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Tomorrow, we celebrate all the things we have. We gather, with people we love, to give thanks. Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a National Holiday during the Civil War. The tradition has continued through the invention of the automobile, the telephone and manned flight; two World Wars; the Great Depression; the Civil Rights movement; The Cold war; peaceniks and hippies (Me! Me!); the Space Race; the invention of the Internet; 9/11; reality TV. No matter what is happening, we all set aside a moment or two to appreciate what we have.
One of the people I am grateful for is Raina Telgemeier, cartoonist. I picked up Ghosts, her latest novel, and sped through it. The story is a simple one, of a 12-year-old who has to find her way in a new town. But here's the twist; Cat's younger sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis. The family has moved to a small town on the North California coast to help Maya's breathing.
Little do they realize that their new hometown is riddled with ghosts. To Cat, this is horrifying. To Maya, it is fascinating. She has questions to ask the spirit denizens of her town.
Telgemeier does not sugar coat the realities of Maya's disease, or the strain it puts on Cat as she works to be accepted for who she is at her school. Her characters' faces are so expressive, that often words are not needed. This book won't stay on the shelf.
On Monday, September 19th, Raina Telgemeier will launch her new book, Ghosts, in Minneapolis. She's a much acclaimed writer with several best selling books. Anytime I see a book that has something to do with ghosts, I wonder if the author is going to be contributing to the too-high-pile of problematic books with characters who are haunted or inspired by the ghost of a Native character. One example (there are many) is Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk. I think Telgemeier's Ghosts is one of those problematic books, but I don't think that Telgemeier is aware that she's doing that same thing. The story she tells, and the reviews of her story, demonstrate (yet again) an ignorance of history. I imagine some people defending the book by saying its audience isn't old enough for the complexity of that history, but that holds true only for a selected (possibly white) audience. Native children, and children of color, know far more history than one might expect, because history informs and shapes our daily lives, today. History, of course, informs the daily lives of White children, too, but in a way that means they're ignorant--and are taught ignorance--until they're deemed "ready" for that dark history. So, let's get started. Here's the synopsis for Telgemeier's Ghosts:
Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake - and her own.
The ghosts in Bahía de la Luna (that is a fictional town) are primarily the ones they see at a mission. This starts on page 73, when Carlos (the neighbor boy who tells them about ghosts) takes them to the mission, "where the ghosts' world and ours mostly closely overlap." The three get separated on the way up there. Cat arrives, alone. The mission itself is run down.
Nobody is there, which is interesting in itself because those missions are a key piece of California's tourism industry. There may be some that are like the one in Ghosts, but I kind of doubt it.After wandering around a bit, Cat sees a ghost. She follows it and finds Maya and Carlos in the courtyard:
Carlos opens a bottle of orange soda, hands it to Maya, and then one of the ghosts goes right up to her, smiling:
At first she's taken aback, but in the next panels, we see the ghost hug her, so she decides it is a friendly ghost. She says hi, but Carlos tells her that most of the people buried there were from Mexico, so, they like it when people speak Spanish to them. So, Maya calls out "Hola!"
That visit to the mission is the point where--for me--the story really starts to unravel.
The missions were there (obviously) for a specific reason: to turn Native peoples into Catholics and to claim that land for Spain. Some see missions and missionary work as a good, but if you pause for a minute and think about what they and that work is designed to do, and if you do a bit of reading, you'll learn that it was far from the benevolent character with which it is regarded by most of society.
At the missions, life for Native people was brutal. There was rape. Enslavement. Whippings. Confinements. And of course, death. Analyses of the bones at the mission burial sites that compare them with bones found elsewhere show that the bones of those who died at the missions were stunted and smaller than the others.
Some of Telgemeier's ghosts might have spoken Spanish, but it is far more likely that their first language was an Indigenous one. Did they joyfully want to be spoken to in Spanish, the language of their oppressors? Given the history, I think it is unlikely that these ghosts would be smiling as Telgemeier shows:
And I wonder, too, about those cemeteries. There are a lot of accounts that report that Native peoples were buried in mass, unmarked graves, elsewhere.
