Monday, December 31, 2012

The Coming of Age Novel

Several months ago a post on Goodreads got me to thinking. It was a simple enough post. The person was asking for a list of coming of age books for boys. I mentioned A Separate Peace as I loved that book as a teenager, I love it still and we teach it to our Sophomores. Sure it's a Classic, but it's a good Classic, one that I can get into and I can get the kids into. I mean really who doesn't have a best friend who they are also jealous of? Who hasn't wanted physical harm to come to someone, but regretted it when it actually does? Who hasn't realized, at least once, that they're the bad guy and they deserve to lose? This book is also set during war with main characters that are too young to fight, but who really want to, with main characters who see their friends going of to war and realize that maybe war isn't really all it's cracked up to be. This was especially poignant in 2002 and is still poignant if I have a student whose older brother or sister or friend has been or is in Iraq or Afghanistan. They get it.

Anyway, so I mentioned A Separate Peace and someone replied that kids don't read that anymore, they find it boring and can't relate. I wanted to know why students could no longer relate, I mean I was/am teaching it to students and they seem to be interested enough (seriously, I find that anything that's assigned will not agree with everyone, but if I can get one kid in my class to hop on the band-wagon, several others follow). I began to wonder what modern coming of age novel appealed to teens today. To be clear, on my search for these books I didn't want trendy books, I wanted genuine Bildungsroman novels that for some reason or another would stand the test of time, and sure, that's going to be slightly subjective. I also feel that no matter what age of a teen book, if you can find the hook, it can relate to any teen. The themes found in any Bildungroman are universal to the teen experience.

At first, I found this article from NPR that seemed to play into what the Goodreads post was saying. Sure, for those of you who don't want to click to read it, The Catcher in the Rye is still be assigned and still on banned book lists, but really it seems to be out of touch with young people today. This article at least points out that Holden Caulfield may not relate to teens today because the majority of teens are not WASP-y (my words not theirs), and those that weren't when the book came out didn't really have a voice to say otherwise.

Nowadays there are tons of voices (GLBT, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Christian, Muslim, inner-city, male, female, tween, rural and I could go on and on and on) and I'm sure each of these voices have different ideas of what might classify as a coming of age novel for the modern teen.

Major traits of a Bildungsroman or Coming of Age Novel (for this I'm using the word interchangeably)

  1. "focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and in which character change is thus extremely important"*
  2. the protagonist is looking for answers and experience 
  3. a journey to maturity through a major event in the character's life
  4. because the above books were both written in the 50s and I'm looking for books for modern teens written, all of the books below were written after the 1950s. I suppose that makes them post-modern, but anyway...
25 Modern Bildungsroman (alphabetized by authors last name)
  1. Alexie, Sherman The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian
  2. Andersen, Laura Halse Speak
  3. Blume, Judy Forever
  4. Brashares, Ann Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Books 1)
  5. Chbosky, Stephen The Perks of Being A Wallflower
  6. Childress, Alice A Hero Ain't Nothin But A Sandwich
  7. Cisneros, Sandra The House on Mango Street
  8. Crutcher, Chris Chinese Handcuffs
  9. Danizger, Paula The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
  10. Diaz, Juno Drown
  11. Eugenides, Jeffrey The Virgin Suicides
  12. Gough, Julian Juno and Juliet
  13. Green, John An Abundance of Katherines
  14. Guest, Judith Ordinary People
  15. Haddon, Mark The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  16. Murakami, Haruki Norwegian Wood
  17. Myracle, Lauren Kissing Kate
  18. Hinton, SE The Outsiders
  19. Ockler, Sarah Twenty Boy Summer
  20. Picoult, Jodi My Sister's Keeper
  21. Potok, Chaim Chosen
  22. Sebold, Alice The Lovely Bones
  23. Vizzini, Ned It's Kind of a Funny Story
  24. Woodson, Jacqueline The House You Pass on the Way
  25. Zindel, Paul The Amazing and Death-Defying of Eugene Dingman

My knee jerk votes can be found here.

