April 27, 2013

Lesson 3

Invincible Summer
by Hannah Moskowitz
Simon Pulse, 2011
269 pages

So many times, this book carried me right to the brink of LOVING it, but never quite managed it, and I'm sad to say that by the time I finished, it had failed to even make me like it.  I really wanted to do so, too, because there were aspects of the story that I thought were awesome, and a couple of characters that I really liked, but in the end, this novel just set my teeth on edge, like fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. *sigh*

It is the story of two families who own adjacent summer beach houses and spend their summer vacations there together each year. Though we get little hints and reminiscences of summers when the older children of each family were small and the younger ones hadn't even been thought of yet, the story doesn't begin until just before the narrator-protagonist's 15th birthday. The entire book consists solely of the stories of that and the following three summers, the interactions of various family members and between several members of the two different families.

It's difficult to fully explain my disappointment with this book without striking out into the treacherous waters of SPOILERS, so I will simply say that [A] I thought one of my favorite characters deserved a MUCH better outcome than they got, and [B] I felt that this book conveys some VERY disturbing messages to and about women, especially those who are high-school and college-aged. While I absolutely do not believe in censorship or banning books, I really think that any teens who read this book really need some extensive parental guidance and discussion while they do so.

One thing that I really DID love about the book was the way that three of the characters bonded over the writings of one author whose works have now become classics. If you've ever had that kind of experience, you'll know for yourself how it can happen and what an extraordinary feeling it engenders. When something truly inspires, the reader can spend months or even years engrossed in a single author's oeuvre and worldview. Even when you finally outgrow it, or your first passion for it cools a bit because new pieces constantly extend your horizons still further, there is always a certain attachment, a certain frisson of the old excitment and ardor whenever the book, poem, essay, or author is mentioned.

This bibliomaniac obsession with a newly-discovered author was the part of the book that I most enjoyed and with which I could be identify and empathize BY FAR, and it is one of the strongest and longest-running themes in the novel (hence my hopes throughout that I would end up liking the work much more than I ultimately did). Invincible Summer actually made me WILDLY curious to investigate the writings of the narrator's muse, and that in itself makes reading this book time well-spent, in my opinion. Unfortunately, however, I cannot in all honesty actually recommend this book.

April 24, 2013

Lesson 2

Yes, she's back, o few but loyal gang of readers!  And I feel so much better that I'd swear I've had a complete body transplant, except that if I had, and I were still this overweight, I'd be REALLY pissed!  What I have acquired instead is a personal trainer/nutritionist, and the drive to get up and change things every day.  Thank God for recovery in all its forms. When HE decides to get you well, He doesn't mess around!

The next logical question should now be, "How's the Re-Education Reading Challenge going?", especially since those of you who contributed to the reading list put a fair bit of time and thought into which books to add.  The answer is, slow but steady. According to my Goodreads challenge widget, I am woefully behind, as you might imagine, but after a month of post-surgical fog, my keen reading appetite returned to me, and so I have been faithfully plunging ahead throughout the end of March and all of April so far. I may not finish in this calendar year, but I'm not ready to concede yet--we've got a lot of year left!--and if I don't finish in 2013, I've decided to extend the project until I HAVE read them all. I feel I owe that much to the list's contributors, and to myself.  Meanwhile, I can use my laptop again, so let the reviews commence!

by Laurie Halse Anderson
Square Fish, 2011
198 pages

Another book that is certainly not light reading, Speak is the year-long journey of one girl learning to value herself, to defend herself no matter what it costs her, and to find herself sufficient company when she and the "cliques" in her high school discover they have absolutely no interest in each other.

Once again, we are dealing with the aftermath of an assault, of physical and emotional abuse, but in this book, the author rips away the facade of safety and respectability of the American education system as it currently exists.  All the million tiny opportunities afforded to abusive personalities in all-too-frequently unsupervised moments are portrayed with such poignant accuracy that it's clear the author still remembers her own high school experience with startling (and no doubt, often painful!) clarity.  Her descriptions of bullying, verbal abuse, and especially, of learning ways to hide in plain sight in large group situations such as the cafeteria, certainly resonated with me. Based on the book's brief introduction, this novel has obviously done the same for many, MANY others in the decade since it was first published, particularly for people who suffered far worse things in public school than I ever did.

Reviewers of this book often mention Laurie Halse Anderson's dry, caustic humor, with which she infuses her protagonist here, and it's a good thing she does; otherwise, this book would be so depressing that it might be impossible to finish! It's a seminal work that helped shine light on a cultural evil from which this country suffers--none of which makes it COMFORTABLE reading by any means. Just as it should be.
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