Archive | March, 2014

Torn Away

17 Mar

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Torn Away by Jennifer Brown was one of the books that sucked me in and didn’t want to turn loose (pardon the pun). From the opening page, I was hooked. Who can’t relate to a pesky little sister bugging you when all you want to do is watch TV? But using past tense “I loved my little sister” and reading the publisher’s synopsis of the book made me realize that this book would be full of regret.

I actually considered not reading it when I got my advanced readers copy from NetGalley. There’s so much depressing stuff going on in the world right now, I didn’t need any more tear-jerkers. I told myself I would just read a couple of pages, that’s all. But I found myself devouring the book. Having lived in Chicago for half my life and in Phoenix for the other half, I knew all about tornadoes. I knew about the tornado alarms. I knew about going into the basement. I knew about opening the windows a bit so your roof wouldn’t get sucked off (at least, that’s what they told us when we were kids). But I couldn’t remember actually being in a tornado. We don’t have them in Arizona, although we do have other bad weather experiences. When I teach the tornado section of my curriculum to my science classes, I always kind of fake it. Now I don’t have to. My students are going to have Torn Away on their reading list for next year.

Jersey survives her run-in with the tornado. Not everyone else in her town, in her school, in her family is as lucky. Jersey’s description of what it is like to be in a tornado is uncanny. (Since I have not had that experience I asked someone who had. They said her description was spot-on.) This description is a perfect way to get my students to really understand not only the physiological impacts of the tornado on the body (the sound, the ear pressure, the hair-raising electricity, the smell) but also the psychological effects. If Jersey was not a real person before the tornado, she came alive after it. Her struggle to meet basic human needs – shoes, food, water, a bathroom – made me want to go and find her and bring her here so that she could be taken care of.

After the tornado, amid the chaos and destruction, Jersey is a lone, lost soul. She is sent to live with a father she never knew (along with the wicked stepmother and ugly step-sisters) and later with grandparents she didn’t know any better. She’s tougher I first thought. Through it all she learns much about her mother, her biological dad, and a lot about herself. She redefines the word family. Just like I have learned family is not just the people who share your blood, they are the people who share your love so does Jersey learn the meaning of the word “family”. (In my family we say that genes are inhaled.)

When we hear that someone lost everything as a result of a tragedy out in most cases, something is gained too.

For a long time I have been searching for a book like Torn Away for my science classes. I wanted some good, scientifically accurate fiction that is be entertaining, will teach a life lesson and keep all of the science straight. Torn Away by Jennifer Brown hit the target again and again. I can’t wait for it to come out in print on May 6, 2014.

What is the measure of a person?

17 Mar

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As I read Sarah Mlynowski’s book, Don’t Even Think About It, I was fascinated. The premise of the book is terrific. If you were able to read the minds of other people — and they could read yours – what kind of chaos would ensue? In this book we meet some delightful characters who all happen to share a homeroom at school. They share other things as well. Things all teenagers share. They worry about their weight. They worry about their grades (a little). They worry about how popular they are. They worry about giving speeches. They worry about their parents. They worry about parties. They worry about each other. Only now, the result of a contaminated batch of flu vaccine (which, by the way, I did not appreciate since so many people already have unfounded issues about flu shots) they know what other people think. You may tell me I look fine and I don’t need to lose weight but if I could read your mind I might find out something else And secrets? They are a thing of the past. The twist is that not only can I read your mind but you can also read mine. Not everyone, of course, only those students who got the contaminated flu vaccine.

The question arises, do you want to get rid of this ability? At times their ability has come in really handy. At times it has caused much pain. If an antidote can be found they can get rid of their mind-reading gift. But do they want to? I’ve always wanted to be able to read people’s minds, but I want the ability to turn it off and on at will. Oh, and I don’t want anyone to read mine.

I always thought that the true measure of a person is what they do and not what they say. But this book gave me pause. Where does what a person think fit in? Is what you think a truer measure of you than what you do? I discussed this at length with some of my current students. They are in 8th grade which makes them 13-ish. The discussion was fast, furious and engaging. I know what my personal conclusion was — but I pondered it for days. I know that my students did not agree with me or with each other. What do you think? What’s the true measure of you — what you think, what you say or what you do?

I would not recommend this book for my current students for two reasons. There is some sexual activity described in the book, and while not graphic, it is a bit too advanced for my middle school students. My current demographic is relatively conservative and this book pushes the sex card a bit too far for my families. For myself, other adults that enjoy YA literature, for more mature teens, go for it. It’s a book that I truly enjoyed and I think you will too. Let me know what you think.

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty

5 Mar

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I’ll be honest. I couldn’t follow The Husband’s Secret at first. It seemed like two totally different stories. But I’ve read books like that before and they always come together — and The Husband’s Secret did too. I had heard a lot of good about this book – read a few reviews and talked to a friend. I was not disappointed.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty had me interested from the start. A letter from a husband, written long ago, “To be opened only in the event of my death” was found. Should the wife open it? Would you? That’s the question I wrestled with as I read this book. Cecilia is a likable character. To see her struggle, to see her look at the pros and cons is frustrating. I wanted to rip the letter open and to slap her silly at the same time. But I kept coming back to me — would I open the letter? And I couldn’t blame her for any of the choices she made.

Then the book jumps to Tess and Will and Felicity. I related to Felicity having recently lost 65 pounds myself. I reveled in descriptions of Felicity like her “brand-new slender neck.” And once again we find a husband with a secret – but one that can no longer be contained. Again I found myself doing some pretty intense introspection. Given a similar situation, what would I do?

But the book wouldn’t be much without Rachel – poor Rachel. She’s got a delightful grandson who is the apple of her eye and brings joy to her life. I’ve got some of those too. But she’s also got a daughter-in-law who is a go-getter, a professional woman with a career. That’s not a bad thing, but it adds some angst when the wills of the children are completely opposed to the will of the parent.

To watch these situations unfold and to compare my reactions with Tess’ and Cecilia’s was engaging. My heart bled for Rachel. She hasn’t had an easy life. And it looks like that isn’t going to change anytime soon — at least not for the better. I like a book that will pull me in and not let go. I like to be sad that a book has ended and to have a book-hangover. I want to read a book that will make me think about it days, weeks and even months after I have finished the book. This book was all that and more. Many nights I stayed up way later than I should have because I couldn’t put the book down.

My husband always figures out the twists and turns of a story right from the start, but I never do. It’s probably no surprise that I ever saw what John-Paul’s secret was. I didn’t have a clue, but there were plenty there.

And the ending of the book — man, every book should end like this. You have to read it to appreciate it.

I heard that CBS Films may be making a movie from this book. That would be a great idea. Go for it, CBS. I don’t think there’s any room for disappointment with this one.

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