Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stuck in Neutral: I'm Voting This One "Most Original"

Ms. Hayes' 9th grade English class read *Stuck in Neutral* by Terry Trueman and, since I helped them with a related research project, I thought that I would read the book too. I loved it! It is really short, really fast, and is about a subject that would make even the bravest person weak in the knees. Imagine if you were able to think, feel, and understand things just as you do now, but you were trapped inside your own body? Imagine that you were in a coma, or that you had severe cerebral palsy (like the character in *Stuck in Neutral*) and were unable to communicate with anyone or do anything by yourself, so everyone, doctors included, assumed that you could not understand, think or feel? And what if you found out that your dad was thinking of putting an end to your "suffering" by killing you? Terrifying, right? Shawn considers himself to be a pretty normal teenager: he likes music, girls, and TV, and he loves his family even though sometimes they drive him crazy. The big difference between Shawn and other teenagers his age is that he suffered a stroke at birth and has gone through his entire life unable to communicate or control his own body. No one knows who he really is, and no one ever will. His dad left the family when Shawn was little because he couldn't deal with the pressures of Shawn's disability, and has since become a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Based on some comments his dad makes, and also on the research his dad is currently working on, Shawn realizes that his dad is thinking about killing him in order to end his "suffering". Does he do it? Does Shawn's dad kill him? Or can Shawn make a connection with his dad to let him know that he's really inside, a thinking and feeling person? Hands down, 4 out of 4 Bananas!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sold (disturbing, haunting... unforgettable)

Sold by Patricia McCormick is a novel told in free verse about the horrors of the international sex trade. It's also on the Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award list and the Read for a Lifetime list for this year. It is told from the point of view of Lakshmi, a thirteen year old Nepali girl from the mountains of the Himalayas, who is sold by her stepfather to pay off his gambling debts. She thinks she is going to the "big city"to work as a maid for a wealthy family in order to send money home to support her baby brother and to buy a tin roof for her family's mud hut. In reality, she has been sold to one of several middlemen, who sells her to another middleman, who smuggles her across the border into India and sells her to a brothel in the city of Calcutta. Once she arrives in the brothel, she is locked into a small, dirty room, is drugged into compliance, and is forced to have sex with customer after customer, until she loses the will to struggle. Once she stops resisting, she is allowed to live in the brothel among the other prostitutes, with whom she forges hesitant friendships. She sees much horror (girls contracting AIDS and being thrown out into the streets, girls being brutally punished for resisting, and the futility of trying to pay off their "debts" to the brothel's madame). She also experiences small acts of kindness and, ultimately, is one of the lucky ones (relatively speaking). This book is NOT easy to read (it's a fast read, but its subject matter makes it not an easy one). I read it before bed each night, which may not have been the smartest thing to do, but I feel that it is so important that I bought a copy for myself so that I can loan it to friends and family members. Because of its importance, its free verse style, and its haunting beauty, I'm giving Sold 4 out of 4 Bananas.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What Happened to Cass McBride?

I liked this book. I read it in just a few nights, so if you're in the mood for a fast-paced, suspenseful, fairly easy read, this could be the book for you! It's also on the Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award list for this year, which is why I chose it in the first place. It's the story of three high school students: Daniel, his brother Kyle, and Cass McBride, for whom the novel is named. Alternating chapters tell the stories of Kyle, Cass, and Ben, the officer interviewing Kyle at the police station. The novel opens with Kyle being interviewed by the police for his role in the kidnapping of Cass McBride. It turns out that Kyle's brother Daniel has committed suicide, and Kyle blames Cass because of a cruel note she had written that mocked Daniel and the fact that he dared to ask her out. So Kyle kidnaps her and buries her alive. This is how the novel begins, and it takes off from there, delving into the family histories and psyches of Daniel, Kyle, and Cass. How large of a role do our parents play in our lives? How much do they affect our perceptions of ourselves and the way in which we treat other people? Why did Daniel commit suicide, and. as the title of the novel asks, what did happen to Cass McBride? 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas.