I'd been sold on the hype of this book, and the premise is intriguing. What attracts girls to Charles Manson-like cults? How are young women open to mI'd been sold on the hype of this book, and the premise is intriguing. What attracts girls to Charles Manson-like cults? How are young women open to manipulation and exploitation especially by a smooth talker oozing charisma? Unfortunately, the book doesn't deliver on the promised exploration of this phenomenon.
Evie Boyd is a bored 14 year-old. While her divorced parents are very inattentive, she isn't abused or neglected. In fact, thanks to the inherited money accumulated by her grandmother's acting career, she and her mother enjoy cush shiftless lives of relative luxury. Evie is not likeable. It is hard to feel sorry for her when she gets mixed in the Manson-like cult. Her father divorced her mother and moved to another city. Her mother is preoccupied with her new boyfriend whom Evie doesn't like. Then Evie and her best friend have a falling out partly due to her puppy dog crush on her brother. Feeling lonely and dissatisfied, this sets Evie up to be taken advantage of. Then one day she is bored in the park when she spies three girls, and Suzanne instantly attracts her attention with her easy carefree sexuality, attitude of contempt for the world, and dirty hippie garb. Suzanne is exotic and mysterious and very different from the nice clean world in which Evie lives. She follows the girls and watches them dumpsterdive behind a restuarant only to be chased off by an employee clutching their spoils, and it is terribly exciting.
Her and the cult girls' paths cross twice more. The second time Evie's bike breaks down, and she eagerly agrees when one of the girls suggest she return with them to the ranch outside of town where they are living in utter squalor although they sell it as a paradise on earth. Evie is given alcohol and recreational drugs. She is thrilled to meet Russell (fictionalized Charles Manson) whom all the girls worship, obey, and have sex with. He graces Evie with his attention for which she feels flattered even if he did then coerce her into performing oral sex on him in return for this attention. Afterwards she reflected on how well he took it when she recoiled in horror and then frightenly submitted much to her own disgust. Wanting to be like the cool cult girls, she swept away her own bad feelings about the encounter, determined to embrace Russell like Suzanne does.
She begins spending all the time she can at the ranch. She finds slumming to be thrilling and willfully ignores the depravity, chaos, poverty, child abuse, and sexual exploitation all around her. Of course, she goes home at night to her empty but clean stable home with a stocked refrigeration and ample supply of spending money. Although her sexual encounters with Russell and later Mitch left her feeling dirty and used, they also give her a feeling of superiority over her former bestfriend who naively spends the summer drinking orange soda and going to the swimming pool with other Mary Sues. She silently gloats to herself about her new friend Suzanne.
Evie is instantly and deeply infatuated with Suzanne. At times their relationship is sister-like, at times it is loosely mother-daughter, but most of time they are frenemies. Suzanne casually feeds Evie to the wolves, and Evie keeps coming back for more. When Russell sends Suzanne and Evie as a sexual bribe to Mitch, a famous musician who was briefly bespelled by Russell's spiritual message, to ensure his help securing Russell a record deal, Suzanne pulls Evie out of the guest bedroom to (view spoiler)[lose her virginity to the fat perv in a threesome (hide spoiler)]. That was the only time I really pitied Evie. Because a person imprints on his/her initial sexual experiences, Evie had just been set up for a lifetime of repeating the pattern of being used by others. Russell had picked Suzanne up in a strip club, and Suzanne found having sex at random with whomever asked or offered to be no big deal, so she had no qualms about pimping Evie on Russell's orders despite knowing she was only 14 and sexually inexperienced at best. (view spoiler)[During this encounter, Suzanne also has sex with Evie, and because this contact was at least physically enjoyable, Evie falls deeper in enthrall with Suzanne. (hide spoiler)] Even at the very end after the murders, when Evie finally has the epiphany that Suzanne "is not a nice person," she remains obsessed with her.
