My ideal bookshelf – the 2015 edition

So last year, I invited my grade ten students to contemplate their reading lives in essays and bookshelves inspired by My Ideal Bookshelf. The project was such a huge success that I decided to do it again this year, and once more the results were terrific.

My colleague, Jenn, and I made a display in the main hall at school.

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I’d like to share some of the art and excerpts from some of the essays my students wrote. Thanks again to Thessaly and Jane for inspiring this project.

Paige A

Paige: My top three novels (Anne of Green Gables, A Monster Calls, Charlotte’s Web) may never have been considered anybody’s favourite, even though two are classics. To me, these books have meaning and memories attached to them. Some memories are happy and some sad. No matter what, though, I would never want to forget these books and certainly don’t regret reading them.

Destiny

Destiny: As my reading expanded, so did my desire for more of a challenge. I would ask around for new books, but the ones my mother suggested didn’t spark any interest and my sister Dominique, three years older than me, scared me away with her grumpiness and nobody else I knew liked reading. I suppose Dominique must have been in a pretty good mood one day to give me her favourite book, Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris and I have always been grateful. This one book that she loved so much was like a glimpse inside the head of a stranger I called my sister. It was then, as I was reading, that I realized maybe we weren’t so different after all.

Adara

Adara: I can remember when I was little, perhaps seven, I used to rush to get ready for bed just because if I did it quickly enough my mom would read to me and my brother. I would get some pjs on, grab my blue, fuzzy penguin blanket and pillow and settle in to hear her read a few chapters of Pawn of Prophecy. I used to get so disappointed when I didn’t get ready in time, but when I did it was some of the best times of my life. My mom has the perfect reading voice and I would get lost in the book and the sound of her voice. Every once and a while I ask my mom to read, just so I can hear that voice again.

Tatum

Tatum: Grade seven was my first taste of reading for enjoyment. Teachers practically shoved sappy novels down my throat: unrequited love, boy meets girl, the whole lot. But I hated the thought of romance; I liked gore and cussing. I thought I could only get that thrill from games played in the dark, but a fellow student taught me better. My first whiff was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Sure, I’ve read many other books, but only because I was forced. But this time it was legit. I could not put this book down. This was my first taste of what was soon to be have an addiction because, as you know, one book is not enough.

Ben

Ben: The Green Mile was one of the saddest books I have ever read. I never knew Stephen King could write something other than a scary story. I really grew attached to some of the characters and finding out they died not long after the book ends was really heartbreaking. I often get really attached to characters in stories and if they die, it hurts a little.

Pierrette

Pierrette: My bookshelf is a collection of stories that represent who I am. From childhood stories to books I read on repeat like The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, each book means something different to me and represents a unique part of my reading adventure. As someone who dreams of being an author I hope that, even if my writing never reaches these great heights, my work will make someone pick up another book, fall in love with reading, and truly think about things in their lives.

Parker

Parker: A very important book to me is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because it is the first book I bought with my own money. Everyone told me that it was an amazing series and I knew I had to buy it. That was the first time I wanted a book so badly that I bought it myself and it was worth every penny. After finishing it, I loved it so much that I bought the other two books in the series.

Valerie

Valerie: My mother was my gateway to the world of books. I remember the nights she would arrive home exhausted after working all day and finishing classes in the evenings. Somehow she always managed to read to me and my brother before bedtime. I never questioned this time because I adored it far too much; however I did wonder why those moments were so important to my mother. I no longer ask myself that question as I am fully aware of the gift reading is in and of itself.

Chloie

Chloie: Every year I reread The Art of Racing in the Rain just to remind myself of how impactful reading can be, and to refresh my memory on this more beautiful way of seeing the world. I don’t think I will ever be able to pinpoint exactly why this book is so lovely, but it is the only book on my shelf I love enough to destroy. All my other novels are perfectly kept, no bends or scratches; that’s how I like it. But The Art of Racing in the Rain has pages folded down from my favourite parts, notes written in it and all my favourite quotes highlighted.

Ceilidh

Ceilidh: Teddy Bear Picnic was the first book that came to mind when I thought of an ideal bookshelf. I selected this book because when I was younger it was the one book I picked every time. My mother would use one of my stuffed bears to read it with and I loved listening to her use a fake voice.

