Monday, February 28, 2011

The Swing (Poem by me - little something I threw together)

The Swing
By Brei Wilson

She watched the rope swing -
twisted, sinewy cords,
entwined -
reaching up to embrace
a knotted, leathery tree limb -
strong as iron,
built for endurance
or maybe enchantment,
while the solid wooden seat
swung gently below.
Ready to defy gravity.

She gingerly settled
onto flat, hard, scratched,
weathered oak.
Varnish flaked away -
revealing gray, aged wood
and future slivers.
Memories flittered
around her head
like flies buzzing by or
butterflies tickling her ears.
Here and then gone.
Too fast to catch,
Too intangible to hold.

So she tilted her head back,
clenched her eyes closed,
breathed in shakily,
and abandoned her carefully styled hair
to the bite and tug of the wind
as her legs – so much longer
than in her youth -
Forward and back,
Forward and back.

Her ears rang with echoes
of laughter from her past
and she smiled -
kicking harder,
reaching higher,
because that’s where the laughter was loudest.
In the sky.
Where she felt like she could fly.
Without burden,
Or stress-ladened shoulders.
Forward and back,
Forward and back.

But she couldn’t reach high enough.
The faster her legs kicked,
The higher she flew,
The harder she tried,
To catch the girl she used to be.

But there was only
An empty butterfly net -
no butterflies.
Just a cool breeze,
unfulfilled dreams,
forgotten whimsy.
Tangled hair
and a touch of motion sickness.

Swallowing fear,
and desperate with longing,
she leapt from the swing.
Because maybe in mid-air
she could find it.
In the moment between sky and ground,
flight and landing,
Heaven and Earth,
She could uncover the innocence
buried under the experience.

But the moment was too quick -
the girl she chased too elusive
with her great expectations
and carefree soul.
She was water slipping over fingertips.
She was the cycle of the moon.
She was time ticking past.

The dirt and sparse grass
were not as soft as she remembered.
And a jolt shot through her
when her feet struck the ground –
pain, the jarring reality.
She realized her arms were spread wide -
fingers splayed,
body crouched in upon itself
 for protection
or maybe just balance
in an ever-tilting world.

Stiffly, she straightened to stare
at that tightly woven rope swing,
still rocking and spiraling -
a mischief-maker,
beckoning her.
Just one more time.
One more swing.
One more leap.
One more chance.
Forward and back,
Forward and back.

With regret she turned away
from its taunts.
Because she just learned that
youth does not last.
You can move forward,
But you can never go back -
No matter how hard
You pump your legs
And try to fly.

She walked carefully
across the field to her car,
not allowing herself to limp
though her age radiated up from her ankles
and her spirit felt weakened.
But she didn’t stop.
She couldn’t stop.
So she just kept
moving forward,
only forward,
forever forward.

As her heart and body ached to go back.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

I LOVE this author.  Every single thing she has written has lightened my heart and made me smile.  She delves into the genre of magic realism, which so few adult authors can do well.  Her books are full of whimsy, romance, and enchantment, but set in the real world.  Allen makes you believe that there is something more to life than meets the eye and that there are places where special miracles and magic exist.  I don’t care how old we get, how life’s realities weigh us down, how mature we are supposed to be - everyone wants to believe this.  Everyone has an inner child.  Everyone has a deep, hidden need for a little magic.

Her current novel is no exception.  If I could compare the book to a food, it would be her one of the main character’s signature cakes, the Hummingbird Cake.  It is light, fluffy, and delectable!  You can practically taste the confectionary sugar and smell the aroma of vanilla as you read the words. 

The purpose of this book is not to bury you in harsh realities, compete with the great literary canons, or wear you down with layer upon layer of hidden meanings.  It is not for the critical reader, but for the optimist.  It is written for those of us who need to escape life for a while and remember what is important.  Allen’s books always seem to come back to one central theme and that is remembering who you are and where you come from.  Because no matter how far we travel in our lives, we are linked to the people and the places of our youth.  (Whether we like it or not.)

