest for next week and see how many I can devour between now and then. I still have stacks from NCTE and ALAN: book treasure piles await!

Happy Reading and a Happy New Year to You!