Sunday, January 30, 2011

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a novel that affected me.  I will never be the same again.  It changed my perceptions, shattered a bit of my naïveté, and left me heart-broken, shell-shocked, and breathless.  It is the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read.  That, I know,  is a very strong statement.  But I have never read a novel with such powerfully rendered characters whose voices are simultaneously real and poetic.  Cleave is a genius with words, storyline, and mostly character development. He writes from the perspective of two women – a feat of writing at which I feel many male authors have failed to  find success, but does so with compassion and honesty, maintaining the integrity of both characters.  Little Bee, particularly, is a character who will stay with me for life.  Written as strong, innocent, and yet wise, she embodies perseverance and hope. 

Without giving too much away, as this book should be read with an open mind and few preconceptions, Little Bee is an immigrant from Nigeria who in the past shared a traumatic experience with a young British couple and now, they are forever bonded.  The book is about the lives of two women, Little Bee and Sarah, converging again.  Sometimes the events of our past define us, no matter how hard we try to forget them.

This book will make you uncomfortable at times.  In fact, my husband noted that every time he saw me reading it, I was crying.  But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be read.  If not for the poignant story, then at least for the beauty of the prose. 

Just  make sure you have a box of tissues nearby.

Chris Cleave discusses the development of Little Bee's voice and language:


Friday, January 28, 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

The best books make us think.  More than that, they make us ask questions about our lives, our values, and the decisions we make.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman is that book.  It stays with you long after closing the final chapter.  It is a book that will leave you asking, What would I do?  And whether or not we agree with the main character, Mia, and her final decision, may say a lot about who we are as people.  That revelation may or may not make us uncomfortable with ourselves. 

The novel is set in a small town outside of Portland and Mia is the teenage daughter of a quirky family.  Her parents are former rockers and outspoken liberals who offer unwavering support to their conservative, musically-talented daughter, even if they don’t always understand her. Her younger brother, Teddy, has the passion and energy of his parents and hero-worship for his only sister.

Mia, as the narrator of the story, is soft-spoken and focused on dreams of playing cello at Julliard. At the beginning of the novel, her biggest conflict is how to tell her adoring boyfriend, Adam, that she may be leaving him to attend school across the country.  But in a split second, the author shows us that life can change and that the things that really matter aren’t always what they seem.

While considered dramatic fiction, there are aspects of the paranormal as Mia is subject to an out-of-body experience. Forman develops the characters in Mia’s life through flashbacks.  We come to understand her father’s wit through his snappy dialogue and his sacrifice for his family through friends’ reminiscing.  We see Mia’s mother’s passion through her causes and fierce loyalty and defense of friends and family members.  The development of Mia’s first relationship with eccentric, but sensitive Adam, is beautifully rendered, mixing first kisses with the harmony and complexity of a musical symphony.

This book isn’t about a teenager girl’s struggle to overcome a tough family life.  It isn’t about how parents just don’t understand.  In fact, if anything, Mia’s parents are a bit too understanding, making them seem – at times - too good to be true. This book is about how to say good-bye to that perfect family.  To stay with what is known and loved or venture out into the unknown and certain pain.

Overall, it is haunting, horrific, hopeful, romantic, and thought-provoking.  Read it and ask yourself:  What would you do?

According to Gayle Forman's blog, there will be a movie based on the book and they are in the process of casting. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ellen Hopkins Announces New Book

Perfect will be released in September of 2011 and revolves around the lives of four main characters and their quest for and perception of beauty.  This novel is a spin-off of Impulse.  The cover of this newest work was displayed today during her live uStream chat, during which she discussed her advice for young writers, character development, and upcoming work.  She recommended a website for young authors which gives advice and allows for online publication:  The site can also be found under the Resources page.

For adult fans of Hopkins, she is currently working on an adult novel called Triangles about three women facing mid-life crises. This book is also likely to come out in the fall of 2011.

While her work is very dark and the subject matter heavy, her prose is beautiful and commitment to writing openly and honestly about taboo subject matter is commendable.  Her characters are believable and their journeys and struggles written with compassion.



I am here,
Even when you don’t see me.
Passing time -
An oak tree rooted in the ground,
Surrounded by smiling children
Or scurrying adults.
Never alone,
Always alone.
Quiet in my solitude
With branches waving,
Leaves rustling
Through wind,
Through rain,
Scorching sunshine,
And inner pain.
Still watching,
Still waiting,
Still praying
To be remembered.
Even when you don’t see me,
I am here.

Please, please don’t forget me
Because the ground
Keeps pulling me down
And I need to have a reason
To wave my branches,
Rustle my leaves,
And rise into sunlight.
I hope you know,
I hope you care,
I hope you think of me sometimes.
Lonely in my solitude -
Being pulled down, down . . .
Storm weathered,
Gravity burdened,
Bending to submission,
Needing to be needed.
Still watching,
Still praying,
Still reaching.
I wait for you

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games
There has been one book over any other that I have recommended to my friends, family, and acquaintances in the past year.  The book is one that has captured the attention of the entire nation, selling over 2 million copies of each book in the trilogy, according to Scholastic Inc. (2011).  It is a book about power versus innocence, love and loss, friendship and violence, civil war, survival, and the rebuilding a nation.  While set in the future – a post-nuclear civilization built from the remains of the United States, it has chilling similarities to the present day.

