just what it sounds like…reading as a religion

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#SpeakLoudly about Censorship

Beware: There are spoilers as to the plot of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson contained within this post.

So, anybody that’s pretty deep in the book blogging community knows about what’s been going on today–the controversy surrounding an opinion piece by a Republic, MO man in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO.  You can read his article here: http://www.news-leader.com/article/20100918/OPINIONS02/9180307/Scroggins-Filthy-books-demeaning-to-Republic-education

Dr. Scroggins questions the use of/access to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in the public schools of Republic, MO.

Anderson and Ockler have both taken to their blogs in response:

http://madwomanintheforest.com/this-guy-thinks-speak-is-pornography/

http://sarahockler.com/2010/09/19/on-book-banning-zealots-ostriches/

I am going to do the same and here are my thoughts.  Of these three books, I have only read Anderson’s Speak.  I can certainly say that this is one of the most moving books I have ever read.  Dr. Scroggins has taken scenes and dialogue from the book out of context to portray this book as what he calls ‘filthy’.  A lot of what he says is the way the book depicts high school life, is actually dialogue by the main character, Melinda, and is colored by sarcasm and negativity, due to the intense trauma that she has experienced at the hands of her classmates.  Those of us who have actually read the book and taken the time to understand what it means know that this book about learning to speak up for yourself, to value yourself as a person, and to seek help without fear of embarrassment or retribution.  The main character, Melinda, suffers the unspeakable–date rape at a party.  After calling the cops who break up the party, Melinda is ostracized by her friends and classmates.  She didn’t say anything about the rape, so nobody knows that she is suffering.  Melinda withdraws and refuses to speak, as she fears that she will only make matters worse for herself.  As the novel progresses, readers watch Melinda deal with her inner struggles and find her inner voice.

While I have never personally experienced something so horrible as Melinda has, there are teenagers for whom Melinda’s story is reality.  This novel has and will continue to help many teenagers deal with the things that they are experiencing.  It is depressing to consider that any school may ban this book and possibly prevent it from helping even one teenager who is suffering.  Even teens who have not suffered any great trauma can learn a lot about valuing themselves and speaking up, even when their opinion might not be what people want to hear.

Dr. Scroggins is certainly entitled to his opinions, but I have a problem with one person trying to dictate what information all students have access to.  Just like he is entitled to present his opinion, others are entitled to a different opinion.  Students should have access to all opinions, so that they may make thoughtful decisions as to their personal values.  In this same vein, students should have access to information and books concerning all different life experiences.  (And if one person has a right to censor at all, it should only be for their own children.)  Dr. Scroggins is attempting to level his own Christian agenda upon the public school system in his community.  Don’t even get me started on what he thinks is ‘Christian’.  Myra McEntire is a really cool Christian, who discusses this in better words than I could ever hope to (http://writingfinally.blogspot.com/2010/09/speak-loudly-in-defense-of-laurie-halse.html).  The issue, at hand, is whether Christianity should even be brought up to the school board.  There’s a little thing called Separation of Church and State.  That means religious values have no place in dictating the workings of our public school system.  As well, people of all religious ideologies should feel welcome in a public school.  So, in summation, Dr. Scroggins should not expect his personal religious values to dictate what any child besides his own has access to or to dictate how his local public school system operates, no matter what the religion of the school board members.

A lot of people of spoken out on this topic and the general focus is on speaking out against censorship.  One of my favorite bloggers, Liz over at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy, takes this opportunity to raise a larger question: For those of us who book blog, have we said things in our reviews that could be used to help ban a book?  Read her take here: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/teacozy/2010/09/19/tool/

After reading Liz’s article, I immediately thought , have I written anything that can be used in such a way?  I was ready to read through my past reviews and change things I had written so as not to allow book banners this opportunity to use my words in a negative way.  And then, I thought, wait, how terrible is this? I am about to censor myself and what I write so others cannot use my words out of context to censor access to a book.  How much does that suck? Making censorship a nasty cycle.  It really saddens me to think that in this world, we have to be careful about how we present a book, so people won’t take offense to it and try to censor it.  My goal with this blog is to let people know about books that I liked, books that moved me, books that I think can make a difference.  The last thing I want is to prevent access to books.  Take heed book banners: If you ever try to use my words to support your causes, I will not react lightly.