Selda

Selda: I actually didn’t like reading books, but my brother loves reading. He gave me a few books when I was nine years old. He said if I read them, he would give me chocolate for each book I finished. That was a good idea. After a while, I loved reading books and he didn’t give me chocolate anymore. All kinds of books should be on my bookshelf: horror, drama, history, liberal education, love, comedy, tragedy. Books are amazing for me because I can live in my own world when I read. They are valuable like gold or silver.

Makenzie

Makenzie: Being a teenager isn’t easy and books have become a great way for me to relieve stress and broaden my perspective and understanding on a lot of things. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time  changed a lot of my views on mental illness and other disabilities. I’ve learned more from this book about happiness and self-worth than I ever would from a therapist. I suppose that is what books are – my therapists. I know no matter what I’m feeling or questioning, there is a book to help me find the answer. Whether it be through some magic time portal, someone’s true-life story or a cheesy young adult novel, I know there is something out there for me.

Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

ruinsBeautiful Ruins was our last book club read before our summer hiatus. It was also the winner of ‘Best book’ or, because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings when we vote, ‘book we enjoyed reading most.’ (Thus, ‘worst’ book becomes ‘book we enjoyed reading least.’) It was a close race between Beautiful Ruins and The Children Act, but Walter’s fantastic novel won out in the end.

I think I am going to have a hard time articulating how I feel about this book because it hit a lot of my sweet spots. First of all, part of the novel is set in Italy and anyone who knows me knows that Italy is my dream place. I’ve been twice and often say that some day I will live there…even if it’s just for a few months. The other part of the novel takes place in Hollywood and, okay, I admit it – I love the movie stars. Just ask anyone who was around during the David Boreanaz days…or go further back…the Robby Benson days. Ask my students how often I work Ryan Gosling into the conversation.

Beautiful Ruins follows the fortunes of Pasquale Tursi in Porto Vergogna, a tiny village near the Cinque Terre region of Italy only “it was smaller, more remote and not as picturesque.”

Port Vergogna was a tight cluster of a dozen old whitewashed houses, an abandoned chapel, and the town’s only commercial interest – the tiny hotel and café owned by Pasquale’s family – all huddled like a herd of a sleeping goats in a crease in the sheer cliffs.

Pasquale has come back to Porto Vergogna to care for his dying mother and the Hotel Adequate View, and it is there he meets actress Dee Moray, who has come, by mistake, to the Adequate View to rest. She is in Italy to make Cleopatra, the notoriously bad film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

richard and elizabeth

The title’s phony – her job’s all assisting, no developing, and she’s nobody’s chief. She tends Michael’s whims. Answers his calls and e-mails, goes for his sandwiches and coffee.

It is not the life she dreamed of when she gave up her doctoral film studies program to make movies. Now she is on the cusp of leaving her job and going to work as a curator for a private film museum.

If you’re wondering how Walter is going to dovetail these two eras, all I can say is “masterfully.” We flip back to 1960’s Italy and recent-day Hollywood and neither story (or character) gets short-shrift. In fact Claire and Pasquale aren’t the only characters who populate this story – even minor characters are fully realized including Pasquale’s elderly aunt Valeria (who provides comic relief), Shane (a screenwriter who comes to Hollywood to pitch the story of cowboy cannibals), Alvis (the failed American writer who comes to Porto Vergogna once a year to work on his novel) and even Daryl, Claire’s hunky porn-addicted boyfriend. Even Michael Deane, slimy as he is, is fun to spend time with.

And what are these Beautiful Ruins? Well, I think that’s probably the reason everyone and their dog was praising this book when it came out in 2012. This is a great story – funny and heartbreaking in equal measure – about big ideas. The people that you meet and the choices that you make are at the very center of this book. But as Alvis says to Dee, “No one gets to tell you what your life means.”

I loved this book so much.

Highly recommended.

Jacob Have I Loved – Katherine Paterson

jacobKatherine Peterson’s novel Jacob Have I Loved was a Newberry Medal winner in 1981. Although this book has been on my radar for many years, I was perhaps just a teensy bit too old for it when it was published in 1980, so I didn’t read it then. It is a pretty famous book though, and I figured I should read it. So I did.

The title of the book comes from the bible, Romans 9:13: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” The quote refers to the story of siblings Jacob and Esau and the novel tells the story of siblings Sara Louise and her twin sister, Caroline. The girls live on Rass Island, off the coast of Maryland. Their father is a fisherman; their mother a former school teacher. Their crotchety paternal grandmother also lives with them.

Sara Louise, or Wheeze, is the narrator. She is an adult when the novel opens, returning to Rass Island where her mother still lives. “…it is a pure sorrow to me,” she says, “that, once my mother leaves there will be no one left with the name of Bradshaw. But there were only the two of us, my sister, Caroline, and me, and neither of us could stay.”

The bulk of the story takes place in 1941 and the years that follow. Wheeze, 13, and her best friend, Call, 14, spend their days hunting for crabs. Their little island is isolated and days there are marked by routine – fisherman out on the water early and home late, school and church, the occasional ferry trip to the mainland. Paterson deftly creates a world that will be – for most of its young readers –  a place long ago and far away.

While readers may not recognize the time or place, they will most definitely recognize the friction between Wheeze and her sister, the beautiful and musically talented, Caroline. A sickly baby, Wheeze feels that Caroline has been coddled all her life and that in “the story of my sister’s life…I… was allowed a very minor role.”

There is a rare snapshot of the two of us sitting on the front stoop the summer we were a year and a half old. Caroline is tiny and exquisite, her blonde curls framing a face that is glowing with laughter, her arms outstretched to whoever is taking the picture. I am hunched there like a fat dark shadow, my eyes cut sideways toward Caroline, thumb in my mouth…

Wheeze is resentful and jealous, even though Caroline never really seems to give her any reason to be. It’s one of the lovely things about this book, which is remarkable in its stillness. Wheeze isn’t particularly likable, but you grow to love her just the same.

Jacob Have I Loved is without the bells and whistles that marks much of the YA fiction out there today. I would suggest that this is a book better suited to middle school readers, but I think anyone who has ever shared close quarters with a sibling would enjoy this story.

White Crow – Marcus Sedgwick

whitecrowMarcus Sedgwick’s YA novel White Crow is not for the faint of heart, but careful readers will certainly be rewarded by this atmospheric tale. It’s a creepy story of science and obsession, of ghosts both real and imagined.

Rebecca and her policeman father move to Winterfold, a seacoast town in England. Like many other villages along Britain’s coast, Winterfold is slowly being eroded by the sea and what was once a bustling village of thousands of people is now “storm by storm, year by year” crumbling into the sea  and all that remains is “a triangle of three streets, a dozen houses, an inn, a church.”

Rebecca is none too happy about having to leave her more urban life for the much quieter Winterfold. She doesn’t quite know what to do with herself besides harbor resentment towards her father (who is, essentially, hiding out after some mishap at work) and pine for Adam, the boy who she left behind.

Then she meets Ferelith, a local girl who is, frankly, pretty strange. In fact, Rebecca notes she’s “the strangest-looking girl she’s ever seen.”

There’s something elfin about her. Everything ends in points: her nose, her eyes, her chin, her lips, her fingers, the spikes of her long tresses of black hair….her teeth, not quite a vampire’s, but not far short.

Rebecca and Ferelith don’t immediately gel, although it’s clear that Ferelith is smitten. Eventually, though, with nothing better to do, Rebecca starts to hang out with her a bit and Ferelith starts to reveal Winterfold’s somewhat sinister past.

That’s where the third narrator comes in.  Entries in a diary dated 1798, reveal the strange relationship between the writer, a Reverend, and a French doctor. The two men are fascinated with the prospect of discovering if there is life after death and their methods turn out to be – well – horrifying. He writes:

And so this young man has become our first subject, and though my hopes were high, the results were low.

I scorn myself to record it herein, but we learned nothing.

Not a single thing.

But, oh!

The blood! The blood!

