Because I got it in my December Uppercasebox subscription, the first book I read in 2016 was Eric Lindstrom's Not If I See You First, a YA romance witBecause I got it in my December Uppercasebox subscription, the first book I read in 2016 was Eric Lindstrom's Not If I See You First, a YA romance with a blind protagonist named Parker. I was excited to read it, but I ended up rather disappointed. It's filled with stereotypes of what men think teenage girls are like and want guys to be like and how adults picture teen bullies. It's also clear that while Lindstrom "researched" by talking to adults at the Braille society, he never bothered to talk to real teenagers who are blind -- or their friends or their public school teachers. Authors, if you're going to write about teenagers and school, you need to know what school is like in the contemporary world. Mr. Lindstrom, if you're going to write about a blind teenager in 2015, you should talk to a few. At our school, we've had a blind wrestling coach for years. We've had 3 blind students during the years that I've taught at the school, all boys. The first one also had developmental problems and was never in regular classes. But last year we had 2 boys in almost entirely regular classes; one of them was my student. And I can promise you, Mr. Lindstrom, that boy would laugh at some of the stuff you created -- because it's so wrong. Let me go back to addressing the readers rather than the writers. Lindstrom has 16-year-old Parker assigned a student buddy ALL DAY LONG, even though she's attended the school for two years and is fiercely independent. No way. No administration would put that kind of burden on a kid. Parents would sue. It's absurd. What really happens is that a paraprofessional is hired -- if needed; every kid is different -- but teachers and students work it out in their own classrooms. My blind student last year had two seeing students with whom he preferred to work in my class when possible. During tests and for homework, however, the paraprofessional took over. Also, Lindstrom seems to be unaware of technology. Parker uses text-to-speech on her phone, but she does not have a Braille writer for taking notes in class nor any kind of recording device. Again, this forces other kids to have to tutor her. This is not reality. Lindstrom does not have any counselor or special ed teacher or administrator ever checking up on Parker. No adult seems to know that her father has died. No meetings are held planning her education and modifications. No teacher seems to modify anything for her. No teacher notices when Parker has a meltdown in the commons area and then she and her friends sluff school all day in a massive drama queen party. No one notifies Parker's aunt (her legal guardian). This is beyond absurd. Special needs students have files and are assigned SPED teachers as file holders. Their progress is monitored; teachers are contacted as often as necessary and parents meet with them at least quarterly. A student who has a major meltdown would be emailed news to all concerned teachers within minutes. That student -- special needs or not -- would be with her/his counselor, the parent or guardian contacted, and friends calmed within a few minutes of the meltdown. Students who bolted from school in emotional crises would be located by the school police and their parents contacted. All teachers of a student who had lost a parent just before school started would be notified and asked to watch out for emotional needs. (Yes, I've had several students lose parents over the years.) Also, Lindstrom has the jock bullies pick on Parker so her love interests can rescue her. It happens right by her locker. This is unbelievable. First of all, it has been uncool for years to pick on the physically handicapped. Only once in my long years of teaching have I seen a physically handicapped kid get picked on (a wheelchair user -- and every other kid present came to his defense within seconds). Bullies pick on the emotionally sensitive or mentally slower rather than the physically challenged. And schools in the post-millenium world have security cameras. No bully is going to go on camera doing stuff as obvious as what happens in this book. Do I recommend this book? Sort of. It's mostly a romance; if you enjoy high school romances, this might be for you. (Note: there's no sex or violence, but there's a lot of swearing, if that offends you.) The characters are fairly stereotyped, although Parker herself has a bit more depth. The pacing is good. And the book has been edited, which is always a plus. If you're not a school teacher or a student yourself, the Hollywood version of high school might not bother you as much as it did me. Give the book a try. You might like it....more
Dumplin is realistic fiction. It's the tale of a fat girl during the summer between her sophomore and junior years and then the first half of her juni Dumplin is realistic fiction. It's the tale of a fat girl during the summer between her sophomore and junior years and then the first half of her junior year. Willowdean is very realistic, as are most of the characters in this book. I swear they're all people I've taught or their parents. :) Willowdean is fat and sassy, but she has all the issues associated with body weight. Like most girls with extra pounds, she fears boys' touching her, as she doesn't want them to be as disgusted as she is by her fat. Willowdean's Aunt Lucy, a morbidly obese woman but one whom Willowdean preferred to her mother, has died a few months before the story begins. W. must deal with that, with having a thin BFF, with a dead-end job in a dead-end town, and, most of all, with the fact that her mother relives her own glory days every year by hosting a beauty pageant. This year, Willowdean enters, mostly just to prove something to herself.
I liked and didn't like the fact that W. never attempts to lose weight. Yes, it was refreshing not to have her lose weight and get the guy, as in most fat-chick stories. But, on the other hand, it was so obvious that this girl really could have added some physical activity to her life. All she does is watch TV. She has no ambition to go to college, get a decent job, do anything except prove her mother wrong. I loved the fact that she *SPOLER WARNING* gets all her beauty tips and hints from a drag queen. That was highly amusing. *END SPOILER* The only character that just didn't work for me was Bo, the hot guy who can have any girl but loves W. That was a stretch. I've watched so very many adolescents fall in and out of love, and I've seen so very many adults go through relationships, and I can tell you that I've never once seen a really hot high school guy take a fat girl for anything other than a fling. (You know the old stereotype about "fat girls put out more." Well, it's sometimes true, and some handsome boys will go for that -- for a while.) Generally, a guy goes after the best he can get, and a boy who knows he's good looking will go after a good-looking girl. As a teacher, I also had a problem with the fact that W. talks a lot about her friend Ellen deciding to have sex with her boyfriend. Not one time is birth control or safe sex even brought up. This bothers me, as it appears to condone irresponsible behavior. I didn't like that message at all. Other than these things, though, Dumplin is a cute, albeit totally predictable book. Get a copy and spend a lazy Saturday afternoon reading it. :)...more
A Madness So Discreet is a YA historical thriller dealing with a victim of rape/incest who has been confined to a mental asylum by her wealthy fatherA Madness So Discreet is a YA historical thriller dealing with a victim of rape/incest who has been confined to a mental asylum by her wealthy father in order to hide the evidence of his abuse. Later, she is rescued by a handsome young doctor who wishes to use her somewhat photographic memory to help him as he researches crime scenes in Holmes-like early detective work.
Here's the short review: Setting: Fantastic! McGinnis has claimed she was inspired by visiting a former lunatic asylum in Ohio. She sets the book first in an asylum in Boston and then in the one in Ohio to contrast the two. The problem here is that the setting takes over the book and contributes to the problems she has with the plot. Characterization: Both good and bad. Grace (the protagonist) and most of her supporting cast are really well done and multi-layered. McGinnis clearly had a good interest in research mental patients and nurses. The problem is the villains. They are spoken of, analyzed at a distance, dissected mentally and emotionally. But McGinnis never lets them speak much. She TELLS us they're villains, but she really doesn't show them in action. She seems not to have any idea how to work with them, so she hides them and covers up most of their action scenes. Pacing: Very good. The book moves right along. Plot: The first 3/4 of the plot works very well, but the last 1/4 is grating and contrived. McGinnis clearly wants a circular plot, to put the main villain into the position where the protagonist began, but getting there is awful and cumbersome. I will go into detail below. Messages: Whether they are intentional or not, every author gives messages with a book. McGinnis' are problematic and sometimes conflicting. She appears to take a feminist approach, showing how men could have women thrown into asylums for practically no reason and having a strong supporting character be a women's rights activist and having Dr. Thornhollow appreciate Grace's intelligence, but then McGinnis shows her anti-abortion stance by telling the readers that even a D&C to remove a dead fetus endangering the mother's health is wrong, and she clearly puts the blame for one rapist's behavior on the fact that the man has a strong-minded mother, indicating he is acting out his rage on other women because one woman makes him feel emasculated. Furthermore, McGinnis' anti-abortion stance is very odd when it is contrasted with her pro-vigilante justice one. In the book, it is wrong to scrape out an already-dead fetus, but it's just fine to murder a man in cold blood because characters don't want to deal with the slow pace of the court system It's also apparently just fine to have another man tried and convicted for the crimes of the first, assuming the punishment for the dead man's crimes will suffice as the punishment for his own. I found these very conflicting. Literary Allusions: Misleading. The title, A Madness So Discreet, is immediately familiar to readers as a corruption of Shakespeare's line in Romeo and Juliet, "a madness most discreet." The problem is that Romeo is ranting about his unrequited love for Rosaline, and he is identifying and describing love here. This allusion leads the reader to believe the book has a romantic subplot. It doesn't. Thus, the title is a very odd choice. Age Group Suitability: This book deals with rape, impotence, incest, and sex. I wouldn't risk putting it in my classroom lest some parent freak out over it. I suggest that it's more appropriate for about age 15 and older, depending on the teen, of course.
These are the reasons why I cannot give the book five stars.
More in-depth review of the plot problems: HUGE FREAKIN' SPOILER WARNING. I WILL SPOIL THE PLOT FOR YOU, SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
McGinnis' plot problems come from the fact that she was trying too hard to contrast the two asylums and have a circular plot. Here's a synopsis the plot: Grace has spent several years dealing with her father's sexual abuse of her, hoping to keep her pre-pubescent sister Alice safe from him. Her mother, knowing the man is raping other women, is insanely jealous and won't help her daughter. Grace ends up pregnant and her father puts her in a Boston asylum where she is subject to cruel treatment. He plans to take her back home once she gives birth, and she knows he will go right back to his abuse. Thus, when Dr. Thornhollow does frontal lobotomies on several violent patients, she begs for one so that her father will not take her back. Instead, Thornhollow only gives her superficial scars. She pretends to be a lobotomy patient, and the doctor convinces the official to pretend she's dead and give her father ashes while he (Thornhollow) takes her with him. Once they are in the much nicer asylum in Ohio, Grace makes friends with a couple of patients, one of whom is called Lizzie. Thornhollow has Grace help him solve a few murders. Then a pattern of rape and murder victims arise, and she and Thornhollow are stumped. In the meantime, Grace has been writing letters (under an alias) to her younger sister, and she is growing extremely worried that her father will soon start abusing her. Thus far, the plot works, but then things get really weird. Grace discovers the local rapist and murderer is the town pharmacist. Thornhollow claims they don't have enough evidence to convince the police of his guilt yet, so while he's out of town, Grace lures the rapist into the woods and slits his throat in cold blood. She is not sorry over it at all, and Thornhollow is only mildly bothered by this. He appears not to consider her dangerous. He tells her she's not insane. (This might have been believable if he had a sexual interest in Grace, but he appears not to, and it's implied he's satisfying himself with various servants and such.) If that's not strange enough, Grace then convinces him that they need to frame her father for the rapes and murders committed by the pharmacist because they cannot bring him to trial for the rapes he has actually committed. Thornhollow is not bothered by bringing a man to trial for rapes and murders when the man is guilty of rapes and incest, but he is worried about his career. They convince Lizzie to pretend to be a rape victim, and she suddenly becomes a marvelous actress, convincing everyone in the courtroom that Grace's father raped her and threatened to kill her like the other girls (killed by the pharmacist, but no one else knows that). Thornhollow quails at the last minute and convinces the jury the man is criminally insane (Yes, and so's his freakin' daughter, but this never comes up.), so instead of hanging, he will be confined to the same Boston asylum where Grace began the book. And little Alice goes to live with her aunt while the evil mother lives in shame and disgrace. (pun!) The ending is clumsy, contrived, and awful. The reader has learned to empathize with a protagonist who is suffering PTSD wants to see her heal. Instead, she slits a man's throat and goes on her merry way as if nothing had happened. The author condones this behavior in her. Then the whole trial is TOLD rather than shown, and it's completely unbelievable. Thornhollow has no real motivation to do what he does. Lizzie could not possibly act so convincingly. No one would fall for this. It's so clunky and such a bad way to get poetic justice. Since the reader needs to have Alice saved and the villains punished but should really see Grace stay on the path to healing and not go off to be worse than her own father, I propose an alternate ending. Here's what SHOULD have happened: Grace discovers the pharmacist is the rapist/murderer. While she and Thornhollow are working to get the police to solve the crime, he attacks Grace, and she kills him in self-defence. Meanwhile, Grace's mother, realizing her husband is going to start abusing Alice, kills him in a jealous rage. She is declared insane and sent to suffer in the asylum, and Alice goes to live with Aunt Beth. Grace continues to heal and work with Thornhollow, getting a job, as she is too scarred to deal with the ideas of marriage and sex. My alternate ending brings about poetic justice but leaves out the clunkiness of the real ending. Plus, Grace would not become a murderer.
