Saturday, April 30, 2011

Two Focused Workshops: Bringing More to the Story and Revision Can Be Fun

Nevada Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)


Two Focused Workshops: Bringing More to the Story and Revision Can Be Fun


Join award-winning picture book author/illustrator Jim Averbeck for two focused workshops, Bringing More to the Story and Revision Can Be Fun, on Saturday, June 4, 2011 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Las Vegas Day School, 3275 Redrock Street, Las Vegas. The workshop is targeted for illustrators, author/illustrators and picture book authors wanting a better understanding of the marriage of words and illustrations. Illustrators are asked to bring a two-page spread for critique and discussion.

Workshop Fees: Free to SCBWI members who pre-register or $5 at the door. Non-members are welcome, registration fee is $40; join SCBWI and the $40 fee is fully refundable with proof of membership July 15, 2011. This is made possible, in part, by an illustrator grant from SCBWI International.
To register go to For more information call 702-290-3190 or email
Jim Averbeck is the author of the critically-acclaimed Except If and winner of a Charlotte Zolotow Honor for his first book, In a Blue Room . He lives in San Francisco with his partner and their dog. He can be found online at  and
SCBWI is a professional organization that acts as a network for writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, educators; anyone with an interest in children’s literature. Members share information in over 70 regions worldwide. Membership in the international organization automatically makes you a member of your local region. SCBWI members and "friends" participate in critique groups, retreats, seminars and other activities (

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Good News/Bad News for Kathryn Stockett, Author of THE HELP

1.  The Help will be released in paperback this week.  This bestselling book, which has won numerous awards and gained praise from major magazines around the country, will now be more affordable!  So, if you haven't had the chance to read it (or the hardcover version seems a bit too pricey), you now have the chance!
2.  The movie version, starring many well known actresses - such asEmma StoneAllison JanneyBryce Dallas HowardViola DavisSissy Spacek, and Octavia Spencer - is to be released this summer, August 12th.  As one of many fans of the book, I can't wait!
1.  Kathryn Stockett is being sued by her brother's long-time maid, Ablene Cooper, for basing one of her main characters, Aibileen Clark, on her without permission.  According to Cooper, she asked that Kathryn not put her likeness or name in the novel and yet, Aibileen is a strikingly similar name to Ablene.  Both the real woman and the fictional character were referred to as Aibee and both have a gold tooth.
2.  Stockett's brother and sister-in-law stand firmly behind the lawsuit, which could make a definite rift in a sibling relationship.
The following article gives more specifics on the lawsuit and raises the question, how much should an author be allowed to borrow from real life?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Consequences of Immortality: Read about Henrietta Lacks!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot
(Book Recommendation)
Picture from

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not a memoir, but it is a story of sorts.  In fact, it is a combination of stories entwined together by one common link, Henrietta Lacks, and the cells taken from her without consent, which changed the world of science as we know it, and forever affected the family she left behind. 

The author, Rebecca Skloot, spent ten years writing this book due to the amount of research, interviews, finding the right editor and publisher, but mostly due to the emotional toil it took on her as she witnessed the pain the story caused the family of Henrietta Lacks (particularly the unforgettable daughter, Deborah Lacks).  Skloot wanted to tell the story truthfully from all sides – the scientific perspective as well as the family’s perspective. 

Here are SIX reasons you should read this book:

1.  You will learn more about the history of cell research, cell cultures, genetics, and the process of scientific research than you probably ever remember learning in school.  And, here’s the kicker, it will interest you.

2.  You will be introduced to a family full of unique personalities whose trials and tribulations will astound, shock, and touch you.  (Quite honestly, I finished reading this book while peddling a stationary bike at the gym and I was choking back tears as my nose was running. So consider yourself forewarned – read privately and save yourself some embarrassment.)

3.  You will learn that research has at times had a sordid and often unethical  history.  It could anger you.  It could sicken you.  But, hopefully, it will make you think and question the ethics of today’s science and research. 

