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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Whatcha Reading?

So it looks like I’ve been neglecting you again. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about you, because I have. A lot actually. Please forgive me for not taking better care of you.

Well, I’ve been posting quite a bit on Facebook, Twitter, and my brand new writer/author page (also on Facebook) lately about some great books that I’ve recently read and/or have recently received in the mail and just started reading (or will be reading soon), and I thought I’d share them here as well.

What I’ve read in the last couple of weeks:

First up is John Green’s Looking for Alaska. This is John’s first published novel, and it is pretty damn amazing. John is also the author of the brilliant The Fault in Our Stars, which I read earlier this year.

Next up are a couple of short stories: Unstrung by Neal Shusterman and Ryann in the Sky by Jammie Kern. (Jammie NOT as in pa-jammies, but as in Jamie with an extra “m.”)

Unstrung is an interlude between Unwind (my favorite Shusterman book to date) and Unwholly (book two in the Unwind trilogy), which is due out August 28, 2012     *squeeeeee!!!!*

Ryann in the Sky is a cool modern spin on the myth of Orion and is part of a forthcoming anthology of short stories entitled Mythology High. Jammie has two additional short stories that will also be a part of this anthology, and I’m anxious to read them!

                        

What I’m reading now:

I’m juggling a few books right now: two for grad classes (The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskill) and two for fun. I’m reading Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford in anticipation of meeting him at the KATE (Kansas Association of Teachers of English) conference in October and Danny’s Mom by Elaine Wolf. Danny’s Mom isn’t due for release until November 1, 2012, so finding an advance reading copy in my mailbox earlier this week was a happy surprise. I’ll post a review later this fall.

                  

What I’ll be reading in the not so distant future:

Drum roll please……

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles! I’ve been so anxious to read this book, and my friend Kelly who lives in Indiana tells me I better have lots of tissues handy as I read. Don’t worry my friend, I do.

 

So, what are YOU reading?

Teachers Write! Day One: We’re Off and Running!

Today marks the first official day of Teachers Write! I have visited the blogs of Kate Messner and our gracious guest author Jo Knowles. Kate offered words of wisdom regarding finding making time to write, and Jo offered us some encouraging words before giving us our writing prompt.

Kate says that finding time to write is pretty much a myth—you have to make time to write. I talked about this very thing a couple of posts ago. When I get really honest with myself—even with the demands of teaching and raising four kids, a husband, and two dogs—there really are enough hours in the day for me to carve out some writing time. I just have to choose to write instead of doing some of those other things that usurp my time (like all those NCIS marathons I LOVE to watch again and again and those Facebook and Twitter notifications that call to me like Sirens). Kate also helped me see that I also need to have an honest conversation with my family regarding my writing. Of course my family knows I’m working a novel and that I write blog posts, but I’m not sure they see me as a writer yet. My writer friends and I have talked about this ad nauseum, but don’t think I’ve ever really told my family how important writing is to me. Thanks, Kate!

After pondering and processing Kate’s words of wisdom, I went to visit Jo, who seemed to know exactly what I needed today with her words of wisdom, encouragement, and the writing prompt she gave us. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how she did that…  Anyway, the writing prompt was to write a sensory description of a kitchen from our childhood. This prompt transported me to my Grandma Tedder’s kitchen, which I spent quite a bit of time in while growing up. I see sunlight and bright yellow cabinets and Grandpa’s garden through the rear window. I smell fresh baked bread and coffee. I hear sizzling bacon and whispers of past conversations. But most of all, I feel love oozing from every nook, cranny, and crevice of that kitchen and it hugs me tight. Oh, how miss that kitchen. And I miss them.

Jo’s prompt did more than just transport me to Grandma’s kitchen, it was just what I needed to help me fill out a chapter I began a few months ago in the YA novel I’ve been working on for the past year. I couldn’t quite figure out the connective tissue between scenes, and that was SO frustrating! This prompt was EXACTLY what I needed to help me fix this, and I am so excited and relieved to feel a sense of accomplishment and forward motion. Thanks, Jo!

Teachers Write! Camp is off to a great start!

#TeachersWrite: The Best. Summer. Camp. EVER.

