If I Stay (Gayle Forman)

Mia is a senior in high school whose entire family is in a tragic car accident. Mia's parents are killed immediately, and her brother dies soon after the wreck. Mia is in a comatose state, but has a sort of "out of body" experience as she struggles with the decision to wake up and face life, or die. I realize that's such a harsh description, but this is a pretty harsh book. Forman describes pain and suffering, and even love in a way I rarely have read.

There is more to Mia, and to If I Stay, than just the accident, or her family. She is a master cellist, and is anticipating entrance to Julliard in the fall. Music seems to be a common and strong theme in this book, because all of the major characters have their own respective identities tightly connected to the music they prefer. Mia's mom and dad are former punk rockers who are pretty free-spirited and rebellious in their parenting. Mia's boyfriend, Adam, is the lead guitarist in a rock band that has recently signed with a record label in Seattle. The emphasis on music is what pushes this book just a tad in standing out among other young adult literature. I love it. Music is a very, very important part of teenagers' lives. Well, even on a greater level, I believe that music helps shape the culture of a society. I like that Forman uses music to show how individuals are different, yet basically the same in so many ways.

Language is harsh, and I'm just not a fan of blatant profanity, because to me there is an infinite number of better word choices. Yet, in If I Stay, at least I understand how the author uses it to characterize those in her book. Mia's mom dropping some bombs in casual conversation with her teenage daughter show that she is a very different sort of mother. Better? Great? Example for others? Hmmm...not so sure I would go that far. But it does show how because her family is very different, Mia also is a very different and complex young woman. That is what keeps the very basic plot of "will she choose to live or choose to die" going for 200 pages.



Certain Girls (Jennifer Weiner)

Ahhhh.....how glorious and free it is to read solely for entertainment! To me, it is like taking deep, cleansing breaths. There are few things more relaxing than reading just for fun. I've been so desperate for a recreational read that I bought Certain Girls completely on impulse in a moment of weakness. Shame on me for not going to the library! ;)

I liked many things about this book. Cannie (Candace) Shapiro Kreshevelansky is a wife, mother, and writer, whose "one great novel" was written in her anger over being abandoned by her own father and by the father of her child. Hence, ten years later there are many things about that book that she regrets, and has determined to shield her daughter from both the contents and the media backlash of it all. Unfortunately, her daughter (Joy) has determined to both read the book and sort through what is real and what is fiction in the story, which causes just a smidge of mother-daughter tension. Additionally, Cannie and her husband Peter (an overwhelmingly happy and in-love couple) are also seeking to have another baby through surrogacy, which is an element that weaves in and out of the plot and eventually ties it all together in the end. All the characters are Orthodox Jews, and a central focus of most of the book is Joy's bat mitzvah.

I liked that there was huge growth in every single character in the book, and the theme that there are many ways to make a family. I enjoyed the mother-daughter relationship (good, bad, and ugly), and the tale of planning Joy's bat mitzvah. I learned quite a bit about modern Jewish culture, and about surrogacy. I found it rewarding to watch Joy grow from a bratty little preteen to a young woman to be proud of. I loved Cannie's personality, with her quick wit, quicker tongue, and her absolute devotion to her child.

I did have some difficulty with the somewhat frequent uses of unnecessary profanity, which I've noticed is a trait of Weiner's main characters. What was perplexing about Cannie was that it wasn't even fitting with her character. Perhaps it was a tool to demonstrate that Cannie is multifaceted...I don't know.
All in all, nice read! I'm happy to move on.



The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (Kate DiCamillo)

This was my first choice in a stack of "Just for fun" books I chose for this summer. It has been quite some time since I was actually able to read just for kicks, and I am so hungry for some great, satisfying reads!

Edward Tulane is a toy rabbit made mostly of china. He is at first a very haughty and self-righteous toy rabbit, but circumstances take him from his original owner, who loved and cared for him exceptionally well. Edward quickly goes from a life of royalty and finery to an existence filled with hate, despair, sadness, and depression. However, it is through these terrible events that Edward learns about himself, is humbled, and learns what it truly means to love someone other than himself.

The cover art is very tricky, because it indicates that Edward is a walking, talking rabbit. He is not, but the scene pictured here is pivotal and tightly connected to the title itself.

This book is clean, it is well written, it is compelling, and it could easily provide ample fodder for vocabulary studies, as well as a variety of complex themes (including selflessness, foreshadowing, comparing Edward to other characters or even to the reader herself, etc.). It was sad, though. Really, really sad. Despite that, Edward is able to lead the reader to continue hoping for better, which is a good message for any student. It was a great start to my stack!



The Cat who Went to Heaven (Elizabeth Coatsworth)

First published in 1930, this book is about a very poor Japanese artist whose housekeeper brings home a cat to keep them company. He is reluctant about this cat at first, but as she comes to distinguish herself as an extraordinary sort of cat, he gives her the name Good Fortune and grows to accept her as a member of the household. The cat watches as the artist designs a great picture of Buddha for his town's largest temple, which is a great honor to him. The artist goes through several meditative-sort of states in order to encompass an accurate depiction of Prince Siddhartha, the man who came to be known as the Buddha, and all the animals who supposedly came to pay homage to him.

A few things I learned from this book included some background information about Buddhism. I don't practice Buddhism, but it is always good to be educated about other religions.

I have a few questions about this one that were never answered in the story...namely, how does a poort artist still have enough money to keep a housekeeper? What was it about the animals (and their place in this culture) that made the artist focus so intently on them?