4.  The author, Rebecca Skloot, managed to balance the conflicting issues, scientific experimentation versus the affects on the family, very well.  Scientists are not evil, but there are some moral questions that may need to be addressed in the future.

5.  This book is not just about science, it is about spirituality.  Although Henrietta Lacks never gave her consent to have cells taken from her, she has – in a way – managed to live on through those cells, save lives, and change medicine.  According to her family, she is an angel.  Even to scientists, she is something of a miracle because her cells could do what none others could: divide, multiply, and live forever.  Scientists – especially cancer researchers – have an unlimited supply of cells to work with in their quest for a cure for cancer.

6.  But mainly, read this book to find an answer or at least an explanation for this fact:  Henrietta’s cells have changed medicine, yet her family cannot afford health insurance. How can this be?  Is it right?

Author's Website:

Friday, April 22, 2011

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

 by Jennifer Donnelly

This YA novel is essentially historical fiction with a twist.  The main character, Andi Alpers, lives in present day New York, but a set of circumstances sends her overseas to live with her father where she discovers a secret journal written by a girl, Alexandrine Paradis, involved in the French Revolution.  The book follows Andi’s present life, but includes excerpts from Alexandrine’s diary.  And the twist comes when Andi finds herself transported back into 1795.

The book immediately pulls you in as we are introduced to Andi – angry and guilt-ridden – who gets pleasure from biting comments made to her classmates.  She hurts and she wants others to hurt as well.  Her grades have fallen, she has lost most of her friends within her exclusive private school, and it becomes obvious that she suffers from depression mostly brought on by a tragic accident, which took the life of her younger brother.  Add to this the fact that her mother seems to have lost her grip on reality and her father has left them for a younger woman and it becomes clear why Andi is in pain.

Andi harbors guilt over the accident, the details of which are only revealed later in the book, and repeatedly thinks about suicide.  Her only solace comes from her music.  When she plays the guitar, she can lose herself in it.  She can release her emotions, express herself, through the music. 

As a character, her pain is realistic and her reactions relatable.  She is possessed by inner demons and as a reader, she leaves you fascinated, empathetic, and curious to know more.  Donnelly did a wonderful job bringing to life the true thoughts and actions of a young girl battling severe depression.  Andi is not unlike many teenagers who hide their pain under a tough exterior and secretly hope for someone to love them enough to help pull them out of the darkness.

After learning that she is failing school, her father reemerges into her life – with his own guilt and inner demons.  During her winter break, he takes her to Paris where he is working on a project involving the identification of a heart, which has been preserved for a couple hundred years and is thought to belong to the young prince of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. 

The diary of Alexandrine has been hidden inside an antique guitar-case that Andi finds.  Inside of telling her father about her find, she gets caught up in Alexandrine’s story.  So caught up, in fact, that she is transported back in time to finish Alexandrine’s mission.

Donnelly’s book was engaging and unique, but what I loved most was how much I learned about the French Revolution.  To be honest, before reading this novel, I knew very, very little.  This book teaches as well as entertains.  Often, we hear more about the wrongdoings of the royals in power and our hearts and bias go to the poor rebels.  This novel shows us both sides.  We not only get to witness the king and queen’s obsession with luxury – ultimately their downfall as their kingdom suffers from poverty – but we also get to see that there is corruption within the ranks of the rebel faction.  True to life, neither side is completely good nor evil. 

Some moments in the book seemed to drag and I was a bit disappointed that Andi didn’t “transport” into the past until far later in the book than I expected, but it was a good read.  And thinking back on it, the reason for this late transportation makes complete sense. 

Donnelly kept me guessing until the end as to the outcome of the lives of Alexandrine and the little prince, as well as the true story behind Andi’s brother’s death.  And, of course, this made it hard to put the book down since I was invested in learning the answers. 