Greetings, Campers!! Well, I’m working reaaalllyyyy hard to take my own advice about getting off my butt and writing. Like Yoda said: “Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” 

So. I am going to put my keyboard where my mouth is. I’ve been writing this week, not as much as I shoulda coulda woulda, but I’ve actually put words on paper. As in complete sentences and paragraphs! And that feels really good. I’ve also been talking shop this week with other writers on Twitter, Facebook, and right here on Micki’s Musings which has done wonders for me in terms of motivation and encouragement to get going and keep going.

Which brings me to something VERY exciting that came together this week as a result of a few casual conversations among some fellow teacher/writers I follow on Twitter. These teachers were talking about the very thing I was talking about in my previous post: finding more time to write and how our writing time as teachers always seems to get pushed off until those glorious months of summer.

Well, the fabulous Kate Messner, who is a well-established author of numerous books for kids, put some feelers out on Twitter to see if any of us teacher or librarian types (who also write) would be interested in participating in a virtual summer writing workshop. Several of us who follow Kate, enthusiastically said, “YES!!!!!” and off she went, planning away. She created this lovely little summer writing workshop she named #TeachersWrite.

Long story short, those of us who were interested took off with it, too. We retweeted on Twitter and shared links on Facebook. At last count, there were 570+ participants signed up. Kate was astonished. I was only a little surprised at that number, as I know there are many, many others out there like me who want to learn the secrets of balance. I will be sharing my progress on my current work in progress (WIP) as #TeachersWrite gets into full swing.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because there are LOTS of folks out there who, like me (and maybe even you), need a little nudge to get on the right writing track. I think it’s an amazing thing Kate is doing for us in helping us form our own writing communities and to help us become better writers and teachers of writing. I’m also sharing this with you because that’s what writers do: we support each other and promote each other. And I am, after all, a writer.

The Wonder of Wonder

I came to hear about Wonder via Twitter through the flurry of discussion my various Twitter teacher and librarian friends were having. I have to admit, I felt a little out of the loop. Well…I’m still fairly new to Twitter and most of my Twitter friends are newly established contacts, so I guess it makes sense I felt out of the loop. I started paying attention to what was being said, and one well established Twitter/Facebook friend, the amazing Paul W. Hankins, couldn’t say enough about this book.

When I finished reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper a couple of weeks ago and casually asked on Facebook, “What to read next?” Paul immediately responded with: “Wonder by R. J. Palacio.” I had ordered the book the week before and was anxiously awaiting its arrival. When it finally showed up on my doorstep, I began reading it that evening and was immediately drawn in.

Here’s a little bit about the book:       Wonder

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Much of Auggie’s  story is told from his perspective, but the true depth of the story (and characters) materializes as other significant characters come forward to share their perspectives regarding their lives with Auggie. They bare their souls and allow us as readers to share in their joy and pain and blindingly honest truths.

Wonder is not a “woe-is-me” book. It is not a copy-cat book. It is not a book you’ll read and then shake your head thinking that you’ve read this story somewhere else before.

Wonder is full of rich, well fleshed out characters that will make you laugh, cry, sympathize, feel outrage, and ultimately feel blessed. The tears you shed will be both heartbreaking and of joyful triumphs.

Auggie is a character you will not soon forget.

Join the conversation about Wonder on Twitter: #thewonderofwonder

You can follow me on Twitter @MickiFryhover and R.J. Palacio @RJPalacio

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New (to Me) Author Discovery! Yay!

I’ve been reading, reading, reading. Mostly YA lit, of course, but I want to talk about the book I finished over the weekend: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper. I have a few of her books on my bookshelves in my classroom, but this is the first of her books I have read. I assure you I will be reading every one of those other books of hers I have on my shelves. Eventually. My “to-read” list is VERY long, you see. And getting longer thanks to my Twitter and Facebook friends who keep recommending so many incredible titles.

  What can I say about this book about a ten year old girl named Melody?

In a word: outstanding. What I really liked about this book is the fact that while I found the narrator, Melody, to be extremely sympathetic, I did not feel sorry for her. I even found myself getting irritated with her at times, as I have with so many other main characters from other books. I’m pretty sure that was Sharon Draper’s goal when she wrote this book.

As I read, I couldn’t help thinking this book would make an excellent choice for a lit circle with a focus on freedom as a theme. Melody is trapped in her own mind and in a body that constantly betrays her. Freedom is something Melody yearns for, but never comes close to achieving.

Although there are those who feel this book doesn’t quite ring true for one reason or another, I recommend this book to everyone–especially parents, teachers, and students. You never know when the person whom you assume is not worth your time or effort based on physical appearance just might be someone like Melody.

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