One might defend Telgemeier by saying that her ghosts are of the Spanish priests and maybe soldiers, and, maybe Native peoples who had been successfully Christianized, but the overwhelming evidence of the history is what I think should hold sway when we look at the missions, and when we give children stories about them.
I strongly urge people to read Deborah Mirandah's Bad Indians. Look, especially, at her chapter, The End of the World: Missionization. There, she presents an accurate version of what children across California are asked to do: a mission study. But Deborah's doesn't soft pedal or whitewash what happened. She describes items, like a cudgel (p. 15):
Wooden club used to strike quickly; alcaldes, soldiers, and sometimes padres carried these with them for spontaneous corrections throughout their day. The alcaldes used these during services in church to remind the Indians to be quiet, to pay attention, and to stay awake. A longer cudgel or cane was useful during Mass because the alcalde could reach far into a crowd without having to move very much.
Look, too, at A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions by Elias Castillo. He writes about treatment of Native people who tried to escape the missions. When caught, the friars at Mission San Francisco burned crosses into the faces of men, women, and children.
Above, I wrote that this brutal history is usually kept away from children--but I also noted that the children it is kept from is not Native children, or children of color. Indeed, Castillo's book includes a foreword, written by Valentin Lopez, Chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of the Costanoan/Ohlone Indians. He writes:
Until now, the true and full history of the California missions has never been told. When visitors tour the missions, they are usually presented with stories and images of peaceful, loving priests and soldiers who treated the Indians as adored children.
These stories belie the truth of the missions, where Native Americans suffered under harsh and brutal conditions. As a young boy, I listened to stories from my elders about the cruelty of the missions. There were tales of how native women were captured— with their thumbs tied together with leather straps to form human chains— and marched forcibly from their tribal lands to the missions. If the Indians did not cooperate, the soldiers, at times, killed them. In one incident, more than two hundred women and children of the Orestimba tribe (living near what is now the town of Newman) were being taken to Mission San Juan Bautista. When, after passing the summit at the Orestimba Narrows, these women refused to go any farther, the Spanish commander ordered the women and children killed with sabers and their remains scattered.
The oral traditions of our tribal band, the Amah Mutsun, taught us stories of how certain Spaniards would appear when the Indians were first brought into the missions so they could get their pick of the young girls and boys for their perverted appetites, always with the tacit approval of the priests.
I know most people don't want to read about such things, but for certain, we cannot go forward presenting the missions as Telgemeier does. Can you imagine what Mr. Lopez's response to Ghosts? Can you imagine how teachers will use this book in the classrooms? On a superficial level, it looks to be the perfect "diverse" book. It isn't. Head over to Reading While White's post about Ghosts and see the conversation and links there. In particular see what Yuji Morales and Patricia Encisco submitted in their comments about the book.
Published in 2016 by Scholastic, I do not recommend Raina Telgemeier's Ghosts. Add a Comment
If there is one request I get from students the most it is, "Stacy! I want a scary book!" This is always tricky business, because invariably this question is not coming from an 8th grader. It's coming from a 4th-6th grader. And honestly, there aren't that many titles. This is one of the reasons I am so thankful for DeStefano. I first got to know her through The Curious Tale of the In-Between, which is so absolutely creepy and scary in a subtle way. I am incredibly happy to have gotten my hands on The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, which is perhaps even scarier.
Lionel and Marybeth live with Mrs. Mannerd in a home for orphans. They are among the youngest in the home and couldn't seem more different from one another. Lionel is somewhat of an animal boy. He would rather eat with the animals and be outdoors with the animals than do anything as seemingly silly as eat at a table with untensils! Marybeth, on the other hand, has perfect manners, is a quiet child, and does things like brush her teeth and comb her hair without even being asked. While everyone else in the house thinks that Lionel is weird, Marybeth does not.