There are many lessons to be learned from this novel.  But ultimately, it drives home the fact that we are not perfect.  We make mistakes, but that we can work to redeem ourselves.  

Author's website:

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

This review may be a little late in coming, especially since the movie has already been out for weeks.  But I refuse to watch a movie based on a book without reading the book first and I really wanted to see the movie.  (With secrets hopes there would be scenes of a shirtless McConaughey!)

The book differs from the other work I’ve read by Connelly in the fact that it revolves around a defense attorney.  Some mistakenly assumed the author was Grisham because he is more well-known for his suspenseful, courtroom fiction.  But Connelly has certainly proved he, too, can succeed in this setting.

It took me a while to get pulled into this book.  I have to admit that.  I’m not much for lawyer jargon and there were multiple cases the main character, Mickey Haller, was working on that didn’t seem relevant to the plot.  However, I later discovered that some of his clients would reappear and be pertinent to the major case Haller becomes involved in.  These small cases also served to develop the character of Haller.

Mickey Haller is one of the main reasons this book works so well.  He is a defense attorney, which for some, immediately stereotypes him as a gold-digging, immoral sellout.  He defends people who, in most cases, are truly criminals and he is so good at his job that he either gets them acquitted or has the charges reduced.  He has built a favorable reputation among the criminal element and his services are often sought.  In some ways, Haller is in it for the money.  He has to be in order to pay his private eye and secretary (who also happens to be one of his ex-wives) their wages.  In fact, it is this ex who weeds out the clients who are unlikely to pay Haller’s fees.  He doesn’t waste his time working without the guarantee of a profit.

But Haller is not at all unlikeable.  Yes, he is focused on money.  Yes, he defends criminals without losing sleep over it.  But we also learn that he listens to hard-core rap music in order to better understand his clients.  We learn that he recognizes that life has treated his clients unfairly and a life of drug dealing and prostitution is the norm.  For the poor, jail time is inevitable.  And in this way, we see that he may just be seeking to even the playing field called life. 

Haller is a complex mix of bad boy with moments of conscience and underneath the tough exterior that reality has forced upon him, he only wants to help.  And perhaps this is why both of his ex-wives still love him and stay in touch.  This, and the fact that he is witty, charming, and handsome help, too.

Mickey Haller gets the client of a lifetime – a rich man who is accused of murder and the paycheck for getting him acquitted will likely be enormous.  Haller believes he can do it.  He’s that good.  But Connelly adds a twist to the case, which causes Haller to question his life, his job, his future, and the innocence of his client. 

As a reader, you will be questioning truths, motives, and Haller’s ability to get himself out of a mess.  Is there such a thing as true evil?  Can Haller ever redeem himself for a past mistake?  Who will survive when a seemingly simple case takes a dangerous turn?

If you haven’t already seen the movie, check out the book! 

Other authors I enjoy who write smart, suspenseful, thrillers are worth checking out:  Harlan Coben and David Baldacci.  If you have any other suggestions, let me know. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Sweet Valley Twins are BACK!

