Friday, July 18, 2014

Tease

Tease

YA fiction
"I couldn't stop thinking about the girls on both sides of this
story. And I couldn't stop thinking that, no matter what the accused
bullies had done, surely they couldn't have intended for anyone to
lose her life--surely no one is that vicious. But we do all have our
moments and our limits. We've each felt deeply hurt by the actions of
others; we've said things we regret."
In 2010 Amanda Maciel found the suicide of a high school student
and the trial of the six students accused of bullying and harassing
her to be deeply disturbing. She thought of the vulnerability of
teens who are seen both as mature verging on adult and as having their
whole lives ahead of them. She realized that as methods of
communication grow more complicated these young people learning how to
understand and and interact with each other face daunting challenges
unimagined by previous generations. Luckily for us, she channeled her
thoughts and feelings into writing Tease, one of the most poignant and
thought provoking debut novels I've ever seen.
As the story opens, Sara, Maciel's protagonist, meets with her
lawyer to once again go over the events that led to her arrest. Later
she'll meet with her court mandated therapist. Her life feels out of
control. It seems that just about everyone hates her. She can't even
go to the grocery store to buy a smack for her little brothers without
people calling her names. "...It's like, someone dies, so everyone
left alive is automatically guilty.
Except, in this case, only five of us are. And with all the
separate lawyers and charges, my best hope is to just avoid taking all
the blame."
If in the first few pages Sara doesn't come across as a
sympathetic figure, remember few of us would be at our best under the
circumstances. Whatever you do, don't ditch the book. Told in
chapters that alternate between the weeks leading up to the trial and
the months during which the events unfolded, it gives the reader a
very intimate look into her world and mind. You meet a girl who does
a lot of caretaking of two younger brothers, a formerly invisible girl
who achieves popularity via friendship with a charismatic and dramatic
best friend, a young woman who learns and grows a great deal under
very confusing and painful circumstances.
Tease is a must read for teachers and guidance counselors. It's
also a good choice for parent-daughter sharing. Who else should read
it? I'd say anyone who enjoys gripping, thought-provoking realism or
cares about how members of the younger generation treat one another.
On a personal note, Tease really provoked me to thinking. Maciel says
she doesn't know the answer. Neither do I. However, I know a number
of things we can do to create schools and a society in which our kids
are enabled and empowered to treat each other with decency (which I am
defining as kindness and integrity). That will be the topic of my
September Bangor Daily News op ed piece.
A great big shout out goes out to all folks striving to create a
better world for all our kids.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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The Willpower Instinct

The Willpower Instinct

Adult Nonfiction
Are there substances or activities in your life you have trouble
saying no, or at least not so much, to? I've rarely met the candy I
don't like. For other people it might be fast food, television or
Internet binging, or smoking. Are there aspects of your life, say
clothes size, you've been wanting to change seemingly forever? Are
there projects or activities that bring out the procrastinator in you?
If so, you've probably had people imply that your behavior
indicates a lack of willpower. You've probably told yourself this at
least a gazillion times. I've got some very refreshing news. In The
Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal tells us this elusive quality is
far more complex than the Just Say No crowd would have us believe. As
you read the book you will learn research validated information such as:
*Our prefrontal cortex, the self control part of the brain, has
evolved relatively recently. The more primitive, act on impulse part
of the brain that ensured survival in a world where food was scarce
and predators were tricky is still going strong. It's not that one
side is bad and the other good. They need to be kept imbalance.
*We're a lot more influenced by the people around us that we like to
think. If your family and friends tend to smoke or overest, you are
much more likely to do so. Conversely, identifying with people who
set good examples can strongly fortify resolve.
*Trying to make people feel guilty over a behavior can have unintended
consequences. I think we've all seen what diet researchers named the
"what-the-hell effect". Weight watchers slipping up are more likely
to backslide again, even while deeply regretting their behavior,
because they already blew it. This also goes for other problem
behaviors. Regret leads to giving in to temptation rather than
corrective action.
So what's a less-than-human being to do. McGonigal says learn
about human nature and turn this knowledge to your advantage. She has
organized the book to be practical as well as theoretically sound.
She encourages a reader to pace him/herself, realizing that it's based
on a ten week course, and use each reading to work progressively on
one particular willpower challenge in his/her life. Each of the ten
chapters ends with guiding questions and experiments.
I can also see another value in this book. Knowing more about
the complex forces that guide all our behavior can help us take a
fresh look at people we consider different rather than simply writing
them off. If more of us chose real dialogue over dismissiveness this
country and world would probably be a lot better off.
On a personal note, I cheated a little. With Katie, my lovely middle
child, having just moved out, my reserve of ability to take on a new
challenge (like say my sweet tooth) is very much depleted. So I stuck
with the big life change I was already working on--getting myself into
graduate school in 2015. My bank account is up to $329.59. I'm
starting a small odd jobs business to bring in more money. I have
told quite a few people of my intentions so I have a little village to
keep me accountable.
A great big shout out goes out to all who are sincerely struggling
with flaws and shortcomings.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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The Museum Of Intangible Things

