Thursday, May 26, 2016

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Goodreads summary:
Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. But Riley isn't exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in über-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley's life.

On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it's really like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley's starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley's real identity, threatening exposure. And Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.



I've been having a really hard time figuring out how to write this review because every time I try to talk about the main character, I don't know which gender binary pronoun to use. But I think that's the point -- to feel this sense of cognitive dissonance at having to move beyond established paradigms. And the author does an amazing job at keeping you wondering through the entire book as to the gender that society would assign to Riley Cavanaugh. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Symptoms of Being Human. Jeff Garvin does a wonderful job of helping the reader get behind Riley's plight as many young readers are likely to have never heard of the concept of gender fluidity. But because the author surely knows so many people haven't heard of this issue before, there were places in the story that felt more like it was trying to be an educational pamphlet than a young adult novel. I certainly don't fault Jeff Garvin for that, but at the same time, it made the story feel a bit like an after school special in places. That doesn't make the book any less compelling; it just made the narrative a little bit more noticeable at the seams. Even so, the writing in Symptoms of Being Human is both precise and poetic. Riley doesn't mince words, but still manages to write with a sense of wonder and appreciation at the power they hold. 

If you're looking to add to your collection of YA novels with compelling LGBTQ characters, I highly recommend Jeff Garvin's debut novel. 


Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pages: 352
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: Audiobook download provided by publisher

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.   

Monday, May 23, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading? 5-23-16


It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Last week I posted:

A guest post from author Grady Hendrix about his new book, My Best Friend's Exorcism


I finished reading:

The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda
A strange, perplexing, and provocative read. I loved one question so much, I had to stick it on a picture and post it on Instagram


I finished reading with my ears:

 The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
An interesting mystery that deals with the topic of family mental illness in an honest way. Mysteries are a genre I am grossly lacking in my classroom library and this is a good one for middle school as well as high school students. 


Favorite picture books I read last week:

Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead
If you teach writing, you're going to want this book because once you finish reading it, you will want to write and create. A book that manages to inspire readers to say, "I want to do that and I CAN do that!" is a rare gem indeed.


Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle
I have to admit, I was rather critical of the first Flora book. I thought the cut-out flaps were more of a novelty than serving any real purpose to the story. Flora and the Peacocks, however, is another story. The flaps aren't just a novelty here but instead help give the story movement and interest. Not to mention the illustrations, as expected, are stunning. Well done Molly Idle!


Still reading:

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds  
I'm enjoying this book but have been so distracted with new house stuff and end of school year stuff that I haven't been able to focus on reading as much as I would like. I'm hoping by next week's post I will have this one finished.  


Currently reading with my ears:

The Courage to Compete: Living with Cerebral Palsy and Following My Dreams by Abbey Curran
I just started this one so I don't have any commentary to add to it yet. :)

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Best Friend's Exorcism Blog Tour: Guest Post by Grady Hendrix


I am so excited to have Grady Hendrix on the blog today. I am not generally a fan of the horror genre, but when I saw how clever and subversive his novel Horrorstör was (the cover looks conspicuously like an IKEA catalog), I knew I had to read it.  He now has a new novel out this week called My Best Friend's Exorcism that takes some of that same cleverness and subversion that he's known for in his IKEA catalog, I mean Horrorstör, and laid out his new book like a high school year book full of 1980s nostalgia.

Here's more info about the book:

Publication date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781594748622

Publisher Summary:
Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

Since Grady's book takes place in the 80s, and since I am known to blog about food on occasion, I present to you Grady's guest post:



The Eighties: Food’s Lost Decade
By Grady Hendrix

As far as food was concerned, the Eighties was the best of times and it was the worst of times. There was the disastrous introduction of New Coke, one of the biggest flavor fumbles in soft drink history. McDonald’s introduced a McPizza that couldn’t fit through its own drive-thru windows and Burger King introduced tiny burgers that fell through its grills. On the other hand, what’s so bad about the decade that gave the world microwave popcorn, Cool Ranch Doritos, and Snapple?

People had a lot of feelings about food back in the Eighties. Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche was a 1982 book satirizing sensitive men that spent 53 weeks on top of the bestseller list, but all it did was make everyone want to eat quiche, which suddenly appeared overnight on every single restaurant menu. Associated with the despised yuppies, it joined pasta salad, sundried tomatoes, pesto, and pretty much anything else that tasted good and didn’t come out of a can as foods considered un-American. Tofu became shorthand for health-obsessed, flavor-hating yuppies, for some reason, even though no one in America was actually eating it.

Commercials pushed food catchphrases into the national vocabulary as Paul Masson swore he would sell no wine before its time, everyone put on posh European accents to ask, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”, and Dunkin’ Doughnuts reminded us every morning that it was “Time to make the doughnuts.” Food got political, too. Fried eggs famously came to represent your brain on drugs as part of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, while the Wendy’s commercial tagline, “Where the beef?” helped Walter Mondale earn the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 when he used the tagline to trash his rival’s policies. Food created celebrities, like the Bartles and Jaymes brothers and the California Raisins who saw their cover of “Heard it Through the Grapevine” land on the Billboard Top 100. Then there were the actual celebrities who became even more famous through food, as Paul Newman rolled out the very first bottles of his Newman’s Own salad dressing, and Jell-O Pudding Pops made Bill Cosby their spokesman. Whoops.

Foreign foods were suddenly everywhere as people realized that gyros from Greece were not made of fried dogs and were actually delicious. Sushi was a punchline to the point where in John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club it told you pretty much all you needed to know about Molly Ringwald’s vapid princess that she brought it to school for lunch. But it was the perfect finger food for Hollywood celebrities who wanted to eat but never get fat, and by the late Eighties sushi was a national fad. Everyone was experimenting with new things, either eating tiramisu or trying to make Cajun blackened fish or giving each other enormous tins of flavored popcorn for Christmas. Even McDonald’s was expanding its horizons, introducing Chicken McNuggets and the McRib, which tasted like a car floormat made of gristle and coated in delicious barbecue sauce.

All this eating led to a lot of dieting, and Carnation breakfast bars became the meal of choice for anorexic teenagers across the country if they weren’t already experimenting with the all-liquid, milkshake-based Cambridge Diet. If you were posh, you could try the Scarsdale Diet, the Rotation Diet, or the Beverly Hills Diet. A freezer stocked with Lean Cuisine frozen dinners became a sign of affluence and body consciousness. Even poor people had diet choices, like Richard Simmons’s gauche Deal-a-Meal, the F-Plan Diet, or the “As Seen on TV” miracle of Grapefruit 45, which promised that nature’s best kept secret was now available in pill form. No rich person was going to touch a diet that reached its customers through infomercials on TV. Besides, the 80s brought the truly wealthy the best weight loss supplement ever invented: cocaine.


Grady Hendrix’s previous novel, Horrorstör, was hailed by NPR as one of the best books of 2014. He lives in New York City.

*~*~*~*

Check out yesterday's blog tour post on the blog A Dream Within A Dream.


If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.   

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading? 5-16-16


It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.

Last week I finished reading with my ears:

Until the Beginning by Amy Plum  
It took a while for me to get into it, but I ended up enjoying this book more than the first one.  


Favorite picture book last week: 

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
I love this book. I love the illustrations. And I especially love Yuyi Morales' dedication at the beginning of the book, which reads:  
To the Western Addition Library in SF where, as a new mother and immigrant, I found my first home in the USA. Nancy, I hope you remember me. You changed my life forever when you put books in my hands. 
My only critique of the book was that I didn't feel like the resolution was as satisfying as it could have been. But perhaps that's my own cultural misunderstanding rather than a flaw with with book itself. 


Currently (still) reading: 

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds 


Currently reading with my ears:
 
 The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos



Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading? 5-9-16


It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Last week I reviewed:

Whose Story Is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty, illustrated by Oriol Vidal


I finished reading: 

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar  

Simply stunning. Magical realism at its finest. Despite being middle grade fiction, I wouldn't hesitate to put this book in a high school classroom. In fact, I'd recommend it to anyone who read and loved Bone Gap

 
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke
Don't let the spare number of pages in this graphic novel fool you into thinking it's an easy read. It is intense and incredibly tragic.  


I finished reading with my ears (and eyes): 

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown 

I will continue to think about the ways I can apply her research to my own teaching and relationships. I listened to the audiobook of Daring Greatly but I also checked out a physical copy at the library so I could take copious notes. I look forward to reading more books by Brown in the near future. 


Favorite picture book last week:

A Rule is to Break: A Child's Guide to Anarchy by Jon Sven and Jana Christy
While the premise of this book seems utterly ridiculous and lists many silly recommendations for leading a life of anarchy, there's actually a part of this book that speaks to the values of fairness, individualism, empathy, civil disobedience, and social justice. Surprisingly astute.  


Currently reading:

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
I only just started this, but I'm super excited to be reading Reynolds' middle grade debut.  


Currently reading with my ears:

Until the Beginning by Amy Plum 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Whose Story Is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty, illustrated by Oriol Vidal

This is the story of a young boy and his cat, Emperor Falafel.

Or maybe it's a story about Salty Pete the Pirate?

No. It's definitely about a taco truck-loving dinosaur.

Or maybe it's about vikings?

No, robots. Definitely robots.

In Whose Story Is This, Anyway? our young narrator gets increasingly agitated that other storybook characters are horning in on the story he is trying to tell about his life and pet cat. Of course, what our young narrator fails to realize (at least at first anyway) is that pirates, dinosaurs, aliens, vikings, and robots showing up unexpectedly in your life makes for quite a riveting story.

This would be a fabulous mentor text to share with students about how the story or piece of writing your intended to write might not be the piece you end up with -- and why that's perfectly OK!


Whose Story Is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty, illustrated by Oriol Vidal
Published: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Pages: 40
Format: Picture Book
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher 

If you buy this book or any book through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound

Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading? 5-2-16


It's Monday! What are you reading? Is a wonderful community of readers, teachers, and librarians. Hosted by Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers, participants share their reading adventures from the past week along with their reading plans for the week ahead.

My Monday posts are generally just a highlight of what I've been reading during the week so if you'd like to see all that I've been reading, follow my Goodreads page.


Last week's posts:
 
Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat
The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon


I finished reading:

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner

This is a book that takes place during 9/11 but manages to not be ABOUT 9/11. It's a reminder to us all that despite great tragedy, life goes on and the world keeps turning. It's a book that took me back to that fateful day in September of 2001 and what I was feeling, but it reminds me that the students I now teach weren't even born yet when it happened. Look for this book to hit stores in September (naturally). 

 
Favorite picture book from last week:
 
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
As arts education budgets get slashed or eliminated completely, here's yet another example of why we must fight for children to have beauty, light, color, and hope in their lives. Because that's what art gives them. 


I went back to reading:

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar  
 

I'm about halfway through this one and I'm finally hitting my groove. 


Still reading with my ears:

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown 

I'm feeling so many things while reading this. I wish I had read it sooner.