If I could share one piece of advice regarding this issue, it would be the following: Don’t let one person or one group of people dictate how you feel about a book.  Discussing books is one of my favorite things to do, but don’t let anyone force your judgment of a book.  And parents, before you write a book off, pick it up and read it.  Don’t censor things from your children just because someone told you it was ‘bad’.  And then, if you don’t think it’s right for your child, leave it at that.  Please don’t go and try to make decisions for other people’s children.

Lastly, when it comes to anything that causes you harm, be it abuse, rape, inequality, or even censorship: #SpeakLoudly.  We can’t change things if we don’t try.

P.S. Best thing to come out of this is inspiration to read great books.  I’m going to the library to check out Twenty Boy Summer and Slaughterhouse Five.  If you know me and want to read Speak, I’d be glad to loan you my copy.

UPDATE:

Here’s a post that I thought was cool:

http://www.greenbeanteenqueen.com/2010/09/speak-loudly-when-book-bannings-hit.html

Thank goodness, someone finally sat down and dissecting the literary issues here:

http://www.philnel.com/2010/09/20/speaking-out/

The Following Book is NOT, I Repeat NOT About Vampires

So, I went on a little bender….a v-bender that is.  To be more specific, I dropped out of the realm of the living to read all the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris.  I will admit that they got to me.  I am definitely hooked.  I will also admit that I am one of those foul people who watched True Blood long before she ever picked up one of the books that it’s based on.  Better late than never though, right?  Anyways, I won’t get into them too much here because they aren’t a YA series, which is mostly what I write this blog about.  Don’t get me wrong….everyone who knows me can tell you that I will not stand for any kind of censoring of any sort.  Truthfully, I very well could have read these books in high school, but I grew up in a pretty liberal household.  I just want it to be clear, for those young adults who prefer literature of a higher moral code, that these books were not written for a YA audience.  As such, objectionable language and sexual content abound.  But, for those of you who don’t mind such things or who relish this kind of literature, I say DIG IN!

So, if I’m not gonna write about the SoVampMysteries, what am I gonna write about? Something that is NOT, I repeat NOT about vampires.

I just want to make sure we’re clear about this, the following book is NOT about vampires.

Why am being so adamant about this, you may ask?  Let me explain.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Earlier this year, I heard a lot of talk about Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.  Everytime I heard someone talk about this book, it was in the context of a discussion about vampire books.  Add that to someone telling me that this is like Twilight, but the girl is the vampire–and I built up this whole notion of what I thought this book was.  Finally, this weekend I sat down and read it.  Guess what?  It’s not about vampires, at all! What were all those people smoking?

What is it about, then?  Well, I don’t want to tell you because it’ll ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself.  I will concede that is about something supernatural…but not vampires.  LOL

Ethan Wate grew up in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina, just like his father before him and all the Wates before him.  They live in the same house, surrounded by the same people, living the same life.  Nothing ever changed, until now.  After Ethan’s mom dies in an accident, Ethan’s dad locks himself away in his office writing and Ethan succumbs to terrible nightmares.  Every night he dreams the same thing.  A girl is falling, leaving him, and he can’t save her.  When his dream girl shows up in Gatlin, Ethan thinks that maybe his life is gonna turn around.  But when unexplainable things start to happen and Ethan’s housekeeper Amma, the one person he feels like he can always trust, tells Ethan to stay away from the new Lena, Ethan knows that change might not always be good.  Still, Ethan knows that he has to look deeper, that everything must be happening for a reason.  Can Ethan and Lena learn to trust each other so that they can figure why they are so powerfully connected?  Will change mean a new future or no future?

Watching Ethan and Lena learn to trust each other and fall for each other is breathtakingly beautiful.  The connection between them, with its supernatural appearance, also seems to resemble the nature of true love–powerful beyond all things, even when it might mean danger or heartbreak.  At times, it was slightly frustrating watching Lena continue to distrust Ethan and push him away.  But, while this is painful, it lends a nice touch of a real relationship.

While many powerful and heartbreaking things ensue, this book also provides its share of lightness and humor.  I think it’s mostly due to the badass female quotient.  Amma, the Wates’ housekeeper, is tough as nails.  It is amusing to watch her as she lays into Ethan with the tenacity only true caring and love can create.  You know in an instant that no one crosses Amma because she does what she does for your own good.  Ethan’s three eldery aunts, the Sisters, are just as endearing.  At times slightly off-kilter and at other times just plain stupid, the reader knows the Sisters’ way and word are law–even it means there are only 11 true states (the Confederate ones) and itching is spelled ichin’.  There’s just something you have to love about women who think that being buried with your recipes so as not to share them is a sin of the highest order.

There’s also a badass supernatural quotient in this book.  I told you before, I’m not gonna give too many details here.  Let’s suffice it to say that Garcia and Stohl have built a pretty enchanting world here.  You are gonna love unraveling it.  Wrap up all that supernatural goodness and put it in a nice package with a southern drawl and you are gonna be instantly charmed.

I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Beautiful Darkness.  I’ve got an advance reading copy from ALA sitting right next to me.  I think I’m gonna take a night off and enjoy a chick flick though.  I could do with a little light to balance out the dark.

As always, happy reading!  And if you’ve read Beautiful Creatures already, I wanna hear from you.  Did I miss something?  Did you think it was about vampires?  Cause, I’m still mulling that one over. 🙂

And So, We Reach the End.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Note: You may find spoilers here.

Recently, I proclaimed my excitement over receiving my copy of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, the final installment in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I have been waiting in anticipation for this novel to be released because I became so deeply attached to the characters and the story in the previous two novels in the series. I was certainly not disappointed by this last chapter. Collins writes this novel with as much intrigue and emotion as the previous novels. I will say, however, that this one depressed me. I think the only reason I came away from the book feeling less than satisfied was due to the level of sadness in this novel. I’m a sucker for happy endings. However, I found that the emotional nature of this book made it far more realistic (given the content), than if the novel had been a happy fairy tale ending to the series.

Katniss does not live in a happy fairy tale world. The future, dystopian society in which she lives is full of very real problems and struggles. The point of this novel, and the series thus far, has never been about giving Katniss her fairy tale ending, in my opinion. Sorry, if that spoils something for you. However, if you’ve read the first two novels, you probably aren’t expecting this one to be all rainbows and sunshine. Katniss has always been on a journey to find herself, to decide what she values, and to determine what she wants from life. She has struggled in determining her views of right and wrong and in developing her sense of trust.

I don’t want to give away too much plot detail, as I am forever encouraging people to read this series from the beginning. I will just say that this third installment, Mockingjay, is superb. It is suspenseful and gut-wrenching. You won’t be able to put it down. I will warn that it is considerable more violent than the first two installments IMHO. However, it may just be that the violence is of a grander and more random scale, more so than it being more graphic, which gives it such an intense feeling. Also, though you may have already picked this up, this one is sad. Be prepared with a large box of Kleenex!

Finishing a book series is always a bitter sweet moment. One is anxious to see how their favorite characters end up, but is sad to know this is the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole. It is one of the best things I have read in some time, for its emotional qualities and its detailed content. I urge you to read this series if you haven’t and I look forward to seeing what comes next from Ms. Collins.

Breaking News: My Copy of Mockingjay Arrived Today!

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

I am so super EXCITED!!!!!!!

