Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

I don't read a lot of "chick lit", but I do love a good story about friendships between women. I love any story that shows women supporting and uplifting one another. Did you ever read Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik? I read that before I started SmartGirlsRead, but I loved it! The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton was a little like it. In AHEB, the friends are all in a book club. In The Wednesday Sisters, the friends all meet at their neighborhood park and begin a writing club together. They begin meeting each Wednesday morning and presenting their individual writing projects. As they learn and grow as writers, they also grow as mothers, wives and women. They help one another through struggles and encourage each other.

This book is set in the late 1960s and though the main character gives us brief glimpses into the future for the Wednesday Sisters, the story contained in this book really only covers a few years. This book was fun to read and quick, but it also ended a bit too quickly for me. The ending felt, well... abrupt. The characters have complex concerns and difficulties in their lives, but somehow the storytelling seems to only brush the surface. I enjoyed this book, but it was no AHEB. Seriously, if you haven't read that one, get on it now!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Repeat by Neal Pollack

Repeat by Neal Pollack features Brad Cohen, a nearly forty-year-old mostly-failed television writer in Hollywood, California. He has a wife and two young daughters he loves, but everything else in his life is a huge disappointment. On the eve of his fortieth birthday, something very strange happens. He falls asleep and when he wakes, he is in... his mother's womb. Somehow, Brad has found himself back at the very beginning of his own life. Also very strange- he remembers everything. How long will he be doomed- for he does feel doomed- to repeat his own life?

Brad explains his existence to another character as being a little like Groundhog Day, except that instead of repeating the same day over and over again, it is the same forty years over and over again. Brad knows every major event that will happen until 2010. He makes investments and bets, he predicts the rise and fall of governments and politicians. Sometimes he improves his own life by following dreams he has always had and sometimes he makes a mess of his own life. I think we have all thought about how we would do things differently if we could just go back, but Repeat shows us that it might not be the utopia we'd hope.

I liked this book and for me it was a quick read. Once I got to the second half of the book, I just couldn't stand to put it down and finished it as quickly as I could. There were a few parts that I wish had been omitted. Brad's second time through puberty was a little too descriptive for me, but I suppose it was realistic. This book was a bit similar to The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but I didn't like it quite as much. ...Harry August had more purpose and more mystery, but Repeat was still fun to read.Parts of this book sound as though they may have been a bit autobiographical: according to the 'About the Author' section, Pollack is a certified yoga instructor and a three-time Jeopardy! champion. I thought that was pretty cool.

This is the kind of book that would elicit an interesting discussion. We only get one life and I've always believed that is what makes our decisions, our life choices, so important. If we could do this more than once, it wouldn't matter what we chose, but life isn't like that. We do have to choose and sometimes we are unhappy with those choices, but they make us who we are. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

I have a twelve-year-old son and he is just wonderful, at least I think so. He is just about to begin 7th Grade and his assignment for summer reading is Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. I remember summer reading when I was younger and it was nothing so entertaining and age appropriate as this. Pride and Prejudice is wonderful, but having it forced down my throat at such a young age nearly ruined me for all classics.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie follows Steven through his 8th Grade year of middle school. Steven is a talented drummer in the All-City band and spends hours at a time practicing in his basement. He is also infatuated by a girl at school named Renee. The school year seems to be starting like any other school year until Steven's much younger brother Jeffrey gets terribly sick. Jeffrey has leukemia.

There are lots of books out there about kids with cancer. What makes this one unique is that it isn't about the kid with the cancer, it's about the kid's brother and how he deals with the horror of watching a family member battle such an awful disease. Sonnenblick actually wrote this book because a student of his was experiencing the same thing and Sonnenblick, wanting to help, could find no books about siblings of cancer patients. None. Cancer is a terrible thing to experience, but watching a loved one with cancer is not easy. As Hermione says, "When in doubt, go to the library," but what if the library is lacking what you need? Sonnenblick's purpose was to fill that need. What he created is a story that shows that family of cancer patients aren't perfect. Even while feeling bad for his brother, Steven was still sometimes annoyed by him. Even while watching his parents struggle, Steven was angry at being left alone.

Sonnenblick also does a wonderful job of enumerating and explaining the five stages of grief, though he is careful not to call it anything so technical. He shows Steven making his way from denial and anger, through bargaining and depression to acceptance. It is in simple terms and the progression is far neater than most people would actually experience, but he shows that it is okay to have each of those feelings.

My son enjoyed this book and so did I. I appreciate his teachers picking a book that is both relatable to a 7th Grade boy and also full of useful information. While it wasn't great literature, I can recommend it to your preteens. I'm so glad summer reading has come so far in just one generation.