The Museum Of Intangible Things

YA fiction
As an adult have you ever been concerned about a close friend's
mental or psychological health? Something seems not quite right. But
you don't have the clear cut symptomology of appendicitis or a heart
attack. It puts you in kind of a bind. If she's fine and you act
you're infringing on her privacy, betraying confidence, maybe changing
how others think and feel about her, possibly bringing down bad
unintended consequences. But if you are right and do nothing...
That's quite the challenge, isn't it? Now imagine you and she are in
high school. Your family could be a definition of the term
dysfunctional. While trying to understand and protect your chum,
you're in a sense parenting or at least trying to understand the folks
who brought you into the world. That is the plight of Hannah,
protagonist of Wendy Wunder's The Museum Of Intangible Things.
Hannah and Zoe have always been best friends. Hannah describes
herself as "grounded and mired" while Zoe is like "the milkweed fluff
that will take off with the first strong breeze" or "a bullet just
waiting for someone to pull the trigger." At the age of ten they made
a vow never to let each other down. As the story begins this vow is
about to get strongly tested.
Zoe's behavior is often inappropriate and sometimes even
dangerous. The adults in her life think she's bipolar. She's been
hospitalized once and believes she's about to be again. She needs
Hannah to get her out of town fast. She finds her chum in a moment of
weakness. Hannah's alcoholic father has gotten himself fired from his
television job in a very public way and stolen the money she's earned
for college.
That's gotta be some kind of road trip. Get the book and come
along for the ride!
On a personal note, July Orono Arts Cafe was a great success.
A great big shout out goes out to my Orono Arts Cafe family.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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A Woman In The House (And Senate)

A Woman In The House (And Senate)

Juvenile nonfiction
Did you ever hear that old saying, a woman's place is in the
home? It's not used much any more. Back in the day, however, when
people were trying to keep women from voting, working outside the
home, or doing other activities considered unsuitable for the gentler
sex, this was the prime justification--drawing on evidence ranging
from the Bible to research. We were put on this earth to raise
children and keep spouses fed, cleanly clothed, satisfied, and
climbing up the corporate ladder. We weren't inferior, just different.
Yeah, right.
In her lively and engaging A Woman In The House (And Senate),
Ilene Cooper puts a really cool spin on that adage. Beginning with
Jeanette Rankin, who was elected in 1916--4 years before women's
suffrage was the law of the land, the lives and careers of women who
have served in Congress are presented. You read not only about their
accomplishments, but about the forces that shaped the people they
became, their motives, and their hopes. Their stories are set within
the context of the issues of their times.
I learned something about Margaret Chase Smith who inspired
women to enter all levels of government. I'd learned how she'd risen
from a childhood of poverty and gone to work rather than unaffordable
college. I was very familiar with her declaration of conscience. I
was touched to the depths of my soul when I read that on the day of
John F. Kennedy's funeral she took the trademark fresh red rose she
always wore in her lapel and placed it on his desk.
That's how up close and personal you'll get to know these
remarkable women. This is a book that can inspire and delight our
daughters while teaching us, even those of us who have been in women's
studies a decade or so, a thing or two.
On a personal note, I never would have run for school committee if it
hadn't been for Margaret Chase Smith. For many years she had been my
answer to what famous person, alive or dead, I'd most want to meet. I
was thrilled when she was going to speak at University of Maine. I
got there early to get a good seat. She got there early too and
engaged me in a conversation that started out with the weather. Just
the two of us for half an hour. What amazed me was she wanted to talk
about me, insignificant me: my experiences, passions, dreams. Then
she told me in no uncertain terms that with my intelligence, drive,
and visions I needed to become a public servant. Imagine that! I got
my mandate from the best. Going into my tenth year, I believe I am
justifying her faith in me.
A great big shout out goes out to my sisters at all levels of gubment.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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Pigs Can't Swim

