Sunday, July 25, 2010

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I read this book in college and now just finished it for the second time.  I'll be teaching this book in AP Literature this year.

It was beautiful.  That's my first impression.  I remembered bits of the story as I read, but what I felt most when reading this time was how beautiful the language is in this book, especially Hurston's descriptions of nature and our inner selves, our souls, our world that no one can see.  For example:

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her.  

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.  Janie had had no chance to know things, so she had to ask.  did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated?  Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?

These bits are beautiful.  Hurston very poetically describes the bad times, too:

So gradually, she pressed her teeth together and learned to hush.  The spirit of the marriage left the bedroom and took to living in the parlor.  It was there to shake hands whenever company came to visit, but it never went back inside the bedroom again.  

Janie stood where he left her...She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her.  Then she went inside there to see what it was.  It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered....she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further...

What makes this novel so unique, also, is the juxtaposition of the beautiful narration with the honest, true, voices of the people.  Every bit of dialogue is written as it sounds.  I felt I was right there on the porch, listening to the conversations, yet I also felt a guest inside Janie's heart because I knew all she experienced inside as well.

The main story here is that the book begins with Janie coming home.  She walks by all the towns people who once knew her as Janie Starks.   She's got her hair braid hanging down and she's wearing her overalls.  They whisper and gossip about what happened to her - but none of them really know.  Her showing back up like she just did is mysterious.  So Janie sits down with her old friend Phoeby and tells Phoeby what happened.

From there we go all the way back to Janie's childhood.  She grew up with her grandmother, got married, but not for love, and then ran off with another man, Joe Starks.  From there we watch Janie become a woman.  Sometimes she submits and keeps her thoughts to herself, other times she stands up.  The settings in Florida are vividly described by Hurston and really count as characters to me.

Overall I really enjoyed the book.  I've always been a huge fan of Richard Wright, so it will be interesting to read Native Son with my students and compare the styles and content of these two books by two prominent African-American writers.  It wasn't my favorite novel ever; I didn't hold it to my heart or anything when it was finished, but I was satisfied. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

You

I read about this one on Reading Rants and couldn't wait to get a hold of it, so when my husband saw the ARC at his work, I was really pumped.

You is about a young teenager named Kyle Chase.  He's a sophomore at Midlands High School, though if he had worked harder and gotten better grades (which he was certainly capable of) he could have been at Odyssey High (the "better, smarter" high school) with his old friends.  But he isn't there, the choices he's made have gotten him to Midlands with his friends.  Well, they are the guys he hangs out with.  Kyle doesn't even really like them all that much, but it's who's there.  Their group is called the "hoodies" because they all wear black hoodies.  They are just kind of loners and losers in a way, drinking warm beers at the park after hours, hanging out in front of the seven-eleven at night.  Kyle's lost touch with his old friends and his parents.  His parents are always bugging him to look better, get a job, do his homework and on and on and on....

So the catch is that the book starts with blood.  It's written in second person (you) and so Benoit takes you - the reader - on Kyle's journey.  The first lines get you hooked and you just have to know how Kyle ended up at this place:

You're surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He's surprised, too.

After this, the write takes you back to the beginning of the year and you get to walk with Kyle through his experiences.  A lot of what Kyle experiences is normal stuff, but sad.  His friends aren't that great.   He knows he isn't doing well in school but has stopped caring.  The lessons the teachers teach are stupid and really smart kids like Kyle are bored  to death.  He gets in trouble for things he doesn't do.  He can't find the courage to tell the girl he likes how he feels about her....high school.  Then a new kid shows up, Zack, and things get shaken up a bit.

This book was great.  I really wanted to just read through and through to see what happened and to get back to the beginning with all the blood.  I think all students will like this book, especially guys.  I think it's honest and scary and real.  A great read.  It comes out at the end of August/beginning of Sept.  and is a must read.  I am excited to add this one to my classroom library.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heart of Darkness

So I finally finished Heart of Darkness.  It's not that it was bad, it's just that I have stacks and stacks of fun, new YA books that always call my name.  But I did it, and I am now on more of a roll with my AP summer reading.

Wow.  That's the first thing that really comes to my mind.  This book was intriguing.  This book was difficult.  I know that this is one that I will learn more and more about every time I read it.  I had seen Apocalypse Now in college, so I sort of knew a little bit about the main idea of traveling down the river in search of Kurtz.

