Saturday, March 2, 2013


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Remember how when we were young, we wondered how Beverly Clearly knew exactly how kids thought, acted, and played?  And how Judy Blume understood mixed-up tween emotions, and young love?  I'm convinced that John Green is a closet teenager, because he sure 'gets' high school kids.  I've read Looking for Alaska, and have Paper Towns on my 'to-read' list, but all my students have been telling me to read The Fault in Our Stars.  They were right.  It's been my SSR book at school these last couple weeks, and each day I regretted leaving it behind. Although it's listed as a YA book, it's also been on top of the New York Times bestseller list for weeks.  The main protagonist is Hazel, a high school girl who can't attend high school, a teenager who is never going to be a young woman, and a tough, sassy, realistic fighter-of-thyroid-cancer.  We know from the outset that Hazel is terminal, she's got 'mets' that just don't go away and she can't really breathe without her canula of oxygen.  She has 'normal' parents, an intriguing cancer-support group, an obsession with a book, and walks Augustus Waters.  To say more, would be to give it away.  Let's just say, you will laugh, you will cry (unless your heart is made of stone), and you will never forget the story of some pretty incredible teens.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell
When you read the inside flap of this book, it definitely sounds intriguing...two girls left alone, 'abandoned' by their parents, living with the neighborhood pedophile who feeds them, but where have their parents really gone?  It almost sounds like a gothic mystery, as the setting is the seedy side of Glasgow and secrecy seems to permeate the girls' household and their relationships. Within the first ten pages, I just about chucked it - the woman cannot write, is all I could think.  It was just one comma splice after another - O'Donnell needs to learn what ending punctuation is, seriously.  However, I realize that's my own "English-teacher-issue" so I plowed into the story anyway, and it quickly sucked me in.  O'Donnell creates deliciously quirky characters:  Marnie, the slutty yet brilliant older sister who handles her insane life with shocking equanimity, Nelly, the asperger-ish spectacularly gorgeous but looney-tunes younger sister, the neighborhood pedophile who really isn't a pedophile but a lonely gay men who misses his dead lover, and of course, the creepy parents who loved drugs more than their kids.  Enter a wickedly rigid grandfather and you've got a delightful recipe.  It is quirky, not for people who like 'cookie-cutter' characters and plot-lines, but for those of us who like to color outside the lines, it's a wonderful book.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
If you like stories of Appalachia, the people, their issues, plus a little mystery, this has all those ingredients.  It is a story of a small North Carolina town, where the inhabitants have all grown up in each others' pockets, know all the family secrets, and have a hard time 'policing' their own.  It is the story of a crazy church who likes to 'test' their congregants with lil things like poisonous snakes and fire, and a young mute boy who winds up dead.  While at first, I thought the story was about finding out who killed Stump, it really isn''s more about scarred family ties, unhealthy love, and secrecy that kills.  Three characters narrate the story - Jess, the younger brother, Clem, the local sheriff who has his own demons, and Addie, the elderly midwife who sees what's coming but is helpless to stop it.  I often wished their personal voices were more individualistic - Jess didn't seem to talk like an eight year old boy, nor Addie like an old mountain woman - but the story is good, not great, but good.  So much 'meat' was left on the bone to explore, especially surrounding the creepy pastor, but it would probably be a good book club book just to talk about some of those issues.

Indiscretion by Charles Dubrow
At first glance, I thought...been there, done that.  I've seen the movies and read the books about the perfect couple and the husband who can't keep his pants zipped.  Heck, we've seen that story time and time again in the media, with politicians and CEO's.  However, 24 hours later, with this 388 page book finished, I could argue that point.   Each time I counted down the pages, determined to go to bed when that next chapter ends, yet I just couldn't do it.  First-time author Charles Dubrow can WRITE, yet he doesn't have an ordinary style.  He chooses a Gatsby-esque narrator, a peripheral character named Walter, and quite often he writes in a disconcerting present-tense fashion, when we all know darn good and well that Walt is telling a story of times past.  And with that, Dubrow sucks you in.   The Gatsby connections don't end with the narrators - we have the golden couple, Harry and Claire, we have the 'sinful' city of New York, the summer getaway on Long Island, and a narrator that we question whether to trust, or not. Walter does a good 'Nick Carraway', giving us tidbits of the story, as well as pithy comments about greed, love, youth, etc.  It is the story of how a 'perfect' life can unravel, and it makes us wonder...what is enough, really?  This would be a fantastic book club book, as I cannot wait to discuss it with my friend who loaned it to me (yes, she read it obsessively too).  Fair warning - lots of sex (and I mean lots) - but I didn't feel it was meant in a "Fifty Shades of Grey" kind of way, but more  purposeful in how avarice, gluttony, even selfishness can squeeze one's life into a shape never meant to be.  Shades of a Shakespearian tragedy as well, Indiscretion is a must-read.

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