White Crow is like one of those old fashioned horror movies I used to watch when I was a kid. I could almost hear the menacing music as Ferelith tours Rebecca around Winterfold, through old, decaying ruins and to the one remaining church with the missing wall. When the novel reaches its climax, it’s creepy, page-turning fun. Young readers will have to pay attention; I know I did. But the book pays off in spades.

The Little Woods – McCormick Templeman

littlewoodsTen years after the death of her older sister, Clare,  Cally Woods gets accepted at St. Bede’s Academy, a boarding school in the Sierra region of California. It’s a big deal for Cally: her father is dead, her mother is a mostly absent drunk and Cally’s been offered a full-ride scholarship to St. Bede’s because of what happened to her sister. Seems that as a kid, Clare had visited St. Bede’s with a friend whose mother taught there and “on the third night of her visit, she and her friend had vanished from their beds. Their bodies were never found.” That’s pretty much the premise of  McCormick Templeman’s debut novel, The Little Woods.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, making it difficult to decide whether or not it’s a straight up mystery.  (There are definitely some mystery elements; Cally is there, after all, to figure out exactly what happened to her sister. Although as the police never have it’s ridiculous to think she’ll be able to solve the whodunit on her own. Still.) Is it a coming of age stor? (It’s certainly got all the bells and whistles: mean girls and first love.) It’s peopled with a wide variety of teenage characters: the beautiful jock (“he was black with vaguely Asian features, bright eyes and the most incredible body I’d ever seen); the student body president (whom Cally catches going through her underwear drawer) and Jack (“one of those boys who make you dizzy when you look at them). You’ll recognize all the players well enough.

Cally finds it relatively easy to infiltrate the inner-circle and soon enough learns that St. Bede’s is a hot-bed of rumours and disappearances. In fact, she’s moved into the room of a girl who disappeared only a few months ago. There’s also talk about the “little woods.” Hunky Alex explains at a party:

“All due respect, but everyone knows these woods are straight-up haunted. We do this walk all the time, and there’s always some scary fucking noise that can’t be explained. Ask anyone.

I’ll tell you what we’re hearing…We’re hearing the lost girls.”

It is at this party that Cally discovers that her sister’s death is legend: “The woods are haunted. These two little girls were murdered out there….Seriously, you guys. They wandered off into the woods or whatever, but they were totally murdered.”

Although Cally doesn’t expose her connection to Clare, she watches and listens for any clue that will help her uncover the truth.

As far as mysteries go, The Little Woods is decent enough. The problem I had with it is that the story is bogged down by so many other things – side-plots and intrigues, that it was hard to keep the whole convoluted story straight. Doesn’t mean avid YA readers won’t eat it up, though.

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

sharpMy son Connor recently purchased Sharp Objects and zipped through it in a couple days. I had the same reading experience and now I’ve read all three of Flynn’s novels. Of the three I liked Dark Places the best, though I know Flynn is most well-known known for Gone Girl. One thing I can say for sure, she sure does like damaged female protagonists.

Camille Preaker is a reporter for a third-rate Chicago paper, the Daily Post. Mostly she covers “slice-of-life” pieces, stuff her curmudgeonly editor Frank Curry hates. Then, when a young girl goes missing in Camille’s home town, Wind Gap, Missouri, Curry suggests Camille head home and see what’s the what. Camille isn’t all that fussy about going back to Wind Gap, a town she describes as “one of those crummy little towns prone to misery,” but she can’t say no to Curry, a man whose always looked out for and believed in her.

Wind Gap truly is a backwater, though, and it’s been eight years since Camille has visited. Her mother, Adora, and step-father, Alan, still live there. So does, Amma, her half-sister who is just thirteen. Then there’s the ghost of Marian, Camille’s baby sister who died many years ago.  Camille’s arrival back at the family home, “an elaborate Victorian replete with a widow’s walk, a wraparound veranda, a summer porch jutting toward the back, and a cupola arrowing out of the top” is fraught with polite tension. When Camille rings the doorbell and her mother answers, Adora actually asks if everything okay and “didn’t offer a hug at all.”

Small towns don’t change and secrets are hard to keep, but as Camille works the few connections she has in Wind Gap, another girl goes missing and Camille struggles to keep her equilibrium. Wind Gap, it seems, is filled with old ghosts, ghosts she has worked extra hard (including a stint in a psychiatric hospital) to keep at bay.

