I'm moving!

This space has served me and my little book-reading habit well over the past eight years, but now we are moving on to greener pastures. Come along with us to www.asouthernruckus.com for new reviews as well as replays of old favorites.


Middle School: Get Me Out of Here! (James Patterson)

The more I think about it, the more sense it makes that James Patterson would venture into middle school territory. This is, after all, one of the scariest and more perplexing places on earth. 

In his first book of this series, Rafe Khatchadorian managed so survive his 6th grade year at Hills Village Middle. Barely. My favorite piece was that the skills Rafe uses (humorously...even teasingly) to cope during a hard year are the very traits that are part of who he is meant to be in life. In that way, the Middle School books are perfect for showing just how important these years are. This IS when kids are beginning to discover the things about themselves that they hate, sure, but more importantly, they are beginning to uncover the things about themselves that they like. 

In this second installment, Rafe is in art school and loving it. Finally he is in a place where he feel comfortable just being him! Then, of course, because this is a school and there are other kids involved, the bullying and misunderstanding and rule-breaking begins...and all from quite unexpected sources. 

I was a smidge bored with this one the first half because it seemed to be following the same exact pattern as the first book. Misfit kid makes up game as a coping mechanism, which will obviously land him in trouble with his peers as well as the powers-that-be in his school. Patterson is better than this was my analytical echo throughout every chapter. About two thirds into it, however, things got good quick. My hope for readers is that they'll not be bored by the repetition so long that they lose interest before they hit the hook. Interesting format, though it smells similar to Andrew Clements's typical fiction setup. 

The only thing still driving me nuts about this series is how in the world to pronounce the main character's name. Is it Rahhhf, Raf or Rafey (a as in bat), Raf or Rafey (a as in rake), what? Even the Google doesn't know. 

I have been this confused since reading the first three Harry Potters and pronouncing Hermione as (Hermeeeown). {hanging my head in shame}



1984 (George Orwell)

That last book? Yeah, I had to read it pretty much solely to recover from this one. For the love, 1984 was a wretched work that just made me SAD. From the first chapter on, the dastard depravity of humankind is amplified over and again until we see Winston, the main character, chewed up and spewed out by the reality that is unfortunately his. 

Winston works in the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth. His actual responsibilities include changing past records to accommodate the lies that the Party perpetuates regarding anything from the number of boots created one month to the country with whom they are currently at war. Winston's problem is that he is an anomaly to society: he notices and remembers the Party's alterations to the truth. Over time, he evolves from just a curious observer blindly carrying out his sad little life to a willing volunteer of the Brotherhood intent on bringing the Party down. 

This leads to a rebellious affair with a fellow Party member named Julia. Julia and Winston fall as much in love as two individuals with no moral compass or liberty know how, and together they change the course of their destiny by committing to the Brotherhood...and subsequently being ripped apart by it. 

Just sad. Sad, sad, sad. I was distraught for the broken relationships between parents and children, heart-broken for the callousness of one human being toward another, and overall disgusted with how easy it is to compare the state of Winston's society to the reality of our own. I was positively horrified to take in Winston's torture scenes, especially the one (oh, I can't even type it) with the rats. Lawdyhammercy. 

It is said that George Orwell was a genius. I'd agree...this work is a prime example that the man's brain was on a level the rest of us can't even imagine. 

A sad genius, though. 



Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (James Patterson)

Rafe Khatchadorian is every 6th grade boy. He’s nervous about all the new challenges and rules that come with middle school territory. He’s excited about having a little more freedom than elementary structure afforded. Mostly, he feels overwhelmed that there is entirely too much to take in at once, and what to do with it all.

And then, of course, there's Jeanne Galletta

The thing about Rafe is that he is also anything but typical. Along with his very, um, special friend Leo, Rafe constructs an elaborate plan to survive his 6th grade year by defying what is intended to be the safety net of middle school society: the student code of conduct. His adventures might help Rafe make it through the worst year of his life…but they might keep him there as well.

Middle School: TheWorst Years of My Life as a title is a work of genius. Everybody is either headed to middle school or has been through it and very likely remembers 6th-8th grades as some of the worst years of their life. I would agree. Largely due to changing bodies and brain chemistry, middle school continues to be a very hard time for teenagers.

For those parents, teachers, and librarians curious about how well this book might meet the needs of their kids, know that it is very nicely done. There are a few twists classic of a James Patterson work, and the addition of humor-laden, skilled illustrations adds a quirky yet highly entertaining layer. The short, brief, action-packed chapters sprinkled with bits of slapstick humor will be appealing for reluctant readers (ahem: BOYS). 



