Aide-mémoire for my job as readers' advisor: Bookmark summaries of the books I've read as a high school teacher librarian

How You Ruined my Life by Jeff Strand

51r2f1x-avl._sx331_bo1204203200_Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2018 (304 pages)

Rod is the lead singer of Fanged Grapefruit, a punk band that he created with friends Mel(vin) and Clarissa. Rod’s girlfriend Audrey is in charge of merch. Rod is gearing up for the summer, looking forward to more band practice in his garage and more Monday night gigs at the Lane, aspiring to maybe get gigs on Friday someday. All seems to be going great, that is until Rod’s mom breaks the news that cousin Blake from California will be staying with them through the end of the school year and over the summer while his wealthy parents go on a luxury cruise. Rod grumbles, but gamely cleans his room to prepare for the guest’s arrival. Maybe it won’t be so bad. It’s just a few months of sharing a cramped room with a cousin you didn’t like ten years ago and doubt you’ll like now. Then the U-Haul arrives with 42 boxes of Blake’s stuff. Blake and his band mates have to move the music equipment to make space in the garage. Then Blake himself arrives, with so many suitcases that Rod is going to need to make two trips to the airport to pick them up. It maybe wouldn’t be so bad if it were just the boxes and suitcases, but Blake is an entitled brat. Unfortunately, he only acts this way around Rod, so everyone else thinks that Rod is making things up when he complains about Blake’s taking over his room, his expectation that Rod will act as his manservant, etc. To them, Blake is polite and charming. To Rod, Blake is slowly turning into less of a problem and more of a nemesis. Things start really taking on steam when Blake gets Rod in trouble at school for throwing rat guts on him when Blake did it to himself. When Blake refers to himself as Fanged Grapefruit adviser, Rod tries to put his foot down, but then the audience at the Lane swells to 50 people and the group mates are amazed and gratified, until Rod realizes that Blake probably bribed all those people to come. He can’t prove anything, but it certainly feels like Blake could do anything. And soon enough, he does: Audrey calls Rod crying because Rod sent Gretchen poems. Rod reassures Audrey that Blake is trying to ruin his life and his next step is probably trying to get Audrey to break up with Rod. Then Audrey calls because Rod was seen talking to Bernadette Springer, then texting Lorelei Michaels, then parking his car in front of Shannon Calmone’s house. Rod has had enough. He asks Audrey over to prove that he’s not doing anything wrong, but as he’s waiting for her, Jennifer Render shows up. And won’t go away. When Audrey finally gets there, Rod’s so flabbergasted, he can’t defend himself and Audrey really does break up with him. Rod confronts Blake, and Blake confirms that he rigged the breakup, but for Rod’s own good. Unbelievable. And now Blake has fantastic news for the band: he has scored 3 incredible gigs for an upcoming weekend. Everyone’s parents have agreed to let them go as long as they are back to go to school the following day. Despite Mel and Clarissa’s good feelings, and despite Blake’s reassurance that stardom means Rod will have his pick of girls, Rod’s not convinced. If Blake is out to ruin his life, it only stands to reason that part of it will be sabotaging the gigs. Little does Rod realize that the person who will ensure that the band takes a nosedive is Rod himself. He’s so sure that Blake is up to something, that he flails on every one of the three performances. Mel and Clarissa decide to quit the band. The next day at school, Rod is barely functional. He’s lost his girl, his band, and he can’t even open his locker. When he sees Blake standing by his car, waiting for a ride home, Rod snaps. He’s had it. Instead of heading home, he will be driving Blake back to California. Rod tosses Blake’s phone out the window, and they’re off. Yes, it’s crazy, but Rod realizes that it’s the only way to go to get Blake out of his life. Then the car breaks down. The boys get out, and have a satisfying, but lame fistfight, during which Blake finally admits to trying to ruin Rod’s life, admits that he did it out of jealousy, and tells Rod that he bet himself a year’s worth of ice cream that he could do it. In rage, Rod punches Blake, sending him towards the busy road. Rod pushes Blake out of danger’s path. Blake is astounded that Rod saved his life. Rod tells him that he would have done it if it were the other way around, and Blake disagrees. Then a semi truck honks and Blake grabs Rod to pull him to safety. The boys (mainly Blake) apologize and somehow make it back home. The band gets back together, and maybe Rod still has a chance with Audrey. We’ll see. Rod actually keeps in touch with Blake, recognizing that the events certainly made for a good story.

