I read this book to my freshman reading classes, and they loved it. I chose it because it came so highly recommended, because I already had it on my bI read this book to my freshman reading classes, and they loved it. I chose it because it came so highly recommended, because I already had it on my bookshelf, and because it was short. My intention was to show my kids--who hate reading with every fiber of their beings--that reading can be fun and valuable and interesting. And sometimes, you don't even have to take a test.
I hated the book, hated reading it, hated that I'd tied myself into continuing it.
But my kids ... they LOVED it. For a month, all I'd have to do (most days) was say, "Oh, I guess we won't have time to re--" and they would close their mouths, sit up straight, and smile at me with that creepy Stepford gleam, trying to convince me for just one second that they were model students and they'd never done a single bad thing in all their lives, now COULD I PLEASE READ THE BOOK.
Every non-freshman person who saw this book on my desk would say, without fail, "Ms. Vincent, THAT IS SUCH A GOOD BOOK!!!" and they would go into these rapturous summaries about how much they loved it and I would smile my own Stepford-smile and nod politely and grimace behind my eyes.
So here's the thing: I don't like abuse. I mean, that's a given, right? That most people don't like abuse. And I'm not trying to one-up anybody or imply that my emotions are somehow more deeply felt than anyone else's, but seriously ... I CANNOT TAKE IT.
I don't like graphic violence of any kind, and Dave Pelzer describes his abuse in explicit detail with lots of gross-making adjectives and word images that make my stomach hurt. And I had to read them aloud--TWICE--while I tried not to cry or throw up or have a nervous breakdown. Ultimately, I had to divorce myself from the text while reading, so I could just get through it, and then I had to make a conscious effort not to think about it when I finished.
Also--and this is the part that makes me a bad person, probably--I kind of ... it's not that I don't believe that Pelzer was abused, because I do, or that it was as bad as he describes, because it probably was, but the writing seems a little ... calculated. Like each phrase has been chosen specifically for its emotional heft, like he went through the thesaurus and was like, "Oooh! That'll make 'em cry!"
And, while reading aloud, I found myself skipping over a lot of passages, because they were out of place or went on too long. It wasn't even the parts with the descriptions of the abuse, but the parts where he was analyzing his feelings or looking at the sunset or something totally irrelevant to the story. Like all of a sudden he'd gotten a hankering to be "literary," so he stuck in a couple metaphors and big words to satisfy the cultural elite, or the Pulitzer committee.
Is that mean? It feels mean. I don't want to downplay the fact that I'm talking about a kid who had this really awful childhood. But on the other hand, I appreciate good writing and an author who allows me to come to my own conclusions and who doesn't try to manipulate my emotions. I'm sure I could have figured out that his mom was crazy and and his life was horrible without all the extra emotional manipulation. I mean, geez; I'm not stupid.
Regardless of my personal feelings, I'm really glad my students liked it. It's one of the few things they've shown any interest in all year, and if I have to read TEN books about abused kids, I'd do it, for them.
This is how I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen this year.
The book carries the text in Shakespeare's language side-by-side with modern (understaThis is how I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen this year.
The book carries the text in Shakespeare's language side-by-side with modern (understandable, to my students) language.
While we did go over the most famous passages in the original language, we read the majority of this play in the modern translation.
If you want to know the truth, ninth graders aren't exactly ready to tackle Shakespeare in the Elizabethan text. Sure, YOU did it (so did I), but these are different times, and different kids, who don't want to work for anything and who rarely if ever rise to a challenge (does that sound cynical? well, it's true).
So giving them this version made my life a whole heck of a lot easier and it increased their comprehension and their enjoyment of the play. That's my goal: YOU MUST LOVE SHAKESPEARE.
So apparently Denmark's citizens reluctantly accepted Nazi occupation, since they knew there was no point in trying to defend their tee-tiny country f So apparently Denmark's citizens reluctantly accepted Nazi occupation, since they knew there was no point in trying to defend their tee-tiny country from the invading German army. But they did not take the occupation lying down, as it were; instead, they did everything they possibly could to bring down the Germans from the inside, up to and including blowing up their own naval vessels (so the Germans couldn't use them) and helping thousands of Danish Jews escape to Sweden.
This story is about a ten-year-old girl named Annemarie whose best friend Ellen is Jewish. Her family is tangentially involved in the Resistance until the night the German soldiers start rounding up Jews for exportation, and they are forced to become directly involved. Based on historical events, the story describes many clever ideas used by the Danish people, and of course the whole thing evokes a sort of root-for-the-underdog feeling, as this small country works together to overthrow the stupid Nazis.
*The following is full of teacher jargon*
I read this as a possibility for a differentiated literature unit on the Holocaust. This would be for the lower-level readers.
The plot does seem a bit simplistic, but the book's written on a 4th-5th grade level, maybe lower, so it would be a good one for those struggling readers. Also, I can think of several ways to tie-in expository texts as supplementary materials if, for example, I were going to make this a literature circle/book club-type assignment. ...more
Essentially, this novel breaks down to three main characters: Lori, the sexually aggressive runaway, Eric, the teenaged serial**spoiler alert** Yikes.