The nation of Panem is divided into 12 Districts (the 13th District rumored to have been destroyed after a rebellion against the Capitol).  Each district is known for its contribution to the overall sustainment of the country.  Katniss, the main character, is from the poor coal-mining district 12.  Poverty is a way of life within the district and in order to survive, Katniss has developed her hunting skills by regularly (and illegally) escaping the boundaries of the district and entering into the wild in search of food.  She has the responsibility of keeping her mother and young sister alive. 

The Capitol maintains control over the districts by hosting an annual lottery with the names of teenagers from 12 to 18 years old to be drawn for the ultimate, televised competition, the Hunger Games.  This competition mirrors the current reality show Survivor in that the contestants – a boy and girl from each district – compete in the wilderness against the other districts’ tributes for the title of champion. Unlike Survivor, theirs is a battle to the death. 

The poorer the child, the more likely his or her name has been entered multiple times into the lottery.  In exchange for government assistance, the needy must sacrifice by adding their name. Because of this, it is no surprise that Katniss’ sister, Primrose, is chosen as a participant, or “tribute.” In an effort to protect her, Katniss decides to take her place in the competition and is joined by the gentle, but determined Peeta.

The novel is fast-paced and engaging.  Katniss possesses intelligence, natural survival instincts, and enough compassion and humanity to feel remorse, regret, sorrow, and resentment at being forced to take human lives.  While the novel is action-packed, it is also at times heart-wrenching.  This is not just science fiction.  It is not simply action-adventure.  Or romance. Or suspense.  It is all of these. 

With the world’s current obsession with reality television and the glorification of immoral behavior for entertainment, The Hunger Games is a chilling reminder of what humanity could become if we don’t reevaluate and prioritize societal values.

If you haven’t read this series, do so immediately!  You won’t regret it.  If you already have, please post a comment and share your opinion.  

Check out of the following website to read critical praise for and more information regarding this series:

Suzanne Collins discusses the classical inspiration behind the series:

Amateur trailer of the novel:

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Last Great Cowboy

The Last Great Cowboy
In Memory of my Grandpa 
 By Brei Wilson

A sturdy, dependable presence.
That’s how I think of you.
Bear-hugging arms,
Sloppy, wet kisses,
Rough whiskers against my soft cheek,
And always a smile on your face
When you see me.
Like it’s just for me – that smile.
With dirt under your fingernails,
Sawdust on your boots,
And a Western in your hands,
You are a present day cowboy.
A hero –
My hero.

Sometimes I think that no one else
Sees me
But you.

They see awkward.
They see uptight.
They see a chubby girl
With braces and a perm
No matter how old I get
Or how long I’ve kept the weight off.
To them, I am still that awkward girl,
Who is a part of the background
Because she lacks their exuberance.
To them, I am like wallpaper.
A family decoration.

But you see me.
And to you, I’m much more than

You offer me praise
To overpower the criticism.
You give hugs
Instead of cold shoulders.
You see my success
And not always my shortcomings.
You see me as beautiful,
Even when I’m not.

Sometimes I feel invisible.
Sometimes I feel overlooked.
Sometimes I give up and get lost in the noise.
Sometimes I stay away because it’s too much.
Sometimes I try too hard to prove
That I am more than just decoration.
But at all times I feel loved by you.

You can’t always hear me,
But I know that you see me.

Thank you,
For being
Solid, sturdy, and dependable.
A working man.
A realist.
A giver of unconditional love.
Thank you for
Bone-crunching bear hugs
And big juicy kisses
And for letting me sit in your lap
With my head on your shoulder.
Thank you for giving me confidence
And for believing in me
When you were the only one,
Because I didn’t even believe in myself.

Thank you for seeing me
And letting me know that you love
What you see.

And I want you to know that
I see you.

We may not live in the
Wild West of your novels.
But with your tough, calloused hands,
Gentle in my own and with my heart,
And your fighting spirit,
To me, you will always be
The Last Great Cowboy.

And long after you ride off into the sunset,
I will love you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Event for Fans of Ellen Hopkins

Ellen Hopkins is an extremely popular author of young adult fiction.  Her books are written as poetry and often revolve around very difficult subject matter - such as drugs, suicide, etc.  She was well-loved by my high school students.

According to her website, she will be participating in a live uStream chat event on January 27th at 6 p.m. (not sure of the time zone), but if you're interested, check it out:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

Complete List:
1.     Dead Until Dark
2.     Living Dead in Dallas
3.     Club Dead
4.     Dead to the World
5.     Dead as a Doornail
6.     Definitely Dead
7.     Altogether Dead
8.     From Dead to Worse
9.     Dead and Gone
10. Dead in the Family
11. Dead Reckoning (comes out in May 2011)

I was hesitant to begin reading this series, because I wasn't a fan of the Twilight series as so many other people were.  I know this makes me one of the few, but I never felt that Stephanie Meyer's writing was anything special and by the second book, New Moon, I was tired of listening to Bella's whining.  (I'm sure I've just made some enemies with that statement, but it's just personal preference.)  I just figured that vampires weren't really my thing.

