Challenge #6 A Graphic Novel

#22 A graphic novel: Ok so I had to get my students to help me out on this one. I don’t usually read graphic novels, other than the few that I was assigned in my young adult literacy classes in college. So choosing one that I would enjoy was going to take some research. Luckily, my students love graphic novels. When I explained the challenge to them I had several offer up suggestions right away. Smile was one of the ones that multiple students were recommending to me over and over again. Needless to say, my students were really happy to hear that I ended up really liking it. It’s a memoir written about the author’s experience as a teenager. She ends up hurting herself and as a result knocking out her two front teeth. What follows is her experience with braces and just growing up in general for the next four years. ManRaina can't wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren't quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she's also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn't improve much over the years, but when a baby brother enters the picture and later, something doesn't seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along.: y of us will recognize the same kind of issues: acne, crushes, puberty, losing and gaining friends, and so on. It didn’t take me long to finish but I found that it was a nice change of pace. I thought the art was really well done, especially considering the context and intended age level of the book. Some of us old schoolers will appreciate Raina’s experiences even more since the story takes place in the late 80s and early 90s. There’s even a part where she goes to the movies to see The Little Mermaid. None of the kids have cell phones, notes are passed in class, and Walkman’s are actually a thing. It was fantastic! Overall I gave the book a 3.5 and have since added it to my classroom library. I promised my students that I would pick up her other book, Sisters, soon.

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Challenge #5 A New York Time’s Bestseller

#10 A New York Times Bestseller:

I’ve had Orphan Train sitting on my shelf for awhile now. I had been itching to read it basically ever since I got it, but school, work, and life kept getting in the way. My friend happened to have the audiobook and let me borrow it so I could listen to it on my way to work. Checking my 2016 reading challenge list, I found that I could easily use this book for my New York Time’s Bestseller. It was number one on the New York Times back when it came out in 2012. This probably would have been a good enough reason to pick this book up even if I wasn’t already so interested in the story. And let me tell you, this book delivered. The author does a great job weaving back and forth between the past and present. I will say that the storyline that takes place in the past was a lot more interesting than the modern day plot line, but that might just be my opinion. It really is a heartbreaking tale- think a dark Anne of Green Gables tale. Nothing goes right for our main character as she is shuffled from one tragedy to another. Even though I liked the past sections better, I will say that I really enjoyed Molly in the present day. The fact that she gets in trouble for trying to steal a copy of Jane Eyre from the library just because she wanted to own her own copy attached me to her right away. I highly suggest The Orphan Train to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction. Even if you don’t, I still recommend you give it a try. The story is a really well told one. Overall I gave it a 4.5 star rating and  recommended it to all of my friends and family who haven’t read it yet.Read More »

A Book that’s at Least 100 Years Older than You

As a lover of Historical Fiction and Classics I could not have gone wrong with this challenge. After some debate, I finally decided on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was absolutely fascinated with the Civil War growing up and I’ve always been kind of ashamed that I had never read Stowe’s novel. I’m so glad that I finally picked it up! #17 A book that's at least a 100 years older than you: This book is not only a wonderful story, but a remarkable representation of anti-slavery feelings in the 1850s. Stowe does not hold back. She lashes into everyone, South and North alike for being responsible for slavery. She takes down the slave owners in the same breath that she criticizes the do-gooder abolitionists of the North, who would send all African Americans back to Africa rather than try to integrate them into the American society. Stowe gave slaves a voice that very few were able or willing to do at the time. Stowe does bring a lot of religion into the story, as well as the perceived notion of the gentleness and moral superiority of women, so I could see how some people might be turned off by the book. But if you think about it as a piece of work that allowed one repressed member of society (a woman) to give power and voice to other repressed members (African Americans) you can see that it really is a powerful work of literature! I can’t believe that throughout all my schooling to become an English teacher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was never even discussed in any of my classes. God knows I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for about three different class (it wasn’t that bad since I love that book). I’m sure one of them could have found room for Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the syllabus.

Casual Vacancy

casual-vacancy-cover-art-hi-resAs you travel through the beautiful and tragic world that J.K. Rowling has crafted with such incredible detail and so much heart that it can only overflow off the pages into your own heart, you become entrapped in your own woes and struggles waiting for the inevitable life-changing ending that we all desperately cling for.

