Quick Summary: This episode is about This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Parents Rosie and Penn struggle with balancing the needs of their five children, navigating their inclination both to support and to protect their youngest child who is exploring gender identity. This is the story of a family who is doing their best, despite all of the uncertainty, to help themselves navigate their way in the world.
My Take: I absolutely loved this tender depiction of a family of seven as they worked to navigate their way through the world together. Frankel's depiction of Claude's journey as he transitioned into Poppy was powerful and compassionate, and Frankel never suggested that Rosie and Penn knew the way forward or had all the answers, but she instead revealed the daily pathway they all took toward a better, truer life for themselves and all of their children.
My conclusion: This book was a clear winner for me. While I did not fly through it, the prose was elegant and whimsical, and I was swept away by the characters and their journey. I so appreciated Frankel's portrayal of parenting and how hard it is to know the right thing to do, and I loved her honest, raw depiction of what transitioning can be like for a transgender child who is aware from early childhood that she is a girl. 5/5 stars.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan, chronicles the journey of Leigh Chen Sanders as she goes to her mother’s homeland, Taiwan, in order to bring about some resolution for her mother (and herself) after her mother’s suicide. Shortly after her mother’s death, Leigh discovers that her mother has become a beautiful red bird, and she pursues the bird, which takes Leigh on a journey into the collective past of her family.
My Take: This book was stunningly beautiful. I also found it deeply painful to read. For a large portion of the book, I was worried that there was no hope for redemption or peace. The premise makes it clear that there is no hope for Leigh's mom (at least in her bodily form on this earth) as she has already succumbed to suicide as the book opens. However, I was completely captivated, and I found the twists and turns and magical realism that Pan weaves so smoothly into the text to be both compelling and comforting.
My conclusion: This was a stunning novel. Throughout much of the novel, I felt like I couldn't imagine feeling hopeful by the end, but it is remarkably uplifting considering the heavy content and premise. It was captivating, eloquent, and artistic. In short, I loved it. I was teary throughout much of it, but I found it cathartic and hopeful. Well done, Ms. Pan. I look forward to more works by this talented author. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: The memorable, gorgeous quotes are endless. I was taking photos of pages to capture the passages, and I truly felt that I could have photographed every page. I cannot believe this is Pan's first novel! Here are a few of the ones I loved.
Teaching Tips: This novel would be a great choice for lit circles, and it would work well with other works about grief, coping with loss, family dynamics, cross-cultural families, and second generation Americans.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.