Marybeth often follows or accompanies Lionel out on his journeys into the woods to see the animals. Lionel often talks about the animals he is friends with, and just recently he has been talking about a fox with a blue coat that he saw but is unable to track. One rainy night, Marybeth sees a streak of blue running outside of her window. When she goes to wake Lionel, she is admonished and chased away by one of the older boys he shares a room with a decides that she will go track the animal on her own. She heads out into the dark and rainy night toward the river. As she plummets into the river she is surrounded by a blue light before she surfaces.
When Marybeth shows up back at Mrs. Mannerd's house at the end of the following day, everyone is relieved to see her alive. Lionel is one of the first to realize that the Marybeth that returned to the house is not the Marybeth who left. She is not wearing her glasses anymore, has not plaited her hair. When one of the older boys steals her breakfast because she is too slow, she does something that is decidedly not Marybeth. She lunges across the table and bites his neck!
What was that blue light in the water that surrounded Marybeth? And how did it get inside of her?
What follows is an absolutely chilling tale of ghostly possession, friendship, madness and family. Moody and atmospheric, readers will be able to picture the settings and feel the tension and desperation Lionel feels as he tries to save his friend.
According to publisher promotional materials, Ghosts, the new graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier will have a 500,000 copy first printing. I believe this is the biggest first printing ever for a pure graphic novel. (not counting Wimpy Kid this time.) In other words, Raina rules! We finally have a legit home grown best selling cartoonist […]
When I was in college, I worked an early morning custodial job.
Every morning, I’d wake up at 3:30 AM, get ready, head to the school, park in the Y lot (where students were allowed to park) and make my way across campus to the bookstore, where I cleaned toilets and mopped floors and replaced lights and was thrown in the dumpster by my coworkers. (They did it because they loved me.)
Not to brag or anything, but I’m still really good at cleaning toilets.
One morning, I was trekking across the long and lonely parking lots.
When the weirdest thing happened.
This is me, minding my own business:
GUYS ON BIKES.
Except they weren’t on regular bikes, they were riding little kid bikes. Like, green and pink and red ones. What??
Silently, they rode past, saying nothing. They looked at me, I looked at them.
As silently as a dream, they moved on.
And so did I.
3 hours later…
What had I just seen????????
Fast forward to years later. I’d never told anyone about this weird incident, because it was…weird. In fact, I’d been so sleepy, I half-wondered if it was a dream. But last week I was talking to a couple of friends…
Both of these girls go to BYU, and we were talking about flash mobs. So I told them the story.
ME: …It was, like, 4 in the morning and whole bunch of guys on bikes came riding past…
TRISH: Wait…were they riding kiddie bikes???
TRISH: Because our friend was walking to her early morning custodial job, and she saw that exact same thing in that same parking lot!!!
Keep in mind, this is years after I saw them. YEARS.
INSANE ASYLUM FOR GIRLS. That’s enough to get anyone’s attention, but unlike many slick, cheap-thrills books that quickly bore me, The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall is one of the most well-crafted YA horror books I’ve read in ages. It’s a short but surprisingly thoughtful book, with good creepiness and suspense and sadness, as well as the right balance of teenage snark and feeling. It’s hard to juggle humor and darkness, but the author does a great job of that here. I also very much appreciated the writing–I loved the way the passage of time was described, which places the reader in an unsettled frame of mind, as well as the sensory experiences of being in Delia’s mind and body as she adjusts to living in the house. There are good plot twists, a well-written back story that doesn’t slow down the pace, and logical progression in character and plot... Read more »
Review by Sara
by Jennifer McKissackAge Range: 12 and up Grade Level: 7 and upHardcover: 320 pagesPublisher: Scholastic Press (September 29, 2015)Language: EnglishAmazon | Goodreads
A haunting and luminous Gothic YA novel about reckoning with the ghosts of one's dark past.After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old
It’s true, and this book is a perfect example of that. I’m a big fan of the books Enchanted Lion makes, and this one is two years old in America, and I just stumbled across it recently. Better late than never, right?
So, these ghosts.
The front endpapers here show a small spot illustration of a sheeted, ball-and-chained spook. On the title page, another ghost confronts him with disbelief in his ghost-ness, and the story is off. The two, a self-proclaimed ghost and a maybe-ghost, star in a series of pictures where the real ghost explains the reality of ghosts.
They don’t only inhabit creepy places, and they don’t drag around the old ball and chain.
And they definitely don’t go around saying, “Boo…Boo…Boo” all day.
These ghosts are different.
They live in your kitchen. See the name of this ghost, spelled out by the items on the shelf? The Ghost of the Kitchen is clumsy, spilling poofs of flour and traipsing through spilled milk. And he really likes angel food cake and creamed rice. He’s up there on your light, judging you as you snap some peas.
This one wakes at night, scatters your clothes around, and makes your toys sing. He’ll slither into your teams and nightmares, and disappear in the morning.
The Ghost of the Parents’ Bedroom does not like messes as much as his nighttime friend. But I don’t think he’s as intimidating or successful either.
(Also, I do think that’s a dirty magazine under the bed, no?! Maybe something worth hiring a ghost to protect? Maybe the first I’ve ever seen in a picture book!)
The Ghosts of the Attic and Gray Days are my favorites. The one in the attic is ‘wrinkly yet twinkly’ and ‘likes to spend his time remembering the good old days.’ He smokes a ghost pipe, reads old newspapers, and listens to scratched records. He scares spiders away by wearing silvery scarves.
And the Ghost of Gray Days is a lumbering fellow, joined by a driving slug and an elephant carrying a plate for an umbrella. Of course.
The details in these pictures is astounding. Each spread has quirky spooks and spooky quirks, and each of these ghosts has enough character to erase that old, boring ball and chain.
Perfect for anyone who likes mini-stories, visual feasts, and the fun of being scared.
Two words describe Archivist Wasp, in my opinion, confusing and compelling. It's not often a book is equal parts confusing and compelling. Even though I found myself with more questions than answers and lingering confusion, I couldn't stop reading Archivist Wasp. Two more words to describe the book? How about post-apocalyptic and ghosts?
Our heroine is an archivist calling herself "Wasp." I'll be honest, Wasp doesn't have the best of lives, even, when she's not fighting for her life, fighting to stay the Archivist. (She's challenged every year by three Upstarts. That's how she got the job as well, by killing the previous Archivist.) Archivists have a marginally better life than Upstarts. But essentially, no one in this post-apocalyptic world has a happy, easy life. The villagers, well, they have their problems too. But at least they aren't tortured/tormented by the Catchkeep's Priest and brainwashed into a life of hate and violence.
So what does an Archivist do? She hunts ghosts, recording what she learns from each ghost, disposes of ghosts after studying, except, for when a villager wants to buy a ghost for whatever reason. It's a bleak, lonely life. And Wasp does spend a good bit of the book recovering from various injuries.
So the book is about what happens when Wasp meets an out-of-the-ordinary ghost, one that is actually able to communicate with her, one that has a tragic tale to tell and a huge request for her. This nameless ghost (he can't remember his identity, I believe) wants her help in finding another ghost, Catherine Foster. He wants them both to travel to the underworld and search the spirit-world. She agrees, and, in the process learns that life below isn't any more bleak than life above. In fact, in some ways it might even be slightly better. But the search won't be easy. And it will have its own dangers.
The book is about what she learns through this search, it will change her certainly....
Do I understand everything that happened in Archivist Wasp? Not really. The quest was really confusing in places, and, she is thrown in and out of other people's memories. She sees the past on her quest, in bits and pieces, and probably not sequential flashbacks either. She has to piece it all together. And she does a much better job than I did with that!
Leo: A Ghost Story Written by Mac Barnett Illustrated by Christian Robinson Chronicle Books 8/25/2015 978-1-4521-3156-6 52 pages Age 3—5
“Most people cannot see ghosts. Can you?
“You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.”[press release]
Review Leo has lived alone in his house for some time as evidenced by his attire. He spends the time amusing himself with his drawings and taking adventures through the books he reads. Then, much to Leo’s delight, a family moves in, but when Leo tries to welcome them with mint tea and honey toast the family runs into the bathroom, locks the door, and considers their options. The young boy defiantly states,
“I hate tea! And I hate ghosts!”
(I suppose in their fright they forget a locked door won’t keep out a ghost, and it doesn’t.) Leo is floating above the tub. He hears the young boy’s words and decides it is time to leave his home and explore the world. But no one can see Leo. Worse, they walk right through him as he stands on the sidewalk.
Fortunes take a good turn the day Leo meets Jane. Jane is in need of a knight and thinks Leo will fit the bill. King Jane is introducing the new Sir Leo to her royal court—all imaginary friends. Leo is disappointed Jane thinks he is imaginary, rather than real, but Leo does not want to risk scaring Jane with the truth. That night, Leo moves into the living room just in time to see a burglar climbing through the window. The thief does not see Leo, walking right through the young ghost. Leo is not deterred. He finds a way to capture the thief and prove to Jane he is more than imaginary.
Leo: A Ghost Story begins to impress right from the cover. Underneath an inviting book jacket is a classy blue cover with Sir Leo’s shield. The spine simply says, “LEO.” The acrylic painted cut-out construction paper illustrations are shades of blue and blue-grey, and if you look closely—if you contain the imagination—you can see Leo in nearly every spread.
Those without the needed childlike imagination get a chance to see Leo on the occasions he chooses to reveal himself. I love that Leo draws and reads books. An adventure awaiting in books is a terrific message to send young children. I also love that Leo and Jane become friends, showing children that friendship does not need to be conventional, just accepting of differences. Leo is a great friend and an inspiring example for young children, as is Jane. I love Jane’s unquestioning acceptance of Leo, the ghost. When Leo tells Jane he is a ghost and her real friend, Jane replies,
“Oh! Well that’s even better.”
Young children will adore Leo and enjoy his friendship with “King” Jane. Many will commiserate with Leo when his “new family” misunderstands his intentions. What young child has not had something they meant one way been taken the other way? What adult, for that matter. Accepting others despite their differences is a good message and very appropriate for today’s world.
The press release for Leo: A Ghost Story states that Leo is a “charming tale of friendship . . . destined to become a modern classic that will delight readers for years to come.” After reading the story and enjoying the illustrations, it is difficult to disagree. Leo is a charming little ghost who easily captures the reader’s heart.
Full Disclosure: Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett & Christian Robinson, and received from Publisher, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings. A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.
But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible. She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.
Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.
As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.
What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories. Gorgeous.Add a Comment
Yesterday, Raina Telgemeier, author of the Eisner-winning autobiographical comic, Smiles, announced her next graphic novel. The book, entitled Ghosts, will be released in fall 2016, and will be published through Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, which focuses on YA and kids comics.
This is the story of a girl lost in a lonely, desolate, and bare world; and a girl lost in herself. Wasp is an Archivist, one of a handful of girls selected from a young age to serve in a religious order where she must capture ghosts, learn what she can from them about their lives in the world Before and then dispatch them. It is a good thing to finish them eternally, or so she has been trained to think. Wasp must also battle to the death for her title every year. There is a line of upstarts looking to become Archivist themselves, and it is also how she herself took the title. She wears the braids of the Archivist before her and of all the upstarts who have challenged her in her own hair. It’s a fierce and brutal world our Wasp inhabits. This is a girl who... Read more »
Scribble on her Dress .... from the book Thin Time
Matilda by Sophie Bignall
I was furious with Thomas for running off, but I had to find him. Crawling from under the bench, I tiptoed along the aisle to the wooden trellised gates and was shocked and surprised to hear Thomas giggling and the sound of gentle laughter. There was someone else in the church!
