Review: Cantero’s “Meddling Kids”

First things first, I recently posted about my love for tea and as much as I hate that the internet monitors my searches, it sure does benefit me from time to time. Pinterest recommended a monthly tea subscription service and I got my first delivery a few weeks ago. I was able to tell them about my aversion to cloves and got a very kind “Welcome!” email from the CEO and the Facebook group community. My first style was an Orange Blossom Black Tea and it is so fragrant and delish! They also have a shop with lots of other varieties (all hand blended without any unwanted, mass market additions) and tons of covet-worthy accessories. I’m in love and already spreading the recommendation far and wide, hither and yon. Very much looking forward to my next delivery in a week or so. I was going to put this at the end, but it’s important to talk about what you love.

 


I recently finished Edgar Cantero’s novel Meddling Kids and, overall, I very much enjoyed it. But it made me think: why must there always be a love interest? Why?!?

From the moment I found out that this novel existed, I was excited to read it. It ticked several of my boxes, being inspired by my childhood obsession (Scooby-Doo and the Gang) and containing elements of the supernatural and true crime. I want to say I first hear about it on a list of books that “will legit scare you;” it did not scare me even remotely, but it was a good mystery/thriller, nonetheless.

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
 

For a while, I was worried that it might risk irritating me, since I was far from casual about my love for Scooby-Doo. Call it what it is: obsession. Sometimes, if things based on beloved originals take too many liberties, it risks offending the sensitive feelings of the fans, especially if formerly innocent teen characters are portrayed as drug-addicted, alcoholic, suicidal, mentally unstable twenty-somethings. However, I went into it knowing it was one person’s interpretation, so if it didn’t parallel my interpretation, or at least entertain me, I could always opt-out.

At times, the supernatural elements got a little eye-roll-inducing. However, it was at least consistent. It didn’t pepper it in there for occasional flavor; it established a supernatural element pretty early and maintained the “wtf is happening”-ness, but it at least had the decency to have the characters acknowledge the oddness of it all. Cantero meshed some characters, so that both of the girls had Daphne elements and both had Velma elements. Fred’s character (they have different names) was dead but still an active participant (hello, supernatural), and Shaggy’s was decidedly un-Shaggy-like throughout. He made the characters his own while still leaving “Easter eggs” of relevance for the die-hard Scooby fans. I’m also a big fan of a mystery that surprises me; I get a little bummed when I figure out the big reveal before-hand. I didn’t see this one coming and it was a nice surprise.

So that just leaves the ill-fitting love story. Why did that have to exist? In no way is it a spoiler for me to reveal that there was something of a lesbian interest constantly bubbling on a back-burner. That was made evident within the first few pages. However, this was one of those rare, end-of-the-world scenarios that was somehow overshadowed by inconsequential arguments and confusing emotions. These “kids” would find out that supernatural beings exist, and they’d put a pin in that in order to get to the more pressing matter of someone unexpectedly saying the l-word. And what’s with the unrealistic depiction of a girl who is loved by and lusted for by every single other character?!? Please. Enough.

I have little patience for jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn’t fit in order to appeal to more readers, and this just felt like pandering. It’s as though Cantero wrote a perfectly love-free novel and his publishers went back and said, “okay, but this won’t appeal to people who like love stories, so we need to force that in somehow.” No, you don’t. Some books appeal to some people but very few (a.k.a. none) appeal to all, so why taint those that truly appeal to one audience by diluting them with essence-of-other-people’s-interests? The love story was uncomfortable and inorganic, and after suffering through it for 300 pages, it wasn’t even resolved in a way that offered a satisfying ending. They have a VERY rocky road ahead of them.

I won’t even go into my thoughts on a thirty-something male writing the perspective of a teen lesbian. I’m going to let that sleeping dog lie.

Anyway, I gave it four stars, since the overall experience was a pleasant one. Worse comes to worst, I can always skim sections that are dripping with unnecessary sappiness. Am I alone in this?

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Why So Sour?

