Paper Towns by John Green
Size 12 Is Not Fat
by Meg Cabot
[#49 in my 52 book challenge]
I don’t read a whole lot of the Chick Lit genre, but I guess this read qualifies. Hooray, I have diversified my reading experience for 2011!
The reason it appealed to me is because it is a mystery, and I love a good mystery. I was also intrigued that the main character, former teen pop-star Heather Wells, is an assistant director in a college residence hall. Since I was an RA in college, this setting appealed to me as something I could relate to. Apparently Meg Cabot also spent some time as an assistant residence hall director (and a size twelve), which was her inspiration for the story.
The mystery plot revolves around girls who are found dead in the dorm’s elevator shafts, and their deaths are blamed on the bored-college-student sport of elevator surfing. However, Heather has a sneaking suspicion that girls don’t elevator surf and foul play in involved. The romantic plot revolves around Heather Well’s huge crush on her ex-boyfriend’s brother. Heather’s ex-boyfriend is her ex-producer’s son, boy-band cutie Jordan Cartwright. She is torn between trying to leave behind her pop-princess persona and perfect pop-prince boyfriend to experience a life of substance, which might include a college degree and a boyfriend with a real career. Jordan’s brother, Cooper, appears to be her ticket that life.
It is obvious at the end of the book that this is meant to be a series of mystery novels. The mystery itself is wrapped up, but Heather’s life is still in the early stages of being what she wants it to be. The message of the story is a good one — that it is important for girls to be independent and pave their own way in life, rather than expecting other people to open all the doors. So for chick lit, it wasn’t bad.
That being said, it was pretty stereotypical heterosexual romance. Wells still must conform to standards of beauty and longs for a guy she can’t have. But I guess that’s reality. Heather’s got some growing to do in future novels. I don’t know if I’ll be reading any of the others in the series, but I’m certainly not opposed to reading more…after I get through other books in my ever-growing TBR stack.
Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
[#48 in my 52 Book Challenge]
I read this one because I’m on my quest to read the next Newberry BEFORE it becomes the Newberry, and this one has shown up on a lot of lists. I find it interesting that this novel, a story about a Vietnamese girl at the end of the Vietnam War, is up against Okay For Now, also a story about the Vietnam era.
Inside Out and Back Again is told in verse from the point of view of Ha, a ten-year-old girl living in Saigon. Life there becomes increasingly hard at the end of the war, so Ha’s family moves to the United States (Alabama, to be exact) to start a new life. Ha feels strange and alone in her new culture as she tries to figure out American life, and sometimes she wishes she were back in Saigon.
I thought the story was interesting because I have to admit that I don’t know much about the Vietnam War. Seeing things from the point of view of a Vietnamese child, who didn’t really understand the political side of what was going on, parallels my own understanding. I had to go look up the war and fill in some of the gaps to see what was really going on in both Vietnam and the US in 1975. Of course, this immediately made me think of using this book to teach the Vietnam War to middle school students. The story is short enough to teach in class, brings a lot of emotion to the story, and leaves enough gaps to inspire the students to learn more about the bigger picture of the war.
For that reason, I would probably pick this book over Okay for Now to teach in the classroom. I do believe Okay For Now is the better book and better Newberry contender because it is so well written and made me feel some really intense emotions. However, it is so long! Inside Out and Back Again packs a lot into a shorter story that I think most middle school students will be able to understand. I may just be putting it on our next class set order, since the story fits well with the new NC Essential Standards for 7th grade social studies that will be taught starting next year.
I challenged them to write tweet-length reviews for the book to promote it to other sixth grade students. We thought about quotes on movie posters and trailers to make our reviews attention-grabbing and exciting…without revealing too much information. They did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself (pictured above).
Now that November is approaching, it’s time for book club to start a new novel. Since When You Reach Me was inspired by A Wrinkle in Time and the kids are on a time-travel kick, we’ll be reading it next. I read 3/4 of the story in the fifth grade, so I’m glad this is going to give me the opportunity to read something that’s been in my TBR pile for approximately twelve years. Awesome! I’ll keep y’all posted on the joys and pitfalls of trying to explain tesseracts and the fourth and fifth dimensions to twelve-year-olds…
…or maybe they’ll be explaining them to me!
by Daisy Whitney
[#47 in my 52 Book Challenge]
I’m on a roll with the good books lately! Mockingbirds has been on my radar for some time now, and it was exactly what I thought it would be.
Themis Academy is a boarding school where the academics are amazing and the students are, too. Everyone seems happy, and the administration rarely deals with discipline. However, underneath the facade there are students who face real conflicts. Since the faculty won’t deal with problems, the students have created a secret society to judge these rights and wrongs: The Mockingbirds. When Alex is dated raped by an ultra-sleezy water polo player, she turns to the Mockingbirds to right the wrong committed against her.