Tags: family, friendship, humor, modern fiction, relationships, clean read, music

In Another Time by Caroline Leech

91CP-wRqYWLNew York: Harper Teen, 2018 (361 pages)

Maisie McCall is a seventeen-year old girl who decides to leave home (against her parents’ wishes) to join the war effort as a lumberjill. She and her friend Dot train with other ladies of the Women Timber Corps (WTC), and although the blisters and the aches and the fatigue make them feel like giving up and giving in, they keep at it. One evening, the women in the camp get to go to a dance nearby; there, Maisie meets and dances with the very-reluctant John Lindsay. Despite the fact that he stops dancing midway through the song, Maisie can’t help but defend him against her friends’ gossip. When Dot and Maisie complete their training, they are stationed at Auchterblair in Inverness-shire. Dot has gained confidence through first aid training, and Maisie feels stronger now that she’s faced training and distanced herself from her father and mother. To Maisie’s surprise, John Lindsay shows up again; he is working with the Newfoundland Overseas Forestry Unit (NOFU) and together, the NOFU boys and WTC girls work on felling trees and cutting timber. It isn’t long before a romance grows between John and Maisie, but something seems to be holding John back–he’s happy to be with her, but pushes her away just as often, and Maisie, in her youth, is confused by the mixed signals she’s getting. Finally, John reveals that he is missing a leg. Maisie is relieved; of course this explains why he feels uncomfortable when people intimate that he and other members of NOFU are cowards for staying at home. When Maisie attempts to reassure John that it doesn’t matter, she is rebuffed. More confused and hurt than ever, Maisie decides that it’s probably best if she and John call it quits. With a heavy heart, she and a few girls head up the mountain to work, but hear an odd noise. It’s coming from the site of an accident. A logging truck has tipped its load, and two men are trapped beneath the fallen timber. One of the men is John. Maisie must think fast to save John and his friend Elliot. She is helped by her friends; they clear the logs, but one rolls out of control and hits Maisie in the calf, then lands on John. The only way to save him is to remove his wooden leg, which remains trapped beneath the tree. In a harrowing journey, Maisie drives to the nearest hospital. There, John and Elliot receive treatment for hypothermia and other wounds, and Elliot is later transferred to Inverness to receive treatment there. Maisie is relieved to know that John is safe, but he’s reluctant to let her in. Maisie realizes that John’s difficulty may be exacerbated by the fact that he feels helpless, so she goes and recovers his prosthetic leg from the site of the accident. At least he’ll have that, she figures, and maybe that will go a long way to healing him. Before she can return it, John shares his story. He was wounded at Dunkirk, and lost two friends who came back for him to help him to safety. He thinks it’s not only his fault that those two men died, but that Elliot has died as well. John doesn’t want to lose anyone else, so he pushes Maisie away yet again, despite her attempts to relieve his mind of at least the guilt from Elliot’s death — he’s still alive! John won’t hear or can’t hear, and sinks into a depression that Maisie doesn’t believe she can help him from, so she decides that she’s not enough for John. She asks to be reassigned to another camp, and finds out through a letter that John has decided to move on, too. On the eve of her departure, Maisie must see John one last time, to return a book of poems and to hand him a white envelope from the War Office. When she sees John, she’s shocked to find him a shadow of himself; his depression has eaten away at him outside and inside. Maisie apologizes for not being enough, and she hastens to reassure him that what he saw as loss is his own sadness and guilt dragging him down. Not only is Elliot on the mend, he’s sent several letters to John that have gone unanswered. Moreover, the two men that saved him at Dunkirk are alive, but in a POW camp. Maisie leaves John standing there with the letter in his hand. She hopes that he can find happiness, for he truly deserves to be happy. In her new assignment, Maisie struggles to find her own happiness; busyness tends to keep the demons at bay. Then a Christmas surprise arrives. A group of the NOFU boys shows up to wish her a happy Christmas, and among them is Elliot! Then, hiding behind the Christmas tree is John! He’s in uniform, and Maisie is at first infuriated at the thought that he could join the armed forces again; however, John reveals that he and the boys have joined the Home Guard to make themselves even more useful. He has received some treatment from the same hospital that worked with Elliot, and has determined to put his best effort into the healing process. Maisie is, of course, thrilled to have a recovering John back, and the book ends with Maisie and John in Nova Scotia, beginning a new life together. Author Caroline Leech includes a touching memorial to the lumberjills of the WTC, plus some historical reference points.

Tags: Historical fiction, light romance, World War II, WWII, friendship, relationships, war, PTSD, lumberjills

Finished 12/17/18

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

71md2bnyfwalJason Taylor lives with his parents and sister in Black Swan Green. The reader slowly moves through life with Jason, whose trials are considerable: He has bullies at school to contend with, and when he’s not worried about being bullied, he’s worried about friends, about the things that are or are not “gay” (warning: this book has an early-mid 1980s setting, and Jason and the boys he fraternizes with are very homophobic; this comes out in the language as well as certain actions in the book); Jason’s parents don’t get along a lot of the time; he is interested in girls and sex but doesn’t understand them; he is a closet poet, but knows that if the truth were to come out, he’d be targeted. Worst of all, Jason struggles with stuttering. Even though he is in speech therapy learning tools to combat the problem, his difference makes him stand out. So far, he’s not been relegated to the bottom of the heap; he’s kept his head up by avoiding situations that would make him too obvious a target. Unfortunately, when Jason goes to see Chariots of Fire with his mom, one of the bullies sees, and Jason is immediately and continually hazed. Thankfully, Jason does have decent people in his life that give him hope, and thankfully Jason’s circumstances make him particularly empathetic to the plight of others. Things finally turn around when Jason stands up against some boys who are extorting money from him and others and threatening violence if their demands aren’t met. Jason has had enough, and he’s decided that he’s willing to sacrifice himself (what has he got to lose?) to get some attention to the problem. He expects retaliation, but his standing up for himself is considered to be the act of a hero. This hurdle faced, the reader understands that despite other problems to be faced, now and in the future, Jason will make it through.

Finished 10/18

Tags: family, adolescence, relationships, bullying, peer pressure, disability

The Truth Lies Here by Lindsey Klingele

y648New York: Harper Teen, 2018 (402 pages)

