Archive for the ‘Chris Crutcher’ Category

I’m not one of those people who keeps track of the number of books I read. To me, it’s not a contest. And many times, by year’s end, I forget the books I read at the beginning of the year and wonder whether I’ll have to scramble to come up with 10 books. So it was a nice surprise that I had 9 books which I gave the top rating of 5 in Librarything. What was even nicer, was that there were even more 4s, so 2012 was a darn good reading year from my perspective.

Reading’s a personal thing, as you know and there are a myriad of factors that go into enjoying a book: your mood when you read it, your favorite author, impeccable wording, an engrossing plot, believable characters. These top 10 books have it all: I was in the right mood, it was my favorite author (or singer, in one instance), the plots ranged from family, to heroism, to illness and the characters were pretty much all people I would like to meet. So, here goes:

SmallDamagesAlthough the top 5 are all magnificent books, I’ll always put a Beth Kephart book on the top of the list. She’s an incredible author whose words, many times, are poetic and lyrical and she outdid herself in Small Damages about a young pregnant girl who finds out that the true meaning of family isn’t always biological. If you read one of Beth’s books, you’ll find you have to read them all.

John Green’s Fault in Our Stars takes us through the harrowing ordeal of cancer but the love and friendship and perseverence that its characters exhibit is incomparable. It might just make you shed a tear. I described it as a book of strength, of philosophy, of humor and determination. It is all of those and more.

At the end of Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Mr. Tushman, Director of Beecher Prep School, Wonderaddresses the 5th grade/6th grade classes with a quote from J. M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” That is the theme of this gem of a book. It is the realistic story of a boy born with a serious facial deformity, overcoming the odds by mainstreaming into the local school. Told from various points of view, once you start it, you won’t put it down.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein comes in at number 4. It is a touching story about two young girls during World War II, one a pilot and the other a spy behind enemy lines in France, if you will. Their heroism and their friendship, while to them small, is huge. It is not like any other war story you’ve read. It is captivating (no pun intended) from the beginning.

LeaveYourSleepRounding out the top 5 is Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep. A five year labor of love, Merchant put to music children’s poetry written from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s and released a wonderful CD of the same name. She then, with illustrator Barbara McClintock, published a book with some of the poetry and beautiful illustrations. I’ve heard Merchant sing these poems several times in concert and have the CD, and as she said ““Poetry speaks of so much: longing and sadness, joy and beauty, hope and disillusionment…But poetry on the page can be difficult to penetrate; sometimes it needs to be heard.” But once heard, reading it and seeing the colorful illustrations adds a whole new perspective.

Since this is getting long, I’ll briefly mention the next 5:

The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale: if you’re the “grunt” who gets picked on, you want to find the Bully Book and destroy it. Bullying seems to be an epidemic and Gale tries to reverse the tide in this excellent book.

Period 8 by Chris Crutcher: Crutcher seems to have found his stride again in this honest book about honesty and relationship. Not as ‘in your face’ as Whale Talk or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (my two favorites), it’s still up there with his best.

Stay With Me by Paul Griffin: Violence is a fact of life to some people. Some people are good and some aren’t and what happens to them doesn’t always make sense. Stay With Me had me rivited and, it indeed, did bring on a tear or two.

NoCrystalStairNo Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson: A marvelous picture book and more about Nelson’s great-uncle Lewis Michaux, a driving force for educating Blacks in Harlem. Michaux started out with nothing and built a tremendous bookstore in Harlem that attracted the likes of Malcolm X.

Almost Home by Joan Bauer: Bauer is one of the foremost writers for middle school readers and her stories are uplifting. In Almost Home Sugar Mae Cole survives her mother’s depression and a foster home by spouting the words of her grandfather, King Cole. A must read–plus the dog on the cover is adorable.AlmostHome

And the last of them are:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Ask the Passenger by A. S. King

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I read so many more great books in 2012, but this is the best of the best, to me. I hope you enjoy some of them.

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Start the New Year right…with a Chris Crutcher book-Period 8. (Actually, the book’s not due out until April.)

