RSS

A Review of Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

By Crystal Guest, Billie Jaso, and Ilka Jauregui

Source:  amazon.com

Source: amazon.com

“One day back in middle school, a girl I didn’t know came up to me and said, ‘Jackie Delgado is going to kick your ass,’” Meg Medina recounts on her blog (2015). That simple statement would mark a dreadful turning point in Medina’s life, just as it would for her protagonist, Piddy, in her novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

Meg Medina’s YA coming-of-age novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, follows Piddy Sanchez, a fifteen-year-old girl, as she moves with her mother into an apartment building in a new school district. After only five weeks attending her new high school, Piddy has earned the ire of a girl named Yaqui Delgado, and she doesn’t understand why. As Piddy is bullied at school and lives in fear of tomorrow, she struggles to maintain the secret of her bullying and her relationships with the people who mean the most to her. Nobody can understand why she is lashing out and falling behind in school, but for Piddy, her grades have taken a back seat to her survival. She weighs the consequences of keeping quiet or speaking out, but she has seen from her neighbors, the Halpers, that nothing happens when abuse is reported. It only gets worse. It is when her situation is at its bleakest that Piddy draws a parallel between her own situation and the domestically abused mother of her boyfriend and realizes she needs to make a choice that will save her future. Her mother’s question, “Who are you going to be?” (203) spurs her to make choices that will define who she is.

Piddy Sanchez grows and changes throughout the novel, beginning on the first page. She starts out an innocent and imaginative fifteen year old, who dreams of becoming a scientist who studies elephants, even though she thinks her mother would “nag about malaria and the smell of dung” (18). She daydreams about meeting the father she’s never seen or talked to and calls this “private game, . . . ‘Who’s Papi?'” (38). She achieves good grades in honor classes and her teachers like her.

As the bullying escalates, Piddy no longer smiles because it takes her “all day to calm down after seeing Yaqui” (124). She changes her physical appearance, plucking her eyebrows to look “expressionless and strangely vicious” (152) and thinks, “Piddy’s dead, Ma. Gone. Adios” (168). Through Piddy’s struggles, Medina confronts the alienating consequences bullying can have on young adults.

The novel forces Piddy to confront adult realities that she had never faced before. One of the recurring themes of the novel is misogyny. She is sexualized by her peers and shamed for her body’s changes. She is told by her mother, “You can’t go around with two loose onions in your shirt for all the boys to stare at” (3) and advised by her classmate, Darlene, to “practice walking normal. You know, a little less wiggly” (4). Piddy just wants to go to class, and she doesn’t care about the attention of Yaqui’s boyfriend, Alfredo, or appreciate the sexual harassment by boys in the schoolyard. Instead of embracing her outer beauty, she resents her curves because “they’ve caused nothing but trouble” (152). The only time Piddy feels safe is when she is with her childhood friend (and budding romance) Joey because “being with him helps [her] avoid weird men with staring problems” (176). The misogyny surrounding Piddy causes a crisis with her identity because she constantly worries about what others think of her, and she cannot be the person she wants to be.

Along with the loss of innocence comes Piddy’s disillusionment with her parents. When she discovers her mother isn’t as perfect as she’s let on through her conservative and prudish attitude, Piddy feels, “It’s like I don’t even know who she is” (69). When she finds out the truth about her father, she resolves never to play ‘Who’s Papi?’ again, instead mourning the death of a relationship she had hoped to someday nurture, and asks, “Did he ever really want me, Ma?” (203). This recurring theme of family has a significant impact on Piddy’s formation of her identity. It is when her mother asks “Who are you going to be?” (203) that Piddy realizes she doesn’t need a father to define who she is, and she chooses how to live her life.

Meg Medina, a Cuban-American, grew up in Queens, New York. She is a devoted advocate against bullying. She wrote Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass because she hoped it would “give [a] voice to what it’s like to find yourself targeted relentlessly” (Medina, Meg. Interview by Roberto Sanchez). In the opening scene of the novel, a student tells Piddy that, “Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass” (1). Sound familiar? There are several similarities between Piddy and Medina’s experiences. For two years a school bully ruthlessly targeted Medina. Like Piddy, Medina began to fear school, and bullying caused Medina and her character Piddy to change from being attentive students to skipping school and withdrawing from their friends and family. Medina began hanging out with dangerous people, trying to become tough so that no one could ever hurt her again.

Medina’s style effectively connects the reader to the characters. She engages the reader through an adolescent narrator’s first-person point of view, giving us a victim’s personal account of bullying and growing up. She does not shy away from foul language, embracing the casual language of teens, even in the title of the book. Medina utilizes Spanish to further make this novel relatable and realistic by code-switching the dialogue when Piddy’s mother or ‘aunt’ are speaking. In one instance, Piddy’s mother tells her, “A zero doesn’t mean something is hard, niña, it means you’re lazy. It means you’re not studying. Nada. ¡Que vergüenza!” (81). Piddy’s thoughts are interspersed between dialogue, and her inner turmoil is revealed to the readers, such as when she thinks to herself, “Wait… Who is Yaqui Delgado?” (1) after being threatened.

Like many Young Adult novels, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass portrays a loss of innocence, the importance of family and hope, a life changing event that forces the protagonist to ‘grow up,’ and a search for identity. The novel is aimed at ages 14+, but children in middle school would be able to relate to this novel with its simple structure and adolescent themes. It teaches readers of all ages a valuable lesson: Don’t let others tell you who you are; decide for yourself who you are going to be.