What should I add to the list above?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

I'm trying to see this book through my students' eyes. It's an easy read. The world in which it's based- a post-apoloypctic world trying to recover after a particularly deadly strain of the flu has ravaged North America and possibly the rest of the world- is interesting and thought-provoking. It has many topics they can relate to, like love, being a teenager, and family. And that's about where it stops.

To me, this book was incredibly underwhelming. The post-apocolyptic backdrop is a guise. If it had taken place in a modern-day, plague free society, the story would have been the same. From the point of view of the protagonist, umm.... I can't even remember his name and I just finished this book- the scope of this book is so narrow that it becomes about him and his annoying girlfriend rather than about society as a whole. Still, Hirsch wastes no time in making his message hit-you-over-the-head-and-leave-no-room-for-interpretation clear. The "moral of the story" was incredibly too obvious for me, and I found myself rolling my eyes at every turn. I also found myself sighing loudly at myself for still reading the book.

To sum up The Eleventh Plague, I would say it's a compilation of cliches wrapped inside post-apocolyptic packaging. Boring.

2 Stars

Sex 0/5
Language 0/5
Violence 2/5
There is some war, some death. But it's not described in enough detail (nothing in this book is) that it would be something to be concerned about.
Substance Abuse 3/5
There is a scene of underage drinking. That's another thing that bothered me. Not the underage drinking, but the fact that the author didn't even address the possibility of the kids getting in trouble, or mention why one of the kids was able to be carried home stumbling drunk without worry about what the parents think. It was a non-issue, and was completely unrealistic. It seemed to just be plugged into the book for shock factor, but was done in a way that was completely uninteresting.

Touchy Subjects

Sort of. I think it's odd that the people who let the plague loose are Chinese, and that Chinese people are the enemy. This would have been fine if there had been some sort of explanation. Nope. Chinese people are the enemy. That's all. What?
Death of parents
Again, it's present, but not done in enough depth that I think it would bother any kid who may have had a similar experience

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby

I've been lost three times in my life. Once was with my friend when I was in 6th grade. We were riding our bikes and took one too many unknown turns and ended up in a field on a gravel path. It wasn't really that scary we'd packed a lunch, had planned on having an adventure and, in my small home town, all we had to do was pedaled to the top of the hill (hard on gravel, but not impossible) to see in what direction we needed to pedal to get back to town.

The second time involved my sisters and my grandparents house in the country. It was a little dicer, but still not that bad. We'd been walking in the fields and ended up walking to a creek out of sight of the house. We sat under a shady tree to cool down and tried to walk back the way we came, but ended up at the bottom of an, I swear, 90 degree hill. At the top of the hill we could see the house. Without food or water it was kind of hard to get up the hill and about half-way up we sat down...bad idea if you are trying to climb a vertical hill in the summer heat. but, we crawled up encouraging each other to get to the flat surface where the fence and yard were. Right when we thought we couldn't go any farther we heard our aunt calling us. She could see us and lifted the barbed wire to let us in. We were scolded with kisses and kool-aid and cold baths. She hadn't thought we were lost at all as she could see us from the dining room window the whole time.

The third time was something else entirely as it involved hiking in the dark unknown. It was my second year of teaching and a group of us had gone hiking. We left early and got to the natural bridge and creek at a wonderful time of day. The only problem was the seed ticks in our socks. We tried to follow the same path back, but it started getting dark and we lost our way. We were in a national park, but hadn't signed the post to say we were going to be in there. It grew pitch black and we didn't have any flashlights. We were not prepared for a night hike. It felt like we were going in circles and the seed ticks didn't help either. We ended up hiking up a hill in the dark straight into someone's back yard. These people were kind enough to take us to our cars.

After reading the book Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby I realize I've never been lost at all, and I'm not sure I could survive if I were left to my own devices in some sort of wilderness.