The author fails to present Russell as charismatic. He says very little and rarely appears on stage in the story, and when he does appear, very little about him is flattering, so there is no good explanation for why the girls are drawn to him. The author says in the narrative that the girls were sad and abused, but there is nothing aside from this narrative assertive to substantiate this claim. It is a real missed opportunity that Russell did not have a real speaking part. He does a bit of smooth talking when Evie first meets him, which does would him appear wise, understanding, and messiah-like in a young girl's eyes, but this is the only time in the entire story where the reader witnesses his forked honeyed tongue. Hippie, free love, anti-capitalist, utopia dialogue would have gone a long way in demonstrating his appeal. What Evie observes is dirty abject poverty and sexual exploitation, which for unexplained reasons she finds as captivating as the girls in Russell's cult. This book claimed to describe the vulnerability that could lead girls down such a terrible path, but it doesn't.
Occasionally, the author will make generalizations as if they are truths, but those ultimately explain nothing. For example on page 281, "I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe in yourself." Considering the source of wealth for the last three generations of Evie's family was her grandmother, the story doesn't support this claim. Evie felt like a disappointment because she was neither very pretty nor very smart, and because no one in her family had to work for living, she had grown up directionless with no work ethic, but she never seemed to lack the ability to believe in herself. She had quite a bit a gumption. While at a sleepover at her best friend's house before their falling out, she (view spoiler)[waited until her friend was asleep and then climbed into bed with her friend's sleeping brother in an attempt to seduce him into consummating her feelings for him. Mercifully, he had the decency to send her back to his sister's room after fondling her a little (hide spoiler)]. When her crush's friend embarrassed her, she pushed over his motorcycle. The second time she sees Suzanne she marches up to her, introduces herself, and volunteers to steal something for her.
There was also no point in telling this story in flashbacks. Evie having run through all her grandmother's money, moving from one menial job to another adds nothing, and continuing to moon over Suzanne adds nothing except to show that regret and experience has taught her absolutely nothing. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A diverse group of children stumble across a dead bird on their way to play in the park. They know the bird is dead because it had no heart beat and iA diverse group of children stumble across a dead bird on their way to play in the park. They know the bird is dead because it had no heart beat and it was cold and still. They were sorry it was dead and could never fly again. Imitating grownups, they hold an impromptu funeral for the bird, wrapping in ferns for a shroud, singing a lament, placing a headstone, and planting flowers on its grave. In the days that followed, they continued to visit the graveside until they forgot.
This is a rather touching story. Margaret Wise Brown revolutionized children's literature with Goodnight Moon by insisting that instead of the fairy tales and fantasy that traditionally made up the bulk of stories marketed to young people, children wanted to read books that reflected the world around them and their own experience. With The Dead Bird, Brown tackles the issue of death. This would be a good introduction to the concept especially if the reader is secular. There is no mention -- either for or against -- of an afterlife. Rather death is a reality the children encounter, comprehend, and accept with sadness. They mourn the loss of possibility accompanying the loss of life: now the bird will never fly or sing again.
The Imperial Walkers were all my time favorite type of Star Wars transport. I still recall my awe when they first appeared out of the mist at the battThe Imperial Walkers were all my time favorite type of Star Wars transport. I still recall my awe when they first appeared out of the mist at the battle of Hoth.
AT-AT Attack! is the very simplified account of the Imperial attack on the rebel's base on Hoth from the film "The Empire Strikes Back" done in a beginning reader format accompanied by cartoonish illustrations. ...more
This is fantasy novel, but it's not high fantasy, so there is no new world to learn. It's rural Illinois with all its small town drama amplified by ocThis is fantasy novel, but it's not high fantasy, so there is no new world to learn. It's rural Illinois with all its small town drama amplified by occasional magic.
The story begins in medias res. Finn is mourning the loss of Rosa whom he saw abducted by a mysterious [supernatural] being in a black SUV. To him, Rosa was a mother figure, but to his brother Sean she was his love, his comfort, and the woman he wanted to marry. No one believes Finn's abduction story and instead believe Rosa simply left of her own free will as unexpectedly and mysteriously as she had appeared. Sean believes Rosa walked out of his and his brother's lives because she didn't love him and didn't want to be with them anymore, and Sean's ragged unspoken grief compounds Finn's. Finn is desperate to find Rosa especially when her kidnapper reappears to taunt him.
