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Cat-alogers, Unite!

A Reader's Advisory – of Sorts

Pawing for Explanations

Life is short.  We are busy.  We rarely consider repercussions of our actions, thoughts, or words in a time where everything needs completed – successfully – before we die.  Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why, highlights these harsh truths of life through the ears of Clay Jensen and the words of Hannah Baker.  Clay, an average high school student, receives a mysterious box on his porch after school one day.  He finds it filled with cassette tapes from his classmate and crush – Hannah Baker.  The catch: Hannah committed suicide two weeks prior to the arrival of the tapes.  Heartbroken Clay must listen to the tapes that unravel the reasons of why Hannah decided to leave.

I did not want to read this story.  Death alone is difficult to understand, especially when we lose someone close to us.  We ask ourselves, “Is there something I could have done to prevent this?” and “Why?” and a million other things.  The death of a young person is beyond tragic.  Having lost a young and beloved family member just prior to my reading this, I wasn’t sure if I was ready.  I kept replaying the last things I said to her and that she said to me.  And suicide – well, in combination with death and youth especially… it’s impossible to explain.  I was approaching this novel determined to find out why Hannah did what she did, expecting justification of her actions.  In her young mind, her taking her life is justified – but in my 26-year-old brain, it’s still unacceptable.  So why read this book?

Answer:  WE are still here.  We must be the voices of those who cannot speak up for themselves.  We need to look beyond the facades – no matter how long our days were or how many things we have to do before the weekend.  We need to care.  We need to be human and realize that other humans are just as important.  We need to consider our last words – or any words for that matter – to others.  I’m not suggesting that it’s possible to save every person, nor should we seek out the innermost problems of individuals.  We just simply need to be kinder.  It might be a simple “hello” or smile or really working hard internally to not flick off that driver who just cut you off – to save a life.  We just never, ever know.

This book is worth a read by anyone, but especially young people who need a little kick in the pants AND their teachers.  So teachers, that’s EVERY last one of you.

Gary gives it 3 paws.

Awards:

2011 – Paperback edition became a #1 New York Times bestseller in the US

2010 – Georgia Peach Book Awards for Teen Readers

2009 – International Reading Association Young Adults’ Choice list

2009 – Writing Conference’s Literature Festival

2008 – Best Books for Young Adults YALSA

2008 – Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers YALSA

2008 – Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults YALSA

2008 – California Book Award winner – Young Adult

You KNEAD to Read This One!

Stories are everything.  They are born before us and if they ever die, they die long after us.  Stories allow us to retell history, recall a special memory, invent an idea, and are sometimes even combinations of the three.  Stories change over time, depending on the need for them.  And we truly need them because we desire to know who we are and where we came from, so that it might help us to figure out how we fit into this great big world.

In Abigail’s Tarttelin’s Golden Boy, many stories are told from different perspectives of each of the novels’ characters.  Max Walker – the perfect child, student, athlete, son, and brother – is intersex.  It’s a secret of course, as his mother is a successful lawyer and his father is standing for Parliament election.  Max’s’ younger brother, Daniel, is a brilliant but troublesome child who sometimes seems to understand things better than most adults – and he idolizes Max with all his heart.

Writing more about the novels’ details will only spoil its beauty, so this will be a short review.  This book absolutely broke me apart and it is one I will not ever forget.  It’s one of those stories that you want to read quickly to find out what will happen but you’re afraid for it to be over because the next book you read will not compare.  I am inspired by each of these characters that an author my own age has created, and I find myself wanting just a few more minutes with each one of them – just as Max suggests of those we are fascinated by.  Though Gender Studies was my favorite class during my undergrad years, one needs no background in it to read this.  I was not even sure that I wanted to read it because it might be a challenge – something different from the norm.  And it was exactly something different – but how beautiful, indeed!  It gets right to the “you” – just underneath your heart, as Daniel would say.  And the stories that can linger long after they’re read or heard – those that creep up under your skin and just make you ache… well, those kinds of stories make it pretty damn wonderful to be human.

Gary gives it four paws, and all 18 claws.  He’s hooked.

 

Songs to accompany this book:

Gang Starr – Take it Personal (of course)

Sarah McLachlan – Adia

Ray Lamontagne – Are We Really Through?

Ingrid Michaelson – Ghost

Coldplay – The Scientist


Awards:

2014 Alex Award

Booklist Top 10 First Novel of 2013

School Library Journal Best Book of 2013

Have Mew Found a Love Like This?

We all remember high school.  We all remember what it was like to feel like no one understood us.  Sometimes we still feel like that.  But we also remember how it felt when a person came along who did “get” us – who didn’t require us to explain our jokes, music, or anything.  They simply liked us for who we were and we liked them back and nothing else really seemed to matter because our heads were in a cloud of hearts and wonder and firecracker sparkles every time we thought about or saw the other person and our sentences and thoughts ran on and on forever.  And no one could take away our butterflies, regardless of what was going on around us.  And though we remember how it felt, it seems the older we get, the magic gets a little bit harder to find.

Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park helps us recollect our own first loves and maybe even future ones through the eyes of two teenagers who don’t really view themselves as anything special.  Eleanor, 15, is the new girl at school who faces belittlement from her classmates about her weight, bright red hair, and strange clothes.  She has a difficult home life (to say the least).  Park, a half-Korean boy who is “in” with the popular crowd and comes from a loving family, is forced to sit with Eleanor on the bus.  Through comic books and 80’s alternative music the pair form a bond that is anything but ordinary.

Don’t let the idea of reading about teenagers deter you from reading this sweet little reminder that love can truly save people.  It’s more than worthy of the Printz Honor for this year.

Gary gives it three paws.

2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Fiction Book

A Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2013

A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2013

A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013

An NPR Best Book of 2013

Read this Right MEOW!

For those of you who do not know, John Green is the greatest young author of our time – one who ignites hope, courage, and even spirituality within his readers.  One of my dear friends once told me, “I am so happy that you and I are on Earth at the same time.”  That beautiful sentiment is exactly the way I feel about reading Green’s work: he gets under your skin to provoke, encourage, and then stab you, all to keep you coming back for more.  It’s a true addiction.

Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, is one of innocence, lust, and everything mentioned above.  Miles (the main character and narrator) seeks the Great Perhaps in his life, leading readers to question their own.  Hope in itself is misleading – we are very capable of hoping, but very few individuals are willing to put in the time and effort to make whatever they’re hoping happen, solely relying on some type of “fate” to piece things together.  The characters in this book see this idea very differently than each other, yet they create some of the most beautiful, chaotic friendships imaginable.  Like friendship, Green explores ideas coming together and falling apart – specifically, love.  Is it something that suddenly forms, or has it always existed just waiting for the right person to ignite it?  Alaska Young, another character, is this magnetic force who challenges all these bases of hope, love and fate.  Let’s face it… everyone has an Alaska in their lives – that person we’re drawn to but don’t know why.  And for that reason alone, you must read this story.

My favorite film director, Wes Anderson, makes these beautiful, clever, special little films that usually have killer soundtracks, dynamic characters (even though they sometimes speak few words), amazing cinematography, and just “something” to them.  Reading this book was like watching one of his films.  You can hear the music, become each character, be present to occurrences (something totally unknown to this current generation as they’d rather Snapchat the present than experience it).  Wes, if you’re reading, here is your next million-dollar film.  Get on it.

This story makes me not want to waste another minute of my life simply waiting.  Life is entirely too short.  If you are content with your present life, stuck in the mundane and naïve now… I feel sorry for you.  You’re lost in the labyrinth of life while others are seeking to find their own Great Perhaps.   But if you feel that you need a bit of a change, just read this awesome book.  You won’t be sorry.  You might be motivated and somewhat mad that you want more out of life… but not sorry at all.

Gary gives it four paws, a whisker, and a claw… he digs it.

Prejudice Stretches its Claws

Mildred Taylor’s, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, is an incredibly picturesque vision of the struggles faced by African American citizens in the 1930’s.  Ten-year-old Cassie narrates the story of her family – black landowners who remain grounded despite turmoil of the depression and Civil War.  Cassie and her three brothers are forced to abandon naivety and recognize that white individuals truly view themselves supreme and will stop at nothing to ensure that every person – black or white – understands it.  At times, black and white ideals remain stark – loyal to one’s own color, a persistent prejudice of others unlike one’s own.  Other times, color lines are blurred and grayer areas emerge.

This is a story for anyone who loves a story.  It does not matter what genre of reading one prefers.  It is simply a story that needs to be read, so that we have a better understanding of faith, violence, hope, and courage and how these ideas existed in the world.  Hatred was alive and exhausting in 1933, as it still is (though no one seems courageous enough to admit it) today.  Combating negativity, the love of family, too existed, and it persevered and flourished during difficult times and joyful times, alike.

It is a story to be read, absorbed in the quiet of one’s heart, and then reflected upon without being so quiet.  Taylor is truly a magnificent storyteller who acknowledges that without God, or any father figure for that matter, we might not know how deep our roots can grow – even if we are as small as a fig tree in the midst of the mighty oaks.

Gary gives it 4/4 paws.

A Game of Rat and Mouse…

If you’re in the mood for a bit of light and easy reading with genuine characters, Kate DiCamillo’s, The Tale of Despereaux is a sweet choice.  The book begins with the humorous, yet very troubling birth of little Despereaux – a mouse born with his eyes open (apparently not a common mouse gene) and ears too large for words.  A misfit from the beginning, Despereaux is anything but a reluctant reader, and wishes to someday save a princess and become the hero of his own fairy tale.  Within castle walls and of very cruel French descent dwells Despereaux’s family, who punish him for talking to humans, loving music more than scurrying for food, and falling in love with a real princess.  To complete the mission, they send him to the dungeon.

