Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  
The past is not past for Katharine Merrill. Even after two decades of volatile marriage, Katharine still believes she can have the life that she felt promised to her by those first exhilarating days with her husband, Frederick. For two months, just before Frederick left to fight in World War II, Katharine received his total attentiveness, his limitless charms, his astonishing range of intellect and wit. Over the years, however, as Frederick’s behavior and moods have darkened, Katharine has covered for him, trying to rein in his great manic passions and bridge his deep wells of sadness: an unending project of keeping up appearances and hoping for the best. But the project is failing. Increasingly, Frederick’s erratic behavior, amplified by alcohol, distresses Katharine and their four daughters and gives his friends and family cause to worry for his sanity. When, in the summer of 1962, a cocktail party ends with her husband in handcuffs, Katharine makes a fateful decision: She commits Frederick to Mayflower Home, America’s most revered mental asylum.  There, on the grounds of the opulent hospital populated by great poets, intellectuals, and madmen, Frederick tries to transform his incarceration into a creative exercise, to take each meaningless passing moment and find the art within it. But as he lies on his room’s single mattress, Frederick wonders how he ever managed to be all that he once was: a father, a husband, a business executive. Under the faltering guidance of a self-obsessed psychiatrist, Frederick and his fellow patients must try to navigate their way through a gray zone of depression, addiction, and insanity.
Meanwhile, as she struggles to raise four young daughters, Katharine tries to find her way back to Frederick through her own ambiguities, delusions, and the damages done by her rose-colored belief in a life she no longer lives.

Inspired by elements of the lives of the author’s grandparents, this haunting love story shifts through time and reaches across generations. Along the way, Stefan Merrill Block stunningly illuminates an age-old truth: even if one’s daily life appears ordinary, one can still wage a silent, secret, extraordinary war.

And here's what I thought:   This is a beautifully written story.  It's not a light story by any means, but I found it to be an interesting read.  As you can see from the above summary, the book is mostly about two people, Frederick and Katharine, whose relationship is tested by Frederick's apparent mental illness.  Throughout the story, there are shifting viewpoints of both of these people, as well as their grandson, who tells about his mother, and grandmother (his grandmother is Katharine). 

Because we experience the story through different viewpoints, most notably those of Frederick and Katharine, we get two different perspectives of events.   I found Frederick's story to be particularly fascinating, not only because of his observations of his time spent at Mayflower Home, but also because of the way he interpreted events completely differently than Katharine remembered them.   His mental illness skews things just enough that you aren't always sure that he's a reliable narrator.   We get his perspective as an insider, but we also see Katharine, on the outside, struggling with her decision, and trying to figure out what to do next (not just about Frederick, but about their daughters).

Oddly, enough, I had just finished a book titled "America's Care of the Mentally Ill: a Photographic History," which explained the trends of care for patients, and how asylums not only were designed archicturally to fit with this, but how the care, itself, changed over the decades.  When I started reading about Frederick at Mayflower Home, it all came together (and I had just happened to pick up this book next to read, as it turned out).     I found this a compelling book, and while it wasn't the happiest of stories, I found it to be thought-provoking. 

Here's an example of some of the beautiful writing that caught my attention (p. 5):  "Katharine reminds herself that forgotten notions can sometimes be found where they were first conjured, and crosses halfway back to the porch.  Just before the screen door, Katharine remembers her determination, and its actual object.  The actual object is lodged like a repressed memory, like a Freudian scene of childhood trauma, behind and within all the clutter of the years, somewhere deep inside the attic.  The actual object she has not held for a decade or more, but she often still finds it holding her."

First sentences:   There is the house in the wildeness.  The house, Echo Cottage, with the lake spread before it, a quivering lattice of light in the late afternoon.  Beneath the mossy portico, a placard displays Echo's flaking name.

Thoughts on the cover:  Eye-catching and captures both the tone and the story.  I like the way it seems like the storm is peeling back, almost as if there is something light behind it --- but if it continues to be peeled, it will divide the couple.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Not really a review ... but I've been reading about Frida

I haven't posted any reviews lately, not because I haven't been reading, but more because nothing has really made me want to post my thoughts.   Actually, I just did finish a great book last night and meant to post about it ..... and then put it through the book return at the library and now can't remember what it was.  Do I need some time off? Um.... yes.

