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01

Oct
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

On 01, Oct 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

My Friend DahmerFrom GoodReads:

You only think you know this story. In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer—the most notorious serial killer since Jack the Ripper—seared himself into the American consciousness. To the public, Dahmer was a monster who committed unthinkable atrocities. To Derf Backderf, “Jeff” was a much more complex figure: a high school friend with whom he had shared classrooms, hallways, and car rides.
In My Friend Dahmer, a haunting and original graphic novel, writer-artist Backderf creates a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a disturbed young man struggling against the morbid urges emanating from the deep recesses of his psyche—a shy kid, a teenage alcoholic, and a goofball who never quite fit in with his classmates. With profound insight, what emerges is a Jeffrey Dahmer that few ever really knew, and one readers will never forget.

I don’t have a lot to say about this book except that I should never read about serial killers and for some reason I forget that from time to time. I was so throughly creeped out by this book that I didn’t sleep for a week. But the description above is correct, it is a sympathetic portrait of Dahmer. As Backderf says, what Dahmer did was unforgivable, but you can’t help but feel sorry for the guy in some ways too. He needed help and never got it for a lot of reasons. Mostly because all the adults in his life sucked. My Friend Dahmer was an interesting look at a story many people are familiar with.

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26

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

On 26, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

WonderstruckFrom GoodReads:

Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories–Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures–weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.

I am ready to go live in a museum. Actually I have been ready since I read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (what kid wasn’t ready after that book), but Wonderstruck made me remember that desire. In Wonderstruck, Ben’s mother has recently died and while poking through some of her things he finds a few clues to who his father may have been. Using the clues, Ben runs away to New York City. He ends up at the natural history museum where he is befriended by one of the curators sons who hides him in an old storeroom that just so happens to be connected to his mysterious father. Toward the end of the story Ben visits a miniature model of the city that was originally an exhibit at the World’s Fair.

So, I’m not the biggest fan of the mixed graphic novel and written novel mediums, but Selznick’s stories are so good that it ends up not mattering. There is just something so cozy about the story and it’s settings. It might have to do with the scenes or the model of the city Ben visits, but I fell in love with this book. Plus Ben is such a neat kid. He’s got pluck and courage and curiosity. Just an all around great story about family and living in museums. 🙂

As a post script, I highly suggest reading the Author’s Note at the back where Selznick talks about how he got the inspiration for this story, it is so interesting. I could also see it being pretty inspiring for aspiring writers because his inspiration came from something serendipitous and mundane (he was given a behind the scenes tour of the NYC Natural History Museum and happened to catch a documentary on deaf culture and how the move from silent films to talkies impacted it).

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25

Sep
2013

In Reading Round Up

By Elizabeth Wroten

Reading Round Up: Late September

On 25, Sep 2013 | In Reading Round Up | By Elizabeth Wroten

Since I have been plowing through all these novels lately I haven’t made much of an effort to read anything online. Now that I’m reading a bit less, though, I have come across a few articles I thought I would share here (both for others and to help me remember to refer back to them!).

First up is a blog post from Meredith Farkas about how important it is to understand where errors are coming from. I could not agree more with this and think it’s applicable to all levels of education and across all subjects. When I first started out after college I began tutoring and I had one student that was really struggling with math. She was trying to do pre-algebra and it just wasn’t clicking for her. She was bright and I was baffled. It took me awhile but I finally realized, based on some mistakes she made, that she didn’t have any basic math skills (like fourth and fifth grade math) or any understanding of how numbers worked. As soon as I discovered that, we went back and covered the basics. I even stopped working on her pre-algebra with her to get her up to speed, except to limp through her homework. After a few weeks and before we had even finished her crash course in basics she was already better understanding the harder mathematical concepts. That was a turning point for me. I realized how important it was not to just see that students make errors, but what those errors can tell you about gaps in their learning and understanding.

Last Friday I was listening to Science Friday and they had on some guests talking about science fairs. Personally I wish we did a lot more with science in our schools, but for those self-motivated enough these science fairs sounded amazing. One comment that was made that really stuck with me, though, was that working on science projects is a good way for kids to learn about failure. I think our current system of testing kids like crazy really doesn’t value failure and what it can teach us. It makes kids see failure as something to be afraid of and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Apparently David Truss also had failure on the brain, because I came across this post from his blog two days later. It’s short but has some great thoughts.

And I guess I’ll get on the Banned Books band wagon. I came across this post from Teen Librarian Toolbox about changing the discussion of banned books. It reminded me of one of my classes in library school. I can’t remember which one, but the professor gave us some tips for dealing with upset patrons that might object to a material in the library. The very first thing she told us to ask (after apologizing that they were offended) was, what was it you were looking for when you found this and can I help you locate what you were looking for? That always sounded to me like changing the subject to avoid conflict, but in light of this post from TLT I realized it can be more about redirecting the conversation and not validating their complaint. Not sure how I would actually handle this situation IRL, espeically if a patron was irate, but it’s definitely something to chew on.

