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.
My Take: Phew, this one was not what I had anticipated. In a lot of ways I wound up feeling disappointed and frustrated, but there were some things I enjoyed -- the language was lovely in places, and the characters' strong personalities really resonated.
My conclusion: While I appreciated some aspects of the novel, and I definitely found myself wanting to find out what was going to happen, I found myself disappointed by the end. I wanted to like both of the main characters a bit more (though I so appreciated something Roxanne Gay says in Bad Feminist -- we shouldn't (I'm paraphrasing here) be reading books to find characters that are likeable! I this that is an excellent point, but I couldn't relate to either of the women in this story enough.) 3/5 stars.
Dane Huckelbridge’s Castle of Water is a story about two strangers, Barry and Sophie, who are on a small plane that crashes into the ocean. They end up on a small, deserted island where they have to learn to survive . . . and to live together.
Phew... We had so much to say about this book! It was so fun to discuss, and we could've dug into it for much longer.
My Take: I enjoyed this story very much. The language is breathtakingly beautiful, and the perspective (that includes some rather cosmic examinations of the two main characters and their predicament) is quite interesting. The role of art in the novel is also powerful and gripping. The best part of the book? I appreciate it more each time I think about it, which is a great complement to a book!
My conclusion: Upon my first reading, there were a few facets of the plot line about which I felt a little critical. (To avoid spoilers, I will not specify what those were, but I will say they mostly occurred toward the end of the book.) However, the more we discussed the book (both at book club and then with the podcast crew), the more those tiny details fell away and the stark beauty of the story--one of survival, love, and hope--remained. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: How can I choose? The quotable passages are endless. Here's just a small sampling.
Teaching Tips: This book would be an amazing one for lit circles and could stand up to a whole class reading with advanced/ AP students.
Podcast Highlights: I so LOVED listening to Jen read the passage about rowing from the novel (which was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of the work as a whole), and I thought after our discussion that I could enjoy this book all over again by listening to it as an audio book.
Quick Summary: Tell Me Three Things is a story about the difficulty of loss and the power of relationships to help people move through grief. In the story, Jessie has lost her mom and has moved with her father to California where she lives with his new wife and her son. She has contact with an online “advisor” from her school whose identity is secret. The “advisor” becomes a comfort and a source of strength for Jessie.
My Take: While this kind of novel is not exactly my favorite genre, I really enjoyed the characters in this one and appreciated the way that Buxbaum got into more complex issues such as death, grief, blended families, and the challenges of navigating major life changes.
My conclusion: While I did enjoy many aspects of this novel, I struggled with the plausibility of some of it, and I didn't completely buy the ending. I will say that my Unabridged cohosts loved it so much, and I found that I appreciated the book much more after our podcast discussion! 3/5 stars.
Teaching Tips: This novel would work really well in lit circles. It has plenty of discussion points and could work well in a lit circle group focusing on grief, blended families, family relations, or coming of age.
Podcast Highlights: I loved our argument about the love components of this novel. I sound like such a cynic! (Even listening back, I still agree with my side of the issue, but I'm cracking up at my stubbornness!) Really, folks, it's such a sweet story. And I did love Ethan. In spite of myself.
Quick Summary: This story centers on Aza Holmes, a high school student grappling with the loss of her father and learning to live with her crippling anxiety. She and her best friend Daisy get wrapped up in a mystery involving a reward for finding a missing billionaire; they get to know (or in Aza's case, reconnect with...) his son, Davis, whose mom died and who has to find his way to help his brother now that their dad is gone, too. John Green brings the issues of anxiety to the forefront of this gripping novel, showing readers firsthand what it's like to be in the thick of that spiral.
My Take: LOVE. IT. This is an awesome book that showcases an in-depth character study of a teenager facing tremendous anxiety. I love the way Green examines all sides of the issue, from her perspective as well as the perspective of friends and family. He does an awesome job of showing that there are no easy answers and that living with anxiety does not mean that a person overcomes it. The characters are vibrant and three-dimensional, and they suck you in immediately.
My conclusion: This is a brilliant novel dealing with the realities of so many vital issues connected to mental health and relationships. Green does an awesome job of demonstrating for a teen audience (as well as adults) what the world is like for a chronically anxious person. 5/5 stars.
Favorite Quotes: Phew, there are SO many. Here are a few...
"You think, it's like a brain fire. Like a rodent gnawing you from the inside. A knife in your gut. A spiral. A whirlpool. Black hole. The words used to describe it--despair, fear, anxiety, obsession--do so little to communicate it. Maybe we invented metaphor as a response to pain. Maybe we needed to give shape to the opaque, deep-down pain that evades both sense and senses." - So often in the novel, Aza so clearly articulates her suffering. Green does an amazing job of showing through Aza how a person can both understand her situation and be totally unable to control it.
"Every loss is unprecedented. You can't ever know someone else's hurt, not really-- just like touching someone else's body isn't the same as having someone else's body." While my analysis and much of our podcast discussion focused on Green's portrayal of anxiety, the role of grief is also pivotal in this novel, and he shows how the loss of Aza's father shapes her and wounds her.
What I added to my TBR list: First off all, I love. love. love All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven that Jen used as her pairing. I was interested in both Jenni and Sara's pairings, but I think based on the reading load I have right now, I'll add The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which sounds like a hilarious and touching approach to the challenge of relationships.
Teaching Tips: This novel would work really well in a high school classroom. It certainly complements a classroom library, but it could easily be taught whole class or as part of lit circles. As we discussed in the podcast, an author study would be a great way to utilize Green's novels while finding different works to reach different readers.
Podcast Highlights: I so loved what Jenni shared about how it feels to be in the midst of an anxiety spiral, as well as what she shared as far as feeling like "the mustard" sometimes in life. It was fascinating to see how each of us viewed the novel; while we all loved it, I enjoyed seeing the different aspects that each of us appreciated.
One More Thing: I so loved this NYT article about John Green's own struggle with anxiety. It's well worth a read. I especially appreciated what Green said about sharing his experiences: “I want to talk about it, and not feel any embarrassment or shame,” he said, “because I think it’s important for people to hear from adults who have good fulfilling lives and manage chronic mental illness as part of those good fulfilling lives.”
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.