Friday, March 31, 2006

"Rosalind had two mommies. Now, thanks to a tragic accident involving foodstuffs, she has none. And Sean, the sperm donor responsible for half her DNA (and nothing else) is taking custody."

Donorboy by Brendan Halpin is told entirely through emails, IMs, transcripts, notes, journals & other communications, giving the reader the opportunity to hear this tough but funny story from both points of view. Rosalind resents living with "Donorboy" Sean, her biological father, since she didn't even know who he was before her mothers died. Sean, an instant parent, is overwhelmed by love and fear for - and of - his daughter.
Rosalind is having a tough time dealing with her grief, which she angrily (and profanely) pours out into a grief journal "prescribed" by her otherwise seemingly incompetent counselor. Sean, unable to communicate with Ros in person, begins a series of emails to her, explaining how he came to be her donor and why he wants to be her father. Sean and Ros seem miles apart, but they share a sense of humor that comes through in their communications, and Sean's agonized determination to be a good parent begins to get through to Ros when she discovers "Donorboy" does have a few likeable traits.
Rosalind is a great kid with a good head on her shoulders as she begins to find her way through her grief. Although her mothers were lesbians, this is not a homosexual issues book; Rosalind worries about being a lesbian herself, but her grief consumes most of her energy. Sean is the one with the real appeal for me, though. He's honest and funny and determined and scared and frustrated and confused - and it all comes pouring out in his heartfelt emails to his daughter. This one was enjoyable from beginning to end with some great laugh-out-loud funny lines.

Halpin, Brendan. Donorboy. New York: Villard, 2004. ISBN 1-400062772 $12.95.

What I'm Reading: My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham (because I just discovered Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude is a companion novel to it)
On My Bookshelf: Thou Shalt Not Dump the Skater Dude and Other Commandments I Have Broken by Rosemary Graham; Claiming Georgia Tate (which I'm putting off because it sounds depressing) Maximum Ride by James Patterson (which I'm putting off because I'm not in the mood)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Did all that reading I did on our snow day burn me out? I know it's been over a week, but the answer is no. I've actually read a couple of things (although not many - busy!) but didn't have time to post until now.
I'm actually a little embarassed to admit I've never read any of the Bone comics by Jeff Smith. However, our class has remedied my omission, and I read Out from Boneville last week. It was fun; a great read for all ages. We have Out from Boneville in the new color edition, which I highly recommend (as does the author). We also have the entire series (nine issues) in one, in black and white. It's a hefty book that might scare some kids off with it's size, but it's a convenient way to get the whole story. For those of you who don't know, Bone: Out from Boneville is the story of Fone Bone & his cousins Phoney and Smiley. Phoney Bone has been banished from Boneville, and Fone & Smiley have accompanied him into the wild. They become separated when they're caught up in a swarm of locusts, and Fone finds himself alone in a mysterious valley that is home to several strange creatures. Fone becomes friends with the girl Thorn and her grandmother, and is eventually re-united with his cousins - but this is only the beginning of their adventures. Why are the Rat Creatures after Phoney Bone? Why won't anyone believe Fone about the dragon? And will they ever make it back to Boneville?
My other read was One Piece Volume 1: Romance Dawn by Eiichiro Oda. It's pirate manga! How cool is that?! It's not bad, either. Luffy wants to be a pirate more than anything. The bravery of a pirate captain using Luffy's town as a port only inspires Luffy further, but Captain Shanks refuses to let the boy join his crew. Luffy's dealings with the pirates leave him with some pretty impressive powers, however, and when Luffy grows up, he begins to put those powers to use - as a pirate! But first Luffy must gather a pirate crew, and it doesn't take long before his search uncovers some pretty impressive pirate types and leads to the defeat of the evil Captain Axe-Hand Morgan and his snivelling son!