During our brief correspondence with Meg Medina, we asked her where the turning point was for her. She answered candidly, “I really don’t know what made me regroup. One thing is that I moved away from NYC to live with my father in MA. Getting out of the situation was probably a great thing. Somehow, I reconnected with school and getting good grades, probably at my father’s insistence. That was helpful, too, because it gave me options for afterward” (Medina, Meg. Interview by Crystal Guest). Medina sums up childhood succinctly: “growing up is one part mystery, one part hard work, and one part dumb luck…” (Medina, Meg. Interview by Crystal Guest), an idea that is reflected in Piddy’s journey throughout the novel. Growing up is not easy, and children’s environments and families can be just as important as children’s choices about their own destiny.

 Works Cited

Medina, Meg. Interview by Roberto Sanchez. “Meg Medina: 2014 National Book Festival.” 2014 National Book Festival. Library of Congress. Podcast, 30 July 2014.  Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

Medina, Meg. Personal Interview by Crystal Guest.  2015.

Medina, Meg. “Book, Bullying, and Compassion: A Book Event in RVA.” Author Meg Medina. N.p., 16 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

 

Tags: , , ,

A Review of Sara Farizan’s If You Could Be Mine

By Quincey Austell, Berlin Edmond, Rosselyn Gonzalez, and Jeannette Narvaez

“[The boys] were so young, just sixteen and eighteen, blindfolded, standing next to each other in the square with nooses around their necks. I felt my neck itch as they were slowly raised on cranes. Whatever crime they committed, I didn’t want to be a part of it. I wanted to stop loving Nasrin, but how do you stop doing something you know you are supposed to do?” (Farizan 3)

Source:  algonquinyoungreaders.com

Source: algonquinyoungreaders.com

Surrounded by adversaries, living in modern day Tehran, Iran, Sahar is a young girl experiencing an identity crisis at the transitional age of seventeen. Her dream of attending medical school is nearing reality. But, as she finishes high school, there is a dangerous secret threatening the realization of her goal: she is madly in love. Yet, Sahar’s heart doesn’t beat for just anyone, she has fallen for a girl, her best friend since age six. This is the crux of Sara Farizan’s premiere novel, If You Could Be Mine.

Best friends and lovers, Sahar and Nasrin hold each other’s hands through the trials life hurls at them: their forbidden romance, grief, and Nasrin’s arranged engagement. Together, they endure the difficulties of growing up in Iran, where their sexuality is under cruel scrutiny by the government. When Nasrin’s parents reveal their plans to marry their daughter off to a family friend, Sahar’s new found quest to prevent the marriage introduces her to Iran’s LGBTQ underground world. With the aid of her gay, party-crazed cousin, Ali, and his transgender confidant, Parveen, Sahar becomes aware of Iran’s double standards on homosexuality and gender reassignment.

Astoundingly, in a place where “overzealous officer[s]” (82) beat women for what they consider immodest dress, the community lynches adolescent boys for suspected homosexual activity (3), and western ideologies are intensely prohibited, the Iranian government funds transgender reassignment surgeries for people experiencing same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. In fact, as a character in the novel explains, “Iran has the second highest number of transsexual reassignment surgeries after Thailand” (142). According to global human rights journalist Rochelle Terman, since transgender reassignment is not distinctly condemned in the reigning Shariah, Koranic law, and homosexuality is, the government views it as the solution to the homosexual “problem.”

With no other option in a society ruled by religious bigotry, Sahar learns that legally and physically becoming a man through extensive surgery—although she doesn’t want to—may keep Nasrin by her side. This strategy is far from simple. To complete it, Sahar must face the Iranian transgender laws that require her to “navigate a labyrinth of bureaucratic processes” and “a four-to-six month period of psychotherapy, along with hormonal and chromosomal tests” (Terman). Has Sahar actually discovered a way to keep her forbidden love alive, or will she be forced to let go of her happily ever after? There is literary magic in Farizan’s ability to postulate what a happy future would mean for Sahar and Nasrin in a society that treats gender roles as law, women as property, and lesbian love as taboo.

It is in such a setting that Farizan introduces Sahar as an insecure, “awkward girl with breasts so big [she] feel[s] [she] might tip over” (6). Sahar is riskily devoted to Nasrin but must hide her attraction from the public to avoid persecution. Confused, Sahar discloses her feelings this way: “I’ve never thought about being gay; all I know is I love Nasrin more than anyone” (4). Knowing homosexuality is a betrayal of her religion and government, Sahar is disillusioned and desperate. Readers grow with Sahar as she determines she is no less fragile than any other teenager in love. For example, she has insecurities about her relationship with Nasrin: “I can’t believe she could feel that way about me” (9). She also must cope with the death of her Maman and the lack of emotional presence and responsibility of her grief-stricken Baba, who has forced Sahar to wear the pants, literally and figuratively, in their household. With her Maman’s death and the restricted emotional relationship she has with Baba, Sahar is in a way parentless at this stage in her life. Without the help of parental role models, Sahar develops her identity through worldly experiences like partying with Ali and meeting new people. Sahar begins to make new friends besides Nasrin and begins to enter this transgender world that she perhaps would have never been a part of had it not been for Nasrin’s engagement. Sahar emerges from her naïve teenage cocoon as a mature, self-actualized person.

Source:  www.lesley.edu

Sara Farizan Source: http://www.lesley.edu

Parallel to her work, Sara Farizan is a self-identified Iranian American lesbian (Algonquin), who wrote If You Could Be Mine with the hope of giving a voice to the marginalized minorities who rarely see themselves as the heroes of their own story. The characters, Sahar and Nasrin, are a reflection of Farizan’s own innate qualities—gay and Middle Eastern. Much of her desire to write this novel stems from the lack of minority characters, like herself, represented in non-Western media, particularly literature. Farizan, fitting into the realms of cultural and sexual minority, wishes there had been stories like If You Could Be Mine around when she was a teenager (Bond). Through the heartbreaking topics of gender identity and sexual orientation, Farizan casts Iran as a relatable world to American readers.

