Make Lemonade

LaVaughn is only 14, but she knows more than anything else in her life that she’s going to go to college.  Her mother has said so, and when her mother speaks a thing, it becomes true.  College isn’t going to pay for itself, though, so LaVaughn gets a job babysitting Jeremy and Jilly, the two children of Jolly.  Jolly is seventeen and works in a factory.  As LaVaughn forms a relationship with the family and begins to see the way Jolly’s life has spiraled out of her control, she begins to question herself.  Is it wrong for LaVaughn to take money from Jolly to avoid ending up in the same situation?  If LaVaughn babysits for free, is she sacrificing her future?  Is she allowing Jolly to keep spinning her wheels without making any forward progress in life?  Should LaVaughn feel responsible for Jolly’s situation?

Virginia Euwer Wolff achieves a great deal in Make Lemonade.  She paints a picture of two families in poverty going in drastically different directions; LaVaughn is poor but has a plan for life and a mother who supports her.  Jolly has no one but her children, and lives from one day to the next.  Wolff creates in Jolly a character who is sympathetic and frustrating at the same time.  She shows the tension between LaVaughn’s responsibility to herself and her desire to help others. 

Amidst all this, Wolff uses language that is both artful and accessible.  Written in verse, Make Lemonade feels like poetry but is not at all stilted.  Each line flows into the next, but it’s clear that each line break is carefully chosen.  Make Lemonade would be an excellent introduction to the verse novel for those who may be wary of the genre.

I would recommend Make Lemonade to readers who enjoy verse novels, as well as anyone looking for a story that is uplifting without being saccharine.
 
Book: Make Lemonade (Affiliate Link)
Author: Virginia Euwer Wolff
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Original Publication Date: 1993
Pages: 208
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Library

Out of the Madhouse

…yesterday my life’s like, “Uh oh, pop quiz.” Today it’s “rain of toads.”

Thus spoke Xander Harris in part two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s pilot episode, “The Harvest.”  Even in its later seasons, Buffy didn’t have the special effects budget to create an on-screen rain of toads.  The advantage to books is you aren’t limited by those sorts of budget constraints.  In Out of the Madhouse, Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder bring the rain of toads, along with all the trolls, sea monsters, skyquakes, and nasty Cordelia-chasing demons you could ever hope for.  What’s that, you say?  Trouble in Sunnydale?  Must be Tuesday.  The difference is, this time, it’s all happening at once.  Also?  Giles is out of town.  It turns out there’s an interdimensional mansion in Boston that’s been keeping these monsters at bay, but now its caretaker, the “Gatekeeper,” is ailing and his magic is weakening.  Buffy, Xander, Cordelia and Giles head to Boston to put a stop to the monster leak, while Willow, Oz, and Angel hold down the fort against an invasion of evil monks who are out to get Buffy.  (Note: I said evil monks not evil monkeys.)

Like any tie-in, Out of the Madhouse suffers from the fact that you can’t kill off major characters.  What you can do, however, is injure them severely, and in every fight scene in Out of the Madhouse I expected someone – usually Cordelia – to end up in the hospital.  Out of the Madhouse has a structure somewhat like a multi-episode arc; you’ve got the main problem of new scary monsters, plus signs that the Watcher’s Council might be sketchy, subplots involving outside forces looking to hurt Buffy, and some new recurring characters who are quite likeable.  The dialogue is strong, though not Whedon-quality, and except for the wild special effects that would be necessary to pull it off and the unlikely requirement of on location filming in Boston, I completely believed that this was a story I might see on the show itself.  Add in a surprise ending and you’ve got a recipe for fun and nostalgia.  (Plus, Golden and Holder manage to avoid the Ethan Rayne trap!)

I’d recommend Out of the Madhouse to any Buffy fan looking for stories to tide them over between issues of the comic book or to take them back to the good old days.

Book: Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Gatekeeper Trilogy, Book One: Out of the Madhouse (Affiliate Link)
Author: Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment
Original Publication Date: 1999
Pages: 384
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Library

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale

When Kaye was a little girl, she had faerie friends.  When she and her glam-rock mom moved, the faeries disappeared.  As Kaye grew older, she began to think the faeries had just been a product of her imagination.  But when she returns to her childhood home, Kaye discovers not only that her faerie friends are real, but that she herself is a faerie.  Her friends convince her to help them escape seven years’ bondage to the Unseelie Court, a court of dark fae.  Kaye enters a frightening world, where magic works and faeries struggle for power.

Tithe is a book for young adults.  It is not a book for children.  If you are a parent considering giving this book to your child, read it first.  I would not put this in the hands of anyone I didn’t consider a grown up.  What does that mean?  I have students to whom I could comfortably recommend this book.  I also have students to whom I would never recommend this book.  Tithe is dark, both in its real-world and its fantastical elements.  Reading through the reviews at Amazon, I found a lot of complaints that it was too grown up to be a young adult book.  I also read a lot of complaints about the behavior of the central characters.

