Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer reading reviews.

I spent some time this spring with a 100 seventh graders discussing writing. I let them draw me up a summer reading list. I'll be posting a comment about each book as I go along. the list is over forty books long.

Here are my first few reads.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder is the story of August who has a cranial facial distortion; the result is that when people first see him they are shocked. August or Augie, or Augie Doggie as his dad sometimes calls him is the main narrator telling the story in first person. However, five other narrators also give their perspectives. I liked the way that the author used each character to comment on their side of previous events but also allowed the characters to move the story along.
At fifth grade, Augie’s parents decide it is time for him to leave homeschooling and attend a private middle school that begins with fifth grade. He is fearful but finally agrees to attempt this undertaking. The book shows us his struggles to put himself out there and the struggles of his classmates to relate to him. Middle school can be tough and but some students can also be kind.
One of the challenging questions I take from the story comes from the “war” that erupts between Augie and his few friends and a cool kid and his many friends. The main act of ‘war ‘ is to choose your side. Students are expected to choose Augie’s side, or Julian’s, the ‘cool kid’s’ side or neutral. The girls choose neutral, most of the boys choose Julian’s side. Even when Julian loses his coolness the boys migrate to neutral. To me the quest is: Is neutral good enough?

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda By Becky Albertalli

This is the story of Simon seeking to tell the world he’s gay and being outed. It is a story of his search for a boyfriend and of the various romances of his friends. It also shows how vulnerable it is to be young seeking a friend, how under peer pressure we can be mean when we didn’t even know it, and how we hurt one another even when we don’t mean too. The story is told in first person present.
Here are three things I really liked about this book:
1.       The idea that not only gay youth but all youth should be expected to sit down with their parents and declare their sexuality.
2.       Simon is in an anonymous pen pal relationship with another boy who is gay. It is very freeing and empowering at first. It is more difficult when Simon decides it’s time to meet and the other boy isn’t ready.  It is amazing how often it is easier to tell things to a stranger than it is to someone who knows us.
3.       Simon has the type of parents who get over-excited about everything. This is part of the reason he is reluctant to tell them he is Gay.  And why his sister has a secret that causes her to often be absent when he expects her to be home.

And this is a good example of why you can’t watch the movie instead of reading the book. There are some significant differences between the two.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

This is the story of two boys, Georges and Safer whose parents give the space to face their fears in their own time. It is written in first person present, told by Georges. Who is named for Georges Seurat. It deals also with loss because Georges’s family has to move from their house to an apartment because his dad lost his job. The move means Georges has to leave behind the coolest bed ever. George also loses a good friend because after the summer his friend drops him. 
The most important question it asks is: If I decide I’m cool, does my table become the cool table. It’s most important message for its reader is yes we must remember the big picture of life and the issues of now matter little in the long run, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt as if the matter forever.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This stories is about a brother and sister during world war in England at the time when children were sent out of London to live in the countryside away from the bombing. This is the same setting as in the Narnia series but this story gives a much more realistic idea of the emotional strains on the children and on their host families. Ada and her brother Jamie have left behind a horribly abusive mother. Jamie though longs for home and Ada fully embraces the new life she has found in the country. Overall it is a story of healing for the children and for the women who is forced to take them in.

Ransom By Lois Duncan

There were several books titled Ransom. I chose the one I thought most like to be recommended by one of Ms. Strohman’s students. Ransom is the story of five teens from families of average means who live in what is considered a wealthy neighborhood. They are kidnapped and held for ransom. Fifty thousand each but a packaged deal all must be paid for.  During the stress of their captivity, we find that they all bear hidden marks. Marianne knows her father doesn’t even care about her but won’t admit it. Dexter has a weak left side from polio but hides it with clothing. Bruce lives in his brother’s shadow but discovers he doesn’t want to. Jesse discovers that when it really counts life or death she is stronger than she thought and she is capable of loving. Only Glenn doesn’t see his mark but his brother and parents do. The book has numerous flashbacks that are occasionally a little confusing until you get used to them. 

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