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.”
Quick Summary: Everything, Everything is a super quick read about a teenage girl, Maddie, who cannot leave her house under any circumstances because of a rare disease. She has spent her entire life inside her house with only her mom and a nurse and her books for company. Maddie's brother and father were killed in an accident while she was just an infant, and shortly afterwards she was critically ill, resulting in her having to never leave the house again. When Olly moves in next door, Maddie realizes that she might not be content with staying inside forever. (Photo credit: Sara; check out her Meaningful Madness site)
My Take: Nicola Yoon does a great job with the difficult task of taking on a difficult issue, chronic illness, with a tender examination of all sides of the issue. Although Maddie could easily be both self-pitying and self-absorbed, Yoon shows her as a tender, compassionate teenager who loves her mother dearly but struggles to control the feelings she's developing for the boy next door. I love Maddie's characterization and the way Yoon crafts it; her journal entries and sketches in the book greatly enhance our understanding, and the text and online conversations between her and Olly show the contemporary nature of the novel while maintaining timeless motifs such as star-crossed love, the role of fate and choice, the impact of grief, and the challenges of coming of age.
My conclusion: Although this kind of romance book is not often my favorite style, I couldn't help but love Maddie and her tender relationships with her mother, her nurse, and Olly. The way that Yoon showed Maddie's struggle to maintain optimism and control in the face of such difficult circumstances makes Maddie so relatable. I loved how fast the book moved and how swept up it made me feel. 4/5 stars.
"Sometimes you do things for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones and sometimes it’s impossible to tell the difference." - This story really highlights how you can love someone dearly and still manage to make lots of choices that hurt that person.
"My heart is too bruised and I want to keep the pain as a reminder. I don't want sunlight on it. I don't want it to heal. Because if it does, I might be tempted to use it again." - I love how this novel has a unique plot and characters while demonstrating at the same time a rather classic depiction of teenage love with all its glory and pain.
What I added to my TBR list: I had read and loved both Jenni's and Sara's picks. Jen's pick, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, sounds awesome! The premise, navigating arranged marriage, is compelling, and the opposing nature of the two main characters sounds fascinating.
Teaching Tips: This novel is totally readable in any high school classroom. Students will love the fast pace and relatable characters. I'd definitely have it on my shelf and would recommend it to a wide range of students. (Those who love Sarah Dessen and Stephanie Perkins would be good fits, but Yoon can also appeal to fans of Jennifer Niven, John Green, and so many other authors!)
Quick Summary: The protagonist of Backman’s novel is Swedish seven-year-old Elsa (who is "almost eight"). She loves her grandmother but has a conflicted relationship with her mother. She quickly comes to discover that her grandmother is dying. Her grandmother directs Elsa to deliver a series of apology letters through which Elsa has to come to terms with a very different picture of her grandmother than the one she knew. Backman unveils her grandmother’s connections to the other characters as the story unfolds. (Photo credit: Sara; check out her Meaningful Madness site)
My Take: I found this one a bit slow moving at first, but I quickly grew to love Elsa, and I found myself empathizing with her struggle to understand the way the world was shifting around her. Elsa has to confront the harsh realities of the world, one filled with loss, cruelty, isolation, and unimaginable courage. Although she mourns the loss of her grandmother, she grows to discover the truth about her grandmother's life and comes to love the people who had been precious to her grandmother.
My conclusion: Though I had to warm up to this one, it has left a tender impression on my heart. I'm a fan. I wanted a bit more explanation in places, and I could've used a few more tied up ends, but I really loved it overall. 4/5 stars.
"The mightiest power of death is not that it can make people die, but that it can make the people left behind want to stop living." - This book has some raw moments when it comes to capturing the pain of grief and the way it can entirely consume a person.
"Grow up and be different and don’t let anyone tell you not to be different, because all superheroes are different." - Yes! I love the way her grandmother empowers Elsa to be courageous and to be her own person.
"People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will ‘lessen as time passes’, but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyse us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it." - As I mentioned above, the way that Backman can show the depth of grief is one of the best aspects of this novel.
What I added to my TBR list: Fannie Flagg’s Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
Sara recommended this one, and it sounded great. I have never read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, but I grew up (in Georgia) watching that movie. Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man sounds like a captivating story, and I'll be checking it out soon!
Teaching Tips: This would work well as a lit circle book for upper level junior or senior classes. It certainly holds up to analysis and could be grouped with other books about grief, secrets, reconciliation, or coming of age.
Podcast Highlights: I loved when Jenni talked about the Worst and said, "It's a dog. Just call it a dog!" Jen made a great point about the grandmother when she talked about her own grandma and how she was "her person" and she knew that her grandma always supported her no matter what. I also really enjoyed our discussion about the way that the magic in her life changed and faded as she learned more about reality.
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.