Camille is not dissimilar to the main character in Dark Places, Libby. Both are women with troubled pasts. Both are prickly and anti-social. Both are smart and resilient.  I think, ultimately, I liked the mystery in Dark Places better than the one in Sharp Objects but if you are looking for a well-written psychological page-turner, Flynn won’t disappoint, no matter which book you read.

Off the Shelf – The “C” Word

Listen here.

Dave Pilkey, author of the often-challenged Captain Underpants books, made a great little video about censorship:

According to Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee, “Young Adult books are challenged more frequently than any other type of book.”

The topic of censorship is a tricky one because I have my own personal views which, basically, can be summed up like this: I think people should be able to read whatever in the heck they want…and that includes teenagers. I am a parent and I have teenagers who love to read. My son read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History when he was barely 14. Is there adult content, sure. Could we talk about it – absolutely.

The question that immediately springs to mind for me is: what are we so afraid of that we have to censor reading material? Personally, I believe that people should have access to all sorts of reading material without judgement or interference. That said, you won’t find Fifty Shades of Grey in my classroom library. For obvious reasons. When I am choosing books for my library I try to pick material with literary merit…

The Canadian Organization, Freedom to Read has a comprehensive (and honestly, funny,) timeline of books that have been banned dating back to 259-210 B.C.

It’s amazing what’s on that list – everything from Shakespeare (1788: Shakespeare’s King Lear was banned from the stage until 1820 — in deference to the insanity of the reigning monarch, King George III.) to Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books (1980s: During its examination of school learning materials, the London County Council in England banned the use of Beatrix Potter’s children’s classics The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from all London schools. The reason: the stories portrayed only “middle-class rabbits.”) And here’s one of my favourites: 1983: Members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called for the rejection of The Diary of Anne Frank because it was “a real downer.” It was also challenged for offensive references to sexuality.

I thought I’d share with you three YA books that have been banned at one time or another in one place or another and which I think are worth reading:

part time indianOne of the most challenged book in the US is Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian

This is a National Book Award winner and I read it a couple years ago. Here’s the funny thing – acclaimed books, award winning books often make the banned books list as well.

This novel is, in part, based on the author’s own experiences growing up. It’s the story of Arnold ‘Junior’ Spirit, a fourteen year old Native American who lives on’ the rez’. He’s got a whole host of physical problems, ten teeth too many and a head that’s too big. He’s picked on a lot and says he’s a member of the “Black Eye of the Month Club.” But he’s funny and smart and it is almost impossible not to fall in love with him.

So, this book has been banned in multiple school districts in the States for being vulgar, making references to masturbation and using inappropriate language. Personally, I didn’t find it objectionable and I often recommend it to boys who aren’t particularly enthusiastic readers because it’s straight – up funny and also because Junior is an aspiring artist, it’s filled with drawings and doodles. I haven’t had a single kid tell me they didn’t like it.

ratsRats Saw God – Rob Thomas (not of Matchbox 20 fame, but of Veronica Mars fame and a former Journalism teacher)

This book is about a high school senior called Steve York who is pretty close to flunking out of school despite the fact that he’s super smart. This book was challenged because Steve smokes drugs, but the book hardly endorses drug use – it’s actually very much a coming of age story a la Catcher in the Rye (another books that has been challenged multiple times.) Anyway, Steve’s guidance counselor gives him one last chance to save his year- he has to write a 100 page paper about…anything…and ultimately Steve uses the writing to work through his issues. Clever book, terrific main character….positive messages for struggling teens.

eleanor and parkEleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell

So this was Ms. Rowell’s first novel and it caused a huge splash when it was published – partly because John Green wrote a glowing review and partly because it’s awesome – but it’s also been called “dangerously obscene” – which it is certainly not, unless maybe you don’t like 80s new wave music.

Eleanor is an awkward teenager who lives with her mother and step-father (who is a creep) and her younger siblings and Park is half Korean and comes from a stable, loving home and this novel is about friendship and love.