Deep in the dungeon we meet Rat, Roscuro, who common to Despereaux, has a love for things unlike his fellow species.  By section three, more characters are introduced, helping to unravel the truth and “light” that the story promises at its beginning.  Readers are drawn into a fairy tale word where soup is forbidden, children (and mice and rats) long for real mothers, and direct questions from the author that prompt one to pay extra attention to something important!

This is the perfect “tale” for any middle school-aged child or for anyone who has ever felt that they do not fit within his/her surroundings.  This is a story of light and darkness, of good and evil, of mouse and rat – one endearing read with which all humans and mice alike, can empathize.

Gary gives it three paws.  But he likes mice – and rats.  So perhaps his rating is a bit biased.

Fairies? These “Tails” are not for Scaredy Cats!

Looking for the perfect bedtime story for your children?  The original eight classic stories published in 1697 by Charles Perrault (pronounced Per-oh) will make a charming addition to your flesh-craving, gore-loving child’s collection of literature.  Read these to the little ones as they bounce themselves into bed and they’ll be sure to dream of snakes, slaughtered women hanging in their closets, and child-eating ogres who can fly (using special boots) to your house in five minutes!  …And you thought fairy tales were for babies!

Though these stories may not be quite the way you remember them, with tenderhearted Walt Disney songs humming in the background, they are quite fantastic pieces that are the archetypal foundations of the stories that we have come to know over the course of our lives.  Cinderella actually goes to the ball twice, the breadcrumb trails lead to Tom Thumb before they do Hansel & Gretel, and Maleficent is not actually named as such in the real story of Sleeping Beauty.  Before you continue thinking you know the real stories, read these ones.  They’ll help any English teacher who needs a good read-aloud story to convey a theme, or any grandmother who wants to scare the bajeezus out of her grand kids.

Gary gives it two paws.  He’s a scaredy-cat.

 

Sharon Creech’s “Walk Two Moons” is the most fantastic, hopeful, heartwarming story I’ve read in a very long time. You know how you wonder if those books with pretty medals glued to the cover are truly worth it? I’d give this book three of those medals. I’m the annoying reader – the one who wants to find out every minute detail right away so that I can jump into the pages with these characters. But this story “has it’s own agenda.” It will pull you in before you realize you’ve been pulled in and will unfold in good time (as my own mother reminds me), the way that life does.

Hailing from her beloved Bybanks, Kentucky and moving to Ohio has been nothing short of a culture shock for narrator and thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle. Layers of her story begin to unfold as readers meet the characters who surround her – all disturbing, funny, and charming individuals. Sal perfectly captures what my thirteen-year old self and heart were feeling – and still hold onto.

I cannot write too much about this story because it’s one that you just have to read and appreciate for the personal lessons you’ve learned during your life. Maybe you have a crazy set of grandparents who live their lives by “isms” as Sal and my own grandparents do. Maybe the relationship you have with your mother is not perfect – or perhaps it is. No matter what page you’re on in your own life, take three hours to read Sal’s pages. She’ll give you a little truth and a lot of hope. Huzzah huzzah!

Gary gives it ALL four paws.

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Hell-cat or Heroine?

I just finished The Reader.  You know, it’s this “great novel” that was the first German-novel to make it (at least for a long time) to the New York Times Bestseller list and stand as one of the original Oprah’s book club book (when she actually read her books), oh and inspire the 2008 film production for which Kate Winslet won an Oscar.  …But I read it and I don’t understand what all the commotion is about!

Summary: A 36-year-old woman – who might be called the novel’s heroine, or hellcat, seduces a 15-year-old.  They have a scandalous affair that’s uncomfortable to read about, mostly because she (Hanna) treats him (Michael) like shit.  Then the next two chapters are all about the failings of Michael’s life because he cannot understand that Hanna (who manipulated him at such a young age) was actually not good for him.

Michael (also the narrator) has some really interesting ways of looking at things, but one cannot help but wonder if this kid has an original thought, seeing as most of them are somehow influenced by Hanna.  You see, years after their affair, Hanna is placed on trial for a crime she committed as an SS Nazi officer during WWII.  Michael, going to school for law, is an observer at the trial and sees her for the first time (after she deserts him for seven years).  Though their speaking to one another is very limited (if at all), once Hanna is sentenced to prison, Michael reads to her (a tradition they engaged in during their affair) by sending books on tape to her jail cell.

The aspect of the story where the author redeems himself for 45 seconds, is how the subject of WWII is approached – how the post WWII generations are dealing with the tragedy created by the Nazis and the attitude towards nationalism.  It would be a great read for a History class studying WWII – of course, with permission from parents (and a brave teacher preparing to see his/her school name under the challenged book list on the ALA website).

Read it if you REALLY need to.  There is not enough time in this world, so don’t waste it by reading a disappointing book.  If you really are curious as to the details of the juicy affair, just RedBox the film.

Gary gives it 1.5 paws.

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