Archive for the ‘John Corey Whaley’ 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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I picked up Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley because Beth Kephart mentionedWhereThingsComeBack it in her keynote address at the Publishing Perspectives: YA What’s Next? publishing conference.  She described it as “…brilliantly odd. Because it’s fantastically germane. Because it is about a search to know and overcome in a woodpeckers-are-going-extinct-and-parents-are-losing-their-way world.” Not that I like everything Beth likes, but if it deserves her honorable mention, then it’s worth investigating.

Have you ever read a book, and somewhere around a third of the way through, you realize you don’t want to put it down? Well, that’s what happened to me and Where Things Come Back…I realized, while I was too tired to read further, I only reluctantly put it down to go to bed.

Also, have you ever read a book and found you had a hard time describing the book? That’s me again. John Corey Whaley has written two stories in one. In the first written in first person by Cullen Witter, his younger brother by a year, Gabriel, has vanished with no trace. In the second, Benson Sage has an unfulfilling missionary experience in Ethiopia, returns home to a disappointed family and ultimately jumps to his death from the bell tower of the First Baptist Church on Christmas Eve. How these two stories merge may be a little far fetched, but it is no less enjoyable or satisfying because of it.

At first I thought Cullen Witter was the next coming of Holden Caulfield because he’s calling everyone ass-hats. But that’s not where this book goes. It goes towards a small Arkansas town grasping for straws to survive and provide some excitement, even if it is in the hands of a potential charlatan searching for the last living Lazarus woodpecker. It goes towards young men grasping at straws to find meaning in their lives. It goes towards best friend, Lucas, who keeps coming back because he cares about Cullen and Gabriel. And it goes towards misguided youth in towns large and small who screw up and grow up.

Cullen is an interesting character. He sort of daydreams about things. For instance, “When one is sitting in the passenger seat of his best friend’s car as an overly enthusiastic hillbilly is ranting in the backseat about being snubbed by a cheerleader at lunch, his mind begins to wander and think about zombies…..” As you can guess, some of these daydreams are a “little odd?”

So, while I find it hard to really describe Where Things Come Back in terms better than those used by Beth Kephart, the one thing I can say is it’s a book worth reading. I’m presuming that you’ll come to a point where you won’t want to put it down either.

Oh, and great opening lines…”I was seventeen years old when I saw my first dead body.” Kind of grips you, doesn’t it?

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