Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bleed For Me

I know I've gotten away from the book reviews for a while.  I hope you'll all forgive me for that. Below is a short story written as an assignment for my new writer's group. (For those who may be interested in attending, it's held on the 1st &3rd Thurs. of the month at 6:30 at the Sinclairville Library.) The assignment was to write about a childhood experience.

For Gramps: I'm thinking of you today.

Bleed For Me
By Jessie Andersen

            She watched the white gauze blush red as blood seeped through the too-thin fabric held against his palm.  Clenching his fist for a moment did nothing to stop the crimson stream that continued to flow.  With the bare, calloused fingers of his good hand, he reached for the metal handle of the wood stove in the corner next to his favorite rocker.  A flick of his wrist opened the door, and he tossed the soaked fibers into the flames.
            Ripping the clean gauze open with his teeth, he pressed it against his skin. “Here, hold that,” he said, his voice gravelly, as she looked on helplessly as any seven year old would.
            Carefully, she pressed her fingers against the gauze.  Her hand in his was odd, out of place against his worn, leathered skin, a pool of fresh cream poured over a pile of dirt and grease.
            While she pressed, he reached into his back pocket where she knew he’d pull out the handkerchief that lived there.  With a snap, he stretched out the cloth from corner to corner and wound it around his hand, tucking one end under and tightening the knot with his teeth.
            “There,” he said, squeezing his fist. “Good as new.”
            But he couldn’t hide the tiny grimace that flashed over his eyes and forehead as he pressed on the makeshift bandage.
            A sharp voice called from the other room. “It needs stitches!”
            “I ain’t going to no doctor, Ginner!” Then he looked at the small girl at his feet and shook his head, his eyes twinkling lights over soft, blue velvet. “I don’t need no gol’ darn stitches!”
            He winked as his lips pulled back in a grin, revealing the gold capped tooth on his upper right side. It made his smile sparkle as much as his eyes.
            “How’d you cut it, Gramps?” she asked, staring up at him from the floor where she often sat at his feet. She’d walked through the door moments before to the sight of him sitting by the fire, attempting to nurse his hand while his wife, her Gram, cleared away some bloodied towels.
            “Cuttin some pussy willers.  Jabbed that gol’ darn knife right into my hand when I was cuttin ‘em.” He leaned his head back on the wooden slats of the rocker and closed his eyes.
            She could picture it.  All 5’4 of him reaching deep into the weeds, bending around a jutting rock with knife in hand, trying to be careful not to fall in the creek bed full of water.  He’d have held the stems together with one hand and sliced with the other, driving the blade deep into his palm.  Deep enough to need stitches. But he’d refuse to get them.  She grimaced just thinking about it.
            “Them pussy willers tried to best me, but I got the better of them, now didn’t I?” He tossed his head to the side, pointing toward the mantle with his gaze.
            She looked up where, for the first time, she noticed a glass vase sprouting pussy willows and cat tails.
            She laughed, “Gramps, why’d you need pussy willows so bad?”
            He clenched his hand. “I just know’d you like ‘em is all.”
            A white heat flooded her body.  “Y-you got them for me?” she stammered.
            “Yepper, and you can take ‘em home.  I don’t want to see ‘em ever again,’ he snickered.
            No, of course not.  He’d not have the plant that bested him standing on the mantle in its full glory, taunting and teasing his injury.  In his mind, he’d met the challenge of the willows and came out on the other side, the slightly marred victor.
            For years those pussy willows adorned her vanity, evidence of a grandfather’s loving sacrifice. Now, though years and her grandfather have passed, the pussy willows displayed in her weed arrangement in her own home remind her of just one of the many sacrifices of a man whose memory still lives on in the willows. The same pussy willers he cut so long ago. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rantings on Beauty

I'm sorry.  I can't help it.  I've been putting this post aside, telling myself that because it's not based on a book, I shouldn't have it on here, but this idea has been bugging me for a few days now.  I can't stay silent.  I must speak loudly!

On Facebook the other day, I began to see posts, which said, "Post this on the walls of the 12 prettiest girls you know ... if you get 5 back you're beautiful! ♥ ♥ ♥" Right away, I felt the bile rise up in the back of my throat.  I wanted to puke and scream and cry all at the same time.  If you've ever seen me cry, you know it's not pretty! I would definitely not get that post on my wall on any day that I've cried. So, for a day or so, I said nothing. But it kept hounding me so badly, I posted this to my wall:

"To all the girls posting this, "You're pretty if you get 5 returns of this 'You're pretty' post," I certainly hope you know that beauty does not come from a FB post, or even what anyone else thinks of you. Beauty, true beauty comes from within. How about instead of desiring to get those 5 posts back, you show the kindness to someone else ? That's what makes a person beautiful."

Obviously, I couldn't say all I thought in a few lines on FB, so I'm saying it here.

How is it that we as a society have stooped so low that now our children have to find their beauty and self esteem by how many times random people paste a "you're pretty" post on their Facebook wall?  We have FAILED with a big, fat F if our girls are seeking to discover what true beauty is on Facebook. Look, I love Facebook.  I can now keep in contact with friends I haven't seen in years and keep up with family who live far away. It's great, but when we as parents allow Facebook to teach our kids about beauty, we've gone horribly wrong.

I'm reading a book by Joyce Meyer for my Bible study. It's called the Love Revolution. In it she focuses on the theme of happiness. How many people aren't happy because they think that getting more stuff or wearing certain clothes is going to bring happiness? Now, the book is written from a Christian perspective, but even with that aside, its message says the only way to be happy is to serve others. I'd take this message one step further for our young people. It's that servant's attitude, that willingness to put self aside and do something kind for someone else without need or want of anything in return that makes someone beautiful.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me all the time, "Jessie, It's better to be pretty on the inside." I now tell my daughter the same thing, to which she replies, "Yes, and it's cold on the outside." (We still have a little work before she fully understands the meaning of this phrase.)The point is that beauty comes from within. A person can be the perfect model with long flowing locks and porcelain skin and still be ugly.

Admit it, you know these type of people, people who are "beautiful" but are mean or stuck up. You also know people who may not look perfect. Maybe they have a few more pounds than the average person, or scars that cover their face, but their inner beauty masks what the world considers ugliness.

I hope that as I raise my daughter, I can teach her that she will be beautiful because she loves people, because she loves the Lord, because she is kind and gentle, because she helps those around her and sacrifices herself for others, because she speaks words of encouragement and not harsh words. If I can teach her how to do that, I will have a beautiful daughter. Better yet, if I can show her how to do those things by doing them myself, I can be a beautiful mom.

Maybe I should start a new Facebook post.  One that says, "Post this to the wall of 12 girls who are beautiful because they are kind and gentle, because they sacrifice for those around them, and because they speak kind words of encouragement instead of harsh ones, for their beauty comes from within." Do so with nothing expected in return, just for the sheer joy of encouraging someone else for the good qualities they possess. Join me, won't you?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thirteen Reasons Why

We all want to make a difference in this world.  No one goes into life thinking, "I want the things I do and say to hurt people." Or if you do, you're deranged. We choose our jobs based on the idea that we can best serve the world in one particular profession.  Despite the fact that my six year old says he wants to be a "regular guy" and not a doctor like his four year old sister, we want the things we do to matter.  We've all heard it said a million times.  "I want to make a difference."  "I want to help people." And maybe the things you do or say really do influence people for the better. I certainly hope so. But what if that influence wasn't exactly what you hoped it would be? What if, because of you, someone died?  What if, because of you, someone CHOSE to die?  What if you were one of the THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?

