Texas Trip Reads

Last weekend I took a trip to Texas with my family. With close to 26 hours in the car round trip and most of the time spent in the passenger seat, I had plenty of time to read. The four books I got through (one I started in the car and finished on Tuesday) were:

This novel received some criticism, most of which I read on GoodReads, about being exactly the same as the first novel in the series. I can agree with that and disagree at the same time. People who liked The Hunger Games will like Catching Fire, especially younger readers who like the repetitive or formulaic novels (see also: Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, Babysitter’s Club, etc.). Once again, like when I read The Hunger Games, every prediction I made about what was to come was wrong. The Original Book Buddy called me yesterday because he finished reading it, and was super excited about having finished (he bought it on his Kindle), and super irritated about the ending… only because the third book hasn’t been released yet.

I adore my Original Book Buddy. The conversations we have about the things that either one of us reads are phenomenal. And he’s in sixth grade. We’re going back to Tuesday book-dates, which makes me all sorts of happy.

The second book I read in the car was We Were Here by Matt de la Pena. I heard about him on Text Messages podcast I listen to every month. In it, they talked about another of his novels: Mexican WhiteBoy (which appears below). We were here is the journal of Miguel, a teenager who made a mistake and was sent to juvi then a group home for “it”. The way the book is told, readers are left to infer what it is Miguel did that landed him in juvi, but readers also know that whatever he’s done is so bad that it haunts him. Miguel goes on a physical journey with two of his friends and in the process realizes that he needs to figure out who he is in order to move on. This is a good novel for readers struggling with inference; they have the whole novel to make informed guesses about what haunts Miguel.

As soon as I mentioned this title in my first hour class, a student asked me if he could check it out and read it during SSR. I was surprised, not having done a book talk on it at all. Me, I came back to class talking about how I’d read so many books over the weekend, and rattled off titles without talking too in depth about any of them. This story follows Danny, who is too white to be Mexican and too Mexican to be white, on another journey of self-discovery. He spends the summer with his cousins, rather than his mother and her boyfriend, his ultimate goal to make the money to go down into Mexico to visit his father. He’s a baseball player, though he doesn’t play for his school, an all-white prep school in San Diego. With the help of his friend Uno, Danny finds his focus for baseball.

Readers who struggle with the balance between their Mexican and American identities (see also: Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan; American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang) will understand Danny’s internal conflict. For my students who requested books about baseball and I had nothing to recommend… here ya go.

I let my kid, and this was difficult for me, read this one first. It struck me as the aftermath of an event a la Columbine, which I remember from when I was a senior in high school. The purchase of Jennifer Brown’s debut novel came from a School Library Journal wish list. The narration may be confusing for some readers, especially those who aren’t adept at following flashback, as readers get much information about what happened in the five months before the novel’s present tense from the memories of the main character. I thought the cover image was particularly interesting. It wasn’t until I moved to New Mexico that I saw people with tears tattooed/drawn on their faces and hands representing people they knew who died. If the meaning is more specific than that, I’d love to know. My Tuesday read-aloud was from Hate List and already this novel has a wait list to be checked out. Lesson: Never underestimate the power of a good read-aloud. Students who are interested in Hate List also might be interested in reading books from this list, which includes authors like Walter Dean Myers, Jodi Piccoult and Todd Strasser.

The final book on my list, Freaks & Revelations, I finished on Wednesday. In order to broaden my horizons, I feel like I should read books that make me uncomfortable. I originally added this book to my School Library Journal wish list because of its gay protagonist. I feel like my collection represents a pretty good cross-section of topics, genres and themes, but books dealing with LGBT issues is severely lacking. Knowing no more than that one of the characters was gay, I picked up this read and was immediately appalled. I then chose a section to read aloud to my class. The basic story-line revolves around two boys: one seventeen-year-old Neo-Nazi, and a thirteen year old boy who, when he comes out to his parents, is kicked out of the house until he decides he’s not going to be gay anymore. It tells the story leading up to the point where the two boys meet in alternating perspectives. It took a couple of tries to figure out which voice was which–readers have to pay attention to the chapter titles and locations, and the subtle difference in font. The criticism I’ve read talks about how readers would have liked to see less of the boys’ background, most of the story told leads up to their violent meeting, and more about the aftermath of their altercation. The Before/After setup reminds me a little of John Green’s Looking for Alaska, even though the stories couldn’t be more different.

The rest of the books in my Christmas present book order were

Maze Runner by James Dashner <– Currently Reading…
Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Pena
13: Thirteen Stories that Capture the Agony and Ecstasy of being Thirteen edited by James Howe 

Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer
No Easy Answers: Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Choices edited by Donald R. Gallo

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