Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones
published 2001 by Simon & Schuster
259 pages (hardcover), YA

Jacket flap:
My name is Sophie.
This book is about me.
It tells
the heart-stoppingly riveting story
of my first love.
And also of my second.
And, okay, my third love, too.

It's not that I'm boy crazy.
It's just that even though
I'm almost fifteen
I've been having sort of a hard time
trying to figure out the difference
between love and lust.

It's like
my mind
and my body
and my heart
just don't seem to be able to agree
on anything.
I think that's enough of a summary, really. You've got the main character (Sophie), the basic content of the book (her love life as a 15 year-old girl), and the style in which it's written (series of poems).

What My Mother Doesn't Know shockingly made it to #7 on 2010's Most Frequently Challenged Books list for reasons that I cannot comprehend. So, I'm just not going to even try. Instead, let's talk about why this book is absolutely amazing and why I love it so. :)

The title of this book makes it sound like it's going to be super trashy, but it's not - not at all! I don't like to do this, but I'm going to reveal the secret of the title for you. Cover your eyes if you really don't want to know. Here it comes ... What Sophie's mother doesn't know is that Sophie doesn't want to wear the ugly rose-printed dress she guilted Sophie into buying and that Sophie actually will be changing at a friend's house into a slinky black dress more suited for the Halloween dance. Oh Sophie, how could you! (Pardon the sarcasm.) C'mon, who hasn't performed the good ol' switcheroo? I know I certainly did as a teen!

What's wonderful about the book is Sophie's voice. She's so disarmingly honest. Her poems transport you right into the depths of a specific feeling. From the initial sparks of a new crush to the empathy of a lonely classmate and the longing for a better relationship with her mother, Sophie feels everything so acutely that you can't help but feel it a little too. On the back cover of my book, there's a blurb by Laurie Halse Anderson that sums up my thoughts about the story - "Tender and sexy and honest. With the poetry of an innocent kiss and the passion of a teenager's heart, Sones has created a book that feels like real love." Exactly! It feels like real love.

I remember reading this book when it first came out and absolutely devouring and adoring it because I could relate to it so well (even though I was a few years older than Sophie), but even reading it again just last night, 10 years later, I'm still right there with Sophie. It's not that it was a good book for me at the time because I could relate to it - it's just a good book, period. It's one that I'll re-read again and again because it'll remind me of what it's like to be a teen in such a beautiful and heartfelt way. Sophie and I are kindred spirits, that's for sure, but I think Sophie's charm can extend to those who may not relate so closely too. Gosh, I want to read it again right now! I'm not properly conveying how excited about and grateful for this book I am. You'll just have to read it for yourself to see why it makes me so giddy and tongue-tied. :)

So yeah, I was indeed surprised to find this book on last year's Most Frequently Challenged list mostly because it's so old. Ten years is a long shelf life for a YA novel! Does that mean it's on its way to becoming a classic? Are teens still gobbling it up like I did back in the day? I sure hope so! And I hope that this list appearance makes it a little more popular still.

Five purple crayons for one of my favorite books ever!


Cross-posted to the Banned Books blog.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Banned Books Week - Lush by Natasha Friend

Lush by Natasha Friend
published November 2006 by Scholastic
192 pages (hardcover), YA

Thirteen year-old Samantha has a fairly normal life. She has three fantastic best friends, an adorable and energetic four year-old brother, and a mom who is quite obsessed with yoga. Oh, and her dad's an alcoholic. But he's not the blatantly belligerent type. He doesn't come crashing down the street, alerting the neighbors to his unseemly state. No, he just crashes around inside the house and forgets about it all in the morning. After one crash too many, Sam just doesn't know how to deal anymore. She can't tell her best friends because they're just so normal and who knows how they'll react. So, she's been writing notes back and forth to AJK, some anonymous person she "met" at the library. All the while, she's also "mashing" (is that really the new word for kissing?) with a cute high school boy at the water fountain, who just so happens to invite her to a party. You can guess what happens there. This is Sam's life, a bit messy and complicated, but honest and real.

I downloaded this book last night because it was #6 on ALA's Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010 list, and it is now Banned Books Week. The reasons it was so frequently challenged? Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group. Yes, alcohol is a drug, and it's a running theme throughout the book. But it's not glorified in any way. Samantha hates that her father drinks. She tries it at a party one night, without thinking really, and realizes even more afterward how horrible it actually is. I won't even go into defending the other reasons because I think they're all unjustified and ridiculous. Common Sense Media does a good job of highlighting any questionable content, if you're really into judging a book before you read it. The one other thing I'd mention, though, is that it's definitely not "unsuited to the age group." I'd hand this book to a mature 10 year-old, I really would. I have students in 5th grade that would read this and really appreciate it.