But, of course, in addition to supernatural danger and magical happenings, Finn still has homework to do, SATs to study for, and college application essays to write. Finn gets his own love theme as well. He forms an ever deepening bond with Pricilla aka "Petey." Their relationship is really a beautiful example of positive teen sexuality. It is also a good example of how someone's own personal hang-ups and insecurities can have devastating affects on his/her relationship. Finn loves Petey for what she does rather than what she looks like (not that he doesn't think she is very pretty because he does). He likes that she is a fearless and skilled beekeeper. He likes that she will march in and take charge of a situation. He likes how she roars around town on her moped and doesn't -- surfacely -- care what anyone thinks. He likes how she speaks her mind and all the jokes they share and that she will sit up with him on nights he can't sleep. And he likes that she doesn't dismiss him as a dreamy, space cadet, "moonface" weirdo like the rest of the town. She believes him when no one else, except his friend Miguel, does. She can see him as he sees himself. Petey, however, cannot accept that Finn likes her (with only "slightly dishonorable intentions" because he is a teenage boy spring-loaded on hormones after all).
Told with brightly colored illustrations, The Goodbye Book walks the reader through the different emotional and behavioral responses to grief, endingTold with brightly colored illustrations, The Goodbye Book walks the reader through the different emotional and behavioral responses to grief, ending with acceptance. It is perfect for caregivers of children who have suffered a loss whether through death or something more benign like a move....more
Full Disclosure: I received a free ARC from the Publisher.
Grayling is the daughter of a wise woman (aka witch) in a medieval fantasy world. She livesFull Disclosure: I received a free ARC from the Publisher.
Grayling is the daughter of a wise woman (aka witch) in a medieval fantasy world. She lives a quiet life in the shadow of an austere mother quick to criticize but slow to praise. Her world is abruptly shattered one morning when an evil force sets fire to their cottage, steals the family grimoire, and transforms her mother into a tree. Armed only with a basket of potions salvaged from their charred home, Grayling sets timidly off in search of other wise folk. She quickly discovers that dark magic that attacked her mother has also struck the kingdom's other magic practitioners.
With all of the adept witches and wizards in the kingdom have been turned into trees, Grayling collects a band of equally inept cunning folk. Together they follow the song of Grayling's grimoire hoping to discover the source of the evil force and break the spell that transformed the wise folk into trees. There is a weather witch who can call lightning but not properly aim its strike, her whiney bumbling niece, an enchantress who can entrance any male within reach but who has no practical skills, and a completely incompetent wizard from the kingdom's famous wizard school who believes in magical cheese. Their ragtag band also expands to include an apprentice paper maker with no magical abilities (AKA muggle). Her most useful companion is a mouse named Pook.
Pook is my favorite character in the book and a nice twist the animal familiar. On Grayling's first night away from home, he ate the contents of her basket, thus destroying what little protection she had left from her mother. Because he ate the wishing potion, and Grayling wished he could talk, he can talk. Because he ate the shapeshifting potion, he can shapeshift, although he can only change when startled instead of at will. Because he ate the binding potion, he is loyal to Grayling and helps her to the very end.
Karen Cushman is known for her historical fiction, and in Grayling's Song she blends history into fantasy for the first time. Like Cushman's other heroines, Grayling is a preteen who is doubts her own abilities until something unexpected transforms her idea of herself and shows her that she is strong and capable albeit in her own way. Her experience also changes her worldview and wants she wants from life. This book would be great for middle grade girls, and it is mercifully free of the graphic violence that permeates much of contemporary fiction even works marketed to young people. Grayling does fall into some dangerous situations; however, she is able to escape frightened but virtually unscathed with the help of her companions and her own quick thinking as well as help from her magical mouse. It is an exciting but gentle read.
