Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Language Inside

The Language Inside

YA fiction
Well my cleaning project of going through my books and putting
the ones I'm keeping in order in bookcases is going really well. I
now have one shelf all in order and (thankfully) about a gazillion
books to go. It has been a great sanity saver for a week with no kids
to home, Adam being away doing Wreaths Across America. It gives me a
perfect excuse to read near the lovely Christmas tree, one of my
favorite seasonal activities. And I'm finding some gems such as Holly
Thompson's The Language Inside. I am amazed that I didn't read it
last year when it came out since it's in free verse (poetry being my
first language) and is about cultural difference and adaptation which
I'm totally into.
Japan is home for Emma. It's where she has grown up, where she
has set down roots. So when her mother is diagnosed with breast
cancer and her family flies to Massachusetts to live with her
grandmother so her mother can be treated in Boston Emma is in for
quite the culture shock. She's starting the school year thousands of
miles from her close friends. The crowded former mill town with its
clumps and rows of houses is nothing like the peaceful countryside
she's used to. She desperately misses the ocean. Even her
grandmother's American food tastes hopelessly bland in contrast to the
cuisine she's accustomed to.
Emma also feels guilty to be in America when she's sure she's
needed much more in Japan. She was there in school when the country
was rocked by an earthquake. Some of her relatives had their homes
all but wiped out by the ensuing tsunami. One of her aunts is still
missing. She finds it enormously frustrating to be literally on the
other side of the world when she longs to be with her loved ones,
helping them put their lives back together.
All is not bad in America, however. She begins to volunteer at
a long term care place, helping a poet who has been crippled by a
stroke. She meets a very special friend whose mother lost much of her
family in Cambodia. She discovers a way to use her love of dance to
raise money to help her loved ones in Japan.
Then when she has to decide whether to return with her father in
January or stay with her mother and brother til the end of the school
year she feels split in two.
This is a very fine novel told in what I believe to be the
finest format for story telling.
On a personal note, the tree is up with lights and a few ornaments on
it. It looks really lovely. There is only bare space on the side I
see from my reading chair. I forgot where I put my favorite mostly
cross stitched ornaments. I've been doing an archaeology dig in the
bathroom attached to the master bedroom which doubles as storage space
and finding some. Then tonight I remembered the ornaments I stitched
last winter: a snowy owl, a rocking horse, a Teddy bear, a snowman,
and the word mom surrounded by flowers. All I have to do is put them
in their frames and finish the ornaments I'm working on now. I'll be
all set even if I don't find the rest til next year.
A great big shout out goes out to you, my readers. I hope this
holiday season is bringing you a maximum of joy and a minimum of
stress. :)
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Summer at Forsaken Lake

Summer at Forsaken Lake

Juvenile fiction
I'm a big fan of Michael D. Beil's Red Blazer Girls series. I
was thrilled to see a book of his with a decidedly different flavor.
Summer at Forsaken Lake is a poignant coming of age story with a male
protagonist discovering his family's past while staying for the first
time with his great uncle at the home where his father once spent
summer vacations.
Nicholas and his obnoxious younger twin sisters are sent from
their New York City home to a rural lake in Ohio to spend summer
vacation with their great uncle. Their mom is a workaholic and their
dad is in Africa serving on Doctors Without Borders. Even though his
friends predict that he'll have the most boring summer of his life,
Nicholas is looking forward to the trip. His father has told him the
old house and the lake are "full of secrets."
At least one secret is quick to reveal itself. A secret
compartment in Nicholas' tower room contains a spiral notebook and a
tin containing an old reel of movie film--evidence of a teen project
of his father, Will.
There's also a cryptic letter to Nicholas' then teenage father
from a girl to whom he gave her first kiss. What was the incident he
took the blame for, requiring him to leave early?
Why did he not finish the movie? Could this girl possibly be the
mother oh Charlie, the girl whose curveball Nicholas finds it
impossible to hit?
Summer at Forsaken Lake combines a page turner of a mystery with
a delightful look at young folks out sailing, bike riding, toasting
marshmellows over a campfire--enjoying the same stuff we did in the
good old days.
On a personal note, Eugene brought home a lovely Christmas tree from
his wood lot. It took a couple of days for it to lose its clumps of
ice and dry off. Now it is lovely with just the colored lights.
Tomorrow I will start adding ornaments. I do so love having a
Christmas tree in our home and putting treasured ornaments on it for
the most magical, mystical time of the year.
A great big shout out goes out to my Eugene for bringing home the tree.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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The Opposite Of Hallelujah