The Casual Vacancy is not a book to be devoured in one sitting. It is a book that must be chewed, savored, and swallowed in pieces in order for the true depth of the story to pierce your consciousness. Each character that is lost in their own personal tragedies fighting for survival, is a mirror reflecting your image.

J.K. Rowling did a brilliant job crafting her story. It is a plot based around something that seems so completely trivial, it isn’t until  you have dug much deeper into the pages  that you realize how much pain and anger exists beneath the surface.

Perhaps the greatest aspect that sticks out to me the most is that there is not one character in this story that I can say that I like, and yet I grew attached to each of them and their woes. I can’t really say that I was rooting for anyone, rather I was watching from a distance with gathering pity and self-righteousness. The miraculous part of this is that I cared about the story as a whole. And I had to ask myself, “How did she do that?”

How did Rowling create these detestable characters who could only ring out pity (at best) from me, and still make me fall for their story? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer. All I can say is that if you want to learn how to craft a master novel, you better be taking notes from The Casual Vacancy.

Again, I cannot stress enough that this is a novel that must be taken in with time. These pages contain messages and lessons that we can learn from, but we must first be willing to give it a chance.

Living in a Glass Castle

 

“I was on fire.” With these three haunting words, Walls truly begins her adventure. Well how can you not read more after that? When you think of your earliest memory, were you on fire? Because I wasn’t. I think mine would be going to some pumpkin patch with my parents. For the next several pages, Walls recalls vividly what happens after this frightful event and I’m just sitting there wondering how do you remember something so clearly (no matter how traumatic) back from when you were three? I was hooked.The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: Book Cover

Soon the reader is introduced to Jeannette’s eccentric parents Rose Mary and Rex Walls, her brother Brian, sister Lori, and later another sister, Maureen. Oh the adventures they have!

It’s hard to tell whether the Walls parents are actually good parents. Their actions would suggest absolutely not. However, the way they are viewed through the young Jeannette’s (aka Mountain Goat) eyes is that they are heroes that can truly do no wrong. They always make up for their mistakes. Jeannette’s innocence and faith is so strong in the beginning of the story that you almost hate to disbelieve her. The way she sees the world is so fresh and good that it makes it you want to forget all the bad that happens in the world.

Rex Walls is an inventor and a dreamer. He fills his children’s minds with possibilities that “society” deems unworthy. The title even originated from one of his inventions that he calls the Glass Castle, which is essentially a big house that he planned on building in the desert that would be made totally out of glass. It would have solar cells that would catch the sun’s rays that then would be converted into electricity. There would even be its own water purification system. To Walls and her siblings, this was a dream that they all shared and not a fantasy. But to the reader how else does it appear other than a story from a fairytale?

This is what the Walls children lives were like. Full of fantastic promises and never knowing how bad off the family actually was. They never truly had a home of their own and constantly moved form place to place. It is the oldest child Lori who asks the question if moving around so much makes sense. Being the oldest, she begins to see the truth behind the matter before our narrator does.

Despite all the things they don’t have, the Walls children are brilliant. When they are entered into school systems, they actually are moved up grade levels because they have are surpassed the other children. There is no doubt that both Rex and his wife are remarkably intelligent, even geniuses, but how they go about life is… unorthodox to say the least.

As Walls grows, so does her insight on the world around her and more importantly, her parents. Domestic violence as her father’s alcohol abuse is worsened alerts the reader that all is not as it appears to be despite what is being said.

I’m sure that not one of us could imagine what life would have been like growing up with these people. One of the most incredible aspects of Walls’s story is her voice as a narrator. She recaptures her voice of the child she once was with such perfection, it would seem that a child actually is narrating the story. Yet during the hardships that the young Jeannette is going through, my mind keeps slipping back to the very beginning where we meet Jeannette in a cab in New York City seeing her mother rummage through a garbage can and I keep asking myself: where and when will these two worlds collide?

Its no surprise that the last part of the book is called “Thanksgiving.” Jeannette Walls summarizes the last portion of her life as a hopeful future while looking at her past and seeing how it has shaped the woman she has become. This book was an amazing read, mostly due to the fact that its based on true events. Jeannette’s own battles have inspired me to work hard for the future I want. If you pick up The Glass Castle you are in for a wonderful treat, but I’m warning you, it will reck havoc with your emotions.