Top Five: Wintergirls

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Of all of the books that I have read this summer, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls was by far the most intense and challenging.  One of Penguin’s Point of View books, I was prepared to get drawn into a story that addresses darker content.  It didn’t take much to get caught up in the narrative, both the way Halst uses vivid images and loaded language to wave her story and the intensity of the story, itself.  Wintergirls tells the story of Lia, a young woman who has struggles with anorexia for most of her life.  Spiraling in and out of control, she has lost touch with her best friend Cassie, her co-dependent partner-in-crime, or in this case, partner-in-eating disorder.  The book opens as Lia hears the news that Cassie’s body has been found in an empty motel room.  It follows her as she is haunted by Cassie, the manifestation of her darkest inner thoughts, tugging her towards self-destruction.

Anderson’s writing is technically profound.  Her prose flows like lyrics, and many passages seem to beg to be read out loud.  Lia’s story is told in stark and vivid imagery.  The text seems almost like a confessional, a diary full of Lia’s deepest thoughts.  Some words and phrases are crossed out, as though Lia is choosing her words and the image she wants to project to us, or maybe to herself.  Every word of this novel is drenched in Lia’s demons, her preoccupation with food and her body, her guilt over Cassie’s death and her inability or refusal to prevent it, the disintigration of her family and her contribution to its demise.  For these reasons, I find this novel to be a triumph.  However, despite the beauty of her storytelling, every moment of this story terrifies me.  Lia’s psyche is a black hole, and as I reader I felt I was being sucked in.  I agonized with her over pounds and calories.  She fought like a trapped animal to preserve her disorder, and that was very disorienting to me.  As a protagonist, I want to be on her side, but her side scares me to death.

I think that any girl or woman will be able to identify with many of Lia’s struggles.  As readers, we aren’t always asked to look at these dark corners of our minds.  It’s impossible to experience Lia’s story without feeling a little like you are looking in a mirror.  I would have trouble recommending this book to a teenage girl for this reason.  I felt blind-sided by the depth and intensity I reached in my reading.  My world was repaced with Lia’s, a world that is decidedly damaging.  I do think these subjects need to be addressed with teenagers, however this book isn’t enough.  It needs to be paired with honest conversation.

I am glad that I read this book.  It makes me ten kinds of uncomfortable, but I feel that I have new insight from having read it.  If I were to recommend it, I think I would also provide some resources for learning more about eating disorders and depression.

5.  National Eating Disorders Association

4.  Beauty and Body Image in the Media

3.  Girl Scout/Dove Self-Esteem Program

2.  Self Esteem Quiz

1.  Body Image and Self-Esteem

Top Five: Street Love

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Walter Dean Myers’s Street Love is everything I love about young adult literature and more.  The compelling story of Junice and Damien, two opposites living in New York pulled together by the mystery of human chemistry.  Junice juggles her mother’s incarceration, the threat of Child Protective Services, and the bloom of new love with a boy who she is afraid to depend on.  Damien has to follow his heart despite all the people in his life warning him against the drama.  This story is told in poetry form, creating specific voices and styles particular to each character.  Damien’s banter with his friends reminded me of a modern Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio.  However, the format doesn’t seem contrived or inaccessible.  The words are raw, real, and full of feeling.  There are so many moments I wanted to shout aloud for anyone who would listen.

5.  We drone along the faceless highway

That is the history of my life

Telephone poles, light poles, pretending

Differences, pretending they are not the

Thousand pages etched of who I am (p. 22)

4.  We are dancers, she with bare feet

And dangling bracelets, the native child

Burned by the coopper sun

I am the explorer

Discovering that there are two

Sides to the ocean (p. 75)

3.  I had become a shining star, a burning nova

Exploded with love

Flying through and endlessly

Expanding universe (p. 86)

2.  Life will resume, the too-familiar

Curtain rises once again, but

I’ve forgotten all my lines. (p. 100)

1.  He called her as he walked down the

Street, searching passing faces

Looking for her eyes, all the

While trembling inside, trembling

That it might already be too

Late.  She might have taken

Her heart to another place. (p. 121)

While my life hasn’t taken me to the same places as that of the characters, I find myself in these words.  Walter Dean Myers never disappoints.  Check out some of his other works, especial Dope Sick and Monster.  I look forward to reading more from him!

Top Five: The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy – The Hero Revealed

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I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed William Boniface’s Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy.  It’s the story of young Ordinary Boy, known as O Boy to his friends, growing up in Superopolis, a place where everybody has one superpower.  Everybody but O Boy, anyways.  O Boy and his friends find themselves in a goosechase to locate a full collection of the cards from the League of Ultimate Goodness and find out the secret of Meteor Boy, the former sidekick of everybody’s favorite superhero The Amazing Indestructo, who disappeared years earlier.  Sprinkled throughout the narrative are delightful illustrations and pages from the “Lil Hero’s Handbook” explaining the people and places we encounter in the book.