Interesting discussion with some Australian YA writers about banning books

Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

roomiesMaybe it’s because my daughter is graduating from high school in a few weeks and heading off to university or maybe it’s because, just lately, I have been feeling unsettled and nostalgic, but whatever the reason: I LOVED Roomies. Co-written by Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl) and Tara Altebrando, Roomies‘ narrative is comprised of the back and forth e-mail communication between Elizabeth (EB) and Lauren (Lo), who have been assigned a room together at UC Berkley, as well as their first person narrative of events during that pivotal summer between high school and what comes next.

EB lives with her single mother in a condo on the Jersey Shore (but she doesn’t sound like a character from the reality show of the same name.) Her first e-mail to Lauren is a rant of epic proportions: she’s just had a fight with her mother and she’s already counting the days until she can leave the nest and fly across country.

Lauren has five younger siblings. They are so much younger, in fact, that she’s more like another mother than an older sister. She loves her family, but she has been dreaming about a single room for a while and so the first note from EB comes as something of a disappointment. She imagines writing a reply to EB that says:

I requested a single. All I’ve wanted for the last decade is a room of my own. Some privacy. A place to be alone with my thoughts where they are not constantly interrupted by someone else making some kind of racket, or even just someone else just quietly trying to exist in the same space as me…A “roomie” is really not what I had in mind. Really not what I had in mind at all.

Of course, this is not the note Lauren sends. Her actual reply is much less personal and honest. Nevertheless, despite the awkward beginning, the email exchange between EB and Lauren slowly morphs into something special as each girl tries to navigate that tricky period between “childhood” and “adulthood”.

I remember that summer between high school and university as a very transitional time. I wasn’t actually going away to school; my parents couldn’t afford it. Most of my best friends did go away, though. And so did the boy I fell in love with that summer. I wanted to be someone different – desperately. (Funny, that – almost forty years later, I still often want to be someone different.) Zarr and Altebrando capture that yearning ache so perfectly that I felt myself magically transported back to that long ago summer. Everything was funnier or sadder or profoundly important then.

When you go off to university (which I did the following year) you get to reinvent yourself. The person you were in high school can be magically shed like an old skin; there is no one around who “knew you when” and there’s something pretty amazing (albeit terrifying) in that. But there is also something pretty amazing about being with the people who have known you through all those formative years – people who know your flaws and love you anyway.  I appreciated the way Zarr and Altebrando handled those high school relationships – the push and pull that comes from preparing to make the break and also desperately holding on to something that is important.

Lauren writes:  “There’s this party on Saturday with kids from our high school and she (Lauren’s best friend, Zoe) wants to go and wants me to go with her. I don’t know. I just feel like high school is over…”

EB writes: “Lately my friends don’t talk about anything I find interesting. I’m not sure when that started.”

Over the course of the summer, the correspondence between EB and Lauren becomes more personal as they share details about their last summer at home. I loved each girl’s voice and story. I loved the secondary characters: parents and boyfriends. I loved how EB in particular comes to a deeper understanding of her mother. Perhaps some day my own daughter will understand me a little bit better, too.

Although I would love to follow EB and Lauren through their first year as roomies, I am glad that Zarr and Altebrando decided to end their story where they did. I haven’t read a YA book I have loved as much as this one in a long time.

As my daughter prepares to embark on her own journey I am both elated and terrified. I hope she makes friends like EB and Lauren. I hope she becomes the person she wants to be.

Highly recommended.

Pushing the Limits – Katie McGarry

pushingThe only limit Katie McGarry’s YA novel Pushing the Limits pushed was my patience. It took me forever to get through this brick of a novel which was, by my estimation, about 200 pages too long. And it pains me to say this because if there’s one thing I love it’s a bad boy/good girl.

Pushing the Limits is told in the alternating voices of high school seniors Noah and Echo (and oh, how her name grated). We meet them (separately) in the office of Mrs Collins, “Eastwood High’s new clinical social worker.” We meet Echo first. She’s in the office with her father and pregnant stepmother (slash former babysitter, that’s right, the dad married the babysitter). She’s there because “after the incident, Child Protective Services had “strongly encouraged” therapy.” Echo is reluctant to talk and desperate to know more about “the incident”, an event that left her with horrible scars on her arms.