Essentially, this novel breaks down to three main characters: Lori, the sexually aggressive runaway, Eric, the teenaged serial killer, and Det. Proctor, the overeager detective looking to reconcile failures in his past.
Each of the characters is broken, and by broken, I mean that they are mentally damaged, very much so.
Lori's been sexually abused by her mother's string of abusive boyfriends (I'm inferring that; nothing is said straight out), and defiantly uses sex as a weapon and as a means to an end.
Eric was molested by his mom (again, inference) and has become obsessed with recreating that tenderness with girls who look like her. Well. But he kills them first.
Det. Proctor could not undisputedly discover the identity of a serial killer in Oregon, though he suspected it was a cleancut helpful teenage boy who gave away his deviancy with a triumphant smile only Proctor could see. Proctor moved across the country only to get involved in a similar case, fifteen-year-old Eric, who murdered his mom and stepfather, claiming he was physically abused by them.
Because of this claim, Eric is allowed to stay at a juvenile facility until his eighteenth birthday, when he will be released, his records will be sealed, and he will be free to kill again.
It's shortly after his release that Lori meets up with Eric, seeking him out; she says she is "fixated" on him. He, in turn, wants nothing to do with her, but the two are drawn together by their brokenness; when they're together, Lori isn't sexually aggressive, and Eric actually starts to awaken emotionally, to feel tenderness with her that has nothing to do with the release he felt when he murdered his five victims.
The book is disturbing but captivating. I don't read a lot of true crime books, so I don't often "go into the mind of the killer," or whatever. The additional factor of the murderer's age--HE COULD BE IN MY CLASSROOM--is pretty frightening, as is his coldness and objectivity; he is the classic sociapathic archetype, and he is SCARY.
I'm not quite sold on Eric's sexual abuse as a root for his behavior--that might not be what the author intended anyway; perhaps that just awakened some sort of latent tendency toward violence, or maybe he is just innately evil.
I'll tell you what's pretty gross, is that I started to feel a little empathy for him, for his eternal search for tenderness, even if it meant he had to kill to find it. Ultimately, obviously, I don't condone his behavior or find anything justifiable in it, but for just a minute, there was a tiny spark of relatability to him, like he was thisclose to salvation, and I was even rooting for him a little bit, and that scared me--being on the bad guy's side, I mean. Who does that make me?
*The following is teacher stuff for me to remember* Not a read-aloud book, and not a lit circle book, but one I would recommend to MODERATELY WELL-ADJUSTED teenagers who won't use this as a murder textbook.
However, if the book affected ME this deeply, and made ME think some pretty big thoughts, it could serve to open a discussion with students, to help them start thinking about culpability, nature v. nurture, consequences of actions, etc....more
Told from two points of view: Michael, who is showing off his antique Winchester and fires a shot into the air, and Jenna, who watches as her dad catcTold from two points of view: Michael, who is showing off his antique Winchester and fires a shot into the air, and Jenna, who watches as her dad catches the bullet in the head two blocks away.
Jenna's grief seems very real, and realistic; there are no funny lines, no snappy dialogue to defer her sorrow. It takes her a good while to even accept the reality of her father's death, and the author does a good job of showing how Jenna's just going through the motions of life, not really connecting at all, because she's still clinging to the hope of her father coming into the house and laughing it all off as a huge joke.
Michael doesn't even find out about the man's death until the next day, and he allows his delinquent friend to convince him to stay quiet. His guilt possesses him, changes him, and he, too, disconnects with reality.
Both Michael and Jenna find comfort with Amy, who has a(n undeserved) reputation as the school slut. I wish we'd had more of her story; there's no mention of how she got that reputation, though there are some VERY realistic events that show how gossip and teenage maliciousness can tear through a person.
There are a lot of questions brought up in the story, BIG questions, with applications to real life that young adult readers can really dig into.
*Note to self* An excellent read-aloud possibility for freshmen.
This book is brutal. So many bad things are chronicled here that it's almost too much. There are victories as well, but one test after the other for tThis book is brutal. So many bad things are chronicled here that it's almost too much. There are victories as well, but one test after the other for the protagonist. Catharsis at the end, but at quite a price.
Excellent book, not appropriate for read-alouds, but definitely a recommendation for my students....more
Funny ... this seems like a paler Whale Talk, even though Stotan! was written first. There's still swimming, still abusive behavior, still ignorance aFunny ... this seems like a paler Whale Talk, even though Stotan! was written first. There's still swimming, still abusive behavior, still ignorance and racism, still a bunch of guys learning to lean on each other.
I first read this for my YA Lit class, over ten years ago. Some of the references are a little dated now, but I think it still holds up. I think my students will relate well to it, particularly the "outsider" view; everybody feels like an outsider some time.
*teacher stuff* Good for lit circles/book clubs, maybe in a kids-with-problems context; pair it with Speak to juxtapose the relationship/isolation methods of dealing with pain....more