The Opposite Of Hallelujah

YA fiction
Imagine this. You're just about to start your junior year in
high school. For eight years it's been just you and your parents at
home. Now your father tells you that your sister is leaving the
convent where she has resided for eight years to come home. That is
the predicament faced by Caro, narrator of Anna Jarzab's The Opposite
Of Hallelujah.
Caro has had a hard time understanding and explaining Hannah's
decision to become a contemplative nun. When she was twelve she had
said Hannah was dead, sure her friends would never understand the
truth. "To them, nuns were old women who wore nude panty hose to hide
the varicose veins in their legs and seemed like they'd slap you with
a ruler as soon as look at you. Nuns were practically pre-historic,
and it didn't make any sense for my then twenty-three-year-old sister--
tall, thin, blond as Barbie--to be working on her fourth year at the
Sisters of Grace convent in Middleton, Indiana. But she was."
Four years later Caro still has trouble understanding and
explaining. She can't fake the happiness her parents expect her to
show. This sibling returning home is a stranger she hasn't seen in
years.
"...What it might be like to shop with her, watch TV with her, argue
with her, laugh with her. How bizarre to have a sister and still be
an only child. How was I supposed know how to live with someone with
whom the only thing I shared was DNA?" Having no way to explain's
Hannah's reappearance, she puts off telling her friends. Then when a
collision between her home and peer worlds seems inevitable she spins
another lie, even knowing it will come back to haunt her.
Something is seriously wrong with the newly reappeared Hannah.
She sleeps through days and paces at night. She seems immobilized at
the prospect of applying for readmission to college or getting a job.
She barely eats a thing and is wasting away. But her parents, fearful
of pushing her into leaving again, won't push her to get help.
Could the unresolved tragic secret that impelled Hannah to seek
a religious life tear her from her family again in an even sadder way?
This book would be a wonderful read for young people who have
unexpected changes in their life circumstances. It would also make a
good read for parents, teachers, and--you guessed it--guidance
counselors.
On a personal note, I can really relate to Caro. One summer when I
wasn't much older than her my mother took Harriet and me to spend a
summer in a lovely beach cabin at Fire Island. Once a week she went
by ferry to visit her elderly aunt. Then she surprised us by bringing
her home to our apartment. I think this aunt had Alzheimers. People
didn't talk about it then. With Mom in a highly stressful job and
Harriet struggling to complete her education, she became part of my
job description. Let me tell you, it is very difficult for a young
adult to be in charge of someone who can't remember who she is.
A great big shout out goes out to folks who have to deal with
unexpected life challenges and all who help them cope.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wonder

Wonder

Juvenile fiction
"'If I looked like that,' said the Julian voice, kind of
laughing, 'I swear to God, I'd put a hood over my face every day.'
'I've thought about this a lot,' said the second mummy, sounding
serious, 'and I really think...if I looked like him, seriously, 'I
think that I'd kill myself."
I am once again in the middle of at attempt at cleaning and
organizing the old home space. So far, after organizing my storage
shed, I've cleared enough living room space to accomodate a tree and
scrubbed the floor of the kitchen and recycling corner. Now I'm
giving Orono librarians a break by reading through my own books to see
which to keep and which to donate to the next book sale. I'm even
finding some worthy of reviewing.
One of my most amazing finds was R. J. Palacio's Wonder, source
of the quote with which I started this review. It deals with candor
and sensitivity with a topic that all too often carries a didactic or
saccharine overtone--children who have very visible differences. I
think one reason that it succeeds so admirably is that a number of
people narrate the chapters, conveying the voices of the protagonist
and family members and friends.
Auggie (August) was born with genetic very obvious facial
differences. Even though his mother home schooled him, he has had
enough experience with the outside his family world to know that
people meeting him the first time often startle and say something
cruel or walk away in disgust. He does have friends. But when his
mother decides that it's time for him to attend regular school where
he'll be surrounded by starers it's more than a little scary.
This book covers that first year of official school from the
perspective of Auggie, big sister Olivia, and people in their social
worlds. Auggie has no idea what to expect and how to act. Olivia is
starting a new different school, loves her brother but doesn't want to
be defined by him. Jack and Julian react to being chosen as potential
friends for Auggie by the principal in drastically different ways.
This is an excellent book for kids who are somehow different and
their siblings and parents. I'd also put it on the reading list for
teachers, principals, and especially guidance counselors.
On a personal note, being the sib of a sister with brain damage, I
related very strongly to Olivia. I know what it's like being defined
in reference to a sibling. When I was in college it felt amazing to
be seen as myself, not someone's sister. I was popular and lively and
happy. One night when I was talking to my mother on the phone she
said she was thinking of Harriet going there. In retrospect I feel
that it would not have been a good fit for her. This was the rational
arguement I made. Inwardly I was afraid of losing the refuge where I
was a person in my own right. Only I felt immense guilt because I did
and do love Harriet. Olivia helped me realize that these mixed
feelings are normal.
A great big shout out goes out to kids and adults with differences and
their friends and family members.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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The Great Thanksgiving Escape

