what i read, what i thought

It must be the twilight zone!  How is it possible that I have read two books for fun in the first month of school.  How unheard of! I can almost guarantee that this will not happen again this school year as we ramp up on course content, grading, and technology integration. But somehow, magically and perfectly, I found myself with the gift of time and filled it with a second novel. It probably also helped that I was flying to Las Vegas and would be trapped on a plane for 5 hours each leg of the journey.

When packing for the trek out West, I brought along Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I am not going to lie. The book’s cover art drew me in.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 10.00.55 AMThe simple design and the starkness that is illustrated is seductive. What could the pages of this neat novel hold? Curious and intrigued, I read through the story of Eleanor and Park on the flight to Vegas not knowing if judging a book by it’s cover would prove a folly.

The novel’s structure is unique and surprising. Each chapter is broken into short sections that take on the perspective of either Eleanor or Park.  They each tell their version of the event or emotion allowing the reader the unique opportunity to look out into the high school occurrences that each protagonist experiences through their eyes. Eleanor is introduced to us as a “big” girl with red hair, lots of curves, and an offbeat fashion style. Set in the 1980s and sprinkled with various references to music and culture from that time period, we learn that Eleanor’s situation at home is rough. It is the definition of rough and the reality of having to manage a house like that with high school is heart-breaking. At yet, despite every reason to complain, Eleanor pushes through each day. She cannot afford new clothes, pencils, real food, or a toothbrush. Her family struggles with their poverty and with an abusive stepfather in silence. And as a result of this, Eleanor is tagged as “other” by her peers.

Park is not quite popular but neither is he an outcast. Operating on the fringes of the popular group, his high school experience is quite typical. His family is not broken, he has access to trends, music, and fashion, and he has friends. Unlike Eleanor, Park has lived in this town his whole life and get its. He enjoys comics and alternative music and even dabbles in a little “guy-liner” to present the rockstar side of him. But, He has the poor fortune of sitting next to Eleanor on the first day of school. In the beginning, he stresses and worries about how she will drive down his social capital. And, yet over time they begin to bond over the comics and music he loves so much. His small kindnesses leave Eleanor love sick. This bus ride bonding becomes so much more as Eleanor begins to break down her many layered walls. Park represents safety, security, and good clean fun, all things that Eleanor is not given permission to even hope for.

Their burgeoning love though cannot hold back the world. As the New York Times reviewer noted, “Park’s parents — two of the best-drawn adults I can remember in a young adult novel — serve as evidence that sometimes love conquers the world, and Eleanor’s family is a reminder that sometimes it doesn’t. As for Eleanor and Park . . . well, I won’t spoil it.”

what i read, what i thought

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I didn’t pick this book off the shelf. It probably would never have been my choice when perusing the bookstore. But, I found it on the first day of school in my desk. It had been left on the last day of school by a student as a thank you gift and it sat in my desk all summer long waiting to be read. Pulling the draw open and finding this bright red book staring up at me was quite surprising.  Finding out that a student had chosen it for me was touching. Sadly, I thought when would I have time to sit down and read this? Then, Labor Day weekend had been a complete and utter wash out. It rained incessantly in Boston and the temperatures dipped low enough to put on cozy sweats. Under these conditions, I curled up on the couch and found myself with just enough time to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. 

I started the book out of a sense of obligation. A student had been thoughtful and purchased me an adventure in writing. It was my responsibility to read this novel so that when I thanked the young man, I could do so with the ability to share and discuss the plot of the novel. I was utterly surprised by how taken into the story I became. I pushed David away when he tried to interrupt my reading. I needed to know exactly what happened between Lou and Will. Set in the present, the novel follows Louisa (Lou) as she is searching for a job in a sleepy town in England whose main attraction is an old castle.  There are not too many prospects for Lou and she finds herself going out to job interviews that are quite lacking and/or disgusting. After a number of factory jobs, Lou finally discovers a care-taker position for a quadriplegic man that pays quite a lot more than the going rate. Intrigued and really unable to let this opportunity pass her by, she responds to the add.

Will Traynor has spent the last two years confined to his wheelchair and trapped in a body that no longer allows him to experience his fast paced, high stakes lifestyle. Forced to withstand daily humiliations and degradations, he has tried to take his own life. His parents, though icy and distant, aren’t prepared to let Will give up on this new life even if it is one that he never imagined for himself. Hoping that they can convince him that life as a quadriplegic can be more, they are given six months by Will to prove it.  In steps Lou, who unbeknownst to her is not being hired for her experience in adult care (since she doesn’t have any) but is being hiring for her attitude. Perhaps surrounding Will with the right people will change his plan of action and convince him not to take his life. Isn’t six months quite a long time after all to change someone’s outlook?

