Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

One of the first scenes in the book is of the author, Jeannette, at 3 years old standing at the stove cooking her own hot dogs. It seems preposterous that a 3 year old would decide to pull a chair over to the stove and start making her own dinner, but I guess if you are hungry and you know no one else is going to cook for you, you figure out how to do it on your own... then her tutu catches fire and she has to be rushed to the hospital to be treated for severe burns.

This is the first time of many that Jeannette's parents fail to adequately take care of her and her three siblings, leading to a lifetime of neglect, hunger, and injuries. At first Jeannette views their carefree lifestyle as a series of adventures with her larger-than-life dad who is always dreaming up the next big plan or scheme and her artistic mother. As the children grow older it becomes more apparent that, as her father's drinking increases and their mother's depression worsens, they will have to fend for themselves. The author doesn't flinch from describing living in squalid conditions in homes with ceilings caving in, no indoor plumbing, and no way to keep the house warm in winter. Although this could have been just a story of the author whining about her life, she does try to balance the difficulties with her love for her parents, particularly her father, and her eventual disillusionment and anger. A deeply moving story of two parents who choose to live life in an unconventional way and four siblings who scrape and scrounge to survive it and eventually break free.

Book Club is reading this for the 2017-2018 school year.

A Read-A-Like for this book would be Will You Love Me? by Cathy Glass

This story is written from the author's perspective as well, however, it differs in that she is the adult in the story describing the child's life before coming to live with her and then while under Cathy's care. While similar in theme, as the children in both The Glass Castle and Will You Love Me? suffer from neglect, the stories are different in style and situation. The author, Cathy, writes more in the style of a report than a story, yet she doesn't fail to capture the reader's interest and quickly taps into our sense of compassion for her young charges; in this case, little Lucy, who has never truly been cared for by anyone. Although Lucy came on to the radar of England's Social Services at the young age of six months, she feel through the cracks repeatedly. She was in and out of living situations with her mother, who seemed to suffer from depression and a general inability to take care of herself, let alone her daughter; then a stepfather and his rotating girlfriends; and different foster family situations with varying degrees of care. At first we see that lonely little Lucy, terrified of strangers due to early bad experiences of living life on the streets and various crash pads with her mother, is open to affection and care. After years of being shuffled around and feeling like no one cares and no situation is permanent she becomes more angry and sullen. As you read the story, your heart just breaks for Lucy as you realize all of the times her life could have gone differently if someone would have just stepped in.

If this story appeals to you, the MMHS Library has several other stories about children Cathy Glass has fostered over her long career as a professional carer (in England foster parents are called carers).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Saenz

Absolutely heartbreaking... but full of hope. A story of addiction, loss and survival.

This Is Not A Love Letter by Kim Purcell

ALL THE FEELS (as my students would say)! I sobbed through the last 1/4 of this book and stayed up too late finishing it- it was that engrossing. I will be buying it for my high school library as soon as it comes out because my kids will love it. This is a book about friendships & relationships & all of the things we keep from each other. I can't say more or it will ruin the mystery of the book. This story is an emotional roller coaster ride, lovely & sad & searching & heartfelt.

Monday, August 28, 2017

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

An absolute tearjerker. Adam Silvera is really good at building complex characters. This story is about relationships; friendships, parents & children, first love, and ultimately about dealing with the breakdown or loss of those relationships. I like the way the story is told in two alternating timelines, the days before, leading up to Theo's death (not a spoiler, you know from the book jacket that he is going to die), and then the days after, starting with a few days after his death.
The style of storytelling really draws you in to the main character, Griffin, as everything is told from the way he sees it, almost like a diary. He is "talking" to Theo  and telling him their story and the events as they unfold afterward. We only know what happens or how other people feel and act through the lens of Griffin's experience.
I also liked the way the story deals with Griffin's OCD. Since we are in his head a lot we can really see the thought processes behind the compulsions. At times I cringed or had to put the book down and walk away for awhile because I couldn't watch Griffin make another mistake or because my heart was breaking too much for him and I needed a break.  I have a tendency to overly empathize with characters :-)

Definitely worth the read. YA novel & LGBT friendly.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Such a great book about the struggle of undocumented immigrants, family, and grit. I often hear that grit is the quality missing from teenagers in this generation, but Letty, Alex and several other characters really personify that quality- each in different ways. I loved the way Letty grew as a woman and a mother throughout the story and the way she examined her history and the problems and benefits of living in a multi-generational household.
Interested? Check it out at the MMHS Library :-)

Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

I'm not sure how to review this book without giving away too much. I will say that I was already completely drawn in by the story and felt pretty satisfied with it as a light, fun read when it seemed like everything was tied up in a neat little package. Except I knew the book wasn't over yet because I was only 30% done, so what else could possibly happen?? I can't tell you without the book being no fun. I will say that I was immediately drawn to the very likable, quirky main character, Jane. The exploration of all of the characters and their relationships was well written, interesting, and definitely drew me in. As I kept reading the story the timeline became more complex and thought provoking. I actually stood at the kitchen counter reading last night when my tablet died and I had to be near an outlet for it to charge so I could keep reading :-)

UPDATE: I read this book as an Early Reader's Edition. It will be available in the MMHS Library later this school year (2017-2018).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Annexed by Sharon Dogar

A fictionalized Anne Frank story:

A new twist on the story of the Franks and Van Pels, this time told through Peter's viewpoint. While much was documented by Anne in her diary, the author can only speculate about how Peter felt. Sharon Dogar does a brilliant job of bringing Peter's voice to life. His thoughts and feelings seem to fit in well with what we already know from Anne's POV. 
I actually read this with my high school students in our Book Club and am eager to hear what they have to say at our next meeting. I would definitely recommend this book to other high school libraries.

UPDATE: As I hoped, my students really enjoyed this book & many also read Anne Frank's diary (The Diary of a Young Girl) so we were able to discuss & compare the books. Interest in this topic also led to a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles- a very powerful day. If you have the ability to go there I highly recommend it.