Book Review|Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Set in 2030, Free to Fall by Lauren Miller is a young adult dystopian novel in which “The Doubt”, a small inner voice, is labeled as mental illness and medicated away in those who cannot ignore it. In this world, nearly everyone has an app on their phone called Lux. Lux keeps track of all data and helps the user with every decision, major to minor. This setting is ripe for the unfolding tale of high tech social engineering.

Sixteen year old Aurora “Rory” Vaughn is accepted to Theden Academy, an exclusive college prep boarding school. Rory and her friends are addicted to social media, selfies, and coffee. 

The characters struggle with the typical teen issues ranging from dieting to dating, as well as the school work load you would expect at a private prep school. Secret societies, teen angst, conspiracies, mysteries, betrayal, and romance keep the action flowing while the characters grapple with moral questions brought up in Free to Fall. I liked the allusions and themes from The Bible and Paradise Lost woven throughout.

The first time I read Free to Fall, I was stuck by the eerie parallel of current social behaviors and the technological advances we have made that make this imagined world a little too plausible for comfort.

Highly recommended for teens and up. This is an excellent book for discussion.

Some language, kissing, intimacy and heavy petting (not graphic), secret society, simulated death and violence, mind control, drinking, death of parents

Click here for a discussion guide for Free to Fall with Bible verse references from Embracing the Detour.

Visit Lauren Miller’s author website here. 

Watch the trailer for Free to Fall.

 

Netflix Series Review| Anne With an E

I wanted to love the new Netflix series, Anne with an E, and it is a good show, but since I am a big Anne of Green Gables fan, my expectations were high. At our house, Anne of Green Gables was our go to movie for slumber parties. This Netflix version is definitely not that happy little girl movie of my daughter’s childhood.

I liked this series, but it left me feeling as if a huge part of the story was missing.

I discovered the CBC 1985 adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on PBS during the wee morning hours of caring for a newborn. All of my children have been raised on the series. Eager to see what new writers might do, I attempted to put aside my feelings for my old favorite.

The first two episodes had me crying over Anne’s plight and ready to watch more. By the fourth episode, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good show, but I’m not sure this is one worth revisiting year after year as in the case of the earlier 1985 Anne Of Green Gables adaptation or the books by L.M. Montgomery.

The cinematography is wonderful, with gorgeous sweeping views and evocative shots. Amybeth McNulty plays Anne Shirley with depth and passion. I would watch the series simply for her performance.

In this new series, we get a peek into the past of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Geraldine James as Mirilla and RH Thomson as Matthew do a marvelous job playing the parts they were given. The brother and sister get their own story lines and character development. I felt a certain kinship with Marilla as she struggled with her emotions, but missed the familiar pithy remarks and personality.

Matthew is cast in a more heroic role, shown riding a horse along the coastline. There are other situations where he is allowed to be an obvious protector, showing his devotion to Anne. While I enjoyed the idea of Matthew as a knight in shining armor riding along a shore and overcoming great obstacles to rescue his Anne, I had to wonder, what was wrong with the quiet, steady love that Matthew Cuthbert had in his previous depiction?

The setting feels realistic, less scrubbed up; a genuineness which I liked.

Against the backdrop of Anne’s dire past we come to understand why a simple farmhouse takes on such an attractive hue in Anne’s eyes.

A series of flashbacks is provided to explain away her quirkiness and tendency to indulge in flights of fancy. Her need to escape is driven by angst rather than imagination. The contrast between the practical world and Anne’s “tragical” notions have been stripped away. Everything is dramatic. In this version, there are few moments of humor, the very thing that helped define Anne and bring her to life.

This is a darker, grittier version. I assume this is in an attempt to be more realistic. I don’t know if this actually works, because real life is rarely a constant unfolding of dramatic, emotional events. Real life is fraught with common practicality. I love emotional fiction, and consider a story good if it provokes a tear or two, but I kept waiting for the humor that never showed up. There is a “delight factor” I enjoyed in the books and the 1985 series missing from this series. Anne with an E has a different worldview than the Anne of Green Gables series or the books by L. M. Montgomery.