Kaye and her friends are New Jersey trailer trash.  They wander through life without significant purpose.  Kaye is a high school dropout, forced to leave school so she could support her mom’s career in rock music.  Kaye’s friends are ravers.  They smoke, they drink, and they commit acts of debauchery.  The same could be said of any of the faeries in the book.  Tithe presents a view of teenage life that many readers would prefer to ignore.  That doesn’t make it a bad book.  It makes it an honest book.  Even though we haven’t experienced something firsthand, we can see when things are true.  While I would never have been friends with Kaye in high school, my best friend associated with a crowd of kids who would have.  I knew those kids, and I was polite to them, but I avoided them.  That didn’t make them imaginary or contrived.

Tithe‘s greatest strength is its examination of illusions, obligations, and consequences.  At various points, Kaye learns that her friends, both human and fae, are not what they seem.  She learns about the nature of obligation.  And her actions have distinct, permanent consequences.  Another strength is Black’s use of traditional faerie lore.  The Seelie and Unseelie courts, as well as the Unseelie Queen Nicnevin, are elements taken from Scottish faerie legend.  Holly Black moves them across the Atlantic and sets them in New Jersey, where broken-down boardwalks are more common than fantastical forests.  Where she works her magic is she makes them seem like they belong there.  There is nothing unnatural about the Faerie we see in Tithe.  At no point did I think, “Faeries?  In Jersey?”  Black’s seamless interweaving of modern and mythical elements is a rare talent.

Tithe made me very uncomfortable.  It also made me cry.  Those two things, taken together, mark good art.  Tithe is, above all, compelling.  When it was over, I was confused because I had been so engrossed in the world of the book.  Lucky for me that Valiant and Ironside are set in the same universe, isn’t it?

Book: Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (Affiliate Link)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Original Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 336
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Library
Other Blog Reviews: Twisted Kingdom, Stainless Steel Droppings, CheriePie’s Book Reviews, Wands and Worlds

This Week’s Library/Bookstore Haul

I’ve been to the library three times this week.  The first time was for the Friends of the Library book sale.  That was insane.  I did come out of it with some books, but they are in the car so I can’t tell you what they were.  Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted was among them, as was The Chocolate War.  Also a book called Pirate Island.  I had to get it because it had the word “Pirate” in the title.

Here’s what I checked out this week:
American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
Aria of the Sea, Dia Calhoun
The Midnighters Trilogy, Scott Westerfeld
A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, Laura Amy Schlitz
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, Carolyn Mackler
Flight Volumes 1 – 3, Kazu Kibuishi
The Last Days, Scott Westerfeld
Make Lemonade, Virginia Euwer Wolff
Peeps, Scott Westerfeld
So Yesterday, Scott Westerfeld
Weedflower (CD), Cynthia Kadohata

At Borders this week I bought all of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, as well as Dana Reinhardt’s Harmless.

Because I haven’t turned in any of the not-yet-reviewed books from my last trip, or Pucker, I have a total of 21 books out now.  It feels like summertime when I was little.

readergirlz April Issue

The April issue of readergirlz is now online.  This month’s book is On Pointe (Affiliate Link) by Lorie Ann Grover, a verse novel about a ballet dancer who finds herself getting too tall for her passion.  As April is National Poetry Month, a verse novel is an especially appropriate choice.  My local library system has only one copy of On Pointe, and that copy is on hold for someone distinctly not me.  That’s good; it means it’s getting read!  None of the local bookstores have it, either; I just ordered it from Amazon, and expect to have it read by mid-month.

This month’s issue of readergirlz includes a playlist, community challenge, slideshow, party ideas, discussion questions, author interview, and recommended reads.  The first song on the playlist, “Video” (Affiliate Link) by India Arie, is one of my favorite songs in recent years.

For more books about dancers, take a look at Little Willow’s I Am a Dancer booklist.  To read about real-life dance experiences, read her article Dance Dreams.

Bookhands

This may be the longest I’ve gone between posts since back when I started this blog. I’m going to address a few topics all at once.

Thing One: I’ve a lot of things I want to say, but not a lot of time. I’ve been doing a lot of catching up at work, and it’s used most of my energy. I’m still reading, so here’s my currentlies:

1. Virtual Mode by Piers Anthony; this is a re-read. Due to recent events in life I’ve set it aside for a bit, as it brings up some emotional issues I’m not quite ready to handle.
2. I, Claudius by Robert Graves; this is my read-at-work book but it has been displaced by others for now. About one week a month I have to perform lunch duty, which usually consists of sitting in a chair, watching students go by, and checking hall passes. That’s a good twenty minutes a day I can devote to reading when I’m not checking the passes. It looks good to be a Latin teacher reading I, Claudius, and I, Claudius is a book I’ve always wanted to read. Most recently, though, I have been reading my other books during this time.
3. The Last Dragon by Silva de Mari; reading this because it was a Cybils nominee, and enjoying it thoroughly. It doesn’t go as quickly as many YA or children’s books do, though.
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Gatekeeper Trilogy: Out of the Madhouse by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder. I also walk for twenty minutes a day and I like to read while I do this. I saw one of my favorite professors doing it on campus once. I thought it looked charmingly academic, so I took it up myself. Don’t worry; I’m very careful not to run into or in front of things. Reading this has been a fun flashback and, combined with a recent re-watching of Buffy Season 4, provoked new thoughts about the show’s themes, what I did and did not like about it, and why. As a rule, I love Buffy, in case you were wondering.

