Holden 2010

Every now and then I hear a yuppie call to her child by the name of Holden.  This always give me pause.  Not because I am a yuppie too.  Not because I’d love to have my own mad tofu-eating toddler running around Golden Gate Park.  But because of the name.  Holden.  Really?  You named your kid after the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye?  The kid who tells his story from an insane asylum?  The kid who gets kicked out of five schools?  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Holden-hater.  I like The Catcher in the Rye.  But, I am an English teacher — it’s practically a requirement. The novel is an annual favorite, and it’s on every “classics” list.  It is a holy text.  Maybe that’s why South Park decided to slaughter the sacred cow on their episode: The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.  The no-neck boys from South Park eagerly read the novel after their teacher promises that it is racy, censored and controversial.  Grossly disappointed, they decide to write their own banned book, a book that causes readers to vomit.  Vomit a lot.  

And this brings me back to my English class.  No, the students don’t vomit excessively.  I’m sure they watch South Park, but more importantly, The Catcher in the Rye was chosen by several of them for an independent-book-report-project-make-a-poster-use-the-rubric-you’ve-had-two-months-to-work-on-this-!-!-extravaganza.  Yesterday presentations began.  (My students are AMAZING!)  Does Holden still resonate with today’s teens?  Does Holden transcend the decades of teenage angst?  According to Boy-Who-Should-Wear-a-Bike-Helmet, “Holden is a whiner and a complainer.  He needs to step up to the plate and make something of himself.”  Hmmmm…What could this mean?  Has Holden fallen from grace?  Will the next generation name their sons after Atticus, not HC?!  

Upon further questioning, Boy-Who-Should-Wear-a-Bike-Helmet revealed that he doesn’t think there are any excuses for being kicked out of school repeatedly.  He thinks Holden is spoiled.  And that, no, his relationship with Phoebe does not redeem him.  Neither does anything else. 

It makes me wonder if times have changed.  Do teens identify more with the protagonist who is not an anti-hero, but a true hero?  Maybe in uncertain times, teens want to read about people who can suck it up — stiff upper lip and all of that.  Or maybe Holden hits too close to home and what some dislike about him is that he has qualities they themselves have.

Regardless, Holden lives on.  I expect to teach him — or one or three — in a few years.  



Yo bro!

Beloved Nephew is only eight years old, but I am compiling YA fiction for him.  I like to plan ahead.  I picked up Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver for his four-years-down-the-line-collection.  It is the first of a series of six books (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness) about Torak, a young boy faced with defeating a hidden enemy, one hiding in the form of a monstrous bear.  Thus, begins Torak’s quest in hunter/gatherer Europe.  Along the way he acquires a wolf cub that has also lost his family.  Torak faces different challenges — surviving in general –, meets a hostile clan and makes a new friend, a girl named Renn.  She helps him as he pieces together an offering of “brightest souls” for the World Spirit.  

For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a complete sucker for The Hero’s Journey and quests, vision or otherwise, of any kind.  Metaphors for life, all of them.  I’m not surprised that I enjoyed Wolf Brother, but what stands out to me the most is the setting of the story.  Can a genre be historical fiction-ish?  Reading a story set in pre-history appeals to me, as does a forested, wild Europe.  

While I think this is a book that both boys and girls will enjoy, it is definitely a 12-14 year old “boy book.”  It is a coming of age adventure novel that expresses a boy’s worst fear — death of father, while assuring him that with courage, self-reliance and by remembering his father’s wisdom, he too can go forth into the wilds of the unknown.  

Die hard readers might enjoy visiting or becoming part of this online community for Torak fans: http://www.torak.info/index.php?categoryid=1

In 2014, I think this is a series Beloved Nephew will enjoy.

The 6 Rules of Maybe

1. Respect the power of hope and possibilities. Begin with belief.  Hold on to it.

Perhaps it should say don’t fall in love with your sister’s husband, because that is what Scarlet does, and when that happens all the anger, and hurt, and confusion of her life comes pouring out in some not so attractive, but entirely understandable ways.   The thing is I get that Scarlet is angry at her sister for a while lot of reasons but I am not so sure she treats her all that well for someone who is supposedly a caretaker, and this may be the part that Caletti didn’t quite capture me with in this novel.  That said I love Deb Caletti’s novels (The Nature of Jade is my favorite).  She writes literary romance quite well.

If I were to dissect Scarlet – I’d point out that falling in love with Hayden is the easy way out, no risk taken.  Like her sister who won’t fall in love – no risk.  I get that falling in love with your sister’s husband is not ‘safe’ but it is because Scarlet can’t act on it, not really, and it keeps her from truly engaging with the world around her – recognizing the obvious in people her own age.

This is of course Caletti’s point – no risk, really no possibilities of truly experiencing love, hope, even life.  So sometimes you have to leap, move to Africa to start a cocoa plantation you bought over email, say no to the marriage proposal so you don’t settle, let yourself fall in love with the father of your child, and kiss the boy who you hadn’t thought of kissing before.

You know I said Scarlet isn’t engaged with the world around her, and that isn’t really true – she cares about her neighbors, to the point of creating something wonderful for one of them.  And she sets up a couple at school (with some serious consequence) but all of that is a bit of not engaging with herself you know, not noticing the friend that takes advantage, or the source of why she is really pissed off, and how to respond to that.

It has taken a bit to write about this – I wasn’t totally sure about what to say.  It was a hard book to get my head (and my heart) around.  Caletti does that for me sometimes, but ultimately I end up respecting the story, and fundamentally the writing.

Banned Books Map

Here is an interesting mash-up.

New Sara Zarr

Once was Lost

I love this cover – book isn’t available until October, but I am looking forward.

Jellicoe Road

Sometimes when I finish a book I need to write an immediate response – turns out Twitter is fabulous for this.  The problem is with books I love, the books that without sounding like a cheesy cliche – the ones that get into my soul I have this immediate reaction, and then I want to savor.  I want to think about them, and figure out what I liked so much, and then I never, ever blog the book.  This is what happened with The Book Thief.

So I finished Jellicoe Road, and I twittered, and then I did daily mundane things, and I knew if I didn’t sit down NOW I wouldn’t, and then I’d miss the opportunity to tell you to read this book.  It isn’t that the plot was so outstanding, I mean you know that Taylor’s life is entertwined with Hannah’s story of the five kids.  But I like the stories, Taylor and the kids.  It isn’t that the characters were so inviting. Taylor is a bit of work, and I wished for more of some the other secondary characters like Raffy and Jessa. Which isn’t to say that they were repelling.  It isn’t that I developed a bit of a literary crush on Jonah Griggs, which is to say that I did of course.

But Melina Marchetta loves language.  The book is lyrical in the way it tells the story.  In that way it reminds me How I Live Now.

I just randomly opened up the book and found this:

The world sways and I sway with it until it is like being in a hypnotic dance, almost enticing me to step over.


She’d get bored being good.  She’d get bored trying to go clean.  She got bored being my mother.

(I like the parallelism.)

So the story in a nutshell: Taylor’s mother left her in a 7-11 on Jellicoe Road, Hannah took her in.  But Hannah is gone. It is territory war time with the Cadets and the Townies, and Jonah Griggs is back and the Brigadier, and there is a story to untangle that may tell Taylor more than she wishes to know.

Very good, I loved it.

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The Luxe

I just added a browse inside widget of this book.  I read it in Febuary while I was in Yelapa.  I didn’t like it enough to continue with the series but I did go to Borders and read the endings of the two that came out just to sort of know the endings.