Friday, August 29, 2014

Burned & Smoke

Hopkins, Ellen. Burned. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2006. Print.
Hopkins, Ellen. Smoke. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013. Print.
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My Thoughts
I decided to write about both of these books together, as they are a series, and I read them as a continuing story. I thought these would be books about a burn victim. I was wrong.

Burned is the story of Pattyn Von Stratten, a Mormon girl who tries to reconcile her church's doctrines with her abusive father's behavior. The church seems to turn a blind eye to the abuse, but Patty can't. Patty sees her mother's life and knows that's not what she wants for herself, but she also doesn't see other options. Patty is smart, funny and insight and much like other teenagers, she is seeking the answers to the "big" questions of life.

When her father finds her in a "compromising" position with a classmate, Patty is sent to live with her Aunt Jeannette (Aunt J) across state. Aunt J hasn't seen the family in years, but is the only one who agrees to take Patty in after her "sinful" actions.

This is just the medicine Patty needs. At Aunt J's, Patty learns independence and has freedom and learns another side of her family's story. She also learns how to ride a horse and actually falls in love with Ethan.

Burned ends with Patty back at home, but she is making plans for her escape. Once she's realized there's more in the world than her super-strict, abusive father's ways, she's ready to go. She feels bad for her younger siblings, but she cannot stay in that house with her meek, delusional mother and her ever drunk, angry father.

This is where Smoke begins. This book alternates between Patty's story and her sister Jackie April Von Stratten. Boy, the sister's story of being left behind is worth reading.  At the beginning of this book, Patty has left her family and is on the run. Not all events, however, are as they appear. Without spoiling what happens here, I will say that I'm happy Hopkins decided to pick up Jackie's story and propel Patty's story with the alternating scenes. I liked seeing what was happening with both girls during the same time.

As we read Jackie's story, though, I was DISGUSTED by the mother's actions (or absence of actions). How could she reason that her decision was really "best" for Jackie? I was so proud of Jackie for pushing forward and using her brains to figure out a way to get back at those who hurt her. She is a strong character.

One of my favorite chapters is "The Library."
It was a safe haven. Not sure if it's the same in every school, but here, the stacks are fortresses. I love the smell of books, even old ones, as most of these are, at least the nonfiction. Ms. Rose [the librarian] collects young adult novels, so there's a wide selection of fiction. Everything from vamps to vampires, she likes to say, and that's an apt description. Pattyn's a huge reader, and she passed that passion on to me. Books were her escape, and they are mine, too. The best, I have to hide, or at least I did while there was any chance Dad might find them (Hopkins 178).
I hope my students feel the same way about my library. I hope it is a fortress and a refuge (even though I hope they are not dealing with the same things that Patty & Jackie are).

These two books are not as gritty as the Crank series, nor as graphic as Tricks. That's fine with me. I enjoy that Hopkins writes compelling stories about characters that, fortunately, I cannot identify with, but I do have empathy for while bringing awareness to experiences that are very real.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Paper Towns

Green, John. Paper Towns. New York: Speak, 2008. Print.
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Plot Summary (from back cover)
"Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Ruth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life--dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge--he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues--and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew."

My Thoughts
This is the last John Green book for me to read. I almost didn't want to read it, so I would still have it to read "one day." Alas, I did start it, and I was not disappointed. This was a cute, humorous read, typical of Green's style--awkward teen seeks to find himself and discovers a greater truth.

You see how fake it all is

When Margo and Q are having the night of Q's life, Margo explains what a paper town is. "From here, you can't see the rust of the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were build to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses" (Green 57). Later in the book, the reader learns a different description of paper town. It was a "fictitious village created...and inserted into tourist maps as a copyright trap, or paper town (Green 235). Hmmm....interesting. I didn't know that. Apparently this practice was common in mapmaking.
I loved the description of Q's friend's car. "RHAPAW was a fifteen-year-old Buick that had been driven with impunity by all three of Ben's older siblings and was, by the time it reached Ben, composed primarily out of duct tape and spackle...RHAPAW ran not on gasoline, but on the inexhaustible fuel of human hope" (Green 90). Oh, how I laughed here. When I was in high school, a neighbor took several of us to school in his Ford Fairmont. This car was in decent shape on the exterior, but it, too, ran on human hope. We would sit in the parking lot after school waiting for kids to leave before even trying to start the engine.

Another funny car scene is when Q's parents surprise him with a vehicle on his birthday. His reaction is SO FUNNY! (I don't want to spoil it here, but you'll understand when you get to that part in the book).

Almost the entire road trip the kids take had me laughing. The way Green logs the travels (and subsequent misadventures here) was funny. I could see it happening--all of it!

Good advice that Green shows through his characters "You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves" (Green 194). Wow! That is so true. How often I have been disappointed in someone, only to realize I shouldn't have been. They are being true to their character.

One thing I did not like about the book, though, was the ending. I feel like I'd been on an adventure/mystery/scavenger hunt with Q, and then the ending is rushed. I've thought about how Green could have made the story end differently. I'm not sure I would like the alternative, either. Maybe this could have been a "Choose your own adventure" type ending. If you think X happens, turn to page ___. If you think Y happens, turn to page ____."