Penelope is back in Bone Lake, Michigan, for the summer. It’s been a while; since her mom and dad’s divorce, Penny hasn’t wanted to revisit her hometown for more than a couple of weeks at a time. But now that college is around the corner, Penny wants to impress the admissions staff at Northwest University with her journalistic abilities so she’s come back to find out more about why her hometown is going downhill. It’s related to factory closures, for sure, but her story needs a “human element” and Penny is hoping she’ll find it in Bone Lake, despite dreading visiting with her dad, Ike, who hangs out in the backwoods taking pictures and setting picture traps for his stories about Bigfoot , UFO sightings, and the visitors from another planet who hitched a ride on the meteorite that fell near the town about a year after Penny was born. This is the exact opposite of the kind of writing Penny wants to do. When Ike doesn’t show up at the airport, Penny isn’t surprised. Her dad is a pretty flaky guy. But when he still hasn’t appeared after days, Penelope becomes more and more annoyed at her father’s lack of interest. It doesn’t help that the boy next door, Dex, is worried, too. He thinks that Ike has been wrapped up in something he shouldn’t be, and it started when he found the body of a missing hiker. Penny decides to ignore her dad’s absence and focus on acting normal, getting a job at Dex’s mom’s ice cream shop and getting her story. In 2005, the plastics plant in Bone Lake closed due to a horrible accident that cost a worker, Hal Jameson, his life. The media caught on to the story and the fact that the government had a big top-secret project going on there; in the midst of the scandal, the government pulled its contract and the plant went out of business. Penny asks around town, but no one seems able to share any more details about what happened to Hal; if anything, Penny becomes suspicious when the people interviewed give the same worded response, “It’s best not to think too much about it.” Penny keeps hitting a wall when it comes to that old news story. Nowadays, the only news in Bone Lake is the the missing teens, whom everyone assumes hightailed it out of town to find a better life elsewhere. Micah Jameson, Bone Lake’s star quarterback and Penny’s old crush, invites Penny to a barn party, where she learns that Micah doesn’t think that’s what happened. At the party, one of the guests finds the charred remains of a deer, which grosses everyone out. The following day at work in the ice cream shop, Dex confronts Penny about news of the deer and he shows Penny a disturbing picture that he found in Ikes’ office, the dead body of the hiker that Ike found, charred to a crisp like the deer. The combination of the odd similar responses to the Hal Jameson accident, the burnt bodies and Ike’s continuing absence is enough to make Penny ramp up efforts to find her dad. Too bad that the next place she has to look is Julie Harper, wife of the sheriff and mother to Penny’s former best friend Reese, who cut Penny from her life after Penny told her that she saw Julie and Ike making out (precipitating Penny’s parents’ divorce). Julie doesn’t know where Ike is, and sheriff Bud Harper, who just so happens to be passing by, tries to reassure Penny that Ike is probably out fooling around with his cameras and lost track of time. This reminds Penny that Ike left a camera in his office. She checks the images to see if she can find out where her dad took them to have an idea where he might be, but no such luck. After some hours of fruitless searching, Micah stops by and decides to help Penny look for her dad by checking her dad’s favorite camping spots. When they go out looking, they don’t find anything. At the final spot, Micah leans in for a kiss, but a cracking noise in the forest alerts Penny to danger. A group of teenagers surround the truck and scare the two as they make out, but when Micah’s response is to laugh along with the others, Penny feels betrayed and runs away, which is how she stumbles upon the bodies of the two missing teens, also burnt like the others. Penny is terrified that her dad might be in trouble, but a weird email from Ike telling Penny he’s okay doesn’t reassure her. Nor does the fact that the sheriff deems Ike a “person of interest” in relation to the murders (since he found the hiker, and now is missing). Now Penny needs to find evidence in her dad’s defense. She is able to access the contents of