I’m a big fan of Chris Crutcher, having read all his books and heard him speak. But, truth be told, his last two, Sledding Hill and Deadline, were not amongst my favorites. Well, Period 8, although abandoning his anger management themes, has brought him back to the forefront. It is a chilling book in many ways, while dealing with a vareity of issues, including honesty in relationships, overly protective parents, religion to name a few.

There’s too much going on in the book to really give you a synopsis, so I’ll give you snippets.

Paulie is a swimmer and thus built like one. He’s a catch. He cheated on his girlfriend, Hannah, who adores him and who he adores. In the interest of truth in a relationship, he tells Hannah about his infidelity (his father is a philanderer) and she immediately dumps his sorry ass, without even hearing his explanation.

Meanwhile, Mary Wells, called virgin Mary because of her shy, withdrawn demeanor has gone missing, an unusal thing for this straight A student, who has not missed a session of Period 8 since she was a high school freshman.

There’s Arney, junior class president, who has a hand in everything. What’s up with him?

And finally there’s Period 8, a period which we probably all wish we had. It’s lunch period and a group of kids gets together in Mr. Langdon’s classroom to discuss anything and everything. The one condition…what’s said in the room, stays in the room.

Period 8 is their story. There are some authors who write poetically. There are some who insert hidden meanings in their words. And then there’s Chris Crutcher, the consummate story teller, who unfolds a gripping tale with wonderful characters, an engrossing plot and a satisfying ending. You will love Paulie and Hannah, separately and together. Mr. Langdon is a character in all of Crutcher’s books…the teacher who guides students, doesn’t give them the answer, let’s them think it out themselves. What these kids are into, both good and bad, will make you smile and frown, respectively.

Period 8 is gripping and thought provoking. Do yourself a favor and read it. I couldn’t put it down.

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Those of you who review books for journals, on blogs or for newspapers, might know how I feel. I just reviewed a book for a journal and gave it somewhere between 2 and 3 stars (out of 5). And I feel bad. I wonder if I’m being too harsh. I wonder whether I’ve lost touch with what teens might like to read. I wonder whether I should get out of the reviewing business. I wonder, wonder, wonder, until I got my hands on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Then I stopped wondering because I knew what a great book reads like.

I’m not going to tell you much about The Fault in Our Stars because my meager words won’t do it justice.  Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters meet at a cancer support group. Augustus was there at his friend Isacc’s request. All three have differing forms of cancer. They all suffer in different ways. They all carry on the best they can. They make quite a trio. Needless to say, Hazel Grace and Augustus become smitten with each other. Theirs is the love of a lifetime…the type of love we all wish to have, other than the prospect of either or both dying from their diseases. The Fault in Our Stars is a book of strength, of philosophy, of humor and determination. I mentioned once that I like Green’s odd numbered books: #1 Looking for Alaska, #3 Paper Towns and now #5. These are books not to be missed, but The Fault in Our Stars is stellar.

It is odd, but it seems that at times I unwittingly pick up books on the same topic, such as when I read several books dealing with Aspberger’s Syndrome. Hurt Machine, Reed Farrel Coleman’s latest Moe Prager book, begins with the protagonist exiting his oncologist’s office. I’m sure this will be another heart breaker. But that’s for another post.

Let me suggest two more Young Adult books with protagonists who have diseases that impact their lives or are, indeed, life threatening: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick and Deadline by Chris Crutcher. In the former, Jeffrey Alper, now in eighth grade, narrates this sequel to Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie. He is cancer-free, but leukemia treatment left him with a limp and a brain that is “a little scrambled up.” When he learns he will be held back unless he passes a statewide standardized test, Jeffrey panics, then agrees to let Tad, his best friend and fellow cancer survivor, tutor him.

In Deadline, Ben has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world. How can a pint-sized, smart-ass seventeen-year-old do anything significant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho? 

All three books deal with their subject with humor, insight and emotion. All three books should be on your bookshelf.

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