Monday, January 28, 2008

Because of Anya by Margaret Peterson Haddix

image from LibraryThing
This is the second book club book for February.

I didn't like this as well as Stuck in Neutral mostly because it wasn't as adult appealing. It was much more predictable. But, I think it would really appeal to kids. I think I will recommend it to my 4th graders. It's not nearly as scary as Neutral.

The story is told from two 10-yr-old girls' perspectives.

Anya is the quiet, shy girl who suddenly began loosing her hair. It was pretty much all gone my Christmas. With the loss of her hair she also looses who she is. She refuses to look in the mirror. She wants/hopes to fade into the walls of her classroom and simply fade away.

The second side is Keely's. Keely is the minion of powerful and nasty Stef. But, she has a tender side. When Stef notices Anya's wig after Christmas vacation and wants to make sure it's a wig by getting Keely to tug on it...Keely stands up to her and tells her to stop.

But - the wig seems to have a mind of it's own - and in the midst of gym class it comes off and all the 4th graders see what Anya really looks like.

As Anya is revealed - so is Keely. Because it's Keely who attempts to connect with Anya and offer some sort of a solution.

Maybe it's because I teach 4th grade - but the adults in the story including the teacher didn't act like the adults I know. Instead, they sort of stood around wringing their hands and crying. It was Keely who went online and did research and it was Keely who crossed the divide and went to Anya's house with an idea...

Anyway- these two books will make for great conversation at book club. Each presents a child in need and very different ways of helping/solving that....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

This is one of two books for our February book club.

image from LibraryThing
It doesn't take long to read the book - but it takes a long time to get the story out of your mind. It's one that will haunt me.

The story is about Shawn McDaniel, told by Shawn. He is a 15-year-old trapped in a body which obeys no one. Shawn was born with cerebral palsy - an extreme form that has affected his brain stem. That means he can not control any voluntary movement in his body. Only involuntary reflexes like swallowing and breathing function. His IQ comes out about 1.3 - that's about a month old baby.

But, there is a dastardly twist. Shawn can remember absolutely everything he hears - forever. He thinks he may be a genius. But, no one will ever know because he can't control his body enough to share that gem.

Add to this a father who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for a poem about Shawn. His famous father seems on the brink of a monumental decision... is Shawn's life so painful that the merciful thing to do is to end it. Is that what a loving father would do?

There is the book - a simple enough tale.
But what do we think? At one point Shawn's father asks an audience member on a TV talk show..."Have you ever told someone to pull the plug if you are brain dead following an accident?" With that the audience is silenced - and Shawn and I that what his life is?

What would we do? How do we know what is happening inside a person's head when their body does not allow us to know? And how would a father show his love?

And that is why this short youth fiction book haunts me...and will probably haunt you to!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

image from LibraryThing

This is a story in a story in a story. Margret Lea is a meek and mild bookseller's daughter, a biographer of obscure and long dead ordinary people. Then a letter arrives inviting her to write the biography of one of the best loved and well-known authors in England.

Margret takes a trip to meet Vida Winter - an eccentric old woman with cranberry red hair, emerald green eyes and a quick wit. At the first interview Margret began to wonder - was this woman really telling the truth?? She left with 3 facts she was to check - if they were true she would begin the biography.

But, Margret was hooked long before the facts were proven. Vida could weave a tale - the country hung on each of her books. This was the woman who wrote a book called Thirteen Tales  and then only included 12. The entire country waited for the 13th tale.
But,  Margret had never read a one of her books or really cared about her...until she actually met Vida.

Now she is staying in Vida's house, hearing an odd atonal music, dreaming of her missing twin as she listens to the odd and twisted tale of the Angelfield twins. The deeper Margret is immersed in the tale the murkier the truth and reality become.

And then...everything shifts -all reality is viewed through a new lens and Vida becomes something else all together.

I was not hooked until 1/2 way through this book. I enjoyed it -but I didn't really care. I couldn't feel much for Vida or Margret. But as Vida's story rolled out and the big secret came - I couldn't put it down! This is one of those that surprises you. I thought I knew what was going on..but. NO!

A great winter read!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

image from LibraryThing

This is one of those books that works it's way into your mind and lodges there. As I go through my own easy life I think of Jeannette and her brother and sisters. Their world seems impossible - completely impossible.

Heather recommended this book and I would recommend it too! It's wonderful!!!

At the same time that I was shelling peas and listening to the Watergate coverage on TV, she was a 13 year old working in a jewelry store earning the money to feed her, her father and brother. She had already lived through cross country trips, starvation, and more than one near fatal accident. Her family had started out in the dusty gold mining towns of the south west, moved to Phoenix and finally dead-ended in Welch, West Virginia. Each move came a moment before the law and their bad credit caught up to them. Jeannette's dad was a drunk, a dreamer and an extremely intelligent man. Mom was an artist - a painter and a writer, who didn't feel that the family was her responsibility.

Jeanette was the second - Lori, an artist and Brian a scrawny fellow a couple years younger than Jeannette. Maureen came along several years later and was more of a pet than one of the sufferers. The Walls family was always the poorest, dirtiest, hungriest and scrappiest of any one else in the neighborhood. But, they were also the smartest - each child reading constantly and continually.

Dad and Jeannette had a special connection. Even as Jeannette became old enough to understand what a hopeless schemer he was, she still loved him deeply and wanted so much for his tales to be true.

One year when it was clear there was no money at all for Christmas gifts - Rex Walls took the three oldest kids outside one at a time and spun them a yarn about the no one owned them, they were the first to discover the importance of this amazing real estate. So, he gave each of the kids their own star for Christmas. He told them the stories of the names of the stars and the constellations they were a part of. This was the dichotomy of Jeannette's life... no food, no shelter, but more knowledge than most around.

As the three kids grew they knew that their only chance at a better life is to get away from their hovel and their parents. New York beckoned.

This story reminds me of Barbara Robinette Moss's book - Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. But, her story is about the hatred in a dysfunctional family. Jeannette's mom and dad made bad choices, but they truly loved their children.

These kinds of stories always make me wonder.... what makes a person break the pattern of this kind of a life? Rex Walls was the child of alcoholics and joined their life - but his children did not. How did they find the courage and the drive? Why do so many others fail???