If you are a girl who grew up in the 80s, then you probably at one point read a Sweet Valley Twins orSweet Valley High series.  Not only did I love anddevour both series, but I credit them with initiating my love of reading.  Yes, they may seem cheesy and simplistic now, but back then, they brought to life everything a young girl could want: a twin sister (come on, who didn’t want a built-in best friend?), hot guys, snobby high school villains with enough moments of morality to keep you simultaneously loving and hating them, and let’s not forget that they were gorgeous, smart, and popular!
I remember that I was in the fourth grade when my best friend first introduced me to the Wakefield sisters.  And alas, my life has never been the same.  I went on to read and read and read.  And the more I read, the more my tastes in my reading material grew.  And the more they grew, the more I learned about myself and the world.  Without them, I may never have majored in English.  Without them, would I still be a book lover?
Sometimes young adult and children’s books aren’t given enough credit.  They don’t always need to be literary canons to qualify as quality reading.  Once you hook a previous non-reader, no matter what the book, you’ve got them for life.  And thanks to Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and their gaggle of friends and frenemies, I am a book lover for life.
So, you can only imagine my shock to hear that the Sweet Valley girls are making a return!  Only now, they are no longer girls, but young women of 27 years old.  Francis Pascal has written an adult novel, starring Southern California’s favorite twins.  According to reviews, gone is the innocence of youth, which has caused quite a bit of debate among die-hard fans, who grew up loving the sisters and the life lessens taught within each book.  This book is a sexier, grittier Sweet Valley, but with some of the old familiar faces.  Lily Fowler, Enid Rollins, Todd Wilkins, and Bruce Patman make a return.  The premise of the book, called Sweet Valley Confidential, is that Jessica is about to marry Elizabeth’s ex, Todd.
The book was released March 29th and has already been pushed onto the New York Times Bestseller list due to the all-grown-up unwavering fans.  I, for one, will not miss out on an opportunity to catch back up with the Wakefield girls – cheesy or not – because I owe them.  They created the Word Nerd. J
For more information on the book and fans and critics reactions, follow the link.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Written ramblings from my 20s I found on an old flash drive

The Inner Battles of a Twentysomething

Searching in the mirror for some answers,
some direction, some idea of whether or not
I’m what they want,
what they expect,
what they need.
Living my life, trying to be everything:
Daughter, mother, sister, friend,
Lover, counselor, maid, secretary,
Event coordinator.
And I just want to be enough
as I am.
Intelligent young woman
with many goals,
but so many worries.

How do I reconcile
the dreams of my youth
with the indecision
of my reality?
So many roles to fill
as I stretch myself thin,
trying to be mature when
I’m often a child,
Stable, to balance others’ pain,
Ambitious, when I just get so tired,
And strong, to prove that
I can make it in a man’s world -
where they’ve already stereotyped me
as emotional and insecure.
Although, secretly, I am
emotional and insecure,
but that doesn’t mean that I’m weak.

If my worth is decided by my accomplishments,
then what would be considered an accomplishment?
Going to school, graduating, maintaining a career,
getting married, having children?
All of these?
What if I were a man?
Would “accomplishment” mean something different?
What if I never marry?
Will I be labeled an unlovable eccentric?
What if I miss the “baby deadline”?
And if I have kids,
what if I stay at home to raise my kids?
Does my value as a person lessen?
These questions crowd my subconscious
like little pebbles to add to the weight
on my shoulders.
What’s the right answer?
Would the pebbles drop if I knew?

And I cannot find answers in the mirror,
but I can see the reflection of
an adult-in-training,
a woman-in-training,
a person full of
doubt, fear, pride, courage -
who simultaneously wants to scream
and collapse in overwhelmed frustration
and laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Because this girl – this woman, me –
has made it this far in life and
chooses to keep overcoming obstacles
and challenging societal expectations
on the journey to understanding myself,
my role,
and all women
a little better.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Getting into the Minds of Teenagers: Mindset List

