I loved “Hard Love” by Ellen Wittlinger #PrintzProject

Another new to me author, thanks to my self-appointed task of reading all of the Printz award winning and honored books. Published in 1999, this was an Honor Book in the first round of awards in 2000.

I flat-out LOVED this book. So much so, that as soon as I’m done with the year 2000 Printz books, I’m going to take a short detour to read the companion book, Love and Lies. I’ve had the window open to write this post since yesterday, but I can’t think of anything to say, which is stupid, since I liked it so much. I feel like “gah….it was SOOOO good….” doesn’t really do the trick when I’m trying to use this space to think and write critically.

I suspect that some readers might find the zine culture that informs the book to be dated. I think the experience of the characters is universal enough, that a smart reader ought to be able to get over that pretty quickly. I did find myself wondering, as I read all of these Printz books, about how different they’d be if they’d been written in the age of ubiquitous smartphones and social media.

This book, would probably be about Instagram and blogging (do kids even do that?), and Snapchat, and YouTube, I suppose. Oh wait — I know — TUMBLR.

I think what drew me in to this book was that right away on the first page, the main character said something that sounded like a lot of teenagers I know:

I didn’t bother to remind him that I don’t really go to this school. People think I do, but it’s only my physical body, not me.

That snarky attitude made me want to know more about John, and I ended up caring quite a bit about what happened to him and to his friends. I watched him set himself up for a huge crash, and suffered with him when the inevitable happened. I am glad that the book didn’t end up with a tied-up-in-a-bow happy ending, but it wasn’t a sad end, either. He went on a journey and changed, and that’s what we want from any book, isn’t it?

The title of the book comes from a song of the same name, written by Bob Franke. The lyrics are in the book, and of course I had to try to find it on YouTube.

So I’ll tell you that I love you even though I’m far away
And I’ll tell you how you change me as I live from day to day
How you help me to accept myself and I won’t forget to say
Love is never wasted, even when it’s hard love

Yes, it’s hard love, but it’s love all the same
Not the stuff of fantasy, but more than just a game
And the only kind of miracle that’s worthy of the name
For the love that heals our lives is mostly hard love

Love — and life — are hard. And shouldn’t be wasted.

Hard Love Book Cover Hard Love
Ellen Wittlinger
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster

Since his parents' divorce, John's mother hasn't touched him, her new fiancé wants them to move away, and his father would rather be anywhere than at Friday night dinner with his son. It's no wonder John writes articles like "Interview with the Stepfather" and "Memoirs from Hell." The only release he finds is in homemade zines like the amazing Escape Velocity by Marisol, a self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Lesbian." Haning around the Boston Tower Records for the new issue of Escape Velocity, John meets Marisol and a hard love is born.
2000 Michael L Printz Honor Book

While at first their friendship is based on zines, dysfunctional families, and dreams of escape, soon both John and Marisol begin to shed their protective shells. Unfortunately, John mistakes this growing intimacy for love, and a disastrous date to his junior prom leaves that friendship in ruins. Desperately hoping to fix things, John convinces Marisol to come with him to a zine conference on Cape Cod. On the sandy beaches by the Bluefish Wharf Inn, John realizes just how hard love can be.

With keen insight into teenage life, Ellen Wittlinger delivers a story of adolescence that is fierce and funny — and ultimately transforming — even as it explores the pain of growing up.

First Published 1999

“Skellig” by David Almond, #printzproject

It’s a three day weekend, which means plenty of time to read. And think. I’m reading the Michael L. Printz Award winners and honor books, starting with the year 2000. The award honors books written for teens, based “entirely on…literary merit.” Yesterday’s post was about Monster, the story of a young man on trial as an accessory to murder. The next book on the list is a very different book.

I had never even heard of David Almond before looking at the complete list, let alone his unusual little book called Skellig. I’m trying to avoid reading what other people think before I actually read the books myself, so I went in to this a little blind. Now that I’ve read it, I’m not entirely sure what I think of it, though. I knew from the cover copy that it was of a fantastical nature, but since it was part of the Printz awards, I was expecting it to be more of a teen book. It read much younger (and while I couldn’t find it in the text, I’m under the impression from other reviews and synopses that the main character was 10.)

My dilemma is that I was reading it expecting YA, and got what I felt like was Middle Grade. It took me awhile, as I was reading it, to mentally adjust, and once I did so, I enjoyed the book a lot more. I even cried a bit in a few spots. It was a very sweet story and beautifully written. It was refreshing to read a story with absent parents who weren’t absent because they were dead or neglectful.

I’m still stuck, though, and I acknowledge that this isn’t fair to the book itself, on the idea that this was picked as one of the best books for TEENS in the year 2000. 5th and 6th graders aren’t teenagers. Maybe some of our junior high kids would like this, but I’m not sold on the idea that it was a top teen book.

As I’ve said in a previous post, my blog posts about this project aren’t meant to be proper reviews, just me thinking out loud a bit, mostly to myself. Skellig was, as I said, a sweet story, and while I enjoyed reading it, I was a little underwhelmed. Looking ahead, I see that David Almond’s book Kit’s Wilderness was the top award winner in 2001, so it’ll be interesting to see what I think when I get to that set of books.

