Title: The Sea of Tranquility
Author: Katja Millay
Publisher/Year: Atria, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Nastya is a former piano prodigy who went through something tragic and now doesn’t speak. She’s been through therapy, but nothing has helped except running miles and miles every night in the sticky Florida heat. Josh is a seventeen year old boy haunted by death — everyone around him is dead. Emancipated, he spends his time crafting furniture in his garage shop and avoiding the world. Utilizing the dual narration of both Nastya and Josh, The Sea of Tranquility unfolds the story of emotional traumas, pain, and healing through unlikely friendships and second chances.
Now let me be frank from the get-go here: I like books where stuff happens. YA contemporary, as a genre, can often bore me — especially when the books surpass 300 pages — because I find them too slow and dull, often cliche and self-indulgent. But I LOVED this book. It doesn’t read like a romanic comedy. It’s the messed up story of two messed up kids. It’s messy. Dark. Unpredictable. But what it really sells is emotions. The sexual tension, the questions, the mysteries, the uncertainty, the sadness, lust, fear, surprise and even humor. And often these emotions are happening simultaneously. It got to me.
It’s also a character-driven story. And you know what? I liked every single one of the characters. The parents weren’t annoying, needy, or uninvolved. The teenagers were all multi-dimensional and real. Every character felt so real. My favorite character, in fact, was Josh’s best friend, the seemingly-douchey Drew Leighton. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a character like him before. That kid stole my heart. Though Josh was the real heart stealer in the novel. That boy can give me a bucket of pennies any time he wants. Or make a chair.
And Nastya. Our tough-yet-broken and completely mute female protagonist. At first I was worried about how I was going to read 500 pages of angsty, troubled teenage girl. It wasn’t long before Nastya grew on me, though, and I was rooting for her the whole way. From the first day in the courtyard lunch staring at Josh wondering how he got a “force field” around him, to her explanations for why she makes the decisions she makes, I found her logical and reasonable. Even if she is experiencing difficulty with her life post-trauma, she felt real instead of frustrating. And even though everyone around her has their moments of frustration with her mutism and her random behaviors, I understand why they stick around and stick by her.
FINAL GRADE: A This gets an A for everything, but especially the reading experience. It’s one of those rare books that affected every part of me while reading. My heart was doing flips and I honestly didn’t know where Millay was going with this story, but I was along for the ride from the first page. Though it is quite long and has a slow build, enough was revealed and enough happened along the way to satisfy me. I was never bored.
Assigned reading: Everyone. Fans of Speak will enjoy it — though I felt this book was even better. Plus I didn’t have to picture Kristen Stewart as the main character the whole time, so…bonus.
Recommendations: Put it in a high school library, leave it out of a middle school library. Be aware of rape, violence, sexuality, teenage drinking, and drug use.
Have you read this book? How you usually feel about YA contemporary, romance, or problem novels?
Since The Perks of Being a Wallflower is both a movie and a book (a mook), I’ll be doing a short review of both. If you are interested in more book-to-movie reviews, including another great review of this pair, you should check out the blog Mookology. And, as always, I hope you ALL pledge to always read the book before you see the movie for any mook.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky
Review copy from publisher
Well this book is a throwback to my younger years! I read the book thirteen years ago, when I was the same age as Charlie. I actually bought it the day it came out after seeing a commercial for it on MTV. While I like it enough, I only read it once and it definitely never made any of my lists of favorite books. Charlie was a hard character for me to connect with, and I didn’t have enough life experience at the time to really appreciate everything going on behind the scenes in the characters’ lives.
My main criticism of the book was that it was trying too hard to be the Catcher in the Rye of the modern age, and I only sorta-kinda liked A Catcher in the Rye. The novel is popular because teenagers connect to the isolation Charlie feels. Charlie watches life from the outside. Every character in the novel is dealing with some really shitty stuff, while Charlie just describes what happens with a strange, detached, naive style. The story celebrates the weird kids: the gay kids, the former “sluts”, the Rocky Horror fanatics, and the Nobodies, to name a few. I guess that’s why it is adored, especially amongst actual teenagers and hipsters. Fact: hipsters love quotes from this book.
