Years ago, I was part of my very first book club. We were a group of 5- 4 girls and a lone boy- who all worked together and somehow ended up deciding that a book club was an amazing idea. We had t-shirts and got together (for the book club) a grand total of twice, not counting the hours we spent working on the shirts and deciding on titles. I felt very grown up, sipping mojitos and discussing What is the What (Dave Eggers). The second book, Frank Miller’s From Hell disturbed me to no end, but only two of us read it, so the discussion was a little useless. It was still incredibly fun and the heart was there. Now, here I am, years later, ready to start a second book club after one of the teachers approached me here at work.
We use Edmodo here to post assignments and have kids submit work and the teachers use it for discussions as well. One of the groups we have is Teachers Read, where anyone can post about the books they’re reading or pose a question. I make sure to post once a week- it’s a great way to ask other people what they think of reading habits, articles, genres, or books and helps me to get to know my colleagues. The book club will most likely have a lot of the same members as this discussion group, but we’re going to meet at a pub, so decency will probably go the way of the dodo pretty quick. For our first book, we’re going to tackle Michael Chadon’s Telegraph Avenue. The teacher who suggested it is a huge Chadon fan, and although I’ve never read anything by him, I’m excited to dive into what promises to be at least a very well written story.
I’m always disappointed that there aren’t more students busily working away in the library. Of course I get distracted and end up listening to hilarious preteen conversations if there are, but it’s good when a space is being used how it’s meant to be! Today, delight of delights, the library has been crazy busy. There are presentations for the grade nines all day, taking up the large group space, and grade 8s in and out preparing for a mock election. Every single space is being used- including the office. I just love it. I feel like this is how life should be!
I recently met with the principal to discuss work and how I was liking my job here and I brought up that I would really like to go to classrooms- especially the 8s and 9s- and talk to the students about why they don’t use the library more and what they would change about the space. He’s completely on board with this, agreeing that the space is wonderful and totally underused. I have high hopes that within the next month we’ll see some big changes, even if all that means is more use of the library for working.
What is it with teens and kidnapping? There are so many amazing (literary) novels out there that focus on that one thing you get told will eventually happen (and rarely does)- get approached by a stranger and kidnapped. Much like encountering quicksand or being in the midst of a volcanic explosion, kidnapping is one of those things that you’re told about as a child and then never actually see. So we’re all prepared to get our friend out of a sink hole, get away from volcanic ash, and punch that kidnapper right where it hurts, and then end up just reading about accounts. I loved Caroline B. Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton when I was in elementary school- it was probably one of the few books I read without my parents begging me to. I definitely read it covertly, although I’m sure the librarian was smirking as she watched me hide it from every adult that came near. The idea that I could have been kidnapped as a baby and be living a happy life with my captors was so thrilling! And so completely ridiculous, but that’s the point isn’t it? For one of my courses during school I read If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, a Carnegie Medal in Literature nominee. It tells the story of a teen girl and her young sister who have been (plot twist) kidnapped by their mother and taken to live in a broken camper in the forest. One day, their father FINALLY finds them and off they go to the real world of school, mean girls, and of course, boys. I loved this book most of all for the reality. Parents do kidnap their children and when you do something bad, even if you’ve suffered a serious trauma, you do have to come clean. The ending is so brilliant with all it leaves up in the air and I would highly recommend this title to any girl (age 14 up).
That brings me to the latest YA book I’ve taken on. Lauren Oliver (writer of the lovely Liesl and Po and the Delirium series) divides her novel Vanishing Girls between two narrators and many different times. I find it a little jolting to be taken back and forth in time so much, but that works to Oliver’s advantage, as the story itself is jolting. Dara is the younger sister- beautiful, wild, and envied. Nick is older, athletic, and always in Dara’s shadow. I love hearing both girls’ views of each other because they each think the other has it easier, and I can completely sympathize with both views. I’m only a quarter of the way in, but already I know Dara disappears around the same time a little girl goes missing, and I’m intrigued by where Oliver is taking the story. This book wouldn’t appeal to just any reader- it is a challenge, but in the best possible way. Girls 13 and up will love Dara and feel heartbroken for Nick.