The laughter was such a comforting noise in that gloomy place and I hurried between the high-backed choir stalls into the cold moonlight pouring through the huge, stained glass window that filled most of the east wall of the church. In front of me was a vast expanse of dirty red carpet stained with candle wax. It covered the paving and the three wide shallow steps that led up to a low platform against the back wall of the church. On the platform was the altar, a long stone table draped with an old grey cloth, and sitting on the bottom step was Thomas with the young girl from the knight’s tomb beside him!
Her long hair fell in a colourless shawl round her thin shoulders. Her dress was like the cloth on the stone table, threadbare and so old it was hard to tell the colour it had once been. The folds of her dress were full of dust, but I saw smudges of gold paint on the cords and tassels of her cloak. Recovering a little from the shock of seeing her, I remembered something else and went hot and cold inside. I’d scribbled my name all over her. Thank goodness, I hadn’t scribbled on her hands and face!
The Plot: Amber is telling about the night her world went wild because the doors opened and the guards were missing. Amber is locked up in a juvenile facility for girls and the electric went out and the generator didn't kick in and all the girls are let out and free and running wild.
Violet is getting ready to go on stage. It is her final dance before she leaves for Juilliard. She is thinking about this final, home stage ballet dance and leaving this town and her family and her memories. It's like escaping a prison, she thinks, realizing it's a terrible thing to think considering what happened three years ago, when her what happened happened, when her best friend Orianna was sent to juvenile detention.
The Walls Around Us is about these three girls, Amber and Violet and Orianna, and how their stories overlap and weave together in a tangled mess of walls and doors, expectations and fears. And anger. Always, anger.
The Good: I'm a fan of Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls and 17 and Gone. The Walls Around Us doesn't disappoint; it may be my favorite one yet. Like those books, The Walls Around Us does many things: there is a surface story but there is also a story underneath, there are observations about how the world views teenage girls and how the girls view themselves, and there may or may not be a ghost story. Then there is the language, creating a world and a setting and a tone that wraps around us -- like walls wrap around us.
As with Suma's other stories, I don't want to give too much away, but at the same time, I just want to talk about what happens and what does not. So the short version is, drop everything and read The Walls Around Us.
The longer version, which some spoiler-sensitive won't want to read.
Amber is a long term inmate and introduces us to her world, starting on that night when the doors opened, to her world and the other girls. Who is innocent? Who is guilty? Why did they end up there? Does it matter, now that they are locked up, what came before or what will come after? As the chapters go back and forth, it is revealed that Orianna has not yet arrived at the facility which means all Amber says happens three years before Violet's story.
And something terrible is going to happen at that place, and Amber's role as observer and watcher and eavesdropper means she is going to tell it to us, best as she can. Orianna never speaks for herself: instead it is those who knew her who describe her.
For Amber, Orianna is the new girl who has to learn the ropes. But Amber is also puzzled by something else, because Ori seems somehow familiar. And that night of almost-escape, has it happened before? Is it happening again? Why do things yet to happen seem familiar?
For Violet, Orianna was her best friend. But also her number one competitor in ballet; even now, years after what happened and Ori was arrested and tried and sent away, it is Ori's easy accomplishments that drive Violet's own path. Vee is still competing. Violet's life has gone on exactly as it should, with her place at the ballet school, and her boyfriend, and a new best friend, and best of all she'll be leaving all this behind her shortly when she leaves for Juilliard.
What did happen? What did Ori do? What did Vee do?
Violet's story seems straight forward enough, even though she's reluctant to say what happened years before. And frankly Violet seems a bit hard, a bit of a bitch, but is wanting to leave your home and start the new life that college promises such a bad thing? Is wanting to forget painful memories bad, and don't some build a hard shell to deal with the past?
Violet wants to go see where Ori was sent, even though now the place is in ruins and no one is there. Or is it it abandoned? Do all the dreams and hopes and fears and anger of those girls just -- disappear, go away, when those girls go away? When Violet walks into that broken, abandoned place, does she see ghosts or is it her own guilt haunting her?
Anger. As I write this, I realize that if there is one thing that The Walls Around Us is about, it's not about ballet and friendships; it's not about murder and punishment; it's not about escape or justice.
It's about anger. Anger that girls feel for all the right reasons, anger at abandonment and betrayal and abuse, anger that is denied because society doesn't want to see it, anger that is denied because girls aren't supposed to be angry, anger at why some girls are punished and some are not. Anger at why some girls have things so easily and others do not. And being angry is hard work, no matter how much a girl tries to deny it and keep it in control. Eventually, the walls holding the anger in, the walls holding the anger out, have to come down.
Yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2015.
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A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]
MARLEY WAS DEAD, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
I have watched A Christmas Carol more times than I've read it, and I've read it two or three times at least. The story is oh-so-familiar; the phrasing is oh-so-familiar. It's a book that has an old-friend feel even if you haven't read it dozens of times. There are scenes and descriptions that just feel incredibly right and familiar. For example,
Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again. “Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?” “I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.” “Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug!” “Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” “Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.” “Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!” “There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Other details, I've found, are less memorable perhaps.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?” “It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.” From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. “O Man! look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. “Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more. “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the City. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” The bell struck Twelve.
I don't recall thinking much of the two children Ignorance and Want, of thinking about what message Dickens was sending. But when I was reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Standiford stressed their significance. (Standiford called A Christmas Carol, "a bald-faced parable that underscores Dickens's enduring themes: the deleterious effects of ignorance and want.") Why had I not noticed them before? I can only suppose that I've been rushing through the text looking for what was familiar and beloved, not really considering the book as a whole.
I like A Christmas Carol. I don't love, love, love it. I have found it to be a Christ-less Christmas story. A book that doesn't really focus on the Savior--newborn babe or risen Savior--so much as it focuses on humanity improving and changing and saving themselves. The message to Scrooge isn't, you're a bad man; you need a Savior; consider your eternal soul. The message is whether that even Scrooge, as horrible as he was, can change; he can change the way he lives; he can become a good man, a great man. He can avoid after-life horrors by changing his behavior. That isn't a Christian message.
I had very high expectations for Kate Milford's Greenglass House. I loved, loved, LOVED Kate Milford's The Boneshaker. My love for that one hasn't faded a bit since I first read it. (I've reread it at least once or twice since.) Greenglass House is one that I've been looking forward to reading for most of the year. Almost a book I NEEDED to read instead of merely being one I wanted to read. And the opening paragraph was wonderful:
There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you're going to run a hotel in a smugglers' town. You shouldn't make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn't be in it for the money. Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today. You should, if you are going to run a smugglers' hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you're going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges. If you're lucky. You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless. Milo Pine did not run a smugglers' hotel, but his parents did.Unfortunately, for me, the book proved disappointing. However, just because it was an almost for me does not mean that it would prove equally disappointing to other readers. I think it could definitely work for other readers. In fact, the very elements that annoyed me may be what another reader loves best of all about the book.
For a book set during the Christmas holidays, this is a very un-Christmas-y book. Christmas proves to be the last thing on every character's mind. So if you pick up the book thinking, A Christmas book! A Christmas mystery! How delightful! You may be disappointed.
Greenglass House is very much a mystery. It is a puzzle-solving mystery. It is a book that celebrates brainstorming. Milo, our hero, finds a map. He doesn't know anything at all about the map. Just that one of the new guests must have dropped it--either on purpose or by accident--on his/her way into the inn. Perhaps he first becomes curious out of boredom or frustration. It is the holidays. The inn never has--that he can recall--had guests over the winter holidays. So when three or four guests appear within an hour or two of each other, he's annoyed. Guests mean work. If not work for him directly, then work for his parents. And the guests range from slightly eccentric to VERY eccentric.
Greenglass Mystery is more than a mystery. I can't talk about it without spoiling it, however.
So what annoyed me most about the Greenglass House? The game-playing. The introduction of the role-playing game in order to solve the mystery at the inn. All the details--big and small--that come from the game. Including the names. Most of the book, the characters use their game-names (personas) instead of their real names.
There are also elements of a coming-of-age story within Greenglass House. Milo is adopted. He's Chinese. His parents are white. He thinks about being adopted a lot. Plus, I think he's just at that age where one questions their identity and who they are and why they are and what they want to be and where they fit and how they fit.
I love the seven books my panel selected as the finalists for YA Speculative Fiction. I'm really proud of our shortlist as a representation of the best YA Spec Fic books of 2014. However, there are always the ones that got away, the ones that didn't quite make it. When seven people are deliberating, compromises have to be made, and sometimes, no matter how passionate you are about a book, you can't convince your fellow judges. Here are some of the 2014 Cybils nominees that I loved, but which didn't make the cut as finalists:
This is a frighteningly believable book about a near-future conflict between a state and the Federal Government, with the National Guard caught in the middle. Exciting plot, credible and distinctive teen male voice, and well-developed protagonist.
For anyone who has ever wanted to be Circus. Part mystery, part circus story, and a bit of magic, this story of a young wire walker trying to overcome her family's past and prove herself is dripping with atmosphere and loaded with teen appeal.
Federal agents investigating Washington DC prep school student Emily Bird may be more of a danger to her than the rapidly spreading global pandemic. An exciting thriller that shows the stark contrast between the power elite in Northwest DC and the working class in the Northeast, and the racism that exists in both.
The conclusion of a terrific high fantasy series that started with Shadowfell. I've loved all the books in this series, but sadly I've been unsuccessful at convincing my fellow judges to shortlist any of them. With well developed characters, a page-turning plot, and themes of sacrifice and choice, this may be the best book of the trilogy.
A creepy paranormal horror story told from the point of view of a centuries-old ghost. With distinctive voice, an almost poetic writing style, and a strong dose of Japanese culture, The Girl from the Well has a lot of teen appeal. This one came very close to making the shortlist, but we had some concerns about the mentally ill being used in a stereotyped way for horror effect.
As the daughter of a dragon and a princess, Marni is torn between two worlds, the wild and beautiful but dangerous forest, and the equally dangerous life at court. A beautifully lyrical, character-driven fantasy with a theme of choice and being true to yourself.
I’d been meaning to get to this series all of 2014. After being totally amazed by both The Girl With All The Gifts and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August I asked the person the Australian publisher who had recommended them both what I could checkout next. And this was the series they said. […]
Review by Paola
SHUTTERby Courtney AlamedaHardcover: 384 pagesPublisher: Feiwel & Friends (February 3, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon
Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat -- a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum. As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the
I’m torn on this one, you guys. There were many things I liked about Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us: the prose style is gorgeous, and I was much more interested than I expected to be in a story about killer ballerinas. On the other hand, I saw the twists coming from a mile away (rare for me!), but dammit, I was still so interested in this book up until the last twenty-five pages or so. The basic premise of The Walls Around Us: Amber’s in a juvenile detention center, Violet’s off to Julliard. These are our novel’s two narrators. Both their stories are bound together by their relationship to Ori – a promising young ballerina who is sent to the same juvenile detention center after allegedly murdering two rival ballerinas. As readers, we never get Ori’s story directly, but are asked to piece it together from Amber and Violet’s accounts. (This... Read more »
On March 5, Marie Mutsuki Mockett and I will be reading and talking about exorcising the past (all meanings of exorcise possible) at McNally Jackson at 6 p.m.
Marie’s wonderful new book, Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye, is about death and grief and family and ghosts and so much more. She’ll read from it, and I’ll read from the working introduction to my book on the science and superstition of ancestry, and then we’ll talk about all of that and take questions and comments from you. Hope to see you there!