Monday, May 15, 2017

May 2.0

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Wow, just wow.  This book contains a powerful punch - DO NOT MISS it, trust me.  Taking a page from the news, this debut novel deals with a police shooting of a young black man, followed by both the community and law enforcement reaction.  Told by Starr, a young black teenager who was in the car with Khalil when he was pulled over and shot, this young woman opens up the world of the inner city, of being a black student in an all-white suburban high school, of the anger in a community, of the frustration over injustice, of trying to straddle both worlds.  Starr is a rockstar, plain and simple.  Is she perfect? Nope.  She is sassy, combative, and angry; she is also fiercely independent, brave in the face of death threats and social exclusion, and knows when to shut up and when to step up. The supporting cast are stars in their own right as well: Maverick, Starr's ex-con, ex-gang, grocery-store owning father who loves his family fiercely and is not afraid to show it; Maya and Hayley, Starr's teenage girlfriends who provide two opposing pictures of racial knowledge and ignorance; Starr's siblings - Seven who shows what it means to be a big bother, the step-siblings who provide a look into a family in turmoil, and the baby of the family who quite honestly just made me laugh out loud.  This book will provide many "ah-ha" moments, as well as a deeper appreciation of the bubble where we all reside. I highly recommend this to all ages, all colors, all income levels - the more we learn, the more we can come together, stand together, progress together.

Irena's Children:  The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar J Mazzeo
Do not tell me you are tired of WWII era books after The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See; this non-fiction tale of this most amazing woman is not to be missed, seriously.  I taught Elie Wiesel's Night for years in my high school English class, showing "Schindler's List" occasionally and highlighting other heroes of the era.  However, looking back on it, how many women did I shine a light on?  Yep, none.  Quite honestly, shame on me and shame on Steven Spielberg  as quite honestly, Irena Sendler is a waaaaay bigger hero than Oskar ever purported to be.  Tilar Mazzeo (The Hotel on Place Vendome) has written a deep, thoughtfully researched, and honest story about an extraordinary woman.  It follows Irena's college education as she is influenced by progressive professors, her love affair with a Jewish man imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto, her deep ties with the Jewish underground and partisans as she works both inside and out of the ghetto, and the system Irena and her compatriots use to hide, shield, and save thousands of Jewish children. Irena is an imperfect being, and Mazzeo exposes her foibles as well as her drive to always do what is right, regardless of the personal danger. This book gave me goosebumps and many surprising historical details of which I was ignorant; it is a truly inspirational book.  (And if you have young children, there is also an abridged version written for younger ones).  We need to highlight humanitarians in every part of the world and in every time period; we also need to show that women are extraordinarily strong, intelligent, wily, courageous, daring, heroic beings.

the life-changing magic of Not Giving a F*CK by Sarah Knight
First, let me preference this by acknowledging my love of the F-bomb; yep, it's a good word.  And next, I need to acknowledge, as the youngest child in a normal-dysfunctional family, my pathological need to people-please.  For those reasons and numerous others, I F*cking LOVED this book!!! I used to laugh myself silly when I sold the self-help book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying-Up during my tenure at Village Books; I always wondered "If you need this book to neaten up around the house, will it really change your life?" Hmmm...perhaps it did, as Sarah Knight's parody forced me to look at my own habits.  Shocking, I know, as I normally eschew the typical 'self-help' genre.  However, this book will make you laugh out loud (example: "unplug the family guilt machine before it can suck you in and spit you out like that Nordic assassin did with a corpse and a wood chipper in Fargo").  It will also help readers come to some surprising revelations about what is important in one's life, and what one really should not give a F*CK about in the big picture of the universe and desire for happiness.  Yes, I now have a "F*CK" list and a "Don't Give a F*CK" list that I will try my best to refer to in times of great angst, reminders of how to honor my own needs for time/energy/money without being an 'a**hole', and a greater sense of who and what does deserve my attention and love.  HIGHLY recommend!

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Bryson is the ultimate "Renaissance Man"; he has written non-fiction books on history (One Summer), nature (A Walk in the Woods), travel (The Road to Little Dribbling), and many more.  His foray into science happened twelve years ago with this fascinating read.  After being inspired by Neil deGrasse Tyson's book, I felt a need to more fully understand our earth and how it came to be.  Having read some of Bryson's other books, I knew he would have a more 'science-stupid' approach and I was correct. Bryson looks at some big science ideas (the big bang theory, climate change, continental drift, evolution) and makes them come alive - let's be real, the names alone make my brain dry up!  Yet Bryson's wry sense of humor and depth of knowledge had me listening to the Audible book intently, and I felt like I understand much more than I would have thought.  The idea of billions of galaxies in the universe, the essence of time travel and the speed of light, and even how life began on earth...mind-blowing.  I have come to appreciate the hugeness and awesomeness of our life here on earth, and the infinitesimal existence we really have.  If you're looking for some down-to-earth, science-y kind of reading to stretch your mind, to try something new, this is truly the best.

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
Ah, does one really need another thriller?  On a rainy weekend, sure, why not - and this one is pretty darn good.  Here's the premise: teenage musical prodigy with an IQ of 162 is returning to her musical career after a short break (as in, she was in juvie for killing three passengers while driving intoxicated). Unfortunately, the new town is not going to work for her any more as one of the parents of the dead teens discovers her at opening night.  Subsequently, mom dies and all kinds of weird and wild secrets come out, as we pop back and forth between the crime from two years ago and the investigation into mom's death.  Some fairly nasty characters make trouble in this book, a few heroes, and some well-developed red herrings, as well as a pretty fantastic twister of an ending.  Definitely a page turner - great vacation read:)

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The latest in the Hogwarth Shakespeare series, Chevalier (Girl with A Pearl Earring) takes on the story of Othello, the tragic tale of friendship, love, and the ultimate betrayal.  Chevalier, however, takes the plot line and places it into...wait for it...a fifth grade playground, with each of the five acts a recess, lunchtime, and after school.  As a former elementary teacher, it is quite a brilliant move, as recess is the ultimate social experiment, with friendships lost over not being picked by a kickball team, a love affair that blooms at lunch time and is killed by the end of the day, and schoolyard bullies who rule the school.  In this case, Osei is the new boy from Africa, in a 1972 white school outside Washington, D.C. Immediately, Osei and Dee (ie Desdemona, the hot popular girl, ) become an item, causing Ian (ie. Iago, resident schoolyard bully) to become jealous, Casper (ie. Cassio, the hot popular boy) to become entangled in their web, and even Mimi (ie. Emilia, Dee's best friend) gets her loyalties pulled in opposite directions.  At times, I wanted more complex thinking and writing from this story, yet the voice truly fit those of elementary age children; they were fleeting in their emotions, impulsive in their behavior, and short-sighted over their relationships.  Would you enjoy this book more if you knew the story of Othello?  Absolutely.  Would it be an entertaining companion to the teaching of Othello in your classroom? For sure.  However, it is also another excellent example of how Shakespeare continues to be relevant hundreds of years after his death; he spoke of the most basic human emotions (love, revenge, betrayal, loyalty) that are still wrestled with in today's world.

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