As the New York Times article noted, “Lou has never fully lived; Will has, but no longer can.” This odd duo embarks on a normal routine of life, love, pain, opportunity, loss, regret, doubt, and fear. The friendship that builds between these two unlikely individuals is poignant and endearing. Lou’s determination to impress Will and change his perspective forces her to also challenge herself to live outside of the expected life she planned for herself. As Schillinger reflected, “Moyes’s heroine, if Lou can be so styled, may not be heroic; her male counterpart may be nobody’s idea of a leading man — and yet with Lou and Will she has created an affair to remember.” As the months tick by in their story, it became my signal most important objective to read to the end of the novel to find out if Lou was “successful” in changing Will’s mind. Was Lou enough? Would Will still end his life? What would I do if I were in Will’s place?  The final page of the novel left me…..

what i read, what i thought

-You can’t just make me different and then leave. Because I was fine before, Miles

-I go to seek a Great Perhaps,  Rabelais

-She loved mysteries so much, that she became one, Miles

-How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering? Straight and Fast, Miles and Alaska

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After reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars and being completely swept up in its beautiful tragedy, I decided to try out another of his books for my flights to and from Florida. Remembering a student’s recommendation this time, I selected Looking for Alaska. Immediately I was intrigued by the novel’s structure. Many people define their lives as before and after.  For example: life before cancer diagnosis and life after or life before horrendous car accident and life after. Clearly this novel’s structure suggested this from the beginning.  Each new section of the novel was counting down “100 days before,” “88 days before,”…..I found myself caught up in trying to figure out what exactly are we counting down to? For the longest time I was convinced it was the fall-out from the protagonists’ “school prank” but I was woefully inaccurate. On the other side of the “event” the novel counts again “30 days after,” “100 days after,”….

Speaking of which the protagonists are a dynamic group of misfits who are cooped up in their teenage angst at some prep school in the middle of nowhere. Here they flirt and experiment with life but most often this comes in the form of drug abuses (primarily alcohol and cigarettes), pranking the more wealthy members of the prep community, and testing the waters of sexuality. Much of these dilemmas were real and believable. Pudge (Miles), the Colonel, and Alaska drive the story forward and then turn it in on itself. Pudge is a likable tall, thin, and young Junior who is a bit bookish and not popular. He moves to a boarding school where he meets his roommate the Colonel, a short and pugnacious young man who grapples with his self worth and the meaning of poverty in funny and, at times, sentimental ways. And then there is Alaska. Alaska is the pulse of the novel which is erratic.  The girl who Pudge is consumed by, the girl who is mysterious, sexy, sad, and tragically destined to be the “star” of the fulcrum event of the novel.

At the end of the novel, I found myself googling another title by John Green and then asked myself why?  Why read yet another John Green novel? According to New York Girl for the Guardian, “There is no doubt that John Green is a good writer, and this is why so many people like his novels. He writes what teens want to read, and what he writes is well written. Looking for Alaska does deserve the awards that it’s won, as it deals with some very prevalent topics from young adults, such as self discovery and loss. It is definitely a book which delves into what teenage life is all about, young love and the stupid things you do to impress someone.” And, perhaps because I work with this population everyday and because in the end I am not THAT far away demographically from them these books still remain exciting. Or, perhaps, it is just because they are very well written. Either way, John Green and Looking for Alaska is a book that should be added to one’s summer reading list.

an hour at jamaica pond

Yesterday, David and I took an hour to sit and relax at Jamaica Pond. The weather was absolutely perfect as we watched runners go by, little kids fish, and dogs edge closer to the water for lick or a swim. It was a totally unexpected visit but we had an hour before we were to meet up with our friends Rodney and Jocelyn for dinner so we got ourselves lost at the pond.

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what i read and what i thought

I can’t believe I just finished it!! Reading for pleasure during the school year is practically impossible, but when a friend passed along this book to me and said, “I cannot tell you anything about it but that is was amazing,” I knew I needed to make an exception. Each night I would come home with my stack of papers to grade and lessons to plan and stare at the book on the kitchen table.  When would I ever get the time to crack it open?

Then two weekends in a row the city of Boston was hit by tremendous snowstorms. I woke early these days to make my coffee, nestle in on the couch and begin reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

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As the snow fell in heavy flakes outside my window and as I emptied my coffee cup, the pages ticked off one by one. I wasn’t sure this book would capture my imagination.  The first few chapters were good but nothing that compelled me to want to dedicate my day to the story and to the protagonist, Nick Dunne. Early on I didn’t like Nick, so why finish his story? But, my friend had said this was the type of book that you should only read once you have set aside some ours to get lost.

It was about 50 pages in when I became hooked. As the story of murder, intrigue, and possibilities unravelled I found myself squealing with every new twist and turn.  Just when you think you have a handle on what is going on, the trajectory takes a sharp turn and leaves you biting your nails in anticipation. I could not gobble up the last 100 hundred pages fast enough. As I approached the last few pages, David called out, “You are almost there. You can do it.”  I was hypnotized by Flynn’s tale. Never a fan for CSI or Law and Order, I literally could not stop until the story came to its unexpected conclusion.  It was a twisted end and one I am still deciding it I really “liked” or not, but regardless I recommend this book to the next reader.  Enjoy the ride.