Reviews Aplenty: “Dark Matter,” “Y: The Last Man,” and “The Winter of Our Discontent”

Remember my summer reading plans? Remember how those plans were derailed? Well, they weren’t thrown off entirely, since I was able to squeeze in several texts of my own choosing, one of which was even on my original summer reading list!

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

I finished this one a while ago and didn’t feel inclined to blog about it because I really had very little to say. This was partly because I felt a bit confused at times and that often overshadowed the excitement. It should come as no surprise that particle physics isn’t within my comfort zone; Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry has been on my nightstand for at least a month, since I read the first 5 pages and got a headache. I’m not ashamed to admit that thinking of that level is far over my head. However, although Crouch’s narrator, Jason, is clearly a genius, he has conversations with people who are not, giving the reader the opportunity to catch up on the situation. Anyone who has read The Martian and felt sorely inadequate at maths will sympathize and, sadly, I don’t think Crouch’s attempts to make the subject matter relatable and simplified is as effortless as Weir’s.

However, I thought the idea was quite original and I wasn’t so lost that I was unable to enjoy the story. I know people who were unresolved with the ending and, I must admit that I was slightly peeved, since it was left so open-ended that it felt a bit like a cop-out. But alas, by now, it comes as more of a surprise when an author does give a satisfying ending than when s/he puts all the effort into the rising action, conflicts, and climax. I’m not pleased, but I’m not surprised, either.

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“Y” is none other than unemployed escape artist Yorick Brown (his father was a Shakespeare buff), and he’s seemingly the only male human left alive after a mysterious plague kills all Y-chromosome carriers on earth. But why are he and his faithful companion, the often testy male monkey Ampersand, still alive? He sets out to find the answer (and his girlfriend), while running from angry female Republicans (now running the government), Amazon wannabes that include his own sister (seemingly brainwashed), and other threats.

Not really sure what to say about this one. It managed to be feminist and anti-feminist at the same time; it was empowering, at times, and extremely discouraging at others. It was fun to read for a teacher of English, since the main character has an English degree and the story contains tons of references that might only be relevant or funny to those with similar interests. The illustrations are amazing and detailed, so this graphic novel would be a huge success even if only based on the images. The story itself is unique and intriguing, so I enjoyed reading it, but this is volume 1 of 10; I’m not that invested. I will not pursue the series further, but that is mostly because 10 volumes is just too much of a commitment for this lazy person. I also won’t keep it in my classroom, as long as I’m teaching 9th grade, at least. There is a great deal of mature language and the subject matter itself could be too much for some audiences. It’s too risky to keep it within reach of all, but some mature students could really enjoy it.

Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of the novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With the decline in their status, his wife is restless & his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

My grandmother gave me her copy of this text and I haven’t read enough Steinbeck, so I decided to tackle this one this summer. I had forgotten how long-winded the classics can be. There were entire pages describing the street upon which the main character lived. I could’ve done with a bit more conciseness and a lot more action, but I can’t say that I disliked it. It was slow and a lot of things that seemed like pointless conversations or comments ended up proving meaningful in the end. However, I hate to have to get to the end of a book before I realize that what I read was purposeful instead of ramblings. I may have been steeped in YA for too long, since I used to be all classics all the time, but this one just seemed dull and pointless until the very end. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I do, however, feel as though it is a good representation of small town life, especially in the 1960s. Life in a small town isn’t always (or even often) exciting, as I know all too well, so it is highly likely that the lack of plot twists is meant to reflect a mundane life. I had no trouble seeing why Steinbeck is considered a great author of the American experience, but kids just won’t buy into this. No intentions to teach this.

I’m currently reading Waking Gods, which is the second book in the Themis Files series. My review of the first book is here and I hope to finish the second one soon. I need something awesome!

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Poll: Classroom Must-Haves

This week I went to sign my contract for my new job and fulfill some county training. While I did totally pay attention and no one can claim otherwise, I will admit that my brain was constantly thinking of items that I need to get for my classroom. While we were instructed about the hazards of overloading and outlets, I noted that I need like four power strips. While being told to be cautious about securing cleaning solutions out of student reach, I jotted down a desperate need for an endless supply of Clorox wipes.