The original story here, though, of course, is set in Africa.  I was interested to find out that this is a frame story.  I love the frame of Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights.  This story had that feel to it.  Marlow, who "narrates" the story is really speaking to a group of men on a boat with him as they wait to leave on their journey.  The main connection I really made when I read this book was with Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I usually teach Rime with Frankenstein, since Shelley mentions the poem directly.  I also feel that this story connects with Rime.  In Rime, the mariner has to tell his story.  I feel that Marlow is the same.  This experience was so surreal, so disturbing, so incredible, that he has to keep telling it - no matter what.

The writing took a while to get used to.  I really took copious notes and looked at the end notes often.  But I think all that work pays off with this book.  I felt intrigued by the idea of Kurtz.  I felt more and more interest in him just as Marlow did.  I am very interested in the issue of race as described in this book.  I have printed and will read Chinua Achebe's essay soon.  I also felt pain as I read about and saw through Marlow's eyes what these men had done to the natives and the land.  They used it up.  They ruined it.  They destroyed whatever they needed to.

I have a lot of processing to do now that I have finished.  I am excited to give a shot at teaching this book with my AP students this upcoming semester.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

I loved Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot, so I was very excited to get a chance to read her new book (due out in September) Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters.  First, this book is very different from the other one - but I liked it a lot. It was a really fun read.

The Sullivans are an extremely rich Baltimore family - but they have all their wealth because of their filthy rich grandmother whom they call - Almighty - and boy does she live up to that name.  She announces to the family on Christmas that she has cut them all out of the will because someone has offended her.  She expects a confession from this person by New Year's Day or else it's over - they'll get no money.  The Sullivan's have to have the money - it's how they survive.  Everyone knows exactly who's the problem - the girls.  Each Sullivan sister, Norrie, Jane, and Sassy, has offended Almighty lately, and so their family members make them write up their confessions for Almighty in hopes that the family fortune can be saved.

The book is divided into three parts:  one for each sister.  As I read, I basically just had to get through one sister's story at a time.  So really, the book took me three good reading sessions - but not too long.  I liked that it was divided up this way.  Standiford created three very different girls.  In a family of six, you'd have to create your own personality, and each of these girls is different from the others, but they are sisters, and you feel that bond.  I liked each girl for her own story (Norrie and Jane the most....Sassy was just ok for me - not like her name, though). The confessions are full of love, hate, life, death, feelings, and just everything.  Even though these kids are filthy rich - they still are dealing with the normal teenage issues like loving someone who isn't what your family would pick, losing friends, and feeling different.  But will their grandmother care?

So are these the confessions that Almighty wants?  Will the girls be able to put their sins out there and save their family from destruction?  Read the confessions and see for yourself.  This was a fast, fun read.  Not as "deep" as Robot I don't think, but very enjoyable.  I will continue to look forward to what Natalie Standiford has for the wonderful world of YA fiction!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Savvy

Mibs Beaumont is about to turn thirteen years old when her world changes.  Mibs knows her 13th birthday will be crazy anyway - when the kids in the Beaumont family turn thirteen, their "savvy" shows up.  Their savvies are like special powers, sort of, that appear on this birthday.  Mibs one brother can cause hurricanes, make it rain, and blow the wind in your face.  Her other brother is electric and powers everything in the Beaumont home.  Mibs has no idea what he savvy will be.

She's nervous anyway, but then she gets some bad news:  her father has been badly hurt in a terrible car accident.  The day before her birthday, her mother and brother Rocket go to be with Poppa and Mibs and the rest of the children are left on their own.  The preacher's wife in town feels sorry for Mibs and throws her a party at church, but Mibs just isn't feeling it.  She likes hanging out will Will, the preacher's son, but no one else really.  That's when she decides to run away and get to her father.  That's the only place she wants to be anyway--with Poppa.  She isn't alone, though.  Five kids (Mibs, her two brothers, Will, and Bobbie, the preacher's sixteen-year-old daughter) end up on a pink bus belonging to a bible salesman.  They think they are headed toward Salina, the city where Poppa is...but they end up driving off in the opposite direction.  Mibs now has to figure out what to do, what her savvy is, and how she can get to her dad.

This story was just sweet.  I liked the characters.  They were all colorful and unique.  The adventure on the bus was fun.  I definitely think this book is a little young for my taste, but it's a really sweet story.  I enjoyed watching Mibs figure herself out and how the kids, who didn't really know each other all that well, became close on the bus because they had to.  It's a story about family and friends and finding out who you really are.  I enjoyed the read, but would recommend it to middle schoolers and maybe ninth graders.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Excited about some ARCs

So I get these some times, but I actually have three right now that I have been wanting to read and can't wait to get to!