My good friend Laura was the one who put the first book into my hands.  "You'll like it," she promised, although I looked at her skeptically.  I mean, I had caught clips of the HBO series True Blood which is loosely based on the series and I found it to be a bit vulgar and gruesome.  I highly doubted that I would get any enjoyment out of the book.  Well, I was dead wrong (pun intended).

I found The Sookie Stackhouse series to be completely exciting, sexy, romantic, and absolutely absorbing.  In fact, I read the entire series in a period of a week or two.  The books themselves aren't technically numbered when you find them in the bookstore, but I've listed them in order above.  Dead until Dark is the first and introduces the reader to the dynamic, no-nonsense, telepathic heroine, Sookie Stackhouse.  She is a southern girl from a small town in Louisiana, who waitresses at the local bar, sunbathes on her front lawn during her mornings off, and has a hard time finding a boyfriend due to the annoying talent she has of reading minds.  Her world is boring and predictable until the vampire Bill walks into the bar one night.  Then, her world is turned upside down.  Suddenly, she has met someone whose mind she cannot read and she finds peace in his presence.  In the world Harris has created, vampires have "come out," so to speak, since the invention of a synthetic blood which takes the place of human blood.  Now vampires no longer have to kill humans in order to survive.

A mystery unfolds in each book and Sookie always seems to get dragged into the middle of it.  She is brave and never backs down from a fight.  She is honest, quick-witted, and utterly likable.  While Bill is her initial romance, the books are full of love triangles and compelling, quirky characters to keep readers interested and rooting for their favorite couple.  (For me, it's Sookie and Eric
- but to each his own!)

Harris's writing provides women with what we all need in a good novel: mystery, romance, danger, and a kick-ass heroine.  If you haven't already, get started on this series.  You'll love it!

Below is a short trailer from the series to pique your interest in the books and an interview with the author, Charlaine Harris.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Little Moments Mean the Most (To My Husband)

Little moments mean the most.
Fragments of the day, hour, minute –
happening in seconds,
but seeping into the cracks of my memories,
the nooks and crannies,
the spaces otherwise untouchable,
the way water fills crevasses –
flowing, expanding, caressing
the corners of my heart and mind.

That’s where you are.
Spread throughout me,
All with tiny moments.

The dimple that peeks out
when you look at me.
Warms lips pressed
Absentmindedly against my forehead.
Laughter – quick, sharp -
like the staccato of drums
beating your contentment into my heart.
Thumbprints on my cheeks,
following my trail of tears,
when I have let life overwhelm me.
A strong, steady hand, keeping me upright
when the world pushes me down.

You did not earn my love
with words and promises.
It was those fleeting seconds,
glimpses, kisses, gestures.

The sum of you -
Everywhere –
Spread throughout me.

We are built on tiny moments.

The Help

The Help

Over the weekend, I started and finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I had asked for the book for Christmas simply because it was clearly displayed in every bookstore I visited.  That is always a good indication of a top-selling book, which usually means it's worth reading.

My high expectations weren't to be disappointed.  The novel takes place in Jackson, Missippi, in the early 1960s.  Stockett creates a vivid account of life during the Civil Rights Movement.  She includes real events,  such as the killing of Medgar Evers of the NAACP, and mentions the church bombing in which four children were killed.  She expertly mixes fact with fiction to create characters who could have truly lived at this time.  She even has a main character, Skeeter, find a copy of the Jim Crow laws at the library, which highlights the unjust treatment of African Americans at that time and the absurdity of the laws themselves.

The characters in this book are well-developed and their voices echoed in my head long after I put the book down.  Ms. Stockett did a phenomenal job of bringing each dialect to life and as a result added depth to the characters.  Each was unique, but each was equally compelling.  The three main characters seem very different on the surface level.  Skeeter is a young white woman, who is stifled by her overbearing, critical mother and by the conservative attitudes of the South.  Abeileen is a black maid in her 50s who has raised seventeen white children and currently works in the home of a middle class white woman, who pretends to be in a higher social status.  The woman does not have any interest in her children, and thus, it falls to Abeileen to raise them.  Abeileen has a particular fondness for the young daughter, Mae Mobely, whom she teaches - unbeknownst to her employer - to love herself and respect others for their differences.  The third character is a very short-tempered, heavyset black woman who has trouble keeping a job because she continually talks back to her white employers.  She is portrayed as strong and fearless, but ironically, is in an abusive relationship with her husband at home.

These three women live in very different worlds - white versus black, but fate brings them together when Skeeter, who wants to be a writer, decides to write about something "important."  She realizes a bit too late the danger she has put herself and others into when she begins writing the individual experiences of 12 black maids from her hometown.  Even in keeping their identities a secret, each woman runs the risk of discovery and all of the wrath that may come with it.

This book tells the story of injustice, intolerance, friendship, love, strength, and perseverance.  It emphasizes the bonds that women can build and how, even at the worst of times, good still exits and sometimes, prevails.

See author interview with Katie Couric below