Her characters are eccentric, unique, and realistic in their search for meaning and most importantly, love.  Julia is a baker, returning to her hometown – Mullaby, North Carolina - to save the family business, but she is desperate to leave as soon as she can pay off the restaurant’s debt.  She ran from the past as a teenager, but in coming home, has to face old scars.

Emily - a serious, thoughtful teenager, has arrived in Mullaby after the death of her mother, only to find that her mother did not leave on the best of terms.  She finds her grandfather to be a gentle giant – literally – who tends to hide from life and she must venture out on her own to prove to the town that she is not the same person as her mother.  And perhaps, if she is lucky, she can redeem her mother in their eyes, or at least, bandage old wounds.

Along the way, other quirky characters are introduced, such as the mysterious Win Coffey and the impossibly handsome Sawyer Alexander.  And the secrets surrounding the quaint town of Mullaby and the notorious Mullaby lights will begin to unravel.

As I have said, my love of a book is based on characterization and Allen does a phenomenal job.  As a reader, you will care for these people.  She does not create characters without flaws, but real people who have faults to overcome and you cannot help but root for them. 

As you read, you will imagine dancing magical lights in the glow of the moon.  You will picture the trail of warm, sugary scents wafting from Julia’s kitchen, calling to those with the power and sweet tooth to see it.  You will watch forbidden love blossom. 

Mullaby is a place you want to be.  So my advice is to curl up and escape there.  You won’t regret it.

***On a side note, I highly recommend her other two novels as well:  The Sugar Queen, and Garden Spells***

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Help (Movie to be Released in August 2011!)

Skeeter speaks with Aibileen

As I recently reviewed the book The Help (see January archives), I felt it was my duty to inform fans that a movie is being made, based on the book.  I have mixed feelings about books made into movies.  On one hand, as a teacher, I think the use of mixed media helps struggling readers to really put the story together.  On the other hand, movies rarely meet my expectations – especially of well-written books.  My vision of the characters is usually so different as to be distracting.  However, there have been exceptions.  One that comes to mind is The Color Purple – both an excellent book and film. 

Here are some factors that the movie has going for it:
1)     The screenwriter/director, Tate Taylor, is a childhood friend of Kathryn Stockett, the author, and I’m sure will work closely with her in order to uphold the integrity of the book.

2)     The studio producing the film is DreamWorks, not some unheard of company – but one created by one of the greatest directors of all time, Stephen Spielberg.

3)     There is some major talent in the cast.  However, a high profile cast does not a great movie make.  It is the combination of actors, screenplay, cinematography, and direction. 

The movie is set to be released in August of 2011.
Here is a list of some actresses and the characters they will portray:
Emma Stone as Eugenia (Skeeter) Phelan

Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan 

Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark

Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook (I have reservations about this casting decision. Hilly is supposed to be quite porky, but this is Hollywood and chubby actresses don't get jobs, I guess.)

Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson (In the picture, Octavia is on the left and Viola, right)

Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters (I just know that Sissy will nail this role!)

Cicely Tyson as Constantine Jefferson

Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote (I could not find a picture where she portrayed Celia - Marilyn Monroe on steroids. I'm hoping they make her blonde and do the original character justice.)

For more pictures from the movie and to follow along in its production, check out its facebook site:

And please, if you haven't read the book already, DO SO!  It is EXCELLENT!!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

More books for THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series!

She isn’t finished writing, yet!  For those fans of the series, Cassandra Clare is releasing three more books to the series.  Are you surprised?  I was!  The next book will be released this April and is called City of Fallen Angels.  It will continue to follow the adventures of Clary, Jace, Alec, and Simon.  The final two installments are called City of Lost Souls and City of Heavenly Fire.  The books will be told primarily from Clary’s point of view, but at times, Jace, Alec, and even Simon. 

City of Bones is in the process of casting for the movie version.  According to Clare’s website/blog, Clary will be played by Lily Collins (see picture below), the director signed on is Scott Charles Stewart, and the screenwriter will be Jessica Postigo.  As with any film, they are proceeding with the hopes that it will be made, but it has yet to get the “greenlight” from Hollywood.

Cassandra Clare will be consulted, but ultimately has little control over the casting and screenplay. 