From Amazon: 
This wasn't the way it was supposed to go.
You're just a typical fifteen-year-old sophomore, an average guy named Kyle Chase. This can't be happening to you. But then, how do you explain all the blood? How do you explain how you got here in the first place?
There had to have been signs, had to have been some clues it was coming. Did you miss them, or ignore them? Maybe if you can figure out where it all went wrong, you can still make it right. Or is it already too late? Think fast, Kyle. Time's running out. How did this happen?

You is the riveting story of fifteen-year-old Kyle and the small choices he does and doesn't make that lead to his own destruction.

In his stunning young-adult debut, Charles Benoit mixes riveting tension with an insightful—and unsettling—portrait of an ordinary teen in a tale that is taut, powerful, and shattering.

From Amazon:
The Sullivan sisters have a big problem. On Christmas Day their rich and imperious grandmother gathers the family and announces that she will soon die . . .and has cut the entire family out of her will. Since she is the source of almost all their income, this means they will soon be penniless.

Someone in the family has offended her deeply. If that person comes forward with a confession of her (or his) crime, submitted in writing to her lawyer by New Year's Day, she will reinstate the family in her will. Or at least consider it.

And so the confessions begin....

From Amazon:
Phoebe finds herself drawn to Mallory, the strange and secretive new kid in school, and the two girls become as close as sisters . . . until Mallory's magnetic older brother, Ryland, shows up during their junior year. Ryland has an immediate, exciting hold on PhoebeƑbut a dangerous hold, for she begins to question her feelings about her best friend and, worse, about herself.

Soon she'll discover the shocking truth about Ryland and Mallory: that these two are visitors from the faerie realm who have come to collect on an age-old debt. Generations ago, the faerie queen promised Pheobe's ancestor five extraordinary sons in exchange for the sacrifice of one ordinary female heir. But in hundreds of years there hasn't been a single ordinary girl in the family, and now the faeries are dying. Could Phoebe be the first ordinary one? Could she save the faeries, or is she special enough to save herself?

I'm excited to read all three and I will be blogging about them soon!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker was great.  Along the lines of Hunger Games and other dystopian fiction we've seen out lately, it paints a picture of our country in the future after many years of destruction and shows what life is like.  In this case there are two kinds of people the very rich and the very poor.  The view of the poor is what you get to see at the beginning of Ship Breaker.

The story follows a young boy named Nailer.  Nailer works with a crew of "ship breakers."  Basically, everyone ran out of oil, the city of New Orleans was flooded time and time again, hurricanes come all the time now (the poles have melted), and all the boats and tankers of the previous age are laid to waste along the gulf shore.  Nailer's and other crews break the old oil ships down for their parts.  It's a rough life.  There's not much to eat and Nailer is beginning to worry about what he'll do once he becomes to big to be on "light" crew.  On top of all this, his father is a druggie and drunk who abuses Nailer and causes problems all the time.  It's business as usual until after a storm (a city killer) Nailer and his friend and coworker Pima discover a majestic clipper ship washed up on their shore.  Nailer's seen the beautiful, sleek ships in magazines and from a distance...he's dreamt about what life must be like for the rich people on those boats.  As he and Pima check out the damage they discover one survivor, a girl.  They have to decide between helping this girl or just stripping the ship of everything - including her life.  They could be rich...they could have a better life....but can they just leave her there?

The rest of the book follows their decisions and the consequence of those decisions.  The book was fast paced and didn't drag at all.  Once they discover the girl, it all races by.  It also paints a picture of what our world might look like if we don't take care of it.  As they travel inland at one point in the book to New Orleans and Orleans II, Nita asks about what happened.  Nailer responds,
"Stupid," Nailer muttered..."They were damn stupid." Tool shrugged.  "No one expected Category Six hurricanes.  They didn't have city killers then.  The climate changed.  The weather shifted.  They did not anticipate well." 
Nailer wondered at that idea.  That no one could have understood that they would be the target of monthly hurricanes pinballing up the Mississippi Alley, gunning for anything that didn't have sense to batten down, float, or go underground.
It's a creepy view of the gulf in the future.  In addition, though, this is a story about family and how you make it.  Nailer's dad is a bad man, but that doesn't mean that Nailer will become that way or has to.  Family and home are where you make them.  Nailer learns a lot about this as he fights for a friend's life.  A good read. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mercury

I haven't read too many graphic novels, and I am hoping to keep up with the genre more.  The kids like them.  I was excited to read Hope Larson's Mercury.  It was a great graphic novel for me to start with!