Jay Asher has created a masterpiece in his debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why.   In the story, Clay Jensen discovers a package on his doorstep when he arrives home from school one day.  Inside are cassette taped numbered 1-13 created by Hannah Baker, his first crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.  When he plays tape #1, he hears Hannah's voice  telling the story of  her life, more specifically,  why she ended it. She goes on to say, "If you are listening to these tapes, you are one of those reasons."  Clay's duty is to listen to the tapes to find out his role in her death and pass them on to the next person. Accompanying the tapes was a map, delivered weeks before the suicide.  As Hannah walks the listener through her story, they can follow the map to places that influenced her life. 

It's with horror Clay listens.  He can't remember what he could have possibly said or done that would have hurt Hannah enough to make her kill herself. He even cared for her. As he listens to the stories, he discovers it's not always a "big something" that's mentioned.  A rumor here, ignoring there.  But all the small events add up. For someone who needs a word of encouragement, for someone who needs a friend to listen, taking that away even for a second can crush the human spirit.

As we read, we see Hannah's tapes woven into Clay's reactions in a back and forth narrative point of view.  It is hugely powerful being able to experience the heartache from her perspective and to see his immediate reaction. I have to admit, I was brought to tears when Clay begs the people on the tapes to stop what they're doing, to pay attention to what's happening. 

Thirteen Reasons Why is a potent testimony to young people showing them that EVERYTHING they say and do is observed by someone. Nothing goes unnoticed. And sometimes what we consider the least of  offenses have dire consequences. 

So, don't hold back that word of encouragement.  Keep your eyes open to the truth.  Dispel rumors as they come and be the absolute best person you can be.  You never know who might need what you have to offer to live another day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

And the Winner Is...

It's October 4th, and in honor of the SPEAK LOUDLY campaign and banned books week (It just ended.),  my drawing for a free copy of SPEAK was today.  I used a very scientific method:  I wrote down all the entries on little slips of paper, put them in a bowl and had my four year old draw a name while holding the bowl above her head.

And the winner is... Hold your breath...
Tracy Hewitt!
Congrats, Trac. I'll be getting the book to you shortly.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Change of Plans

Have you ever had a change of plans?  You know, you get one thing all scheduled, planned to the T. You know what time you need to leave and how fast you have to drive in order to arrive at your destination with four minutes to spare.  Those four minutes will be eaten up by your walk to the building and you'll show up right on time.

But what about those times that you've had to throw those plans out the window?  All the hard work put into preparation and something steps in the way and it's all for naught.

Recently, my Mother planned a 40 year anniversary trip to Maine for my Dad. As Dad puts it, "This was a labor of love." For anyone who knows my mom, she hates to travel.  I mean hates it! She'd rather have lemon juice poured on paper cuts than travel more than 30 minutes in the car. So, this was a huge deal for her. She planned the whole thing herself; the B&B's, the stops along the way. It was her love for my Dad that spurred this trip. So, it must have been hard when unforeseen circumstances caused them to cancel the trip. So, she painstakingly called the B&Bs to cancel. Some refunded her money, some did not. But she did it because life got in the way and because she loves my Dad. They got to go eventually, but only after she rearranged her plans.

But how about those times when we choose to change our plans? We plan to do _____ and our kids want to do _____ (Fill in the blanks.) Sometimes we put our own plans aside because we want to see the joy on our children's faces. We want to show them how much we love them by giving them things that will make them happy.  We want to show them that they are the most important thing in the world to us and do so by putting our own wants behind theirs.

This is how God is with us. He changes his plans for us!

Isaiah 38 tells the story of Hezekiah. "In those days, Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah went to him and said, "This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order because you are going to die; you will not recover." Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. "Remember O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: "Go and tell Hezekiah,'This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life."

It was the prayer of the faithful that caused God to change his plans. He had things all set. Hezekiah was supposed to die of his illness, but his prayers made God change his plans.  Isn't that amazing.  GOD CHANGED HIS PLANS!

Yesterday in Sunday school, we were discussing the miracles of Christ. My favorite is his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. You know the story. Jesus is hanging out with his buddies at a wedding. The bride and groom run out of wine, which was about the most disgraceful thing to have happen in that time period. So his mother comes over and says, "They don't have any more wine." He responds by saying, "Why do you involve me?  My time has not yet come."

You see, it wasn't in his plans to turn the water to wine that day. But those of you who've read the story know how it ends.  He does it.  He performs a miracle. He changed his plans that day. Who knows, maybe his first miracle was supposed to be something huge like a group healing. Maybe it would have been accompanied by lightning bolts and earthquakes just to make sure everyone noticed.  But whatever his plans were, (the Bible doesn't tell us when 'his time' really was.) he changed them for that couple.

Are you beginning to see?  God loves us so much he changes his plans for us. So don't give up or give in. Don't resign yourself to the fact that nothing will ever make God change his mind.  It doesn't matter if you think God has a certain plan and everything is set and unchangeable. God is the only unchangeable being in this universe. His love is unchanging. His grace is unending. However, with a little prayer, sometimes with a lot of prayer, his plans can change. Why? Because he loves you.

So what ideas have you given up on today? What have you stopped praying for because you still don't see the answer? Have you decided that you'll never have a baby because the doctors have told you so? Have you given up on that relationship because it seems too impossible to fix? Are you absolutely sure there is no more hope? God wants to be merciful to us. He wants to extend his grace to us. The real question is, are we willing to reach out and accept it?

I was once told that God answers prayers in three ways: "Yes", "No", and "Not right now."  But I'm beginning to believe that there are now four answers: "Yes", "No", "Not right now" and, "Sure, just let me rearrange some things first."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Christians Can Speak Loudly Too.

For those of you who haven't yet heard, Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK is under attack. Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor at Missouri State University, claims it is filthy and immoral and even claims it contains "soft pornography" because of two rape scenes. This man is a Christian and asks how the Christian men and women can expose their children to such filth.  Ironically, the Bible contains stories of rape, incest, adultery, murder and the like, as well as being a story of redemption, yet I'm assuming Mr. Scroggins won't try to prevent children from reading it. 

I'm horrified by this whole event. First of all, I'm a Christian.  I have been for as long as I can remember.  Growing up with a pastor for a dad, my life was inundated with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith boils down to this: We as humans screw up on a daily basis, sometimes worse than others.  This is called sin. That sin separates us from God. To fix the problem that we originally created, God sent his son, Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago to be punished for those sins.  He died and because of his sacrifice, I can one day spend eternity with a God who loves me and sacrificed his own life for me.  