She played sister Collins Tuoy in The Blind Side and has two other movies in post-production:  Priest and Abduction


He wrote and directed 2010’s movie Legion and also has worked on the visual effects for movies, such as: The Orphanage, Iron Man, Night at the Museum, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I found very little on Jessica in the movie business.  This appears to be her first major movie experience, which to me, doesn’t bode well for the movie.

So – will it make it to the big screen?  Is this Hollywood’s attempt to reinvent the Twilight phenomena?  Will it be good? 

Only time will tell . . . .

For now, check out Clare’s websites and blog:

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

William Herondale is featured on the cover.

Clockwork Angel is the first book in the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare.  The series itself is a prequel to the Mortal Instruments series, which was on the New York Times Bestseller List for over six months and translated into 25 languages.

I am a big fan of Clare’s Mortal Instruments.  Initially, I had been hesitant to read another book involving vampires, but the concept was quite different from Twilight and its clones.  One of my students assured me that I would enjoy it and since we shared a similar love of the Uglies, Pretties, and Specials series by Scott Westerfeld, I trusted his judgment.  (Thank you, Nathan!)

The Mortal Instruments series is set in present day New York, while Infernal Devices takes place at the end of the 19th Century in London.  Both series involve a group of people known as Shadowhunters, who attempt to rid the world of demons.  It is not necessary to read the original series in order to understand Clockwork Angel, but it does set the stage for the relations between the Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc.) and the Shadowhunters in The Mortal Instruments.

This book still showcases Clare’s creativity and innovation, but can be overcomplicated at times and demands more perseverance from a reader than The Mortal Instruments series did.  I consumed City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of GlassClockwork Angel required determination.  It simply wasn’t as enjoyable.

I appreciate Clare’s attempt at adding mystery and new horrors to the plot – for example, the addition of the supreme evil-doer known as the Magister and his zombie-like creations.  Also, the main character, Tessa, is given a special ability, making her desirable to the Magister and the Shadowhunters.

As a reader, writer, and reviewer, my level of satisfaction depends heavily on the characters.  As my husband says, I am all heart.  If I can’t form a connection to one of them - if they have what I consider low likability, then I can’t completely enjoy the book.  I love books that are character driven.  Without characters to care for and believe in, the plot falls flat.  This true with Clockwork Angel.  Some of the characters are too formulaic.  Some are too predictable.  And some even seem too familiar.  For example, Will has the same angst and bad-boy vibe of Jace from The Mortal Instruments.  I adored Jace and his love triangle with Clarissa and Simon, but to see the same situation seem to play out with Will, Tessa, and Jem is almost tiring.  I would like to see truly new characters with new relationship dilemmas.

That’s not to say that all characters are predictable and unexciting.  Tessa’s brother, Nathaniel Gray, is an interesting character if only because of his human failings of greed and ambition.  And it is refreshing to see the eccentric Magnus Bane again.  Jessamine Lovelace only wants to be human and tries to deny her heritage as a Shadowhunter.  These characters offer the readers something different from the original series. 

The book begins with excitement as we realize that Tessa has the ability to change form, but cannot be categorized as a true Downworlder as no one has seen this power before.  She herself is only learning of her talent.  The momentum of the plot seems slow and plodding, but reaches an exciting climax near the end when the identity of the Magister is revealed and some characters meet their deaths against an army of man-made, but magically enhanced, robots.

According to author Cassandra Clare, there will be two more books in this series:  Clockwork Prince (Release date of September 2011), and Clockwork Princess (Release date of November/December 2012). 

As I have made it through the first in the series, I do expect to read the others, if only to see if they get better.  (I hope so!) My husband is in the process of trying to finish the first, but he keeps telling me that he’s 100 pages in and is still confused.  That may be something you want to keep in mind if you are not a stubborn, determined-type of reader.  However, if you liked the Mortal Instruments series, you may want to give it a shot.  

I don’t regret reading it.  My expectations may have just been too high.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sorry for the Delay in Posts . . .

