Friday, August 23, 2013

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale

This post is actually a difficult one to write.  The following is the review I wrote for The Bully Book for Goodreads:

"This book is disturbing on many levels..... That being said I think it would be an excellent book to promote class discussion on bullying. My only qualm was the role of adults in the story. How many times have we told students tell an adult? Do we listen? Do we do something? Is it enough? Maybe this a book adults should be reading too."

The book is actually two stories, or journals rather, blended into one.  One story is the “bully book” or guidebook on to how to be cool and rule the school (while being a bully).  The other story is the journal of Eric Haskins, the current sixth grade “grunt”, the student that has been chosen for some unknown reason to be picked on, harassed, tortured, in a word – bullied – by the entire sixth grade.   Eric cannot fathom why he was chosen, or why his friends have suddenly turned on him and won’t even talk to him.  Who make the rules?  Why is he the “grunt”?  What can he do to save himself?  Determined to find out, Eric launches his own investigation to find the answers and along the way discovers the existence of the “bully book”.  Unfortunately, the author and location of the book remain a well-guarded mystery.

As I mentioned in my Goodreads review, the adults depicted in the story disturb me.  Are they really so dense they don’t see or even sense what’s going on?  The “bully book” offers bullies insight into how to deal with adults that ask questions, it’s chilling testament to how easy it is to fool people into believing the innocent are at fault.  What is even more disturbing is when Eric finally discovers the true author of the “bully book” and that person’s reaction.  You can feel the pain in Eric’s reaction:

               “Bully Bookers forget………   We live this life forever!”

You’ll have to read the story to find out whom the culprit is, it’s a shocker.

While I think this is an important book for kids to read, it’s a book that needs to be discussed as it’s read.  Kids need to understand that being a bully is not cool, not for the “grunt”, the bully, or the kids dragged into the mess.  The effects of bullying are not easily forgotten and in fact stay with people for years, if not forever.   While the story is fiction I did read in the author’s section that he was inspired to write the story from real life events when he was in sixth grade.  I’m sure there are many of us who can relate….

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

“I thought I’d mastered the art of escape.” 

     This first line in The Wig in the Window, by Kristen Kittscher sets the reader up for a mystery filled with spying, suspense, intrigue, danger, and super-sleuths that just happen to be seventh graders.  Sophie and Grace, Agents Young and Yang, pride themselves as being the FBI's secret weapon, ready to crack open the most unsolvable cases.

     It’s on one of their midnight spy missions that they observe a neighbor, Dr. Agford conducting highly questionable activities.  Unfortunately she is also Sophie’s middle school counselor. Who’s going to believe the accusations of two twelve year olds against a highly respected school guidance counselor?  Not parents.  Not the police.  Maybe the FBI?  Or is the person who contacted them really the FBI?  Despite warnings to stay away from Agford, “she’s dangerous”, the girls can’t shake the feeling that there’s a dark side to her. They just have to find evidence for the proof.

     This book is a mystery that will have you guessing at each turn and twist of the plot.  Don’t get comfortable – just when you think you have it all figured out something completely unexpected happens and the story takes off in another direction!

      Reading this book also has the added benefit of learning more about another culture.  Sophie has immersed herself in the Chinese culture since meeting her best friend Grace who is of Asian descent.  Sophie makes frequent references to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the importance of maintaining her chi as she works to solve the mystery of Dr. Agford.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Doll Bones by Holly Black

“Everyone has a story,” Alice murmured.  “Everyone’s the hero of their story.  That’s what Ms. Evan’s said in English.”

A ruthless pirate, a daring lady thief, deranged mermaids that demand a sacrifice or else, and a spooky doll, the Queen, that rules over all while locked inside a china cabinet.….  Zach and his friends Poppy and Alice have enjoyed their special world of make-believe adventures since they became friends when they were toddlers.  But now they’re in middle school and the “rules” are changing.  Still, when they’ re together after school, the adventures continue.  Then Zach’s dad decides Zach needs “help” growing up and he takes control.  His actions threaten to not only end the adventures but also tear the friends apart forever.

In what at first seems nothing more that a desperate attempt to save the friendship, Poppy convinces Alice and Zach to go on one last quest. She claims she’s been having dreams.  The ghost of the china doll, the “Queen” has been haunting her, threatening her.  Poppy must return the doll to her rightful resting place, or else.  The three take off on their quest, which quickly becomes a dangerous journey that leads them away from their families and everything familiar.  When strange things start happening the three being to wonder is the doll just doll, is this still make-believe or is their adventure real?

I love this book for a couple of reasons.  First, the adventure, the fantasy of going on a “quest”.  How many of us remember how fun it was to make up magical adventures with our friends? But I also love this book for the changes the characters go through.  They’re growing up and while they aren’t sure how they feel about the changes or how to deal with it, they do realize there's nothing can do to stop it.  This is a great coming of age novel that will lead to much wonderful discussion on so many levels.

As Poppy so eloquently says about growing up:  “I hate that you can do what you’re supposed to do and I can’t.  I hate that you’re going to leave me behind.  I hate that everyone calls it growing up, but it seems like dying.  It feels like each of you is being possessed and I’m next.”

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

Have you ever made a wish?  Did you blow out the candles on a birthday cake, see a falling star, or find a four-leaf clover, make a wish and wonder if it would come true?  Were there certain things you were supposed to do so your wish would come true?  I think all of us at one point or another in our lives have found ourselves in a similar situation, wishing for something so hard that we believed if only we could do everything the “right way” our wish would come true.  This is the basic premise in the book, The Center of Everything.  Ruby Pepperdine didn’t find a four-leaf clover or wish upon a falling star, but she did mange to sail a quarter through the center of a donut on the statue of Captain Bunning in the center of town.  And that means her wish will come true, right?  The problem is Ruby’s wish is so important she worries that there must be something more she must to do to insure her wish will come true But what?

This novel is written in a unique style.  While the story itself actually takes place throughout the course of only one day, there are several flash backs in which the reader not only learns more about the story but also is introduced to other important characters and subplots.  In fact, although this is a relatively short novel, it should not be read quickly.  There are so many layers to the plot, the characters, the setting, that it reminds me of an onion, no more like a flaky pastry, each layer richer than the last.  There is the story of Ruby and her wish, her friendships, her family relationships, the fascinating history of the donut (I admit I did crave donuts while reading this and had to research the history myself), and the questions that Ruby ultimately asks once she’s come full circle:

“What if there is no supposed to?  What if there is no one way things are meant to be?  What if it is all just random and spinny and wild?”  
                                                                         Ruby Pepperdine, The Center of Everything