Around the half-way point, I was pleasantly surprised that the story was not cheesy or predictable. Though Alex doubts herself at points, she knows she was raped and she does talk about it. I felt her reaction was realistic. I was also super-impressed by the reaction of the students around her, male and female. What impressed me most of all was the Mockingbirds themselves. The organization is slick and well-organized. I thought it would be more secret-society-ish, but it was secretive enough to feel full of intrigue.
The Mockingbirds is, of course, a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee’s famous novel shows up all over this book. It would be interesting to read the to side by side with high school students to make the older story more relevant. I’ve seen a lot of books doing this lately, not by retelling old stories but paying homage to them in telling totally new stories. I think it’s a pretty cool idea.
This book has so many of my favorite elements: boarding schools, secret societies, musicians, romance, modern feminism, and a kick-ass lesbian supporting character. Mockingbirds is definitely on the short list for best books of my 2011 Challenge…but with the good-book roll that I’ve been on, who knows how long it might last before it’s displaced with something even better? That being said, I am in the home stretch with only five books left to read. It’s looking like it might be more like 60 books this year, which is not a bad thing.
by Brian Selznick
[#46 in my 52 book challenge]
If you’ve read Selznick’s Caldecott Award-winning The Invention of Huge Cabret, then you understand the unique format of Selnick’s books. Wonderstruck, like Cabret, tells a story through both words and pictures. LOTS of pictures. Like, it’s a 600+ page book that only took me a couple of hours to read because it it mostly full-page illustrations. It’s an interesting concept: not quite graphic novel, not quite picture book, not quite regular novel, but, rather, something that meets at the intersection of all three formats.
The illustrations tell the story of Rose, a twelve-year-old deaf girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1927 who dreams of New York City. The text tells the story of Ben, a boy living in Minnesota in 1977 after the death of his mother. Ben is deaf in one ear, and becomes deaf in the other after an accident. Ben and Rose’s lives are quite parallel throughout the story, until the ending reveals how their stories are related.
There are so many cool elements in this story, and Selznick’s pictures add great depth to the understanding of the time period. It immediately brought to mind EL Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, since so much of the action centers around a museum in New York. Konigsburg focused on The Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Selznick features the Museum of Natural History. In reading the acknowledgements at the end, I found out that Selznick was inspired by Konigsburg’s story and includes many references to Konigsburg and The Mixed Up Files throughout the story. His challenge is for the reader to go back and find all of these references — I immediately thought of two: the name of the bookstore, Kincaid’s, is the last name of Konigsburg’s protagonists, and Ben meets a boy named Jamie. The book is dedicated to Maurice Sendak, which just made me smile.
Also, I learned in my research that Brian Selznick is gay. He said that inspiration in writing a story about a deaf child raised by hearing parents (and a hearing child raise by deaf parents) was in growing up gay and knowing he was different from his own parents. I thought that was pretty cool. Thumbs up to Selznick.
We saw John Green on Thursday and it was full of AWESOME! My former coworker, Kelly, was a giddy fangirl and I was, too. John read from his new novel, The Fault in Our Stars (now available for pre-order — and all of the first printing are signed copies!) and made us laugh many times over. There was also a marching band.
The event was held as a fundraiser for the public library and AC Reynolds High School in Asheville to help both libraries during times of intense budget cuts. I thought it was an excellent idea, and I was mad jealous of the AC Reynolds librarians for getting to host John Green at their school! But the whole evening was lovely. The vast numbers of Nerdfighters all in the same room made me grin from ear to ear, knowing that all of those kids are not only reading novels and participating in social media, but also using their powers for good to fight WorldSuck through organizations like Kiva.org.
Green signed all of our novels, even though I’m sure his arm is about to fall off from having to sign the 150,000 first editions of his new book (he jokingly labeled that a “first world problem”). I have a few vlogbrothers videos I want to post later to introduce you to Nerdfighteria, but I’ll leave you with the fun photos from our roadtripping extravaganza to Greenopoloza 2011:
That’s right, kiddos, I’m going on a roadtrip (John Green-style) to Asheville, NC to see John Green speak at a high school. And I am so excited.
I won’t get back until well after midnight, and I have to be at school again by 7:45…but I don’t care. What could be better than spending 5 hours driving for 1.5 hours of John Green-ness? (well, a few things could be better, but this is certainly top ten material)
I’ll be back to report on my joyous evening, but I probably won’t be able to post about it until Saturday because I will come home and simply pass out on Friday evening.
I can’t wait to see all of the Nerdfighters! If you don’t know about John Green or his work OR the Nerdfighters, you should head over to this page to see what it’s all about.
Or read my reviews of the following books:
I spent all day today processing new books — updating copy records, making new spine labels, checking off packing lists, and stamping books until my arm felt like it would fall off.
So imagine my surprise when I turned to the title page of the very last book in my stack, and noticed something in the prime stamping spot: a signature! The author, Eric Wight, had personally signed this copy of the book. He also drew a cute picture. The book came from Perma-Bound, so I really wasn’t expecting to see a signature on a post-bound book.
A little excitement to end my day — thanks Perma-Bound, and thank you Eric Wight.