I just wanted to send out a short apology for not posting in almost a week.  Unfortunately, I've been under the weather and have lacked the energy to both read and surf the net.  My husband and I took a trip to Santa Fe as a belated Valentine's Day gift to each other and I wasn't able to do anything but sleep in the hotel room. :(

But, the good news is that I'm on the road to recovery and expect to have a review for you later today. :)  

On a side note, I wanted to search for and review a Santa Fe bookstore, but couldn't get up the energy.  I leave for Las Vegas Friday for a week and plan on scoping out the literature scene!

Thanks for understanding!

This picture of my dog is a representation of me this past week - lazy, lazy, lazy (and sick!).  But she's WAY cuter than I was, believe me!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I knew that I had to read this book when I saw a trailer for it at the movie theatre.  Its official release date is this Friday, February 18th, and I always need to read a book before I see the movie version of it.  Usually, I like the book much better and never make it to the movie because I know I’ll be disappointed.

Let me start with the positives.  First of all, I love science fiction.  This book is not about vampires or werewolves or fallen angels – which is really refreshing.  In fact, while maybe not the most original of ideas on the surface level, it is definitely interesting. 

The main premise is that nine Lorics from the planet Lorien are being raised on Earth to prepare to some day return to their ravaged planet.  (On a side note, Pittacus Lore is one of the elders who created the plan to save the planet by sending these nine to Earth and interestingly, is the author of the book – which I LOVE, as a twist!)

A race from another planet, the Mogadorians from the planet Mogadore, started a war on Lorien and basically wiped out their race, except for the nine toddlers and their handlers who escaped on a ship to Earth.  The Mogadorians had destroyed their own planet by abusing its resources and were looking for another home. 

As the Lorics move into adulthood, they begin to uncover special powers – or Legacies – which will help them battle the Mogadorians who are now searching for them on Earth.  The power of the legacies have made it impossible for the Mogadorians to kill the Lorics, except in a special order.  Because of this, the Lorics dispersed upon arrival on Earth and have no contact, making it more difficult for the Mogadorians to find them.  Thus, the main character, who changes his identity constantly for safety reasons but in the book is known as John Smith (Number 4), and his guardian Henri are always on the move, prepared to leave a location at any moment, making it hard to form any lasting relationships with humans.

Now comes some of the negatives.  At the beginning of the book, the first three are killed, so John’s number is up.  Henri has hidden them in a small town as they await their next move.  John is trying to acclimate into the new town as the new student, but this is the part where I begin to lose interest.  Throughout the book, John makes extremely poor choices.  Knowing that the survival of his race depends upon him and that he is the next in line to die, he attempts actions that make him stand out from others.  Generally, I like the kid, but I found myself continually smacking my head and thinking, You idiot!  Why did you do that? And the fact that Henri lets him get away with this behavior without moving them on to a new location is also difficult to believe, since it seems he never allowed it in the past and the stakes have definitely been raised this time around.

Part of me wants to excuse John for being a hormonal teenager, but when his entire planet depends on  him for survival and continuance, I find it hard to believe he allows a crush to detract him from his crucial goal. 

The characters with depth are John, Henri, and John’s new friend, Sam – but the rest are two dimensional, including the crush, Sarah, which makes it harder to see her as worth John giving up his important mission. 

Too much of the plot is spent fighting the school bully.  The real action only comes at the end.  While it is a quick read, I still expected more.  I do believe, however, that a sequel to this book may be more promising as most of the storyline has been set.  The real action, in book number two, can now begin.  I only hope Number 5 has a bit more common sense than Number 4 – John.

The trailer definitely looks promising! Check it out:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Best Bookstores!

I've started a page (see side panel for Best Little Bookstores in America!) describing some of the best bookstores I've come across in my travels and also, those recommended to me.  Check them out, if you're interested.  The first two are located in Iowa and Oregon, so if you're in the area, make a stop.  It's worth it!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

This young adult novel was recommended to me by a former co-worker in South Carolina who teaches a high school class which focuses on current young adult novels.  She seems to really have a finger on the pulse of the young adult fiction world and I’m so grateful for her recommendations!  Not only do her students get to read popular YA fiction, she also works to bring the authors into the classroom through multi-media conferencing – Skype.  Kudos to you, Susan, for bringing the very best to education!  (On a side note, if this is something you’d like to consider for your classroom, check out the following website – also found on my Resources page:

Terra Cooper is a high school senior who is on a quest for beauty.  More than that, she is on a quest to find herself.  All of her life, she has been “cursed” with a port-wine stain (birthmark) which stretches across one side of her face and she has undergone surgery after surgery to lighten it.  None of these procedures was successful. 

Terra and her brothers were named after lexicon from geographic maps, as their father was once considered an expert on the subject.  But after staking his reputation on a falsified Chinese map, he lost all credibility and let this one mistake define him - just as Terra, through his constant criticisms of her face, lets the stain define her.  Terra’s father’s failure resonates throughout the household.  He allows no one happiness since he feels none - only humiliation.  His verbal abuse has forced her brothers to move away and she spends her time at home trying to blanket the barbs aimed at her mother. 

When Terra and her mother have the opportunity to visit the oldest brother in China, they cling to it.  Their journey takes them around the globe literally, but ultimately forces them to look deep within their own hearts for their individual truths. 

This book is reminiscent of Sarah Dessen's work in the fact that family conflict is a central theme.  Terra is strongly written as a girl with beauty and talent beyond the obvious.  Her family members are each unique and realistic in their response to the father’s verbal abuse.  And I love how the physical quest becomes more of a individual quest for enlightenment.  Maps do not have all of the answers.  As Terra comments at the beginning, “all maps lie” and it is only going off her known course – her individual map – that she is able to see the world and all of its subtle and unique beauty.

I recommend this book to fans of Dessen, as well as those who simply like to read about a character’s transformation.  There is always a lessen to be learned that we can relate back to ourselves.  And what a wonderful heroine to teach girls that beauty is more than skin deep.  

There are moments when I felt the book dragged a bit, but I stuck with it.  It has predictability, but it is the characters that drive the story and I had to find out if the relationship with the father would change in the end. Also, it is not without romance, betrayal, and redemption, which are always great elements of a teen drama.

Check out the author's blog to find out more about this book and others she is working on!

Friday, February 11, 2011

2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults

Every year, the American Library Association comprises a list of the 99 books considered the best fiction of that year.  The target audience for the books is 12 - 18 years old (although many adults enjoy them, too!).  The basic criteria is that the fiction be of good quality and appeal to the appropriate age group.  Below is an annotated list of the top ten in no particular order. 

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly - Andi is traumatized by the death of her brother and is sent to live with her father in Paris.  Through the discovery of a mysterious diary, she may be able to pull her life together again.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride - Sam uses newly discovered powers to try to defeat a corrupt rival and save the lives of his friends. (Recommended by Sherman Alexie -who is an AWESOME author!)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi - Nailer, a boy who scavenges old ships, finds his life suddenly changes when a rich girl and her beautiful vessel wash ashore. (My husband read and liked his previous novel The Windup Girl - he's not a reader, so this is a big compliment!)

by Andy Mulligan - three boys find an item of value while digging through the trash and face a corrupt politician who is after it.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta - Finnikin, along with his fellow exiles, attempt to return to their cursed homeland of Lumetere.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Saenz - 18-year-old Zach enters into therapy in an effort to remember the event that haunts him and gives him nightmares.

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins - a refugee and soldier from opposite sides of a war meet and come to terms with what it means to be "one of his people."

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson - a journey across the country forces two characters to come to terms with loss.

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt - A soldier returns to be hailed as a hometown hero, but he is not the same and it is his younger brother who helps him to find himself again.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick - a boy fights for survival in the tundra after his father dies and a man comes looking for money owed to him.