I think that some  of the scenes in this new television series added depth to the characters, and would work quite well with the established story. My struggle came where it veered off too far from the original writings. Yes, I am one of those people. Always read the book first!

The show had its moments. If a second series is produced, I may or may not watch. I am more likely to re-read the books than watch another season of Anne With an E.

While not my first recommendation as an adaptation of Anne’s story, it does have worth as entertainment. In my opinion, when compared to Anne of Green Gables too much of the positive is overshadowed by the shortcomings in this particular adaptation. Some of the messages that have been inserted into this version of Anne’s story seem a bit heavy-handed to me. Even though it is entertaining, Anne with an E doesn’t have the same take away value as its hard-to-follow, beloved predecessor.

Watch the trailer for the Netflix series Anne With an E.

You can download a free copy of the original book, Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery, at Project Gutenberg here.

Book Review| Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

 

Sugar

by Deirdre Riordan Hall

“I lean against the doorframe, heavy with the truth. I am always in the way. I’ve known this for as long as I can remember.”

“I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.”

“I know how to swim, but I feel like I’m drowning.”

I loved this young adult novel. I admit I had a hard time getting into this book at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was drawn into the plot. Sugar’s story resonated with me, and I am glad a friend recommended this novel. 

Sugar is a 17-year-old girl with an eating disorder. Home life is fraught with abuse both mental and physical. Sugar is a good girl. She tries with all her might to please her family, but they are never satisfied. She eats to fill the painful void left by rejection.

Other readers have mentioned that the middle of the novel dragged, but I didn’t notice this. I felt the story moved along at a sufficient pace and it kept my interest throughout. It actually kept me awake when I should have gone to bed!

Sugar was a quick read.  Deirdre Riordan Hall’s storytelling style is somewhat straightforward, but the story line and characters were engaging. I found myself rooting for Sugar.

The novel has a satisfactory ending, although tragedy (more tragedy!) does visit Sugar’s world. All the ends tie up nicely without it being too gooey-happy in the end. This is an empowering read for girls going through difficult times. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was one of hope. This is a story about rejection, how teens value themselves, and about overcoming.

Sugar’s battles tugged at my heart. This is one I categorize as must read for teens and adults simply because the character spoke volumes to me. It is a deceptively simple tale that delves deep. I found it an emotional read that stuck with me after I turned the last page.

With a caution for younger readers about topics covered, I would highly recommend this book for pre-teens, teens, and adults.

Topics:

Obesity, abuse, abandonment, bullying, assault, attempted rape, contains language, death, mentions of Catholic religion, prayers, rituals.

Deirdre Riordan Hall talks ‘Sugar’ and speaking up against bullies

Author’s Website

 

 

How to Talk With Teens About 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is the Netflix special everyone is talking about. The series is rated MA for mature audiences and explores suicide, bullying, sexual assault, and many other serious topics teens and young adults face. The series contains graphic depictions in some episodes. I have not read the book 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher yet, but it is my understanding that the book is significantly different. This post is about the Netflix series.

I searched for a discussion guide to go with the Netflix series but I am disturbed to find some had the tendency to minimize the issues. I found an excellent list of talking points to start meaningful discussion from the JED Foundation and provided that link below.

If you have any suggestions to add to my list, please put them in the comment section.

It seems a common thread among some of the people who discuss the series often include an element of denial. Instead of closing our eyes, perhaps a better way to address the issues brought up by 13 Reasons Why is to ask questions, listen, and guide our young people. If your teen or young adult has not watched, I still suggest parents look for ways to bring up the subject matter.

Thirteen Reasons Why is rated MA.

If your teen/young adult has already watched, I strongly suggest you watch each episode, stop, and discuss. Take time to process. This series deals with heavy topics and is emotionally draining.

Advice for Parents

Talking with kids can be hard. Decide what the most important topics are to bring up to your young person and ask questions, letting them do most of the talking. This is a time to offer guidance rather than lecture. Bring the topics up more than once.