It was obvious throughout the story that, even without what you would consider “superpowers”, O Boy’s logic and smarts keep his and his friends’ heads above water more than any of the group’s other powers.  It got me thinking about the ordinary kinds of “superpowers” that make life easier.

5.  Time Management.  There are never enough hours in my day.  Moment with family and friends seem to slip through my fingers just as easily as the hours I toil over work.  I see others, Masters of Time, who breeze through without a problem.  I would love to have that power!

4.  Charm.  You know those people who can give a look or a smile and have the world in the palm of their hand?  It has nothing to do with beauty or intelligence.  It’s that little quality we can’t quite put our finger on that makes certain people the center of the universe.  With the Power of Charm, I’d never say the wrong thing, or be afraid to speak my mind.

3.  Initiative.  I’ve always been jealous of the Go-Getter.  I’m much more the I-Don’t-Even-Know-Where-To-Begin.  There is a task before me, and I panic.  Once I get started, I’m fine, but it’s brutal getting to that point.  If I were Initiativized, I could be ten steps ahead of the game and never feel like I was catching up.  I’d be on top of the world.

2.  Empathy.  I’m working on this, but I think the world could benefit from even more people jumping on board.  Military conflicts could be avoided, prejudice and racism eraticated, and Middle School would be a lot more tolerable.

1.  Resiliance.  I think the ultimate talent is to be able to jump back up every time you fall down.  Life gives everyone pot shots, and as far as I can tell, the difference between the failure and success is the ability to try again.

Top Five: Stone Rabbit – BC Mambo

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I don’t really know what to say about Eric Craddock’s BC Mambo, part of the Stone Rabbit series, other than I’m pretty sure I’m not his target audience.  BC Mambo is the story of Stone Rabbit (I’m not sure that was the name he was born with, but I’m pretty sure that was never addressed) and how he fell through a hole in his bathroom floor with a bottle of barbecue sauce and ended up in a prehistoric dinosaur-land ruled by a teeny tiny man in a mechanical dragon costume.  He fights the man with his words and his army of cave-rabbits.  It’s the first of a series, and I don’t think I see myself banging down the door of the library to see how things turn out.  There are many things that kept me from truly enjoying this book.

5.  I am not a twelve year old.  There was a lot of funny (peculiar, not “haha”) little eccentricities, especially in Stone Rabbit’s speech (like his incessant use of the word “crudmonkeys”), that I think appeal to a much younger audience.

4.  I am not a boy.  The elements of visual and verbal humor, which I will discuss below, were much better suited  for a male than a female, for reasons that are so branded into my psyche that I cannot even verbalize them.  There is nothing delicate or elegant about this book.

3.  I do not like (or only like particular kinds of) potty humor.  This book literally begins and ends in the bathroom.  It’s a cheap laugh as far as I’m concerned.

2.  I think humor comes from more than just insults.  The characters in this book hurl names at one another completely unprovoked.  It’s just not my thing.

1.  I have grown up surrounded by  beautiful, hilarious, and exciting stories, and BC Mambo just seems pale and contrived and rediculous.

For some real fun, I would recommend Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events  or, my personal favorite, Alan Riley’s Book of Bunny Suicides.

Top Five: Boys of Steel – the creators of Superman

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In my old age, I have grown into a love of comic books and superheroes. I was ecstatic to find Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ross MacDonald. This short picturebook tells the story of the creation of superman and the men, themselves, that brought him to life. The character Superman has touched the hearts and imaginations of comic-book readers everywhere not only for his amazing strength and power, but for his ordinary, shy, timid alter-ego, Clark Kent, a man resembed his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, much more than the Man of Steel. The mark left by Superman is much more far-reaching than the pages he inhabits. Superman has impacted many facets of modern life and culture in major and lasting ways.

5. Social Commentary. Superman dealt with real life problems on a real life earth. Now, we see heroes like Tony Stark or The X Men who fight true-life battles that deal with politics and morality. Superman paved the way for superheroes who were a flash of escapism against a backdrop of gritty realism.

4. Graphic Novels. The graphic novel has become a legitimate and celebrated form of storytelling, thanks to the legacy of Superman. Books like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and Alan Moore’s Watchmen have become canonical reading.

3. Cinema – Stories. Superman’s legacy of comic books as source material for movies has never been more apparent than it is today. Many major blockbusters of the last decade have originated as comic books or graphic novels, including movies like Road to Perdition and History of Violence.

2. Cinema – Visual Effects. I can’t imagine we would be able to dream up modern visual effects if it weren’t for the artistic legacy of comic books and graphic novels. Without being boxed in by the laws of physics or common sense, both cinema and comic books have shown audiences images that are bigger than their dreams.

