Monday, October 25, 2010

Week 42: Smile - Raina Telgemeier (224 pages)

I may have misspoke earlier in this book project when I declared my dislike of memoirs. Generally - I still am not a big fan, but I find that if the memoir is in the form of a graphic novel, I can be engaged and really like what is being said. SMILE is just the kind of memoir that I can get into!

Set in 1989 in San Francisco, author and illustrator Raina Telegmeier tells the tale of the awkward time in a tween's life when they have to get braces. She wants so badly to be a normal teenager, but after an unfortunate fall she has to  get braces! Thus starts the tale of Raina. This lovingly illustrated gem is just as rich in story-telling as it is visually. My daughter raved about the book and devoured it in one sitting (it took me 2)!

Whether you had braces in your youth or not - Raina is very relatable. We all had some awkward moments growing up. The angst and excitement is deftly managed by the author. I am sure the fact that it is her life that we were reading about lent itself to the close editing. Nice touches about the past popped up throughout the book (Nintendo, San Francisco earthquake and even a reference from the 80s show Silver Spoons). They were nice reference points, but did not distract from the overall storytelling.

This is a great book to share with a tween in your life, or even read alone. I got a great chuckle from the story and would gladly read it again!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Week 41: Beat The Reaper - Josh Bazell (295 pages)

This is a book that is an atypical read for me. I have an extremely overactive imagination and this type of crime fiction feeds directly to the crazy in me!! But when a trusted reader friend of mine (Heather M.) suggested this book - I figured I would take a look. I am so glad that I did because this turned out to be one of the best books I have read in this entire project!

The book chronicles a day in the life of Dr. Peter Brown. It opens at 5a with Peter watching a pigeon and a rat fight... Welcome to Manhattan Catholic Hospital, where we find that Dr. Peter Brown was not exactly born with that name. He was born Pietro Brwna (Browna) and he was an assassin (known as "Bearclaw") for the mob. He was placed in Witness Protection (WITSEC) and went to medical school and was placed at the worst hospital in NYC.

In this mind-bogglingly fast day (8 hours) we skip from past to present (with a very witty use of footnotes) to learn how Peter got to here from there. We learn Peter was essentially an orphan - born to young hippie parents and turned over to grandparents who were murdered when he was 15 years old. Through some research (and an affair with a female cop) Peter finds out that the murder was a mob hit. This heinous act and the information that he learns, sets him on his path of revenge and retribution. He connects with a young man (Adam "Skinflick" Locano) who's father has strong mob connections and he becomes a fixture in the family; down the slippery slope he goes.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Dr. Brown runs into a former associate in the hospital. When the patient sees "Bearclaw" he immediate freaks out and calls for a hit. He informs the doctor that if he does not survive his surgery - men will come to kill him! This is problematic on so many levels - the first being that the former associate has signet cell (hardcore) cancer and the survival rate is very low, the second being Dr. Brown has been compromised in the hospital that was specifically chosen for the fact that mob guys do not go there, and the final and the scariest is the fact that the person the associate calls to place the hit is the very person that Dr. Brown had to give up in order to make it into the WITSEC program! Let the race begin - it is now time to "Beat The Reaper"!

I had a hard time putting this book down - as a matter a fact, I completed a staggeringly large portion of the book in one 5-hour sitting! It is not particularly strong literature and there are some gory bits (and profane moments) - but Bazell (a doctor himself) creates a compelling protagonist you oftentimes hate more than you like. It is a mapcap thriller and at times I was laughing out loud at the absolute absurdity of the situations! If you don't like to suspend your disbelief - this one might not be the book for you, but if you can suspend it just a bit, pick this one up!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Week 40: It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini (448 pages)

As a mother, I often wonder how my child is going to "stack up" in school, in society, etc. I give her all of the tools I can and I try to make sure she has a well-balanced life - but at some point I have to say, "I've done all I can". This book focuses on 15-year-old Craig Gilner. He is a young man who is put under so much pressure to succeed (much of it self-induced) he feels the only way to escape is suicide. The title is "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and at times it is, laugh out loud funny, but then there are the quieter times that are filled with despair that make your heart just break for Craig. Ned Vizzini does a brilliant job of bringing all of the emotions of this story together in a nice cohesive blend.

Craig, realizing his issues speaks with his family and they get him the help he needs. He sees a therapist, Dr. Minerva, and is placed on medication. These steps seem to work until Craig starts feeling so good he decides to stop taking the meds. He spirals down and eventually he is on the phone with a suicide prevention hotline (a sadly funny incident). They suggest he checks himself into the hospital and that is what he does. In my opinion, this is where the story packs its punch. Craig stays in the facility for five days (on the adult floor since the juvenile floor is undergoing renovations) and he interacts with folks that have more severe issues than he does. He meets people that have been in and out of the system for years, people that have no support system. His eyes are opened and it is the learning experience of his young life.

This book tackles topics that plague many of today's teens. They are working so hard to achieve a goal (get into the right school, meet the right partner, be in the right organizations, etc.) that they often forget how to be kids. Being in the hospital not only saved Craig's life, it taught him how to live life.

The author brings some nice insight to the story as well. Though this is not a memoir - he spent sometime in mental facility and was placed on the adult ward when he was a teen. He began writing this novel after being discharged. Clearly, this was a cathartic experience for him and we are lucky to be able to live through this tense time with Craig. A great read, I would highly recommend it to parents and students alike.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Week 39: Getting To Happy - Terry McMillan (375 pages)

Though I knew this book was the sequel to best-selling novel "Waiting To Exhale", I believe I still would have picked up this book. The title "Getting To Happy" is so compelling. I know I am trying to get there and a lot of my friends are in similar situations. So what better way to spend a week, than with four familiar characters all trying to figure out how to breathe 15 years after exhaling?

I was nervous when starting this book, I had a hard time getting into it and I was concerned that it was going to be a disappointment - but I persevered. I am glad I did - once I got pass page 100, it was hard to put the book down.

We meet up with Savannah, Gloria, Bernadine and Robin 15 years after Waiting to Exhale ended. They are in their early 50s and they are dealing with various issues (death, divorce, children, and jobs). Sometimes I found it difficult to remember which character was which because their "voices" were all so similar. I found myself re-reading paragraphs to make sure that I was connecting the story to the correct character. Once the pattern was established and the characters were a little more developed, it was easier to follow along and in turn it was easier to care about each of these women.

Though I don't know that this sequel was wholly necessary, it was fun to look into the lives of some of the most beloved characters in African-American literature to see what happened to them. They are a loving group of friends that we would all be pleased to have. They have each other's backs in good times and in bad and they each help one another to find the "happy" that can be so elusive for some of us. If you don't read this book - at least reach out to your friends! Schedule lunch, see a movie, or just giggle - this will be a big step for you to get to happy.