I would be very honest with your young people. Perhaps not every person they go to for help will respond appropriately, but most adults are here to help. Sometimes asking once isn’t enough.

Relate a personal story to them if you have one and offer solutions.

Do not minimize your young person’s concerns and experiences.

Ask direct questions.

Talk to them. Not only once, but continually.

Know what they are watching.

I am not a mental health professional. The questions listed below are simply the type that can be used to start a dialog. Each of these suggested questions should lead to many more.

What did you take away from this story?

What do you think this series is about? Is it about more than one thing?(Some young people may miss that this story is driven by Hannah’s revenge against those she feels responsible for her suicide.)

Which of the characters seems the most balanced or healthy emotionally? Why do you think that is?

Are any of the depictions in this series believable? Which ones? Which actions are not?

What behaviors do each of the characters engage in that are questionable or plainly wrong? What should they have done? In this situation, what would you do?

What do you think you would do if you found yourself in some of the situations Hannah does?

How can you decide what secrets should be kept and which should be told? Who should you tell? Why or why not?

What are the signs of suicide? Other emotional issues?

How can you help someone who is suicidal?

How do our actions impact others? How do their actions impact us? How can we deal with that?

Who is the victim in this story? Is there more than one victim?

How does the school depicted compare to your school?

After each episode ask you young person for their takeaway, and what they thought. Examine the ideas put forth. Ask “what did you think” and “why or why not”.

If you seek help and are ignored or denied, what should you do then?

Does this story have a ‘call to action”? What is it?

Extension

What do you think of some of the reactions people have had to 13 Reasons? Can you give examples of appropriate/inappropriate reactions? Explain.

For further reading

Click here for a link to resources on 13 Reasons Why the Netflix Series from the National Association of School Psychologists

Click here for Talking Points from the JED Foundation.

 

Keep talking and discussing books, movies, and issues with your children and young adults.

 

Please add to the discussion by commenting below.

 

Writing with Tears

While I wait to hear back after submitting my first book proposal, I’ve been working hard on a second book for the series. I did a character interview for this second novel some time back. Skimming through the materials, I got that little heart squeeze of emotion. Here’s a peek into what my character had to say about herself.

“You are only as good as your last failure. I hate fake, but sometimes, a lot of times, I am that fake person. Most of the time. I don’t know any other way to be. If I wasn’t what they wanted, then no one would be happy with me.”

My heart already hurts!

 

 

I am, once again, crying as I write a book draft.

I use my phone and dictate my stories, quirky though my iphone is at recording, because it is small and portable. This isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. I still struggle with writing by dictation. On the rare days that I find typing physically comfortable, words flow with ease. Am I the only writer who thinks through their fingers?

I am planning a series of three novels. They are not a continuation of one single story, but stand alone as individual stories of friends.The teen characters from my first young adult novel make an appearance in this second book. As the teens grow, paths diverge. For a time.

This second novel is a story about friendship, deep struggles, and learning to love yourself. This story is particularly difficult to write. My MC battles an eating disorder and poor body image, echoes of my own teenage years.

I got a pleasant surprise as I worked on filling out the plot for the second book. A character walked on for a bit part and took over the third book in the series! I love it when characters decide to show up almost fully developed. It only becomes a problem when they take over the whole story, but that’s another blog post.

Originally, I planned for the third novel to be the story of my aspie boy character’s foray into romance. Then his girlfriend came on stage and made the story her own. It’s the same story, but told from the girl’s perspective. Having a boyfriend with asperger’s  makes her already complicated life, shall we say, interesting. Only the barest of a skeleton for the third book in the series exists so far, but it’s coming along nicely considering I’m not even supposed to be working on book three yet.

The day to day difficulty lies with the project I’m supposed to be working on. Isn’t that always the way? But I am committed and slogging away. The stories must be told and cried over, even if I’m the only one to shed a tear.

P.S. The first book dealt with the grief of losing a parent while navigating the ups and downs of the teen world. The family dynamic including a  teenager with high functioning autism added to the story line. I cried buckets.

Are you working on any projects? What characters make you cry?

Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

#amwriting

 

 

Netflix Series Review| 13 Reasons Why

I needed a break from the intense emotions stirred up by my current writing project and decided to take a peek at 13 Reasons Why on Netflix to decompress. This did not exactly work out as planned. 13 Reasons Why  stirs the emotions and I found the story hard to put from my mind.

I debated on whether or not to review it since I don’t usually review television series. At least that’s what I told myself. The truth is, I needed time to recover.

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why is based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher. The book has been on my TBR list for a while, but I have not gotten to it.

Clay Jensen, A teenage boy, receives a box containing thirteen tapes. These were recorded by a girl he had a crush on, Hannah. Hannah committed suicide, and on the tapes she gives her reasons why she killed herself, with each tape naming a person. The Netflix series is divided into thirteen episodes.

I appreciate the series because it draws attention to many of the issues teens face on a daily basis. To an extent, it also echoes the typical high school experience all can relate to. The characters are complicated and the story line pulls you along, but I suggest you give yourself time to process. Don’t slate this one as a continual weekend binge. Take a break between episodes.

I strongly recommend that if your teen wants to watch the series, you watch it with them and discuss the issues. The subject matter will take time to process.

You may want to preview this before you let your teen watch.

This series is rated for mature audiences with depictions of sexual assault and rape, suicide, mental illness, cutting, alcohol abuse, and drugs, language, and depression.

My take away from this series was that we should all be kinder to each other. We are our brother’s keeper regardless of how we try to convince ourselves otherwise. While not all will accept out help, we still need to reach out.

Be the one. The one who is kind. The one who helps. The one who notices.

13 Reasons Why brings up tough issues in addition to teen suicide, and there is talk of a second season.

I’ll be watching.

Did you watch? What did you think?

Book Review|The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

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German forces occupied Denmark in 1940 with no government opposition due to lack of military force. A patriotic group of school boys, mostly 9th graders, decided to take things into their own hands. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is their story, compiled from personal interviews and correspondence.

It took some time for the resistance in Denmark to become organized. In the meantime, the RAF Club and later The Church Hill Club, as the boys called themselves, took matters into their own hands. Recounting numerous acts of sabotage and resistance taken to undermine the Germans, Knud Peterson tells of the club’s function and operation. These activities against the Gestapo became widely known and helped inspire other Danes to join together to resist the Nazis.

The narration of events was absorbing. The risks and actions that the boys undertook demonstrate that even small subversion can make a large impact. These young men did what they felt they needed to do for their country.

I stumbled across this book on a list of recommended reading for young people but it is suitable for adult readers as well. This is a look at the sacrifice of these young men who lived through harsh times and risked their freedom to fight against the Nazi regime.

For those interested in WWII history, this book would be a great addition to any library of World War II accounts. There are extensive resources compiled in the back of this book. This high interest text could be used as part of a study of World War II.

There are many mature themes throughout the book. War, injury, acts of sabotage, illegal acts, imprisonment, deprivation, deception

Recommended for older children and adults.

Teacher’s Guide on the Author’s Website for The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

Author Interview The Boys Who Challenged Hitler | An Interview With Phillip Hoose School Library Journal

Knud Peterson passed away shortly after working with author Phillip Hoose on this manuscript. First hand accounts of history are very important. If you are interested in preserving history, The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has a website of interest, with guidelines for the oral history project here.

 

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Book Review| Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

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Daddy Long Legs

By Jean Webster

I recently revisited a childhood favorite of mine, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster.

Daddy Long Legs was published in 1912 and contained drawings by Jean Webster as well. Unfortunately, I do not have a print copy of the book but was able to download the text for my kindle from Project Gutenberg here.

I probably read this for the first time when I was very young and read it over and over. I have not reread it since I was twelve or so.

I was surprised to find it was not what I expected. The character of Jerusha was still witty and charming with a bit of sass, but reading as an adult gives an entirely different perspective.

Jerusha Abbott is an orphan dependent upon the charity of a benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous.  Daddy Long Legs is story told through a series of letters that Jerusha must write as a stipulation to receive college funds. Jerusha is smart, clever, and beautiful, if educationally stunted by her orphanage upbringing.

Daddy Long Legs is an easy to read book. If you are interested in women’s rights, social movements, societal changes, or the political history of the time period, you might be interested in this book.

Even though I kept in mind this book was published almost 100 years ago, I still felt uncomfortable at parts of the book by the behavior of Daddy Long Legs aka John Smith. Perhaps men of the day did typically treat women in such ways, but to a modern reader there is a high creepiness factor.

The author’s political view point and worldview come thorough in this story.

It would make for an easy and enjoyable way to study the issues and topics of the day.

A book from a slightly later time period reviewed on this site is Miss Buncle’s Book by By D.E. Stevenson. Both books are humorously clever and easy to read with a female protagonist making her way in the world.

SPOILER

As a child, I thought Daddy Long Legs was a simple story about an orphan who is rescued by a rich man who then falls in love with her. There are no mature themes in the book, but Daddy Long Legs was written for young ladies, not children.

The new view of my old favorite was somewhat disappointing. I still liked the character of Jerusha, but the story felt a bit disorienting, like approaching a once familiar place from a different direction.

Have you reread a childhood favorite and had a similar experience?

 

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Book Review | Matched by Ally Conde

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Matched

By Ally Conde

In the young adult dystopian, Matched by Ally Conde, all decisions are made for you, from your food intake to who you will marry. Cassia is content with her life, ready to accept whoever The Society has chosen as her match, but there is a glitch.

We follow Cassia’s story In this coming of age novel as she becomes more aware of the problems in The Society and begins to question her way of life. Events pull her along, forcing her to make choices.

The setting for the story is much like The Giver by Lois Lowry. Dystopian fans might like this story. If your young adult reader tends towards the typical teen love triangle, they may enjoy this book.

This is not a fast paced book when compared to other dystopian young adult novels, but I found it interesting enough to plan on reading the rest of the series.

I think it will appeal to a wide range of upper school aged young people.

This book was recommended to me by one of my sons.

Teaching Guide for Matched from Penguin Books 

Issues of Concern

Some kissing, hand holding, grandfather’s death, talk of war, student watch a film depicting scenes of violence, mention of poisoning, parents’ death, murder of boy.

I listened to the audiobook of Matched narrated by Kate Simes. I like her voice and felt it suited the character of Cassia well.

Another young adult dystopian novel reviewed on this site is The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson.

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Book Review|Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

neverletmegobookcover

“The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.”

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

 

Kathy H is thirty-one years old and is entering a new phase of her life. The story unfolds as she looks back on her school days at Hailsham, a private school she attended with age mates Tommy and Ruth. Kathy reminisces with a sense of fondness for those days, but we quickly realize that all is not as it seems to be. Ishiguro’s style drew me along.

The children at Hailsham are continually told how special they are, but this specialness is shrouded in mystery and foreboding.

This alternative reality dystopian is quietly chilling, provoking the reader to examine their thoughts on the human soul and medical ethics. The story telling is brilliant.

Never Let Me Go is a beautifully written book worth reading and rereading. This book motivates thoughtfulness on many issues.

Lit Lovers Discussion Questions for Never Let Me Go 

Discussion Guide from Film & Bible Blog (contains a review with spoilers before the guide)

Issues that may be of concern (contains spoilers)

The students at Hailsham are clones created to be donors and will eventually “complete” after their organs are harvested, omission of information by teachers, Kathy looks at dirty magazines searching for the human “model” she was cloned from, frank discussion of sexuality, physical suffering, mental suffering, loss of hope, questions on what it means to be human, what is the soul, cloning, medical ethics, class structure.

I listened to the audiobook version of Never Let Me Go narrated by Rosalyn Landor. I found it to be well done and easy to listen to.

Other novels by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View of Hills
An Artist of the Floating World
The Remains of the Day
The Unconsoled
When We Were Orphans
The Buried Giant

Another dystopian book that deals with medical issues and the meaning of the human soul is The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson.

I have not seen the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go, have you? What did you think?

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