Farizan’s writing style is permeated with everyday events. Her story could easily be set in another country, like ours. She keeps her plot seated both in Iran’s sinister reality of religious and political belligerence toward the non-heterosexual community and the more lighthearted nature of a lovesick teenager. Her characters, despite the novel’s serious themes, act like typical teenagers. They eat hamburgers, listen to R&B, party for the first time, and crush on the girl next door (Ford). At the same time, the characters’ experiences and lifestyles are dark and heartrending—they illuminate the country’s extreme beliefs and law, which marginalize characters in this novel. The reader encounters a layered experience of conflicts and characters built on universal concepts: the notion of losing a parent, growing up with a childhood best friend, loving someone you can’t have, and dealing with the everyday stressors of youth and the pressures of school. In addition, Sahar’s voice, which employs juvenile language for the realism of the novel, makes If You Could Be Mine most relatable to adolescents. All of these are the bare bones of If You Could Be Mine.

“You belong to me, Sahar. I just assumed you knew that I belonged to you.

I always will.” (Farizan 204)

If You Could Be Mine is a quintessential coming of age novel. However, unlike most such novels, it also covers a variety of experiences that make If You Could Be Mine a contender for other genres. For a debut novel, Farizan impressively presents a thoughtful, provocative, and much needed addition to the LGBTQ library. She bravely navigates the themes of first love, ostracism, developing friendships, and understanding sexual identity, while also enlightening readers about the hazard of being queer in the ultra-conservative Muslim community. Farizan is far from conventional, and her style allows for readers from all walks of life to enjoy a quality story of forbidden romance.

Works Cited

Bond, Gwenda. “PW talks with Sara Farizan.” Publishers Weekly 26 May 2014: 24. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.

Ford, Ashley C. “Sara Farizan Is Your New Favorite Queer YA Novelist.” BuzzFeed, Np., 6 June 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

“Sara Farizan.” Algonquin Young Readers. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

Sara, Farizan. If You Could Be Mine. New York: Algonquin, 2013.

Terman, R. “Trans[ition] in Iran.” World Policy Journal (2013): 28-38. World Policy Institute. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

 
 

Tags: , , ,

A Review of Shane Burcaw’s Laughing at My Nightmare

By Denisse Acosta, Joseph Alvarado, Jessica Aparicio, Davy Nguyen

I hope for nothing more than to share my story with you and make you laugh” (Burcaw 4).

Source: laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com

Within the first few pages of Shane Burcaw’s Laughing at my Nightmare, there is a fairly detailed description of handicapped Shane urinating on a tour bus with the assistance of his brother and a film-crew recording their undertaking. Shane comments that an onlooker who doesn’t know what’s going on would think they are “filming a multi-fetish porno” (2). Later in the book, he comments, “I’ve been told I can be arrested for DUI if I drive my wheelchair while drunk. Something about this seems unfair” (151). This is the kind of humor that readers can expect from Burcaw’s memoir. It takes a personal, inspiring, often hilariously crude look at one boy’s experience living since birth with Type II Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), and while the book may not be everyone’s taste and is definitely not for an audience younger than ninth grade—note the crude humor—open-minded readers are likely to walk away from the story with a newfound understanding of what it’s like to deal with such incredible adversity and a deeper appreciation for the positive in their own lives.

Burcaw starts his story off by describing a typical Sunday morning for him. He gives the readers details on his usual routine all the while throwing in humorous side notes. This sets the tone for the rest of the book as a humorous take on Shane Burcaw’s SMA, a disease that has left him restricted to a wheelchair and dependent on others for almost every part of his life because of his muscles’ inability to develop. Burcaw provides short stories describing his life from childhood through college, all the while illustrating his devious nature and crude sense of humor. The vignettes are varied in nature, including his first time having sex, rigging his wheelchair with a rope to make a basketball-dunking machine for his brother, using sympathy for his disability as a pass to ditch school classes, and expressing controversial thoughts regarding other disabled kids. The memoir’s events lead up to the creation of his Tumblr blog (laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com), at which point his explosion in internet popularity and his non-profit organization become the focal point.

The blog’s purpose is to demonstrate that laughter and humor can help people get through adversity. However, his outlook has received online criticism from the disabled community, especially from William Peace, who has PhD from Columbia University. Peace, who lives with SMA himself, believes Burcaw’s writing is gluttonously optimistic–“inspiration porn” in his words (Peace)–and unrealistically depicts what it’s like to live with SMA. Despite the critique, Burcaw continues to strive forward and spreads his message by speaking with students around the country. He’s also made a documentary titled, Happiness is Always an Option, which won an Emmy Award in the Human Interest category in 2013 (laughingatmynightmare.com). In his documentary, talks, and books, Burcaw exhibits a humor that is bound to give people a few laughs.

laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com

Burcaw and girlfriend, Anna Reynalda, attend award ceremony to receive an Emmy in the Human Interest Category. Source: laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com

How can he have such a positive attitude when dealing with immense adversity? For Burcaw, it is simple, “I focus my mind and energy on doing things that make me happy… The more I think about it, the more I realize that there really is no other way to live. Positivity and happiness are always possible” (42). But if you think Burcaw’s story is unrealistically positive you are oh so wrong; he is actually very open about the unsettling moments of living with SMA. When hearing that a feeding tube surgery is necessary he uncontrollably cries in front of the doctors because, “The thought of  having a hole in my stomach and being attached to a bag of nutritional formula every night was the ultimate symbol of losing the fight against my disease” (209). Reading his experience allows a reader to see his raw and real story. And his experiences are not solely cemented within the realm of SMA: many of the hardships he writes about are typical of any young person coming of age, from the fear of being rejected to a love gone sour. Burcaw’s self-characterization is effective in challenging the reader to learn, love, and embrace every bit of life, not just the pleasant moments, “The beauty begins when you connect with other people and realize that we’re all in the same boat” (246).

