Saturday, May 19, 2018

Define "Normal" - Julie Anne Peters

Meet Antonia.  She's the type of student that teachers love.  She's contemplating joining the math team.  Her homework is a source of personal pride.  In the first chapter, she's worried about her skirt getting wrinkled during the school day.

Meet Jazz.  She's a rebel.  She hangs out with drug addicts (or at least, suspected drug addicts).  She has a weird haircut.  In a later chapter, a friend draws a tattoo (that she's proud of) on the side of her head.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Summerlost - Ally Condie

Ally Condie has shaped up to be one of my favorite writers of young adult and middle grades books.  Her books have nice plots, but the true magic of her writing lies in the way that she draws out her characters.

With Summerlost, which is easily one of the best books I've read all year, Ms. Condie gives us Cedar, a young girl with a family who is buying a summer house near the college town where her mom grew up.  While many YA novels and middle grades novels include a seemingly inevitable tragedy: cancer, a loss of life due to some other sickness, or an accident, which the novel builds to in climax, this novel inverts that order, having the trauma of the senseless car accident in which Cedar's dad and younger brother lost their lives, occurring before the book even starts.

This book, therefore, opens in the aftermath, as Cedar's mom tries to pick up the pieces and distract herself.  As Cedar tries to make friends and forget (but all the while not really wanting to forget) the horrors of tragedy, and as Cedar's little brother also tries to process his grief as best as an 8-year-old can.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Seventh Most Important Thing - Shelley Pearsall

I kept hearing that this book was really good, so I thought I'd give it a try.  I started it earlier this week; we had some outdoor free time to give the kiddos a break for an hour after standardized testing, and on the way outside, I grabbed my camping chair, my shades, and this book.

I've been reading an adult book about the life of Martin Luther, and right off the bat, I was put off by the short chapters in this book.  Books for middle grades are often notorious for this, undoubtedly spurred by the notion that the ADHD generation needs shorter chapters to help battle against its shortened attention span.  I'll set that aside for now; let's focus on the story.

This story begins with the facts of a case: a young teen in the early 1960s is convicted of an unthinkable and pretty odd crime - that of throwing a brick at an elderly gentleman and almost killing him.  The circumstances of the crime don't exactly exonerate the teen.  He admits his guilt.  He's in a bad predicament.  He's facing the toughest judge in town.  He doesn't want to go back to juvie.  He's oddly sympathetic, in a weird way.  Instead of being sent to a facility, he's given probation; in fact, he was sentenced to work for the man he'd targeted with the brick - a man that many in the community dismiss as a helpless, homeless drunk, calling him "the junk man."

Friday, May 4, 2018

23 Minutes - Vivian Vande Velde

I've had this book sitting on the shelf for a couple of weeks while I worked through paperwork and the like during my "free time."  It's tough sometimes to make time for reading when so much of my work involves reading too!  Today, while I'm away from work for the day, I took this book with me.  I'm somewhat glad I did.  I say "somewhat," because I wasn't really blown away by this book. 

The plot of 23 Minutes is very straightforward, in fact, straightforward to the point of being trite.  Zoe is a troubled 15-year-old girl who ends up in a bank to try to get out of the rain.  Her blue hair and obvious lack of bank business arouses the interest of the security guard, who focuses on her and misses the entrance of a man who is there to rob the bank.  Zoe accidentally steps on the foot of a nice guy who tries to help her, and then moments later, he is shot in front of her. 

What makes this story trite is what happens next: Zoe is able to rewind her life, for 23 minutes to be exact, and relive the experience.  There are restrictions on this: she can't do it more than 10 times, or more than 23 minutes, and nobody else retains knowledge of the previous versions of time.  Predictably, each time she steps back results in small changes to the fabric of time that cause more and more chaos.  Zoe has reported this ability to her guardians, which landed her briefly in the care of mental health officials, until she recanted.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Smarter, Faster, Better - Charles Duhigg

I borrowed Charles Duhigg's second book, Smarter, Faster, Better, from my brother the other week and placed it on my nightstand to get to when I got to it.  The plan was to read it over spring break.  That didn't quite work out.  I got through some of it, but not all of it.  Today, I picked it back up.

In fact, I think that's one of the advantages of this book.  Unlike much nonfiction, which tends to delve deep into topics and would've required me to start over after a two-week lapse, this book is almost episodic in nature, tending to focus on distinct but related topics.  These topics do build, so at one point I did have to go back to the first section to truly understand a point, but I wasn't lost upon reentry.

Mr. Duhigg's first book covered the concept of habit - how the brain is wired to perform tasks subconsciously, and if I'm being completely truthful, I found it to be more interesting than this one.  This book is less neuroscience and more productivity.  It gets into a few cases of neural understanding that seem interesting to me: that teachers are better able to use data about their students when they manipulate that data by hand, an understanding that pairs with what the science says about students and notetaking.