“how i live now” by Meg Rosoff

This one started off a little rough for me — run-on sentences, fragments, a young teen just spilling her guts on the page. I was worried it was going to be a slog to get through an entire novel like that. Luckily, though, after awhile, my awareness of the style (which, I later figured out was purposeful, of course…) slipped away. I got drawn in to Daisy’s story and couldn’t put it down.

Eventually, as Daisy is forced to grow up, her voice matured (as voices tend to do, I guess). And at the end, when it switches to a number of years later, the “voice” was completely grown up.

The premise of the book was fascinating. There is a war going on, and Daisy and her cousins (that she’s just been sent to live with) are left without adult supervision. But at the time and even later, when Daisy is grown up, it is never clear who the enemy was. Or why they were fighting. Or what they wanted. Or even for sure how it all ended.

In some ways, that’s what made it all the scarier for me. How often do you hear stuff on the news and come away wondering if you ever really understand why this or that is happening and what it really  means to you, personally? I know I often listen to then news and hear Charlie Brown’s Teacher. I know they are saying words, but it doesn’t seem to be anything that makes actual sense.

Some reviews were unhappy with or offended by the relationship between Daisy and her first cousin Edmund. My first reaction to those reviewers was ….. good grief….get off your high horse…….On reflection, though, it’s not my place to judge what squicks out another reader.  My problem with those readers would only come if they then try to use that opinion to keep others from reading.

Repeat after me: “not for me doesn’t equal this is bad.”

Personally, I didn’t find their relationship problematic. I’m not sure I can picture anyone I know falling for their first cousin, but I know that it isn’t completely unusual. These first cousins are teenagers when they first meet and who are thrown together in extremely unusual circumstances. And nothing is explicit on the page, this is YA after all.

And really, their relationship informed the whole story. For me, it worked. Even now, several days after I read it, I’m still thinking about Daisy and Edmund as characters, as well as the actual mechanics of how this was written, the style shift I mention above. The more I think about this one, the more I’m glad this project gave me the chance to read it.

“The House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer

Holy cow that was good.

This book has come up on lists as a recommendation for me for various reasons: “because you read” type lists — and every time I have read the blurb and thought “MEH.”

Wow. Should have believed the hype on this one, because I loved this book. LOVED it.

It had such an interesting dystopian view of the future — and even 15 years after it was published, the future envisioned by this book seems very plausible.

It was also very much a page turner! I think a kid (or adult….) that just wants a good tale to lose themselves in will love it, but there’s a lot more to dig in to, as well. Politics, technology, cloning, social and class systems, medical ethics, climate change…

There’s a sequel. It’s on my to be read list. I need school to be over so I can just read all day long. Every day.

 

“True Believer” by Virginia Euwer Wolff

When I started reading this, I did not know that (a) it’s the second book in a series and (b) that it was written in free verse. Both of these were a little off-putting at first, but I need not have feared — I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There was enough backstory built in to the text (and not in an awkward way…) that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first book. And the style of the book was absolutely wonderful.

“You get older
and you are a whole mess of things,
new thoughts, sorry feelings,
big plans, enormous doubts,
going along hoping and getting disappointed,
over and over again,
no wonder I don’t recognize
my little crayon picture.
It appears to be me
and it is
and it is not.”
Virginia Euwer Wolff, True Believer

The main character is 15 year old LaVaughn. She’s smart and funny and struggling to live up to the goal she and her mother have set: she WILL go to college. More than once, she could have made choices that might have changed her path, but she figures things out and is able to navigate through heartbreak and big expectations. I loved reading about her, and I think a lot of teenagers would, too.

And yes, she’s in the inner city and struggling with poverty and gang violence and teenagers having babies and homosexuality. But this was not a preachy book, nor was it a book where I think the reader will walk away feeling like they read a book with diversity and adversity and it was a chore. It was a good story with interesting characters — and yes, I learned a little about someone who is different than me. Especially in these times, with people rioting in Missouri and Maryland of all places, this is clearly not a bad thing.

“Many Stones” by Carolyn Coman #PrintzProject

I actually finished this about 10 days ago, and have continued to read, but haven’t had the time or energy to sit and finish writing up my reflections.

I loved this little book — I felt like the narrator was someone I could relate to, and her struggles with her family, feelings, and situation seemed authentic.

This book is set in South Africa in the time right after apartheid ended, and I think a reader might want to do a little bit of research (or a refresher if the reader is old and was alive and older than 5 during the timeframe of the book….) about apartheid, in order to fully appreciate the context, but I don’t think it’s required.

The conversations between the main character, Berry, and her Dad — and often, the things she DOESN’T say, but probably should — felt very true. She knows she’s being a jerk to her Dad, but she can’t help it. But Berry goes on her journey and comes out the other side a little more grown up, and little more able to cope.

I think this is a book that a teenager experiencing their own loss, whatever form that may come in, could read and feel kinship with, hopefully coming to a better understanding of their feelings and how to related to the world around them.

I don’t know why I avoided “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson #Printzproject

While Monster was a book I had heard of, it was one that was just on my radar, but not as something I was either choosing to read or not choosing to read. (Gah, that sounds really stupid. What I mean is…I was neutral about it…). On the other hand, I have heard of Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and had actively chosen not to read it. This is the final book from the 2000 Michael L Printz honored books list, and I had to read it, whether I wanted to or not.

I don’t really know why I was avoiding it.  For one thing, my TBR list is pretty epically long — but if I’m being honest, I thought it seemed like it might be too depressing, or too preachy (really, why did I think that?), or something. I knew about it mostly from the posts going up around the times when it had been challenged, such as in 2013 when it was labelled “child pornography.” Seriously. Now, when I was reading it (actually listening to the audiobook), I didn’t actively think about the fact that I knew it had been challenged, but afterwards, when I was poking around on the Internet, I was shocked to be reminded of this.

Because the people who think this is are completely nuts and in need of a reading comprehension refresher.

Will this book make a parent uncomfortable? Probably — there is some strong language, but it’s no different than what teenagers are saying to each other, and frankly a lot cleaner. And, of course, it’s about rape. There’s so, so much wrapped up in just that one little word. And the idea that kids shouldn’t read dark books is just…so…horrifying. Dark things happen to them. Every day. That’s the horrifying part. Reading about someone who has gone through something and come through the other side, maybe that will make them hopeful.

For a book about such a hard topic, there was quite a bit of humor. I chuckled a lot. I cried a little, too. I remember being in high school and feeling so many feelings. Looking back, I know that I felt like the social order in my school was just as rigid as the one at Melinda’s school. I was a chorus kid, we were pretty far down on the ladder. The part I get now, though, is that everyone, no matter which group they were a part of, was just as insecure as my friends and I were. No one had it figured out, even if they looked and/or acted like they did.

I work at, and my kids go to, a MUCH smaller high school. I graduated with 200 kids in my class. There are only about 150 students TOTAL in our high school. There are still dividing lines, but these kids have been together since kindergarten and they can’t quite get away from each as easily as you can when there are hundreds of kids. I don’t know which is better. Just different, I guess.

I didn’t realize until after finishing that this was Anderson’s debut novel. It’s wonderfully written, and completely deserves the accolades it’s gotten. I’m glad I took on this project to read the Printz books, as it got me to read a really amazing book that I shouldn’t have avoided for so long.