Noah doesn’t want to spend any time with Mrs. Collins, either. “Look,” he tells her at their first meeting, “I already have a social worker and she’s enough of a pain in my ass. Tell your bosses you don’t need to waste your time on me.” Of course, Mrs. Collins sees straight through the tough-guy façade to the cream puff that lives underneath. No question, Noah is a “bad boy” but he’s been dealt a crap hand: his parents were killed in a house fire and his two younger brothers are in foster care, but not in the same foster home as he is. He’s barely allowed to see them because of his “anger” issues.

Mrs. Collins figures that Echo and Noah would make good study partners and it doesn’t take long before the two of them are concentrating more on each other than on calculus.

And seriously, this exchange (before they are even ‘dating’) just made me cringe:

I smacked my lips like a cartoon character and bit into the succulent burger. When the juicy meat touched my tongue, I closed my eyes and moaned.

“I thought girls only looked like that when they orgasmed.”

Trust me, there’s more where that came from.

I can’t quite decide why Pushing the Limits didn’t work for me.  I started to get irritated by the number of times Noah called Echo “baby” or reminded me of her silken red curls and cinnamon smell. The central mystery (if you can even call it that) of what happened to Echo is revealed ever…so…slowly and when the truth finally makes its way into the light, it’s a bit of a bummer. There was something shrill about these characters and the way they fumbled through their story towards their happily ever after.

Off the Shelf – LGBT Fiction for Young Adults

Listen here.

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia so I thought this was the perfect time to talk about books that feature LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) characters.

First off – I’m no expert so if you are wondering what it all means there’s a great glossary at the UC Davis Resource Centre.

I’ve often talked about how important it is for young readers to recognize themselves in the books that they read, and for that reason it’s obviously important for LGBT characters to have access to books with characters that reflect their own experiences. I don’t know whether those books existed when I was a teen – although that was a million years ago.

I spend a lot of time choosing books for my classroom library. I’d love to have a little bookstore someday, but stocking the shelves in my classroom is almost as much fun. But I digress. When I’m buying books for my class I try to keep in mind all my students – so I have to buy books about hockey and skateboarding and kids from other countries. I have to buy non-fiction.I have to buy easy books and challenging books.  I have to appeal to all my readers and, more importantly, I have to give my kids an opportunity to read books that will expand their worlds. Books have done that for me; I want books to do that for them.

Having the opportunity to read about someone’s journey – regardless of what that journey is – goes a long way to developing understanding, acceptance and the most important human quality – empathy. We seem to be inching our way towards a world of acceptance – lots of positive things happening out there – the straight guy who asked his gay friend to the prom, for example…but the world that I dream of for my own kids is one where people are just people and that kindness extends to everyone and that a story like that is the norm…and therefore, not news, really.

So I have some book suggestions.

16BLEVITHANEvery Day – David Levithan

So every day the main character ‘A’ wakes up in a different body. He spends 24 hours in that body and he is essentially that person. This is a strange way to live, but it gets even stranger when A falls in love with Rhiannon, the girlfriend of one of his ‘host’ bodies. This book really blurs those gender lines and asks its readers to consider what love is and, more importantly, what it is not. I recommend this book a lot in my classroom.

morethanthisMore Than This – Patrick Ness

So everyone knows I am a huge Ness fan and I loved this book, too. The fact that Seth, the main character in this confounding novel is gay is only incidental, really. The novel starts with Seth drowning and then waking up in a bizarre sort of post-apocalyptic world. More Than This is a page turner, for sure. It’s philosophical and difficult and profoundly moving.

aristotle_and_danteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Bejamin Alire Saenz

I just finished this book and I loved it. Aristotle is a 15 year old Mexican American and lives with his parents in Texas. It’s 1987. He’s angry and sort of depressed, too. He meets Dante at the pool and they become friends when Dante (also Mexican-American) offers to teach Ari to swim. This is a coming-of-age story and a story about family and community and it’s a love story. I may have teared a few times reading it. So good.

Here are some other books featuring LGBT characters and I encourage everyone to expand their reading horizons to mark May 17th, sure, but beyond that – let’s make every day a day of acceptance.

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