The fact that readers are presented with Burcaw’s first-hand account of living with a disability gives the book a great deal of credibility and allows open-minded readers to empathize with him. He is not really concerned with providing the minute scientific details of his disease, which, as Burcaw puts it, are “stupid things that I don’t care about” (4). Burcaw ignores the terrible details of his disease mainly because he has received a constant stream of it from his doctors, and he would rather not dwell on the negative aspects of it. Instead, he focuses on allowing you to understand, to a degree, what it is like to experience his life, which pulls readers into the story far more than biological facts would. For example, when he describes his spinal surgery post-op pain as “lightning bolts of fire that shot through [his] back” (47), or when he remembers smelling a mentally disabled boy’s vomit on the Short Bus—complete with “chunks of fucking corn in it” (104)—you are compelled to feel his pain and disgust. But Burcaw does not dwell on the negative aspects of his life for long.

Source: vimeo.com

Burcaw straps himself in to prepare for a field hockey match with his brother. Source: laughingatmynightmare.com

Burcaw has a distinct manner of presenting the most significant moments of his life by using gritty detail and sharp wit. Burcaw has no qualms discussing his most private bodily functions. He spends an entire page contemplating his use of a bedpan for his bowel movements. “Should I chop it off and start a new log or keep going with the one I had?” (137). The humor may come across as juvenile to some, but Burcaw writes about extremely personal details in his life so you can enter his stream of consciousness. Burcaw cleverly uses the personal details as a means to make his autobiography less formal and more conversational. Within his conversational tone, he embeds crude language and profanities, but they serve as an emotional outlet for Burcaw. People get angry or excited and profanities often are the only way to use precise expression. Burcaw shows he is no different from any other person by using these forms of expression. Through his writing style, Burcaw demonstrates his relatability to all young adults. Despite the use of language, Burcaw still delivers an inspirational tone and theme throughout the book. The most prominent theme in Burcaw’s story is optimism, specifically maintaining optimism while enduring incredible adversity, and he suffers adversity in spades: “I have never walked. I have never crawled . . . and have relied on other people for pretty much every aspect of staying alive since I was born” (4).

Not everyone will appreciate Burcaw’s writing style, his irreverent tone, or even his optimistic approach to life. A quick Google search of his name will reveal both support and opposition against him, his foundation, and his memoir. Whether or not readers find Laughing at My Nightmare a worthwhile read depends on whether they can appreciate the honest testimony of a young man with a very unique approach to being disabled. Those who enjoy bold, honest young adult literature that is not afraid to take a chance will undoubtedly walk away from the story with more than a few laughs and possibly a new perspective on life.

Works Cited

Burcaw, Shane. Laughing at My Nightmare. Roaring Book Press, 2014.

Burcaw, Shane. “Laughing at My Nightmare Non-Profit Organization.” LAMN Talks. Laughing at My Nightmare, 2014. Web. 30 March 2015.

Peace, William. Bad Cripple: Shane Burcaw: Laughter is Not Always the Best Medicine. Blogspot, 17 April. 2013. Web. 30 March 2015.

 

A Review of Julie Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me

By Alejandra Serrano, Kelly Zatlin, and Jason Zuniga

            All the Truth That’s in Me is a story about a teenage girl, Judith Finch, who mysteriously disappears with one of her friends from her town, Roswell Station. When she eventually returns, it is not to the welcoming arms of her family and community, but to their disgust and condemnation, due to the fact that she is forever tarnished, having had her tongue mangled. Her community then perceives her as tainted, and treats her as an invalid, forcing her to move through her world in silent observation. Her memories remain fragmented, and the story moves rapidly through her musings as she begins to piece together what happened to her. Not only that, but Judith also begins to come to terms with her feelings for her childhood friend, Lucas. When war falls upon Roswell Station, Judith is faced with difficult choices pertaining to her continued silence, and she must decide whether or not she should reveal her secrets (at great cost) to save her town from certain destruction, and at long last recover her lost voice. Throughout the book, teenagers will relate to Judith’s numerous struggles, all the while learning the importance of giving a voice to women, or other people who have been silenced either physically or psychologically by their oppressors.

rightsdesk.com

rightsdesk.com

Far from the stereotypical picturesque New England town, the fictional Roswell Station “has seen its share of sorrow” (26). It’s a place where “sickness is a regular guest,” “babies ail in the damp ocean air,” and “winters are cruel and last too long” (26). What helps this village survive is the sense of community it has established using the church as its center for religious, political, and even militaristic decisions. In Judith’s case, it’s this very community, made of her neighbors and peers, who chastises her and even blames her for the unfortunate events that take place. Berry is mirroring a traditional Puritan society where all motive stems from the base of the fear of God and the reprimanding of sin. Judith’s ailment is automatically seen as a curse brought by sin without any evidence and without her being able to voice any explanation. Although these Puritanical societies are seen now as only existing in history, these ideals and effects of a small town community are perpetuated to this day, and women still face similar kinds of oppression all over the world. Though the story can read like a historical fiction, there are no dates, locations, or historical figures giving away exactly when or where it takes place. Berry doesn’t want the reader to dwell on arbitrary facts because she is asserting that the events of this story could happen to anyone in any given society. It is a human crisis that could arise in any community where fear clouds one’s judgment and steals the voice of the innocent. All of these things contribute to Judith’s experience, proving the setting to be less important than the overarching themes.