I've screwed up countless times.  I've hurt the people I love the most, and in doing so, I've separated myself from God.  But you know what?  He forgives me.  Notice that's in present tense.  He forgave, forgives and continues to forgive.  It's not that I do horrible things on purpose, but living in the world we do, we often are influenced by the things we see around us.  We are continually under attack by the enemy of our souls, Satan, and we have to stand guard in order to fight against this evil.

Christianity draws an even clearer picture of the depravity that we humans face every day.  It's not right to shield our children from reality. If we do, they won't know how to deal with it when they experience it for themselves.  Should we do this before they're ready? Of course not, but we can't pretend that sin isn't real either. If we downplay the sin in the world, we also downplay the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Personally, I want my children to understand that despite all the evil that surrounds us, our God has already defeated the enemy of sin and death. I want them to understand they can live in this world without fear because of Christ's death and resurrection. I want them to know that no matter what sin  is committed and no matter how broken people are, there is still forgiveness and healing in Jesus.

Just one look around this world and we can see the sinfulness. Murder, hatred, incest, lust, affairs, and abuse are just a drop in the ocean of the horrible things humans have done to each other. And rape.  Yes, rape, which brings me back to the controversy surrounding SPEAK

If you haven't read it, do so!!!  It's a necessary read for any teenager, despite what Mr. Scroggins says.  Yes, it has rape in it. But why are we afraid to speak loudly about issues and sins in our own society? Are we instead just  going to ignore the rapes that occur every day and hush young people when it happens to them? Are we going to tell them by our silence that their pain isn't important, or are we going to show them that there are people who have been through what they've been through? Are we going to show them that they can survive, live even, after something so horrible? Are we going to support them  and encourage them to speak out or are we going to shush them into dealing with their pain alone? How do we expect to change any of the atrocities that happen in our world if we keep silent about them? 

Do horrible things like rape happen every day?  Yes. But there can be healing after. Our Lord Jesus Christ can bring healing and wholeness that the enemy and the rapist took away. 

But sometimes it takes a little nudge.  It takes someone like Laurie Halse Anderson to write a book like Speak that shows young people they don't have to remain silent. Speak gives them a point of contact, someone to resonate with, a spark of recognition that maybe, just maybe they can be all right. If we keep silent about these issues like rape, abortion, drugs, or abuse, kids will discover answers on their own.  Why not give them a point of reference that may just help make their lives a little better?

So, Ms. Anderson, keep writing stories like Speak.  We're still listening. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hate List-- Jennifer Brown

I've been sitting here with my fingers hovering over the keyboard, wondering where to start.  I was so moved by Jennifer Brown's debut novel Hate List, I can't even sort out my emotions. This book evokes a wide spectrum of feelings from hate to fear to sorrow all the while drawing the reader into a realm of reality we all hope we never have to truly experience.

Valerie Leftman is about to start her Senior year at Gavin High School. But this year will be different from any other since she was the girlfriend of Nick Levil, the guy who shot up the school, killing many of his classmates before shooting himself. It was all because of the Hate List, a list that she helped create.

You know you've said it.  "I hate this homework assignment." "Mrs. So-n-so sucks." or "I'll kill him for breaking my ipod." Those kinds of things were on the hate list, but it was more than that. There were names.  Names of people Val and Nick hated for tormenting them at school.

 Punches in the chest when no one was looking. Nicknames like "Sister Death." They were constantly bombarded with an array of teasing, and their only way to deal was to make the hate list. But Val wouldn't have done anything about it. Writing it down was enough for her.  And she was just as shocked as everyone else when Nick open fired on the commons. But no one will ever believe that. Just like they wouldn't believe that Nick wasn't really the monster the papers made him out to be.  He was kind, and protective, and he loved Shakespeare, but no one would know that because they were too busy harassing him.

Unfortunately, Val can't change the past and now she has to face the same people day in and day out, and despite what the reporter, Angela Dash says, the shooting hasn't changed anything.  Kids still hate each other. Fear still resides in the hallways. She's still ostracized. But maybe through the help of her psychiatrist, Val can figure out how to deal with her upside down life.  And maybe, just maybe she can learn to trust people again.

A school shooting would be anyone's worst nightmare. As a former teacher, I know what the schools are like.  I know how cruel some kids can be to other kids. But how can we expect different from our children when we adults don't do any better? How can we teach our children not to hate when our own lives are saturated in anger? Until we can learn to forgive those who have wronged us and show our children that hatred only destroys, there is no hope for them. Until we learn to treat others who are different from us with respect, we can't expect our children to do the same.  I know it's hard, especially when ignorance abounds and people make choices based on their feelings. I know it's hard when someone offends you or your beliefs. I know it's hard when people choose wrong believing whole heartedly they are right, (Yes, there is a right and wrong no matter what some may say.) So how can we go about making this world safe for our children?

The answer is in ourselves.  We need to search our hearts and rid them of malice, hatred, anger, greed, jealously.  We need to replace that with love and forgiveness. Only then will we not only be able to tell our children to be kind to those who are different, but we'll be able to show them how it's done.  What better lesson can we teach our kids than living that kind of life?

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Candor. Where the destination is perfection and subliminal messages are the way to get there.

Got a nasty smoking habit? Move to Candor. Is your marriage in trouble? Move to Candor. How about a rebellious child? Move to Candor. It'll fix everything and make your life just perfect. There's no need to worry about teen pregnancy. (Respectful space in every place.) And drugs? No. The people of Candor would never dream of such a thing.  Their bodies are temples. Not even chocolate or ice cream is served here. (Healthy breakfasts make for smart minds.) The children are never late to class. (The great are never late.) And would never dream of disobeying their parents. (Parents always know best.)

Oscar Banks has everyone fooled, even his father, the founder and creator of Candor. Daddy dearest thinks Oscar's the model citizen he's supposed to be thanks to the messages his father's been pouring into his and everyone else's brain, but Oscar creates messages of his own to fight back. (Remember the messages. Control the Messages; don't let them control you. Think independently.) He will remember his mother who left, and he will remember his dead brother no matter how much his father tries to erase them. Until Nia moves to town and everything Oscar's created may just fall apart.

Nia's not like the others.  She holds out a good week before the messages start to change her and in that week, Oscar falls in love. Now, just like he's done for others, he has to get her out before the messages erase her forever. But can he do it without losing himself in the process?

I love a good dystopian novel, especially when the created world in in the realm of possibility. That's what we have with Candor.

I'm reminded of the verse in the Bible that says, "Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it."  I've heard it said that the verse was talking about training a child "according to his bent." In other words, watch and learn what talents a child possesses and encourage that. How important it is for we parents to see our children for who they are and to encourage those characteristics that make them individuals. Yes, we train them to be good citizens, to act appropriately, but how often have we wanted something for our children, maybe even pushed them a certain direction merely because the activity was something we wanted? Are we making our children be the people we want them to be or the people God created them to be? Are we suppressing their characteristics in lieu of ones we think are better? Yes, of course we need to teach them right from wrong. And we should allow them to experience things they may not want to experience. Pushing them is necessary sometimes, but do we do so to their own expense? Do we make them out to be little robots of our own liking or do we like who they will choose to become?

Maybe you know first hand what it's like to be molded into something you didn't want. Or maybe you're that person whose parents let you be you. As for Oscar, you'll have to read to see if he comes out a better man.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading suggestions-- Help!