Today, my beautiful copy of the newly released Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins arrived.  This is the third book in the highly popular Hunger Games trilogy.  I cannot wait to begin reading  it.  Too bad I have to go to class tonight.  😦 I have a feeling I won’t get much sleep tonight.  Look forward to a review coming very shortly because this is gonna be a can’t put it down kind of read.  I just know it!

Also on my currently reading list is Star Island by Carl Hiaasen.  Although, I’m gonna take a break from this until I finish Mockingjay.

I just wanted to share my excitement with you.  Stay tuned for my review coming soon!

AAAAAAAHHHHH…….REAL MONSTERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, or Why Freaky is Fabulous

Monster High by Lisi Harrison

Monster High by Lisi Harrison

No, I’m not talking about a fabulous old Nick cartoon, I’m talking about a fabulous new book series.

You may know Lisi Harrison from her Clique and A-List Series.  Well, in September, Lisi is introducing her new series Monster High and I am loving it!  The first volume is aptly titled Monster High and introduces readers to the unique place that is Merston High and the interesting students that attend there.

Melody Carver has just moved to Salem, Oregon from L.A.  Unlike her sister Candace, who has nicknamed their new home bOregon, Melody is excited to move somewhere where looks aren’t top priority.  Although work by her plastic surgeon father has left her visibly flawless, Melody still feels different on the inside.  She appreciates the beauty in individuality.  With one look at her new neighborhood, where every house is as different as the people who live inside them, and Melody knows she’s gonna like it on Radcliffe Way.

Frankie Stein is new, too.  Really new.  15 days new. Not just to Radcliffe Way and Merston High, but to the planet.  Frankie, as evidenced by her name, was built by her father–just like every family member in the long line of Frankenstein monsters before them.  Frankie is just like any other teen girl, except that she is made of metal parts and has to charge herself every night.  However, with the help of Fierce & Flawless Makeup to cover her green skin and her obsessive love of pop culture and shopping, Frankie might just be able to pass for normie.

Monster High by Lisi Harrison Back Cover

Monster High by Lisi Harrison Back Cover

Follow Melody & Frankie as they begin a new year at Merston High, where monsters and normies mix.  New girls trying to fit in at a new school, sounds pretty simple right?  Oh, did I forget to mention that if the normies find out monsters exist, there will be major trouble?  Oh yeah, and Frankie has a tendency to want to fight for the cause of equality and freedom for monsters? And, oops, Melody (a normie) just might be dating Dr. Jekyll, or is it Mr. Hyde?

Monster High is a perfect blend of teen girl drama with the hot supernatural trend.  I found myself delightfully surprised by this novel and am eager to follow along as this series unfolds.  I will warn this first novel introduces a lot of characters.  You might want to read slowly or reread some parts, so you can get them all straight before the series goes further (and possibly delves deeper into the lives of the background characters.  However, you may also choose to just focus on the trials and tribulations of the two main characters: Normie Melody Carver and Monster Frankie Stein.  The novel alternates between the viewpoint of these two characters introducing the normie view of Merston High and the monster view of Merston High.  Melody and Frankie are both admirable protagonists for their real imperfections.  They present a relatable character for young girls who don’t associate with the pretty and popular type.  They take their imperfections and are proud of them, which can hopefully empower young readers.

On a side note, the Monster High book series seems to be just one part of a bigger picture–a Monster High franchise by Mattel in partnership with Hachette Book Group.  Mattel has already released a series of dolls and web content based on the Monster High characters.  I stumbled upon this after seeing a tv commercial for an animated web adventure called Monster High bearing the same pink bow skeleton logo as my Monster High advance copy book.  So, I went and checked it out at http://www.MonsterHigh.com.  This website offers children and teens the opportunity to enroll in Monster High, play games, and watch animated webisodes featuring the Monster High characters.  I will note, however, that the web content and the dolls only feature the monster characters in their more natural monster state.  No normie characters like Melody and her friends here.  Also, in the web series, the monsters attend Monster High, as opposed to Merston High, where there are no normies–just monsters–and a really creepy setting.  However, on its own, the web content and the dolls are quite cute and fun and will definitely broaden the audience for Harrison’s coming book series.