Judith Finch’s development throughout the novel also helps to reveal the importance of women’s voices. The reader learns early on that most people in Judith’s community, including her icy mother, have turned their backs on her, merely tolerating her existence. When people do regard her injury, they act more insulted than upset by the events that have unfolded: “This wasn’t pity, was it? My tongue, taken from me. As if it was a stolen purse” (51). Judith’s voice and “womanhood” are simply seen as commodities, and when Roswell Station perceives that they have been taken, they feel as though they had something stolen from them personally. Judith without these things is thus deemed worthless. At first, Judith responds to this cruel treatment by allowing it to silence her, treating any sound that comes out of her mouth as an “alien sound” that only makes her “cringe” (53).

However, when her brother Darrel and childhood friend Maria begin to show acceptance, Judith feels a determination arise in her to regain what was stolen from her. She reflects on her worth as a human being, regardless of her past: “Take away my missing tongue, and the sins that I did not commit. Why am I not then as likely a friend as any other human soul?” (126). Maria helps her to see herself not as others do; rather, she encourages Judith to find confidence in her own voice. Thus, Judith works with Maria on speech, while Darrel helps with reading and writing. Both contribute immensely to Judith’s growth as a person, highlighting the importance of women’s voices. In the novel, there are other shady characters whose reputations hinge on Judith’s silence, and she must decide whether she will allow herself to be controlled or to risk everything in order to assert herself as a human being. Readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats as Judith’s hidden truths finally come tumbling out.

The youngest child of seven, Berry grew up on a farm in Western New York, and so had first-hand experience with what farm life was like, giving a certain realism to these moments in the text where Judith is bombarded by heavy chores. Through Judith’s thoughts, Berry shows she understands what it is like to feel the need to find sanctuary in the forest, the connection one could have with animals, and the hard work it took to get daily chores done: “In the early morning, I rise before my chores need doing and walk out far into the woods, over crackling pathways of fallen leaves, to Father’s rock” (150). Berry also makes the main character’s struggle of living with a desire to be noticed by a loved one relatable and sincere. For example, in a battle scene, Judith thinks: “I’m giddy in this moment, which is wicked, with puffs of dark smoke rising into the blue sky, and balls shrieking through the air, but I hold your hand in mine”(69).

Berry’s family was big on reading and her mother loved poetry, so this environment made books readily available to her, spurring her desire to write. Berry later attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY where she majored in communications. On her webpage, Berry says she was interested in many jobs such as, “A marine biologist, a chemist, a mother, a gymnast, a Solid Gold Dancer – but always, writing was on the back of [her] mind,” and she goes on to say, “Whatever else I might be or do, I hoped writing would be part of the mix” (“About Me”). Berry’s life and ambition are mirrored in the novel, in how she emphasizes Judith’s determination to go to school, and to challenge herself to do things she never thought she could. This reveals how much Berry is rooting for Judith, and how it can also help other young women find the courage to do things on their own terms.

Berry wrote All the Truth That’s in Me through Judith’s eyes. This mental first person account creates a whirlwind of events and emotions that slowly come together as the story progresses. The reader is only exposed to information as Judith is or as she remembers it. This results in a series of unexpected flashbacks that causes the reader to stop and reassess what they just read, leaving them with eager suspense and reluctance to put the book down. The novel is divided into four sections and each of these sections reads as if were a confessional, or perhaps letters. It can be sensational too, as when on a seemingly average day in the small town of Roswell Station, Judith juxtaposes, “In town, all doors are open, women whispering, huddled talking. Caps askew, bedclothes on, infants wandering dirty,” with, “After my first bleed was when the touching began” (81-82). This style of catch and release is what grabs the reader’s attention. Readers will stay hopeful while simultaneously bracing for the worst. The nonlinear timeline the novel follows is a reflection of how resistant Judith is about accepting her troubled reality, the same way repressed memories interrupt waking moments of a trauma victim.

Altogether, All the Truth That’s in Me is a wonderful book for teenagers in high school. Some parts of the story might seem darker or downright disturbing, but unfortunately they might be a reality for some readers. They might also relate to Judith’s struggles in finding friendship, as well as her internal conflict over whether or not she should continue pursuing her childhood love. Furthermore, this novel would be a great asset for most any reader. Not only does it teach the importance of the oppressed having a voice, but it teaches people to stand up for themselves if they find that they’re being silenced.

Work Cited

Berry, Julie. “About Me.” Julie Berry Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2015.

Berry, Julie. All the Truth That’s in Me. New York: Harper Collins, 2013. Print.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

Lying, Spying, and Other Concerns of a Seventh-Grade Loner: A Review of Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy

By Serena Bleeker, Zoe Manio, and Andrew Montoya

Rebecca Stead truly allows her young adult novel, Liar & Spy to be relatable in terms of setting. She does this by drawing from a location she is familiar with:  like the novel’s main character, Georges, Stead lived in New York City.  She reminisces about her childhood life during which she

was lucky enough to attend the kind of elementary school where a person could sit in a windowsill, or even under a table, and read a book, and no one told you to come out and be serious (well, eventually someone did, but not right away). On those windowsills, under those tables, and in [her] two beds at night, [she] fell in love with books (“About”).