The books chosen represent a variety of genres from fantasy to thriller, but I look forward to reading each and every one of them this year.  I encourage you to do so, too!  Reviews will follow! :)


Thursday, February 10, 2011

First Kiss (short fiction)


I remember the chill of the night air and the way my body trembled - starting with my heart, traveling through my limbs and vibrating my soul.  To steady myself, I hugged my legs to my chest.  It was not the cold, but the closeness that shook me.  Fear does this.  Love does this. But he thought it was the cold. 
So, he edged closer as we sat on the picnic table, hidden behind the trees in my darkened backyard.  The light from the back porch crept into our wooded shelter, but without invading our privacy.  Our faces remained shadowed.  Our vulnerability hidden.  We were safe.  The deep-throated melody of the forest’s frogs mixed with the hum of faraway traffic and the pulsing beat of my heart. His breath – close, quick, and deep – added to the night’s song.
I glanced cautiously at him to decipher his expression, but the shadows crept across his face, like the tide creeping slowly up a beach in moonlight.  I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile and the hint of a dimple.  I knew he was staring at me. I imagined his eyes – light blue and passionate, creased at the corners.   I suspected that now, they were filled with an unnamed emotion.  One that was new to both of us. 
My body continued to be wracked with shivers – my teeth clattering.  He held me tighter.  I let the skin of my arms melt onto the warmth of his, but it only caused my inner trembling to worsen. 
“Are you okay?” he whispered, his lips against my ear.  The heat from his breath shot electricity through me.  My vision blurred and my head got light.  No one made me feel the way he did – as if I was the only person in the world.
“Yeah,” I answered quietly, a tremor in my voice.  But I’m afraid of this. I leaned my head against his shoulder and felt the heartbeat in his neck.  It was quick, like mine, as if he’d just stepped off a roller coaster and adrenaline was pumping through him. I couldn’t bear the anticipation anymore.  I was ready to face my fears.  I was ready to fall, ready to fly, ready to let him in. I lifted my head towards his and felt his soft breath on my lips, waiting for my approval. My heart stopped.  I tilted my head up to meet him.
Slowly, gently, he kissed me.  I tasted mint.  It was simple.  It was beautiful.  It was my first.  My body relaxed.  My fear was still there, but my heart was filled.  It was worth it: the fear, the vulnerability, the uncertainty.  I smiled against his lips and breathed in his scent – a mixture of fabric softener, Eternity cologne, and the essence of him.  Moonlight peeked through the leaves, casting us in patches of light – our own version of Heaven.  Suddenly, my life felt full of possibilities, and tomorrow was as far away as good-bye.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Exciting March Book Release

JODI PICOULT - Sing you Home
Coming March 1st

As one of my very favorite authors, Jodi Picoult writes books that make you think by delving into cultures and subcultures that you may not be familiar with.  She tackles controversial issues, such as teen suicide, school shootings, religious stigmata, witchcraft, Asperger's Syndrome, and the list goes on and on.  Her themes usually blur the lines of morality, making you question what is right.  Her work is well-researched and has to power to open your mind to ideas and beliefs you may have once been closed to.  Usually, her books are unpredictable, with a multitude of characters who offer different perspectives on the same issue.  Her newest release focuses again on a very current and controversial issue.  In this story, a lesbian couple fights for the right to start a family.  Always thought-provoking, I look forward to reading her newest novel and encourage you to do so as well!  

If the topic of this is not something that appeals to you, I recommend The Pact or Keeping Faith - two of my favorites.  I listened to House Rules on my long drive from South Carolina to New Mexico this fall, but had trouble with the plot.  I felt that the entire novel could have been saved about 200 hundred pages had one simple question been asked:  Did you kill her?  However, this is the only book of hers that I found disappointing and do highly recommend that everyone give her a chance.  You'll be hooked! 

Monday, February 7, 2011

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Polygamy has long been a controversial and complex issue.  With the emergence of shows, such as Big Love and Sister Wives, and the recent arrest of Warren Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the interest in polygamy and the psychology behind it has grown.  Fundamentalist groups, such as Jeffs’, have broken away from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, claiming that only in having multiple wives will a man and woman enter into Heaven. 

Having little knowledge of the history behind the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and being more than a little fascinated by the idea of multiple wives, I happily picked this book up at a charming bookstore in Ottumwa, Iowa, while visiting family for Thanksgiving.  In addition to my interest in learning more, the fiction-lover in me was drawn to the mystery of a murder within one of these secretive, religious compounds.