Hello everyone.  Currently, I'm creating a list of YA books our library needs to purchase.  You see, thanks to you and your generous sponsors for our first ever Read-a-Thon, we have money that we can use on such things.  So, to compile a list I need information from you.
 What're your top 5 favorite YA books? OR What are the last 5 YA books you've read and enjoyed.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Dead Tossed Waves-- Carrie Ryan

 There is nothing better than reading a sequel that's better than it's predecessor. Okay, well, maybe I can think of a few things, like chocolate, lots of chocolate, and really good coffee in the morning, and my husband would make that list too.  He's pretty awesome, especially when he makes me coffee in the morning! But, other than that, a kick-butt sequel totally takes the cake. (What does that cliche mean anyway? It makes no sense.  Where would you take a cake anyway?) I digress.

The Dead Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan, sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, accomplished what few second books do: Its story blew the first one out of the water. (No pun intended.) Now, if you  keep up with this blog, you'll know that I also loved the previous book, so that should give you a hint as to how much this one rocked. 

Warning: Spoilers!!!
Gabry lives in Vista, a town on the ocean in a post apocalyptic world where the Mudo wash up on the shores of the land.  Her mother, as the keeper of the lighthouse, is responsible for clearing the beaches. Cutting off the heads of the already dead before they trudge back to life again isn't high on Gabry's list of things she prefers to do every morning. She'd much rather be dreaming about her future with Catcher, a future that would probably involve a semi decent life if she could convince him to stay inside the fences where they're safe from the Mudo. 

But, show me a teenager who doesn't test the boundaries, be it alone or as a result of pressure from friends.  This is how Gabry ends up outside the fences in the ruins of the amusement park where she discovers that her dreams about Catcher's love are reciprocated.  This would make for a great love story if it weren't for the fact that a Breaker attacks her group of friends and Catcher is bitten. 

A bite from Mudo means death and return. Suddenly, Gabry's world is turned upside down. She escapes and watches her friends punished for going outside the boundaries. To make up for not getting caught, she promises her best friend, Cira, that she will find Catcher, who has gone missing. 

When her search leads her to the shores beyond the boundaries and right into another attack of Mudo, Elias saves her. It isn't until later she discovers he's a souler: one of those crazy cult members who worship the Mudo, except, he seems different somehow. He leads her to Catcher, who still hasn't turned Mudo and won't since he's immune. 

Great, end of story. They live happily ever after. I don't think so. Being immune is extremely rare and when the recruiters find out, they'll want Catcher for reconnaissance missions.  You see, the Mudo can't sense him, which would mean he could enter territory that is infested with Mudo, and get to places that hold supplies. Unfortunately, just turning himself in won't keep his friends safe.  They'll be kept as ransom for him to return from these missions. Because of this, Catcher, Gabry and Elias and Cira escape into the Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

This should be easy for them because Gabry's mother, Mary from the first book, left clues right before she ran back into the forest herself. Seeking out a village would be a great idea.  Maybe they could even settle down and forget about life in Vista. The question is, who would Gabry settle down with?  Catcher refuses to kiss her again for fear of infecting her and though her heart belongs to him, she's constantly being pulled toward Elias. 

With the Forest full of Mudo, the love of her life infected, her best friend injured and the recruiters hunting them down, how will they ever find their way through? If there is any hope for Gabry's future, she has to discover the truth about her past and her mother's past. Only then can she make the choice between the two men who've both grown to love her and maybe, just maybe, outrun the living and the dead who are out for her blood. 

I think the thing I love about these stories is how detailed Ryan is in creating this world. When I can entirely picture every detail and have no open ended questions, the author has done his or her job.  Kudos to you, Ms. Ryan!  I can't wait to read more of your work. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Catching Fire--Suzanne Colllins

Dear God, Please grant me the talent that Suzanne Collins had while writing Catching Fire.  Thanks! Amen.

Warning: Spoilers:

Collins did it again with her second book in the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire. How many twists and turns can this woman come up with?

The first time I read it, I went into it thinking, there's no way she can surprise us like she did in the Hunger Games. NOT TRUE!  There were so many surprises in Catching Fire, I couldn't keep up. From whipping Gale to the announcement of the Quarter Quell to the "pregnancy" to all the tortures in the games themselves. I could barely keep up.  No, seriously, I wanted to stay awake to read the whole thing, but since I'm not a teenager anymore and since I have children to look after, I had to keep closing the book to get some rest. (Stinkin sleep!) In my opinion, this was more of a page turner than the Hunger Games.

Side note: Think about it, Collins must have planned out these two or maybe all three books when she got the idea.  She started Hunger Games at the 74th games, leading up to the quarter quell. I love when writers have ideas like this and it just blossoms into something amazing.

Okay, enough of me blabbing about that. Let's get to the actual story... We know that tension has to increase as we step into the story.  Collins does this, not by jumping into the games again, but rather by playing up the situation in the districts. We get to see most of the districts on Katniss and Peeta's victory tour. It's here that the uprisings begin to take shape. I almost cried when Rue's district gives the sign of goodbye after the announcing Rue's four note whistle. AHH!! Then, when they get back to district 12 and new peace keepers are present..  Rules are harsh and beatings begin...with Gale.  I think I was screaming aloud at that part. Add the subtle tortures of Darius being an avox and Cinna being beaten in front of Katniss for turning her into a mockingjay in defiance of the capitol and you have and edge of your seat page turner.

It's funny, whenever there's a love triangle developing, normally, I take sides.  Here, I can't decide who she should be with. Every time she's with Gale, I want her with Gale.  Every time she's with Peeta, I want her with Peeta.  Both are upstanding men who love her and want to protect her.  And they don't fight over her like in some other book series. :)

I also loved the other characters.  Haymitch totally rocked!!!  He was awesome, and I loved the insight into his own Hunger Games. Peeta even makes the observation that Katniss is like Haymitch.  That's why he chose to help her stay alive in the first games. My second favorite character was Finnick. Probably because he has that cocky attitude, but inside he's a softy who cares for people.

My one complaint in this one was how dense Katniss seemed to be. I mean, when Mags ran into the fog, and then Johanna brought Beetee and Wiress, she should have made some connections, although the explanations in her mind made total sense.  If I were her, I'd probably be the same way: wary of everyone around me.

Her goal in this games is to save Peeta because she believes that he's the better person, which, if we're all honest, is true. He has leadership capabilities and can gather a following with his words instead of his weapons.  He's what a new country would want as a leader.  Which, by the way, is my prediction for the next book. With district 13 alive and well and the uprising already underway, I can only guess as to how Collins will sum up this series.  And based on the twists in her previous two stories, I'd probably be wrong.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Hello all. This will be a quick note.  Yes, I'm still planning on blogging Catching Fire.  I finished it weeks ago, but haven't had time to get moving on a blog post.  Bear with me.

I'm in the middle of overhauling my manuscript to resubmit to an agent as per her request.  Right now, this takes precedence. Continue to pray that God would give me wisdom as I write and especially as I make changes.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth--Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and TeethZombies are the new vampire. Or so they say. I'm always intrigued by the trends in YA lit--Witches, vampires, angels, and now zombies. Whatever happened to realistic fiction?  I'm hoping there's still a demand for it because I can't write paranormal stuff.  I'm much to normal for that! :) Maybe by the time my book gets published, realistic stories will be in highest demand. 