I recently read a book and hated it. I’ve been sour ever since. For weeks now, I’ve been miffed, not only because I didn’t like it, but more so because I expected not only to like it, but to LOVE it (based on my obsession with the other books in the series). Of course, as is my nature, I’m mad at the author, as though he let me down by writing the book against my wishes. That’s absurd, since I’m sure we can all agree that it’s 100% MY FAULT that I went into reading it with certain expectations.

Oh, did I mention that the book is Pierce Brown’s fourth installment in the Red Rising Saga, Iron Gold? Truth be told, I’m still not ready to do a review, mostly because I still don’t know how I feel about it. A play-by-play of my feelings are as follows:

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While reading: “Oh my gosh, this is so depressing. Maybe it will get better.” 

Still reading: “Please just let this be over. Must suffer through.”

Upon finishing: “(*throws book across the room*) FINALLY! Get outta muh life!!”

Following day: (*texts disappointments to a fellow-sufferer*)

Days later: (*still thinking about that darned book*)

Still days later: (*typing this*)


 

Usually, when I really hate a book, I put it down and walk away, never wasting another minute’s time thinking about it. However, I clearly can’t shake Iron Gold. I feel like I need to know why I didn’t like it. I can’t even pinpoint whether I owe it to myself, Pierce Brown, or the series as a whole to figure out exactly why I disliked this book.

Even now, I hesitate to say that I “hated” it. The feelings while reading were undoubtedly hatred, though. I genuinely didn’t enjoy a single page, but to say that I hated it feels too strong, too personal, especially considering my utter adoration of Brown’s three other novels. So here I sit, racking my brain in the sake of fairness, trying to isolate the reason why this novel missed the mark, so to speak.

What makes a person hate a book?

  1. Simple Preferences: This can encompass things like genre, POV, format, etc. This is the most frequent reason for me to abandon a text due to dislike. Although I do my best to try various genres (especially ones that might help me recommend books for students with varying interests and preferences), I have very clear preferences of my own. I tend to lean towards Mystery/Horror, Historical Fiction, True Crime, and Sci-Fi, especially “Space Operas.” I do not like romance and I often find realistic fiction and non-fiction to be boring, too much like real life and too little of an escape. If a book falls outside of my standard genre, it is that much more likely to be abandoned due to dislike. Similarly, a lot of people are turned off by a format other than prose. Remember how many people freaked the eff out about Cursed Child being in a screenplay format? If readers get too stuck in our ways, we can easily find anything “abnormal” to be unlikable.
  2. Writing Style: Somewhat less common of a cause for abandonment is a dislike for the author’s “voice,” or writing style. As with the others, this is entirely subjective. I recently read a memoir and simply hated the author’s voice, feeling that the whole memoir was a humble brag. While I found it off-putting, my students related to it and thought it was honest and exciting. Similarly, while students are often overwhelmed by Shakespearean language, I find it to be refreshing, challenging, and illuminating. What causes some great pleasure causes others to run and hide.
  3. Life: Now that I’ve had some time to think back and really force myself to separate my feelings from what I had expected from this novel, I’m realizing that I just was not in the right frame of mind for this novel. As I recently explained in a recent post, I’m navigating some new and uncomfortable life circumstances right now, and my quick solution is to avoid anything that increases my stress. Undoubtedly, this novel added to my stress. I’m far too invested in these characters and this series to not take these changes personally. It’s entirely possible that this novel would be more welcome during a less stressful time in my life. Therefore, I plan to re-read Iron Gold this summer, when I’ll be more removed from the everyday stress of teaching and I can afford to take on the struggles of fictional characters.

In addition to re-reading this summer, I also hope to meet up with my like-minded pal Bekah and record another 5-star episode of SPACE BOOKS! There will be plenty of time to mull over my feelings from this first reading (don’t worry, I’ve recorded them so I don’t forget my initial reactions) and potentially adjust them based on research, discussions, and re-reading.

What I can say, though, is that I also finished reading the Sons of Ares comics. I highly enjoyed them, although I must say that I hate being done with the experience in 5 minutes flat and feeling like the comics left me with more questions than answers. All the same, I’d highly recommend them.