It made me think about all the many things I may not realize that I need. Whether these are things for a brand new classroom that I’ll need to stock to levels of functioning, or if they’re just secret tools of the trade which are known only to seasoned veterans, I need to know about them! So let’s think about what all I know I need and then I can “poll the audience” to see what I’m missing!

The Bare Necessities

Let’s talk logistics. My classroom is a rectangle of four walls (obvs), but they’re made of plaster (god only knows why), which poses a problem in terms of being allowed to hang things. The “front” wall has the smart board and two white boards plus some empty wall space on either end, the “back” wall is all windows, and the two small walls are empty space. I’m restricted to painter’s tape should I want to hang anything, so I need that. Each of the four walls has one outlet station (with two or four outlets each, I forget). That’s right. ONE outlet spot per wall. So obviously, power strips are a necessity in the highest. Also, I’ll have 5 classes with at least 32 students in each, so I’ll see over 150 kids every day. This means clorox wipes, kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all other germ deterrents are mucho necessito. I’m fortunate in that my school will provide most basic classroom supplies (pencils, paper, index cards, post-its, etc.), but one thing I consider to be a basic necessity, which isn’t usually provided by the school, is a set of anchor charts with sticky adhesive on each page. They’re like giant post-its and are as versatile as their smaller counterparts. NEED!!

Personal Necessities

I am cold-natured. I get cold easily and often. The blessed thing about schools is that they keep the temperature low in order to deter the spreading of diseases, a courtesy for which I am most grateful. However, that means that I am FREAKING COLD for at least 40 hours a week, a fact which I cannot abide. Long story short: I need a space heater for my little tootsies. Similarly, I like a warm drink in the morning as my good-for-you-for-getting-up-so-early reward. Thus, I need a(nother) candle warmer (I already have one but it must stay home for my weekend tea). Has anyone else realized that those things keep your drink at the perfect temperature?!?! Lastly, I simply must have plants in my classroom. Back in the dark ages when I worked as an accountant, my cubicle resembled Fern Gully in the best possible way and I intend to continue that trend in my classroom. Must have Pothos!!

Personal “Luxuries”

I am going to try to avoid fluorescent lights. Thus, I need some good cheap lamps. I found a couple at Goodwill yesterday and they were bulbous and baby pink with dusty, gross shades, but they were $5 each so I got them and bought some new shades and spray paint. They’re in the midst of a renovation. I’m also looking for cheap, comfy chairs so that I can include some alternative seating options in the classroom. Now, this is year one so I’m not going balls-to-the-walls by making everything about my classroom an “alternative option,” but I would like to go ahead and start a collection so I can incorporate it slowly over time. I’m also way into book talks, so I got some small book easels on Amazon so I can feature new or relevant books each week.

I spent the past few days obsessing over my classroom library. I realized that the time off that I have now will be a thing of the past in a few short weeks, so I need to get done as many things as possible so that my transition into the classroom is fluid. Thus, I took down all my books (totaling over 150 at this point, and always growing), entered each ISBN into my Classroom Booksource account, stamped each with the embosser Hannah gave me, wrote my name on the top of each book, listed each (categorized by genre) on a master Google Doc., made colored genre labels, and put the corresponding colored sticker on each book. If it isn’t clear, this took days to complete and it messed up my living room, but with the hubby away, the wifey will organize/label/categorize/inventory. That’s the old saying, right?

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So, here is my question to you: what am I missing? What did I forget or overlook? Maybe you’re a teacher and you see a glaring error in my preparation. Or perhaps you aren’t a teacher, but you remember something a teacher has done that stuck out in your memory. Did you play games that made your learning fun? Was there one poster that captured your attention? Or maybe on the other end of things, was there something that was highly distracting or discouraging for you, the student? Any insights won’t just help me, they’ll help my students! Thanks and looking forward to what everyone has to say!