I saw the movie yesterday, and enjoyed it. Though I was expecting a more awesome soundtrack, I was generally pleased with how well the film stayed true to the tone of the novel. Parts of the story definitely came alive more on the big screen (such as the epic feel of riding in the tunnel), while others got lost (watching Charlie’s writing grow).
I think I liked the story better as a movie. I liked Logan Lerman’s portrayal of Charlie, and the way the movie captured both the darkness and optimism of the source material. And Emma Watson? I’ll watch her in anything. How is she so damn charming? I completely forgot about her British accent, too. Homegirl can play an American borderline-manic-pixie-dreamgirl like a boss.
So here’s the final lowdown: The book is okay, and the movie is good. If you are a YA fan, you are required to read the book and it is strongly suggested that you go watch the movie. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is basically canon YA lit, so it’s necessary to have read it if you are going to say you know/understand/love YA. Just please remember not to stand up in the back of any trucks while someone drives you through a tunnel. It just doesn’t sound/look very safe.
Have you read this book or seen this movie? What did you think?
By David Levithan
Alfred A. Knopf
Review copy from NetGalley
[#50 in my 75 book challenge]
Publication date: August 28, 2012
“What would it be like to be purely a self, with no set gender, race, family, or orientation of any kind?” David Levithan asked himself that very question when he came up with the concept for Every Day. Every day the main character, A, wakes up in a different body. Though A is an independent person with unique thoughts and memories, the bodies A inhabits are only A’s for a day. Just one day. It’s a tough existence, with no permanence and no relationships. Until A meets someone and falls in love.
For A, being in love is amazing. Finally having someone to share a lifetime of memories with, and having someone to understand the difficulties of waking up as a different person every single day. A has been a drug addict, a regular kid, various athletes, male, female, transgenedered, gay, straight, religious, mean, rich, poor, obese, extremely hot, a twin…you name it. This is the life A has known forever. But imagine falling in love with someone who takes a different form every day, who lives in a different city every day, or who has to hijack the life of a different person every day to meet selfish needs. The situation is complicated, and it brings up some interesting questions.
This book is beautiful and memorable. Levithan’s description of A’s days as A wakes up and lives someone else’s life for 24 hours is intense. A literally walks in someone else’s shoes all the time, and takes the reader through those journeys. In inspires empathy and understanding, but also sadness. A doesn’t have any permanence in life, and seeks to find that though falling in love – with great logistical difficulty.
“People take love’s continuity for granted, just as they take their body’s continuity for granted. They don’t realize that the best thing about love is its regular presence. Once you can establish that, it’s an added foundation to your life. But if you cannot have that regular presence, you only have the one foundation to support you, always.”
“This is what love does: it makes you want to rewrite the world. it makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it’s just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be.”
FINAL GRADE: A Of all the things I’ve read by David Levithan, this is by far my favorite. Everyone should read it, at the very least to appreciate what we have in life: our families, our pets, our jobs, and our ability to be who we are. From the GLBT perspective, I also love that Levithan shows us how the idea of gender can be irrelevant when falling in love. A has no gender, but experiences all genders and orientations. It would be an AWESOME book for a GLBT discussion group. I would put it in my library, too, because I have some mature students (8th graders) who would benefit from reading such a book and appreciate it. There is sexual content, though, in case that is a deciding factor for my fellow librarians out there.
Have you ever wished you could be someone else for a day? What would you miss the most about your life if you switched bodies every day?
Recommend A…is run by Chick Loves Lit, and I love this little meme because it is basically like a practical test in reader’s advisory, which was my favorite part of being a librarian (and the reason why I run this blog). People come up to librarians all the time requesting some very unique or odd things. I also like the challenge of recommended unique or odd things for popular requests (romance, fantasy, “a book like The Hunger Games”).
Today we are recommending books that were recommended to us! I find a lot of books just from browsing my own shelves, but I find just as many from the great recommendations of friends and fellow bloggers. Today I recommend:
Plot in a nutshell: A boy is dealing with his mother’s illness, but at night he’s dealing with reoccurring nightmares about a monster. There’s also a monster in his backyard who demands to tell three stories in exchange for being told a fourth.