blog.omgmother.com

blog.omgmother.com

With admissions like these, Stead proves herself to be a writer who harkens back to her own elementary days, which helps develop her novel into a relatable story, not only for young readers but also for the adult readers who might remember their own childhood days as they read it. Stead adds that before she started writing for children, she “went to a bookstore (an independent bookstore) and bought an armload of books that [she] remembered loving as a kid. [She] went back to the store and bought more books. [She] read them. And then [she] began to write again” (“About”). Once more, like many authors, Stead uses books that she reads to inspire her own writing. However, Stead admits to spinning the usual writer’s rules on their heads when she uses her stylistic parentheticals and explains that “some people will tell you that real writers don’t use parentheticals (which is nonsense). The most important thing to know about writing is that there are no rules” (“About”). For instance, in Liar & Spy, she writes that Georges’ family Seurat painting “is up on the wall (and perfectly level)” (Stead 12). These parentheticals are an interesting aspect of her style that not only add details to the setting but allow the reader to get a glimpse into the character’s mind and to know how he takes in his surroundings.

“Mr. X. Us. The Spy Club” (24).

Liar and Spy is a page-turner consisting of lies, spies, and bullies. Set in present day New York City, the novel transports readers into the adolescent world of Georges, a seventh grade loner who is, amongst other things, dealing with the game of life, complete with a twist at the end that pulls on the heartstrings. Liar and Spy centers on Georges as he learns to face his fears both socially and emotionally in school and in his home life. The novel opens with a glimpse into Georges’ school life, where he is in the middle of what he claims is an adolescent rite of passage: the dreaded taste test (The Science Unit of Destiny!), which is apparently where “at least one person in the room is going to discover his or her own fate: true love or tragic death” (1). Stead’s wry humor is apparent right away, as she rhetorically adds, “Yes, those are the only two choices” (1).  As if school was not already tough enough, Georges’ father loses his job, prompting a slew of changes within the home dynamic, and the family has to move out of Georges’ childhood home and into a Brooklyn apartment building. To make matters worse, Georges’ mother is never home, save for an occasional correspondence with scrabble tiles. This combination of events serves as a catalyst for typical adolescent feelings of depression, and Georges’ mother even has him watch America’s Funniest Home Videos for “smile therapy” (4). Georges’ saving grace however, is “Spy Club” and his new friendship with eleven-year-old Safer, which blossoms through their spy adventures. Together they come up with innovative ways to surveil their neighbor, Mr. X, spying on his every move through the “lobbycam,” convinced that they are on the heels of a body-chopping killer. Stead juxtaposes present day issues such as bullying and friendship alongside a subplot of lying and spying on the elusive and suspicious, all-black-wearing, dead-body-smuggling Mr. X. In short, the juxtaposition of the two plots helps Georges avoid thinking about his mother’s absence as well as the bullies that torment him at school.

“It isn’t Friday. But rules are made to be broken” (180).

Stead occasionally experiments with the conventions of realism.  Stead employs the first person narrative and engages the reader through Georges’ adolescent point of view. Descriptive language is Stead’s specialty, as she makes readers feel as though they are really there, eating a slice of DeMarco’s pizza (which is only good when it’s hot!). Stead has the ability to use plain language to illustrate vivid images in the reader’s head, and this can be seen in her description of Mr. X, “who wears black and has sharp knives and probably carts dead people around in suitcases” (163). Furthermore, Stead’s realism focuses on day-to-day nuances, although it breaks away from the typical conventions of paragraph structure. Examples range from listing what Georges and his father order at Chum Li’s restaurant: “soup, scallion pancakes, cold noodles with sesame sauce and spicy shredded beef with broccoli” (28) to recording with bullet points what Safer does at home while Georges is at school all day:

  •               Learns math from a website.
  •               Helps “prep” dinner.
  •               Reads.
  •               Plays online scrabble with his dad between driving lessons.
  •               Walks dogs in the courtyard. They read the French newspaper together, Safer says. Sort of.
  •               Watches baseball-card auctions on eBay.
  •               Plays chess with Candy. Candy is frighteningly good at chess, according to Safer.
  •               Learns chemistry and Photoshop from his mom.
  •               Watches the lobbycam.
  •               Watches the parrots (Stead 64-5).

These examples show how Stead uses language to create a realistic depiction of typical teenagers in contemporary New York City.  Supporting characters include twelve year old, coffee drinking (from a flask!), Safer; his Chicks, Ducks and Bunnies SweeTarts loving sister, Candy; and “Bob English Who Draws.” Georges’ friends are proof of Stead’s generous characterization as they round out a group of eccentric, yet down to earth kids that any reader can relate to. Through diverse characters, Stead paints a world that is very believable, and creates a rich understanding of her characters by employing language that blends imagination with reality. Stead’s ability to draw on her background has helped create a range of characters that are sincere, quirky, and realistic. Stead spares no expense at characterization and readers can easily empathize and relate to Georges’ everyday struggles. To illustrate, Georges is described as an outcast and is often picked on by Dallas Llewellyn and the other jerks at the popular table, who eat only bagels for lunch, because, as Georges thinks, “if you eat anything other than a dry, crumbly bagel for lunch…you are basically…a freak” (55).

Liar and Spy fits within the genre of realistic fiction and Stead does not disappoint. Throughout the novel, Georges goes through issues that teenagers are often faced with: depression, escapism, and not fitting in. Although these are negative aspects of adolescence, Stead uses this opportunity to show a real teenager, feeling real things. In the close of the novel, we see that Georges comes to terms with his issues as he learns which boundaries to push and which to respect. Stead’s humor and very descriptive prose lend to an uber relatable story that is not only entertaining, but also accessible for young adult readers. Although the back of the novel suggests a reading level of sixth grade and higher, people of all ages can enjoy and relate to Liar and Spy.