his safe, where she and Dex find interesting information about the meteorite, the plastics plant closing, and a mysterious note that reads X10-88. Unfortunately, just as Penny and Dex are drawing some connections, there is a knock at the door. It’s two men in black. They’re feds, and they’ve come to search Ike’s stuff. Luckily, Dex’s quick thinking saves a bit of the contents of the safe. Penny decides to team up with Dex, and their searching leads them to the site where the meteorite crashed. Nearby, they discover one of Ike’s cameras, and on them, disturbing images of the sheriff standing, unmoving for 3 or 4 hours in the same spot. Penny is at a loss for what to do next, but decides to visit Micah, then the plastics plant when Micah doesn’t answer the door. There, Penny discovers that X10 refers to a door in the facility. She discovers char marks on the wall, then hears a noise behind her, then nothing. She wakes up on her back porch, and on her phone is a message from her dad. He asks her to stop looking for him, and to stay safe, but this only incites Penny to act against his wishes. She knows there’s something weird going on. So she and Dex decide to follow the FBI agents to get some idea of what’s happening. They discover that the agents are storing items, including Penny’s dad’s truck, at a storage facility outside town. Penny and Dex sneak in and hear the agents talk about infected bodies and hunting for people exhibiting strange behavior, which reminds them of the sheriff. They go looking for him, but find his car abandoned near the Miller’s barn near the site of the party where the deer carcass was found. Apparently, Sheriff Harper broke up another party there, and was on his way home with Reese. Reese petulantly explains that her dad saw a light, stopped the car and went off to investigate. They then hear a man’s yell from the barn and run to see what’s going on. Micah is shaking the sheriff’s shoulders, and the sheriff is out cold. Micah is surprised to see Penny and Dex, and warns the group that something is out there. The light approaches–it’s a burning light, brighter than a camera flash. Dex and Penny immediately link the light to the burned-up bodies, and all of them struggle to move the unconscious sheriff to the barn. When they get inside, they find Ike, chained to the far wall. He sternly warns them to leave, but then Micah steps forward brandishing a gun. Micah admits that he used X10-88, a compound from the meteorite that affects peoples memories, to make the sheriff forget, to make Penny forget what happened after she discovered room X10 at the plastics plant. Apparently, the government was testing compounds from the meteorite and Hal Jameson got trapped in a room with some of the chemical compounds. They badly burned him and also transformed him into a living torch. Hal Jameson did not die in 2005; he’s been living at the plant, but his mind is deteriorating–he escaped and his “infection” has killed people. The government initially covered over the accident with a healthy dose of X10-88 on the citizens of Bone Lake, but now that Hal is loose, they are back to put it all to rest. Micah wants to protect his dad, but he can’t anymore, and his desperation has led to his own misguided attempts at covering his dad’s horrifying trail. If he can get more of the X10-88, he thinks he’ll be able to brainwash the group to make them forget the night’s events, so he decides to head back to the storage facility where the feds are keeping their stash. He leaves them locked in the barn, but Hal approaches. The kids get out and run for the sheriff’s car, hoping that he’s left the keys inside so they can get help, but Hal follows them. His gaze begins to burn, and both Reese and Penny are in serious danger when Micah turns up again. He’s yelling for his dad to stop, but Hal can’t or won’t, and now Hal is reaching for Micah. Penny and Reese shoot Hal with a gun they found in the sheriff’s car. Hal’s light is finally extinguished. In the aftermath, the FBI agents show up to confirm Micah’s story, but they don’t need to cover anything up; who would believe a conspiracy theorist like Ike Hardjoy anyway? Penny has her dad back, and she’s learned that the true story she was chasing was as zany and unbelievable as any her dad ever wrote. That’s okay, because in the process, she learned to accept him with all his flaws, and to appreciate her hometown and the people she grew up with, especially Dex.