Why I recommend it: The details of this story have faded over time, but the emotional impact stays with me. I cried. And cried. And CRIED at the end of this (quite short) novel). Everything about this book was unexpected. If you’re like me, you see a lot of plot twists coming and it takes a lot for a book to truly surprise you. This book surprised me in more ways than one. The surprises were quiet, yet powerful. In my review of the novel last fall, I summed up my feelings: “The truth is never as simple as good vs. evil or right vs. wrong…as much as we might want it to be, that’s not how the world works.”
Who I recommend it to: Anyone who likes books that make them cry. Anyone who is dealing with difficult things in life. And…just anyone in general.
Who recommended it to me: This book was recommended to me by Lisa over at Lisa Is Busy Nerding! You can read her original review here. She may not know that she’s the one responsible for me reading the book, but she is! I found her review via Twitter after already hearing some Newbery buzz on the novel, and she convinced me to put it in the TBR pile. So thank, Lisa (even if she is on blogging sabbatical right now and may not read this?)
Which great books have been recommended to you?
by Gregg Olsen
Review copy from publisher
[#49 in my 75 book challenge]
When fifteen-year-old Katelyn Berkley dies in her bathtub as a result of electrocution by espresso machine, the “accidental” death looks more like a suicide to those closest to Katelyn. Her home situation isn’t so great, her friendship with Starla is falling apart, and she didn’t make the cheerleading team – again. However, twins Hayley and Taylor believe there is more to the story. They seek to determine what was really happening in Katelyn’s life that caused her to be so miserable in the past few months. Using their special gifts (yes, paranormal powers of sorts) and some sneaky detective work, the twins want to know Katelyn’s truth, while uncovering secrets about their own past along the way.
When I got this book, I didn’t even really know what I was getting into. I knew it had elements of true crime, and was based on a real-life case of cyberbullying, but that’s it. Oh man. The elements of mystery and the paranormal, combined with Gregg Olsen’s ability to tell a great story, culminated in me finishing the book in just a day. Not every book makes it to the “just a day” list, so that’s saying something. The characters are complex, the pacing is just right, and the creepy level was just enough to keep me on the edge of my seat without being over-the-top.
The real shocker is that I normally avoid anything with a paranormal element. I normally find this genre a bit to unrealistic for my taste (just a few days ago I talked about this in my Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves post!). But Hayley and Taylor were so nice, and the secrets surrounding their town were so mysterious, that I had to keep reading. While the main mystery at hand is Katelyn’s death, the story really centers around Hayley and Taylor. Katelyn’s story is resolved, but theirs is not. The second book in the series, Betrayed, comes out this fall, and I will read it to see if it holds some answers.
FINAL GRADE: A I was really surprised by how good this book is. There were so many (but not too many) things going on at once that I was always on my toes. I like books that surprise me and aren’t filled with clichés. I would definitely recommend the book to my students AND I would buy it for my middle school library. The Twilight fans would like it, but also the folks who hate Twilight. In fact, this is the perfect book for anyone who is weary of the paranormal genre. I told myself I’d read at least one paranormal story this year, and this was a good choice. Gregg Olsen can tell a story, and I think the real magic was in his writing…I might be looking into some of his true crime books for adults.
How do you feel about paranormal books? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? (I know we just talked about this the other day…but feel free to weigh in again!)
New teachers get a lot of teaching advice, and it can be very overwhelming. There are so many different “right” ways to teach. As a first year teacher, I felt like I had to do ALL the things I was told, even when specific pieces of advice clashed with other advice I’d gotten. Brain. Overload.
Over my time in middle schools, though, a few pieces of advice really stuck with me. I’ve worked in schools with difficult populations of students, so much of this advice relates to classroom management. But these following tidbits are the voices in my head when I’m trying to hold it together every day:
Every Kid Has Someone Who Loves Him (or Her)
This one is probably the most meaningful to me personally. We all have our difficult students. Those students who make us want to grab a stiff drink or hide under a table. The smart-alack, the under-achiever, the bully, the mean girl, the kleptomaniac, the clingy kid, the whiner… the list goes on and on. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have at least one kid that really drove us nuts. However, each of these kids has someone looking out for that child’s best interest. It might be mom, dad, big sibling, little sibling, another teacher, grandparent, or social worker, but there is someone.