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth. With the feeling of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village,  Ryan's book sets itself in a secluded town surrounded by fencing. Beyond the fences live the Unconsecrated, who though dead, never fully die. They just continue to deteriorate with bones poking through fingers and skin that is torn until eventually, they lose all mobility.  No one knows what truly happens then, but it's believed that they lie on the forest floor staring at the sky for eternity, a muddled mess of rotting death.

Mary grew up in this village with a daily fear of the Unconsecrated placed in her mind by the Sisters, the religious sect of the community. After her mother's  "death," Mary is turned away by her only living relative. The man she loves has asked for the hand of another and Harry, her second choice of a husband, didn't officially ask for her hand. Therefore, her option is to live in the cathedral and become one of the Sisters. Unfortunately, she doesn't fit in with the Sisters, especially when she discovers that the Sisters are keeping secrets from the rest of the community, secrets that could cause their doom. 

Now Mary must decide if she's willing to risk life and love to follow her passion for what may not exist. Spurred by her mother's stories of their ancestors, Mary is determined to leave the village and find the ocean. No one believes her stories, not even her best friend. When the Unconsecrated breach the borders patrolled by the Guardians, she has to decide if she will fight or flee her village, thus facing the Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

I think what I liked most about this story was how quickly it moved.  I'll have to say that when I began reading, I was immediately drawn in my mind to the movie The Village. I kept thinking to myself, "I know what's going to happen in this book." Delightfully, I was wrong. (I know, I know, It doesn't happen often, but on occasion, my opinion may be skewed.) It took me down paths that seemingly led no where, but then would surprise me with just the right action. (Path pun intended.-- Read the book. You'll understand.)

I still have one question that is left  unanswered, "Why did the sisters do that to Gabrielle? Was it just to keep the secret?  Why was it so important to keep the paths a secret?  It kind of makes sense, but there's a sense that some actions taken by the sisters were unnecessary.  But then again, don't we all do things that have no reason? I know I do. 

I'm also wondering if those unanswered questions will be revealed in The Dead Tossed Waves, the companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

Sacrificing life for love is a theme that runs through the novel. Mary's seen it happen before and now has to choose for herself between love and life, even when life could mean death.  So I ask you, if the person you loved more than anything in the world became Unconsecrated, would you choose to let him/her go, or to become unconsecrated yourself just to be with him? 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Hunger Games-- Suzanne Collins

Few books warrant a re-read. After I've read a book once, usually I send it back to the library immediately having thoroughly enjoyed it or thoroughly hated it, but every once in a while I find that gem, the lone shining star that sticks with me continually shining it's light on my mind. I know when I catch one of these that I will re-read it some day. Usually, it's those lingering characters or twisting plot that causes me to actually go out and buy the book. Being a former English teacher, one would think that my shelves are full of books--and they are-- but I only have one shelf... and it's small.  It's used for my gems.

As you've probably figured, The Hunger Games is a re-read; though, I don't technically own it yet.  So, any of you who'd like to buy it for my gem shelf, feel free.

Honestly, I don't know where to begin with this one. The characters are well developed and unforgettable, the plot gives so many twists and turns, you never know what is coming next.  Let me tell you, Collins is a master of giving the reader the unexpected at just the right moment. Even the setting commands attention.

It's a future America called Panem. But this future isn't so bright. After the thirteen districts rebelled against the  government and lost, the leaders of the nation though fit to implement a annual reminder to the people proving again and again that they are the ones in charge. Hence, the Hunger Games.  Each year, everyone is required to attend the reaping during which one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the twelve districts are chosen to play in the Hunger Games. Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, this is not a prize you want to win. Definitely not. You see, it's a fight to the death.

Now, just saying that may turn many of you off.  You don't want to read about teens fighting.  It's too grotesque or violent.  That's what's so amazing about this book.  It's the reason I had to read it. How could Collins make this appropriate and still have the kids kill each other?  The question had to be answered, and I refuse to answer it here in this blog. Read it.  Just know that it was not at all what I had expected.  I figured it had to be horribly violent, but Collins is amazing at capturing the story without turning off the reader. (Though I'm sure many a teenage boy would love more gore filled details.) Which brings me to another point: this is a fantastic book for boys and girls alike.  Yes, the protagonist is female, but the elements of hunting, survival and fighting could easily suck boys into the story.

The characters are incredibly believable. I had no problem thinking that Katniss was a hunter or that her talent lay in her bow and arrow.  Even the little bit of a love story (No, that's not the focus, thank goodness.) wove itself intricately into the rest of the story. From the strange people who live in the capital who don't understand what life is really like outside, to the avoxes--captured rebels maimed for their rebellion.-- to Greasy Sae down at the Hob-- a local underground trading center, to the other children chosen to fight, Collins's characters jump off the page. We feel for them.  We don't want them to be punished for hunting outside the perimeter. We love when Katniss forms and alliance with Rue, a twelve year old from District eleven.  We hate The Careers-- kids from those districts who have the resources to train their children for the games-- kids who usually win because of their prowess and strength. We even pity Haymitch, the drunk former games winner and Katniss's mentor.

There's so much more I could say.  I could go on about the story line, but then you wouldn't have to read it, and I don't want that to happen.  I could speak of it's ties to governmental control books like Orwell's 1984.  Big Brother is always watching!  I could talk of sacrifice for family, young people taking responsibility before their time, unrequited love, or brewing rebellion, but these are all themes you will see when you pick up a copy for yourself.

Don't forget, don't just buy The Hunger Games.  It's Sequel, Catching Fire is out as well and the third, Mockingjay, comes out this summer.  You can bet you'll see them on my gem shelf eventually.

I think I'll end today with a question or two:  What parts of the book made you the most angry? Which character did you identify with most? And lastly, what would be your strategy to win the games if you were chosen? (Note, you can have no special training other than the skills you possess at this very moment.)-- Me?  I'd die for sure.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stuck in Neutral

At long last... one of the most unique voices in YA literature comes from Terry Trueman's Shawn McDaniel of Stuck in Neutral. Never have I believed the thoughts and ideas of a character more than Shawn's. To make this even more unusual, Shawn has cerebral palsy and no motor control whatsoever. He can't speak to even tell his story, which is why Mr. Trueman does it for him, and beautifully, I might add. These are the voices we need to hear, the ones who can't speak for themselves, the ones who give us insight into all aspects of the human character. Perhaps if young men and women pick up a copy of Stuck in Neutral, their eyes will be opened in a way that will make them more compassionate to those  inflicted with conditions like Shawn's. Need I say how books like this could possibly impact the lives of young people?  All it takes is an exceptional perspective just like the one Mr. Trueman created.