While I love the idea of having a social awareness A to Z, the vocabulary and content are outrageously high for a board book. It was also very strangeWhile I love the idea of having a social awareness A to Z, the vocabulary and content are outrageously high for a board book. It was also very strange that considering how wildly left-leaning this is, for "d" democracy states "Donkeys don't get it." Is this book a satire about "liberals?" And why is "v" "vox" instead of "voice" or "vote"? ...more
The Sound of Gravel is an ultra-compelling story. Ruth Wariner is her mother’s four child and her father’s thirty-ninth. Her mother was the fifth wifeThe Sound of Gravel is an ultra-compelling story. Ruth Wariner is her mother’s four child and her father’s thirty-ninth. Her mother was the fifth wife of Joel LeBaron, “the prophet” of the LeBaron fundamentalist Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico. Ruth’s father died while she was still an infant after which her mother became the second of her step-father Lane’s four wives. I can understand why men are drawn to polygamist cults like this. It feeds their egos, gives them an exaggerated idea of their own manhood, and allows them to indulge their carnal desires all justified in the name of religion. No matter what losers they are, their wives will fight over who gets to take care of them and spend time with them, and because taking multiple wives and siring as many children as possible is a tenet of their religion and not a personal choice, they are under no obligation or responsibility to support their families. For women like Ruth’s mother who choose to stay despite the terrible cost to themselves and their children, I can’t understand it. That poor deluded woman who was perfectly willing to sacrifice their children for a promised afterlife, how could she do it?
Ruth’s childhood is gut-wrenchingly sad. Her mother is a true believer, and as a result she subjects herself and her children to abject poverty and squalid living conditions in the name of eternal salvation and protection against the ever-impending End of Days. Because all of the men in the colony have more wives and children than they can possibly afford, all of the women in the community commit welfare fraud via false addresses in the United States. While lying and stealing are generally considered “sins,” as one of the colony’s main sources of funding, everyone feels entitled to take advantage of Babylon’s (aka the United States’) generous social benefits. Because they are “doing the Lord’s work,” they deserve to have someone else support them in their chosen lifestyle.
And it’s not just poverty that mars Ruth’s early life. It is constant instability. Her mother and step-father move the family around with no regard for the children’s welfare. They don’t care about their living conditions, or their education, or their basic levels of sanitation. The defining factor of Ruth's mother's home in the colony is “the smell of mouse droppings.” A lot of the time they didn't have electricity or running water. Fellow residents of their trailer park in Texas reported the family to Child Protective Services, and there is almost a moment when the reader thinks Ruth and her siblings will be taken away and given a chance in life, but Ruth's mother manages to lie her way out of the situation ... although she does get two years probation during which the family has a greater than usual degree of stability.
Her mother Kathy produces children, some of whom have serious cognitive and developmental disabilities, at an alarming rate, and unlike her second husband’s Mexican first wife, it is beyond her ability to care for them in even the most elemental way. While Alejandra can cook, clean, and sew and taught her daughters to cook, clean and sew as well, Kathy’s only domestic skill seems to be baking bread in tin cans and getting pregnant. As the oldest girl without a disability, Ruth is the default caretaker expected to take up the slack from her mother. She was forced to leave school to help with her younger half-siblings. While Ruth’s half- and step-siblings are clean and at least moderately well dressed (perhaps their relatives in the United States send them money to assist; Lane is a total deadbeat), she and the children in her mother’s household are almost exclusively filthy and dressed in a dirty hodgepodge of ragged clothing. They are barely fed, and aside from the time they spent in California with her mother’s parents, they subsist on homemade bread, beans, and rice.
After over a decade of low level abuse, Ruth finally has an epiphany. "I realized then that I couldn't count on [my mother's] promises and began to wonder why she didn't seem able to protect my siblings and me. I just couldn't understand it." As if living in squalor and instability isn’t bad enough, Ruth’s mother cannot even keep her children physically safe from their stepfather. Ruth’s step-father molested her for years and years. She told her mother the first time, and her mother “talked” to him after which he promised it wouldn’t happen again. He then continued to molest her for years. When she and two of his other step-daughters finally came forward, much to the dismay of his wives, the Elders banned him from the colony for two years. Surprisingly -- or unsurprisingly depending upon your experience -- the adult women blamed the victims. The girls were “pretty,” so naturally he would be sexually attracted to them. They enjoyed him touching them. He was just grooming them for their husbands. It could have been worse -- meaning that it was only fondling and no penetration, and they were just being spoiled brats about it. They should consider how much their step-father has suffered and how humiliating the accusations were for him. They are ruining his life by continuing to bring up his sexual abuse. They need to forgive like Jesus says in the Bible. It is disgusting.