This advice works for me in two ways. First, it reminds me that the kid is lovable. It reminds me to look for the good in the kid. As the teacher, it is my job to be on that list of people who love and care about the kid. Second, it reminds me to watch my actions and words. It’s easy to be snippy or get short with a kid, but I imagine what the parent would think of the situation and I hold my tongue.
Everyone Is Just Doing The Best They Can
Kids, teachers, administrators, and parents are all trying their best at life. If they aren’t trying their best to make my classroom run smoothly, it’s probably because they are trying to balance other things. Very few people walk around trying to be bad teachers, trying to fail, or trying to be mean for no reason. Some people may not know how to handle all the things on their plates. This article sums up this particular piece of advice: We’re All Doing The Best We Can.
This advice works for me when I am mad at someone or think they are lazy. I mostly turn to it when dealing with my fellow teachers. I don’t always understand the actions of kids, teachers, administrators, or parents, but I try to remember that I don’t know their whole story. I don’t know what strategies or resources they have for dealing with difficulties. I hope that other people extend the same courtesy to me when I’m struggling with something.
Don’t Smile Until Christmas
So the statement itself is an exaggeration. I smile a lot. But the general idea from this advice is that a teacher should start the school year out tough, and then ease up if the kids can handle it. It is far more difficult to get more strict as the year goes on.
I work with middle school kids, who are always trying to test rules (even the good ones) and learn boundaries, so this advice is crucial. Maybe teachers who work with different populations of kids feel differently about it, but I learned the hard way that I need to lay down the law early, and consistently, in order to create a safe environment for learning.
The Best Classroom Management Plan is a Good Lesson Plan
A good lesson plan isn’t a magic bullet, but it is hard to have a well-managed classroom without good planning. When I’m flying by the seat of my pants, there is far more room for things to get out of control. When I know what I’m doing, have it written down, and have the materials ready, I can focus on the details of my classroom. Every lesson plan is flexible, but having half a plan is not going to go over well.
My favorite part of being a school librarian was that I had more time to collaborate with teachers and create my lessons. Everything was always well-prepared, and it showed in the behavior of the kids and the learning that took place. That made it really clear to me how important this step is. I wish it were as clear to administrators and policy-makers, who keep taking away planning time and adding more face-to-face time with kids. A teacher who is responsible for face-to-face time with kids for 5-7 hours each day and is expect to teach actual lessons for the majority of that time simply doesn’t doesn’t have enough time during the scheduled work day to prepare, plan, create, assess, and do all of the other things we are prepared to do as professionals. That’s why teachers work 10-40 hours a week beyond their scheduled time — for free.
I feel very strongly about this particular topic, as you can see. I think it’s a key point to both improving professionalism and student learning.
Don’t Let ‘Em See You Cry
You will cry during your first year. And probably your second. That’s okay. Let it out. But unless it’s the very last day of school and you are going to miss your babies when they move on to the next grade, don’t let them see you cry. This isn’t always possible, but try to keep those emotions away from your students.
Teaching is like acting, and you are playing a character. When I’m at work, I’m playing the role of Miss Anderson, and Miss Anderson is somewhat different person from Tara. Tara was a struggling young teacher trying to learn the ropes of the professional world, balance relationships with work, and deal with some big reality checks. Miss Anderson was there to teach the kids.
I cried once in front of my students after a conversation with an administrator. I had just come out looking bad in a very big misunderstanding (he later apologized), and I was overwhelmed with the unfairness of it all. Once I start crying, I can’t stop…and I had to go back to my classroom. I think it would have been easier to force myself to not have cried in the first place than it was to deal with my students questioning the tears. I learned the hard way to avoid crying in front of my kids at all costs.
The crying rule also applies to other intense emotions: anger (no cursing!), jealousy, and stress. I’m sure there are teachers who can let it all hang out and be “real” with their kids, but it’s best to get firm grounding as a teacher before you try to do so.
