When a Book Grabs You and Doesn’t Let Go

As a teacher, I really look forward to two things in the summer: 1) getting to read A LOT, and 2) getting to write A LOT. Okay, so I actually look forward to more than just these two things during the summer (I do love not having to answer to the alarm clock most days).

I am a self-proclaimed bookaholic, which my husband and children will attest to, and I bought a book (Lessons from a Dead Girl) a few months ago that had been on my ever-growing To Be Read (TBR) list. I lost track of the book between taking it to school and bringing it back home again, so when I found it again a few days ago I was excited to finally be able to read it.

Here’s a quick review of Lessons from a Dead Girl, a damn fine book written by one of my Teachers Write! mentors, Jo Knowles.

From the book jacket:

Leah Greene is dead. For Laine, knowing what really happened and the awful feeling that she is, in some way, responsible set her on a journey of painful self-discovery. Yes, she wished for this. She hated Leah that much. Hated her for all the times in the closet, when Leah made her do those things. They were just practicing, Leah said. But why did Leah choose her? Was she special, or just easy to control? And why didn’t Laine make it stop sooner? In the aftermath of the tragedy, Laine is left to explore the devastating lessons Leah taught her, find some meaning in them, and decide whether she can forgive Leah and, ultimately, herself.

Lessons from a Dead Girl focuses on Laine, and how she reconciles the death of Leah (her former best friend for life) and the guilt, hatred and shame she felt as a result. The friendship they shared was convoluted, unforgiving, and binding; bound by secrets fueled by years of abuse in various forms. Laine struggles to understand why Leah does the things that she does to her—why she abuses her and their friendship—over and over again. It isn’t until the night of the fatal accident that Laine learns the horrible truth behind the abuse. After the tragic accident that claims Leah’s life, Laine begins to piece everything together and discovers their story has two victims.

Jo Knowles wrote a difficult story, a story which clearly needed to be written. This story grabbed me immediately and didn’t let me go until I had finished the very last word. I read this book in one sitting, which is something I hadn’t done since I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I couldn’t stop reading. The characters of Laine and Leah were real and flawed and masterfully created. Knowles did an amazing job crafting Leah, and try as I might, I just couldn’t hate her. Instead, my heart broke for her. And for Laine. But most of all, for all the kids who have suffered in silence, bound by secrets.

Thanks, Jo, for writing a story that needed to be told and for giving me the inspiration to do the same.

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Two Kids, Some Gravity, and A Messenger

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I have talked YA lit and shared some thoughts on the matter. If you’ve been following along over the last couple of weeks, you know I’ve been talking up #TeachersWrite and have been pouring a lot into my writing. I’m still doing that writing thing (and loving it, btw), but I’m also still reading a lot of fabulous YA lit.

In case you’re wondering why I read so much YA lit (even while working on my own), I read it for three reasons: 1) because I LOVE it!! 2) to make good recommendations to my students, and 3) reading good YA lit helps me be a better writer of YA lit.

I finished two gems in the last week or so: The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.

First up is The Pull of Gravity. I really love a good coming of age story, and this one fits the bill. I LOVE the two main characters: Nick Gardner (the narrator) and Jaycee Amato, who are very real and with whom readers will easily identify. Plus, its many references to Star Wars and Yoda will appeal to Star Wars fans, and I really dig the incorporation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (which makes it a great mentor text). *Good job, Gae!!*

Here’s a small excerpt and synopsis from Gae’s website:

“Nick? Yes or no? Are you in?”
I shake my head at how crazy it all is, but even as I do, I know.
“Jaycee, why are you even asking? Do I really have a choice?”
“No,” she smiles, “No choice at all.”

While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, the Scoot, is dying from a freak disease. Enter Jaycee Amato, a quirky girl with Siberian-husky eyes and an odd affinity for Of Mice and Men. She’s made a seemingly-impossible promise to the Scoot, and wants Nick’s help to keep it.

Armed only with the wisdom of Yoda, the beauty of Steinbeck, and the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off on a secret, whirlwind journey to find the father the Scoot has never known. When everything goes awry, will the pull of gravity be enough to keep them together?

And hey! Check out the book trailer!


The Pull of Gravity is a coming-of-age story about friendship, first love, and the true nature of family.

 

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is quite different from his other AMAZING book The Book Thief. One thing that is similar, though, is Zusak’s ability to make words form sentences and phrases that I wish I’d written myself.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Book Trailer!!

Happy reading and I’ll catch ya later!