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Emotional Expatriate – Tea

Let’s don’t get political. I know, I used the term “expatriate” in my title and, believe me, it’s sounding pretty good right now, but the fact that America is a mess right now is all too known to we, the people. So, instead, let’s talk about how obsessed Americans are with coffee and how I ally myself with the tea-minded masses.

Anyone who is not from the U.S. may find it hard to believe that very few Americans drink tea. I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of tea-drinkers somewhere out there, but as with the metric system, America wanted to do its own thing and set out to be purposefully difficult… I mean different.

I, personally, don’t remember the last time I had coffee. I always found the smell to be utterly enticing, but the flavor has never appealed to me. So, when I was introduced to black tea some years ago, it was an epiphany that shifted into a complete lifestyle change.

I will go ahead and tell you that it is not easy to be a tea-drinker in the U.S., or at least in the South. As mentioned earlier and according to some very brief and only mildly emotionally invested research that I just did, over $40 billion is spent on coffee annually in the U.S. Americans lurv that java juice. I’m reminded of that scene in the world’s best movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” when Tom Hanks’ character is musing about how the act of ordering coffee makes people feel like they’re in charge of something. “Tall. Decaf. Capp-u-cci-no.” As Joe Fox so wisely stated, people like to take charge by making all the tiny decisions that lead to their perfect concoction. The same can be said about tea, though, so I apologize for the digression.

Anyway, the U.S. has almost collectively decided that we will drink coffee, so those of us who drink tea are metaphorically left out in the rain on many occasions. For instance, when I went to Ohio for Christmas this year, we went to IHOP (I know, I know) and, since this isn’t my first rodeo, I brought tea bags from home and had a few stuffed in my purse in case they didn’t have my preferred type. Well, when I asked if they had hot tea, she said, “yes I can bring you some Lipton” and I just asked her to bring me hot water. Of course, the water wasn’t the proper temp, but I just chose to pick my battles. Such is the eternal plight of the tea-drinking American who travels within the continental U.S. I recently lead a field trip to South Carolina and, again, sacrificed needed suitcase space so I wouldn’t find myself tea-less all weekend. I must give a shout out, though, to Marriott Hotels for including English Breakfast bags with the coffee pods in each room. I was so pleased to be proven wrong.

I’m lucky that I live in a hipster-ish town; it’s my experience that hipsters encourage any high-maintenance eating/drinking habits, so I can count on access to English Breakfast tea bags pretty much anywhere I go in town, except the lame chain restaurants, which we don’t patronize anyway. Remember eons ago when I wrote about being happy in my “vanilla-ness”? Well, I still “yam what I yam,” so it is to be expected that my bachelorette party was a tea party. We all felt classy af. That tea parlor has recently quit doing afternoon tea and only caters to groups over 20 (good luck with that), so I’m glad we had our party before they became “too good for us.”

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I’m almost certainly over-extending my right to assume things, but I’m going to take the liberty of assuming that most, if not all, tea-drinking nations treat afternoon tea like a regular, everyday occasion that isn’t ridiculous even in the slightest. I feel like it reveals something about how American society perceives “tea parties” that part of the experience is that all members roam the establishment in order to find absurd accessories with which they adorn themselves while they sip tea with their pinkies as “out” as is physically possible. In fact, in the above pic, the owner came to take a picture of our table and insisted that we all “pinky out.” Check dem pinks for proof.

 

 

I’m not complaining since, as you can see, I’ve been tearing up the tea party game since birth. In the days of yore, though, we’d put on our Sunday best and survey a multitude of bougie accessory options, like faux furs, parasols, lace gloves, obscene costume jewelry, and all the many many hats. This is how Americans think foreigners live daily life. The local shop closed within the past few years; it’s, honest to god, a miracle that it even existed so close to our little Podunk town. When it closed, I remember being so regretful that I didn’t know sooner so I could try to buy out all the absurd accessories. Maybe I should task my mother with finding the owner, still. As far as tea goes, I’m in it to win it for life, so my nephew and my future child will have to suffer through some tea parties, whether they like it or not. Shout out to Hannah and my sister for being my forever tea companions.