Anyway --- I recently read a book about Frida Kahlo, and then looked through a nice book of photography our library owns, so I thought I'd share a few thoughts on those.

I have always found Frida Kahlo's art to be intriguing and thought-provoking, but my interest in her was re-sparked again recently when I watched Frida, the film starring Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo.   I'd already seen the film twice (never caught it in the theatre, but brought home the DVD from the library).   After seeing the movie the first time, I found myself wanting to know more about Frida.  I also found myself wanting to wear big chunky necklaces and long skirts.  So, I did a bit of poking around online, and brought home one of the library's books of her art.  But then, I moved on to whatever the next thing I was reading....

This time, after watching the movie, I checked out two books: Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish by Martha Zamora and Frida Kahlo: Portraits of an Icon.   The first book isn't very large, but it gives a lot of information about her life and her art, as well as photographs of her and pages of her paintings.   The second book is just photographs of Frida (and Diego Rivera).  I found it fascinating to study some of these photos after reading the first book, and then thinking about when the photo was taken and what was going on in her life at the time. 

Frida and Diego. 
She really was an interesting and vibrant woman, and while I can't say I love every single painting of hers, I find her art to be very thought-provoking.   Her personal life and the pain she suffered on a constant basis come through on her canvasses so clearly that you expect them to speak (or scream).  I don't know if I would have wanted to spend a lot of time around her, as her moods apparently could be quite unpredictable and volatile, especially toward the end of her life.  However, I can understand why so many people were drawn to her; she may not have had the happiest life, but she certainly seemed to live a life full of passion.   I do find it interesting that she was so drawn to Diego Rivera, even from an early age (and there was a substantial age difference between them).  However, although he wasn't the most handsome man, he apparently also had a lot of vitality and charm.  I can understand how their relationship could be both exciting and quite mercurial at times (he not only was quite charming, but many women found him attractive ... and he responded to that attention on a frequent basis).
So --- this isn't really a book review.  However, if you are interested in Frida, these two books are a good place to start. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday .... a bit ahead of schedule.....

Isola Madre poppet with petals
Since I'm in the mood, it being the first day of summer and all, didn't want to wait .....

This was taken on Isola Madre, Italy (off Stresa)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Exposure by Therese Fowler

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   In Exposure, Therese Fowler has written her most gripping novel to date—a ripped-from-the-headlines story of ardent young love and a nightmarish legal maelstrom that threatens to destroy two families.
Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, winsome high school senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows—and keeps—their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested. Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.  As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all.

And here's what I thought:   My first thought after finishing this book was: I am so glad I am not a teenager.  I know, selfish, right?   But seriously -- the author's credits say "To my boys, who have to navigate a world fraught with challenges and dangers I never imagined as a teen."   Yes.    But enough about me --- how about the book?

The author does something very cool, and that's to tell the story from a number of different perspectives, setting it out there so that it's up to the reader to decide who's really responsible -- teens?  parents?    The two teens, Amelia and Anthony, are a bit Romeo and Juliet-ish due to Amelia's extremely strict parents.   They have good intentions, and they are in love ... but they are both a bit naive.   As an adult, and knowing what I do about how files can embed themselves in computers, sexting just seems like a bad idea.   And this is a point that is driven home in this book.

The parents in this story make an interesting counterpoint to the teens.  While Anthony's mother seems more laid-back and open to different ways to handle the situation, Amelia's father is completely the opposite.  In fact, he's the one who really blows the whole thing into a huge legal battle.   Instead of talking to Amelia and finding a way to discipline her when he finds the pictures on her computer, he immediately calls the police, saying he's like to "report a kind of sexual assault, I guess you'd call it---" (p. 60).   He's a bit one-dimensional and unrealistic in how overprotective he is, and how he reacts to everything.   However, I'm sure there are parents like this -- who have good intentions, but whose strong reactions cause a problem to blow up into something truly awful.

The story starts out somewhat slowly, building up to when Amelia's father finds the photos, and then starts to escalate from there, ramping up as first the police arrest Anthony, then turn and arrest Amelia.    The setting has a lot to do with it -- where these families live, the DA is pretty hard-nosed, and seems to want to make an example out of these kids, so he flexes the law as much as he can.   It's actually very frustrating, but it's interesting to see what happens when it all turns on Amelia's father, and she's arrested.   You can feel him backpedaling, trying to figure out how he can get control of the situation (and realizing that there's really not much he can do, now that he has started the process).     Things keep escalating until Anthony and Amelia decide to do something desperate, and it looks like this love story will end in tragedy.

It did feel like the author was being a bit heavy-handed at times with the "sexting is a bad idea" message.   The characters also sometimes seemed a bit predictable -- Amelia, as Juliet, has strict, overbearing parents, with an especially controlling father, while Anthony, as Romeo, is being raised by a single mother who is naturally more open-minded and forgiving.   However, it was interesting to see how this situation not only affected the teens, but the parents, as well.   I got annoyed with Amelia's father right away and at times, felt like his character was a bit over-the-top, veering too far into "obvious villain" territory.   However, this story definitely shows how decisions made by teens can have a much larger impact beyond just their own lives, impacting the lives (and finances) of their parents and making everyone's future uncertain.  Is it realistic?  Some of it, yes.   While the characters might not be completely realistic at all times, the situation of sexting, and what happens when teens get caught (especially the potential legal ramifications) is something that we see in headlines pretty regularly.     This is an emotional book about an important issue.   Whether it will resonate with every reader the same way, I think depends on the reader's own experiences and age.   If you usually like books by Jodi Picoult and are a fan of realistic fiction about social issues, this will be a real page-turner.    It's clear the author is passionate about this issue, and it comes through clearly in the story.

First sentences:  Nine hours before the police arrived, Anthony Winter stood, barefoot and wild, on the narrow front porch of the house he shared with his mother.  The painted wooden planks were damp and cool beneath his feet, but he hardly noticed."

Thoughts on the cover:  Completely in line with the story and very eye-catching, especially as the girl's eye catches yours as she is looking over the boy's shoulder.

Friday means it's Hopping Time!

Another week down!   I don't know about all of you, but this week seemed to fly by --  and here we are again at the Book Blogger Hop.
why yes, I do believe I'll hop!

I always look forward to the Hop, even if it means I spend a bit too much time noodling around online.  I think it's great that Jennifer always hosts -- and it's her 5-year anniversary today, so stop on over and leave her a nice little message, okay?   

This weekend might not have as much hopping for me -- I'm working tomorrow, and have family plans for Sunday .....  but I'm still going to go around and visit as much as I can.

This week's question is:  "How many books are currently in your TBR (to-be-read) pile?"   Um....  maybe I should just count what's physically in the library bag right now, which is 8.    I used to keep an Excel spreadsheet of what I wanted to read and it got to about 2000 books before I stopped adding to it.   Now, I just try to manage things through my library account, putting things on hold for myself and making a few notes.     I will say this --- being a librarian is both a blessing and a curse if you're a book addict like myself.   I manage certain parts of the collection (meaning -- I order books) and that means I'm always looking at Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and a ton of other review sources.   Which means ....  I am always seeing what shiny, new books are coming out.    Add to that all of the great books I hear about from book bloggers and it's easy to see how my TBR list could get completely overgrown and out of control.    I just try to stay on top of it.

Have a great weekend, everyone!!!  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   It is the summer of 1980. A tamed brown bear finds himself tempted by the lure of freedom and the wild open sea. . . Meanwhile a grieving, broken family arrive on a windswept island in the Outer Hebrides, looking for the time and space to understand the strange, bewildering events that led to the loss of their husband and father.    
Letty clings to the island, the place of her birth –hoping it, and the tight community around her, will slowly begin to fill the void she feels within. For how can she ever begin to explain to her children that their diplomat father may have betrayed his country? Georgie, the eldest, has a secret. She knows more about her father's affairs than she can bear to reveal . . . Alba, the middle child, despises many things: over-polished furniture, easy listening music and shiny food. But most of all she hates the fact that everyone seems to be keeping things from her. Jamie, the youngest, accepts his mind doesn’t work in quite the same way as everyone else’s, but what he can’t understand is –if his father is lost, why isn’t anyone else trying to find him?

As the community’s search for the escaped bear intensifies, Jamie finds himself inexplicably drawn towards the beast. But when a storm sweeps across the island, the family once again find themselves facing the worst; and as events converge and mysteries are unearthed, the bear finally discovers his true purpose.