Okay that’s it for the time being. I may have more in the next few weeks, but in the mean time enjoy the reviews. I have ton of them to write still!

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24

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

On 24, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Moon and MoreFrom GoodReads:

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

I don’t usually have a hard time enjoying the books I read to keep up with YA/MG publishing, but there are times when I go out of my way to finish a series or read the latest from an author I really like. Sarah Dessen is one of those authors that I choose to keep up with.

I wish these books had been out when I was in high school and that I had been aware of them. As much as I loved this story, I think I can generalize about Sarah Dessen’s books a bit in my reviews. She does such a good job of showing characters that aren’t perfect and are human. They think about boys and sex and clothes, but they also think about school and jobs and college and eating and driving and awkwardness. They also tend to deal with less than perfect families. We all struggled with being a teen (must be an echo in here, I just said that in my last review too) and Dessen gives teens a way to see that it’s all normal. Plus her writing is just so good; it’s so easy to fall into the story and hope it will never end.

I think The Moon and More was particularly wonderful because it’s about that last summer between high school and college (or whatever is coming next). I remember that summer. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. Emaline’s summer really throws her for a loop. She was so sure about what was coming and it all changes, a disorienting experience we all share.

In reflecting back on my teen years, I always feel like I didn’t deal well with the confusion and hormones and relationships, everything that came with those years. Even though Dessen’s girls aren’t perfect they do tend to have a certain togetherness that I wish I had had as a model for how to deal with situations. Emaline is no exception to this and it made me love the book that much more.

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19

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

On 19, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

It's Kind of a Funny StoryFrom GoodReads:

Like many ambitious New York City teenagers, Craig Gilner sees entry into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School as the ticket to his future. Determined to succeed at life-which means getting into the right high school to get into the right college to get the right job-Craig studies night and day to ace the entrance exam, and does. That’s when things start to get crazy.

At his new school, Craig realizes that he isn’t brilliant compared to the other kids; he’s just average, and maybe not even that. He soon sees his once-perfect future crumbling away. The stress becomes unbearable and Craig stops eating and sleeping-until, one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, isolated from the crushing pressures of school and friends, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.

I have to admit I only found out about this book because it was a movie. That we watched. Before I read the book. It was a totally fabulous movie too. Which is why I picked up the book.

I talked a bit before about books-into-movies and I have to say this falls into the category of the book and movie were equally good. Since the book came first it deserves credit for the great characters and their development, but the movie really brought a few key scenes to life for me. Plus it had a great soundtrack.

That being said I really loved this book. You get into Craig’s head in a way you can’t in a movie and his struggles are so relatable. He’s got more intense anxiety than most people, but we’ve all been teens and I think what Craig goes through isn’t all that far removed from what we all experienced. The doubt about ourselves. The pressure to fit in, to do well, to seem like we have our sh*t together.

Craig’s a good guy though and so are the people he meets. They’re all suffering but Craig sees them for the people they are not just their neuroses. They also act as a catalyst for Craig to crawl his way out of his depression and anxiety. A lot of the people there won’t get better. Ever. And Craig recognizes this and decides he doesn’t want that or himself. All in all, a great story about self-discovery and choosing the light over the darkness in all of us.

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12

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Akata Witch

From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

I have to admit I am a sucker for books written by Nigerian authors and/or set in Nigeria and that is the reason I picked up Akata Witch. I suppose if I had to booktalk this in a few seconds I would call it a Harry Potter read alike. But I feel kind of like I’m copping out comparing this book to Harry Potter.

It definitely shares a number of similarities. The four kids are wizards and witches. Sunny, the main character, was unaware of her abilities/ties to the magical community. There is a lot of learning about the power within yourself and your own inner strengths. There is also some good friendship material. It even kind of dragged in the same way I felt the first Harry Potter book did toward the beginning. But for some reason I just preferred these kids and this magical community to the Harry Potter one. Probably because I’m a sucker for Nigerian books.

All that aside this was a fun read. The story was pretty compelling and exciting. I loved that it felt very grounded in Nigerian culture and especially its traditional magic. I cannot speak to how closely it mirrors Nigerian magic, but it certainly feels authentic. Really this is what made Akata Witch stand out to me more than any other wizarding book (I’m looking at you again, Harry Potter). The depth of the culture really made the story more vibrant. And there was the added conflict of Sunny and Sasha feeling torn between being American and Nigerian. That just made the book feel more mature to me than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Sunny is a likable girl and she’s a pretty quick study so I never felt like shouting at her to stop being so naive or dense (I had that experience with a number of other books I read this summer). The other kids are fun too and possess enough sass and cheek to make them interesting, believable, but not exasperating.