As YA writers, we need to understand our audience.  As teachers, we need to understand our students and their needs.  As adult members of society, we need to truly see what this generation has to offer and remember to be a positive role model because – as the saying goes – they are the future.
This is why I am presenting this Mindset List from the Class of 2011.
According to the Class of 2011:
  1. Thanks to social networking sites, friendships can form and end without ever having to meet face to face.
  2. Any publicity is good publicity.
  3. We fall in and out of love on a day to day basis.
  4. It’s acceptable to have curves.
  5. Racism still very much exists.
  6. If a fight breaks out in a classroom, 20 student cell phones are simultaneously recording it to share later.
  7. Role models are chosen for their wealth and notoriety, not their character.
  8. The best battles are fought over text message.
  9. There is no such thing as privacy.  The most intimate moments are broadcast over on the Internet.
  10. How can parents complain we’re spoiled, when they continue to buy us things?
  11. There are no truly “good” people anymore.  Everyone has selfish motives.
  12. Nothing is “real.”  Media images are air-brushed.  “Reality” TV is scripted.  People are never who or what they seem.
  13. Text addiction is a common problem.
  14. There are text “stalkers” and text “bullies.”
  15. A date night is still dinner and a movie.
  16. Music is not more violent, sexual, or drug-related than in the past, it’s just more explicit.
  17. We say what we mean.
  18. Boys and girls wear “skinny” jeans.
  19. Boys and girls wear make-up.
  20. College is an expectation, not an option.
  21. Homosexuality is more acceptable.
  22. Technology is a lifeline. We’d be lost without it.
  23. Our deepest, most intense conversations happen over text message.  We don’t always know how to communicate face-to-face.
  24. The more drama, the better.
  25. Because of technology, we eat more and move less.
This list represents a few of my own observations, but mostly consists of the remarks and insights that resulted from an hour of discussion with one of my high school classes.  While the information itself is very interesting, the best part of this activity was watching the passion emerge from my students when discussing the topic they know best – themselves. I watched them evaluate and analyze themselves and their world and also explain, clarify, and defend their actions, thoughts, and opinions.  I saw a group of people, struggling to understand their place in society and why they and their world is the way it is.  Sometimes I saw anger.  Sometimes I saw pride.
They want adults to understand them. They realize they are different from their parents, but they appreciate and recognize their hard work.  To Many of them, their parents are their role models.  They are disgusted by the media’s obsession with negative news and find that there truly are no celebrity role models for their generation, with the exception of a few artists (Alicia Keyes was mentioned).  They are frustrated that a four-year college is an expectation when some of them do not feel that that is where they belong.  They see what is wrong with the world and they want to change it.
I love that about them.  I want to get them to think about their world, their actions, and most importantly, their place in it. And as adults, we need to think about these things, too.  What does it all mean?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Challenged Books of 2010

Steacie Science and Engineering Library at Yor...
Image via Wikipedia
Wow - imagine my surprise when some of my FAVORITE books are on the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Library Books of 2010! (Read article from above link).  I am either very twisted and like my books to be inappropriate, or there are some very narrow minds out there.  I'm guessing the latter, because while I may be dorky and weird sometimes, I think I'm fairly mainstream.  I also find it ironic that these same challenged books are bestsellers across the nation and even across the world.  It saddens me that these books, most of which are thought-provoking, insightful, and simply entertaining, could be banned from libraries.
I understand parental concerns about what their children read.  In fact, I completely support a parent's involvement in their child's literacy.  Everyone is entitled to their own values, opinions, and beliefs.  However, under the Library Bill of Rights, it is the parent's responsibility - not the library's - to prohibit their child's access to library resources which they find inappropriate.  And this means being aware of what the child is checking out of the library.  Of course, common sense tells us that the librarians will not allow a child to checkout material that is clearly adult, but if there is doubt, a parent should go with their child to the library.  Or at least, review their picks when they return home.
As for the challenged books, I encourage people to step out of their comfort zone once in a while.  Expand your

ALA Library Bill of RIghts
horizons, your imagination, or your view of societies and cultures that are different from your own.  Isn't that one of the reasons we read?  To better ourselves.  To learn about the world - because it's a big place with a variety of people and lifestyles.  Reading gives us a glimpse into a world unlike our own.  And even if the book doesn't challenge you intellectually or promote tolerance, it might just be a fun read, or a great escape.
And if you still don't like any of these books, then you are absolutely entitled to your opinion.  But remember, so is the rest of the public and the sole purpose of a library is to the serve that public.
[polldaddy poll=4903073]

Monday, April 11, 2011

Words: The Power to Shape Our World

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

How often did I chant these words to friends or enemies or frenemies in my childhood?  Some adult or one of my peers must have taught me this idiom, but where did the saying come from in the first place?  Because, let’s face it, it’s not true.  I tried to use it as a protective shield – tried to believe that I was resilient against words, but I was fooling myself.  Words can hurt. 