And here's what I thought:   Let's try a few words, shall we?   Lyrical.  Haunting.  Provocative.   I really enjoyed this story (and actually, was a bit surprised because from the description, I just wasn't sure how it would be).    I found the author just pulled me in, weaving the story in and around itself, and keeping me guessing about what was going to happen next.   I was sure I knew what might have happened to Nicky (Letty's husband), but then I wasn't sure --- there is a mystery surrounding him, and just when I thought I might know what was going on, something would change.    Bella Pollen writes in such a lyrical way --- I just savored certain passages of this book.   When she writes about the bear, it's pure poetry in parts.    And her pace in this book is so even that when things start to pick up, you almost don't realize it at first, and then you notice you're reading faster and faster.  At least, that was my experience.

The characters in this book are so varied -- which means that as you experience the story through them, it's constantly changing (which I like).  I don't usually break it down this way, but it's almost easier this way ---

Letty:   the mother, whose husband has died in an accident (was it really an accident?).  Turns out that she may not have known her husband as well as she thought she did --- which makes dealing with his death even more difficult.   Is she likeable?  Most of the time, although I sometimes became frustrated with her lack of interest in her children (although I chalked up her attitude to depression). 

Georgie:  the eldest daughter, she's quiet and somewhat withdrawn.  It seems like she's just trying to get through her current situation so she can move on and go away to school, thus escaping the rest of her family.   However, just when you think you've got her character sewn up tight, she does something unpredictable. 

Jamie:  the youngest, he seems a bit ... off.   Jamie sees the world in a completely different way than the rest of his family.  Is he simple in the head?  Hard to say.  Jamie definitely has a brain that works differently than most of us.  
He is definitely connected to The Bear.   At first, when you get the Bear's perspective, it's a bit odd --- but Pollen writes him in a completely believable, bear-like way.   But the odd thing is --- is he just a bear?  He's definitely not an average bear, and there is a clear connection that he has to Jamie.   But is he real?   Example:  (p. 126) -- But Jamie had already disappeared inside his head.  How was it possible?  The bear from the museum.  The bear on his flyer.  The bear waiting for him at the Zirkusplatz the day of his father's accident.  And now here he was on the island.  His island.  his bear.

"Hello, bear," Jamie whispered.
"Hello, Jamie," the bear answered.

Wonder what's going on here?  So did I.   And no, I'm not telling --- you'll need to read the book.    However, I will say that The Bear, as a physical bear, is real.   He's described: "The wrestler's grizzly is a hostile bugger, an aggressive beastie."  (p. 132).    I love the word beastie, by the way.
Alba (I've saved her for last):  the middle child, she's completely awful.   All the time.   She's constantly seething, using her anger to propel herself through the story.  When we first meet her in the book, in Chapter 2, it's quite clear that she's always angry or annoyed about something.    Example: "It annoyed Alba that people accused her of hating things indiscriminately.  It wasn't true.  She had her reasons for feeling the way she did and they were good ones... She resented fish, loathed any form of sentimentality and strongly believed that doors should be kept either open or shut, but never in-between."   (p. 9).   She seems to take special delight in tormenting Jamie (perhaps because he seems to be so intent on looking up to her and loving her), but she doesn't limit her nastiness to just him; she spreads it around and takes her attitude everywhere.   While I didn't like her, I found her to be an interesting character.  I will admit to having foul moods on occasion, but the idea of having this much irritation just boiling away constantly is draining just to think of (I don't know how Alba maintains it at the level she does).   Alba's definitely a compelling character -- and she makes an unusual sort of foil for the other characters.

Do I have you curious about this book?  I certainly hope so.   I thought it was a wonderful read.

First sentences: "It was the smell that drove him wild.  As though the ocean itself was a tantalizing soup made from the freshest ingredients and he couldn't get enough of it."

Thoughts on the cover:  At first, I wasn't sure -- this isn't the average cover art, with a shiny photo and striking font.  However, the more I look at it, the more I like it.  I like how the bear is an outlined shape, surrounded by swirling images of plants and water.  Quite cool, actually.

Please note:  I read an uncorrected proof of this book.  Thus, any quotes and page numbers may differ from the finalized book.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hoppin' Time!!!

leaping AND hopping

We've finally reached another Friday!  I'm breathing a sigh of relief .... I have today off from work and it's not 99 degrees where I live!!  I live in the Chicago area, and it's been pretty hot (and 80 degrees inside the library where I work) --- but we had some storms on Thursday which brought our temperature down, and the a/c in the library finally started to work, too --- so now, it's all good.   :)

So, anyway -- Friday means it's time to Hop.   The Book Blogger Hop this week is being hosted by Lori -- thank you very much, Lori!!   As always, the Hop is a great opportunity to visit with bloggers you know, and meet new bloggers.

This week's question is: "Who is the one author you're dying to meet?"     Lucky for me, the one author I had been dying to meet, I actually DID meet.   I have had a huge author crush on China Mieville for years and I finally had the opportunity to not only hear him speak, but got two of my books signed, as well (at C2E2 in Chicago).    I tell you - I wasn't sure if I was going to faint in front of him, but I was able to not only hold it together, but I didn't turn into a babbling idiot when I was in front of him, getting my books signed.     And let me say this --- I had a feeling he was cool, just from reading and loving his books....  but he is extremely cool in person -- very, very intelligent.   And ... um ..... very good-looking.   If he has any flaws, they aren't visible.   And if you know of any flaws he has, please do not tell me.   I would prefer to just think of him as .... perfect.

This is China Mieville.   He is perfect.

I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's stories this Hop.   Have a great weekend, everyone!!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Alice is twenty-nine. She is whimsical, optimistic and adores sleep, chocolate, her ramshackle new house and her wonderful husband Nick. What's more, she's looking forward to the birth of the 'Sultana' - her first baby.

But now Alice has slipped and hit her head in her step-aerobics class and everyone's telling her she's misplaced the last ten years of her life.  In fact, it would seem that Alice is actually thirty-nine and now she loves schedules, expensive lingerie, caffeine and manicures. She has three children and the honeymoon is well and truly over for her and Nick. In fact, he looks at her like she's his worst enemy. What's more, her beloved sister Elisabeth isn't speaking to her either. And who is this 'Gina'everyone is so carefully trying not to mention?   Alice isn't sure that she likes life ten years on. Every photo is another memory she doesn't have and nothing makes sense. Just how much can happen in a decade? Has she really lost her lovely husband for ever?

And here's what I thought: 
I had checked this book out from the library because it sounded interesting.  I had been expecting a somewhat light read, and was surprised that several times, I found myself closing the book and just reflecting on something that was happening in the story.   There's a lot here beyond Alice and her memory loss -- there's relationships that have been changed by the person she's become over 10 years, not just with friends, but with family, as well.   Her relationship with her sister is especially brittle, and throughout this story, we get Alice's sister's perspective -- which is fascinating.

It's an interesting idea -- that Alice hits her head and loses the last ten years of her life.   What's really interesting is that somehow, in 10 years, Alice has transformed into a completely different person that she used to be.  That much is clear -- when she thinks she's only 29, she's actually a pretty nice person .... and from the reactions of the people around her, in reality, at age 39, she's really not.

The story progresses with Alice learning about herself from her sister, her mother, her soon-to-be ex-husband, and others.  It's a cool way to develop a character, especially one who thinks she knows who she is, and who is coming up against completely different perceptions of her.   Talk about self-discovery.   In addition to trying to remember the last ten years of marriage and children, Alice also realizes that she wants to somehow fix some of what has happened ... which is tricky, considering she needs to keep asking her sister (who really doesn't seem to like her) and other people about the past.    She's a likeable person as she sees herself now (as age 29), but as her real self, at 39, she doesn't seem very nice --- which makes getting to know her as a character a bit of an exercise. 

I enjoyed this story, and found that it made me think about what I would do in a similar situation.  I don't have children that I would have forgotten, but I would definitely have a career change .... and when I think about how stressed I was at my job 10 years ago?   So glad that's in the past.    Definitely a thought-provoking and enjoyable story.

First sentences:   She was floating, arms outspread, water lapping her body, breathing in a summery fragrance of salt and coconut. There was a pleasantly satisfied breakfast taste in her mouth of bacon and coffee and possibly croissants."