All in all a fun book.

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12

Sep
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

On 12, Sep 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Drowned Cities

From GoodReads: In a dark future America where violence, terror, and grief touch everyone, young refugees Mahlia and Mouse have managed to leave behind the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities by escaping into the jungle outskirts. But when they discover a wounded half-man–a bioengineered war beast named Tool–who is being hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers, their fragile existence quickly collapses. One is taken prisoner by merciless soldier boys, and the other is faced with an impossible decision: Risk everything to save a friend, or flee to a place where freedom might finally be possible.

I liked this one as much as Ship Breaker. It was a bit of the same and a bit different in terms of the story arc. The characters were all deeply flawed but likable. There was plenty of action but also heart. I love love love Tool. He’s a “good guy” but not a good guy and I love the ambiguity of it all. It makes it very real.

Okay, that’s done. Can we talk about the paperback cover for Ship Breaker and the cover for The Drowned Cities. Oh my god they suck. I’m not the type of person who is embarrassed to be seen with a book because it’s cover it terrible and I wouldn’t be embarrassed by this one. But let me tell you, if I hadn’t loved Ship Breaker I would not have picked this one up.

The eyes are just weird. The font is pretty ho-hum. The scratchy effect layered over the picture kinda works, but the hardback cover for Ship Breaker was perfect. It looked like the title was carved into one of the ships on the beach. It worked with the story and it didn’t tell you how to picture anything. Now I can’t get those eyes out of my head while I read these books. Also, I didn’t know what city was the Drowned City. Not for quite some time and it was pretty cool to try and pin it down. But if I hadn’t read the ebook version (or had looked more closely at that crappy cover, something I avoided doing) I wouldn’t have had that pleasure.

So please ignore the cover and read this book. It’s so worth the time.

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29

Aug
2013

In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Back to School

On 29, Aug 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

What a summer it’s been. I decided to take a break from posting so I could focus on reading and boy did I ever read. I got through more than 30 books over the last couple months. My poor, patient husband probably feels like he has lost me to YA fiction, but I’m really trying to whittle my TBR pile down. Because of this the next few months on my blog will be pretty heavy on the book reviews.

Working my way through all these books, some of which have been in the pile for years now, has been an interesting process. I have been surprised more than once by a book that I was reluctant to read (or re-read in the case of Pepper Roux). I’m also getting pretty good at whipping through the novels. And I have yet to find one that I really didn’t like. Looking forward to blogging again and writing up some reviews to help my poor mind remember what I’ve read.

10

Jul
2013

In Uncategorized

By Elizabeth Wroten

Quick update

On 10, Jul 2013 | In Uncategorized | By Elizabeth Wroten

Just wanted to let anyone reading my blog know that I am turning comments off for awhile. I am getting the most ridiculous amount of spam comments. We’re talking hundreds a day. The best part is, these aren’t a few sentences with a bunch of links. These are essay length comments. It’s insane.  Not only is it taking me forever to delete them I am also having to delete them out of my inbox. Sigh. I think blogs without the ability to comment are generally pretty silly since the point of being online is to generate discussion and collaboration, but I am not interested in collaborating with ljkdsf@hotmail.com. Thanks for your patience while I figure the situation out.

Hope the summer is going well. I am reading like crazy around here and haven’t taken the time to post.

12

Jun
2013

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

On 12, Jun 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

American Born ChineseFrom GoodReads:

A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.

First Impressions: All right, this one has been sitting on my TBR pile for years now and based on what the person who recommended it said and the blurb here, I was expecting a bit more of a plot twist/reveal at the end. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed to predict the ending to some extent, but my expectations set me up to be really wowed and I wasn’t especially.

That Being Said: Sometimes I think graphic novels can be a bit light on story and character development and you can breeze through them. American Born Chinese was neither, and although it was a quick read, it was still thought provoking.

On the surface the novel deals with the struggles of Jin Wang, Danny, and the Monkey King. All of them are in denial about who they are. They all also share the burden of straddling two cultures and feeling the need or desire to choose one over the other. But I think it goes beyond the conflict of Chinese and American, monkey and god. It’s a story about finding who you are and embracing that person, something that is a universal struggle for, well, everyone. You don’t need to be grappling with feeling like an outsider because of your culture or race or citizenship to appreciate the characters. To me, the power of the story was in its message that it’s okay to be different and uncomfortable with that and that it’s okay to come to terms with your differences, be they cultural or otherwise.

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