All in all, I’m pumped for the release of Monster High and future titles in the series.  The are just a good, fun read for a rainy day snuggled in bed or a sunny day by the pool.

P.S. Did you catch that Merston High is an anagram of Monster High.  Nice touch Lisi!

P.P.S. Isn’t the cover art adorable? Totally voltage!!!!

P.P.P.S. I haven’t read much of Lisi Harrison’s work before, so I just recently stumbled upon her website:  http://www.lisiharrison.com.  You should go there and check out her blah-g (blog)–it’s fun and funny!

An Evening with Brontë, or Why My Birthday was Super Awesome!

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger Final Cover

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger Final Cover

So, I haven’t been around and there is a sad reason why.  I’ve been reading a lot, but it’s all been pretty mediocre.   And I don’t want to share mediocre with my loyal readers.  But, all that’s about to change.  Friday was my birthday and I decided to celebrate in my own way.  I read two FABULOUS books!  Bonus: They both have ties to the brilliant Brontë sisters (and covers that irk me.)

First, I want to share Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF.  This debut novel was written by the author when she was a 17-year old senior in high school.  I have crazy respect for her for that.  Anyway, 17-year old protagonist Bianca Piper is the DUFF or so she is is called by school playboy, Wesley.  Wesley tells her the DUFF is the Designated Ugly Fat Friend and every group has one.  Even though B hates everything about Wesley and is way too smart to fall for his game, pressures in her life cause her to seek distraction in the form of an enemies with benefits relationship with him.  As she tries so hard to run away from her problems, Bianca may find one more thing she can’t handle…somewhere or someone that makes her comfortable and happy.

Bianca is an awesomely entertaining protagonist…totally brash and off-color and so real for it.  I love that she’s not afraid to tell Wesley exactly what she thinks of him.  She’s also not afraid to admit that girls can use guys just as easily as guys use girls.  She has this crass wit that will leave you doubled over in laughter.  The relationship between Bianca and Wesley is painfully beautiful in its intense teenage emotion.  The author’s voice is highly believable and relatable to any person who has experienced the poisonous nature of teenage emotion and the feeling that life is burying you.  Readers will find themselves rooting for Bianca to find peace with her self and to find serenity in the chaos of her life.

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger ARC Cover

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger ARC Cover

While I often read what some refer to as Pop Tart books, this novel is pretty intelligent.  Fans of classic literature will find well-placed allusions and allegory to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter.  I will warn, however, that this book does not stray from bluntness.  I am quite against censoring what people are exposed to, but for those who care–the language and sexual content in this novel would probably earn it an R-rating.

Look for The DUFF to hit stores in early September.  On a side note, I have to share my thoughts about the book’s cover.  The final cover showcases a freckle-faced dirty blonde with too-blue eyeshadow and a big bubblegum bubble.  After reading this book, I have to say this just doesn’t fit Bianca to me.  Bianca is harsh and edgy and this cover just screams early Britney Spears.  Bianca is not a tween-queen wannabe.  I wish they would have stuck with the cover on my ARC.  I thought this cover was gorgeous.  The cover model with dark hair, blunt bangs, and no makeup seems much more appropriate.  Her pursed red lips and piercing blue eyes have this perfect combination of loneliness with a tough exterior.  But hey, cover design isn’t up to me.

Jane by April Lindner

Jane by April Lindner

On to a book with a much bigger and obvious Brontë connection–Jane by April Lindner.  This novel is presented as a modern retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.  Given that it would be a very subjective topic, I will not address whether classics should be retold or whether this a good retelling.  I am just going to share my thoughts about the book on its own.  I LOVED IT! I could not put this one down, which was so welcome after reading a string of mediocre titles.