Tragically, (view spoiler)[it is only the death of their mother (hide spoiler)] that allows Ruth and her surviving maternal siblings to escape to a life of relative safety and stability with their extended family in the United States. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
If your child is uncooperative when getting dressed, then this book may help. Dragons like underwear, capes, socks, and shorts, but they don't like shIf your child is uncooperative when getting dressed, then this book may help. Dragons like underwear, capes, socks, and shorts, but they don't like shirts, pants, shoes, or large hats. But they need to get dressed if they want to go outside and play....more
A book featuring a narwhal! Poor Wendell wants to be a musician but lacks the ability to make significant sounds. He is deeply hurt by this failure unA book featuring a narwhal! Poor Wendell wants to be a musician but lacks the ability to make significant sounds. He is deeply hurt by this failure until a clever jelly fish finds a way to include Wendell in the ocean's cacophonous symphony....more
As Orwell wrote in 1984, "The consequences of every act are included in the act itself." And this book is set up to break your heart. It's a very poweAs Orwell wrote in 1984, "The consequences of every act are included in the act itself." And this book is set up to break your heart. It's a very powerful story, but from the moment it begins, tragedy is destined to ensue. Amanda has completed her male-to-female transition, and desperate to start a new life where no one knew her as Andrew, she goes to live with her estranged who is only begrudgingly tolerant in an even smaller town in their conservative Southern state. On the first day of school she meets Grant to whom she feels an immediate attraction. The attraction is mutual, and Grant pursues Amanda. At first, Amanda tries to sidestep him, but she quickly finds herself falling for him. As their relationship develops, she wants to be honest with him about her past but cannot bring herself to shatter this unlooked for happiness. Of course, this cannot end in any way other than disaster.
What is unique about this book is that the story is set after. This isn't a coming out story. It is the story of what happens after someone comes out, after someone decides to transition, after someone's transition is complete. It does oversimplify and gloss over many of the physical aspects of transition. Amanda's physical transition is unusually quick and uncomplicated. Once she comes out, she almost instantly transitions and then is ready to start her new authentic life. The focus is on the inner emotional life of a trans teenager rather the physical details that can overshadow everything.
When she begins the school year, Amanda had just intended to lie low until she finished graduated high school and then go to college somewhere open-minded and liberal. This probably would have been the best possible plan, but then her life gets in the way. Not only does Amanda not lie low, she become very popular. (view spoiler)[When she was nominated for homecoming court, I just wanted to scream because that was guaranteed to backfire in a horribly dramatic way, which is naturally did (hide spoiler)]. She also chooses the absolute wrong person in whom to confide.
The tension is that it is only fair to disclose such a major event in her past to any potential partners, but the cost of the truth is to alienate the majority of her peer group. It is also something that has the potential to get her killed either way. Several times throughout the narrative, Amanda fearfully acknowledges that girls like her have been killed or could be killed in situations like her own but then continues to play with fire anyway. Mercifully, no serious acts of violence take place during this story. (view spoiler)[The star football player attempts some retribution upon Amanda for being sexually attracted to her, but he is foiled in the nick of time. Ironically, Grant is the one who is blamed for this attempted assault and receives the smackdown from Amanda's father. (hide spoiler)] The ending is hopeful but not unrealistically so.