Thing Two: A colleague and I were talking about YA fiction a couple of weeks ago and agreed that especially for us as teachers, it’s exactly the right thing. You can read a book with substance to it, but usually YA books don’t bog you down so much as books for an adult audience would. You get through the books quickly but still feel like you’ve really read something. So we’ve decided to start recommending and swapping YA books. I only own two, so I’ll be loaning those to her: Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen by Dyan Sheldon. These are my two recent favorites, which is why I own them. Because of the aforementioned rapidity of reading, I generally get my YA books from the library. I’m looking forward to seeing what she has for me. I told her that even though I don’t have a lot of books, I can provide her with plenty of lists. Maybe I’ll even tell her that I get most of my YA recommendations from Little Willow at Bildungsroman.

Thing Three: I love the feel of books. At Costco they set the books out in stacks on tables. I touched all of them, and felt that even though I hadn’t read them, the books were part of me. It was a good feeling.

Thing Four: Content I hope to provide soon:
Elizabeth I review
Millicent Min review
The Last Dragon review
Love in Shadow review

Thing Five: Spring break starts Friday! I will be traveling to Florida for most of it, but hope to find time in the car and at my lodgings for reading.

That is all.

Library Report et al.

I’ve started writing the response to Writer as Blogger, Blogger as Writer.

I’ve decided to make it a point to go to the library weekly. And each week, I’ll tell you what I got.

Today’s library haul:
1. Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Lisa Lee – recommended by readergirlz
2. The Last Dragon, Silvana de Mari – Cybils Finalist
3. Pucker, Melanie Gideon – Cybils Finalist
4. A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, Dana Reinhardt – Cybils Finalist
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Visitors, Laura Anne Gilman and Josepha Sherman – in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Out of the Madhouse, Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder – in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
7. Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie – While I was mid-Capt. Hook it occurred to me I ought to finish reading the source material, which I started long ago but never finished.

Truth: Reading Is A Lovely Way to Spend a Saturday

A quick rundown of my life at the moment: I teach full-time and I’m in a play. I’m only in my second year of full-time teaching. My house is a mess! I have so many papers to grade, and I’ve been sick on and off a lot recently.

So today was going to be catch-up day: I was going to clean the house, grade papers, and of course schedule in a little relaxation.

I didn’t wake up until 10:30 am, and all I’ve done so far is lounge in my pajamas, play on the internet, eat cookies, and read Justina Chen Headley’s Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies).

I fear I’m not a very good book reviewer, because I can’t find words besides “This book is good! Read it!” I think what happens in this book, and indeed in most good books about young girls, is a transformation and a self-acceptance. In Nothing But the Truth it happens over a summer; for some people it takes longer. I’m trying now to figure out when it happened for me. At this point in time, I like myself a lot. Not in the sense that I think I’m vastly superior to others, but in the sense that I’m never worried about trying to fit in. So books like this one make me think “How does that process happen?” Of course it’s different for every girl. (I’m sure it happens to boys, too, but I never was a boy.)

As a high school teacher, I see a lot of girls who aren’t satisfied with themselves. I see others who are. I wish sometimes I could follow some of them, and see how they change when they are adults. I think that has to be one of the most wonderful things you can do – watch a person grow up. I liked watching Patty grow up. I liked watching her grow from awkward to self-possessed. I liked watching her ideas about others change as her ideas about herself did.

A great strength of Nothing But the Truth is the interaction of its female characters. Patty, our protagonist, is at the heart of the story, but we see how the other girls and women in her life help her grow and change. When we discover why Patty’s mother is the way she is, for us as much as for Patty, life takes on new levels. When Jasmine pushes Patty outside her comfort zone, we wonder what exciting opportunities may lie outside our own. And what is most reassuring is that after this transformative summer, Patty hasn’t had to give up any of her former self; she’s only added new dimensions.

In Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), we see how a girl can grow and change and find out who she is, without losing a sense of who she was. We can be in the present, look to the future, and remember the past. And I think Patty’s most important discovery, and mine too in reading this book, is that the events that shape us do just that – they shape who we are and what we become. But they don’t determine it. That’s up to us.

Book: Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) (Affiliate Link)
Author: Justina Chen Headley
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Original Publication Date: April 5, 2006
Pages: 256
Age Range: Young Adult
Source of Book: Public Library
Other Blog Reviews: Jen Robinson’s Book Page, Bildungsroman