Today, I continue the obsession with less accessorizing. I have loose leaf tea at work every day and I remain surprised every time a kid is unaware that tea is a thing. On weekends, I make a whole pot and sit it on my candle warmer so I can slowly sip it and enjoy a calm, casual morning. It has even permeated my birthdays and Christmases, since I get nice teas and useful tools regularly. Hannah gets me a box of Harrods English Breakfast every time she goes international, for which I am eternally and energetically thankful. Additionally, my mother recently organized all our family sets of china and brought me a cup and saucer from each of our sets. I also got some glass hobnail sets  from my family museum, so I’m accumulating quite the collection of assorted sets.

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I know this is a book blog, so here is how I validate ranting about tea: IT’S MY BLOG! If you are upset, go do literally any other thing besides judge MY blog. Also, tea and books are like pb&j, so there.

Come have tea with me!!

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Consistently Inconsistent

It would be really easy to perceive my recent lack of recreational reading as a negative thing, a consequence of an overly-stressed individual with an ever-growing to-do list. It is always easy to see negatives; in fact, I think it is the human condition to stare happiness and positivity in the face but fail to see it due to all the negativity in the periphery. One can’t always see the trees for the forest, so to speak. However, my six month hiatus from writing, and its accompanying severe decline in reading for pleasure, requires but little adjustment in order to be seen as the beautiful result of a change in perspective and priorities that is anything but negative.

As I’m quite sure no one has noticed, it’s been over six months since I last posted to Shrews. My last post featured an annoyingly upbeat and optimistic version of me, making plans, preparing, and decorating. After only six months, I haven’t changed so much that the old version of me would be disappointed in me. Quite the contrary, actually. I think old Lindsay, naive though she may have been, was still realistic about the upcoming struggles and disenchantment that would permeate my first year of teaching. Luckily, I was warned that this year would be difficult, so it came as no surprise that I struggle daily. I hear that it will get better and I’m already sure that future Lindsay is looking back on this post, rolling her eyes.

However, my job is not the only aspect of my life. While the newness of my career currently seems all-consuming, I still come home to a gloriously supportive husband who is recently endeavoring on his own career re-start. I bought a house in October. I prioritize spending more and more time with my sweet puppy and my nephew. And often, more often than I would like, I sit on the couch and watch something that makes me laugh.

I don’t turn to books for solace anymore, and I was recently wondering why. What has changed? The answer is everything. Everything and nothing has changed. I’m the same me with all my grand ambitions for my life and career, but my growth in perspective over the last six months has changed my priorities. I knew my school placement was one that would be fraught with emotional blows; without bringing everyone down, I’ll just say that I hope I never get used to seeing the extremes in lack of resources, funds, education levels, and basic affection that I see daily in my students. It is disheartening, to say the least. I do what I can. Though it may be little, I do what I can, and I am fortunate to receive local charity that I can pass on to the kids, who benefit from it in ways that are palpable. However, I cannot shield them from all harm. I cannot fix home lives. I cannot restore that which has been withheld for years. I cannot absolve the stereotypes that continue to affect anyone who is even a little bit different.

For all these reasons, I go home and I do not read. I sit with my husband and get to know him better. I play with my dog. I take my nephew on nature walks. I work in my yard, knowing that I own it. I watch old episodes of SNL or QI, and I smile. Now and then, I dive into a book, hoping to rekindle that old flame, but more often than not, the conflicts and intrigue make me sour. My daily grind is filled with bright moments that undoubtedly outshine the negatives, but each day weighs my soul a bit more with the knowledge and experience that comes with this career. Consequently, I do not want to experience struggle or sadness in my free time.

In fact, every now and then, my husband tries to introduce a new TV show into our lives, and he knows that if it doesn’t lift my spirits, he will be watching it alone. I cannot abide volunteering for worry or sadness in my down time so, often, the books I want to read the most feature exciting conflicts and character struggles that just feel too heavy for me. I am currently forcing my way through Iron Gold by Pierce Brown. If you have visited my blog before, you’ll likely know how obsessed I was with the first three books in his Red Rising (now) Saga. So, unsurprisingly, I was thrilled about the next installment. However, I’m finding it hard to motivate myself to read it because my “friends” are imperfect and experiencing struggles that stress me out! Darrow is not always likable and I don’t like that. I’m halfway through the book and, I must admit, each page takes considerable effort for me to finish. I’m not enjoying it.