Skellig Book Cover Skellig
David Almond
Juvenile Fiction
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

2000 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book

Unhappy about his baby sister's illness and the chaos of moving into a dilapidated old house, Michael retreats to the garage and finds a mysterious stranger who is something like a bird and something like an angel.


Reading outside my comfort zone: “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers #printzproject

Monster is my first Walter Dean Myers. I read a lot of YA, but I trend more towards the SFF, and the occasional contemporary romance. I felt a little unsettled reading this book — when you read a romance, you know that in the end, the girl is going to end up with a guy, but the entire way through this novel, I wasn’t sure where it was going. Now that I’m done, I can look back and tell that part of that uneasiness was due to the very unreliable narrator, Steve. Was he or wasn’t he guilty? That was the question left for the reader to decide, regardless of how the jury voted and the final verdict.

The book was also unsettling because of the setting and subject matter, and even the format — Steve’s story is told primarily in the form of a screenplay, so it moves quickly, but you have to pay attention. There are very few spare words in this book. To some, this is probably a criticism — there is not a lot of character development, but it worked for me. It was easy for me to fill in the details of the lawyers and others.

One of the things I usually do after I read a book is go read other people’s reviews. As with any book, this has it’s supporters and it’s detractors. One of the criticisms I saw was that they didn’t like Steve very much. I find this interesting as a criticism, because I agree, I didn’t think he was very likeable — but I cared about him. I cared to find out what happened to him. Liking and caring aren’t really the same thing, and I’m not sure I’ve really read very many books before that made me realize that so completely.

Another interesting article I found was by a teacher titled Against Walter Dean Myers and the dumbing down of literature: ‘Those kids’ can read Homer. Alexander Nazaryan’s argument seems to boil down to the idea that instead of letting his students read Myers, he should be been making them read “classics” instead — Virgil, Homer, and more. I’m probably oversimplifying, but I’m not sure I see his point. Why does it have to be an either/or choice? Why can’t kids (or anyone, really) do both? If an amazing teacher can get them to read Homer and love it, then I’m all for that, but how many people have had reading ruined for them in school?

The number of books that people read in a year is horrifying low (even with people like me reading upwards of 100 books a year…), and I think I have to come down on the side of “if this is all the read, then that’s all right with me.”

This probably won’t be my last Walter Dean Myers, but I have a fairly long list of other books to read first…

I think I’m going to wrap up this post with a video of Myers from 2012.

Monster Book Cover Monster
Walter Dean Myers
Juvenile Fiction
Harper Collins
Tue Oct 06 2009

2000 Michael L. Printz Award Winner

This New York Times bestselling novel and National Book Award nominee from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve's own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives. Fade In: Interior: Early Morning In Cell Block D, Manhattan Detention Center. Steve (Voice-Over) Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I'll call it what the lady prosecutor called me ... Monster. Supports the Common Core State Standards (Originally published, April 21st 1999)

Starting a new reading project

Apparently, my thing is to restart my blog every so often.

Hey- how’s it going? I’m fine. Busy. You know. Life and everything.

Anyway, a couple of things have happened in real life and mentally that have kind of come together and I think I’m going to start a new reading project. A couple of years ago, I tried being a book blogger, but I wasn’t very good at it. The project I’m doing now is totally for me, but part of the challenge I’m setting myself is to write about it, too, and this seems like a logical place to do that.

So, the project. I want to try to read and write about the Michael L. Printz Award winners and honor books.

For those of you that are wondering WHAT on Earth the award is about, you can visit the official website. For those of you that are wondering WHY on Earth I’m doing this, well, I’m not entirely prepared to talk about that. For those of you that are wondering HOW I’m planning to go about this, well, hmmm. Not much of a plan yet. Will I read and post on a regular schedule? Who knows! What exactly am I going to try to write? Again — your guess is as good as mine. Maybe I won’t even write, but I’ll make a video. Or a book trailer. Or tap dance.

Well, probably not that last one.

I do know that I’m starting with the oldest first. The year the award was first given was 2000, and the winner that year was Monster by Walter Dean Myers. I have to be honest — this is not normally a book I would just pick up, but I started it earlier this evening and I’m already 18% done. And I have to know what happens, so I’m not stopping…and not just because I’m doing this project.

I do know that I won’t MAKE myself finish a book I’m absolutely hating. At least, I don’t think I will.

So, that’s what’s new with me. What’s new with you?

Throwback Thursday — Tie Edition

So, this morning, my boys got dressed, with no prompting from me, in their brand-new shirts and ties. They were supposed to have a basketball game tonight, and on game days, the team dresses up.

I had to snap a picture, and as us Moms are wont to do, I got all nostalgic remembering a time when they were younger when they wore ties, so I had to find the picture I was thinking of, so I could post the comparison.

Here they are in December 2006:


And now, in January 2015:

2015-01-08 09.26.56

When I first showed the shirts to Mark, he was concerned the sleeves would be way too long (I got them the same size I got him: 16 neck, 36/37 sleeve). Clearly, the sleeve length is NOT an issue.

Unfortunately, the weather is an issue: no games tonight after all. All dressed up with no place to go, except HOME, where it’s warm.

Edited to add: I should have just posted the pictures side by side before. Here they are that way, too: