See You at Harry’s: A YA Must Read

See You at Harry’s has been on my radar and on my TBR list for a few months now, thanks to my Nerdy Book Club friends via Twitter. I had to wait a few weeks after buying it last month before I could read it, but it was totally worth the wait.

I have been a big fan of Jo Knowles for a while now and loved her novel Lessons from a Dead Girl. You can read all about it here.  As I read See You at Harry’s, I began wearing various hats: mother, young teenage girl, sister, and writer. I experienced a slew of emotions as I continued reading, sometimes stopping because I had to catch my breath and let my eyes rest—not from strain, but from tears and swelling.

I feared I would run out of tissues.

This book touched my heart in ways not many books do. Knowles has an incredible talent for writing, and for getting to the heart of things, for tapping into our emotions, grabbing them, and not letting go. Not even when the book is finished.

As a writer I always wonder how other writers craft scenes that tear your heart out, and I wondered this over and over as I read See You at Harry’s. I wondered how Knowles captured such raw emotion and handled it in such a genuine and delicate way. I marveled at how she handled such sensitive issues and captured the essence of this family, which could be anyone’s family really.

I want to be like Jo when I grow up. She’s freakin’ awesome.

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A Little Victorian Lit Is A Good Thing

Can you believe it’s already nearing the end of September? I can hardly believe it myself! My kids have been in school for over a month now and so have I. Although I’m not teaching in my own classroom right now, I have been subbing for my local school district and am enjoying it immensely. I still get to do the teacher thing, but have no papers to grade or lesson plans to make. It’s a pretty sweet gig right now.

These days I am up to my eyeballs with my grad school readings and course work, but I really don’t mind it most days. I’ve read a couple of really good books from the Victorian era so far: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskill. I have to admit I was unsure how I would like Victorian lit, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

There is one book on my Victorian Lit horizon I’m not super excited about reading: Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I’ll let you know how that one goes, but in the meantime, I’ll tell you a little bit about the two books I did like.

The Moonstone is hailed as the first detective novel, and while I love television police procedurals like NCIS and Hottie Hawaii Five-0, I’ve not read many mystery or detective novels. The Moonstone focuses on the theft of the famous Moonstone diamond that brings with it a curse from its native India. The novel’s narrative is shared by multiple, and very distinct, voices that must follow very strict rules during their turn to narrate. Wilkie Collins did a remarkable job with the narrative voices as he wove them together in a seamless fashion. The plot is interesting, and just when you think you’ve figured something out, you realize you really haven’t.

If you’re a Jane Austen fan like I am, you will very likely like (or in my case, LOVE) Wives and Daughters. This novel follows two families: the Gibsons and the Hamleys as they navigate life, love, and marriage in English bourgeois society. It is so unfortunate that Gaskill died before it was completely finished, as I desperately wanted to know more about Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, and also Cynthia Kirkpatrick (Molly’s step-sister) and her husband. One thing I find fascinating about the book, is the fact that the two marriages we as readers are most interested in are the two marriages we know little or nothing about. Perhaps this is a result of Gaskill’s death prior to the completion of the novel, or maybe for her it was the girls’ journey to marriage that mattered most. We will never know for certain, and it certainly doesn’t detract from the beauty of this novel.

Oh, I almost forgot! It’s International Book Week!! I’ve seen this all over Facebook this week:

It’s International Book Week!! The rules: grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the 5th sentence as your status. Don’t mention the title. Copy the rules as part of your status. Here’s the quote from the book I grabbed:

“The corners of his lips turned up, yet despite his smile, the pain on his face made my eyes well with tears.”

Feel free to leave yours in the comments!

It’s CAMP Time!!

I had the most fortunate accidental meeting of author Elaine Wolf on Facebook through a mutual friend (none other than Mr. Paul W. Hankins), that has resulted in a developing friendship of mutual respect and support. Elaine is the author of CAMP, a brand new YA novel which she graciously sent to me complete with autograph!! *insert SQUEEEE here*

Although I couldn’t get to reading CAMP right away, my daughter Keri snatched it up and read it in a matter of hours (she devours books almost as fast as I can get them into her hands) and loved it. I started reading it on Sunday and finished it last night in the wee hours of the morning. It was worth losing sleep over.

From the book jacket:

A coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets.

Every secret has a price.

For most girls, sleepaway camp is great fun. But for Amy Becker, it’s a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent to Camp Takawanda for Girls for the first time as a teenager. Although Amy despises spending summers at home with her German-immigrant mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy’s autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled about going away to camp. At Takawanda she is subjected to a humiliating “initiation” and to relentless bullying by the ringleader of the senior campers. As Amy struggles to stop the mean girls from tormenting her, she becomes more confident. But then her cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy’s mother’s past, setting in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

Camp is a compelling family drama that will resonate with a wide teenage readership. It will be a strong addition to recommended reading and summer reading lists, and it is appropriate for anti-bullying programs. Mostly, though, Camp is a mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters

Here are my thoughts:

The afore mentioned Mr. Paul W. Hankins says he thinks CAMP will be the “sleeper hit” of 2012, and I think he’s absolutely right about that. I hope word of this well written debut YA novel spreads very quickly so that multitudes of people read it and share it, particularly via social media. We all know the power of social media.

A couple of days ago, Elaine posted a picture on her Facebook of a display table her book was on at the Barnes and Noble where she was doing a book signing. One of the books on that table was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. After reading Elaine’s book, I see why both books were on the same table. I don’t want to give too much away from either book, but I will say I see a common thread among both books: huge secrets kept under the guise of protection that lead to devastating truths.  I also see a quite obvious pairing with Dear Bully: 70 Authors Share Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones.

The main focus of this story is how the narrator Amy Becker deals with despicable bully Rory at sleepaway camp (Camp Takawanda) and finds sanctuary in new friend and ally Erin. But the story runs much deeper than that. There is also the undercurrent of the classic mother/daughter struggle at play here, but with a twist: Amy’s mother is a German immigrant with a past too painful to share with her daughter, which drives a deep wedge between them. As I read the final chapters of CAMP, and the secrets revealed themselves, I thought of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, which chronicles a similar mother/daughter struggle complicated by a secret past from another land.

Mother/daughter relationships are complicated (I have three lovely daughters, by the way) and beautiful and sometimes hard. I think this book can create and provide a path for more open communication between mothers and daughters. We mothers most likely have things in our pasts that we may not want to talk about with our daughters, which is probably an indication that we really should.

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