Words can leave wounds and scars that, while hidden, may never heal.  We have only to look at the bullying epidemic within schools and social networking sites to know this is to be true.  Bullying is not just defined by physical aggression towards another person, it is the use of words – name-calling, threats, false rumors – that cause pain, humiliation, and low self-esteem.  According to Dr. Andrea Cohn and Dr. Andrea Canter, bullying is “the most common form of violence in our society” ( 

What does this mean?  It means that words have power.  They can lift you up or crush you.  They can bring about your downfall or lead to your success.  They can bring about the start and end of revolutions.  The important thing to remember as people, as parents, as teachers, as students, as writers, and as leaders is to use words wisely.  Use them to create a positive change.  Use them to promote critical thinking.  Use them to make people feel, imagine, and learn.  Our words can build a better society, if we let them. 

As a writer, avid reader, and a teacher, I understand the power of words.  It is the reason I write, read, and teach.  When I write, I want to send a  message (always the teacher!).  I want to pass on the wisdoms I have learned in life and also, help my readers feel another’s pain, joy, and fear. 

As a reader, I know that this is what makes literature so important.  It teaches us how to see the world in a new light.  It provides us a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. 

When I teach, I want to encourage learning, enhance personal strengths, and build self-confidence.  I want to show students all that they are and all that they can become.  I want to help them build their ladder to reach the starts, accomplish their dreams.  This is all done with words. 

What we say or write every day is somehow impacting someone.  And we’ll never know how much. 

So watch what you say.  Be kind.  Be thought-provoking.  Be inspirational.  Because today could be the day you help better the world.

Here is a wonderful video, illustrating the power or words (Thanks, Carol for the link!)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Writing Update

Writing a novel is not easy.  In fact, it's one of the most difficult, frustrating, time-consuming, life-encompassing things I've done in my life.  But it is my passion - my obsession.  Ideas, words, and  images crowd my brain day and night.

Some nights I cannot sleep because I'm writing - in my head.  Even when I'm not at the keyboard, I'm writing.  I write in the shower.  I write while working out at the gym.  I write as I eat.  My mind will not be free until the story has been told - the muse on my shoulder has been satisfied.  And so, through moments of pride, periods of self-doubt, and the occasional grip of writers' block, I continue to work.

Here is a short excerpt from Chapter One (in draft form, of course).

