Monday, February 24, 2014

A Review of 'Bud, Not Buddy' by Christopher Paul Curtis

"It's 1936 in Flint, Michigan.  Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud's got a few things going for him:

  1. He has his own suitcase full of special things.
  2. He's the author of Bud Caldwell's Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.
  3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!
Bud's got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father.  Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him-- not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself."

I first read this book sometime between fourth and seventh grade.  We read it as a group and it was the most miserable time ever.  I couldn't get into it at all and I just didn't care.  Now I've read it as an adult.  While it's still not my favorite book in the world, I see the value in it and I realize that it's not such a bad book.  If I teach middle school and I decide to teach some historical fiction (more than likely) this would be a good candidate.  I haven't read too many books about kids that take place during the Great Depression.

I thought Bud was a great character.  He was vulnerable, he was amusing, and he did change by the end of the book.  He even had future prospects, after receiving his first saxophone!  I also loved how grateful and polite he was throughout the book.  He was dealt such a crummy hand in life that it would be really easy to be a total brat and complain all the time.  But he didn't.  Maybe it was just the time period and he realized that he needed to cope like everyone else who was struggling during this time.

I had a problem with the rest of the characters though.  No one stuck around long enough for me to really and truly care about them.  There was no mention of them at the end.  Bugs was a charming fellow and he's whisked off to Chicago when he jumps a train.  Deza was really cute, but the police rounded up her Hooverville family and we never hear from her again.  We never hear from Lefty and his family again (I liked him the most).  We don't even really get to know a lot about who his mother was or even a lot about Herman E. Calloway (although, he's an actual historical figure, so we can do research on him, unlike most of the other characters).  Had these characters been a stronger presence throughout the book, whether they were physically with Bud or not, I think the book would have been much richer.  But even though we only get glimpses of these characters, I feel like it helped lay a groundwork for who was living during this time and how they lived.  They painted a picture of what it was like.

This is definitely a book for younger readers, but if you're planning to use this book to expose your student/child to what the Great Depression was like, this is a book start and you won't be bored.

I give 'Bud, Not Buddy':
Thanks for Reading!


Friday, February 21, 2014

An Unequal Marriage: A Pride and Prejudice Research Paper

I won't say too much about this, only that I'm proud of the work I put into this paper.  I just really wanted to share it.  Enjoy!

Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 17, 2014

A Review of 'My Life as a Book' by Janet Tashjian

"Summer's finally here, and Derek Fallon is looking forward to pelting the UPS truck with water balloons, climbing onto the garage roof, and conducting investigations.  But when his parents decide to send Derek to Learning Camp, his dreams of fun come to an end.  Ever since he's been labeled a 'reluctant reader,' his mom has pushed him to read real books-- something other than Calvin and Hobbes.  

As Derek forges unexpected friendships and uncovers a family secret involving himself (in diapers, no less!), he realizes that surprising discoveries and adventures are around the corner, complete with curve balls."

A teacher that I helped in January let me borrow this book.  She's a fifth grade teacher and a lot of her kids really liked it, so I thought I'd read it.

As a twenty-something reading a book intended for middle school students, perhaps this isn't a fair review.  But I'll try my best.

One thing that I look for in a book is really good character development.  Great characters tend to make me fall in love with the book itself.  I also look for an interesting plot.  This book had about 1/4 of those things.  I thought that the plot involving Susan James was interesting.  If this particular subplot wasn't present, I think that I'd lose interest entirely.  As an avid reader (one who has been this way since she could read on her own), I hate reading books about people who don't like reading.  For me, it's very frustrating to have Derek say that he'd rather go sit outside and stare up at the clouds than read a book somewhere, especially when I know that my personal choice would just be the opposite.

As far as characters go, they lack any kind of depth.  Or rather, there is pseudo-depth to the characters.  While Derek is a little different from the beginning to the end of the book, his change in character seems really sudden to me.  Suddenly, he figures out what really happens with Susan James in Martha's Vineyard and suddenly he's this changed man.  His parents act the same and are quite predictable, even to Derek.  His mom says no a lot and then gets angry really quickly and oftentimes over stupid things.  His dad talks about how important it is that Derek invest in his future now, at twelve years old.  All the time.  These characters didn't do anything for me, really.

While there are some redeeming features to this book, this is not one I will be picking up again.

I give 'My Life as a Book':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 10, 2014

A Review of 'Mockingjay' by Suzanne Collins

"Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed.  Gale has escaped.  Katniss's family is safe.  Peeta has been captured by the Capitol.  District 13 really does exist.  There are rebels.  There are new leaders.  A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it.  District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol.  Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans-- except Katniss.  

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem.  To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust.  She must become the rebels' Mockingjay-- no matter what the personal cost."

'Mockingjay' came as a total surprise to me.  Ever since this book hit the shelves, I have heard a couple good things and a billion complaints.  I have started this book at least three times since the book came out, but this time when I sat down to read it, I was hooked.  It took a couple of days (life happens, you know?), but I have finally emerged to take a breath.

I was telling my partner, as we were texting before bed one night, how with this book I need to come up for air every 2-3 chapters or so.  When I take a moment to come back to my messy room in my college apartment on the edge of St. Paul, MN, my head is still stuck in Panem.  It's hard to leave.  Even when I emerge and enter my own reality, I still feel stressed from a battle that just occurred or sad because of someone's death or maybe I feel a course of adrenaline because something needs to be evacuated.  This book is immersing.

What stopped me from liking, much less finishing, this book before was how militaristic it is.  I hate that the whole book is one giant, complicated battle.  I hate that everyone is called 'Soldier' once they reach a certain age.  I hate that District 13 seems to have forgotten how to live, just by being underground for so many years.  The setting is sad, stressful, and extinguishing.  I hated the cameras being around all the time on top of this.  I felt that they were acknowledged way too much.

But the way everything is executed is just so fascinating.  The organization, the planning...

What saved this book for me was hearing Katniss's thoughts.  Something about this book made me feel like I was reading a different Katniss.  That's how it should be.  After being in the Hunger Games twice, the second time nearly killing her, Katniss should change.  It's a natural reaction to such trauma, especially after losing so many that she cares about.  Even more fascinating and frightening is how you continue to see change in Katniss as things become more dire, more and more people die, more and more is risked.

Peeta's situation sort of hit home for me.  When he was rescued from the Capitol, he wasn't himself at all.  He had experienced such horrible trauma that he was a different person, even if he was still presenting in the same body.  It reminded me of my Uncle before he died.  He experienced a series of strokes and heart attacks.  While he managed to live through them for a while, he was not the same Uncle to me for the rest of his life.  I think Katniss told someone that she would have no problem parting with Peeta because he was already gone.  I understand that feeling completely.  It's really eerie to read about this now, because it's about a year after my Uncle's death (I wrote this post on 17 January, but I've scheduled it for today).  So that's an interesting personal connection.

The ending.

I don't know how I feel about the ending.  On the one hand, I was expecting this very long and elaborate battle.  While there is a lot of violence throughout this book, there really isn't a final battle to speak of.  Katniss kills the new and the old President (I never thought that she would kill Coin, even though everyone knows that Katniss is not fond of her).  She gets away with murder on that grounds that she is mentally unstable due to trauma.  I never thought, despite everything that has happened in this series, that Prim would die.  That is life smacking Katniss in the face right there.  I never thought Katniss's mother would leave her.  That's life backhanding Katniss in the face.  This is a really dire time for Katniss.  She should have the luxury of having her mother near her, even if she is perfectly capable of functioning without her mother, as she has proved time and time again throughout the series.

What I admire about the ending of this book is how Suzanne Collins shows her characters coping and moving on.  The nightmares will never go away and yes, oftentimes nights will be rough.  But a new family emerges.  Love happens.  Life goes on.

I can't help but feel so somber after finishing this book though.  This book is going to haunt me for a long time.

I give 'Mockingjay':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 3, 2014

A Review of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' by Jean-Dominique Bauby

"In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the 43-year-old editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him completely and permanently paralyzed, a victim of 'locked in syndrome.'  Once known for his gregariousness and wit, Bauby now finds himself imprisoned in an inert body, able to communicate only by blinking his left eye.  The miracle is that in doing so he was able to compose this stunningly eloquent memoir.

In a voice that is by turns wistful and mischievous, angry and sardonic, Bauby gives us a celebration of the liberating power of consciousness: what is is like to spend a day with his children, to imagine lying in bed beside his wife, to conjure up the flavor of delectable meals even as he is fed through a tube.  Most of all, this triumphant book lets us witness an indomitable spirit and share in the pure joy of its own survival."

I hope that I never have to experience what it would be like to be locked inside my own body.  At times, Bauby described the experience in such a freeing way.  You're an observer, you have your thoughts to keep you company-- memories of really good food you had that one time you traveled to New York or somewhere else around the world.  In a way, you get to travel and experience every day.  But then you return to the starkness of the situation.  You can't move your limbs, you can't speak any more, your communication skills are severely compromised and a new code needs to be made up so that you can still interact with others.  You need help with everything that keeps you alive.

While Bauby does seem to become distressed by the fact that he is not how he used to be, he doesn't let it bother him all the time.  Speech therapy is like being in the Olympics-- a great new accomplishment every time you go through it.  He finds enjoyment in some of the physical therapy and getting sponge baths.

Despite the terrible situation that Bauby finds himself in, it makes me really happy that even in dire conditions like the life he's living, he still manages to find reasons to stay alive and keep himself busy throughout the day.  It kind of puts our own lives in perspective.  If there's a day that we're not sure we can make it through for one reason or another, we can know that it's possible.  We have active imaginations, air in our lungs, and a brand new day ahead of us.  Isn't that enough sometimes?

This was a very eye-opening read.  I'm very happy that I picked it up.  Perhaps I'll have to check out the movie soon (somehow... I'm not sure where to find it right now).

I give 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly':
Thanks for Reading!