Thoughts on the cover:  I chose a cover that's different from the one I read because I like it better.  You can see the other cover art over at GoodReads --- it's a basic red with some cutouts (which my library book obscured somewhat).   This cover seems a bit more personal, which I felt suited the story a bit better.

Monday, June 6, 2011

My own thoughts on "A Darkness too Visible"

I don't usually weigh in too much on things like this in my blog, preferring to keep really personal stuff pretty much under the radar.   But, after reading the original article in the Wall Street Journal (and if you don't have any clue what I'm talking about, visit the link above, please --- to read an opinion piece about how dark and awful current YA books are) .... and then reading what some other bloggers had to say .... and then considering the last review I posted (today, in fact) was about a teen in an abusive relationship....   I figured I'd just say a few things.  And be advised -- there is one little dark personal bit in this.  If you'd rather just skip this post, I completely understand.

Let me begin by saying that Meghan Cox Gurdon has the right to her own opinion.  I always say -- it's okay to disagree.   However, when I read her piece in the WSJ, I found myself getting a bit .... ticked off. 

She begins the article by saying that a 46 year-old mother of three popped into a bookstore and, finding nothing but "...vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff," she left the store empty-handed.   Ok.   Here's my question:  did she even bother to really look around?   Did she ask anyone working there for a recommendation?  And ... did she think about any books from her teenage years and think about giving one of those to her daughter?   Apparently not.    Did she just not remember any books from back then that she loved?  Who knows?   

Gurdon makes this point: "As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing."   I'm not touching this one --- better responses to this have already been written.   

What I will say is this:  I can't speak to young-adult literature from 40 years ago, because I wasn't reading at that point (I'm not 40 years old yet).   What I do remember is that I was a kid who always read way ahead of my grade level.  This meant that I was reading in the adult section when I was probably way too young (and I was basically given free rein in the public library -- my parents didn't keep track of what books I brought home).  It didn't mean that I wasn't reading things like Anne of Green Gables, or Little Women.  I did.  But frankly, I couldn't identify with the girls in those books.    Could I identify with the characters in S.E. Hinton's books?  Not really --- but she gave me a world totally unlike my own, and this opened up my world as a result.   I also couldn't necessarily identify with what was in books by Stephen King, or Harold Robbins (yes, I learned a lot about sex from books .... not necessarily the best thing in the world, but my parents didn't talk to me about sex at all, and I was on my own to figure things out).   Reading these books didn't mean I was going to go out and murder people with an axe, or have rampant sex (especially as a 14 year-old).  However, the books I read, no matter what they were, opened my eyes.   Heck, reading Judy Blume opened my eyes!   I took what I could get and absorbed it like a sponge.  

That being said, I'm going to say one more thing.   Gurdon says this in her piece: "If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife. Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures."

If you read about cutting, why would it appeal to you?  Tell me one thing that makes this sound like fun.   And if I sound a bit bitter, perhaps it is because I was a cutter.  I didn't learn about it from any book.  There were no books about it when I was doing it.  I did it because at the time I couldn't think to do anything else.   If I had access to books like the ones I can read today, back then, I probably wouldn't have done it at all --- but I also wouldn't have felt so alone, or felt so desperate.    I didn't have anyone I could talk to back then, and if I could have found a bit of solace in the books I was reading, I would have welcomed it.   I appreciate what Linda Holmes said on NPRSurrounding them with books full of joy and beauty is fine, but confining their reading to those things because we are afraid that they cannot tolerate being exposed to the things they are already so often exposed to does them a terrible disservice. It's difficult to say to a teenager, "We don't even let you read about anyone who cuts herself; it's that much of a taboo. But by all means, if you're cutting yourself, feel free to tell a trusted adult."   There was no way I was telling anyone.  In fact, I lied about what I did if I couldn't hide it, and I hid it as well as I possibly could.    And I grew up, pulling myself up and out of the dark places.   I don't talk about it now because there's really no reason to.  Anyone who knows me and reads this will probably be somewhat horrified.  I don't dwell on it -- but it's a part of who I was (and thus, who I am).

Ellen Hopkins wrote this on her blog: "YA books do not make the world a darker place. They bring light and hope to an already shadowed landscape."    I agree.    The world isn't always a pleasant place to be and if books can provide something relatable for readers, or something they can experience through books, instead of experiencing through their own lives, then they should be able to be read.  I don't make people read things, and I don't believe in forcing people to read things "for their own good."  However, don't try to tell me what I can and cannot read --- whether it's for my own good is up to me.