Where I’m From

I wrote this “Where I’m From” poem a couple of years ago, but it seems fitting to share it now. It is National Poetry Month, after all! Oh, and feel free to write your own “Where I’m From” poem, if you feel so inclined…

Where I’m From        

I am from bright yellow sunflowers, from Peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke.

I am from the white house in the middle of the block on the only stretch of dirt road, black and gold Railer country, loud and proud.

I am from towering elm trees in graceful green glory, pink and white chrysanthemums, crisp fresh air, the vegetable garden of my grandfather, tulips, and rosebushes along the fence.

I am from crazy good family reunions in late September and determination (and stubbornness), from Howard and Doris and Aunt Nancy, my second mother.

I am from the always loving and sometimes drive-me-nuts Tedder and Fryhover clans.

From bouncing to the moon because of all the gum I swallowed as a kid and the bird that never actually perched on my stuck-out lower lip when I didn’t get my way, like my grandma said it would.

I am from Irish Catholic, Nazarene, Pentecostal, B’hai, and Mennonite.  This is my family and it extends beyond bloodlines and last names to the people that matter most to me.

I’m from small town America and Ireland and England and France and Germany and a Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma, pizza and chocolate brownie trifle.

From the great, great, great, great Grandfather Northrop who came to this country on the Mayflower, the Englishman looking for a new life, and the little Cherokee girl adopted by a white family who lost all her tribal ties to her Cherokee Nation (and so did we).

I am from boxes in the attic and basements and photo albums spanning generations and hundreds of years that we sorted through after my grandma died.  I am from the wild west that has been tamed and captured on film.  I am George and Phylis and Angela and James.  I am Alex and Abby and Keri and Sarah, who will, in turn, be me.

Why YA? The Fault in Our Stars, that’s why.

The Fault in Our Stars

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

This book makes me want to hug my children more and thank God seventy-two times a day that all four of my children are healthy and happy (most of the time). It makes me appreciate my husband more (please don’t tell him I said that…on the Interwebs).

You see, my husband was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer nine years ago, at the age of 32. Stage III means the cancer is treatable, but it has invaded the lymph nodes, thereby entering the bloodstream, making for a poorer prognosis. My husband was lucky. He had surgery and underwent nearly five months of chemo and has been cancer free for nearly nine years now. This is a miracle and a blessing for our family.

But I digress. This is a book review about a girl with terminal cancer, and given my life experience it’s no wonder I crawled right inside Hazel’s world.

It took me about ten days to read this book because life kept getting in the way of my reading. I stayed up way past my bedtime two nights in a row to finish it, which was difficult to do at times due to the steady flow of tears. It was worth feeling tired and a little cranky so I could finally finish this book.

Hazel is not someone you feel sorry for. She simply will not allow you to. What she will do, however, is give you a honest picture of what life with cancer looks like, feels like, sounds like, and on occasion, smells like. Hazel is bad ass, and someone you want to know. She’s smart and understands things about life most of us never will. She sees things we miss because she pays attention. Hazel worries about those she will leave behind and is fully aware of the devastation that will follow her death, referring to herself as a “grenade.”

But don’t despair. Hazel has a wicked sense of humor and although she is painfully aware of the graveness of her situation, she often comments on the irony of things and sees humor in even the most serious situations.

Meeting Augustus at a cancer support group is serendipitous, cathartic, and just what Hazel needs, despite her prolonged resistance. She eventually learns that resistance is futile, and embraces the gift Augustus becomes in her life. Augustus is bad ass in his own right, and you can’t help rooting for the two of them.

That’s a Wrap. Well, Almost.

Another Christmas has come and gone, but I still can’t get the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas out of my head.  That might actually be a good thing, though, keeping the spirit of Christmas like a whispering voice inside my head.

I feel very blessed this holiday season, and Santa was very good to us this year. My family and I spent Christmas with my brother and his family, my mom, and my sister and her family. It has been many, many years since we were all together on Christmas. And I loved every minute of it.

My three girls and my brother’s two girls spent some serious quality time together that was reminiscent of my own childhood. We heard their voices drift up from the basement of my brother’s house. Sometimes they were singing, sometimes they were laughing, and occasionally, it was a plead for mercy that made its way upstairs. Ahhh…the sounds of life-long  bonds being forged. Bonds like that last a lifetime. Or longer.

We do have one more Christmas to do at the Fryhover house, and this one is with my sister and my dad. As I prepare my house for yet another round of Christmas, I’m sure I will still hear the words from “Christmas Time is Here.”  Thanks, Charlie Brown.

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