Island Beneath the Sea (Isabel Allende)

Zerite was born a slave on the French island colony Saint-Domingue, a place we now know to be Haiti. She dreamed of a life beyond being someone's property, yet nothing life sent her way enabled her to escape. The paths of Toulouse Valmorain (her master) and Violette Boisier (prostitute and Zerite's friend) intertwine tragically and beautifully with Zerite's life in appalling ways, revealing a great deal about slavery and plantations on colonial Saint-Domingue and beyond. In fact, this story of Zerite's life is set in the late 1770s and spans historical events that occurred everywhere from Saint Domingue all the way to New Orleans.

Zerite is born into an inferior position in a tumultuous time, and she is a beautiful soul who lives an immensely difficult life. Throughout her story, I continued to hope against all hope that somehow things would work out for Zerite...that somehow she could ease through one loophole or another and find her happiness. Be forearned: rarely did this happen for Zerite; unfortunately, hers was a very realistic tale.

A work of historical fiction, Island in the Sea by Isabel Allende provides a holistic understanding of slavery in the Caribbean and gulf societies. Among the many stories colliding in this book is the fascinating history of the very factual uprising among slaves in Saint-Domingue

Slavery in America is a commonly explored topic in literature, although far from a fully exhausted one. Books such as this present the uncomfortable opportunity to digest slavery, one of the most unpalatable periods in history. 

*Amazon affiliate links included; please see disclosure statement at bottom of page.


Black Like Me (John Howard Griffin)

Black Like Me (50th Anniversary Edition)

Every once in a while a book dances across my path that renders me utterly speechless. Griffin's Black Like Me is one such work. Hard as I try, I'll fail to do this one justice...but try, still I will.

I'll be researching more about this John Howard Griffin in order to affirm or re-evaluate my initial opinion that he's pretty much an unsung hero of the civil rights movement. At this point in my knowledge of him, he seems to have been a major protagonist in the development of social justice for black Americans. For all Americans, really.

I'm sort of furious that we didn't read this book in high school.

Griffin's book was written in the late 50s and is about an experiment he performed to discover if and how there were differences in the ways black and white men in the South were treated. In 1957, he decided to medically darken his skin so that he looked like a black man. This book chronicles his experiences in a string of Deep South cities from New Orleans over to Atlanta, including stops in Mobile, Montgomery, and Biloxi. For six weeks, Griffin ventured into each city alternating between white Griffin and "Negro Griffin."

*It was 1957. The words "Negro" and "n*****" were used commonly and crudely. They're all over this book. I won't censor direct quotes, as that would detract from historical accuracy. Personally, however, I am rather uncomfortable using the terms even in this setting.

Obviously, he encountered rather poor treatment when he was black. The book details the stress of being harassed by white teenagers, his inability to get a job, and a bile-rising string of depraved questions from white men regarding very intimate details of black men's personal relationships. Once the experiment ended, Griffin's personal knowledge led to him becoming a common guest to meetings with leaders of both races (some separate, others mixed) who were seeking ways to bring peace and justice to the country. He writes of criticism on both sides of mistakes made during this critical time period.

Normally a good book means a few marked pages or highlights/notes in my Kindle. This may tell you something about the number of penetrating statements within this book.

I won't list them all, and for the sake of reasonableness, I've limited myself to the five most profound.

"The Negro. The South. These are details. The real story is the universal one of men who destroy the souls of other men (and in the process destroy themselves) for reasons neither really understands. It is the story of the persecuted, the defrauded, the feared, and detested. I could have been a Jew in Germany, a Mexican in a number of states, or a member of any 'inferior' group. Only the details would have differed. The story would be the same." (Preface)

"I learned a strange thing- that in a jumble of unintelligible talk, the word 'n*****' leaps out with electric clarity. You always hear it and it always stings. And always it casts the person using it into a category of brute ignorance. I thought with some amusement that if these two women only knew what they were revealing to every Negro on that bus, they would have been outraged." (Pg. 21)

"My revulsion turned to grief that my own people could give the hate stare, could shrivel men's souls, could deprive humans of rights they unhesitatingly accord their livestock." (Pg. 67)

"The white man's fears have been widely broadcast. To the Negro, these fears of 'intermingling' make no sense. All he can see is that the white man wants to hold him down- to make him live up to his responsibilities of taxpayer and soldier, while denying him the privileges of a citizen." (Pg. 121)

"Too many of the more militant leaders are preaching Negro superiority. I pray that the Negro will not miss his chance to rise to greatness, to build from the strength gained through his past suffering and, above all, to rise beyond vengeance." (Pg. 164)

Look, I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I won't even begin to pretend I understand the scope of what happened in this country during the civil rights movement. I could never fully grasp the complexity of all sides involved. I do pay close attention to this part of our history, perhaps because mine is a transracial family and maybe because I believe social justice is essential to the liberty of our great land.