It is easy to criticize Grant's reaction when the truth about Amanda blew up in his face. We all wanted Grant to be the exception rather than the rule. We didn't want him to recoil in heartbreaking, horrified surprise. We didn't want him to try to save face in front of his friends from the football team. We wanted him to accept the truth without flinching and publicly defend Amanda no matter how he personally felt in that moment. We wanted him to question nothing about their relationship. We wanted him to be unrealistically extraordinary and display a level of clarity, calm, self-control, and self-awareness as well as a lack of self-interest of which most teenagers honestly aren't capable. We wanted him to be the hero, and he disappointed us. Yes, he took the revelation very badly, but to be fair he also completely blindsided in front of his classmates. He may have (probably would have) reacted very differently if this revelation had occurred one-on-one in private. Grant also had a right to be hurt and angry and feel betrayed. Amanda unintentionally manipulated him and placed him a position likely to cause him to call his entire sexuality into question. Straight-identifying teenage boys in very conservative communities tend to react badly to this. Hence, the danger of GLBTQ individuals being subjected to violence. Yes, Amanda did try to tell Grant more than once, but when he blew off her objections not realizing the gravity of what she needed to tell him, she just let the matter drop. She owed it to Grant to put her foot down on his gallantry and tell him with a straight shot what was up, so he could decide whether or not this was a relationship that he was capable of having. Rather than face the possibility that it would change how he felt about her or that, despite how he felt about her, he couldn't face the ridicule of their peers if he dated her, Amanda was willing to keep an uneasy silence. Because Grant is kind, understanding, and a good person, he is able to come to terms with Amanda's being born anatomically male (in a relatively short amount of time). (view spoiler)[He decides that he doesn't affect how he feels about her and that he does want to pursue their relationship, and the story ends with the possibility of a future together and with he and Amanda talking about her past. (hide spoiler)] The story ends on a quiet hopeful note.
Charlie is scared about starting high school, so he starts writing letters to someone about whom he overheard“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Charlie is scared about starting high school, so he starts writing letters to someone about whom he overheard a girl in his class talking, a stranger who strikes him as someone who listens and understands and who doesn't try to sleep with people even though s/he could have. These letters span Charlie's freshman year, August 1991 to August 1992, and he pours out his heart and his life with an intense honesty albeit also with a total lack of self-awareness. This is authentic teenage angst.
I read this book in the wrong decade of my life to love it like I could have loved it. It is very teenagery. For young people trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in the world, what roles they want to play, how to relate to others, and how they feel about everything, this is a great book. I think everyone, no matter how popular, feels like no one understands them when they are young, and the longing to be understood and really heard by another person comes through in this book. The tone is exactly what one would expect from a sweet wallflower, someone who watches, keeps quiet, and understands. Charlie is the friend that most of us longed for through those horrible teen years.
The 1990's setting gave me waves of nostalgia. It was the world in which I had been a teenager, one full of mixtapes and cigarettes. Cell phones were science fiction, and the most texting one could do was via numerals on a pager if one was cool enough, or shady enough, to even have a pager.
I thought it was a cop-out that (view spoiler)[Charlie turned out to be molested by a relative instead of simply not being ready to have sex (hide spoiler)]. Many 16 year-olds aren't, and there's no shame in that, and it shouldn't require a justification of epic proportion. I also thought that the amount of illegal chemical stubstances being casually ingested by Charlie and his friends and the number of house parties without an adult in sight was unrealistic as was the complete lack of parental supervision on the part of every teenage character. Parents were literally never home except when required for a major plot point or a family dinner, and then they vanished without a trace. Charlie and his teenage cousins smoked a joint on the 10 minute drive to his sister's high school graduation without even attempting to Febreeze away the evidence afterwards, which is insanely bold, and, what's more, none of the adults caught even a hint of eau du marijuana despite sitting next to them on the bleachers for several hours. That is too conveniently clueless.
I am on the fence about Charlie's mental illness. I'm leaning towards it being an unnecessary double motivation. It undermines the big point made at the beginning of the novel that "not everyone has a sob story, and even if they do, that's no excuse." In some ways it is a talking point and bridge, but in other ways it is a barrier for readers who aren't struggling with mental illness but who do feel out of place and alone. Couldn't Charlie have just been a sensitive soul? Although, he did cry in public an awful lot for a teenage boy who otherwise appeared completely normal, so maybe the mental illness is a necessary explanation.