Sarah is a misfit at her preppy school. The girls make fun of her clothes, her mom works in the cafeteria and her dad isn't really in construction, he's a construction worker. She goes on the class field trip to the Everglades to hopefully get to know the students in her class better. Her hand-me down clothes and old camera just make her more out of place and when it's only her teacher giving her the time of day. She decides to take the scary advice of a local boy; she decides to go in an airboat into the Everglades. 

There are so many aspects of this book that are just beautiful, will do an excellent job of reeling in reluctant readers and are honest and real. Ginny makes a point to give us clues into Sarah's life but not everything comes to light until the end. Each chapter is divided up into how many days the kids are in The Glades. In Andy, we find a character who's life seems to mirror Sarah's own, however, Andy doesn't have the kind of parental support and therefore doesn't have the same opportunities. However, Andy is more than just your typical boy and Sarah isn't that 'fraidy cat girl she seems to be at the beginning. Finally, we have the Everglades. In this forest of water and trees we find all that is wonderful about nature and all that is deadly. There are gators and gator-crushing pythons, poisonous snakes, fire ants, Palmetto bugs (which I guess is a fancy Florida word for large roaches) and a baby duck named Teapot. 

In the end, I forgot all about how a stupid mistake got them into this mess and I forgot to think of the wilderness as scary instead I focused on the social and emotional issues of being a teenager and of being true to who you are. Rorby doesn't fail in giving us much to talk about at the end and over at YA Reads, we've talked about everything from the baby duck, to believable characteristics, to the wilderness, to what it means to be a teenager, to the cover of the latest edition. Yes, this book is that good and has that much going on. I loved every breathless minute!

5 Stars
I know enough about this girl, the country and boys like Andy to make this book so much more than enjoyable. If you read it and don't smell the swamp by the end you're doing something wrong.

Teacher Advisories 

Sex 1/5
Hand-holding, first kiss kissing
Language 0/5
If there was a cuss-word at all I missed it.
Substance Abuses 1/5
They allude to Andy's father drinking.
Violence 4/5
Lots of stuff goes on, but it's written in such a way that I feel it would only be a 4 or 5 if maybe a young kid was reading this book. I can't get the water-logged cracked peeled foot skin out of my head, there's also a scene with a python crushing the life out of an alligator that is just disturbing in its truthfulness, Palmetto bugs crawl all over them *pauses to scratch cheek*, an alligator snatches a bird taking flight, dead fire-ant rafts, fire ants, snakes, a pretty intense scene were one is wrapped around Andy's leg and there's lots and lots of mud. Ick.

Touchy Subjects
There are two questions that Ginny ask be thought about when reading this book:

1. Do you think there is a reason the author put a Confederate flag in the garage? How does Andy feel about the flag? How does Sarah? What is its significance to you?

2. There is a quote in the author’s notes by John Dufresne. Why is that quote significant to what you know about Sarah?

As a person of mixed heritage, I think discussion of race in the novel is tantamount to discussing the book itself. Be prepared for race dialogue, to discuss the context of the Confederate flag et cetera.

Sure, some of the characters in the novel act stereotypically, but is this a good or a bad thing. What are stereotypes and how do we overcome them?
Social Class
Separation because of wealth status. Does being poor really matter?

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option (although this book would make an excellent addition to school curriculum)
2] Links for:
Ginny's spoiler alert
Topics for discussion
3] I'm going to see if Lit Muse, my lit club at school, wants to read it

Monday, July 16, 2012

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Most of this review has been pieced together from a conversation in YA Reads for Teachers (and Any Other Adults) on Goodreads. This month the new-ish book I wanted to read Catching Jordan won the nomination which means I lead the discussion. This book is wonderful to moderate. Please know all the words below are mine. I figured since I said them to begin with I could rearrange them any way I liked.

Before I go off on a "I love this book so much that I want to marry it and have its babies" tangent...I want you to know that this book is exactly what I expected and in no way what I thought it was going to be at all!