Black Like Me is the can opener many people need to crack our minds wide enough to consider the intricacy of racial tensions and issues, both past and present.

*Please view disclosure statement at bottom of page.


Peeking out from behind the curtain...

Yeah, it's been a while.

That happens sometimes.

It's the good thing about blog-writing as a hobby...pick it up and leave it off as life permits.

Without guilt.

Life hasn't permitted lately.

But maybe, maybe just perhaps it might soon.

And I hope you'll be here, not dying of shock when my posts come up in your feed again.



Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics (Alisa Harris)

Alisa Harris's earliest memories with her family and church come from protest demonstrations at abortion clinics and community rallies promoting the latest conservative Christian (or who proclaimed to be) with big plans to take America back from the devil Democrats. In her book she gives a synopsis of how her faith and political involvement evolved from black and white to a better understanding of the gray in between. 

There are a couple of important factors here that bear mention. First, it is not fair to say that Harris represents conservative Christians as a whole. Whatever your opinion on the matter of picketing abortion clinics, the fact is that not every conservative agrees with holding up pictures of aborted babies or screaming at young girls or women as they enter local clinics (Note: the book does not indicate that this is the author's experience or actions, but it is that of some in this "camp.") Second, Alisa Harris has no doubt experienced quite a journey of growth in her faith and how that applies to her political involvement, but she is still rather young. By no means do I intend that wisdom can only be imparted from those who are older (unfortunately fools come in all ages, shapes, and sizes), but it is a significant piece of the pie to consider. She was also single for most of the time described in this portion of her life, and up until publication (perhaps even to date) had no children. Marriage and the arrival of kids play a huge role in shaping one's worldview, so it would be interesting to see how those affect Harris in the years to come. I'd read it. 

I'm not sure what attracted my attention to this title in the first place, but it's sufficient to say it sums up where I've been faith-wise for some time. I would not say that I'm in line with Harris on some of the issues she covers in this book. Generally, though, I appreciate the book's topic of true reflection on what you believe. Do you really know why you believe what you believe, or are you just regurgitating what you are hearing and reading online? Regardless of whether you go picket or post links on your Facebook account, it has long been true that growing up in the South generally means that good Christian=conservative Republican. It is high time to challenge that assumption, and to do so through raising our kids not by teaching them what to think but HOW to think. 

It is not accurate to say that conservative Republicans have it all figured out and that liberal Democrats are in line with the devil, nor vice versa. It is not accurate to say that you are taking a stand for Jesus Christ to align yourself (especially those who do so with arrogance) with a political party. People issues are one thing, but the very complex foray into political activism is entirely another. 

Too many people think that if Christ were here in American in the flesh today that He would be a Republican. 
They also think He would be middle class. 
They also think He would be white. 

The truth is, our Messiah does not care about the political idols that we have established here in America. Too many times I see and hear people touting political victories as God-honoring when the only thing honored was the god of politics that somehow has people in a blinding chokehold. 

Politics run on power, and Scripture teaches over and again that Jesus avoided demonstrations of power (even His triumph over death, though proven over and over, was apart from an audience) in favor of quiet displays of His love for people. All people. Poor people, sick people, defenseless people, vulnerable people. Pretty much everybody had a seat at His table. You know who really got on His nerves? The legalistic Pharisees who would have been a close comparison to some politicians today. 

It is historically accurate that the church has long since manipulated by political parties (both sides of the spectrum), and that is far from what honors our God. We need to open our eyes to this...and, as Harris says in her last sentence, to be Christ's followers not through displays of power but through being a picture of love. 



Chaos Walking trilogy (Patrick Ness)

Though I've read at least 40 books in the past three months, it's the Chaos Walking trilogy that has me wanting to write about them again. Of all the dystopian/futuristic YA lit flooding the market in recent years, there is just something different about Chaos Walking.