1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I have a major soft spot for Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece that follows the lives of fictional comic book writers not so different from Siegel and Schuster. This epic novel spans several decades, following the lives of young Jewish writers as they used their writing to battle the Nazi regime and to escape into the lives they always wanted for themselves.

For more information on the Man of Steel or other heroes in the DC Comics universe, check the DC website.

Top Five: Hondo and Fabian

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After enjoying Peter McCarty’s Jeremy Draws a Monster, I wanted to see some of his other work. Hondo and Fabian is the story of two friends, Hondo the dog, and Fabian, the cat. Even though they are different, in their species and in the way they enjoy spending their time, they are still able to be good friends. While Fabian enjoys the creatures comforts he finds at home, Hondo looks for adventure outside. Each aspect of one’s day corresponds to the other, and we see that both were able to have a fun and satisfying day even though they did it in utterly different ways.

 Reading Hondo and Fabian reminded me of the many odd pairings I’ve seen in print and on screen. The saying “opposites attract” seems to hold true as a major recurring theme in storytelling. This book made me think of my favorite odd couples.

5.  Felix and Oscar. Of course, it’s impossible to talk about odd pairings without mentioning Neil Simon’s bachelors came to life on the big and small screen and will forever be the quintessential example to me of the “Odd Couple”. I love that I can identify so well with both of them. Somewhere deep inside of me is a Felix trying to explain to Oscar what a “ladle” is and an Oscar who would rather destroy dinner than find out.

4.  Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. While I hesitate to publish this,the classic Francine Pascal Sweet Valley Twins series was a staple of my childhood and has continued to be a guilty pleasure as I have grown up. The news that a new series will be published next year that shows the Wakefield girls ten years after high school has really made my summer. Oh Liz and Jess, how could two girls who look so much alike be so so different?

3.  Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. One of the bright spots of my week is NBC’s 30 Rock. While the show is full to the brim with odd pairings, my favorite is the working relationship between Liz and Jack. While these two couldn’t differ more in their political ideals or professional priorities, they complement each other in ways that are both touching and hilarious.

2. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson . I grew up watching the classic detective duo, and as I’ve grown older, I’m more and more entertained by their dynamic. Growing up, I was never too concerned with Holmes’s complete lack of social skills, but now I see that he couldn’t survive without Watson. What a pair!

1. Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been a staple of my reading for the past decade. I have read and reread the books so many times, I feel these characters are a part of my life. Ron and Hermione are a perfect example of how opposites complement one another. Throughout seven books, they kept me in stitches with their wit and banter. While there are a lot of FanGirls waiting for their big romantic moment, I’m satisfied watching them argue. *sigh* Is it November 19th yet?

If you want to learn more about Hondo and Fabian, check out Peter McCarty’s website!

Top Five: Jeremy Draws a Monster

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One of the most delightful children’s books I have seen in a long time is Peter McCarty’s Jeremy Draws a Monster. This is the story of Jeremy, a small lonely boy who finds a way to fill a boring day. Too nervous to go outside and make new friends, Jeremy spends a day indoors drawing for his own amusement. Suddenly, the Jeremy’s drawing of a monster comes to life and takes over his day. This monster is not nice or helpful or polite. He bosses Jeremy around and sleeps in his bed. How is Jeremy going to get rid of the monster and find a way to enjoy his own boring day? Read this book to find out!

I have had a number of boring days in my life – summer vacations when my friends were out of town, the quarantine of chicken pox, school holidays that leave me in a ghost town. This book got me wondering what I draw to life to spice up a boring day.

 5.  Peter McCarty and his illustrations. I loved every square inch of this book, especially the spiky-headed monster (whose clothes looked suspiciously like those of Jeremy). This whimsical storytelling paired with delightful illustrations could keep me occupied for hours.

4.  An old fashioned movie theater. Movie marathons are one of my favorite rainy-day stay-in-my-pajamas-all-day hobbies. I love the old black-and-whites and the idealism and potential of the golden age of cinema. I enjoy modern movies, too, but there’s something about the films that pioneered the way we tell stories today. I just love them!

3.  Music. I love all kinds of music, and the feelings they evoke. I can spend hours relaxing to my favorite tunes. The right song can take me back in time, or bring me to an old friend, or just make me feel like me.

2.  Books. To me, reading is the ultimate escapism. Every since I was young, I loved getting lost in a good book. I am snobby selective in my reading. There are many books I refuse to pick up and even more that I refuse to finish. However, I have perfected the art of shedding my world off my skin and diving headfirst into another.

1.  Friends. Friends were the big thing Jeremy was missing. Too afraid to find a partner in crime, he had to create his own, and boy was that a mistake! A good friend can fill a boring day with bright colors and warm laughter.

To learn more about Jeremy or to bring some life to a boring day, check out this video of Cole and Dylan Sprouse reading Jeremy Draws a Monster at the White House Easter Egg Roll!