Mercury alternates between two stories.  Both stories are set in Nova Scotia and both main characters are teen-aged girls dealing with life stuff.  In the present is Tara.  She and her mom lost their old house to a fire.  Tara is living with her aunt, uncle, and cousin while her mom looks for work out of town to try to help them get back on their feet after losing everything.  Tara feels nervous going back to high school (10th grade) because she'd been home schooled for a while and she doesn't know if she'll get the hang of it.  She does pretty good though and even gets a love interest very soon after school starts.  What connects her to the past is a necklace that her aunt let her have out of her mom's old jewelry box.  The necklace is beautiful but seems to have a mind of its own.

The other story is set in the same place but in 1859.  Josey is living with her family when a mysterious stranger shows up and wants to go into business mining for gold with Josey's father.  They strike up a deal and begin.  He's a handsome stranger, and Josey has to decide how she feels about him even though her mother gets a very bad vibe from the man.  He has a mysterious necklace that he is very protective of.

The elusive pot o gold binds these two stories together.  Read to see how the two stories intertwine and what happens with the necklace that has survived the generations and now lives on Tara's neck.

The book was great.  It was a quick read.  I stayed interested the whole time because Larson takes you back and forth quickly.  It was neat to be reminded that even though  times are different, family, love, and loss are the same no matter what.  I highly recommend this one to all.

Goddess Boot Camp

Beach Read #3 -  I loved Oh. My. Gods. so much when I read it recently, so I was pumped to see that the sequel had come out in paper back.  It was great.  Both of these books are quick, fast, and enjoyable reads.  I raced through them and had so much fun.

Phoebe just found out in the last book that she is a descendant of Nike and has actual powers.  The problem - she can't control them.  Most kids at her special school for descendants of the gods learn about their powers and how to control them at a very young age...and Phoebe is way behind.  She's making it snow inside her house, calling up massive amounts of pastries when she's hungry and causing problems for everyone because she can't get her powers under control.

The answer to this problem is Goddess Boot Camp which Phoebe's stepfather signs her up for.  While she's got other stuff on her mind (like spending time with boyfriend Griffin Blake and training with him for the marathon in the Pythian games) she knows she's got to get help or else.  Unfortunately...she knows she won't enjoy this camp so much when she shows up and sees that she's with all ten year olds. To make matters worse, the camp is run by her stepsister, Stella, and her boyfriends ex - Adara.  Great!  Phoebe trains, hangs out with friends, deals with love and issues from her past, solves a little mystery and tries to get ready for the test that the gods have set for her.

I loved the first book in this series, and the second one was just as good.  The characters were developed even more.  It's just such a fun concept...a fun super hero tale from a different point of view.  I hope that we get to see more adventures of Phoebe and her crew.  I definitely plan to check out Childs' new series about a mermaid girl princess called Forgive My Fins.  So fun...a lighter, girlier Percy Jackson. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Carrie Diaries

Beach Read #2 for me was The Carrie Diaries.  I had been looking forward to reading this for a long time.  While most young girls reading this book won't really know the series Sex and the City - but I did watch the show and was just excited to read about high school Carrie.

Carrie is starting her senior year of high school and her fashion is unique even then (I believe she begins the first day of school wearing white go-go boots).  The plan for all the girls in Carrie's crew (Lali, Maggie, and the Mouse) is to get boyfriends.  It's the same guys as always except for one - Sebastian Kydd.  He's back after supposedly being kicked out of private school.  He's mysterious, cute, and every one wants a piece of him.

I loved this book so much.  The four girls are each very different much like on the show, and it's cool.  Carrie is just a cool girl, but a normal girl, too.  She's not the hottest person in school or the most popular - she's not the lowest on the social ladder either.  She swims on the swim team and goes to parties.  She loves to dress in cool clothes, and she dreams big of becoming a writer.  Her writing doesn't come easily though.  She has to work on it and find her subjects and her voice....but once she does - it's on world.

This was a happy book about high school stuff:  love, friends, sex, parties, family, loss...the whole lot.  It was a great read. 

After Tupac and D Foster

This quick read started off my summer beach reading.  This book is about two girls (the narrator and her best friend Neeka) who live in Queens.  They've been friends forever and have their routine in their neighborhood.  Then one day a girl shows up and starts talking to them.  She's beautiful and cool.  She's different...almost like she's from another planet.  The girls get to know each other and it's like they've always been just them three.  This is a story about their friendship.

In the background of all this, too, is family drama - good and bad and of course, Tupac.  I liked the storyline involving Neeka's brother (who is really a sista).  He's in jail and dealing with that.  It was powerful to see the love of the family.  They were always there for him.

This book was pretty good.  It was a great story about friendship and family.  I liked it.