Todd and Viola are the main characters of the series, and both their distinct differences as well as their similarities are what bind the past of the old world to the future of the new world. Speaking of the new world...it's essential background knowledge that Todd and Viola are one of several thousand inhabitants on a planet called New World. It's also important to know that on New World there is something rather strange about the atmosphere that causes men's thoughts to become audible (and their visual thoughts/memories shared with whoever is near). They refer to it as their Noise.

The Knife of Never Letting Go
It's in this first book that we meet Todd and learn that he is on the verge of becoming a man. It isn't quite clear what "becoming a man" means, though, and Todd is as conflicted as he is eager to join the rest of his community...given that he is the very last boy among them. This community (Prentisstown) is made up entirely of men, and there are both strange and terrible stories about just what exactly has happened to all the women who originally settled here in New World. Prentisstown is filled with men whose Noise is broadcasted throughout the city, which makes for a very odd life indeed.

 One day, Todd is out near the swamp and he discovers a "hole" in the Noise. This turns out to be a girl (Viola), the first he's ever met. Todd is completely thrown by her, specifically the fact that she has no Noise. He has never known anyone whose thoughts he could not hear. When Todd tells his fathers (his real parents died long ago, and Todd has been raised by Ben and Cillian), they spring into action and immediately begin to get Todd out of Prentisstown. Todd has no idea what is going on, but obeys them, taking very light supplies and his mother's diary as he flees. He finds the girl again, and together they take off to escape an army of troops from the city coming to capture and perhaps kill them.

 As Todd and Viola run away from Prentisstown, they meet several people along the way who help them learn where they are running TO: Haven. Haven is considered the biggest, safest, most advanced city on New World, and it is there they will find refuge. That is, IF they aren't killed along the way by the various madmen chasing them or Spackle (natives to New World) who might attack them out in the wilderness.

The Ask and an Answer
The second book in the series opens with Todd and Viola's arrival in Haven, and their subsequent disappointment that the place is not what it's been cracked up to be. Viola is wounded, Todd is out of his mind with fury, and both are separated by the man who they have feared most on New World: Mayor Prentiss of Prentisstown. They spend most of the book separated and concerned about the other, but still maintain a very special connection aligning them with hope for the future.

 The Spackle are an important part of this book as well. Native aliens to New World, the Spackle communicate only through their Noise, which Mayor Prentiss does his best to squelch. In hopes of saving Viola, Todd agrees to work with the mayor and his son until he can figure out a way to get to her. It is through this working relationship that Todd learns just how deranged the mayor is...at the same time, Viola is dealing with a madwoman of her own who has her own methods of taking Haven back from the crazy mayor.

  Monsters of Men
The last book in the series opens with an all out three-way war between the mayor and his men, Viola's mistress and her army of angry women, and thousands of enraged Spackle. Todd and Viola are completely in love by now but are divided by the sides of men and women who are fighting one another and the Spackle for control of New World. The story is further complicated when a scout ship arrives from another population of new humans hoping to settle on New World. The lines between crazy and redeemable are blurred as Todd begins to hope the mayor can change after all, and as everyone on each side are fighting for their lives as well as for the future of New World.

 There were several themes in the trilogy that wholly intrigued me. First, there's the gender separation by the Noise. The men and the women were both equally right and equally wrong in the mistakes they made when pitted against one another, yet there was the perpetual argument of who erred against whom first or worst. It was fascinating to see how the various communities reacted to one another in separation.

 I also of course couldn't help but wonder WHAT the Noise is supposed to mean...especially in light of the fact that only men are affected. What is the author saying about men?

 It was also interesting that Ness included two separate couples of the same gender in his trilogy. The relationships were not critical to the plot in any manner, other than that they made up half of the only four couples defined at all in the works.

 I just haven't been able to get the series out of my head! I haven't found anyone else who has read the books yet, so hopefully spewing it out here will give me some closure.


Moon Over Manifest (by Clare Vanderpool)

It is 1936 and Abilene is 12 years old when her daddy sends her to Manifest (supposedly just for a little while, though a little while soon turns into a long while). She has spent her whole life drifting from one town and job to another with Gideon (her father). Abilene knows all about being the new kid. She copes with this by determining that there are "universals" everywhere a person goes. Rich snobs, tricksters, odd balls, etc. are some of the labels she hastily applies to the people of Manifest.

It is only after discovering a box of trinkets and, along with the help of a few friends she quickly learns she has misjudged, Abilene uncovers the pieces to the mystery of Manifest...and her father as well.

*Moon over Manifest is the 2011 Newbery Award winner.