Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger's

John Elder Robison's younger brother is Augusten Burroughs, author of the acclaimed memoir Running With Scissors. Burroughs' memoir details his father's descent into alcoholism and his mother's increasingly debilitating mental illness. John Elder Robison, the author of Look Me in the Eye, was absent for most of Augusten's childhood, as he was older and had fled the family for a life of independence and adventure. He always had trouble relating to people, however, and was considered by others to be strange and sometimes rude, yet brilliant in electronics and automotives. Look Me in the Eye details Robison's amazing life, including stints designing custom guitars for heavy metal band KISS, electronic toys for Milton Bradley, and finally running his own luxury car repair service. Robison also describes his difficulty with people, his inability to look people in the eye (hence the memoir's title), and his habit of giving people names (he calls his wife Unit Two). Robison was finally diagnosed with Asperger's when we was forty years old, and he describes it as a lightbulb going off in his head, giving him a name for the condition he'd been struggling with his entire life. There is no cure for Asperger's, but he has learned the social skills necessary for maintaining friendships and other relationships. This makes it much easier for him to deal with people, even though he says he still comes off as a little strange. One of the most illuminating comments for me was that he emphasizes that although people on the autism spectrum seem to want to be alone all the time, when he was a child he wanted desperately to be with others: he just didn't know how. Look Me in the Eye is an invaluable addition to the repertoire of literature on Asperger's and autism because, since it is actually written by someone with the disability, it provides great insight into the hearts and minds of people who may not be able to speak out on their own. Although a bit long in parts, Look Me in the Eye is engaging and original. 3 1/2 out of 4 Bananas!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Zombies in Plain English

Ever wonder how to survive a zombie attack? Commoncraft.org is well-known for their 3-minute videos explaining a variety of topics including Twitter, Blogging, Podcasting, etc., and they've also produced this highly informative video on how to survive zombie attacks. Protect yourself and your loved ones this Halloween season!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Leaving Paradise Left Me Behind

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles has an intriguing premise: a year before the novel begins, Caleb Becker admitted to driving drunk, hitting his neighbor Maggie Armstrong, and then leaving the scene of the crime. Caleb was sentenced to serve a year in the Department of Corrections' juvenile jail, where he lived with gang members, was subjected to full body searches, and spent his time hardening both his body and his mind. The novel begins with Caleb's release from jail, and the reception he receives from his family and from the kids at school. One of the best aspects of the novel is that it is told in alternating chapters, going back and forth between Caleb's and Maggie's perspectives. Maggie has spent the previous year undergoing numerous surgeries and physical therapy to help heal the leg that was ruined by the accident. She is angry that Caleb is released and can go back to what she perceives as his "normal life", while she has been forever damaged by his reckless behavior. Both Caleb's and Maggie's families have been changed by the accident, and both have unreasonable expectations of how their children should act in the accident's aftermath. Caleb's mother wants him to pretend to be a cleancut, preppy kid for the sake of outward appearances, while his sister has become totally goth and largely unrecognizable. The reasons for this are revealed later in the novel. Maggie's mother (her father has left the family and holds Maggie at arm's length) desperately wants her to be happy and to feel like she fits in with the rest of the kids at school, which is far from reality. Maggie and Caleb are forced to confront one another when they begin helping an elderly woman after school, Maggie to make money for a trip to Spain, and Caleb to fulfill his community servicement requirements for parole. They begin to fall in love, but have to keep that love secret because how could anyone possibly understand why Maggie, the victim could forgive Caleb, much less fall in love with him? And how could anyone understand how Caleb can love damaged Maggie, when his ex-girlfriend Kendra is the hottest girl in school?
Leaving Paradise is a gentle romance which many students may enjoy. For me, Elkeles' writing and dialogue fell flat, and her adult characters were way over-the-top caricatures of "out-of-it parents". Also, the ending! What was up with the ending? If you can overlook the abrupt ending and the (IMHO) bad writing, you just may find paradise. 2 out of 4 Bananas.

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Love Love Love Love Love LOVE This Book!

If you liked Harry Potter because of J.K. Rowling's creatively imagined world of sorcery, private schools, and hilarious hijinks, then you will LOVE (note the title of this post) I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter. It's set in a top-secret, all-girls school for spies, where girls from spy families, girls with genius IQs, or girls who have shown a talent for espionage are educated in Covert Operations, hand-to-hand combat, garbology (the study of trash), conversational Swahili and other non-traditional subject areas. As far as the town knows, however, the Gallagher Academy is simply a private school for spoiled rich girls. What happens, then, when Cammie Morgan falls for a cute townie named Josh? She can't let him know that she's a Gallagher Girl (he'll just think she's a stuck-up snob), but she also can't tell him that she's been trained to kill someone with a piece of uncooked spaghetti, because, let's face, that's just a little weird. Cammie's friends are also suspicious that Josh may be a "honeypot" (someone who uses romance to trick an enemy agent), so they convince Cammie to conduct a covert operation to spy on Josh and find out his true motives for dating her. Can she trust him? Should she? What's a spy girl to do in this dangerous day and age?? I LOVED this book because of its fresh and humorous writing style, creativity, and fast pace and unhesitatingly award it 4 out of 4 Bananas!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2010 Nominee