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?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Wednesday Wars-- Gary Schmidt

Warning: spoilers

Don't you just love when you read a quality book? I don't know about you, but I get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside that makes me want to head to the library and check out every book in the same section of the book I just read. This is how The Wednesday Wars was for me.

Set during Vietnam, the writing was so authentic, I honestly thought it was one of those books that was written during that time period and reprinted recently, but I found out that is not the case. This was published in 2007 and never before, which just adds to the talent of the author. The language and "feel" of the characters brought me to a place I've never been. I was in Mrs. Baker's 7th grade English class. I sat in the front row as Holling Hoodhood performed the fairy, Ariel from Shakespeare's The Tempest complete with yellow tights and feathers on the butt.

This coming of age story follows the young Holling Hoodhood, heir to Hoodhood Associates Architecture firm. When 1/2 of his class goes to Catholic religious instruction on Wednesdays and the other half goes to Jewish religious instruction, Holling is stuck alone with his English teacher, Mrs. Baker. After cleaning boards and clapping erasers for the first few weeks, Mrs. Baker decides to challenge the young Mr. Hoodhood, a Presbyterian, with the works of Shakespeare. This convinces Holling that Mrs. Baker hates his guts, which, as we know of all 7th grade English teachers, is true. (I can say that; I used to be one!)

It's through these stories of the Bard that Holling learns life lessons. Of course, sometimes life gives him lessons without the literature. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that sometimes the people we look up to, don't turn out to be who we think they are. Holling learns this lesson the hard way when he rushes from his performance as Ariel the fairy (remember he's wearing yellow tights with white feathers on the butt) to meet Mickey Mantle for an autograph. Arriving just as they are starting to shut things down, he's told by Mantle that Mantle won't sign autographs for anyone wearing tights with white feathers on the butt.

He says on pg 93, "When gods die, they die hard. It's not like they fade away, or grow old, or fall asleep. They die in fire an pain, and when they come out of you, they leave your guts burned. It hurts more than anything you can talk about. And maybe worst of all is, you're not sure if there will ever be another god to fill their place. Or if you'd ever want another god to fill their place. You don't want the fire to go out inside you twice."

Though this, he does learn who his real friends are, for when Danny Hupfer sees what just happened, he returns his signed Mickey Mantle baseball and walks away. If only we all had friends like this.

The reminders of the war in Vietnam, in my opinion speak as a metaphor for the war within Holling, himself. When it describes soldiers mere meters from their destination, hunkered together underground waiting and just out of reach of what would be salvation, it reminds me of those times in life when we come so close, but just don't quite hit the mark. The entire time, Holling is deciding what kind of a son, friend and brother he wants to be. His father wants him to take over the family business, and with his sister being a flower child out trying to find herself, Holling feels the pressure from dad even more. The problem is that he wants and needs to figure things out for himself.

It's a good thing he has Mrs. Baker, who quietly, yet persistently guides Holling through the seventh grade. It is her influence that encourages him when he falls. It is her compassion that brings two other Yankee players to play ball and sign gloves for Holling and his friends. It's her influence that gets him a date with Meryl Lee. It's her encouragement that pushes him to beat the eighth graders at the cross country meet. Mostly, it's her insight and quiet nature that teaches him the lessons of life that he won't realize until years down the road. I have to admit that I felt good inside when Mrs. Baker is rewarded in the end. After all, doesn't someone like her deserve a happy ending?

I loved this story because it made me think of all the Mrs. Bakers out there, all the ones in my life who encouraged me and pushed me to be a better person. So, to Mr. Askin, Mr. Morgante, Mr. Schmitt, and Mrs. Edwards, thank you for your influence in my life. Thank you for pushing me to be more than I thought I could be. Thank you for igniting a passion for learning and hard work. Thank you for being the kind of teachers we all want our children to have.

So, I leave you all with this question: Who is/was your favorite teacher and how did they influence your life?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Next book

Thanks to my good friend, Varsi (Barsi) Peterson, I'm trying something a little different. I will post a blog telling what book is going to be read next. That way you can all get the book, read it and actually have some comments when it comes to discussion time.

So, the next read is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. By the way, if you live in Sinclairville, don't take the one at the library, I need that one to read first! :)