With two people working in my library, I find that I have downtime everyday. Of course, our library is very well run, very efficient, and very regimented so when new books come in or classes unexpectedly show up we can easily shift what we’re doing to accommodate. My downtime is usually spent checking out book blogs and bestseller lists, looking for ideas. I’m finding though that there’s only so much time I can spend on the computer and only so many books I can re-lable before I want to weep. Taking on new projects can be hard at this time of the year with only 2 months left and because I’m new I don’t want to start proposing new things with so little experience here. This brings me back to what to do in my downtime. I’m finding it hard to do busy work because there really isn’t any. Sometimes teachers who have free time come wandering into the library looking to help- what do they do when we turn them away?
I recently took a much needed break from reading YA novels and dug into some adult fiction. I don’t really read non-fiction, it rarely appeals to me. I like an author’s license to do whatever he/she wants with characters. I realize there are tons of compelling non-fiction books out there (The Glass Castle will always remain one of my most favourite books) that would readily capture my attention, and I do browse them, but still find that I always end up gravitating towards the fiction section. And so I picked up Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, the first in a trilogy that feels an awful lot like Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Tom Wolfe. The language in harsh and academic, and the story focuses less on world creating than character development, but I couldn’t put it down. The characters are miserable and for the most part bad people, in a realistic, drunk with power and money sort of way. Overall, the story is really about what magic in the hands of the average person can do. This is Slytherin all grown up. I still managed to grow fond of the hero, mostly because he grows as a person and is realistically affected by everything that happens to him. I was going to save the next two books for summer vacation but ended up picking up the second this week. Oh well.
After powering through The Magicians, I picked up two YA novels from the school library- Ready Player One (Ernest Cline) and Althea and Oliver (Cristina Moracho). I didn’t make it much father than the first few chapters in either, but both are perfect YA reads. Ready Player One, soon to be a major motion picture, deals with a future where most people live in a virtual reality. The protagonist is a teenager, a gamer, whose real life is miserable but online life is compelling. For anyone interested in anything from John Hughes movies to Dungeons and Dragons to school sports, this is the book for you. It’s one of the novel study options here at school, and I can see it being a perfect book for a grade 8 or 9 class. I don’t want to say anything more, the concept is too interesting to give away, but I will say that the writing is simple and incredibly clever.
The next book I picked up was Althea and Oliver. The two main characters have been best friends since they were 6 years old and as Althea slowly falls in love with Oliver, he deals with a horrible syndrome that causes him to fall asleep for months at a time. I had to stop reading simply because the story and the writing was too painfully reminiscent of being a teenager. The author does an incredible job of capturing the raw, real, and intense emotions of teenagers, something nobody wants to relive but every teenager can relate to. The relationships portrayed are clearly flawed and bad, and even though I can see a teen rooting for A and O to get together, it would also be clear what needed to change for this to end up being a good match. I can see this book appealing to any gender and will definitely be recommending it.
About a month back I read Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. It wasn’t profound- not a whole lot happened. The novel is well written though, which kept me turning the pages, and the characters are interesting and believable. I was let down that nothing really happened in the end, but then again, most things in life aren’t wild and crazy. A movie adaptation was made last year and took home the Jury Prize at Sundance this year. Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon play the adults and the teens are all newcomers. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this movie, and after seeing the trailer I have high hopes! Below is a link to the trailer.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
I’ve been lucky enough to listen in on several debates surrounding The House of the Scorpion novel studies here at the school. The grade 8s have clearly been spending a good amount of time learning about everything from cloning to cartels to health care to better their arguments for their debating projects. I’m so impressed by their enthusiasm for the novel and all the issues raised by it. Since the book’s been on my to-read list for a year now, I grabbed an extra copy from the school and settled down to enjoy. And then I just didn’t. The story is wonderfully written and the premise of a young boy being raised to take over a dangerous future drug cartel is interesting- who doesn’t love a good clone story! Nancy Farmer is also a wonderful writer, and I definitely don’t feel like I’m reading a YA novel. It’s so very detailed and long though. I was talking to the TL here and she agreed. There’s just something about this book that’s too dull. What a let down! Will I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s got great literary value and amazing themes. Personally, I’m done with it.