Samantha's voice is just so honest. Lush isn't only about Sam's feelings about her alcoholic father. That would translate into problem novel, and it's definitely not one of those. We get to know her as a complex 13 year-old. A girl who wears baggy shirts because she's developed faster than her friends and doesn't know how to communicate those feelings. A girl who so desperately needs someone to talk to that she writes notes back and forth to someone she's never met. But a girl who still has her head on her shoulders (most of the time) and who knows the difference between right and wrong.

Natasha Friend articulates Sam's thoughts about her father so well - the way she analyzes his words and movements to tell if he's drunk, the way she checks all the supposedly hidden bottles of alcohol in the house to see if there's any liquid missing. And she makes Sam strong. Sam tells her father the truth - she doesn't believe him when he says he'll stop, and she says so. Although having an alcoholic father is a seriously tough issue, Natasha Friend provides a realistic way for teens to respond, cope, and make amends. It's not cutesy or wrapped up nicely. But it offers hope.

I'm so glad that I looked at this year's list of challenged books because I definitely missed this one when it came out. And I'm torn between being furious that it's been so frequently challenged and happy that it has been because it means that much more exposure for the book. You don't have to have an alcoholic in the family to get this book. But if you do, goodness gracious, you're not alone, and it feels so good to know that. Four purple crayons to Lush by Natasha Friend.

So, that's my banned book reading for the week - what will you read? 


Cross-posted to the Banned Books blog.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

July/August Reading Recap

*Title links lead you to the book's Goodreads page.

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown --- A classic in children's literature, but I had never read it. Cute, though slightly disturbing story if you fail to suspend disbelief. Kids enjoy it though - and who wouldn't like to send themselves to faraway places through the postal service? 

Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson --- The subtitle of this book is "The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal," which doesn't sound all that thrilling until you realize that he was African-American which is pretty special for the time.  A picture book biography this book is, but it's one meant for upper elementary students, especially during their studies of Westward expansion. I appreciated the story and will use it especially in lessons on research because the back matter is so thorough and just as engaging as the story itself. Oh, and it's nominated for the 2012 Bluestem Award, too. 

Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan --- Another book set in the Wild West and also nominated for the 2012 Bluestem Award. The main character is an orphan girl who is forced to either run away from the orphanage or spend her life working in the kitchen. She loves taking care of and riding horses and dreams of owning her own ranch someday. Don't know which of my students would read this one as it was a bit slow going. I'll be sure to promote it when I know they're studying the same in social studies. 

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare --- Took me an entire month to get through this book. But I persevered. And wish that I hadn't. Bad timing is what I'll call it because I'm sure that if I had re-read the series and picked this one up where the last one left off, I'd be perfectly satisfied. But that was not the case, and I ended up confused and just didn't care about the story or characters anymore. Sad tale, I know. Must not start series unless I know that they are complete. 

Ida B by Katherine Hannigan (review over at my school library blog) --- Oh, how I loved Ida B! She reminded me so much of my students. She's imaginative and free-spirited and lovely - until she learns that her mom has cancer, and then her world just about falls apart. Everything changes, and the only way she knows how to cope is to guard her heart by putting up walls and shutting everyone and thing out. Heartbreaking, yes, but there's hope!

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot --- I'm not ashamed to say that I've seen the movie countless times and never even thought to read the book. C'mon, Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews! But now that I've read the book, I can appreciate most of the creative liberties taken to revising the screenplay. But why the location change? I love San Francisco, just don't know why NYC got robbed. 

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater --- Is it horrible to say that I can't remember this book? I know that Isabel and what's his name, the Narkotika guy (Cole?), were more prominent in this book and that Grace had some shifting control issues, but eh. I'm all about character-driven stories, but I feel like I really missed out in the story department here. The writing was beautiful as always, though. 

Seduced by the Wolf by Terry Spear --- It's not summer unless I read at least one paranormal romance not aimed at the YA set. This story was interesting - the main character was a werewolf woman who was also a wolf biologist interested in actual wolves and pack dynamics. But she falls for an alpha male of her own kind... and there goes her independence  (compromise, they call it). 

Stolen by Lucy Christopher (my review) --- I haven't re-read this one yet like I said I wanted to, but I'm so glad I bought it for my Kindle because I'll be able to read it again anytime I feel like it, which is a true luxury for me. Just looking at the cover, I get goosebumps all over, and I remember the story and the emotions so vividly. Just go read it.  

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