 Shawn describes his own condition on pg 6 and 7 of the text, "I can't control any of my muscles: not my fingers, my hands, my left foot, my stomach, my tongue, my dick, my throat, my butt, my eyelids, none of them.  Not a one.  So when the psychologist says, 'Who was George Washington?' I can't tell him what I know, from the dollar bill to the cherry tree, from the revolution of the colonists against the British to the father of our country, from his wooden teeth to him knowing Thomas Jefferson to-- anything.  When I'm asked about the old, dead first prez, all I can do is sit there and drool if my drool function is running, or whiz in my pants if the pants-whizzing gear is engaged, or go 'ahhhhh' if my vocalizing program has clicked in."

Shawn, a closet genius with a photographic memory, is a fourteen year old boy stuck in a non-functioning body. To complicate things even more, his father, the Pulitzer prize winning poet who wrote a poem about Shawn's condition, might be planning to "put Shawn out of his misery." The problem with that is, Shawn isn't miserable! He loves life; he loves the way his brother slips him treats like potato chips or hamburger; he loves when his sister brings friends over for a sleepover and the girls dance around in their pajamas with their newly developing bodies.  He can even read!  His sister taught him by playing Special Ed teacher.

Just like any other fourteen year old, he's interested in the female body.  One of my favorite passages that made me laugh until I nearly choked is on pages 39 through 41.  Here he is describing the aides in his classroom.

" Becky is great too.  She has red hair, long and soft. She's only about twenty years old and her body's gorgeous and she's super nice.  I love when Becky works with me especially when she wears a low-cut top and has to bend over to load and unload me from this special standing contraption they put me in a couple hours every day.  Her breasts are perfect: round and smooth and big.  If I could be William (the other aide.), I'd spend every hour of every workday trying to figure out how to score with Becky.  Hell, I'm me and I do that already, but you'd have to figure William would at least have a chance.  I mean, he speaks the same language as Becky and can walk around and smile and do all of those necessary prerequisites to scoring.  You'd figure the guy would at least have a chance....

The zoo is not like any other schoolroom you've ever seen.... First of all, remember that we students are all retards.

We moan, we drool, we takes dumps in our pants.  We smack ourselves upside our own heads.  We take headlong swan dives into the floor.  We eat dirt and eraser dust and hunks of old crayons and chalk, anything, actually, that we can get into our mouths.  Those of us who can walk, walk into walls and doors and one another; those of us who can't walk just sit around "ahhhhhhhhhhhhing" all day long....

I actually enjoy the weird irony of the fact that I'm considered the dumbest kid in my retard class.  Most of the others can talk a little, some walk a little.  All but me communicate at least a little bit.  One guy, Jimmy, walks around saying "honey" all the time.... Another guy, Alan, constantly grabs his crotch and says, "Winky" over and over...."

Shawn's dad comes to his classroom to create a documentary type program on kids like Shawn.  It's during the taping that the usual classroom stuff happens.

(Pg 44) Sydney McDaniel speaks. "'We've come to visit my son and honestly examine just what your money is buying.'

I sat listening to and remembering Dad's words; in the background I could hear 'winky, winky, winky' and 'ahhhhhhh,' and 'honey...honey...honey.'"

Now, I laughed at this book numerous times because of the personality that is demonstrated throughout, but never once did I lose sight of how real this could be.  Perhaps those who are stricken with conditions like CP, really are geniuses.  Maybe they look at the world and their lives and think that life really is still worth living.

Perhaps it was not the writer's intention, but this book made me think about all the times that life has been hard, all the times I've complained about not being able to do something I wanted to do. When I read a book like this, it puts life back into perspective. I may not have a big mansion overlooking the sea, I may not be rich or famous, or infamous for that matter, but I can look at life and enjoy every bit, every bite of hamburger, every book I read, every sight I see, or cool breeze I feel on my skin. I can be thankful for my speech, for the fact that my fingers move in ways that I can type this blog or my novel, my eyes can focus when I need them too.  I can sit, stand, walk, jump, dance, wiggle, scratch and swallow at will. Most of all, I can communicate. I can tell those close to me that I love them, something Shawn couldn't do.

Most intriguing to me was Mr. Trueman's personal experience with this story. His son, Henry Sheehan Trueman, has CP. It is not his personal story, but his insight as a parent of a child with CP comes through in every word. Thank you, Mr. Trueman for this amazing, funny, unique look into what could be the mind of those many of us would consider "retarded."

One last thing.  When I met Mr. Trueman at the Rochester Teen Book Festival, I had the privilege of hearing a few chapters of the yet unpublished next book in the Shawn McDaniel story.  I'll keep you all informed as to when it comes out.  It will definitely be on my shelves!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Company of Swans-Eva Ibbotson- Guest Blogger Danielle Raymond

We've reached a milestone here at Read Between The Lines: our  first guest blogger! Cassadaga Valley's own, Danielle Raymond will be reviewing A Company of Swans. Danielle writes for the Cougar Beat, CVCS's newspaper and also attends Writers Ink teen writing group, which I run at the library.  It was there that I met Danielle. Without further ado...

A Company of Swans
By Eva Ibbotson

The first time I read a book that completely swept me away into a different world that was as vivid and realistic as the one in A Company of Swans was in the first grade. I was six when the first Harry Potter book came out and my dad bought it for me. Hogwarts was so tangible, so detailed and described that it had to exist somewhere, even if magic and Harry Potter himself didn't. Those kind of books are very rare to find. They completely suck our conscious from our place and point in time to another.

I have to say that's one of the reasons I'm such a huge fan of Eva Ibbotson. Her writing is near flawless – no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to find anything wrong with it. Her plots are always well thought out, with all loose ends tied up at the conclusion and delivered to you in a neat little package. Her characters are deep and distinctly individual – when you walk away from the book, you aren't going to forget about them, simply because each and every one of them is unique and has their own quirks. Even minor characters that flit into the story for a brief second or two have memorable qualities and backgrounds. Her descriptions – be they of emotions or scenery – are simple and perfect.

A Company of Swans is a fantastic book, whether you're looking at it from a reader's perspective or a writer's perspective. I, consequentially, look at it and love it both ways.

The book's main character is eighteen-year-old Harriet Morton. Harriet is a quiet, considerate girl who is stopped from doing a great many things in life by her women-hating father who has the most absurd ideas of what is or is not decent, and by her penny-pinching aunt who is - let's face it - just a giant grouch who doesn't want anybody to be happy because she obviously has some neurological inability that prevents her from experiencing it herself. The one outlet Harriet is allowed is ballet. And she's good – which is why when a scout comes by her ballet class looking for a recruit, he picks her - plain-looking Harriet - out of all the others. Forbidden to go with the company to Brazil by her aunt and father and offending her suitor Dr. Edward Finch-Dutton (what a name, eh?) with the mere mention of such indecent behavior, Harriet feels the need to escape Cambridge (England!) more than ever.

On a forced visit to the historical Stavely Manor, Harriet meets an intelligent little boy by the name of Henry. Henry, looking trustingly up at Harriet through his humongous glasses, confesses to her that his father died recently and that he and his mother are going to lose Stavely because there's no money left. He tells her the story of the boy who used to live at Stavely. He was brave and adventuresome and strong – but he left a long time ago to go to the Amazon, and never returned. If only he could be found – Henry is sure he would be able to help him. Harriet mentions that she was supposed to go to that very place. Henry begs her to look for the boy, find him, tell him what's happening. Harriet can't help but almost instantly love Henry (I can't blame her – he's freaking adorable). So she agrees to search for the boy, and sneaks her way to Brazil with the company.

