• What I'm Reading: Fall into Winter 2014-2015
    Author, Title, Year of Publication
    Brief summary & rating  
    Genre, Length, Dates I read the book
    Reminder: never read the Wikipedia information on a book to see if you'll like it.  Their "Plot Introduction" tells the whole story as a boring summary, which ruins it completely.  (Avoid the copyright page summary, too!)  I understand some people are looking for a way to avoid actually reading, but if you like books, you have to let the book unfold as the author meant it to.  Discovering the story for yourself, making predictions, being surprised - this is why we read.  Don't let some online summary rob you of the joy of experiencing books.  On a more practical note, I have read all of these books; if it has been a while, I am re-reading now.
      If you need help with a book, talk to me.  I can help - and I can tell that you have read.
    Alex Sanchez  Rainbow High (2003) 
               Nelson, Kyle and Jason are typical high school seniors: busy with sports, dating, school, college plans, difficult family members ... and coming out: all three are gay.  The book is narrated in 3rd person, but switches off to follow each of them up close chapter by chapter.  Appealing characters and realistic situations make this novel an excellent read.
               Realistic fiction.  247 pgs.  Read in January 2015. 
    Holly Black The Darkest Part of the Forest  (2015) 
              "Hazel and her brother live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side.  Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy.  But visitors fail to see the danger."  So begins the description inside the cover of Holly Black's newest novel, in which she returns to the stories of teens and Faerie that began her career.  Expect a story of magic, temptation, love, betrayal, secrets, and a teen-aged protagonist who learns to be the hero of her own story.
              YA Speculative fiction.  325 pages.  Read on Feb. 6-7.
              This novel has a trailer!  See it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKUzMMuvme8
    Max Brooks World War Z  (2006)
              Zombie lovers alert!  This is the best zombie book I have read yet.  Brooks uses a Studs Terkel documentary style; his novel is a collection of recollected events told by a wide variety of zombie-apocalypse survivors from around the world.  Warning: it is not too gruesome - people don't want to remember the gross stuff in detail - but they are remembering when zombies almost wiped out humanity.  Things get...icky.
              I hear there's a new movie, and I can see why; I'll probably even see it - but I know I'll prefer the book.  Hearing about individual's experience is far more interesting than the "action and brains" approach that a movie is sure to employ.  (Update: I was right.  By the way, the movie has nothing to do with the book.)
              Speculative fiction.  342 pages.  Read over a few days in late December, 2012.
    Mary Sharrat Daughters of the Witching Hill  (2010)
              Sharrat learned about the true story of the Pendle Witches.  She explains here: "In 1612, in one of the most meticulously documented trials in English history, seven women and two men from Pendle Forest were hanged as witches, condemned on 'evidence' provided by a nine-year-old girl and her brother, who appeared to suffer from learning difficulties. The trial itself might never have happened had it not been for King James I’s obsession with the occult. His book Daemonologie—required reading for local magistrates—warned of a vast conspiracy of satanic witches threatening to undermine the nation."  Read more at http://www.marysharratt.com/books_dwh_about.html
              Sharrat creates characters we care about.  Her two narrators tell a fantastic story of how prejudice and ignorance intertwine, leading to accusations of witchcraft being heaped upon herbcraft healers.  At the same time, she accurately portrays the lives of common people of the post-Shakespearian countryside; FYI, there's no mention of the Bard.  Life is much harder for the rural folk.  Warning: the back cover is a spoiler and is not accurate.  Skip it.
              Note: Some of my students had trouble this year with the language; plan to work a little harder to understand, especially with dialogue.  Also, Sharrat weaves different voices and times together.  Make a timeline of events using people's ages as a reference, and fill in events as you learn about them.  I did, and the book made sense; students who did not had trouble.
              Historical and light speculative fiction.  352 pages.  I read half, accidentally took a break, and then started over because it was worth it.  Late December 2012.  I bought the book on the left, but I thought the different covers were interesting.  Maybe the publisher hoped to appeal to different readers.  
    Barbara Kingsolver Flight Behavior (2012)
               Dellarobia Turnbow is 28 and miserable.  When she sets out to make a radical change, she comes upon something unexpected.  Protecting this discovery requires preventing a logging project ... and before she knows it, many people in her small Tennessee town are drawn into the scramble to solve the problem, and major media wants to tell her story.  Kingsolver displays the conflicts that arise as proponents of science, religion, politics, economic need, and conservationist ideals debate a major environmental issue.
             As usual, avoid the summaries and reviews; they will probably reveal too much.  If you must know more, Kingsolver's site tells you enough to explain the book without revealing more than you'd find out early in the novel: http://www.kingsolver.com/books/flight-behavior.html
             Realistic fiction.  448 pages.  Read in three days over winter break, 2012.  Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors. I buy every book she writes, immediately, in hard cover. I have never been disappointed.  This one inspires a second reading, and some extensive self-directed study afterward. 
    Louise Erdrich The Round House  (2012)
             Erdrich's 14th novel, like the others, is set in and around a Native American reservation in North Dakota.