Here's what I expected

1. A book about football
2. A book that highlighted football games and talked about aspects of the game I didn't understand
3. A romantic comedy

What I didn't expect
1. The subtle commentary about how boys treat girls in sports
2. The reason Jordan chose the boy she chose
3. What gets me is the sex scene...I wasn't even allowed to lock my bedroom door when I was alone and my mother would have flipped had she caught me in my room with a boy...and, she, like Jordan's mother, would have known what was going on. In some ways jordan's parents are 'too cool' and 'hip'.
4. All the f-bombs...even if I know that kids cuss that much when grown-ups aren't around (what I hear in the hall is sometimes astounding) and even if I know that as Jordan matures there seems to be less cussing and over-all 'puffing' lots of f-bombs

Jordan is a girl who at first seems pretty strong-willed and bad -a, but has actually spent her life trying to please others...her parents, her coach, her best-friend and the list goes on. And, although she has incredible talent as a football player, she still doesn't feel confident enough around girls her age to consider them friends.  It is her best friend that helps her find the balance and, although he is a boy, he is the one who seems to have her best interest at heart. If only he could stop sleeping around and partying enough to get through to her. 

Kenneally did a great job of showing us how easy it is to be a girl in a boy sport in high school compared to the college-level...a sad, but believable approach. Jordan must figure out who she is. She must decide whether she's a college football player (one that's on the bench or one that plays) or a girl who loves her best friend or a girl who loves someone who treats her with kid gloves or a daughter who needs her father's approval. I think this book wonderful shows how our high school dreams morf and change and it shows how we can choose to accept this change or we can find against it our whole lives. In one of those realities we'd have an incredibly unhappy future.

Feel free to discuss...

Oh, and here's the author's website if you're interested:

Her 25 things is pretty awesome!

Want to contribute to the conversation? Want to read and discuss why YA books with your adult brain? Come join us!

5 Stars
Seriously, if you want a romance, this is it. If you want a book about a girl who plays football, this is it too!

Teacher Advisories 

Sex 4/5
There is a sex scene. The scene is not described in any way. Jordan keeps her door locked and when her mother interrupts by knocking. Jordan and the boy get dressed hastily unlock the door and come down-stairs. Jordan talks about the awkwardness of the situation, but nothing seems to come of it from her mother, just a look.
Language 5/5
The F-word about 25 times. Inappropriate sexual slang. Crude language.
Substance Abuses 3/5
There's underage drinking at parties.
Violence 2/5
A girl yells at a boy, he yells back. There's a fight.

Touchy Subjects
Slumber Parties
Sam and Jordan hang out all of the time. Sam stays the night at Jordan's, but they sleep head to toe.
Girls in Sports and Title IX
I'm sure that athletes will want to talk about how Jordan is treated on the field as being unrealistic or too realistic. They may want to talk about this in relation to Title IX.
What it means to love someone
Jordan has to learn what love means. She also has to learn that love doesn't mean always doing what someone tells you to do, especially if that is against what your heart says.
Jordan's father doesn't treat her the same say he does her brother. Jordan's team and coach, treat her pretty fairly, but other players do not.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option

Friday, July 13, 2012

Splash into Summer: Jade's Five Minute Chocolate Mug Cake

Aside from the cocoa...
we have the rest of the ingredients in our house all the time.
Jade's 5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
Original can be found here and in the book Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings. Below you will find a mixture of the two recipes, plus my own words, pictures and observations.

Ingredients and Directions
tablespoons flour
tablespoons sugar
tablespoons cocoa
Mix it well. Then add:
Mix. Then add:
tablespoons milk
tablespoons oil
Mix. Then add:
tablespoons chocolate chips (optional...but, in our recipe it was a must!)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (we used a capful each)

  • We won't talk about what that looks like taste pretty darn good, though!

  • Cook for 3 minutes on high. The cake bubbles up like when you heat up a marshmallow, but don't worry. It just rises up not over. Let it cool for a bit (unless you want to burn your lips off). We let our cool until it had settled to a normal height and then dumped it out onto a plate. Tip it out onto a plate if you want it to cool thoroughly. ENJOY!