Finished 10/18

Tags: Mystery, light romance, suspense, murder, relationships, family, friendship, conspiracy theory

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

51vestgolql-_sx321_bo1204203200_New York: Random House, 2018 (521 pages)

This story builds on Hartman’s Seraphina series. Tess’s story is told jumping between her present and past.  Here, I relate the events in chronological order. Tess is Seraphina’s half sister, and has lived in the shadow of Seraphina’s story most of her life. When Seraphina’s scales came in, the truth that their father’s first wife was a dragon came out, which strained the relationship between Tess’s mother and their father. To add to the burden, Tess and her beautiful and dutiful twin Jeanne share the responsibility of marrying well, to devout men, since their father’s business is poor. At the root of all of the unhappiness is a mother with too many of her own disappointments, who pushes this onto anyone within range. Unfortunately, Tess and Jeanne are the closest, and being female in a male-dominated world means that they must conform to high standards. These include standards for ladies who wish to be wives for the lower aristocracy (or at least attendants to high-born ladies), and standards for devout Samsamese, which mean lots of religious rules against every kind of vice (including womanhood). All of this is too much for Tess, so when she rebels, she seems to do so with an appetite for her own destruction. Even when they were very young, she and Jeanne were, by dint of being female, given womenly responsibilites that chafed, but Tess was the spankworthy twin, always looking for adventures like those of her favorite fictional pirate Dozerius. And thanks to her best friend, a quigutl named Pathka, she got into even more sticky situations and adventures. When she saved Pathka from dying as she delivered the final of her first clutch of eggs, Tess gained a friend for life (even though Pathka resented the presence of her unwanted hatchling, Kikiu). As a young woman, Tess’s rebelliousness took another turn for the worse when she began contriving to attend lectures and hang out with students, particularly the irreverent, irrepresible Will of Affle. Tess shares Pathka’s story of the world serpents with Will, which results first in attraction, then in an unforeseen physical relationship resulting in a pregnancy. But even before Tess understands what has happened, Will disappears. Tess is sent, in disgrace, to have her baby at her uncle’s home, but the baby is born three months early and dies at three days old. When Tess returns to her family, she carries these new burdens with the rest, and the load is too much. She loses herself in drink, but helps Jeanne to marriage with a weathly and devout nobleman. Unfortunately, Tess’s badness rears its head again when the soon-to-be inlaws discover Tess’s past, and the stain spreads to Jeanne. Tess and her future brother-in-law, Jacomo, must sit behind a screen in the newlyweds room as witnesses to the state of Jeanne’s virginity. Jacomo can’t keep from riling the drunken Tess, who punches him in the nose and ruins her sister’s wedding night. As a result, Tess is given two options: join a nunnery, or stay with Jeanne as a companion. Seraphina steps in with a third option: join the Countess Margarethe on a scientific excursion to study megafauna in the antarctic. Tess is too wrapped up in her own misery and too bullheaded to rely on her half-sister’s charity, so she decides on option four: run away. Thus begins a gradual healing process for Tess, one that begins when she no longer has access to drink and must fend for herself. Thankfully, she is joined early on by her old friend Pathka, and together they determine to locate the world serpent, Anathuthia, for themselves. (It helps that Pathka has been called to this mission in a dream, and has followed the traces and summoned Anathuthia by sacrificing his blood, opening himself up to further dreaming.) Throughout their journey, Tess and Pathka are forced to face some difficult truths about the choices they’ve made, and the choices that have been made for them. Tess, even as she perceives herself as the worst reprobate, conducts herself with kindness to others. Pathka is forced to recognize that he (quigutl’s can change sex over the course of their lives) was a poor mother. The longer they are away, and the farther they go, the voices that tell Tess she’s worthless die down. Tess strips herself of her female identity in order to travel more freely, becoming, by turns, the dashing thief Jacomo, a seminarian who doubts his vocation, and Tes’puco (dunderhead) who joins a road crew that to fill a seemingly endless sinkhole that opened up with the recent earthquakes. Pathka finally discovers Anathuthia, buried deep below a Ninysh monastery. Pathka’s summons have roused the world serpent, and her movement causes the earthquake that sucks down the monastery library into yet another sinkhole. Tess (as Jacomo, the seminarian) and a troubled monk, Frai Moldi, descend to an awesome sight: Anathuthia, whose coils emit a blue glow, has laid an egg. The sight has stricken the both of them to the core; it is an epiphany that leads Frai Moldi to help his monastery and Tess to want to share the news as far as she can. She makes her way to Segosh, where she intends to blow away the members of the Ninysh Acadamy with her discover. In looking for a place to stay, she meets Mother Gaida, who hires Tess to take care of her incapacitated son, Josquin. This Josquin is the same herald who helped Seraphina, but who was disabled in an accident. In caring for Josquin, Tess makes an unexpected discovery: she is terribly attracted to Josquin. With his help, Tess (as Tes’puco) shares the discovery of Anathuthia with the scholars in Segosh. Unfortunately, one of the scholars is jealous of Tes’puco and outs him as a female, thereby putting all of Tess’s findings in doubt. Worse, the scholars lead an expedition that kills Anathuthia for the sake of studying her body and nature. When they do this, Pathka almost dies when his connection to Anathuthia is severed. At least he hid Anathuthia’s egg! Little do the scholars they realize the damage they’ve caused. By killing the world serpents, what will become of the world? Now that everyone knows the world serpents exist, there is a mad rush to discover the rest. The dragons, who have always seemed to want to supress knowledge about the giant snakes, have chartered a ship for the purpose of finding the Antarctic serpent. Seraphina comes to Tess’s rescue a final time to make her accept a place on the Countess Margarethe’s ship, bound for the same goal by order of the Queen of Goredd. No more world serpents should be slaughtered. Tess must leave Josquin, but finds an unexpected friend in the real Jacomo, the brother-in-law she left with a broken nose. He’s followed her trail to Sagosh, and has made some discoveries of his own. Pathka, after regaining his health (saved once more by Tess), and Kikiu, finally united with her mother/father, join Jacomo and Tess on the next leg of the adventure. Tess of the road will become Tess of the sea.

Tags: identity, gender stereotypes, friendship, discovery, light romance, self-discovery, fantasy, magic, relationships

Finished 5/12/18

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

29589074New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2018 (416 pages)

In April, 1936, millionaire and founder of the Ellingham Academy, Albert Ellingham, received a riddle. A threat, signed “Truly Devious”. No one took it seriously at the time, because if there was anything Ellingham appreciated and nurtured, it was a love a good game. The Ellingham Academy just so happened to be a special free school for the gifted and talented, one where students were encouraged to use their brains. Unfortunately, soon afterward, one of the brightest students, Dottie Epstein, met a tragic end at the bottom steps of the tunnel leading to the glass-domed structure at the center of the lake behind the house. No one solved the crime. But Stevie Bell, the latest in the Ellingham crop, has decided that her school project will be to solve the murder. The problem: once Stevie starts broadcasting the news, another riddle appears, and another murder takes place, and the list of suspects for the current murder includes many of her classmates. Is the latest murderer a copycat, or has Truly Devious returned to keep the original case cold?