 

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DIY or Die

I’ve been flattered on occasion by receiving requests to see my beloved bookcase. I’ve mentioned it in other posts, but the gist is that I built this bookcase in undergrad with my father. I saw a design that I liked but wasn’t willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for something that I was fairly confident I could make myself. So, I drafted up some plans, guesstimated some measurements, and let my dad know I would be taking over his garage. We had a friend giving away some old barn wood with the most beautiful grain and, as a mechanic and artist, my dad has every single power tool in existence and, as a mechanic and artist’s daughter, I have the desire to use them all.

As is to be expected, my measurements were a bit off so some places are a bit uneven and the fact that it’s 100% barn wood means that it weighs at least 1 trillion pounds. But isn’t that how it goes when you make something yourself instead of buying a version mass-made in a factory? I guess it’s the by-product of growing up with a handyman father, but I’ve developed quite a do-it-yourself mentality and quite prefer to make something myself instead of let someone else use the power tools and I pay twice as much. Where’s the fun in that?

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Please ignore the stack of puzzles. We do love a good puzzling, but we’ve run out of space on all the other bookcases until I get into my classroom. Sadly, the front views don’t show the beautiful wood grain, but it’s there! The tippy top shelf is our ever growing record collection. As it should be, it’s at least 95% classic rock. The main top shelf is my rock star shelf. These are the books that changed my life or my perspective in one way or another (all except for The Hobbit, all of my copies of which are taller than the shelf space and, thus, aren’t compatible with this shelf). The small shelves are reserved for the books that came from my grandfather’s museum, so they hold special meaning. The bottom shelf is comprised of the other meaningful texts; these didn’t change my life, for the most part, but they are immensely impactful and worthy of frequent handling.

As much as I love getting the chance to use power tools, I also love making things that require more precision and detail on smaller scales. I fancy myself to be entirely adequate at crocheting, but I certainly like to get a paintbrush, needle, and glue gun in my hands, too, especially when the spoils leave me with a book-related pieces for my home.

The puppers is showing you my Hobbit meals painting that has decorated my kitchens through many a move. As with all homemade items, it is imperfect; the words are on a bit of a slant and two of the meals are hard to see in some lighting, but nevertheless it makes me hugely happy every time I see it. The mat was surprisingly troublesome since I cut out the letters in painters tape and spray painted it, and then it lasted through maybe 5 good rains. The wreath was made out of all 760 pages in a James Joyce compilation. No regrets.

I’m not just in it for the book references; I love a seasonal wreath but I usually hate the ones you can get pre-made at the hobby store with glitter and frou-frou all over them. To each his or her own. I personally like simple, understated, seasonally appropriate decorations. Similarly, I don’t want a mass-produced Christmas stocking, and my mother made some for my sister and myself when we were babies, so I made some for Brice and myself and cobbled one together when we adopted the pitiful pup. The pallet in the shape of Georgia was made by my husband and myself for our wedding guestbook. We puzzled together assorted pieces, I drew out the shape of GA, and the hubs cut out the pieces with a jigsaw. Lastly, my first needlepoint project was of my favorite Led Zeppelin lyrics because I love muh bae.

Does anyone else like to make their own things? Anyone prefer to spend less time and more money? Anyone want to share pics?

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The Happiness Tag

All the many many thank yous and blessings to Jeannie at A Happy Clam for nominating us for this tag! If you aren’t familiar with her blog I couldn’t recommend it more than I currently do. I think this is just the perfect time to linger on what makes each of us happy, since the world is overflowing with crap these days and, I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel blue sometimes. NOT TODAY, DEVIL!

5 Things That Make You Happy

  • GrootLa familia! I rarely mention my gorge hubby, mostly because I don’t want anyone barfing all over their computer screens, but fo realz. He fyne. Also, my puppers may pretend that he doesn’t even notice my presence or care for my endless displays of affection, but he carries my heart in his little puppy paw. I’m also terribly close with my parents and siblings, and babysit the world’s cutest nephew every week.

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  • Good books and tea – There are few things more delightful than spending a relaxing early morning sitting in a comfy chair with a good book and a cup of tea. If I had my way, every stay-at-home morning would have thunderstorms, bacon, and English Breakfast tea. Now, I know that a lot of us will list “books” as one of our happiness things, but nothing makes me unhappier than a crappy book, so mine is not books unconditionally. GOOD books and GOOD tea.
  • Adventuring – Is that a word: adventuring? To adventure. Well, it is now. The hubbo, the doggo, and I go on adventures as often as possible. Yes, that often means visiting friends and seeing new cities, but more often than that it means going hiking, biking, kayaking, camping and the like. We’ve stocked up on outdoor gear and sunscreen so we can spend as much time outside as possible. Nature is so worth enjoying.

 

  • Cooking/eating – I guess most of us can lay claim to the statement that food makes us happy. Cheese is the one food I cannot, will not do without. There is no exaggeration in that statement. However, it isn’t just the act of eating or even the food itself that makes me happy, but the fact that I know what’s going into my body. I watch what I eat. I’m lucky in that fruits and veggies are more appealing to me than proteins, so I naturally prefer foods that are “good for you.” We don’t keep junk food in the house and we see treats, like ice cream, as infrequent, hard-earned rewards. I love finding recipes that taste great and don’t make me feel like a tub of lard, and then I love chopping, prepping, and cooking with my main squeeze. Life feels better when you treat yourself well.
  • Halloween – Most people like Christmas the most, but that’s dumb. Halloween has always been and will always be my favorite holiday. It isn’t just that one day, it’s truly a smell in the air for weeks leading up to it. My love harkens back to when my dad decorated our family barn, my mom made chocolate spiders and cheesy, amputated fingers, and all the parents of the town dressed up and waited for our annual Halloween party hay ride through the graveyard. I love the movies (special shout out to Nightmare Before Christmas & Hocus Pocus), the decorations, and the community agreement that adults get to feel like kids again for this one night. Wow, okay, that got out of control. Spiel over.

5 Songs That Make You Happy

Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition” – I walked down the aisle to this song, so it fills me with a rush of joy and love every time I hear it!

Pink Floyd – “Learning to Fly”

Oingo Boingo – “Dead Man’s Party” – This was on the cassette tape called “Elvira Presents Haunted Hits” that we played at those aforementioned Halloween Parties and I guarantee you’ve never seen a kid dance as hard as I did to this song. Still love Oingo Boingo.

Led Zeppelin – “Thank You”

Peter Gabriel – “In Your Eyes”

Narrowing this down to only 5 songs was painful, but I’m happy with my choices. Now for the nominations; you know, I’m trying to be better about commenting on others’ posts, since I always have thoughts but get buzy from time to time. Therefore, I’ll nominate the beautiful souls who find the time to comment here on UShrews in an effort to acknowledge their kind efforts! If you’ve already done it, please excuse, and if you haven’t and want to, please accept this nomination for YOU!!

Bionic Book Worm | Bri’s Books | Rose Read | The Orangutan Librarian | Zezee

As always, ping me back if you do the tag so I can see your answers! Also, go ahead and tell me how cute my puppers is and I’ll pass along the compliments to His Royal Ungratefulness.

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Questions for YOU, Our Readers!

Well blow me down! We’re getting close to having 500 beautiful souls who follow this site and can I just say that that is astonishing?! Truly, we started this blog with the understanding that our moms would be our only readers, so the fact that other readers and peers also see value in our musings is truly amazing!

I have had a few blessed instances where other bloggers kindly showed interest in our origins, preferences, motivations, interests, and so on and so forth. I’m trying to be better at understanding popular blog topics, and I’ve seen a few that did a Q & A session once they reached a certain number; if anyone has questions that they think would be fun or interesting, I’ll do my best to drag Hannah back into the blog-o-sphere for a hot minute and answer some questions when we reach the lofty number!