This thought-provoking novel simultaneously tells two tales, both involving polygamy.   One is of a woman, Ann Eliza, proclaimed to be Prophet Brigham Young’s 19th wife (although her true number was never officially determined), before she separated from him in 1875 and launched a nationwide campaign against him and the polygamy reportedly practiced at that time by the Church of the Latter Day Saints.  This portion of the story delves into the history of the religion, beginning with Ann Eliza’s mother, Elizabeth, meeting the original prophet Joseph Smith, through their journey with him and then Brigham Young to Utah - away from religious persecution - to the building of the great Salt Lake City.  It traces the roots of the religion, emphasizes its foundation of unconditional love, but mostly focuses on the doctrine of polygamy established by Joseph Smith and its effect on the men, women, children, and the religion itself.

The other story is set in the present day and follows a young man’s investigation into his mother’s arrest for the murder of his father.  She, too, is a 19th wife from a fundamentalist group called the Firsts, who have separated from the Mormons.  Jordan Scott is an outcast from the fundamentalist sect he was born into, like most other boys his age who offer too much competition to the older men.  Early in his teens, he is driven into the middle of nowhere in Utah and left.  Through strength of will and perseverance, he survives to build his own life in California, only to return in an effort to save the mother who helped cast him off.

Mixing intriguing historical research with fiction, Ebershoff allows the reader to better understand the complexity within the Mormon religion, or more accurately, the emergence of polygamy as an initial doctrine of the religion and its effects, both in the past and present.

This book was thoroughly researched and through both original writings from the historical figures themselves, as well as those fictional but inspired by them, the author does a wonderful job of depicting multiple views and truths from the past.  Through the character’s narratives, it becomes clear that there is no solid truth and that each person viewed polygamy from a different light.  Each character, whether historical or completely fictional – such as Jordan - is flawed, whether by lust, ambition, vanity, or simply the desire for acceptance.   No human is perfect.  This may be one of Ebershoff’s lessons.  Ironically, while Jordan’s character is the complete opposite of what is valued in his religion – by definition, he is the most imperfect - he is the one character who seems to have the most integrity. 

This novel is difficult to get into at first as it switches quickly between past and present and at times I found the historical accounts to be lengthy, but it is well worth the effort.  It is a book that teaches more than just history; it teaches us about human nature.  While the idea of polygamy seems completely illogical and harmful, Ebershoff shows us how to some it could have legitimacy.  Also, Jordan’s quest to rescue a mother who values her religion above him is compelling and heart-breaking.  Everyone wants to belong.  Everyone wants to be loved.  It’s just amazing the lengths some will go to fill this emptiness.  And what kinds of lies do we tell ourselves in order to be “happy,” in order to “belong?”

Portrait of Ann Eliza:


Friday, February 4, 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Even my hubby, Garrett, liked it. (Silly guy!)

Written by awarding-winning novelist Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, is a novel that smartly and humorously delves into the issues of discrimination based on social class and ethnicity, alcoholism, first love, self-confidence, and a teenage boy’s quest for success.  It is a boy’s journey from what he has known and loved (and sometimes hated) – his home on the reservation – into the world of the whites; a world in which he never thought he’d belong.

I originally picked up this book because of the title.  I thought the idea of a “part-time” Indian was interesting, and having recently moved to the Southwest, I wanted to better understand the cultures and sub-cultures I would find here.  I am constantly trying to read books that teach me about cultures other than my own.  As a teacher, I recognize that our world is diverse and everyone has a story.  One culture that I had never read about was that of the modern Native American.  What I learned was both heartening – the bond of love and loyalty established within a deeply rooted community, and disturbing – the almost inescapable fall of the tribesmen into depression and self-destruction.

Junior, the main character, was born different.  He had too much cerebral spinal fluid and wasn’t expected to live, especially not without permanent brain damage. Well, Junior is a survivor, as is shown time and again throughout the novel.  He uses sharp wit and self-deprecating humor to make light of an often tragic existence.  He draws to relieve the pressures of life and express his true feelings. His best friend, Rowdy, expresses himself differently – he uses his fists, like most of the other young boys on the reservation.   