Finished 3/18

Tags: suspense, mystery, murder, historical fiction, modern fiction, light romance, friendship, fitting in

This is book 1 (to be continued~)

Frontier Grit by Marianne Monson

51gb6jojpsl-_sx329_bo1204203200_This is a collection of biographies of frontierswomen followed by notes and further reading. It begins with the life of Nellie Cashman, who was born in Ireland and died in Canada after an adventurous life that included, for example, a 750-mile dogsledding run when Nellie was in her seventies. Then there is the story of former slave Aunt Clara Brown, who spent her life in service to others; Abigail Scott Duniway, a die-hard Oregon suffragette; Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, defender of justice for Mexican Americans, and Mexican-American author; Luzena Stanley Wilson, one of the first women to endure the Oregon Trail, continual hardship and deprivation, and still find success; Mother Jones, the infamous/famous union rights activist; Zitkala-Sa, who underwent a grueling form of “white-ification” but returned to her native Sioux customs to write and defend her people; Mary Hallock Foote, pioneer illustrator and writer made famous by plagiarist Wallace Stegner’s infamous novel Angle of Repose; Marth Hughes Cannon, an early Mormon female doctor, state senator and women’s rights activist; Donaldina Cameron, defender of Chinese girls exploited by the sex industry in San Francisco at the turn of the century; Charley Parkhurst, the famous stagecoach driver and philanthropist, and Makaopiopio, a native Hawaiain and one person in a community of many immigrants who made their home in Utah, bringing aloha with them.

Tags: grit and determination, feminism, women’s rights, hardship, pioneer, family, U.S. history, biography, immigration, social justice

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward

515pytntrcl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Jojo lives with his grandpa, Pop, sick grandma, Mam, and baby sister, Kayla. Sometimes his mom, Leonie, shows up, but never to mother, and usually high. His dad, Michael, is at Parchman, a state penitentiary up north, and he’s about to get out. Jojo looks up to Pop. Pop is a real man, unafraid of work, a man who tends to his family’s needs. He also served time at Parchman, back when he was young. He and his brother Stag were sent there (no trial) to work when Stag lashed out at a white man in a barroom brawl. There, Pop (River, or Riv) met Richie, aged 12, incarcerated for stealing to feed a starving family. Jojo often requests stories about Richie from Pop, but Pop never tells Jojo Richie’s sad ending. Mam, now dying of cancer, used to be known as a wisewoman, and she tried to teach Leonie about gris-gris cures and rituals, but nothing ever stuck. Unlike her parents, who care for others, Leonie seems only to care for herself. When her brother, Given (Pop and Mam’s beloved son) was killed in an “accidental” hunting accident, things just started falling apart. The sherriff, big Joseph (Michael’s father) hushed things up, but Leonie knows what happened because Michael told her. The relationship between Michael and Leonie is volatile. Both seek to submerge the past with drugs. Michael gets caught, but Leonie is left with the nominal care of her two kids. And everytime she uses, the ghost of Given shows up, judging her. Finally, Michael is released, and Leonie decides the kids will come with her and her best friend Misty to pick him up. On the way, the women negelct the kids, who are thirsty and hungry in the hot Mississippi weather. They take a detour to pick up meth; Kayla falls ill, and Jojo must care for her. When they reach Parchman, not only do they pick up Michael, they pick up Richie’s ghost, who wants to return with them to the Bayou to see Riv (Pop). The way back is just as eventful, if not more so. A police officer pulls them over, Leonie swallows the rest of the Meth, cuffs Leonie, Michael and Jojo and puts a gun to his head; then Kayla saves the day when she vomits all over the officer. The group make it back home, but Mam is even more sick. She asks Leonie to begin the death ritual, but Leonie can’t do it. Pop finishes Richie’s story, but instead of settling the ghost, Richie stays; his death was caused by Riv, and now Richie can’t find peace. Leonie finally begins the ritual, but it’s almost too late; Richie’s trying to attach himself to Mam so he can finally cross over, but Given is fighting against it.  With Jojo’s help, Leonie is able to finish and Given supplants Richie.  After Mam’s passing, Leonie and Michael go their way.  Pop cares for Jojo and Kayla as best he can.  Jojo is still haunted by Richie, who mourns that he is loose, that so many are loose like him, “wandering against the song.”  Jojo looks into the branches of the trees and despairs over the lost dead he sees there, but Pop comes and stands by him, and Kayla eases the ghosts with her own song.