            13 year old Joe and his friends wander the res, passing time and narrowly avoiding getting into trouble.  Meanwhile, Joe gets caught up in solving a mystery which involves violence, a twisted up legal system, and his own mother.  Erdrich's coming of age story also offers sometimes lyrical commentary on discrimination and prejudice, myth and spirituality, and revenge.
            I have read almost every one of Erdrich's works, and I have never been disappointed.  
            Realistic fiction.  Teen protaganist, so officially a YA novel; its issues are not typical, though.  321 pages.  Read in the spring a couple years ago. 


    Paul Volponi Crossing Lines  (2011)
              Adonis is a high school senior and a football player.  He and his teammates can't stand a new kid, Alan, because he seems so gay.  Meanwhile, both his girlfriend and his sister take the new kid's side.  When the other guys get mean, Adonis has to decide what he'll do.
              (OK, yeah, it was a little cheesy.  Worth the read, but...  When I figured out it's really a middle school book, it made more sense.  I'll be looking for something better for next year's PCR.  Suggestions are welcome.)
              Note: this is NOT related to the French television series. 
              Realistic fiction. YA.  245 pages.  Read in 3 days, late September 2014.
    Trent Reedy Divided we fall  (2014)
              "I am Private First Class Daniel Christopher Wright, I am seventeen years old, and I fired the shot that ended the United States of America."  This is how the novel begins.  Interested?  Me, too.
              Dan is a high school student, a football player, and an average guy.  Sort of.  But the world has changed so much that he can't have an average year.  The Idaho National Guard has been mobilized to help control protests in Boise, and he's a Guardsman...  And so it begins.
             This was a great read.  The book does require understanding arguments over state vs. federal rights, and basic American freedoms - but I think everyone should be educated about those.  Current events - protests over Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri and police brutality - make this book especially relevant, and especially chilling.
             Note: This book is not related to the documentary called Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath. 
              Speculative fiction, YA.  374 pages.  Read in 4 or 5 days, early October 2014. 
    Cat Winters In the shadow of blackbirds  (2013)
              Mary Shelley Black, a 16-year-old girl who was named for the author of Frankenstein, arrives in San Diego in 1918.  World War I is raging overseas, and people at home are terrified of catching the flu - influenza is a deadly killer in their world.  People are getting a little weird, as in, attending séances and believing in ghosts.  But...what if the ghosts are real?
              Not only was this a great read - it caught my attention almost immediately and had enough suspense and interesting characterization to keep me reading - it taught me more about what life was like in 1918 than I was expecting.  Completely worth it! 
              Historical and speculative fiction, YA.  387 pages (but not really because they print at 1.5 spacing).  Read in 3 or 4 days in October 2014.   
    David Levithan wide awake  (2006) 
             16 year old Duncan Weiss lives in our future, a future where everything got worse for quite a while, and now is finally starting to get better - in part because the newly elected president promises real change.  But when the election is called into question, Duncan and his boyfriend disagree about what they should do to make change - and their relationship feels uncertain, too.  Duncan has to decide what he's willing to risk for something he believes in.
             This is a great novel, and I am thrilled to have discovered this writer.  Although it's not a big part of the story, the novel is set in NJ, where Levithan lives.  I always appreciate that personal connection. Better yet, I have found the book to replace our less satisfying PCR read from earlier this fall.  Completely worth it! 
              Speculative fiction (realistic, in the future), YA.  221 pages.  Read December 6-7, 2014. 
    Interested in Honors next year?  Try a book that will stretch your mind a but further.
    Barbara Ehrenreich Living with a wild God: a nonbeliever's search for the truth about everything (2014) 
              If you don't feel like reading fiction, check out Ehrenreich's new memoir.  I just found it in the Media Center today, and I have really enjoyed the author's other works, so it's a must-read for me.  Prepare for a book that is about philosophical exploration more than it is about plot.
              Whew!  This is more challenging than I expected.  Luckily, I have a wide vocabulary, so I only need to look up 1 word a chapter; my students tell me they look up several words per page.  Also, I have a fairly strong grounding in history, philosophy (Kant, Hegel, etc.), and science (quantum physics).  If you don't. you'll be looking up allusions all the time.  For now, I am moving it to the Challenge category.  I'll decide what I really think of it when I am done . 
              Nonfiction: memoir & philosophy.  237 pages.  Reading now. (1/29 Update: Never finished. Starting over soon.)
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus (2003)
              Kambili lives in post-colonial Nigeria, a country still struggling to establish peace and fair government.  Her difficult and demanding father runs the only politically outspoken newspaper and contributes financially to many worthwhile causes, but does not allow for freedom of thought within his own house.  Everything changes when Kambili and her brother visit their aunt in another town in the midst of nation-wide political upheaval.
              This is an amazing first novel that I immediately wanted to recommend to all my students.  I was pleased to see it is now on many AP and International Baccalaureate course lists - other people see its value, too.
              Realistic fiction.  YA character, but it doesn't read like a book "for teens."  307 pages.  Read in 2011.
    purple h
Last Modified on February 9, 2015