Otherwise, I’m reaching out to you, my literate friends, for recommendations. I KNOW I can speak on behalf of Hannah, as well as myself, when I say that these two ladies right here LURV some true crime. I’m not talking about Law & Order, James Patterson types of mystery/crime. I’m talking about real crimes that actually happened to real people in the world in which we live. Hannah and I consume true crime podcasts at an unprecedented rate and I’m looking for recommendations for books that parallel that interest. I yearn to be scared by a book but, generally speaking, fiction has never scared me. What does scare me, though, is the potential for real people to do horrible things, and I’m on a mission to educate myself and build profiles. I’ll not lie; it is also hella entertaining. People are wacko. Sometimes, real life can truly be “stranger than fiction,” and THAT is what scares me, so that is my target: real stories about real people going bananas on other people.

Am I alone in this? Well, I guess I should say are WE alone in this? Does anyone else find true crime to be endlessly entertaining?

We welcome questions and we welcome recommendations! Help me out, friends!

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “The Odyssey”

I had the opportunity to teach [excerpts of] The Odyssey to two separate classes this past school year, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with secondary sources and supplemental texts. One text I want to go right ahead and endorse is Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel of the epic poem. It can be difficult to teach from a text when you don’t have one-to-one copies for all students, so I could only scan the chapters we read and project them as we read along with the poem. It wasn’t ideal, but it often helps striving readers to have visuals (besides the 90’s movie we watched), and it’s just a more modern medium. I adore this adaptation!

As with the previous units, I focused on an overall idea or theme, this time being “heroes;” the texts and discussions included in the unit led students to question the traits and actions that typically lead to the title of “hero,” as well as challenge whether someone can still be a hero if s/he occasionally acts in ways that go against those traits/actions. Odysseus is a perfect character upon which to focus these questions, since he is generally considered one of literature’s great heroes, but also does a great many things that challenge that title.

My main goal in this unit was to present the students with materials and questions that would force them to practice looking at events and actions through various perspectives and determine whether that perspective change affects heroic status. As with all my units, I want this to make sense on a literary level (obviously), but I also want it to make sense in the everyday lives of my students. I want them to practice seeing things from various perspectives. I want them to understand how those perspectives lead people to have different opinions of who is heroic and who is not. We live in difficult times. The more we equip the future generations to be compassionate, understanding individuals, the better our chances of creating a society in which we all treat each others with kindness and respect, and one way to gain respect for others is by making the effort to see his/her perspective.

savI challenged the students to begin by attempting to assume how the perspectives might have varied between the Greeks and the Trojans during the Trojan Horse episode, as a bit of background. To Greeks, it was a witty and brave action to infiltrate the walls and capture the city, thereby winning the war. To Trojans, though, the same actions look more like being tricked and massacred by an invading army. Similarly, students challenged Odysseus’ actions on the isle of the Cyclopes and his interactions with Polyphemus. Using a chart, students recorded the moments in which Odysseus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage, as well as when Polyphemus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage. The result was that both parties were clearly to blame for the death of Odysseus’ men and the delay in his return to Ithaca.

circeWe continued the challenge on perspective by pairing modern works with the ancient poem. Margaret Atwood is a pioneer of feminist perspective and often writes accounts of historical stories from the point of view of a minor character. After completing Book 10 and discussing Odysseus’ account of his time spent with Circe, we read and excerpt of Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems,” in which we get an interpretation of Circe’s negative opinion on Odysseus’ year-long visit. Students spent time reflecting on how this perspective conflicted with Odysseus’ account and in what ways the change in perspective affected Odysseus’ status as a hero in this particular Book.

pennyOur final perspective challenge was that of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Since women’s points of view were rarely included in ancient texts, Atwood takes the liberty to give voice to the voiceless, daring to reveal that Penelope might not be as chill about Odysseus’ 20-year absence and multiple affairs as Odysseus would have us believe. Since The Penelopiad is a full-sized novel, I gave students a handout containing the intro (from a dead and pissed Penelope) and first chorus (from the maids Odysseus slaughtered for “befriending” the suitors), and were again given time to reflect on how these perspectives challenge Odysseus’ account and his status as a hero.

Unsurprisingly, these brilliant students picked right up on the fact that the point of view was pivotal to heroic status. Most students finished the unit with powerful and passionate opinions on Odysseus’ heroic status, opinions which they argued and defended in final persuasive essays. We ended the unit by re-addressing the status of “hero,” as well as by briefly analyzing two antiheroes (Sir Ballaster Blackheart from the graphic novel Nimona and Dr. Horrible from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) who often act more heroically than the heroes they fight. Going forward, if I get the chance to teach The Odyssey again, I’d love to spend more time with each of these, really digging into why the heroes in these accounts fail to to actually be as heroic as the “villains,” as well as what that means and how it applies to real life.

I truly hope that I get to teach The Odyssey again. As old as it is, I have no doubt that this unit was the most interesting and the most relevant for my students. I’d love to hear what others have done to teach it, or just what anyone thinks might help make it more meaningful and fun for 9th graders!

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Review of Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” and Gantos’s “Hole in My Life”

Does a book need to be sad in order to be moving? Must the reader suffer alongside the writers/characters in order to learn from them? I’ve been asking myself these questions since finishing two of the texts that have been taught in my school’s 9th grade ELA classes in past years. Both texts were nonfiction (we have our fiction texts locked down) and apparently have been popular in previous years so, despite the depressing blurbs, I was optimistic about reading both.

I’m now sitting with both texts, A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos, under my belt, but I’m having trouble picturing myself reading either text with a class of students. I’m well aware that they both have value; let me make that perfectly clear. However, nowadays, I’m reading things with a mind to how I would teach that text and what meanings students might be able to extract, and I’m not confident I got anything out of them other than all-consuming sadness. That takes me back to my original questions: does a book need to be sad in order to be moving and must the reader suffer alongside the writers/characters in order to learn from them? Additionally, considering the lesson we expect young readers to extract from this exceedingly sad text, is it possible to learn the same lesson from a more positive and uplifting text?

Spare me the lectures, please. I fully understand that just because something is sad doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read it. We all know that my patronage of WWII and Holocaust books and documentaries likely has me on a CIA watch list. I continue to seek out these stories in spite of the fact that I know they will have a sad ending because they are still saturated with meaning and lessons on tolerance, injustice, kindness, forgiveness, and so on and so forth. Similarly, I can see that both of these nonfiction texts address juvenile justice in controversial and meaningful ways, ways that might appeal to the readers that will be in my classroom. In these texts, they may find solace, familiarity, wisdom of experience, and guidance, all of which would make these texts more than valid reads for these students. So I’m on board! No, I didn’t enjoy either of them very much, but maybe that’s because I’m not the target audience. No, I couldn’t relate, but that is an incomprehensible blessing that only reflects my privileged life. Now that I’ve ruminated, my original, rhetorical questions seem to have morphed into the more concrete question of why can’t we just read something happy?!? If we read both of these books plus To Kill A Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet, these kids might just wonder whether happy books actually exist! Color me selfish, but I want to read something happy!!

Anyway, let’s talk about the texts:

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

 

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.
In Hole in My Life, this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos – once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell – moved from wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life.

This one was difficult for the most obvious reason: the subject of child soldiers and war is horrific. It was extremely thoughtful and well-written, clearly being the result of a short life full of experience.

A Long Way Gone was the better of the two. It was painfully sad and also distant in a way that meant that I, as a white American woman, couldn’t really understand or even imagine the writer’s experiences. Nonetheless, it was extremely thoughtful and well-written, showing that it was the result of a short lifetime of horrid and impactful experiences.

Hole in My Life was unpleasant, not because of the subject matter, but because of the writing. I couldn’t stand the narrator, and I’m not talking about the 19-year-old Gantos. I mean the post-prison, writing-about-my-experiences Gantos, who narrated his choices and actions in ways that seemed to romanticize a lifetime of arrogant and ignorant actions and choices. I was reminded of Christopher McCandless from Krakauer’s Into the Wild, whose ignorance of his privilege and reckless desire for adventure directly led to his death. Gantos kindly admits that it was his own stupidity that landed him in prison, but his honesty didn’t negate his unlikability, for me at least. I have no desire to teach this one, but we’ll see.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Am I the only one feeling overwhelmed by sad books lately?

 

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