Tags: race relations, social justice, family, love, police brutality, white privilege, U.S. history, neglect, drug abuse, dysfunction

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

29456598New York: Simon Pulse, 2017 (340 pages)

Kiko is nervous. Always anxious. She’s afraid that she won’t get into Prism, the New York art school; she’s afraid to be around anyone but her best friend Emery, and she’s constantly worried about getting her mom’s approval. But her mom Angelina is hard to please, actually impossible to please. Kiko, her elder brother Taro and younger brother Shoji all live with their blonde, beautiful Anglo mother Angelina; she received full custody after their Japanese father basically abandoned them. But Kiko doesn’t blame him. She blames herself. Her dad and mom would still be together if Kiko hadn’t made things difficult with her “story” about Uncle Max. At least that’s what her mom tells her. So Kiko retreats into herself, and is jealous of Taro, who seems to be so good at deflecting their mom’s relentless criticism, and of Shoji, who has learned to keep to himself. But things take a turn for the worse when Angelina invites Uncle Max to dinner. Kiko escapes by accepting an invitation to a party, where she sees Jamie Merrick, of all people. Jamie, her childhood best friend. Jamie, the boy Kiko has loved since forever. Jamie’s back in town to visit family, but Kiko, despite her reservations and anxiety, is drawn to Jamie just as Jamie is drawn to Kiko. News that Kiko didn’t get into Prism, followed by Emery’s departure to college, along with Angelina allowing creepy Uncle Max to move back in with them pushes Kiko toward Jamie. Then, when Max enters Kiko’s bedroom in the night, Kiko has had enough. She runs away from home to Jamie’s cousin’s house, and Jamie convinces Kiko to come home with him to California for a few weeks so she can look for art schools there. At this point, Kiko has nothing to lose, so she accepts. In California, the two friends visit 3 art schools, and Kiko sees a flyer advertising an incredible art show by Hiroshi Matsumoto. The friends go, and Jamie, to Kiko’s unending mortification, shows the artist some of Kiko’s work. This begins an unexpected friendship between Kiko and the artist; he allows her to use his studio to get a portfolio together for art school. In Matsumoto and his Japanese family, Kiko finally feels at home, even though her heart still yearns for her mother’s acceptance and approval. Kiko and Jamie move closer together, but Kiko is concerned that she is using Jamie like a crutch–she’s dependent on him to get her through life, heavily relying on him, just like she relied on Emery, to protect her and be a shield between herself and the world. Her time in California is coming to a close, but Matsumoto’s wife invites Kiko to stay and work in the family cafe below the studio. Kiko accepts, and through her art she’s slowly accepting herself, and in distancing herself from her mother, and hearing about Matsumoto’s difficulty living up to his own father’s expectations, Kiko sees Angelina for the narcissist that she is. And her new energy and focus gets her into one of the art schools she applied to, Brightwood. But when news that Shijo has attempted suicide, Kiko must give up everything to move back to Nebraska. In the emotionally stressful time, Kiko admits all her fears to Elouise, Jamie’s mom. It is at this time that the truth comes out. Angelina was the one who had the affair…with Jamie’s dad. Kiko is angry with Jamie for keeping the secret this whole time, and decides to distance herself from him. Angelina barely admits to her infidelity, and immediately defends herself as the victim, but Kiko stands firm and is finally able to stand up to her mom’s bullying and lying. Shoji moves in with their dad, and Kiko joins him soon after. Jamie tries to gain his way back into Kiko’s heart, but Kiko holds off–that is until she is called by an admissions officer from Prism, who offers her a place in the school the following year. Kiko finds out that she has Jamie and Matsumoto to thank. Kiko can move back to California, attend Brightwood, then Prism, and renew her efforts to heal herself away from her mom’s destructive gravitational pull.

Tags: Anxiety disorder, dysfunctional family, light romance, coping, friendship, realistic fiction

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