Monday, February 29, 2016


Meyer, Marissa. Cress. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2014. Print.
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My Thoughts

This is the third installment of The Lunar Chronicles. In Cress, we meet Crescent Moon (Rapunzel) who is kept in a satellite by Queen Levana. All of the characters from the first two books are here as well. Hunky Captain Thorne (who reminds me of Han Solo) provides strength and wisdom. Wolf is moody and fighting being controlled by Cinder and the queen. Iko is precious. She finally gets "out" of the ship and into a very helpful body form. Scarlet's arc of the story sets up the final chronicle.

One thing I really enjoyed about this installment was how the story was told. As one thing was happening in a place, the next chapter would propel the story by focusing on a different character (or more) and what was happening at their location. It reminded me a little of leap frog.

There are a few "reveals" in this book, that I don't want to spoil, but I will say that when the fourth book came out, I thought the title was about a season, not a character. Maybe this was a detail I just forgot in the first two books. Princess Winter is Queen Levana's stepdaughter (Meyer 321).

Meyer is retelling fairy tales, yet she is also showing universal, timeless characters and themes. For example, she writes about the division between humans and cyborgs. When I read:
For years people had been complaining about the rising population of cyborgs, many of whom received their surgeries at the hands of taxpayers.
Cyborgs were too smart, people had complained. They were cheating the average man out of his wages.
Cyborgs were too skilled. They were taking jobs away from hardworking, average citizens.
Cyborgs were too strong. They shouldn't be allowed to compete in sporting events with regular people. It gave them an unfair advantage (Meyer 306).
I marked this because I know that throughout history, the word "cyborg" has been replaced by almost all ethnic groups.

Another timeless theme Meyer uses in this story is human trafficking. Dr. Erland/Dr. Darnel was collecting blood from Lunar shells. He had to buy these shells when true volunteers were unavailable. His experiment, albeit to find a cure for the letumosis disease, cost many lives. Dr. Erland is haunted by his past, which is explained and a revelation is made in Chapter 37. Dr. Erland also makes a very important connection and reveals it to Cinder in Chapter 53. I think MUCH more of this discussion will show up in the fourth book.

Girls Like Us

Giles, Gail. Girls Like Us. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2014. Print.

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My Thoughts
I've had this book on my pile for awhile. I thought I needed to read it before putting it on the shelf. I needed to see how the content was handled. I feel Giles writes these characters in a believable voice without condescension.

The dual narrator format is used in this book. This is the story of Biddy and Quincy, two "speedies" who are asked to be roommates. They live in a garage apartment near Miss Lizzy's house.  For room and board, they will each have a role to aide Miss Lizzy.  Biddy is to clean and help Miss Lizzy with her exercises. Quincy ends up cooking for the trio while also holding down a job at a local eatery. Miss Lizzy provides wisdom, manners and compassion. The three of them will come to rely upon each other for more than these assigned roles.

The title reference is on page 151.

This was a fast read (I read it in one evening), but the content is not easy. There are two rapes discussed, name calling, and abuse. However, the book is not all gloom and doom. There is a theme of acceptance. Friendships form from strange places. Not to sound trite, but there is toughness enveloped in tenderness and caring found under a hard shell.  I was proud of these girls. I was both sad and happy to share their stories. Parts of the book were funny. Parts made me stop and think.

I originally had this labeled for my "chick lit" section, but I'm going to change that to the reality genre. I want all students who read this to come away with a better understanding of others. Each of us has a story. We each have reasons why we behave in certain ways. We might not all wear a literal coat full of food, but metaphorically, we all have a coat, whether we are "special" or not.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

All the Bright Places

Niven, Jennifer. All the Bright Places. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015. Print.
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My Thoughts
I got a copy of this book at last year's library conference for helping prep the Teen Day event. Jennifer Niven was on hand the next day & signed copies for the teens (this photo is one of the girls I took).

I loved the unique cover and stuck it on my TBR pile. That finally happened this month (I had to finish the Amish book first). As I progressed through the book, I noticed I was slowing down the reading. I didn't want to finish it. I didn't want to see what I predicted would happen. Sadly, one of the main characters commits suicide--in spite of the friends, family, help, future plans--all things that couldn't give him enough to stay alive. That really made me sad. Once I read the part of the book that it happens, I had to set the book down for a few days. I needed to grieve for this quirky character who seemed so full of life and fun. I thought about how many faces I see a day so full of life that are hurting. What could I do to help them not take the same action as Finch?

The story begins as "Theodore Freak" (Finch) is contemplating suicide. Instead of killing himself, he actually helps Violet not end her own life. This is strange, because Violet is popular, dates the "right" guy, has the "right" friends--her life seems perfect. Why would she want to kill herself? As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the automobile accident that took Violet's sister Eleanor's life. The reader learns that Violet's life is not perfect at all (Really, who has a perfect life?).

The story is told from alternating narrators: Finch & Violet. This narrative technique seems to be popular in books I'm reading. I'm not sure if it's me or the writing/publishing world, but I've read several books written in this format in the past year.

The book jacket describes the story this way:

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at's unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the 'natural wonders' of their state [Indiana], they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising--just like life....This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.
I flagged a few things while reading.
  • Violet wants to be a writer (until the accident, and then she stops writing). I liked this description. "I used to love words. I loved them and was good at arranging them. Because of this, I felt protective of all the best ones" (Nivens 92).   
  • On one excursion for the history project, they find a Bookmobile Park where Mr. & Mrs. Carnes "decided to plant them [bookmobile trailers], just like corn, and let folks come to us" (Nivens 130). Hilarious and very visual! 
  •  I flagged where Finch tells how he got the nickname "Freak" and where one of the "popular" kids shows that she's hurt, too. 
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. Can I recommend it to others? Which kids will enjoy the story? Which kids will identify with the characters and their internal conflicts?  I don't think suicide is glorified in this book, but I will be cautious about recommending it. I like the quirkiness and how the playful chemistry does result in a romantic relationship. I like the message that you can find interesting people and places if you look around and don't prejudge.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Amish

Kraybill, Donald, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, Steven M. Nolt. The Amish. Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2013. Print.

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My Thoughts
This non-fiction book was fascinating and well researched and over 400 pages in length. I took lots of notes and flagged so many pages while reading. This was almost like reading several academic papers (Each chapter is a different aspect of Amish life.) that the researchers wrote. "Our goal is to tell the Amish story with the resources of solid scholarship in a style that appeals not only to scholars but also to a broader audience interest in the Amish experience" (Kraybill xiii). I think they accomplish this goal. I flipped to the appendix and read the footnotes (which is partly why it took several weeks to read this!) when I came to them in the text. Pictures, graphs, tables and maps add to the book. At the end of each chapter, the writers included a summary paragraph. This just reiterates the focus of the chapter.

I appreciated that the authors contend beginning in the preface that this book cannot possibly describe ALL Amish--some generalizations are made while trying to be respectful of all Amish sects. "It is hazardous to speak of 'The Amish' as if they were one unified group" (Kraybill 13). When people say "Amish" we often have a preconceived notion (stereotypes) that ALL Amish do this, wear that, don't use certain technologies, etc. The movies and television have done much to perpetuate this idea. I was honestly surprised to learn that one Amish lady was actually a Mary Kay beauty consultant and several were Pampered Chef consultants (Kraybill 305). Some Amish have organic farms/cooperatives, small home based businesses and many work for the "English." The "mystique of Amish life creates a branding effect..." (Kraybill 305). As non-Amish, we are curious about this group because they are different. They "'represent a way of life we wish we could live'" (qtd. in Kraybill 397).

The opening chapter explains the roots of the Amish community, but I'm still unclear on how the Mennonites and Amish are kinda related going back to the beginning, but they are different in their practice of religion and aspects of lifestyle (Kraybill 26).

Most Amish follow the Ordnung--the stable, tradition-guided moral order (Kraybill 41).
In the chapter about population patterns, my hometown of Stephenville was mentioned (Kraybill 183). I do remember when I first moved here, I would see black horse-drawn buggies going down the road. Even the place that I worked had a "hitching post" in the parking lot until just a few years ago.

There are aspects of the Amish lifestyle that I think are universal--live simple lives, try to do your best, honor your elders and pursue a measure of happiness. This "Gelassenheit is the deep taproot that nourishes the Amish way. A German word that resists easy translation, it roughly means 'calmness, acceptance, and yieldedness'...'let go, quit trying to figure it out, let it alone'" (Kraybill 98). The Gelassenheit has five dimensions: personality, symbols, structure, values, & rituals. A graphic is included on page 99 to show how these areas include all aspects of Amish life.

In the "Symbols and Identity" chapter, the writers show that the Amish do not all dress alike. Their dress performs different tasks and signal different meanings within the culture. The seven social tasks that dress performs:

  1. signals that a member has yielded to the collective order,
  2. it prevents dress from being used for self-adornment,
  3. it promotes equality,
  4. it creates a common consciousness that bolsters group identity,
  5. it encourages members to "act Amish,"
  6. it projects a united public front, which conceals diversity in other areas,
  7. it erects symbolic boundaries around the group. (Kraybill 127). 
The style and color of dress signify social distinctions linked to at least ten dimensions of Amish life: 
  1. gender, 
  2. age,
  3. marital status, 
  4. compliance, 
  5. church membership,
  6. social esteem, 
  7. religious rituals, 
  8. rites of passage, 
  9. sacred-profane boundaries, 
  10. ethnic-public domains. (Kraybill 128)

Chapter Twelve was entitled "From Rumspringa to Marriage" which is where several myths about the Amish were dispelled. The concept of Rumspringa is defined as "a time to find a mate" rather than "explore the outside world" (Kraybill 214). I didn't realize this. I've always heard and believed that Amish teenagers were encouraged to go out, explore and then decide to stay in or go out of the community. Rumspringa is so much more (and is better explained later in the chapter by the authors).

The end of Chapter 13 was about Amish funerals. I read this the same day I learned of my Aunt Martha's death.

Chapter 14 was about Amish education, which is a very controversial topic between the English and the Amish. Usually, Amish children only go through 8th grade and are not taught critical or reflective thinking. They are taught "a basic education for the entrepreneurs...and gives those who leave the Amish world a solid set of employable skills in the public job market" (Kraybill 270). Amish children are not usually home schooled, as "schools socialize students for adult life in a collective ethnic community" (Kraybill 267). I found this very interesting.

Another chapter I found very interesting was "The Amish in Print" (Chapter 20) where I learned more about the Amish publishing house and the idea of "Amish romance novels" or 'bonnet fiction' as its own genre.

Did you know...?
  • Amish faith focuses more on how one lives than on what one believes (Kraybill 65)
  • Amish clergy receive no compensation, formal education and serve for life (unless an illness) (Kraybill 92)
  • Many liberal Amish read mainstream Christian authors such as Karen Kingsbury, Francine Rivers and Janette Oke (Kraybill 112)
  • Some Amish "trick out" their buggies (which made me laugh thinking about that) (Kraybill 131). 
  • There is an Amish publishing house (Pathway Publishers) 
  • Until a person actually joins the church (usually late teens/early 20s after Rumspringa), they are not shunned if they choose not to join the church
  • Amish weddings are usually held on weekdays, in the house, shop or other buildings at the home of the bride or a relative. There is no rehearsal, photographs, gowns, veils, rings or tuxedos, and the ceremony lasts five minutes at the end of a three hour church service (in which about forty minutes of this service is the couple meeting privately with the minister while the guests/congregation sings several hymns) (Kraybill 233)
  • Many Amish business rely on China to make products
  • Most Amish farms are not organic (Kraybill 285)
  • Amish and non-Amish foods are identical (Kraybill 394)--this made me laugh!
  • The Amish do not observe Advent or Lent (Kraybill 86)
  • Almost no Amish serve as individual missionaries or aid workers due to air travel being prohibited (Kraybill 366)    
I'm glad I invested the time to read this book. It was fascinating to learn about the Amish as a whole.