Smith, Jeff. Bone: Out from Boneville. New York: Scholastic, 2005. ISBN 0-439-70640-8. $9.99

Oda, Eiichiro. One Piece Volume 1: Romance Dawn. San Francisco: Viz, LLC, 1997. ISBN 1569319014. $7.95

What I'm Reading: Donorboy by Brendan Halpin
On My Bookshelf: Maximum Ride by James Patterson, Claiming Georgia Tate by Gigi Amateau; Rush Hour: Sin, Vol. 1 edited by Michael Cart; I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Okay, this is the last one! After finishing this one Steve & I watched movies. I took home Sarah Dessen's That Summer because it's the only book by her that I hadn't read and I'm anxiously awaiting her new novel, Just Listen, which is out early in April. I read her blog regulalry, and she updates it all the time, so I feel like I know a lot about her. I love her books, as do our students. If you are looking for good stories that are tender, romantic and real, Sarah Dessen is a great place to start. I recommend these books all the time, and I've never heard of a teen girl not liking them. BIG NOTE TO PARENTS BUYING BOOKS FOR KIDS OR TEENS LOOKING FOR GOOD READS: SARAH DESSEN IS YOUR GIRL!
That Summer is the story of Haven, who's having a rough summer, in fact. Her father left her mother and is now marrying the Other Woman. Haven's sister Ashley is also getting married, to the rather boring but dependable Lewis - the last guy in the world Haven can imagine her rebellious, outspoken, formerly boy-crazy sister marrying. As Haven's summer gets tougher, she remembers the last good summer they had as a family, before her father left - the summer her sister was dating Sumner. Sumner now abruptly re-appears in Haven's life, and he seems to be the only one who understands what she's going through, until Haven discovers that summer, the perfect summer she remembers, wasn't actually so perfect, and maybe accepting the present is better than dreaming about the past.
This was Dessen's first book and, while it isn't her best (my opinion!), it's still wonderful. My favorite by Dessen is, I think, This Lullaby (Hate Spinnerbait!) (read it and you'll get the reference :)). I also think Dreamland is fantastic, but it's much darker than Dessen's other books. It's about an abusive teen relationship and should be required reading for all teen girls. I've read that Someone Like You is the one Dessen receives the most emails about; since it's about a girl whose best friend becomes pregnant, that doesn't surprise me (teen girls are fascinated by books about pregnancy - no sex need be included. Dessen's books have little sexual content, except for Dreamland & maybe a little in This Lullaby). Oh, and I can't forget her most recent one, The Truth About Forever...what can I say, they're all good! Another good sell for Dessen's books is the movie How to Deal starring Mandy Moore, which is a combination of two of Dessen's novels, Someone Like You and the one I just read, That Summer! I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's sitting at home waiting for me, as soon as I have time...

Dessen, Sarah. This Summer. New York: Speak, 1998. ISBN 0142401722 $7.99.

What I'm Reading: Bone: Out from Boneville
On My Bookshelf: A whole bunch of stuff for class - haven't read most of the titles for next week

I didn't actually re-read this one yesterday, but I have to mention it. I'd re-read it if I had time. It's another supplementary title for class that I read a while ago & earns a mention here because it rocks. It's Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz, a story set in the barrio of Los Cruces, New Mexico during the Vietnam War (this isn't the Hollywood of palm trees & movie stars we're talking about!). Juliana & Sammy and their friends have few chances to get out of Hollywood, and the ones that there are - being drafted or joining the arm & getting sent to Vietnam - aren't what you would call great opportunities. This is a realistic picture of the lives of a group of teens that belong to a little explored or studied group - we've heard about the contributions of African Americans during Vietnam, but not a lot about Latinos. The story ring true because it's told by someone who lived it. It's harsh, it's dark, but it's real. Kids don't seem to be drawn to it on their own, but it would be a great books to discuss in a class. Unfortunately, some sexual content and language (I don't speak Spanish, but I'm told much of the Spanish is, well, inappropriate for a high school classroom!) will make it's use in a classroom unlikely. I reviewed this one for The Hub Weekly last year (local entertainment paper) and recommended it as a young adult book that will have a lot of appeal for adults.

Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2005. ISBN 0938317814 $19.95

Next I moved on to Black Juice by Margo Lanagan, the collection of short stories that won a Printz honor this year (the book on the award list I hadn't heard of). It's also required for class this week. Although I was anxious to remedy my ignorance of this title, I have to admit that I failed.
I actually think this is probably a pretty good collection of short stories. Judging by the discussion about it in my class, many enjoyed it, and think it would be great to use in a high school classroom. This is probably true, and, as a professional, I really should force myself to finish it. But I'm not a short story fan (forced to read them in school & hated them!), but I forced myself to read the first three stories, then let myself put it down. There are too many books out there that I want to read to force myself to read one I just don't like!
Anyway, in all fairness, I need to say again that this is a promising collection as short stories go. The stories are strange and unusual (sometimes downright weird, as in the case of "Red Nose Day") and will probably catch and hold the attention of some teens, particularly if they are offered these in a classroom (I mean, consider the alternatives...). They are fantasy-like stories, although I'm not sure I'd actually call them fantasy. That was part of my problem with them, actually - I couldn't figure out when or where things were happening - is this another culture? Another time? Another reality? Another PLANET? Because the setting seemed to change with each story, I quickly became frustrated. Some kids might feel the same way, others might not mind it at all. Made me crazy, though.

Lanagan, Margo. Black Juice. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. ISBN 0060743905 $15.99.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

So, then I left comics behind and moved on to another format (this week's class readings are about changing formats). Sonya Sones writes novels in verse. If you've read my comments on Tanya Lee's Stone's new book, you know my feelings about novels in verse. Not my favorite format. But this is quite possibly my favorite novel in verse.
Sophie is searching for the right boy, but when she finds him, he certainly isn't who she expected. Does she have the courage to share her feelings for him with others and risk being ridiculed by the whole school?
I think this is a sweet story about love a courage and would love it even more if it was an actual novel, so I could get to know Sophie and Robin better. Still, the poems are fun and their words and style share more about Sophie then one would expect. A great choice for those who love novels in verse, those who have never read a novel in verse, and those, like me, who have mixed feelings about novels in verse.
For another great novel in verse, try Sones's newer book, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies.

Sones, Sonya. What My Mother Doesn't Know. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0689841140. $17.00.

Next, I re-read Blankets by Craig Thompson, also for class. I read it a couple of years ago & loved it and decided it was worth a re-read. This is a "literary" comic (at least that's how I think of it), one I'd recommend to those who are skeptical of the value of comic books. Or, I guess I really should call it a graphic novel - it's over 500 pages long. Unfortunately, the length tends to put kids off, since they're programmed to avoid long books. They forget how quickly comics read - or they just don't want to carry it around.
Anyway, Blankets is a coming of age, sweetly romantic, semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a teen boy who falls in love for the first time, recalls his childhood in rural Wisconsin, and begins to question the Christian faith that is such an important part of his parents' life. It contains some nudity, but nothing is graphic or vulgar. It's a believable part of the story, not gratuitous. This story really touches me and is so believable. Craig's relationship with Raina is right on for teen love & longing, and his memories of sharing a bed with his brother ring true (I especially love their pee fight); I think Thompson does an excellent job, in words and pictures, of capturing the doubts, fears and confusions of the teen years , the intensity of first love and the bitter disappointment of it's end. If you never read another comic, read this one just to see what all the fuss is about.

Thompson, Craig. Blankets. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Publications, 2003. ISBN 1891830430. $29.95.

It's been a few days, but I made up for lost time today. A nasty blizzard caused schools to close, so I got to enjoy one of the benefits of working in a school - an unexpected, unplanned day off. I spent the day reading & catching up on laundry. Exciting, huh?
I started off the morning with Fruits Basket Volume 1, required reading for my class. We've had the Fruits Basket series (it's manga) for a while, but it's one I haven't read. I usually try to read the first volume in each series, just to get an idea of what they're about (and so I sound like I know what I'm talking about with the kids). Truthfully, manga isn't really my thing. Usually, I read the first volume in a series & have no desire to read any further. As you may have gathered, I really like comics, but all the manga I've read seems rather shallow - sort of like series books for teens. Fruits Baskets is the best of the ones I've read so far, however. It's about an orphan who has no where to live. She's taken in by a young man she goes to school with, but discovers he and his "cousins" are a bit unusual. Each is an animal of the Chinese zodiac, and when hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they temporarily lose their human form and turn into animals. Strange, but rather fun. The characters in this one are actually interesting. I might read a few more volumes.
Oh, I also read the first volume of Chrono-Crusade late last week for a book talk. A nun and a bound demon fight demons together. Another good series for anyone who is into manga. I liked Fruits Basket better, but Chrono-Crusade was pretty good.