Only Human
Chapter One

“Have you made contact?” 
            “No.” I slump deeply into my chair.  They always start with that question.  Does it ever bother them that they are being so predictable, so repetitive, so boring?
            “Has anything unusual occurred?”
            “No.”  Define unusual.
            “How are you feeling?”
            “Fine.”  I shrug my shoulders.
            “Please, sit up straight.”  Dr. Bertrand impatiently raps on the mahogany conference table to get my full attention.  She sits across from me with her back pin-straight.  Her graying brown hair hangs without shape at her shoulders and a thin line forms her mouth.  She smells strongly of disinfectant, as if she’s scrubbed herself in it.  She always looks grim and formidable.  Her face holds no hint of humor or sympathy.  She is here to do a job and she takes that job very seriously. I know she thinks that I am impeding her progress.  She’s sick of me.  She resents me.  Why am I so important?  Why have they chosen me?  Why can’t I give them the information they need?  I can tell she wonders these things as much as I do. 
            I sigh and scoot myself up in the cushioned leather chair.  I am self conscious under her cold stare and I can feel the eyes of others in the room bore into me.  They are equally fascinated, frustrated, and disgusted with me.  I only ever speak to Dr. Bertrand and General Bishop, but the two guards stationed at the door are always silent observers. They seem like solid statues without human emotion, but I know that it is a façade.  They are analyzing me as much as their superiors, but they are not allowed to show it.
            “Describe how you feel.”
            “I don’t have any aches or pains.  I’m not nauseous.  I have no fever.  My eyes do not burn.  They are not irritated.  They are not too watery.”  Indifferently, I list the symptoms they always ask of me. I am so tired of the constant questioning. 
General Bishop believes that I am important to the survival of our country, possibly even the world.  He believes I am the answer.  He believes I know more than I am telling him.  He is the reason I am here in this underground government facility, being questioned and tested, prodded and manipulated, like livestock instead of a human being.
I tell him again and again that I am just a girl.  And I try to make myself believe it, too.
This has been our routine for almost a month now.  I wait each morning to be summoned from my small, drab room in which I spend most of my time – locked in like a prisoner.  I am then escorted by the same unsmiling soldier through the honeycomb of hallways, tunnels, security doors, elevators and finally the Situation Room, which is the command center of this underground government bunker, to this interrogation room.
  Dr. Bertrand and General Bishop question me.  I tell them nothing new.  They run tests on me.  The tests tell them nothing new.  They wait for me to give them answers.  I wait for them to realize that I have none. At least, that I am willing to tell.  I wait.  They wait.  It is all a waiting game.
When will it end? 
Do we want it to end?
Because what if we uncover an answer too impossible or horrific to face?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

By Heidi W. Durrow

George and I are really enjoying this book!

The novel is a haunting, provocative story about a biracial girl who suffers a family tragedy and her journey to come to terms with and move forward from this horrific event. The incident is so appalling that it is almost unbelievable.  Perhaps most shocking is the author’s acknowledgment in an interview at the end of the book that her inspiration for the story came from a true event she read about on the news, and her musings about how someone moves on from such tragedy.  She wanted to create a story that follows the young survivor to see who she could become, but one that ultimately offers hope in the aftermath of sorrow. 

Durrow also incorporated her own experiences with her biracial heritage into the novel as the main character, Rachel, faces discrimination from her peers, community, and even family due to having a white Danish mother and a black father.  And she must create an identity for herself, while overcoming the prejudices she faces from both races. 

The story takes place in Chicago and Seattle in the 1980s.  The point of view is both first – from Rachel’s perspective – and 3rd, as the novel follows the actions and thoughts of other important characters as well.  Durrow beautifully melds their individual stories together, keeping Rachel at the heart of everything.  She also keeps the reader guessing as to the truth surrounding the tragedy.  It is not fully revealed until the end of the book. 

I read the book quickly, consumed by questions regarding the tragedy and interest in Rachel’s journey through her sorrow, denial, and society’s prejudices.  It is a story of survival.  It is a story of a young girl coming of age and facing life’s hardships.  It is not without hope, but there are definite moments of heart-wrenching sadness.

Rachel is written as a young girl who has bottled up her emotions and gradually, the reader witnesses her slow transition into someone who will break if she does not allow these emotions to flow.  She is simultaneously strong and fragile.  Her story is both fascinating and moving.

The only aspect of the book that frustrated me was the fact that the author left some unanswered questions – particularly pertaining to the father. 

Overall, I recommend this book.  It will touch you, shock you, and leave you thinking long after you turn the last page.

Author's Website:

Heidi W. Durrow explains her inspiration for the story:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

'Hunger Games' Experts Weigh In On Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

'Hunger Games' Experts Weigh In On Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Click on the link above to read the latest casting information and watch a video, explaining the selected actors and the fans' responses.

Here is a brief bio of each of the three main characters:

Playing Katniss Everdeen will be Jennifer Lawerence -

She was discovered in New York City at the at of 14 and has since been involved in numerous movies including Winter's Bone (2010), and will be seen in 2011 movies, such as Like Crazy, The Beaver, and X Men: First Class (which is in post-preduction).

