But I don't think I'm stupid, or a poor reader. So when I come across a book that is so hard to understand that I have to take notes and I still don't know quite what went on, I worry about whether my students will understand it. When it takes me 4 hours to read a 300 page book because I keep finding that trimming my toenails or putting laundry away or reorganizing the pantry is more interesting, I question whether or not I should spend the money to buy it for my students.
At the same time, when I find myself deeply engrossed in the state of my cuticles because the book is lyrical and deep and gorgeously written, I know that everyone else who posts reviews will love the book. And I wonder, just a little, why I don't like this sort of book as much as other bloggers and librarians do.
So here are my thoughts. Read the book for yourself, check out all of the reviews of Goodreads.com, especially the one by Betsy Bird. Go ahead. Just read that review. It's hosted at School Library Journal, after all. I'm just going to go sob gently into my cardigan sleeve and reread Lenora Mattingly Weber's A New and Different Summer for the 20th time while feeling vaguely inadequate and unpopular.
Stead, Rebecca. Goodbye, Stranger.
August 4th 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Bridge, Tabitha, and Emily have been friends for a long time, but 7th grade is testing their friendship, as it does for many people. Em has developed more quickly, and has captured the attention of an 8th grade boy, who wants her to send him pictures. Tab is interested in their teacher's feminist views. Bridge, for some reason, has started to wear cat ears on her head. She's struggling with her French class and still trying to make sense of why she wasn't killed in an accident when she was 8. She skated in front of a car and was gravely injured, but someone told her that she must have been saved for a reason. She just doesn't know what that is. She makes friends with Sherm, a boy whose grandfather has left his grandmother after 50 years of marriage, something he just doesn't understand. The two work on the tech crew for the talent show together, and everyone thinks they "like like" each other. After Emily makes the very poor choice of sending Patrick a picture of herself wearing jeans and a black, lacy bra, there is a lot of drama over how the picture got sent around, and more drama when a picture of Patrick in his underwear gets posted to his account. Em struggles with being the "bad" girl, while her friends wonder what they could have done to stop her.
In alternating chapters, set several months in the future (the main action takes place from the beginning of school past Halloween; these chapters take place on Valentine's Day), we get an account, in second person, from a girl whose friends Vinny, Gina and Zoe have all changed, with Vinny being especially mean. The girl runs away and spends the day with Adrienne at the Bean Bar, a coffee shop owned by Bridge's family.
Strengths: This did have a nicely multicultural cast-- Bridge's father is Armenian, and Tabitha Patel's parents are Hindu. Sherm's grandfather is Italian. The New York City setting is very lovingly done. The episode with Em's picture is worthy of an entire book (something like Vail's Unfriended), because even though librarians deliver Internet Safety talks, apparently students still don't listen, and the ramifications can be terrible.
Weaknesses: The plot was slow moving and confusing, and the Valentine's Day entries in the second person made me think that I must have missed something somewhere.
What I really think: Since my students don't read When You Reach Me or Liar & Spy, I don't think I will purchase this title.
William Morrow, 1963
Ellen lives in the Projects of New York City, a set of twelve story buildings where a fair number of Puerto Rican immigrants live. Ellen's older brother is making a name for himself academically, and her younger sister is well received in a school play and fancies herself an actress. Ellen doesn't feel special, although she has some good friends in the neighborhood, including the building superintendent's son, Frankie, and the quiet Juanita. She would like to take pictures, but doesn't have a camera. When she meets the older gang of students, including Diane, she is pleased to be included with their group. Even though her main role in the group is to get candy from Mr. Conlon at the corner store, she is included in dance parties in one of the boy's apartments. When Diane is found to be stealing from Mr. Conlon (in a very elaborate sting operation), Ellen is so ashamed of herself that she may never be able to go out in public again. Instead, she throws herself into monitoring the children on the playground, having Frankie coach some of the younger boys in basketball and Juanita teaching the Spanish speaking children English. This redeems her enough that she is presented with a trophy by the head of the Project committee.
For some reason, when I read Goodbye, Stranger, I thought about this title. 7th grade girls in New York City getting themselves into various types of trouble. At least Em didn't wear tight skirts and lots of make up. Can you tell which is Diane and which is Ellen? And do you think that the Projects really looked like this in 1963? Ah, the difference that fifty years can make!