Takaya, Natsuki. Fruits Basket Vol. 1. Tokyo Pop, Los Angeles, 1998. ISBN 1591826039.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Unfortunately, this one was not as good as I'd hoped. The idea of a "witch for hire" who fights monsters sounding pretty exciting (at least to me!), but I felt like I was dumped into the middle of the story and was missing out on an awful lot.
Thessaly, last of the powerful Thessalian witches, has spend the last two years fighting monsters then moving on when her neighbors begin to become suspicious. When Fletch, a lovable "ghost" comprised of all the people Thessaly has ever killed, arrives, Thessaly discovers he has, out of loving concern for her, made her part of a monster-killing contract without her knowledge, hoping to add some fun and adventure to her life. Thessaly is understandably furious, but has little time to be angry when she discovers Fletch's latest contract has transferred the wrath of a Tharmic-Null to her, his beloved; it's the one thing Thessaly can't kill.
Thessaly made her first appearance in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and she's certainly deserving of her own book. However, this one doesn't do her justice. The artwork is great, but the story lacks development.

Willingham, Bill and Shawn McManus. Thessaly: Witch For Hire. New York: DC Comics, 2005.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

This was a fun little book - just what I needed after the darkness of Winter's Bone. The cover alone is enough to make you smile, and the story is even better.
DJ (aka Dairy Queen) spends most of her spare time working on the family farm in Red Bend, Wisconsin. Her father's hip injury makes it impossible for him to do much, her mother is working two jobs, and her two older brothers are playing college football - and want nothing to do with the farm. She had to quit basketball to keep up with the work, which doesn't make her too happy - but she does it anyway, because she's a Schwenk and that's what Schwenks do. But she's even less happy when a new farm hand shows up. Brian Nelson is the quarterback for the Hawley football team, Red Bend's archrivals. And he's a lazy whiner.
But DJ and Brian hit it off, and DJ finds herself training Brian for the new football season. It's a situation she never imagined, but it gives birth to an even more unlikely dream - one DJ will have to fight to make come true.
Read this one when it comes out.

Murdock, Catherine Gilbert. Dairy Queen. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 0618683070 $16.00

What I'm Reading: Fruits Basket #1 & Thessaly: Witch for Hire
On My Bookshelf: Black Juice by Margo Lanagan

I was asked to review Winter's Bone for VOYA. Quite honestly, I've been putting it off. The story sounded interesting - a young girl, raised in poverty in the Ozarks, goes in search of her bail-jumping father to prevent her family from losing their home. Still, it sounded depressing, and it's written as an adult book (even though it has a young protagonist), so I figured it might be a tough read.
And it was, but not quite in the way I thought. Ree is an interesting character, although her motivations are not completely clear. Her love and respect for her family are evident, and her strength and determination are her defining characteristics, but I was unsure where these admirable traits came from. Her life is rough; her father cooks crystal meth and has jumped bail and left his family to fend for itself; her mother is mentally ill and unable to care for Ree's two younger brothers. Ree wants to escape by joining the Army, but the liklihood of that happening looks slim. Her father used their home to guarentee his bond, and no one has seen him since. Ree goes searching, determined to bring him in. Anyone who might know anything is relucant to talk - but not reluctant to use violence to keep their silence.
I read the book in one evening when I thought it would take two or three. The book is dark and rather depressing; Ree's chances of getting out aren't good, and you know from the beginning the liklihood of a happy ending is slim. Still, I kept reading because Ree drew me in, and her story was so true - until the end. Woodnell tried to tack on a happily-ever-after ending to a story that didn't want a fairy tale ending. While rest of the story felt gritty and true, it ended on a false note. Still, Ree's story is one worth reading, although it's appeal to teens may be limited.

Woodrell, Daniel. Winter's Bone. New York: Little Brown & Co. 2006.
Published August 2006

What I'm Reading: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (published May 2006)
On My Bookshelf: Fruits Basket #1 by Natsuki Takaya; Black Juice by Margo Lanagan; Thessaly: Witch for Hire by Bill Willingham & Shawn McManus

Monday, March 13, 2006

Some great comics from Oni Press. Great for the punk in your life, but not for the young or the conservative minded.

Wood, Brian & Steve Rolston. Pounded. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2002.

The only book I've ever read by Rita Williams-Garcia is No Laughter Here, and I read that one because it was one of the first (if not only) books for teens to address the issue of female genital mutilation. It was a great novel, but I read it due to the subject matter, not the author's reputation (which is excellent). So, it was nice to have another Williams-Garcia novel assigned for class.
In Every Time a Rainbow Dies, Thulani, living with his brother & sister-in-law after his mother's death, has no idea where he's headed. He spends most of his time with the birds he keeps on the roof of their building; they're his closest friends. But when Thulani witnesses a rape from the safety of his rooftop retreat, he's plunged back into the real world and forced to take an interest. Scaring off the rapists and helping the girl home forms a bond between Thulani and the girl - at least he thinks so. He cares about Ysa, but Ysa is motivated and driven; she knows what she wants and is determined to succeed. Thulani is still uncertain about his own future, until the death of a neighbor and his brother's dreams for his family force Thulani to care about what happens to him.
Like so many other novels we're reading for this class, this is one I would not have picked up on my own. But I did enjoy it. The hints of Jamaican-American culture add interest and Thulani's changing relationship with his brother and, especially, his sister-in-law are wonderful to watch. I'm unsure how Williams-Garcia wants the reader to see Thulani, but I was at times sympathetic to him and at times frustrated with him. I could understand his brother & sister-in-law's frustrations with him, but I was also enraged on Thulani's behalf at how his brother sometimes treated him. Perhaps this is what Williams-Garcia wanted; it certainly give Thulani's character more depth.

Williams-Garcia, Rita. Every Time a Rainbow Dies. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0688162452 $15.95

What I'm Reading: Re-reading Boy Meats Boy by David Levithan
On My Bookshelf: that book I have to review for VOYA (still can't remember the name)

Friday, March 10, 2006

"You're a very sexy audience. I love the way you laugh. I bet you can dance on the ceiling and eat pretzels off the floor with one hand tied behind you. Admit it- you're an adrenaline junkie, undulating hysteria about to explode, waiting to be discovered. You're not cynical, are you? Please tell me you're not. But if you are, I guess it's okay. I've had my moments, too. But it's hard to be cynical when you're telling a love story. And that's what I'm about to do."

Written as a live performance piece, Orphea Proud is Orphea's story of love and loss. Realizing she has fallen in love with her best friend Lissa, Orphea is confused and scared by her feelings for another girl. But Lissa feels the same, and it looks as if their friendship might morph into something more - until Orphea's guardian brother finds them kissing. Rupert is furious, throwing Orphea across the room and Lissa out of the house. Upset and driving too fast for the snowy conditions, Lissa is killed in an accident on her way home.
Orphea is more alone than ever, and relations with her brother and his wife go from bad to worse. Finally, fed up with her, they abandon her to her mother's aunts at the family home in Virginia. Here, Orphea finds unconditional love and inspiration for her poetry. Coming to terms with her sexuality and her feelings for Lissa, Orphea finally becomes strong enough to share her love and loss through her performance.
Orphea's story is a good one, although I'm not sure it works as a performance piece. It's a little bit like Paul Fleischmann's work, only not as successful. Fleishmann usually pulls off his unusual formats flawlessly, and Orphea isn't flawless. It's really too long to work as a performance piece. The story is good, though - interesting enough that Orphea's occasional directions to the audience about the club's owners, the artist painting behind her, or ordering food & drink seem intrusive. The structure of the story is a bit contrived, and almost takes away from the story itself.
As a book for gay teens, this work breaks little new ground. The race of the girls (both are African American) is really it's only distinguishing trait; other books, such as Geography Club by Bret Hartinger, Keeping You a Secret by Julie Ann Peters and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan deal with teen homosexuality in more innovative and interesting ways.