“That bad feeling is just one dot in the giant Seurat painting of our lives” (11).

The most interesting aspect of Stead’s juvenile mystery narrative is the Seurat poster that is “painted entirely with dots. Tiny little dots. Close up they just look like blobs of paint. But if you stand back, you see that they make this whole nice park scene, with people walking around in old-fashioned clothes” (11). This Sir Ott poster, as Georges calls it, develops a personality of its own, “very polite. Very quiet. He watches a lot of television” (12).  This occasionally makes it difficult to decide whether it is an inanimate object or another character. Readers can enjoy the gestaltian debate of interpreting Sir Ott’s importance vicariously through Georges as he struggles to figure out life because he “know[s] Mom is right about the big picture. But Dad is right too: Life is really just a bunch of nows, one after another. The dots matter” (149). At school, Georges fears the big picture ramifications of the taste test until he remembers his dad’s message; the Science Unit of Destiny is only a dot in the big picture too. Sir Ott provides a general theme all readers can relate to as Stead entertains her audience with vivid descriptions of Georges’ individual dots while painting her own Seurat-like masterpiece in Liar & Spy.

“Here’s a piece of advice you will probably never use: If you want to name your son after Georges Seurat, you could call him Georges without the S. Just to make his life easier” (12).

If there was any shortage of ammunition for middle school bullies, being named after a French artist from the 1800s will surely change that. Georges (with a silent S) is the victim of his parents’ obsession with Georges Seurat.  At school, Georges is perfectly average– he is not cool enough for the in crowd and not weird enough for the outcasts. His name, however, earns him a place in a socially awkward class all on his own, where he fits in “like Seurat’s orange dots hidden in the bright green grass, the ones you don’t even see unless you know to look for them” (152). Upon moving, however, he quickly embraces a new world where he joins a spy club and every day is “just another day, fighting the world’s evil forces”. With a little help from Safer, his partner in crime (literally), Georges reluctantly lets loose; lying to his father, even though he “hate[s] lying. And [he doesn’t] even know why [he] did it”, stalking his neighbors, and even breaking into homes (typical shenanigans for any adolescent boy, right?) Breaking the rules at home is an stark contrast to his school life, where he ironically criticizes “Bob English Who Draws” for his phonetic spelling, because “dum just looks, well, dumb.”  Living in home and school extremes, Georges’ biggest objective is to blend the two worlds, integrating all the dots that may not seem to match until he can see the big picture.

Throughout the novel, Stead keeps us guessing about both bullying and domestic plots until the very end. Although Georges find the courage to stand up to both the bullies and his friend, Safer, readers will find themselves anxiously turning pages to find out the destiny of the characters. Will the Science Unit of Destiny further deem Georges as an outcast? Will he be a super taster or a non-taster? What will the truth reveal? Furthermore, will the spies be able to crack the mystery of Mr. X, or will they fall prey to the killer’s whim? There’s only one way to find out!

 

Works Cited

Stead, Rebecca. “About.” n.p. Rebecca Stead Books. n.d. Web. 6 November 2014.

Stead, Rebecca. Liar & Spy. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2012. Print.

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 19, 2015 in Liar and Spy, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

A Review of Neil Bascomb’s The Nazi Hunters

By Samuel Ortiz

The year is 1960. For most of the world, the Holocaust is a thing of the past. For the victims of the Nazi regime, however, the memories of what they endured continue to haunt them. So do the people responsible for these memories; after the war, many Nazi war criminals evade justice, escaping to other countries and living in hiding. While these remnants of the Third Reich start to rebuild their lives, the fledgling Jewish state of Israel struggles to survive. Representing this chaotic world, Neil Bascomb’s skillfully written Nazi Hunters presents a captivating tale, in which justice is pursued against all odds.

Enter Adolf Eichmann, half a world away. A former Nazi, he escaped Germany after the war and settled in Argentina, where he secretly created a new life and identity for himself. Eichmann was no ordinary Nazi; indeed, the intensity of his evil couldn’t be matched. As a high-ranking officer, he was responsible for organizing Hitler’s “final solution,” the extermination of the Jews (Bascomb 17). Although this individual helped carry out one of the greatest atrocities of all time, he was living as a free man, unpunished and unrepentant.

This starts to change in Argentina, when Sylvia Hermann brings her boyfriend Nick Eichmann home to meet her parents. The relationship doesn’t last, but it acts as the beginning for one of history’s greatest manhunts. Sylvia’s father Lothar is reading about Nazi war criminals in the newspaper when he comes across the mention of an ‘Adolf Eichmann’ still being at large. He and his daughter immediately put two and two together. A massive chain of events starts to unfold. The Hermanns write to a German prosecutor informing him of their discovery.

Like Lothar Hermann, author Neil Bascomb stumbled upon the story of Eichmann by accident. He first heard of the SS officer as a college student in Luxembourg. He happened to speak with some Holocaust survivors, who mentioned that “it was only until…Eichmann was captured and his trial was conducted that they were able to open up and talk [about the Holocaust]” (BookTV). Right then, he decided that the story of Eichmann’s capture needed to be told. Bascomb is a writer of historical nonfiction, but got his start as a journalist (“The Author”). His training as a journalist is certainly evident in the way he writes. At times he mentions horrific scenes such as the “corpses…in large pits, where they were stacked like logs and burned to ashes” (Bascomb, 18). Like a true journalist, the author describes the most incredible circumstances in a tone that is calm and restrained, yet this doesn’t diminish the story’s gripping nature. Nazi Hunters is definitely the product of true journalistic labor; in order to write it, Bascomb had to conduct countless interviews and hours of research on four different continents (BookTV).