  • Notes & Tips
  • 1] You may not need to cook the cake the whole 3 minutes...check it at 2ish, if you don't want it to be overly dry. It took our 3 minutes each and I used, as you can see, two different types of mugs.
  • 2] You might need to add extra oil if it isn't moist enough.
  • 3] Unless you are some sort of chocolate/dessert FA-REAK, this seriously makes enough for two or three, if one of them is a preschooler.
  • 4] Eat it with ice cream it's delish!
  • 5] My sister and I decided that the cake definitely must have the chocolate chips.

  • So, um, yeah my sister and I made this treat while our tiny people weren't around (don't worry they had the leftovers for breakfast! See, we're 'good' parents!). Here we are enjoying it while watching Sherlock. Seriously, it's pretty tasty with some ice cream. Does a little relaxation get any better than this?

  • Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Splash into Summer: The Lure of Shapinsay by Krista Holle

    My first book about selkies and it was definitely better than I thought it would be. Although the romance of it was a bit OVER THE TOP and Edward/Belle-esque, I enjoyed the story of a selkie torn between the sea he loves and the girl he's lured into being with him.

    I thought this story was going to be told through the eyes of the selkie male (named by his 'captor' Eamon) and, it was. However, it is also told through the eyes of the girl, Kait and it seems that it is Kait's story that receives most of the attention in it we find a girl being forced to follow conventions and marry. Her parents have died and it would seem her twin brother Blair thinks he is doing her a favor by setting her up before he pursues his own bride. He believes this to be especially true since Kait's best friend has a baby that isn't quite human, and, because it was thrown out to sea to drown the selkies want some sort of vengeance. Eamon, too, is trapped by duty and a fear of humans, except for he can't stay away from Kait for too long.

    It's pretty cool that this story takes place on the island of Shapinsay during the same time period that Balfour Castle was being built, the middle 1800s, when people still believed in faeries and the evil of witches. Kait learns that to keep Eamon with her, she must steal his selkie coat, and hide it in a place that no one would ever look. This is what human men have been doing to beautiful selkie women for ages and it works in reverse, but at what cost. While Eamon and Kait love one another and are bound to one another it must be determined if this love is strong enough to live through so much on both sides of the equation.

    Although predictable (what love story isn't?), the ending has a twist that I truly enjoyed. I look forward to reading more lovie-dovie romances by Krista Holle and I need to find more books about selkies, as I don't know any of their legends and lore. I feel like I'm behind the times and must go watch The Secret of Roan Inish and Ondine immediately.

    4 Stars   
    The over the top romance and Scottish accents (so hard to do successfully on paper) kind of did me in, I do think that my students will like the romance of this book, and if you're looking for a different sort of paranormal and mermaids are too fluffy, I'd suggest a selkie book.

    Teacher Advisories
    Sex 4/5 
    When selkies are on land they are truly, they don't seem to mind. There's lots of lips touching soft  skin and warm touches and such and Eamon's nude the whole time. There's also a human male who won't leave Kait alone. Kait and Eamon marry and sleep in the same bed. Eamon refers to having sex as 'humping'. They have sex on the beach and in a bed. There's lots of nudity...not written dirtly at all...but it's still there. I'm curious about its YA seems grown-up in this respect...
    Language 0/5 
    Substance Abuses 2/5
    There's a bonfire where there's drinking. There's some more drinking at the tavern. And, then they drink again. Ah, come on, it's Scotland in the 1800s!!!
    Violence 5/5
    Blair abuses Kait often, he holds her down or drags her off. I get that he's trying to protect her, but wow, that's controlling and abrasive! Magnum kisses Kate and treats her like property. A baby is drowned, a girl commits suicide. Selkie women are dragged off to be wives. A Selkie man is forced to be a husband, but then he grows to love her...he loved her already actually, but still.

    Touchy Subjects
    Coerced Relationships
    It is selkie lore that in order to trap a selkie and keep them on land you must steal and hide their coat. This makes any selkie relationship a sad affair, especially if that selkie doesn't want to be kept on land.
    Brutality towards women
    Blair also seems to think that he can force Kait into marrying who he deems fit. He does this by force. It seems that women are not allowed to make choices and they are brutally coerced into making the 'right' choices.