Check out this site for more pictures, bio information, and movie news

Playing Peeta Mellark will be Josh Hutchinson - 

Josh has been involved with acting since he was quite young.  One of his more notorious roles was Jesse Aarons in The Bridge to Terabithia (2007).  He also played alongside Brendan Fraser in Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008).  In 2010, he played Laser in The Kids are Alright, along side Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo.

Check out this fan website for photos and more information on Josh:

Playing Gale Hawthorne will be Liam Hemsworth - 

Liam is probably best known for his role in The Last Song (2010) with girlfriend Miley Cyrus (apparently, they have gotten back together), based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.  He also played Spencer in Knowing (2009), and Victor in Triangle (2009).  He will be playing Ali Ababa in 2011's Arabian Nights, which is currently in production.  

Checkout this fan website for photos and more information on Liam:

Personally, I'm not thrilled with the casting choices, simply based on physical appearance, but then I don't know if anyone would satisfy me completely since I have my own ideas of what each character looks like based on my own reading and interpretation of the novel.  I am really, REALLY hoping that as actors they can do the movie justice.  I have never seen the movies these particular actors have been in - except Bridge to Terabithia a long time ago (and Josh was so young!), so I cannot comment on their talent or lack thereof.

Keep your fingers crossed that it turns out well!  It will never be as good as the actual book (in my opinion), but we can hope for entertainment and quality acting at the very least.

Again, to find out more, click on the link above with the press release and MTV news reel.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

To my former students (Class of 2011)

Thinking of you . . . Class of 2011 - Frederick County
This isn’t a review, just a reflection.  It came to my attention recently that a group of my former 7th and 8th graders are graduating this year.  Now, I had been teaching four years already before I even became their teacher, but this still catches me by surprise.  Time really does fly.

I have fond memories from all of my years of teaching (and some not-so-fond, I have to be honest).  There are moments and students I will never forget.  This group, for example, I had for two consecutive years.  I knew they were disappointed at seeing me again as their teacher on that first day of 8th grade, having hoped for someone new.  Starting a school year with a new teacher feels like a fresh start.  As a teacher, I feel that way.  New students, new adventures – more chances to make a difference.  A new teacher, or student, is like a brand new penny.  Shiny and full of possibilities.  But I like to think that they changed their mind by the end of the year.  I know that I did.  For two years I got to see them grow up.  We grew together.  And now, they are graduating from high school.

I wish I could be there to shake each of their hands.  

I wish I could tell them that life goes by quickly and not to take it for granted.  But we all do sometimes.  I, too, need to be reminded. 

I wish I could tell them that they will make mistakes, but that it’s okay.  Because everyone does and they will get through it.  Even when they think they can’t, they can.  Sometimes life has us at the end of our ropes, but we need to tie a knot on the end and hang on for dear life.  Because it is dear.  And we can learn from those moments, even – especially – when they hurt.

I wish I could explain that life will take them on journeys they have never dreamed of.  Some they will be prepared and excited for, some they will not.  Someone keeps telling me that life is all about the journey, but sometimes the journey really sucks and maybe, at times, it’s more about the destination.  And just making it through those tough times.

I wish I could be there for them when reality hits and high school friendships change and fade. Sometimes our greatest, most long-lasting friendships are with the people we least expect.  Sometimes the ones we count on the most, let us down.  But they will meet great people in their lives.

I wish I could be there for their triumphs.  Success means something different to each individual.  I hope they attain success – whatever it may be for them – and that they recognize it, because sometimes we don’t see all that we have achieved and who we have become.  I hope they see themselves and they like what they see.

I wish them love – to be surrounded by friends and family. 

I wish them happiness.

 And I’m sorry I missed watching them become adults.

I wish I could see them now. 

To all of my former students – this class of 2011, congratulations!  You have touched me.  I haven’t forgotten you.  I never will. 

Best wishes in your future!  Continue to touch the lives of others.

I am so proud of you.