Jane Moore is down on her luck.  A tragic accident claimed her parents’ lives and forced her to drop out of a prestigious college.  She goes to a nanny agency in search of work, so that she may save up the money to go back to school.  Being intelligent and unphased by popular culture, she becomes the perfect candidate for a position at wealthy rockstar, Nico Rathburn’s, estate.  Once at Thornfield Park, she quickly develops a close bond with Nico’s daughter, Maddy, and in turn Nico, himself.  In a world that seems perfect from the outside, Jane is forced to confront the many secrets hidden inside.  Jane must decide what it means to be successful in life and what she’s willing to give for love.

Jane is an admirable protagonist.  She is independent and level-headed, always doing what she thinks is right and doing what she has to do for herself.  I love how she calls Nico on his crap (he does too.)  Readers will enjoy watching Jane soften and open up to those around her.  There are many lessons about life and love to be learned along with Jane as she finds her way in the world.  Nico is equally as likable.  A girl can’t help but be intrigued by a sexy, tortured rock star.  Plus, he’s adorably loving of his daughter.  Female readers will find themselves swooning over Nico and wishing they were Jane.

I thought that the writing of this book was refreshingly intelligent and well-worded.  I enjoyed being challenged by the vocabulary, but that might be my nerdy side coming out.  It was also deeply beautiful and moving.  I found myself crying on many occasions and overwhelmed with emotion throughout.  Fans of romance will enjoy this modern classic.  I enjoyed every minute of it.

Jane is coming to a store near you in October.  On a cover note here, as well, my ARC cover was plain–a pink title on a solid pastel blue background.  Amazon shows a cover with a girl in a sweater and flowy skirt walking on a foggy plain at dusk.  I hope they change this cover.  If not, please don’t be fooled by this photo!  It is more reminiscent of the original Jane Eyre, than the rock and roll retelling in Lindner’s Jane. Jane Moore is a rock star’s nanny in New England.  She does not go running forlornly across the plain. EVER.

All in all, it was a good birthday!  I especially enjoyed curling up in bed with these two great reads.  I highly suggest you check them out when they are released.  Happy reading!

Heartbreakingly Beautiful, or Why Tragedy Can Make a Person So Endearing

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James

O.M.G.

I am totally reeling after reading Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James.  This fast-paced psychological thriller is intense, but I loved every moment of it.

17-year old Katherine Patterson has suffered a terrible tragedy. (I won’t share it here because, although I had some idea of what happened prior to reading this novel and some reviews give it away, unraveling all the details of Katherine’s past is one of the most suspenseful aspects of this novel.) But, Katherine has moved to the city to start a new life.  Her many attempts at remaining alone and aloof are easily squashed by the beautiful, exciting Alice, who wants to be her friend.  Katherine, who has spent a long time being sad and avoiding any traces of her old party-girl lifestyle, is easily persuaded to take up Alice’s fun and relaxed ways.  But is Alice really as carefree as she seems, or does her beautiful exterior only hide terrible secrets?

This book is so many things at once–thrilling, seductive, touching, intriguing, scary.  Told in alternating settings of past present and future, readers of this novel won’t be able to help but wonder if Katherine will ever overcome the tragedies of her past or if she is destined to end up far worse off.  This novel will hook you from the opening page and keep you guessing throughout.  I couldn’t put it down.

This book was published for adults by Random House, under the Bantam imprint.  When it was promoted at the Random House Fall Preview for adult titles, it was mentioned that it would also appeal to young adults.  Upon reading it, I found that it would definitely be appropriate and appealing to the young adult reader.  The underlying path of the story finds the 17-year old protagonist coming to terms with what it means to grow up.  I would recommend this to a certain type of young adult reader.  However, I will warn those of you reading this review that the novel is quite dark.

I was prepared to tell you to look for it on August 31st , as that’s what my advance copy claims it’s release date to be.  However, upon doing a little further research, it turns out that this book was actually released last week.  Lucky you! You should really go out and get yourself a copy.