This boy, it turns out, is Rom Verney. Now a very rich man and an illustrious member of Brazilian society, he owns the opera house where Harriet is set to debut with the ballet company. Harriet has experienced a lot of things since she left Cambridge and her restricted, stuffy life. One thing she can't predict experiencing is Rom. Things kind of go from there – if you catch my drift.

I'm not a fan of romance novels. Ask any of my friends. But that's not all that this story is about. It's about seeing the world, stepping outside your comfort zone, living life to the fullest, making new friends, being passionate about something. Those are philosophies I support one hundred percent. I actually don't mind the romance in this novel so much. It's not as in-your-face as others can be. Overall, this is probably in my top twenty favorite books of all time. And that's a place of honor in my book, ladies and gents.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rochester Teen Book Festival

This past weekend, I dragged my friend, Bri, along to the Rochester Teen Book Festival.  It was AWESOME!  Yes, I know it was geared toward teens, but I'm still young at heart. Yes, I know that all the authors there write teen lit.  "Don't you ever read adult lit, Jessie?" you're asking.  Rarely!

 Teen lit is quick because teens don't have long attention spans. (Apparently, neither do I.) It can be on a variety of subjects and is sometimes more edgy than adult lit, without the graphic sex...most of the time. It's relatively easy reading, and honestly, I get bored with adult stories because I live every day as an adult.  I know what that's like.  Teen protagonists can be much more interesting, honest, brass, cool, scared, cruel, sensitive, perceptive, thoughtful and knowledgeable than we give them credit for. (I could name many more character descriptions, but I'm sure you don't want a laundry list, so fill in the blank yourself.)

Anyway, I digress.  The main idea is TEEN LIT BOOKS ROCK!  I love to read them and even more, I love to write them, which is why I attended the book festival. I'm on a mission to surround myself with successful authors. So, I Twitter and Facebook and follow agents and authors to read about their daily lives and struggles in this business.  They're very similar to my own struggles, so I know I'm not alone.

The annual festival is held at Nazareth College.  I'm an alum there, having received my Masters in Special Education, so I hope when I am published, they will invite me to speak. The best part is, it's open to the public and it's free.  Yes, that's right, FREE. So all you parents who think that bringing your teen to something like this would cost too much money, save your pennies for that fancy vacation and bring your kid to this festival!

It began with the authors arriving in limos, heralded by a marching band.  Unfortunately, I missed this part since I was too lazy to wake up at the ungodly hour of 4 A.M. to be there right on time. By the time I arrived, we had a few minutes to look over the book table.  I had to restrain myself, only buying a few books, but I could have easily spent hundreds.  The money here goes to help fund the program and allows it to be free.  Yes, that's right, FREE. After a few minutes, the authors were introduced one at a time and gathered on the bleachers where they did a lightning round of Q&A.
This is the entire panel of authors. Top row first from left to right: Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly Black, Coe booth, Robin Brande, Lindsay Cibos, Jared Hodges. Row 2: Marissa Doyle, Simone Elkeles, Ellen Hopkins, James Kennedy, A. S. King. 3rd row: Daniel Kirk, Alisa Libby, Barry Lyga, Lisa McMann, Mari Mancusi. 4th row: Ben Mikaelsen, Alyson Noel, Sarah Ockler, Matt De la Pena, Amy Kathleen Ryan. Bottom row: Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer E. Smith, Terry Trueman, Vivian Vande Velde, Martin Wilson.

Next were the break out sessions.  You could choose three, unless you wanted to skip lunch. Then you could do four.  (Of course I went to four.  I wish I could have gone to more! Who needs to eat anyway?) I chose to see Terry Trueman, author of Stuck In Neutral first.  He was in a classroom on campus, and after joining about 20 or so others, we settled in to hear him speak.  Mr. Trueman was very laid back and spoke a little about everything, mostly in response to our questions. He even read from his WIP, (Work in Progress) which is a sequel to Stuck In Neutral.  For those who don't know, Stuck In Neutral is about a boy with cerebral palsy and the book is written from his perspective!  AWESOME book. Below are me and Terry Trueman.

After that, we saw Laurie Halse Anderson. Just knowing her success is inspiring.  She was super nice, AND she remembered my blog about Wintergirls. :) Ms. Anderson had a slide show, which she used to discuss her life in writing. I'm jealous of her writing "cabin."  I think I need to hire her carpenter husband to build one for me! In case, you don't know her, she is the author of Speak, Chains, Fever 1793, Twisted and many others.  Here are a few pictures:  The one on the bottom is my friend, Bri with Laurie. 

Next was a trio of Super geeks who spoke on what it was like to be outcasts. Each took time to tell their most embarrassing moments and read from their books. Below are Lisa McMann, author of the Wake series; A. S. King, author of The Dust of 100 Dogs; and Robin Brande, author of Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature and Fat Cat.

Lastly, was Ellen Hopkins, who wrote Burned, Crank, Glass, Identical, Impulse and Tricks. Her story is amazing, and for anyone who doesn't know, Crank and Glass as well as a book she's currently writing is based on her story and her daughter's struggle with Crystal Meth.  The books are highly controversial due to their truthful look at the world of drugs, which makes them both intriguing and essential for teens. It's my belief that instead of banning books like these, we as parents should use them to our advantage.  Read them yourself if you think they're not appropriate! And, as Ms. Hopkins said, come and listen to her speak. Then you'll know what she's all about. 

What an amazing weekend.  Thank you to the authors who took time to travel to Rochester to meet with a bunch of crazy teenagers and people like me who want some encouragement in the realm of writing. It was an honor, and I hope that one day I can call myself your colleague. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Happened to Cass McBride--Gail Giles and Born Blue--Han Nolan

I've been a reading freak lately, so I'm combining two of the books I've read into one post. I'll keep it short and sweet, and unfortunately, that means not getting into very much detail, but sometimes that's for the best.

What Happened to Cass McBride
This story totally freaked me out! In order to discuss, I need to give one major spoiler: She's buried alive.

Now, I won't go into details about how or why or if she gets out. I'll leave that to your own reading to discover the answers, but this book brought up one major point. That is how often we blame others.

For anyone to bury another person alive, there has to be some amount of psychological disconnect. This book takes that to the extreme.  Yes, we can all name the horrible things that happened to us in the past, but does that excuse us from acting responsible?  Does that give us a reason to blame others or worse, act out on that blame? No, of course not. No matter what trials we endure, we must learn from them. Sure, it's not fair.  Life never is.  Of course there should be justice for the injustices of this world, but is it up to us to deal out those justices?

I'm continually thankful for a God who I know will bring justice to those who wait on him to act. In the mean time, I'll learn from the horrible things that continually happen in this world, and I'll work hard to make my little corner of it a nicer place to be.

Born Blue
From page one, I was hooked on this novel. First, it starts with such a strong voice I had to keep reading. A young girl in an abusive foster home believes deep inside that she is part African American. (She's not.) Her speech sways with an uneducated slang making it a little difficult to read until you get used to it but definitely adds to the character.