Pigs Can't Swim

Adult autobiography
In her childhood memoir, Pigs Can't Swim, Helen Peppe describes
a fourth grade experience. She was studying pictures of mothers
brought in for a classroom assignment. "...Did those mothers chase
teenage children who smelled of beer, sex, and cigarettes with bars of
soap or branches from the weeping willow tree, the broom, or the
yardstick? Was there daily bemoaning over the cost of white bread,
whole milk, and gasoline? Did cups, potatoes, and corn cobs get
thrown at people during supper?..."
No doubt about it, Peppe's description of her growing up years,
from her early discovery that Thanksgiving was about killing animals
through a false teen pregnancy scare is enthralling. There are shades
of Jeanette Wall, Carolyn Chute, and even Stephen King in her
narrative. Still her voice is unique.
Peppe was the youngest of nine children born into a very
challenged family in rural Maine. As the littlest, she was the
designated lookout while older siblings smoked, drank, and fooled
around during parental absences. This role filled her with anxiety.
Her mother was explosive in her anger if rules were broken. At the
same time she seemed to expect every transgression in the book and
blame her children, even when they were not at fault. In one episode
when Peppe was in seventh grade a hunting friend of her brother in an
unhappy marriage gained her confidence and introduced her to oral
sex. Her parents did not believe her at first. Then they called her
a slut and asked how she could have done such a thing.
As a young child Peppe saw her parents as larger than life and
terrifyingly powerful in their ability to interogate and punish.
Toward the end of the book they start to shrink, coping to struggle in
a world where even feeding a vast brood involves constant labor and
supplementing the paycheck with gardening, raising food animals, and
hunting; where emergencies crop up with alarming frequency; where her
father tries to keep her from discovering what he does for work due to
shame; and where outsiders including teachers expect the worst from
any child bearing their last name. Her journey from fear to
compassion is an amazing one and makes her narrative eminently worth
reading.
On a personal note, I can relate to money worries. Joey Cat is due
for his twice yearly check up. They always cost more than the
estimate even though I care for him very conscientiously. I spend my
whole school committee stipend on cat care and walk between Orono and
Veazie to add bus fare to the mix. I just hope and pray this time
I'll have enough.
A prayer goes up for all who face financial challenges.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Literally Disturbed

Literally Disturbed

Juvenile poetry
Back when my kids were much younger and we were all, except the
hubby, Unitarian Universalists, the highlights of summers were the
weeks and weekends spent at the church's beautiful old camp on the
ocean. (Sadly those and day trips to Santa's Village were all we
could offer in the way of travel). Amber loved the camp fires,
especially when spooky stories just long enough to create an image and
aura of eeriness were part of the experience.
Well campfire season is once more upon us. Ben Winter's perfect
for read aloud poems and Adam Watkins' haunting black and white images
offer a menu of chilling, spine tingling delight. A gold eyed black
cat could be a witch, a ghost, or a man eating monster. An attic
might contain more than insects and no longer needed belongings. A
ghost ship with a cruel captain is saving a place for you. And don't
ask about the monkey statue with the glowing green eyes...
Literally Disturbed is also grand for sleepovers. But you may
need to keep a night light on.
On a personal note, I just had a real life scary experience. Just as
I had a puncture wound that seemed to be infecting, the newspaper ran
an article on necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria) with a
list of ambiguous symptoms. Fortunately off brand antibiotic cream
did the trick. I was quite relieved to wake up in my bed instead of
the hospital or heaven.
A great big shout out goes out to all who enjoy a good old fashioned
scary story.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Mountain Dog

Mountain Dog

Juvenile fiction
Margarita Engle's Mountain Dog is an eloquent story told in two
voices in free verse. One voice is that of Tony, a boy struggling to
adapt to and feel secure in a new life he fears can only be
temporary. The other is that of Gabe, the dog who seeks to teach him
to come out of his shell and live life to its fullest.
Tony has been raised by a mother who used and abused him every
bit as much as she did the pit bulls she raised by illicit dog
fights. So when she gets arrested and jailed and a social worker gets
to decide his destiny he's terrified. All he's ever experienced has
been surviving cruelty and he doesn't expect his future to change for
the better.
Certainly it changes for the different when his great uncle,
Leo, a bachelor forest ranger takes him out of the inner city to his
remote mountain cabin. There's a small rural school with three grades
in one room. There's a cowboy church that welcomes dogs and horses.
There's also Gabe, a dog who has been trained to save lost hikers and
seems to understand how to rescue Tony from fears and nightmares.
It can't last though. It's only a matter of time before Leo
gives up on him or his mother gets out of prison and pulls him back
into her world.
On a personal note, I learned a lot about search and rescue dogs and
wilderness survival. I am delighted that Engle recommends insects as
some of the safest wild foods a hungry lost person can encounter since
many plants are poisonous. I know I'm none the worse for eating the
insect pests we encounter in Orono Community (organic) garden.
Morever, based on my research, when I donate blood next week I'm
expecting an awesome iron count.
A great big shout out goes out to the people and animals who heal
broken hearts.
Julia Emily Hathaway



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