Wyeth, Sharon Dennis. Orphea Proud. New York: Delacorte Press, 2004. ISBN 0385324979 $15.95.

What I'm Reading: Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia
On My Book Shelf: The Body Eclectic: An Anthology of Poems by Patrice Vecchione; Dairy Queen and a book I'm supposed to be reviewing for VOYA but can't remember the name.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Okay, I know I should be reading books for my class, but I borrowed this ARC (ARC = advanced reading copy; publishers send these out before a book is published to people who write reviews) through yaarc (a blog for librarians & others to share advanced reading copies, if you aren't familiar with it, check it out) and I need to pass it on - I've already had it too long. Today I have to finish skimming Looking for Alaska for our book club, which meets this afternoon, then I'm moving on to the second week of books for class (see blow for a list).
So, back to Kiki Strike. This is a weird book. Good. But weird. And fun. It's sort of like Alex Rider for girls - adventure & action, but with a good plot. It starts with a big hole appearing in the park across fro Ananka Fishbein's apartment. Intrigued, especially after she sees a diminutive figure climbing out of it, she investigates and discovers a room, and an entrance to a tunnel. Nearly discovered, Ananka is forced away before she can investigate, but she takes with her a book that describes the Shadow City, a secret city deep beneath the buildings and streets of New York.
Shortly after, a mysterious new girl appears in Ananka's classes. There's a connection between Kiki Strike and the Shadow City, and Kiki draws Ananka into her plans to explore the deserted world beneath their feet. Pulling together a group of talented and dangerous twelve-year-olds, Kiki forms the Irregulars and the adventures begin. But is Kiki really who she claims to be? What is her real reason for exploring the Shadow City?
I did figure out much of the mystery before it was revealed, and the lists at the end of each chapter ("How to Tell A Lie;" How to Foil a Kidnapping;"and "How to Know if Someone's Eavesdropping," for example) got a bit tiresome to me, but young people might enjoy them. The story is told from an older Ananka's point of view as she chronicles her first adventure with Kiki Strike. The premise is fun (a great if improbable adventure novel for girls) and the style leave an opening for a sequel.

For more info on Kiki Strike and Ananka and their adventures, you can read Ananka's Diary online.

Miller, Kirsten. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. $16.95 ISBN 1-58234-960-6
Released June 2006.

What I'm Reading (besides Looking for Alaska): Orphea Proud by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
On my Bookshelf: The Body Eclectic: An Anthology of Poems by Patrice Vecchione; Every Time a Rainbow Dies by Rita Williams-Garcia
Possible Re-reads for Class: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan; Sandpiper by Ellen Wittlinger; Far from Xanadu by Julie Ann Peters; Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Saenz and First Part Last by Angela Johnson.
And: Another ARC, Dairy Queen