This story traces this young girls life from foster care to being kidnapped by her heroin addicted mother and sold to another couple. She runs away from everyone, including those who try to help. Her life is a series of bad choices and she takes a ride on the stereotypical drug addict, teen pregnancy road. Yet, even through some of those stereotypical aspects, I felt a kernel of truth. It was honest.

The entire time I was hoping that she'd realize along the way that people do care.  Not everyone is willing to sell her off, but just as with real people, she was blinded to those who truly care.  I think back to the many times that I've seen friends and family members reach out to the lost only to be disregarded, or even worse, attacked. Such is the way with humans.  I wonder how many times I've done that.  I mean, how many times have I rejected someone who was just trying to help?

On the other side of the story are the people reaching out, knowing that they were taking a chance with this messed up girl.  But they did it. They saw in her a talent or a spark of something good.  What inspiration for us.  They were stolen from, hurt and accused of lies, yet they still were willing to try.

What an amazing lesson for us to learn. No matter what the results, we should still try.  It's our job to reach out to those who need it. So I ask you, are you reaching out?

Sunshine Award

Nike Chillemi niminated this blog for the Sunshine award for creativity and inspiration. I'm accepting and passing it on to the following blogs:

1. Holly Jennings
2. Jones
3. Main
4. Reffner
5. Anne

 The rules for accepting the award are:
1) Put the logo within my blog or on my post
2) Pass the award onto 12 fellow bloggers
3) Link the nominees within my post
4) Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog
5) Share the love and link to the person whom you received this award from.

I figure since I'm very picky which blogs I follow, I'm only listing 5 here.  Maybe that's breaking the rules, but if I follow a million blogs, am I honestly going to be able to read them all?  No. So forgive me for my rule bending. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Good Book

For those of you who have come to this site after reading Wintergirls and are wondering where the post for that is, look to the right and find my blog list. We can still discuss even though the post is not the most recent. If you haven't read it, get busy and get discussing! I'm still awaiting your brilliant comments. (Thank you Jordan for yours.)

In the mean time, I'm going to post other rambling thoughts.

Since this is a book blog, it would be a sheer disappointment if I didn't at least attempt to discuss the greatest book ever written by the greatest author in the universe. No, really, I'm not joking. Yes, in the entire universe! Obviously, the book I'm referring to is the Bible, the author: God Almighty!

This morning I was reading through Hebrews chapter 4 when I came across verse 16, which says, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need."

I always liked that verse, but I always thought it referred to just asking for what we need. What I didn't realize is that it specifically says that we will receive mercy. When is it that we need mercy the most? It's when we've done wrong. We can still approach with confidence when we are full of sin and dirt. In fact, that's when we should approach.

Our normal reaction is to hide. At least, that's how I respond when I'm in desperate need of God's mercy. But he tells us to be confident. Think about that for a moment. Why would he tell us to be confident? It's because he knows what his response will be-- Mercy!!! In our sin, we need that mercy desperately but are often afraid to ask for it because, admit it, we aren't sure of the response. We aren't sure because in our minds, when we do something wrong, the other person should be angry and punish us. But that's not the God I serve. Sure, there are consequences to our actions, but my God delights in showing mercy. He delights in giving us what we DON'T deserve. When we begin to understand who God is, only then will we be able to approach that throne with confidence.

So, be confident today. You can serve a merciful, grace giving God. I know I do.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wintergirls-- Laurie Halse Anderson

In my opinion this book is one of the most important books on the market today when it comes to YA fiction, so thank you, Ms. Anderson, for creating a work of art, one that makes us think and maybe even act to help those who are struggling. Perhaps I loved it so much because I find myself drawn to "issue" books both in reading and writing. Or perhaps it's because I have a heart for young women who are in the process of finding themselves within that black hole called high school. Or maybe it's because I've never before been so in touch with a character of a book as I was with Lia in Wintergirls. Whatever the reason, Wintergirls is a must read.

Let's begin by discussing the writing style. It is not written as a collection of poems, but the words have such a poetic feel that the story floats along like a dream. The emotion it renders immediately sucked me into the story. I was one of the characters. I screamed aloud when Lia continued her downward spiral into the vacuum of anorexia. (Ask my husband. He often would look at me and say, "What?!" when I started talking to the characters.)

The author uses strike throughs many times to show what Lia is really thinking. She calls her mother (Strike through) --mom-- Dr. Marrigan, showing the lack of real relationship between the two. (Sorry, I can't figure out how to actually strike through on this blog.) This device is used to show her true feelings about food as well. (Pg 5)(Strike through.)" --Because I can't let myself want them-- because I don't need a muffin (410), I don't want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag."

I was hooked at the use of this device because of how accurately it portrayed the struggle of the character. I didn't realize how badly anorexics wanted to eat, but Anderson's portrayal made that very clear. It's not the desire to eat that's the problem. It's the control over one aspect of life when everything else seems so out of control.

(pg 121) Lia brings pizza to Elijah. "He asks, "Want some?"

(Strike through)"--One bit, please, and then another and another, crust and cheese sausage sauce another and another--empty is strong and invincible. "I already ate.""

All I can say to that is, WOW!

Never before have I known what it was like to be a character as much as I did with Lia. I was torn, half the time yelling, "Eat, Lia. Eat something, please," and the other half understanding her need to be thin, so much so that she deceives those around her by sewing quarters into her bathrobe when her stepmother weighs her. Don't we all deceive others about our weight? Maybe not to the extreme, but I know I only buy clothes that show off my best features and hide my worst ones. I know that I wear certain outfits because they make me look thin even when I don't feel thin. I've never known a single woman that didn't some time or another struggle with or worry about her weight. I've experienced the yo-yo dieting and wanted more than anything to be skinny. We can all relate. Yet, what is it that pushes some people to the extreme?

It started for Lia and her friend Cassie in high school when they made a pact to be the thinnest girls in the school. The catalyst for the disease in this case was the constant pressures of school and friends. She's put into a hospital, gets a little better and is released. However, after her friend Cassie's death from bulemia, Lia relapses into anorexia again. Again she struggles with self image on top of not knowing how to grieve her friend's passing. The only thing that she feels she can control is her eating, which to my understanding, is often the case in eating disorders. Life seems so horribly out of control, so they control the only thing they can.

Honestly, this book opened my eyes a little. Being a mother, I want more than anything for my daughter (and son) to be healthy, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. This novel has set my mind to thinking about what I can do to ensure proper body image, to build self confidence, to allow my children to have some amount of control in their lives so that they don't feel the need to step into the extreme. It's not just our daughters that we need to train. It's all those young women with whom we have contact, the young girls whose mothers may not know any better. So I ask, how are you doing at portraying a positive self image? How are you doing at encouraging young women to make good choices with their bodies? How are you doing at feeling good about yourself?

What can we do to help those young people around us from falling prey to diseases of the mind that constantly tell them they aren't good enough? I know one thing I'm going to do. Excuse me while I walk outside and tell my daughter how much I love her, how beautiful she is on the inside and outside, and how important she is to me.

Will you do the same?