portrait of Adolf Eichmann from encontrarte.aporrea.org

from encontrarte.aporrea.org

Like Bascomb, the information that the Hermanns provided traveled thousands of miles. The German prosecutor they wrote to notified the Israeli government, which started to investigate the whereabouts of Eichmann via its secret service agency, the Mossad. The lead goes cold, only to be picked up again years later. An elite team of agents is assembled to travel to Argentina and capture Eichmann in secret. Each team member is fascinating, for all are uniquely skilled, yet haunted by the Holocaust they experienced. The man they are after, however, is perhaps the most interesting character of all. He is a force of true evil, as head of “the SS division responsible for the Jews,” he ended up “delivering millions to their deaths” (Bascomb 16). His malevolence was boundless; he continued carrying out this mass slaughter right up to the end of the war, even after a stop to it was ordered by Himmler himself (17)! Although Eichmann is undoubtedly wicked, Bascomb doesn’t simplistically portray him as the stereotypical static ‘bad guy,’ always intimidating and never-changing. The character of Eichmann is incredibly complex; the author introduces us to him when he is at the height of his glory, a “handsome young man” (15) with a “trim frame” (11) who “spent weekends at castles” (18), and was “drawn to the power he held over life and death” (17). As the book progresses, however, Eichmann goes from being a powerful Nazi to a criminal on the run; he eventually ends up in Argentina, living in abject poverty. In Argentina, all traces of his former glory are gone, for he is a “skinny, helpless” (130) individual leading an “impoverished existence” as a “factory worker” hiding “in a shabby neighborhood, without electricity or running water” (74). Eichmann experiences a meteoric fall from power, which dramatically alters him as the years pass. With this passage of time, however, the odds of finding him diminish, and the possibility that he might escape justice becomes increasingly real.

The Holocaust is a terrible part of history that most everybody knows about; it has been memorialized in many books for young adult readers. Nazi Hunters, however, isn’t just a retelling of the same tragic story. What makes Nazi Hunters a distinct and particularly interesting text is that it focuses on the effects of Hitler’s genocide decades after it occurred. As a result of this, the book provides the reader with surprising and fascinating historical information that they most likely wouldn’t have known otherwise. How did high-ranking Nazis avoid capture after the war? Which group “idolized Hitler…and used the Nazi salute” in Argentina, of all places (Bascomb 107)? And why were the Nazis interested in “Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa,” thousands of miles away from Germany (16)? Bascomb’s book answers all of these questions and more, leaving the reader in awe at the intricate web of disparate factors that all came together in the search for Eichmann.

Combining painstaking historical research with excellent edge-of-your seat writing, Nazi Hunters captivates the reader until the very last page. In a way, this book is equal parts secondary historical nonfiction and spy thriller. Like a secondary historical text, it supplies factual and verifiable information, while providing countless pictures of people, places, and things involved in the search for Eichmann. Nazi Hunters is the product of excellent scholarship, and Bascomb makes sure to list all of his sources in the book’s appendix. At the same time, the novel challenges conceptions of how books about history are supposed to be. It unapologetically defies convention; unlike much historical nonfiction for YA, it presents the everyday dialogue of relatable people, in all of it’s ordinariness. It also includes incredibly realistic and striking details, which is a major part of the author’s style; the reader can practically see the “remote stretch of unlit road on a windy night” (Bascomb 9), smell the “cigarette…leaving one last trail of smoke to dissipate into the air,” (66) and hear “the December wind [as it] whistled through the gaps in the hut’s walls” (19). The vivid sensory detail that characterizes Bascomb’s writing works alongside the pictures in his book, making the historical figures and events of the book seem real, living, and intensely personal. At the same time, Nazi Hunters is a spy thriller; there is no shortage of action and suspense, and there are constant cliffhangers (so many that the author of this review had to put the book down a few times; the excitement was getting to be too much!). Cliffhangers remain present up until the last few pages, and forcefully appear in places one wouldn’t expect. For this reviewer, Nazi Hunters is neither historical nonfiction nor spy thriller; instead, it is something far greater.

Nazi Hunters is mainly aimed at readers in junior high and the early years of high school, although it can be enjoyed by those of any age, due to its incredibly compelling nature. It is a classic story of good against evil, the desire for justice in the shadow of past wrongs. Its reader becomes a participant in a grand chase, following a team of brave spies as they prepare to come face-to-face with pure wickedness personified.

 

Works Cited

“The Author.” Nealbascomb. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

Bascomb, Neal. The Nazi Hunters. N.p.: Scholastic, 2013. Nook file.

BookTV. “Afterwords: Neal Bascomb, “Hunting Eichmann”” Online Video Clip. Youtube.                     Youtube, 27 Apr. 2009. Web. 3 Nov 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Mockingjay, Part I Opens Today with Great Hoopla

Murray Close/Lionsgate

Katniss Everdeen in Mockingjay, Part I Murray Close/Lionsgate

As I browsed all the media fanning Hunger Games fans into a frenzy about Mockingjay’s release today, I thought our readers might enjoy browsing a collection of recent articles focused on the movie, the books, and even whether or not adults should be embarrassed to read young adult literature.  So below, you’ll find links to sites that may make you see the films or books from a different perspective.  One is a short piece I wrote for the OC Register yesterday defending the novels.  The others come from a variety of sources, some positive, some not so much.

Let us know if one of these articles infuriates, educates, or moves you in some way.  Enjoy!

And finally, two pieces arguing that adults should—or shouldn’t—be embarrassed to read YA fiction:

 
6 Comments

Posted by on November 20, 2014 in Uncategorized