Friday, March 03, 2006

I have mixed feelings about Our Secret, Siri Aang by Cristina Kessler. It isn't something I would usually read, nor is it something I'm likely to buy for our library. Our students don't seem to be much interested in this sort of "multi-cultural" literature. And "multi-cultural" was the buzz word in education when I was in college; so much multiculturalism was shoved at us that most of us became quite tired of it. I do enjoy reading about other cultures, but stories such as this one, set in Africa among the Maasai, don't usually spark my interest.
However, it's on the required reading list for my class, so, good student that I am, I read it. The book is the story of Namelok, a Maasai girl whose family has been forced to relocate for better living conditions. "Better" is questionable, however, since their new home is much closer to civilization, and the difficulties that accompany modern life. Namelok's father is a traditionalist, and he is scornful of the new ways that are infiltrating Maasai life.
With her father so unhappy and things tense at home, Namelok finds comfort in her time alone. While gathering wood, she comes upon a black rhino giving birth. Having witnessed the birth and gained the mother rhino's trust, the rhinos become Namelok's second family. Her time with the rhinos and meeting the local school teacher prompt Namelok to begin questioning the old ways and wondering if there might be a life for her outside the traditional Maasai ways. But the new ways that threaten the Maasai also threaten the wildlife of the bush, and Namelok may not be able to keep the rhinos or her Maasai family safe from harm.
The first two thirds of the book were slow for me, although those who are interested in such stories will probably find them interesting and well written. I did become interested in the book when I picked it up, but found it very easy to lay it down and not pick it up (that would be why it took me almost a week to read it). The last third of the book, after tragedy strikes Namelok and she is forced into the bush on her own, was much more interesting, and I read that part of the book in one day.
So, this one is worth a read, and if you are looking for fiction on Africa or an very accurate portrayal of Maasai life & customs, this is a great book. However, I still believe my students would not read this one on their own; if I purchased it for our library, it would languish on the shelves until it made its way onto a reading list for a class.
Aside from the story and the question of its popularity with teens, I also have concerns about the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) which is discussed but not explained in the book. Namelok is forced to prepare for her emuratare or female circumcision, a very important coming-of-age ritual among the Maasai. While FGM is disappearing in much of Africa, it is believed that 100% of Maasai girls are still circumcised. Many younger women and girls question the practice, but pressure from Maasai society is so great that they submit (or allow their daughters to submit) to the surgery anyway.
While the emuratare ceremony is mentioned quite frequently in Our Secret, the details of the operation are not covered, and FGM as a practice is not directly discussed. It is true that Namelok, raised as a traditional Maasai, would perhaps not be aware of all the issues surrounding FGM in a global context, and therefore a discussion of the practice as an act against women has little place in the actual story. However, I believe the issue should be thoroughly discussed and explained in an afterword or special note by the author so that young Western readers are introduced to and informed about the controversial practice. Perhaps Kessler glosses over the topic out of respect for the Maasai and their tenacious culture, but I believe she does a disservice to Namelok and to her readers by not providing accurate information about a controversial cultural practice. Kessler presents many of the Maasai reasons for continuing the practice, but her omission of the entire truth behind the ritual makes this an unbalanced and therefore inaccurate representation of an important social practice.
For more information about the practice of female circumcision among the Maasai, go to:

Kessler, Cristina. Our Secret, Siri Aang. Philomel Books: New York, 2004. ISBN 0399239855 $16.99.

What I'm Reading: Haven't decided yet. Maybe some of those comics...
On my bookshelf: Kiki Strikes (an advanced reader's copy), Under the Persimmon Tree & Born Confused (for class)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reading has been rather slow this week thanks to life happening, but I did want to quickly mention The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. I discovered Mackler when her first book (Love and Other Four Letter Words) was published and loved her. Round Things is even better. I read it at soon as it came out and, after I returned it to the library, didn't see it on the shelf again for ages. Mackler's newest, Vegan Virgin Valentine, is great, too. (And it's already a couple of years old - we need a new one!)
Anyway, I reread Round Things this weekend for the YA lit class. It had been a few years, and it's a great book, so I felt it was worth the time. One of the things I remembered from the first reading was how MAD this book made me - and it did the same thing again! Virginia's parents are so casually cruel to her that it's infuriating - which of course makes it all the more satisfying when she comes into her own in such a gloriously purple way.
I'm not going to go into great detail about this one, but it's so great that I had to mention it. If you haven't read Mackler, especially this one, go out and get it now!

What I'm Reading: Our Secret, Siri Aang by Cristina Kessler
On my bookshelf: I'm going to read those comics. I really, really, really am! Got to finish some reading for class first, though.
Also: I'd like to reread Born Confused by Tenuja Desai Hidier for class, if I have time. Like Round Things, it's worth the time.
Upcoming reads for class: Orphea Proud by Sharon Dennis and The Body Eclectic by Patrice Vecchione