The Great Thanksgiving Escape

Picture book
A clan gathering for a holiday can feel very different to a
child than to his enthusiastic parents. That's the message of Mark
Fearing's The Great Thanksgiving Escape which was inspired by his own
childhood memories.
A very reluctant Gavin is taken to his grandma's for
Thanksgiving. He's parked in a room of diapered, drooling, bottle
drinking toddlers until his cousin Rhonda invites him to join her in
breaking out to the backyard swing set. A number of obstacles lie
between them and their destination: the guard dogs, the hall of
aunties, the grand wall of butts, the zombies...
This is a very funny book and great read aloud that may have
parents seeing holiday gatherings from a different perspective.
On a personal note, I kicked butt on Millers, scoring 90th percentile
decades after formal education. Should help me in my quest for grad
school.
A great big shout out goes out to the people who took Millers with
me. May all our dreams come true!
Julia Emily Hathaway


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But I Love Him

But I Love Him

YA fiction
Amanda Grace's But I Love Him is a very powerful novel about a
high school abusive relationship. It's also a quite unusual one, told
in backward chronology. You start with a year later and end up at the
moment Ann and Connor meet. Grace had a reason for this structure.
She wants readers to not second guess and blame the victim. "By
telling the story in reverse chronological order it removes the
reader's ability to judge the protagonist. They don't know the events
that led up to the abuse, so they can only look back and observe."
At the beginning of the book Ann is alone and hurting in a room
of shattered objects, trashed by Connor in a fit of rage, including a
very special gift it took her months to make for him. She's estranged
from her mother and best friend, very isolated. She wonders how
things could have gone so wrong in just a year.
Then slowly, step-by-step, the past unfolds. The story goes
back through Ann seeing Connor's father abuse his mother, through her
final loss of former best friend, Abby, through her leaving her mother
who wants her to abandon Connor, through a pregnancy false alarm...
The characters are convincing, their interactions believable. A
significant read for young people and professionals who work with them.
On a personal note, I am surprised by how many people have potentially
abusive relationships in their histories. I was engaged before my
first attempt at grad school. My family and friends thought my ex
fiancée was the bee's knees. He was always taking me places, buying
me gifts. I alone saw another side to him. He was jealous and had a
temper. There was never anything physical. But he was suspicious
when I spent time with friends or talked on the phone with family
members. I saw red flags. I told him if things stayed the same for
three months I would be out of his life. He started talking about
buying land on a very isolated lake. I told myself there are better
ways of making the 6:00 news than getting carried out in a body bag.
At the end of three months I chose school over him. This is why books
like But I Love Him are so important. They may save lives by helping
girls and women be able to see red flags like I did.
A great big shout out goes out to all who advocate for and help
victims of domestic violence.
Julia Emily Hathaway


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Twenty-two Cents

Twenty-two Cents

Juvenile nonfiction
In 2006 Mohammad Yunus and the Organization he had founded,
Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize. It's not hard to see why.
By creating a way for people, mostly women, who banks considered
untouchables, or as we say in America, bad credit risks, to get micro
loans to start or expand small businesses he had helped almost twelve
million get better lives for themselves and their families. Paula
Yoo's Twenty-two Cents: Muhummad Yunus and the Village Bank brings
this truly inspiring to life for our children.
Yunus grew up in a family where education and service were
highly valued. He was able to study economics abroad and become a
university professor in his newly liberated homeland of Bangladesh.
The desperate poverty he saw around him drew him out of that ivory
tower and into the streets. He met women who were kept impoverished
by usurious money lenders. But what if they could get the small
advances they needed at modest interest rates?
There are so many things going wrong in the world today it can
be easy for kids and adults to feel discouraged and wonder what one
person can do. Twenty-two Cents reminds us that one person with
determination and the ability to think outside the box can accomplish
quite a lot.
And, by the way, 97% of Grameen Bank's customers pay off their
loans. I don't know what you think, but they don't sound like poor
credit risks to me.
On a personal note, last Friday was Orono Arts Cafe. The date had
been changed from the second Friday to the first Friday. I didn't
have a clue. I was reading in sweats, a sweatshirt, and sock monkey
slippers when Terrie knocked on the door. She gives me rides.
Probably a more normal person would have said, oops, sorry. But I
grabbed a poetry notebook, threw on my coat, and went with her. I
shared Christmas poems which people really enjoyed. I knew they would
much rather see me in sweats and slippers than not at all. Oh, yeah,
Sunday someone gave me a sock monkey and baby sock monkey.
A great big shout out goes out to the Orono Arts Cafe gang. We are
family. Julia Emily Hathaway


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