Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beneath a Meth Moon, Jacqueline Woodson

Sunrise was at 6:12, sunset will be at 8:13. It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. The birds are beeping at the feeder, little beep-beeps as the little birds maneuver the rim, and the sky is blue and clear. It's supposed to be in the upper 70's today and right now it's cool and there is just a teensy breeze coming through the open windows.

It's dark when our alarms go off, now, twilight at dawn. The tops of the lilac bushes are turning red, the maple is heavy with helicopter seed pods, the ground is drying out, finally, and we need to water. The berries are ready to be picked and I think I have enough for a couple of jars of jam or one pie.

The photo above is of Dennis' hop plant, Sam, I think (the other one is Dave), and little tiny raspberry sized hops. The trellis they are on is going to be too small next year and we should build one that runs along the west side of the house, above the kitchen windows, and let them run the length. At some point, maybe we'll have enough to make some beer! I like the name Thirsty Barracuda: Beer with a Bite.

I have been reading so much! I'm on an children's book awards committee so I'm reading and re-reading everything from picture books to young adult books and having a great time revisiting a few of my favorites from last year. And discovering, again, just how many really awful things get published. And, no, I can't talk about any of the books, yet. We choose next week!

I've also been reading, like a palate cleanser, anything I want to between the committee books: Beneath a Meth Moon, by Jacqueline Woodson, The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, The Death Cure, by James Dashner, The Pull of Gravity, by Gae H. Polisner.....

Quick synopses of these will come, but not all at once:

Beneath a Meth Moon: Amazing how big a story this little book holds. Hurricane Katrina leaves Laurel without the two women she needs most, her mom and grandmother, when it rips through the little town of Pass Christian, Mississippi. When she finally finds herself at a place where she is beginning to feel comfortable, with a friend and a position on the cheerleading squad, she is introduced to the "moon" by her boyfriend, the only thing that eases the guilt and the grief she feels. This is the story of what the moon does to a person, a family and a community.

As light as it may be on some aspects of meth addiction (can we talk about the horrors in Nic Sheff's books?), it doesn't stint on how quickly and perniciously the drug insinuates itself into a life. It's not a pretty story, it shouldn't be, and is filled with Laurel's self-loathing, need, scratching, and ugly teeth as she sinks deeper into the wasteland of the drug. It shows how perfect a drug meth is, as it fits those receptors so beautifully, and should be talked about in the same breath as unprotected sex: never let it happen, the after-effects are too dire. It never leaves a body, memory of its effects will continue to lead folk back, once tasted, never refused.

While reading Meth Moon, I kept thinking of science fiction, here you are, walking along, minding your own business, and BOOM! the world blows up, aliens take you away, the earth opens beneath your feet and you disappear. One missed chance to get away, injected with drugs when you weren't looking (an old Robert Silverberg story) and life is never the same. It's not like pot, alcohol, meth is a little like a virus where just housing it can kill you.

Anyway, it is really well-written, as are most of Woodson's books, and should definitely be on all middle and high school reading lists. It's an unassuming volume, and has an attractive cover, so those kids labeled reluctant will be willing to read it. It was something I started and finished in one session, I just had to know what happened to Laurel before I did anything else. Ages 11 and up. (Penguin Books. Available in February 2012. $16.99.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Everybody Sees the Ants, A. S. King

Sunrise was at 5:48, sunset will be at 8:43. It's cloudy, a little breezy, but supposed to be in the high 70s again. A robin just hit the window and scared the crap out of me and my cat. Gidget's under the table, looking up at the window, waiting to see if it's safe to get back to her napping place. Lots of robins in the fountain this morning, standing in the bowl, shrugging their wings up around their necks, flicking water away; they look like boxers getting ready to jab.

So, I drove to work yesterday, listening to Mumford and Sons the whole way (I can get through the first 7 songs on my ride), looking forward to reading both Ashes, Ashes and Mostly True Story of Jack when Judy, our children's book buyer, brought me Everybody Sees the Ants, by A. S. King, and tells me that it's a book we all need to read and then tell everyone else about it. I opened it and that was the book for now.

There are a lot of books about bullying in the world today but Lucky's story is different. Maybe not so different in the truth about bullies and the bullied, but the way it's told is different. And so very well told.

Lucky has been bullied by a single classmate for eight years, since he was seven. It started when Nader Macmillan peed on his leg in a restaurant restroom and then told the manager that Lucky peed all over the place on purpose. No one would stand up for him, take his side or listen to the truth, because Nader's dad, is a powerful, nasty, attorney, and no one wanted to accuse his son of being a dick. That was the beginning of a constant round of hurt, terror, worry with no end in sight.

Then Lucky invents a questionnaire for a sociology class asking if other students thought about suicide and how would they do it. He gets pulled into the counselor's office and when he tells them that it had just been a question he and his friends were tossing around, his friends get questioned, too. One of those people is Nader Macmillan, and Nader's father gets involved. As a result, the bullying of Lucky takes on a whole new weight.

Nader catches him at the pool one day and rubs his cheek raw on the cement, almost to the bone, and no one does anything about it. Not his father, who has absolutely no idea what to do about this, not the manager of the pool, who is scared of Nader and his family, no one stands up for Lucky until his mother says enough is enough and leaves with Lucky for Arizona to live with her brother.

This starts Lucky's new life as Lucky, not Nader's punching back, not the boy who doesn't respect his dad, but a good person who knows pain and hurt and how to listen and how to tell that a person is a bully even if that person is an adult. This is Lucky's time to find out what kind of a person he wants to grow up to be.

Well-written, compelling, great characters, good subject matter. This is a complex story, too. Lucky's father has issues about his MIA POW father (someone he's never met), but, in Lucky's dreams, Lucky is trying to save his grandfather and bring him home from Vietnam. He uses these dreams to figure out how to get rid of Nader in ever increasingly violent ways. There is a girl, a beautiful, smart, girl with bullies in her life, too. It's as if the adults in Lucky's life are still trying to grow up. It's like growing up and becoming an adult will always going to be nothing but practice and guts- it's never done and you hope you do it right and learn something along the way.

Parents, teachers, counselors, kids, this is a good book for everyone. Kids need to know that adults can be bullies, that bullying doesn't always mean physical pain, adults need to remember that just because they're older, they aren't always right or good. It's really easy to become a bully or to be bullied, it's hard to stand up for yourself or for someone else. Ages 14 and up.

(P. S. The ants as Greek chorus are brilliant.)

(Little Brown. $17.99. Available October, 2011.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Two Books equals Choice

Sunrise was at 5:47, after my alarm goes off. The sun doesn't come up over the hilltop now. Sunset will be at 8:44. Dusk is purpler earlier. It will be in the high 70s today and Seattle is beautiful in the clear, blue skies.

Damn you, One Bus Away! I don't know why it registers the phantom buses, those buses that it shows are at your stop.....NOW! and then immediately shows it is now a minute, two minutes past your stop with no bus either coming OR going in either direction. I know I should get to my stop 10, 15 minutes before the app says, but that means that, should that bus arrive, I get to my connecting bus 20 minutes before that one leaves and then I get to work way too early. As it is, if I can actually FIND a bus at my stop when I used to catch it, I get to work half an hour earlier than my shift. Granted, it is a bookstore and there is coffee, but it's still work.

The truly unfortunate thing is that if I miss that one bus that puts me at the connector at 8:00, I can either arrive at work late by 15 minutes, or I drive. I have been trying not to drive every day - I have a really old Jeep - and I was so looking forward to the half hour reading time. Today I drive.

Yes, I finally got past last week's doldrums and I am really unhappy that I am not reading on the bus right now. I picked up two books out of the galleys at my desk yesterday and I can't decide which one I should read first, I've started both and both are hard to put down. Ashes, Ashes, by Jo Treggiari, takes place in New York City, just after smallpox has wiped out most of the population and there are now two seasons: wet and drought.

Our hero is 16-year old Lucy, the last of her family, and we meet her as she is trying to get inside a turtle to get to the meat. She is alone, living in a willow hut, and is either dehydrated or trying not to drown in the downpours, when she is treed by feral dogs (one is a terrier, whining at the trunk of the tree), saved by a boy she's never seen before. Sounds good, doesn't it? and that was only the first 25 pages!

Then, I started to read The Mostly True Story of Jack, by Kelly Barnhill, before going to sleep last night and woke up looking for it to read at breakfast. This one is about a boy named Jack whose parents have broken up and he is being dropped at his Aunt and Uncle's house in Iowa until things shake out. Oh, he doesn't want to be there. Home isn't much better, no one really seems to see him or care about him, but it's home. So far, there is a whispered discussion of something unraveling and his aunt and uncle actually care that he is with them. It's the kind of book that has a lot of reveal to do - things will come slowly clear and it compels the reader to keep turning the pages to find out what's next.

I'm taking them both with me and I think I'm edging toward Jack, first.