This post is posting on my very last teacher workday of my very last year as a middle school teacher, so I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Though I would never go back to my first year (it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done), I have learned much as a public school teacher. I’ll miss being part of the school staff and working so closely with the kids, making an impact on their lives. What teaching advice has stuck with you over the years? What teaching advice did you ignore? What lessons have you learned?
It’s kind of sad, but this is my last week as a librarian. I’m packing up the boxes and moving out of my office. I’m still going to read, review YA books, and run this little blog. And I’ll still *technically* be a librarian, just not a practicing/employed librarian.
My blog will get a new name and a facelift over the summer once I figure out what to call it. I’ve got two months before I start the next chapter in my life, so I’ve got time. But I’m looking forward to starting my Ph.D, working my butt off, and doing great things. For the time being, I’ll be spending my time in the academic library as a patron instead of a staff member.
And I can’t wait.
Just FYI, for those who follow and read regularly: my favorite online photo editing site, Picnik, closed down yesterday and I was totally bummed! However, I found PicMonkey and I love it just as much, if not more, for my Quotetastic Friday purposes. The only thing it lacks is a collage feature, which I use to show multiple book covers at one. However, it says this feature is coming soon! Over the next few weeks I’ll be experimenting with different tools, and I’ll let you know which ones I’m using and what I think of each.
As always, the background images are my own.
The Fault In Our Stars
by John Green
Pre-Ordered from Amazon (signed copy!)
[#16 in my 75 Book Challenge]
“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”
I know I’m not the last person on the planet to read this book, because I see some of y’all on Twitter, your blogs, and Goodreads that are also still waiting to read or finish it. But sometimes I feel like I’m the last person to read it, a month late.
This is a story about kids dying from cancer. Hazel Grace Lancaster has been living with terminal Stage IV thyroid cancer since she was twelve. A pharmaceutical miracle saved her life at age fourteen, but Hazel is tethered to an oxygen tank 24/7 and is living on borrowed time. While attending a cancer kid support group, Hazel meets the charming Augustus Waters…and our adventure begins.
Let me say first that this book, while still very John Green-y in it’s nature, is different from the other John Green novels. First, it’s told (very well) through the POV of a girl. And it lacks a Margo/Katherine/Alaska-esque Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And the general plot veers a bit from the standard John Green plots. Just a bit. Like always, though, I loved the quoteable, intellectual moments, the references to classic literature, and the rapid-fire wittiness of the characters. I don’t care if teenagers don’t actually talk like that! They think they do in their heads, and I think I do in my head, so I’m okay reading it in a book. That’s the heart of why I love John Green so much. That his fabulous way of saying profound things in obscure ways.
TFioS is a book about cancer, so I was also well prepared for it to be sad. And it was. I can’t lie — there were teary spots on my pillow. But it wasn’t quite as sad as I was expecting. It felt real, and real things have more emotions than just gut-wrenching sadness. There’s hope. There’s acceptance. There’s fear. I like what John did with this book and I like the discussions that can come out of the story. It certainly made me think about my own life and helped me reconsider some of the fears I have.
Final Grade: B As much as I hate it, this particular book isn’t likely to make my top 10 at the end of the year. It was good, and the messages will stick in my brain for a long time. But I think the messages overpowered the plot sometimes. To be completely honest, I think I had difficulty connecting with the plot because I’ve never had anyone close to me die of anything, much less cancer (knock on wood). It will happen one day, I know, but right now I just have no idea how that feels and nothing to connect those emotions to. I imagine someone who has gone through that would give the book five stars. And I do think everyone should read it, so I would definitely recommend it to all of my students and friends. Even people who don’t like sad books — because this is so much more than a sad book! There are sad parts, but it’s a book about life. We all die at some point. What happens when we go?
AAAANNNNNDDDD some spoiler-free quotes from the oh-so-quoteable John Greeny-ness:
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is inprobably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”
“There was quite a lot of competitiveness about it, with everybody wanting to beat not only cancer itself, but also the other people in the room. Like, I realize that this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five . . . so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.”
…and that’s all the non-spoiling quotes I could find. READ THE BOOK!