Now, that isn’t to say that it isn’t good. I’m navigating something, here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, so I really can’t pinpoint whether I don’t like the book because it isn’t what I want it to be (based on my wholehearted dedication to the last 3 books), or if I don’t like it because my emotional state is changing and I’m becoming someone who needs “softer” books. If the latter is the case, I will just stop reading because I cannot tolerate mushy love stories and action-free tomes. I refuse to be bored by my pastimes. I might outgrow this as my heart hardens. I might be able to psyche myself into a state of enjoying the “escape” of fake problems, but I’ve never been that sort of person. My books’ characters are my friends and I might just need new friends?

All this to say, I’m sorry for my absence. I’ve been doing other things, things that make me happy, and I’m not sorry for that. I have completed a few books so far this year and I’m really enjoying teaching Romeo and Juliet, so I have some good things to say, but I figured if any group of souls might understand my plight, it might be you all. Onward and upward, I suppose. Be back soon (hopefully).

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Ready As I’ll Ever Be: Classroom

A while back, I posted about my budding classroom and the many tools I would need in order to prepare for the beginning of school. Well, that beginning is less than a week away now, so I’ve been slowly but surely “setting up” my classroom so that my focus won’t be compromised during pre-planning, which started this week. Thanks to the kind responses both on here and on my social media pages, I got a ton of great suggestions on ways to streamline the processes in my classroom in order to make my life easier and my students’ educations more effective.

I’m also lucky to have a number of family members and friends who want to contribute to my classroom and, accordingly, to my peace of mind. A big fat THANK YOU goes out to my siblings and their spouses, my in-laws, my parents, and my friends, Savannah and Hannah. Due to their kind contributions, I’m way more prepared and not bankrupt!

 

In addition to my luck at having the most thoughtful and generous friends and family members in the world, I’m also really lucky in that I somehow was given the biggest room on the hall! I have 5 double windows facing east-ish, so I get immense amounts of sunlight and it looks like I won’t have to worry about the overhead fluorescent lights being an issue, since I won’t ever need to use them. Another interesting detail is that the room is a rectangular shape with the majority of the room to the right when you walk in the door; to the left of the door, however, is about 6 or 8 feet of space that isn’t exactly functional in terms of student desk space. I’ll use it for my storage closet and student station, but otherwise, I’m able to spread out! I brought in my bookcase and positioned it next to my desk, which gives me a nice private space that will be all my own.

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Special shout out to the hubs for modeling my desk

Don’t worry, I’m under no delusion that I’ll ever have much time to sit down at my desk, but I’m just a big fan of privacy and personal space. In conjunction with that, the desk provided by the school has a gap at the bottom which would show my ankles (again, just give me some privacy, please) and more importantly, let out valuable heat from my space heater for my little footies. In an effort to come up with a creative solution, I decided to make “book spines” that could serve double-duty while also looking fly and relevant.

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I know what you’re thinking; yes, they’re awesome and yes, that’s a HP pencil holder on my desk. It’s amazing what you can find on Etsy and, as a fellow person-who-tries-to-be-creative-sometimes, I want to support people in their creative endeavors as often as possible. And you should, too. Here is the link for the pencil holder and here is the link for these AMAZING author posters, with which I am certifiably obsessed.

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Tangential to my aforementioned attempts to be creative, here are some pics of the DIYs featured in my classroom!

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These obscenities are the original versions of my lamps. I don’t have a lovely “after” pic, so just scroll back up to the pic of my desk and you’ll see them. I replaced the shades with cute beige/brown specked ones and spray painted the bases with textured gold outdoor spray paint. They remain as “thic” as ever, but now they’re also fierce!

You may have noticed my golden snitch string lights on my bookcase. These took one slow afternoon plus some yellow paint and white construction paper I already had. A.k.a. free.

In summation, I love my family and friends and I’m extremely lucky and totally optimistic. Again, let me know what I’m missing and wish me luck!!

 

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Love This? Try This! – “Romeo and Juliet” Graphic Novel

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It’s been a hot minute since I did one of these! But then again, it’s also been a while since I read something that so strongly reflected its predecessors or inspirations. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve read another graphic novel by Gareth Hinds while teaching Homer’s The Odyssey; similarly, I know I have to teach Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet this year (*eye roll*), so I got Hinds’ graphic novel version to see if I can find a way to incorporate it.

Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches — including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together? In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page.

First things first, if you love the classic tale of literature’s most famous star-crossed lovers, this adaptation does the original story justice. The language remains the same, so you’re not getting a “cheat sheet,” per se; however, in this format, you have the visual advantage of being able to see the characters and conversations, see who is speaking and to whom they are speaking. I really can’t say enough about having visuals, especially for stories that have elevated language that might confuse current-day readers. Having that visual assistance can only aid in understanding the plot.

Another advantage (in my opinion) of this format is that the content must be condensed so, thankfully, many of the pointless, rambling monologues are cut out entirely or reduced to only the parts that drive the story. To me, those moments where the Nurse would go off on a tangent never added to the story and instead only added to the level of student confusion. I’m thrilled that those are omitted and, honestly, wish I could teach with this graphic novel as the primary text. This adaptation includes everything that is pivotal to understanding the plot and social references. For those who are only reading this out of obligation and not by choice, this version would serve just as well as the original.

The most obvious difference between this graphic novel and the classic play is that the character families are portrayed as minority groups; the Capulets are Indian and the Montagues are Black. Hinds makes it clear that the choice to portray them as such is not pointed in regards to either culture and simply exists in order to show that the story is “universal” in its popularity and influence. Whether it was the goal or not, portraying the families in this way also makes it easier to determine which characters are Capulets vs. Montagues. Instead of just having a bunch of white people fighting and not knowing whose side each is on, for better or for worse, the difference in ethnicity helps readers understand sides. However, potentially also unknowingly, this gives the impression that the family feuds could relate to cultural differences, when such is not likely to be true in the original play.

My mission is to find a way to incorporate this graphic novel into our reading of the classic play as much as possible. If you remember my efforts with The Odyssey and Nimona, I have faced trouble with giving students access to the text. However, those attempts were at a school that did not have one-to-one capabilities, which I will have this year, so it is possible to give students access to an electronic copy. I’m going to go with that and see where it takes me.

In addition to the graphic novel, there are numerous film adaptations of the play. I was kindly gifted a copy of Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” featuring my boyfriend Leo. There are also other versions, like “Romeo Must Die,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” and “West Side Story.” I also have several songs that would be great for lyric analysis in regards to this play. I’m excited to teach it, in spite of the fact that Juliet and Romeo are as irritating as the day is long.

 

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Review Via Pros & Cons of Glines’ “Until Friday Night”

Someone else: “What do you think of that book?”

You: “… Well… I don’t actually know…”

Someone else: “Okay well, do you at least like it?”

You: “… I don’t know that either…”

Sound familiar? The hubs is used to the fact that he can never keep up with what book I’m reading at any given time so, almost daily, he asks, “what are you reading and what do you think of it?” I can usually give an answer, favorable or not, and convey what I do or don’t like about it. However, now and again, I come across a book that leaves me at a loss for words; I can’t decide if I love it or hate it, which usually means it is an amalgamation of both with no clear winner.

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To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.

As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.

West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…

When in doubt as to how you feel, make a pros and cons list:

PRO: I read the whole 330 page novel in less than 24 hours, so I think that hints at it being engaging and interesting. I’ll go ahead and make it clear that I found the subject of football-minded high schooler drama to be as unappealing as having my toe nails forcibly removed, but my least favorite genre just might be a student’s favorite, so I must read some. Truly, it was centered around football players and football dreams, but I didn’t have to endure endless tactical or technical discussions. It was like 25% football and 75% stupid relationship drama and yet, against all odds, I was drawn in right from the beginning.