Junior’s life is not easy.  He is small and clumsy, a result of his condition.  Also, he helplessly witnesses the continual cycle of his family and tribe members be sucked into the unforgiving grip of alcoholism and violence.  On the Spokane Indian Reservation, it is the norm, not the exception.  Junior unconditionally loves his family and worships his oldest sister, but he knows that if he doesn’t get out of the reservation, he will become as depressed and angry as everyone else. 

It is a guilt-stricken reservation teacher who approaches Junior with the idea of leaving the reservation to go to public school.  No one in his tribe has done this before, which makes Junior a traitor to his people and at the public school, as the only Native American, he is an outsider.  Caught between two worlds, Junior must find his way and find himself. 

Most people never leave their hometowns.  Fewer still leave their social class.   Junior must face the betrayal felt from his tribe, the distrust of his new classmates, and forge ahead into an unknown future.  This is something many of us will never do – are too afraid to do.

With the help of illustrator Ellen Forney, Junior will make readers laugh and cry.  He is the quintessential teenage boy from his obsession with a white girl to his quest for respect from other boys.  He is immensely likable and a true hero.

What a great book!

FYI to parents and educators:  While parts of this book are hilarious and honest – the true mind of a hormonal teenage boy, please read before buying for your children/students.  You may not be comfortable with all content.

List of Awards for this book:
New York Times Notable Book of 2007
#1 Book Sense Bestseller
Publisher Weekly Best Book of the Year
A NAPPA Gold Book
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
An Best Book of the Year
Kirkus Reviews Best YA Book of 2007
A BBYA Top 10 Book for Teens

Student-made trailer from Youtube:

Ellen Forney (illustrator):

Sherman Alexie:

Thursday, February 3, 2011



The SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Carolinas Chapter created a grant in honor of beloved author Paula Danziger, who passed away in 2004, as a way of connecting children to reading through their favorite authors and illustrators.

The Amber Brown Grant is available to any school with an interest in having a guest author or illustrator, especially those schools with low funding that might not otherwise have this opportunity.

The awarded school will receive an expense paid, full day visit with a respected author or illustrator, as well as a $250 stipend towards books.  The runner-up will receive $250 worth of books.

The deadline is March 1st, 2011.  More details, as well as the application can be found on the following website:

Paula Danziger talks with a 3rd Grade class:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

I must admit that this is the first book I have read by this author.  It was given as a Christmas gift and after scanning the synopsis on the back, I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about it.  It seemed predictable and familiar, as if this story has already been told by others.  In short, a woman discovers her child’s likeness on a missing child flyer and begins to question the authenticity of her adoption of him.

I’m happy to announce that, in spite of my initial misgivings, I truly enjoyed this book.  In fact, I devoured it – beginning and finishing it the same day.  (Okay, technically, I finished it in the wee hours of the next morning.)  I expected a drama, but what I read was a suspenseful thriller involving a smart, truth-seeking heroine – mother - with an unwavering moral compass. 

The mother, Ellen Gleeson, is a journalist – a hunter of the truth who cannot stop the investigation into her son’s identity, even if it means losing him forever.  She is intelligently written as someone who questions her morals, her rights as an adoptive parent, and her family’s advice, but ultimately follows her heart.  How can she live with the knowledge that another mother is desperately searching for her son? 

She struggles with what it means to be a mother – the unbreakable bond, the undying love, and the often heart-wrenching decisions made in the best interest of the child.  She imagines the loss the abducted child’s mother must feel.  She feels it herself with thoughts of her son being taken back.  What she doesn’t expect is the deceit and corruption surrounding the situation.  In her pursuit of justice, she finds herself deeply entwined in a conspiracy with fatal consequences. 

In this novel, nothing is as it seems, but Ellen’s search for the truth is methodical and intelligent, although her dilemma itself is heartbreaking.  The author deftly depicts the love between Ellen and her son, Will, through the realistic dialogue, laughter, and frustrations, which come with motherhood. 

Even if you aren’t a mother, this is worth the read.  It is a quick, entertaining book, which does leave you with the questions.  What if it was your child?  Would you search for the truth and risk everything?  Or would you quietly discard the flyer and live life as if nothing has changed, keeping your family together?