    After her baby is murdered by its grandfather a woman takes her own life, she is that overcome with grief.

    Judgment and Profiling
    Humans think that selkies are evil and at the beginning of the book this is shown through the murder of a little selkie baby.

    How this book is used in the classroom
    1] Independent Read option

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Splash into Summer: Everblue by Brenda Pandos

    I have no idea why I wanted to read this book. I think I was totally drawn in by the cover; isn't it beautiful? And, then I realized I could get a mermaid book for ever so cheap ($.99 as an ebook on the Nook) and, well, I do love a mermaid book on the cheap.

    I love the setting of this book. It's so cool to think that living amongst everyday average people are merpeople and that there are gates to another world where they live and thrive with rules and cities different than our own. I also loved how the gate we see the most is in Lake VERY different than the other books. I like how the world is created with air bubbles in homes so there can be furniture and human creature comforts. I also like the characters (even though one of the merboys is named Fin...yes, Fin, as in I have one), frankly, I especially like Fin the most of all.

    So, if I like all those things about it...why the low-rating? why the dislike? Let me see if I can break it down.

    1. The execution of the story
    This story is paced like it's a 500 page novel. With little details given over time and/or large chunks given over to explanation of a thing that isn't important at that moment. This book takes up practically a whole year.
    2. The back and forth narration doesn't work
    I enjoyed the change of narrator in Tangled Tides, it flowed and I got to know the characters. In this book the narration doesn't stay with one character enough for me to get into the story and I found myself rereading a part or a section just to see if I missed something.
    3. It's treatment of boys and and women
    If a mermaid is bonded to a boy once they kiss (an idea I do not mind...mated for life is highly romantic), isn't a forced kiss, well, rape? Ick. That's all I could
    4. The strangely forced Christian slant
    I am a Christian and I like being one...I don't like Christian just being thrown in for the sake of good Christianness. It just threw me off and...actually made me a little uncomfortable, like I was hanging out with my mother and I was 13 all over again.

    Everything about this book has rubbed me the wrong way...I'm not sure I need to read the rest of the series (although I've just downloaded Evergreen, I don't know was cheap). I always feel bad when I genuinely don't like a book, mostly because I'm not really sure if I could do better if I tried and here a person has given their heart and soul and all I can do is read it and bash it. I've also read tons of other reviews, hoping those 4s and 5s (and there are a lot of them) would help me see the story differently. Sometimes I'd read a review and think..."Did we read the same book?". That being said, I do hope you try out this book for yourself and if you rank it higher than me please tell me why, I'd really like to know. I think I would have liked this book better had it been the first mermaid book I'd ever read and not the latest.

    I felt sad that for my Splash into Summer week, I chose to read two books that weren't what I thought they would be. On to my first truly selkie book, The Lure of Shapinsay!

    2 Stars
    A good character or two, nice setting...I don't really like anything else about it

    Sex 2/5
    I really do find that forced kissing thing deplorable. Fin and Ash he is trying to save her life, so they're bonded too. 
    Language 0/5
    Substance Abuses 0/5
    None, this really is a nice clean book.
    Violence 3/5
    The king and his son get into it. The son is a lech, and he picks a fight or two with Fin. It would seem that the whole entire mer kingdom is being led by a lying, conniving father and son duo. Fin's family is also a bit greedy. He gets into a fight with his cousin, there's an explosion, Ash almost drowns and, then there's that whole entire kiss thing. then there was this big fight before the book begins where Fin's father frightens Ash so much that she thinks he's an alcoholic.

    Touchy Subjects
    Unwanted anything...
    Even if somebody kisses you against your will that's still not cool. 
    Ash doesn't know that Fin and his sister, her best friend, are mermaids.
    I am guessing that the overt Christianity probably gets this book some readers it wouldn't otherwise. It just seemed contrived and forceful to me.

    How this book is used in the classroom
    1] Independent Read option