Ok.  Done now.  Thanks for reading.    I've embedded links here to other bloggers, but if you read any of them, I found this person's especially moving.

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   When Alex falls for the charming new boy at school, Cole, a handsome, funny, sports star who adores her, she can't believe she's finally found her soul mate-someone who truly understands her and loves her for who she really is.
At first, Alex is blissfully happy. Sure, Cole seems a little jealous of her relationship with her best friends, Zack and Bethany, but what guy would want his girlfriend spending all of her time with another boy? But as the months pass, Alex can no longer ignore Cole's small put-downs, pinches, or increasingly violent threats. As Alex struggles to come to terms with the sweet boyfriend she fell in love with and the boyfriend whose "love" she no longer recognizes, she is forced to choose - between her "true love" and herself.

And here's what I thought: 
  This is a pretty thought-provoking story.  Have you ever seen someone who seems to be in a bad relationship and wonder, why does she stay with him?  This is one of those stories -- and it's obvious that the answer to that question isn't simple.

As you can see from the summary, this is Alex's story of how she falls for a guy who seems to be great ... and then who turns out to be pretty awful.   When we meet her, Alex seems like a girl who's pretty grounded, and whose two best friends, Zack and Bethany, keep her that way.  She doesn't have the best relationship with her dad and her sister, but she seems like she's got a good head on her shoulders.  So how is it that the winds up in an abusive relationship?   I thought Jennifer Brown did a really good job of showing us just how such a relationship can happen: gradually.   Cole seems almost too good to be true, but it's obvious there's more than meets the eye.  Right away, Alex's two friends don't seem to like him, which you would think would make her pretty wary.  But, whoever said that attraction was based in logic?   Even when Cole starts treating Alex in ways that aren't very nice, she keeps coming back to him --- because when he's being nice to her, he's really nice (and she keeps making excuses for why he acts the way he does).   

Lucky for Alex, she's got Zack and Bethany, who stick by her, even when Alex starts blowing them off to spend time with Cole.   These are the friends we all wish we had -- those that stick by us even when we're not being a good friend, or seem to making some bad decisions.    They don't step in and take her away from Cole; they make her realize that she is strong enough to walk away from him, herself.  Question is, will Cole really let her go that easily? 

I enjoyed reading this book, even though there were parts that were difficult to read.  I think this is an important kind of story, and I think Jennifer Brown handled the topic of abusive relationships pretty well.  She puts us in the head of someone who is in a bad relationship, even though she wonders how it has all wound up that way -- and I like that there wasn't an easy explanation, or resolution because that's the way it often is in real life.   I don't know if this is the book for everyone --- but I know there will be people who should read this, and who will benefit from it.

First sentences:   If I had to describe my best friend, Bethany, in one word, it would be persistent.  Or maybe unrelenting.  Or, if I were writing her into a poem, I might use importunate, because words like importunate impressed Mrs. Moody, and when I used them she told me I was a born poet, which was kind of cool.

Thoughts on the cover:
Perfect for the book --- the girl is looking down, and it's hard to tell if she's happy or not -- and the hand that's gripping her shoulder looks pretty firm.   Just right for this story.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hoppin', Hoppin', Hoppin' .......

Friday again?   Where did my week go?   That's actually the nice thing about having last Monday off -- short work week.  

But it IS Friday, and that means it's Book Blogger Hop time.   I am always grateful that Jennifer over at Crazy for Books hosts this (and I like her regular posts, too).   If this is your first time hopping, welcome!   And if you stop by here on a regular basis --- welcome back!!!    This week's question is:  "Share your favorite post from the last month and tell us why it's close to your heart!"

I went back through my last posts and I think the one I really liked recently was my review of The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum.  I really enjoyed the book, and was completely blown away by the fact that the author, herself, left a comment (and a rather awesome comment, at that).   

Jennifer shared one of her posts that I liked reading the first time (so I went back and re-read it this morning). I think this Hop's question is a good one --- I'm sure I'll see some posts that I missed the first time around.

Have a great weekend, everyone!!!
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