Saturday, April 09, 2016
A Variety of Sadness
Here's the question-- why can I never put together a post with a Variety of Happiness? Nope, we have to have as many depressing things wedged into books as we can get. Throw in some poetry (which maybe 2 of my 750 students like) and you have books that language arts teacher adore and which gather dust on the shelves.
My answer to things that annoy me is to threaten to set fire to them in the parking lot. My daughter reminds me that this is a very incendiary thing to say when one is discussing books. Just for the record, I never set anything on fire anywhere.
Conklin, Melanie. Counting Thyme
April 12th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
EARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Thyme and her parents move to New York City so that her five year old brother Val can participate in a drug trial. They hope that this will stop his neuroblastoma, but he has been very sick, and the treatment makes him worse. Thyme is not happy about moving away from San Diego and her friend Shani, but she tries to make things easier for her stressed parents by being helpful and nice to her brother. When she is, she gets slips of paper with amounts of time on them for her "Thyme Jar", which she can them turn in for activities that make her happy. The only thing she really wants to do is return home, but that is unlikely to happen. There is no solid conclusion to her brother's condition at the end of the book, but Thyme makes some peace with the fact that her family will be in NYC for the foreseeable future.
Strengths: This is well-written, has engaging characters, and the family dynamic is supportive and helpful. The NYC setting is very vivid, and Thyme's difficulties with moving to a new place and fitting into a new school, as well as dealing with her brother's illness, are very realistic. Teachers and librarians love this, given all of the five star reviews on Goodreads.
Weaknesses: Comedy is hard to write. Sadness is much easier. A very small percentage of my students want sad books. This might work for them, but I need many more happy books.
What I really think: I'm finding it hard to distance my personal feelings about this from the quality of the book. Any time I read about very young children with cancer, I wonder why they are being tortured, especially since most will have a very hard life with the after effects of treatment if they so survive, and it would be much worse to lose a child at 35 when the cancer recurred. This really, really bothers me, so it was hard to get behind a book with such a sick child. Also, again, my students generally don't ask for sad books.
Dooley, Sarah. Free Verse
March 15th 2016 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young
Copy received from the publisher
Sasha was abandoned by her mother, who wanted to be free of Caboose, West Virginia, the small, Appalachian coal mining town where they live. Then, Sasha's father died in a mine collapse, and her brother (who is ten years older and who was caring for her) dies in his job as a firefighter. She's sent to a decent foster home with Phyllis, who is understanding even when Sasha smashes her guitar. The two live next door to Hubert and his family, and Sasha discovers they are related to her. She befriends the son, Mikey, whose mother was addicted to drugs and ran off, but not before taking Mikey away on a harrowing trip, which psychologically damaged him. Sasha tries to go back to school and maintain some semblance of normality, but it's really hard. Her teachers, social worker, Phyllis, and everyone in her life is supportive, but life in Caboose is hard. Other mine accidents take their toll on Sasha, and when she and Mikey think that Hubert is involved in one, they decide to run away from home in order to get away from Caboose. This doesn't go as expected, and Mikey gets lost. Sasha's one hope is to win a college scholarship made possible by a poetry contest that she enters.
Strengths: It's always good to see supportive adults, and the ones in this book do everything that they are supposed to do, no matter how intractable Sasha gets. The character are all well-described, and Sasha does grow and change. Teachers will love this, especially since it involves poetry.
Weaknesses: The poetry is not great, and the use of it to tell Sasha's story at a critical juncture impedes the flow of the narrative. I would have felt more hopeful for Sasha is her future were dependent on a math, science or medical career instead of a reliance on poetry!
What I really think: Now I have a hard copy of this, but I'm not sure if it's worth it to process it and put it in the library. Debating. Also, I am worried for the author's mental health. All three of her books are super, super depressing.