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Week 4, book 4 The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give  by Angie Thomas is book 4 this year. This is a YA book that will soon be a movie. I am hoping it will also win the Newbery Award. This is an important and timely book about an African American teenage girl who grows up in a poor and violent neighborhood but attends a rich, private, predominately white school. She is the sole witness to the shooting of one of her best friends by a cop. The book follows her struggles facing the fear of testifying and telling her white friends and boyfriend about what she went through, how they will see her differently, and even how she feels like she is betraying her friend by dating a white boy.

There are so many wonderful things about this book. The black family is close, strong, educated, and successful. The parents are understanding but firm. The parents are married, and the father is an ex-con who has turned his life around and has a loving relationship with all of his children. The mother accepts into the family her husband’s son, who was born out of an adulterous affair. She loves him as her own and is a better mother to him than his own mother. The parents struggle with wanting to protect their children by moving to a safer neighborhood but not wanting to abandon their home and friends. The book explores honestly, but without ever condoning it, the reasons that people turn to a life of drugs and gangs and why they turn to rioting when their community is hit with police brutality. In the end, the protagonist discovers that her best weapon is her voice. I also love that the white boyfriend didn’t turn out to be a disappointment. I kept waiting for it, but it never happened. He had a few foibles, he struggled to understand, but he listened and learned and was present. A good example for us all.

I must admit, there were times when I wanted to protest. “But the cop had no way of knowing that he wasn’t reaching for a gun.” “He was told not to move, and he moved.” “All he had to do was follow direction.” Then I realized that this was a time to listen. The author didn’t need my agreement or my approval — she needed my to listen. There is far too little of that going on today.

Everyone should read this book. Parents should discuss it with their children. There is so much here to talk about, and it’s a vital conversation to have.

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Week 3, book 3: The Turn of the Screw

The classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James sounded very interesting to me, so I decided to give it a go.  When I read A Pale View of Hills, I saw it compared to The Turn of the Screw because of the unreliable narrator and the need for very close reading.  I love ghost stories, and I love stories that hint at a variety of possible conclusions.  It is much creepier to me when possibilities are just hinted at.  It’s unsettling to be left wondering, and unsettling is what a great ghost story should be.  In this case, the reader can’t tell throughout the story whether there are really ghosts or if the narrator, a governess hired to look after the niece and nephew of her employer and told to never, ever bother him, is insane or going insane.  At the end of the story, the reader is still unsure, and there are many possible interpretations.  James never tells us what happened but leaves it up to the reader.  In addition to the innuendo of madness, there is also plenty of sexual innuendo that is brilliantly done.  Again, the reader is left wondering what really happened.  It is an unsolved mystery.

If I had any problem with this book, it would be James’ writing style, which is rather convoluted (one reviewer called it “labyrinthine,” which is spot on).  He uses ALL THE PUNCTUATION!!!  One reviewer on Goodreads said, “WORDS WORDS WORDS IS THE HOUSE HAUNTED WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS IS SHE CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS ARE THEY ALL CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS NO IT MUST BE HAUNTED WORDS WORDS WORDS NO SHE MUST BE CRAZY WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS CRAZY WORDS SICKNESS WORDS WORDS WORDS DEATH THE END.”  I got a laugh out of that and can see where this would not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially most modern-day readers, and it does take some work to read it.  However, this labyrinthine style of writing contributes to the mystery and outright confusion that the reader is supposeto feel, and thus is completely appropriate.

You really have to read closely and drink it in and see all the layers to appreciate the creepiness and terror of this book, but it is well worth the effort.

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Week One, books 1 & 2: Never Let Me Go and Turtles All the Way Down

I was sick most of last week, so I decided to get a jump start on my reading. My first book was by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. It is very difficult to give a review or synopsis of this book, because the reader really needs to go into it clueless. Ishiguro is a master at creating seemingly idyllic worlds and then dropping subtle clues that slowly reveal things are not what they seem. It seems rather disjointed at times, because the narrator will connect stories from her past so that it seems like she’s talking as they occur to her. Some people find this difficult to follow, but it seems very conversational to me, like you’re telling someone about your day yesterday, and you start by telling about something that happened at work, and then you say, “And this lady came in — she’s John’s wife.  Do you remember John? He’s that guy who pushed me out of the snow bank last year.  Didn’t I tell you about that?” And then you kind of segue into another story. Goodreads had very mixed reviews. People seem to either love or hate this style. I really enjoyed it.

My second book was Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green. As a new youth services librarian, YA lit will be a big part of my reading this year. I enjoy John Green’s writing, but it often seems that the story is secondary to his philosophical musings.  I don’t particularly have a problem with that, as I enjoy philosophical musings. And his books are certainly hits with the YA crowd, so it works for him. I found the secondary plot, about two friends’ quest to find a missing billionaire and receive the reward, rather implausible. However, the main story is really about two friends who are there for each other and keep on being there for each other even though they both can be “difficult.” Daisy is brash and pushy. Aza has severe OCD and anxiety. They fight. They are brutally honest with each other. And yet their friendship prevails.

In many ways, I related to Aza. I don’t have OCD, but her thoughts were not exactly unfamiliar to me. It opens with Aza thinking way too much about the digestive process, thoughts I have had myself, the awareness of chewing, swallowing, digesting. It just doesn’t cause me the same level of anxiety, but it is good to know I’m not the only one whose mind works like that, because it’s something I’ve never given voice to as it seems to weird. Like Aza, I get very wrapped up in my own mind, I spiral into depression when I can’t get out of my head. It was good for me to see that Aza, even though her condition is far more severe than mine, still has people who love her and who want her in their lives, because sometimes I feel like I can be too much for people. I think it’s important for teens to see that you can fight with people you love and be okay. It’s something I never learned very well; thus I avoid conflict with people I really care about, when sometimes conflict is necessary for a strong relationship, and when there is a conflict I think the relationship is over and tend to go into hiding. If I, as a middle-aged adult, need to hear this, how much more do teenagers need to know that they are lovable and worthy of friendship even when they are messy?

It was a good start to my reading year. This week’s reads are The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.  Hamilton will probably take a couple of weeks, at least, as it is pretty hefty.

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2018 52 Books In 52 Weeks Challenge

I am restarting this blog to join the challenge again this year. I have not been reading the way I used to. Now that I am back in library work, I need to read widely and often!  Looking forward to the year of reading!

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Book 7: Velocity

Dean Koontz is about the only horror author that I read. Although his books are utterly terrifying, they are not cynical or devoid of human goodness and beauty. In Velocity, Koontz’s protagonist is put in the harrowing position of having to make choices about who lives and who dies. Throughout this trial, he is simultaneously caring for and trying to protect his financee, who has been in a coma for several years.

The last line is a perfect example of Koontz’s ultimate idealism and hope: “What will happen will happen. There is time for miracles until there is no more time, but time has no end.”

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Book 6: One for the Money

I read One for the Money because I know a lot of people really love Janet Evanovich, and I’m so far behind in my reading goal that I needed some quick reads. To be honest, I wasn’t that enthralled. I found the main character annoying, a lot of really icky characters and situations, and the whole scenario (ex-lingerie-shop-girl turns tough-as-nails bounty hunter) completely implausible. It’s not that reading Dickens and Austen has turned me into a complete book snob — I do love some twaddle. I just greatly prefer my nice coffeehouse mysteries.

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Book 5: The Invisible Man

I read The Invisible Man aloud to my 14-year-old, and we both loved it. The story is chilling, especially as we experience the rages of the invisible man — things flying through the air, grass parting as he chases down his quarry. What causes these rages? The invisibility that he thinks will give him such an advantage proves to be impossible to handle, and this drives him mad. But it seems he may have been close to madness before. He was an albino man, and may have already been somewhat cut off from society. Perhaps his appearance is what made him seek out invisibility in the first place.

This was a thrilling book that also offered lots to talk about with my teenager about invisibility in our society, and what drives people to commit the acts they do.

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