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The Giver by Lois Lowry

23 Jul

Book: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

Origin: 5th grade school reading assignment.

I re-read The Giver by Lois Lowry for the umpteenth time, just because. The Giver is one of the first books that had a remarkable impact on me as a child. I remember reading it in the fifth grade and becoming so absorbed in the transformation of Jonas from a naive 12 year old boy into a hardened, self-aware teen determined to find his own path. The whole concept of a dystopia was new to me and I fell in love. A world without color? A world where every child was treated exactly the same? Every person was assigned a career without any choice in the matter? One person held all the memories and feelings of an entire community? I had never read a book like it.

I also felt a certain affinity for Jonas that I’d never felt for a fictional character before. I’ve always been a hoarder of emotion, both my own and that of people around me. Even as a child, I often felt overburdened by unexplainable feelings and it seemed like nobody ever understood. Meeting Jonas was the first time I felt like I wasn’t alone. Even today, re-reading it for the millionth time, I still find comfort in Jonas’ quest.

Now as I read the book from the perspective of an aspiring children’s author, it’s become clear what all my favorite children’s books have in common: Stellar Writing. The books that have stayed with me may have been written for children, but they were never written in a childish voice. They give credit to the reader and am I am still awed at Lowry’s use of language and story-telling techniques.

Sometimes I think our standards have lowered since I was young. The Young Adult market has become so flooded with poorly written, condescending crap. But then again, my parents would probably have said the same thing about my generation, and their parents before them.

In any case, The Giver did not disappoint. It is, and will always remain, one of my favorite books of all time.


Supernatural Seventh Grader Saves Spirits and Says “Screw You” to Superficial Pseudo-Friends

17 Jul

Book: Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit

Origin: Library

Note: This was the first time I’d been to the 42nd Street Children’s Center at the Main Branch of the NY Public Library. It’s super cool and I didn’t even feel weird about perusing all the children’s books and stepping over youngsters curled up on the floor with books in their faces like I sometimes do at the library near my apartment. If you’re into kid lit (and live in NYC) and haven’t been there, go.

A welcomed little side affect of this project has been a renewed love of reading. While I’ve always been an aspiring writer, I’ve never been an avid reader, so to find myself putting off other activities in order to curl up with a book is a thrilling new experience for me.

One of the things I embraced from The Happiness Project was Rubin’s advice to quit being so embarrassed about loving children’s literature. So, after breaking the rules by venturing to the library, I’m now eagerly consuming a stack of Young Adult (YA) novels.

Ever since the end of Harry Potter, I’ve been anxious to read the next great YA series. I tried Twilight, but couldn’t get over my frustration with the lack of personality and strength in the main character. I put it down forever half way through the first book. Now, while sitting patiently on the mile-long wait-list for The Hunger Games, I decided to give Suddenly Supernatural a try, which has garnered some positive reviews across the web.

“The undead are ruining my life. I blame my mother.”

That is the first paragraph of book 1, Suddenly Supernatural: School Spirit. Talk about great promises. Lucky for me, Elizabeth Cody Kimmel keeps her promises. Besides the fact that I like the way Suddenly Supernatural slides off my tongue, Kimmel is a good writer. She’s created characters who are distinct and believable while also building a fluid storyline.

Here’s the premise:
Kat’s mom is a medium. The kind that communicates with ghosts. If that weren’t embarrassing enough for a 7th grader, on her 13th birthday, Kat discovers that she, too, has “the gift”. Unfortunately for her, that gift is threatening to ruin her social life.

Kat has a strong, likable voice and comes across as a relatable every-girl. While she struggles to make friends and come to terms with the occasional unwanted spirit knocking on her door, she also evolves as any main character should. I’m looking forward to more supernatural spirit investigations in the following books.

The Lightning Thief stole my heart.

25 Jun

Book: The Lightning Thief
by Rick Riordan
1st in the popular children’s series Percy Jackson & The Olympians

Origin: Impulse Purchase.

I’m a huge fan of Children’s literature. There’s something ultra satisfying about plunging into the epic battle of good vs. evil as seen through the eyes of a pre-teen. The quirky trials and tribulations a child goes through to become self-aware and learn the value of love and friendship and the horrors of real evil. I used to be embarrassed about it. I’m almost 30 and I read books written for 12 year olds. By choice. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to forget about things like what everyone else thinks and focus on my own interests. And darn-it, I love a good pre-teen adventure novel.

So recently, on one perfectly good evening, I met a friend for diner. As we left the restaurant, the sky cracked open and threw up on us. Without having been prepared with an umbrella or even appropriate shoes, we dove into the nearest B&N for cover. And since my bladder is the size of a peanut and since they always put the bathroom in the Children’s Section, well, I couldn’t help but get stuck pacing through the “Young Adult” aisle for 30 minutes. By the time the weather cleared, I had an armful of books and an empty wallet.

I had never heard of Percy Jackson & The Olympians until I saw a preview for “The Lightning Thief”, a Disney movie set to come out this summer (DVD release only it seems . . . hmm). Apparently, the series has been winning the hearts of pre-teens since 2005. I scooped up the first book because I was ready for a new Children’s novel and it seemed popular. It had a whole shelf to itself even! Flipping through a few pages, I decided the writing was decent and the cover art wasn’t totally awful. Really. That’s how my brain works sometimes.

Young Percy (short for Perseus) Jackson is a troubled sixth grader. Diagnosed with ADHD and kicked out of every school he’s ever attended since kindergarten, he’s lost all confidence in himself. Not only that, but mythological gods keep popping up and threatening his life on a regular basis.

A strange series of events lands Percy in a summer camp for kids just like him; Demi-Gods (affectionately called Half-Bloods). He quickly befriends some camp-mates and before long they embark on a dangerous quest to Hade’s underworld; they must find and return Zeus’s stolen Master Lighting Bolt and stop a war. Of course along the way Percy has to confront some deep philosophical questions about good and evil, his family history and where his friends’ loyalties lie.

Clearly Riordan has a deep passion for mythology and uses these books to instill a similar interest in children. I’ve always been a fan of mythology myself (partially why I picked up the book in the first place) and Riordan does a great job giving curious personalities to the gods of Greek myth. I especially liked the image of Ares as a tough biker with a penchant for practical jokes and a hot temper. Or Zeus, in his navy blue pin-striped suit and slicked back hair, sitting stoically next to his brother Poseidon, the laid back surfer wearing Tommy Bahama shorts.

While the story is pretty formulaic (and drops a lot of suspicious “Diet Coke” references), it does have a certain “cant-put-it-down” quality like any good adventure novel should. Around every bend there are new monsters and obstacles to overcome and the characters are certainly lovable and heroic. There’s a big, ugly, mean bully (whose probably harmless in the end), a sidekick best friend, an embarrassed love-struck girl with the inevitable crush, and the more-than-meets-the-eye, older, mysterious role model. The best thing about this book is that everyone has an interesting personal history – being the children of Greek gods and all – and they’re pretty resourceful when it comes to fighting evil (and each other).

The Lightning Thief was a fun summer read and if I were 12, it would probably motivate me to learn more about Greek mythology.

This Book’s Fate: Keep it. It might inspire me to write my own quirky adventure novel. Maybe I’ll grab the next book in the series from the library one of these days.

Up Next: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin