Wednesday Quote Day: Harold Kushner

“I think of life as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to make sense”

Harold Kushner

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The Girls by Emma Cline

Emma Cline is quickly cementing herself as one of my favorite authors. I realize that this may be a little premature since The Girls is her first novel, but I stand by my statement. I cannot wait for her next book.

The Girls is a fictional examination of the Charles Mason girls. In this story Cline has replaced Charles with Russel and takes a deeper look and what would make a girl follow him. It is slightly eerie to watch the 14-year-old main character, Evie get sucked into Russel’s world at the Ranch. It is also a little terrifying to see how easily it could happen to any insecure young girl.

It all started when Evie sees a group of Russel’s girls at the park. She is struck by how free they seemed, how little they cared about what was around them. They were in their own world and Evie desperately wanted to join. Living with her recently divorced mother in a house that belonged to her movie start grandmother, Evie felt trapped. Like she was being forced into an image that didn’t suit her, and the looming prospect of boarding school wasn’t helping matters. After a dramatic falling out with her best friend, Evie quickly falls in with Russel’s right hand lady, Suzanne. Evie’s first visit to the ranch helps begin her transformation. The Ranch was a place where everyone was welcome and Russel was a master at making people follow his every word. Unfortunately, Evie’s life at the ranch begins to clash with her life at home and her blind faith in Russel and Suzanne helps blind her to the rapid downfall of the Ranch community. Luckily Evie is forced out of Russel’s inner circle before she is able to partake in the violent events that helped make Charles Manson and his girls so famous.

Cline cleverly divides the story into four parts. Each part beginning with a. now middle-aged, Evie looking back on her experience with Suzanne, before switching to a first person narration of the summer of 1969. Cline picks apart Evie, Suzanne and the other girls with a fine tooth comb, examining their motivation and comparing who they are on the Ranch to who they become during Russel’s trial. Evie begins the story as an insecure teenager who morphs into a free spirit before becoming afraid for her life as she realizes what Suzanne and Russel have done. This novel is a psychological examination of an event that has fascinated people for years. I am beyond excited to see what Emma Cline will write next.

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Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

This is a book that I decided to read because I have a copy in my classroom for students to borrow. I had never actually read it myself, but last Friday a student noticed that I had a copy and started geeking out so hard, that I had to promise him I would read it in order to calm him down. I was not disappointed.

At about 150 pages this was definitely one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a long time. It took me hours to finish instead of days or weeks and it felt refreshing to read something so simple and straight forward. Among the Hidden takes place in a world where the population is strictly controlled and couples are only allowed to have two children. The consequences of having more that two kids are sever and, in a best case scenario, involve a heavy fine and the removal of the child. However, more often having more than two children involves the death penalty. Needless to say third children are heavily protected and live a difficult life being hidden from the outside world.

The main character of this book is Luke. Luke is the third child in a poor family of farmers. There was a time when he was often able to go outside, due to the isolated nature of his family’s farm. However, when a large development is constructed next door he is forced to spend his days hidden in his attic bedroom. He is not even allowed to eat at the dinner table for fear that people will notice a fifth shadow in the house.

Haddix is very blunt in her descriptions of Ian’s life and totalitarian government that controls practically everything. Luke’s character is complex and spends a large amount of time examining why he acts the way he does. Luke’s family is also complex as they constantly battle between being grateful of Luke’s existence and feeling resentful at the fact that he costs the family money but can’t actually do any work to help generate income.

I can definitely understand why this book would attract young readers. There are important themes to be discussed, including: family dynamics, right vs. wrong, leadership and the importance of independence. I feel like this first book only scratched the surface of a concept that has vast potential. Luckily Among the Hidden is only the first in a series and I am eager to read more, and see where Luke’s life takes him.

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Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

SPOILER ALERT!

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This is going to be a short post because I’m worried that I’ll give away spoilers. Diana Gabaldon has done it again! Her third Outlander novel, Voyager, is a true and complete success. She brings my all time favorite couple back together and sends them on an even more intense and wild adventure than ever before. After 20 years apart they are reunited and drama ensues as they learn accept how each has changed during their time apart.

Jamie is still lovable and at times infuriating as he is shocked by the return of his “dead” wife. Clair is even more stubborn and bossy as she returns to Scotland a fully fledged doctor. She wields hypodermic needles with gusto as she boards a ship bound for the Caribbean. Jaime is taken far out of his comfort zone during this journey to find a kidnapped relative. New characters are introduced and old characters, that were long forgotten, resurface in ways that kept me entranced by every word. Her pinpoint historical accuracy is, as usual, captivating. She once again shocks me by the enormous amount of research and preparation that went into this novel.

Well done Diana. Well done indeed. Stay tuned for a triumphant return because after all, I OWN THE WHOLE SERIES! Thanks again mom for one kick ass birthday gift!  I will be taking a brief hiatus from the Outlander world in favor of a young adult novel recommended by one of my 8th graders. I’m going to emphasis the word BRIEF because I will continue this series soon enough.

Five Kick Ass Women in Literature

Clair Fraser, Outlander Series

Claire Fraser is a top notch female character (not because I’m completely obsessed with Outlander). Claire is a woman that has been pulled away from everything she has ever known, and thrust into the patriarchal society of the Scotland. She proceeds to give a giant finger to any scholar who claims that certain social norms have to be respected because “it was another time”. Claire is a strong independent woman who refuses to take abuse fromclaire_fraser_outlander_tv anyone. She causes even the most masculine Highland Scots to blush as she curses like a sailor, and bosses them around like the badass she is. She refuses to keep her mouth shut in the face of injustice and will not let her husband spank her in a time when it was perfectly normal and acceptable for a man to beat his wife. She comes to the rescue of a large variety of people and continually sees the good in those around her. If I was ever thrust back in time to 18th century Scotland I can only hope that I can muster half the amount of courage that
Claire does.

Louisa Clarke, Me Before You

Louisa Clark was a strong individual even before her experience with Will Traynor. Her bold sense of style automatically sets her apart from a crowd, but what I really admire about her is her unwavering commitment to whatever task is set before her. During her time as a caretaker for the quadriplegic William Traynor, she experiences a wide variety of emotions ranging from giddy happiness, to crippling fear, to red hot anger. She powers tumblr_inline_o1zq2uptcj1tadzp8_540through all of these emotions in order to stay true to her beliefs. She throws her heart and soul into a job that most people would find completely draining. Even when she is faced with one of the most difficult decisions ever to be placed in front of a human being, she is able to set aside her own feelings in order to be supportive of someone she loves. She proves herself to be a strong ally for those that have been handed a crappy situation, and she is able to rise up and shine after experiences that should have left her sad and broken. Also her outfits are amazing!

Hermione Granger, Harry Potter Series

I know that this one might seem a little cliché, but I am a firm believer that Hermione is one of the most positive female role models a young girl can have. Hermione shows that it is good to have brains. We live in a time where young girls are under a lot of pressure to fit into some kind of prepackaged image that society deems beautiful. Hermione throws away that image and brings a new one to life. She also displays character development that a lot of nerdy, awkward girls can relate to. She begins the series as a nerd who finds it difficult hermione-granger-in-hp-and-the-sorcerer-s-stone-hermione-granger-13574341-960-540to make friends and often hides behind her intelligence in order to mask her insecurities. By the end of the series she is strong and completely comfortable with what makes her different and she has shown that the nerdy girls can come out on top. I like to think of myself as an academic and Hermione has been a huge inspiration to me and has helped me embrace my inner book worm so that I can be proud of what makes me unique.

Chiyo, Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha was one of my first book reviews on this blog and I will always believe that Chiyo is one of the strongest female characters in literature. Chiyo is a person who refuses to let go of things that make her unique in a profession that forces her to become fan3the equivalent of a china doll. As a Geisha, Chiyo is supposed to adapt herself into whatever her clients want her to be. She hides her own desires beneath this façade and quietly works towards the things that will make her happiest. I adore her commitment to her own dreams and how she uses the tools available to her to build a life that she can be happy in.

Liesel Meminger, The Book Thief

I believe that The Book Thief is one of the most brilliant young adult novels ever written, and Liesel is one of the strongest young females in literature. Liesel is a young German girl living during World War II. She is supposed to be benefitting from Hitler’s new regime and yet she is not. 3936482_origShe is a child who fights a broken system and refuses to fall victim to the propaganda spewed by the Third Reich. She becomes great friends with a Jewish boy and helps him survive by hiding him in her basement. She has a passion for books and reads constantly even though many of her favorites are being publicly burnt by the Nazis. She is able to express herself in a country that favors uniformity. I am dying to bridge this book with The Diary of Anne Frank to show my students two parallel girls during the Holocaust.