Category Archives: Book Review

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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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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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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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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