Overall, the book is pretty good, but the end is a HUGE mess. Just be aware of this if you read it....more
Cute little story for tweens approaching middle school. Pretty good character development for an MG novel. What sticks with me, though, is the author'sCute little story for tweens approaching middle school. Pretty good character development for an MG novel. What sticks with me, though, is the author's mistake about Anne Frank. To emphasize the feeling of entrapment the protagonist has while she's serving out a week of detention, Mills has her read Anne Frank's diary. Eventually, the girl is saddened by Anne's death, which according to Mills, was in Auschwitz. But it wasn't; it was Bergen-Belsen. I knew that, and I haven't read Anne Frank in years. And a quick google search provides that info easily. It bugs me when authors won't even do simple research. I took off a whole star due to author's sloppiness....more
More and more often lately, YA books are being written for adults who want sexy, romantic teen charactersFinally! A YA Book That's NOT About Romance!
More and more often lately, YA books are being written for adults who want sexy, romantic teen characters -- and very recently, the trend has been that one of these characters must have a terminal disease. Vigilante Poets is a tremendously refreshing change. My favorite thing about this book is how very realistic the main characters are. The male narrator, Ethan, is not sexy, suave, or sophisticated; he's idealistic, clueless about girls, and loyal. He's also hilarious. Yes, the book is a bit heavy on Ezra Pound's poetry for most teenage readers, but it is not necessary to "get" Pound in order to understand the book. (Rhetorical question: Does anyone actually "get" Ezra Pound anyway? That question has been debated for decades.) Thus, if you want steamy teen romance, this is not your book. If you are an adult who has gotten used to reading YA wherein the "kids" act like adults, this is not your book. But if you want to read a funny, realistic book about hilarious and idealistic teenagers who see themselves as fighting injustice, this is your book. And, if you want a book wherein ...
***** MINOR SPOILER ALERT******
no one has cancer except the gerbil, then this is your book!...more
I liked the idea of the book very much -- sort of 21st century Rip Van Winkle. And the characterization of the protagonist was very good. However, theI liked the idea of the book very much -- sort of 21st century Rip Van Winkle. And the characterization of the protagonist was very good. However, the plot goes from nowhere to nowhere; Travis comes to accept that things have changed in 5 years, but he doesn't really change in the months that the plot covers. By the end, he's still trying to be the "old Travis," with no new goals or outlook on life. It's rather anti-climactic for an ending. Also, some of the supporting characters are completely unbelievable. Travis' former best friend and former girlfriend are extremely immature, given that they're supposed to be 21. They behave just as if they were 16, like Travis, who has not aged. And since the whole plot revolves around Travis' relationship with these two, it's pretty ridiculous. In fact, it's easier to go along with the sci-fi part -- that Travis has been brought back to life -- than it is to believe that his two friends have not grown up one bit during a period of life when people change immensely....more
I keep reading reviews of this where people gave the book fewer stars because they disliked Alice. Seriously? I LOVED Alice. I loved watching her getI keep reading reviews of this where people gave the book fewer stars because they disliked Alice. Seriously? I LOVED Alice. I loved watching her get back at nasty people, and I was truly sorry she didn't get the last word. :( The character development in this book was what made it; the plot was pretty predictable (which is why I only gave it 4 stars.) But it's very well worth the read....more
This was well-written, but I could not finish more than three-fourths of the book. It was so depressing. This was worse than Thomas Hardy. Every charaThis was well-written, but I could not finish more than three-fourths of the book. It was so depressing. This was worse than Thomas Hardy. Every character is stuck in a hopeless and depressing life. There is no way out. Even in love, they are corrupted and will see no salvation. Life is meaningless; go kill yourself. This sort of book is why so many adults read YA fiction; adults who read to escape this kind of depression and hopelessness do not appreciate reading it, and they will often turn to the hope and possibility themes prevalent in YA instead....more
I thought Eulberg did very well with writing from 4 different PsOV from 4 separate characters. One character -- Sophie -- was pretty stereotyped, butI thought Eulberg did very well with writing from 4 different PsOV from 4 separate characters. One character -- Sophie -- was pretty stereotyped, but the others were more layered. Emme is especially interesting. I was also impressed that although there was no real critical problem to solve in the plot (it's a character-driven plot), it kept me reading. I wanted to know what happened to each character (except Sophie, as she was too predictable). This book also showed some research. Lately, I've come across a few books about teens in the performing arts where it was obvious that the author had no first-hand knowledge of anything. Take A Bow was much better. Although the book deals with two song writers but only has one actual song in it, Eulberg captures very well what backstage looks like and what performers do before a show (wide variety of personalities covered). This gives a huge boost to the realism of the novel. I will be recommending this to my 7th graders. :)...more