CON: Aside from our main character, Maggie, it seems as though there isn’t a single decent, kind, or non-hormonal/non-idiotic female at this high school. Apparently, Maggie is pretty, so every encounter with another female shows the other female either scowling with envy or shrieking with jealousy. EXCUSE YOU, Abbi Glines, but I spent high school surrounded by beautiful, popular young women and, amazingly, it did not remove my ability to act with kindness, be a friend to them, or function in society. I kept waiting for someone to come along and just be nice to the new girl; I would’ve even accepted the stereotypical representation that the ugly/chubby, nerdy girl is the only one capable of displaying kindness, but no. Even the nerds were seething with jealous rage and meanness. I resent the depiction that women (even the most immature teens) are incapable of acting with kindness towards an attractive peer. Get out of my face with this crap.

PRO: I think this is as close to YA true crime as I can get. As stated in the Goodreads excerpt, Maggie witnessed her father shoot her mother and hasn’t spoken in the two years since that event. Sadly, we never get insight into this event, so I had to live off of the fleeting mentions of that juicy event and then hurry back to the mind-numbingly dumb minutiae of her budding relationship with West. Blerg!

CON: What is with the names of these kids?!?! West, Nash, Asa, Ryker, Gunner… STAHP. I could get behind one or two, but every single “hawt footballer” has a totes dudebro name to further accentuate the exaggerated hotness. I guess this is the way our society is headed. Gone are the Jameses and Johns of yesteryear and hello to Rocket and Legend and Bryte. Whatever. Who am I to judge?

PRO: Get back to me on that.

CON: Remember the Twilight series? Remember how it caught a lot of flak for representing a relationship that could only, at best, be categorized as insanely unhealthy and codependent? Well, samesies! The relationship featured in this novel is similarly unhealthy. The characters do acknowledge this fact and Maggie sensibly calls for a “break,” but goes back on that request in fewer than 24 hours and some sweet talking. The entire relationship goes from 0 to 60 within 2 weeks, when ladyfriend gives it all up for a hunky boy’s attention, and then it only takes another 2 weeks for them to endure that tragic 24 hours apart and profess their undying love for each other. These are the “lessons” readers learn and behaviors being normalized in this text:
1. It is not only okay, but also totally satisfying and fulfilling to utterly obsess over your crush, abandoning friends/family/responsibilities in order to spend more time obsessing.
2. A couple of weeks of obsession and a little sweet-talking are enough to validate going from never having been kissed to going all the way.
3. Love is nothing more than infatuation, obsession, attraction, or lust.
4. If you’re pretty, there are no such things as friends, just men who want to sleep with you and women who want to kill you.
5. If you witnessed a horrific event and suffer from PTSD in the form of muteness, just find a cute guy who is a complete jerkface to you, because it probably means he’s dealing with something difficult and you can form a co-dependent relationship.
6. If you’re lucky enough to have family who want to help you overcome tragedy, ignore and lie to them and instead share your pain with another impressionable teen who knows nothing more than you do.

PRO: Again, I’m coming up empty.

CON: The school! The teachers! Who is monitoring these hallways?! There are cheerleaders prowling the halls with hyena-levels of bloodthirsty fierceness, assaulting and threatening their peers. There are teens making out and grabbing butts in hallways and having scandalous meetings in bathrooms. Kids are being pulled out of classrooms (with teacher approval) in order to make time for ownership and “love” to be discussed at length. Kids are skipping classes and arriving late with no consequences. Effectively, this school is not a place for learning, but more a place for socializing, confronting, canoodling, what-have-you. SUPER! Fab representation of school, thanks. Way to further emphasize the importance of the teen emotional breakdown and de-emphasize the importance of education. Kewl. That should help me, as a teacher of emotional teens.

It has become painfully clear that I now know what I think of this book. More cons than pros couldn’t be clearer; I’m glad I took the time to go back and forth, since it is now clear to me that I will need to monitor this text within my classroom. In the hands of certain personality types or life circumstances, this could easily steer audiences towards empty “solutions.”

Has anyone read this? Similar thoughts? Totally different thoughts? Or maybe you know what it’s like to be on the fence about a book? I’d love to hear from everyone!

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