Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Monday, October 27, 2014
Title: Gracefully Grayson
Author: Ami Polonsky
Expected Release Date:
November 4, 2014
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley to be considered for an honest review.
Find it on:
Alone at home, twelve-year-old Grayson Sender glows, immersed in beautiful thoughts and dreams. But at school, Grayson grasps at shadows, determined to fly under the radar. Because Grayson has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but leaving it behind would mean facing ridicule, scorn, and rejection. Despite these dangers, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Strengthened by an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher who gives her a chance to step into the spotlight, Grayson might finally have the tools to let her inner light shine.
Gracefully Grayson is a compelling, heartrending piece of middle grade fiction that kept me reading, pretty much straight through, into the wee hours of the night. I thoroughly enjoyed Polonsky's writing style and her realistic characters, and I was completely impressed the way she dealt with difficult topics in an age-appropriate manner.
I don't normally do this, but I read some of the book's reviews on Goodreads prior to writing this. A number of readers commented that they felt as if the explanation for Grayson's feelings was too focused on wearing skirts and not much else. I disagree: There were plenty of other clues beyond wearing skirts and dresses, but these clues were more subtly expressed. Choosing to use glitter pens, wanting to sit with and be "in" with a group of girls, going shopping and having coffee with a girl friend, things like that. And of course the role Grayson auditions for in the school play!
These readers weren't convinced by Polonsky's portrayal. And sadly, in real life, trans people regularly face this very same type of judgment, which often results in feeling the need to hide who they are until they feel they have enough "proof" to convince others of the validity of their own identity. That is a travesty. Transgender is a spectrum, so it's unfair to apply a stereotype of how a trans person "should" look or behave, or how much they "should" transform (it might be very little, if at all), in order to validate their identity.
Other ways of portraying Grayson's dysphoria probably wouldn't have been appropriate for a middle grade novel, or even applicable due to the character's young age and maturity level. As someone with a trans family member, I thought it was very clear in the novel that Grayson sees herself not merely as a boy who happens to enjoy wearing skirts but rather, as a girl who longs to live openly as herself.
Obviously I feel very passionate about how well Polonsky handled this story, especially given its younger target audience. My only complaint had to do with the followup to the bullying Grayson endured. It wrapped up a little too quickly and easily; I wanted that to be addressed a little more fully.
But oh my word, the actual play itself! It was presented in a format completely unique to the rest of the book! It was devastatingly brilliant, just magnificent, and it had me in tears. It reached right into the heart of Grayson's struggle and laid it out for the rest of us. You can't help but gain enormous insight and compassion through reading Gracefully Grayson.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Today I'm excited to be a part of a blog tour for Diane Cook's collection of short stories, Man V. Nature. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour began October 15 and finishes up November 11; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives!
From the Summary:
Title: Man V. Nature
Author: Diane Cook
Publisher: Harper Books
October 7, 2014
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Find it on:
From the Summary:
"These stories expose unsuspecting men and women to the realities of nature, the primal instincts of man, and the dark humor and heartbreak of our struggle to not only thrive, but survive ... Through these characters Cook asks: What is at the root of our most heartless, selfish impulses? Why are people drawn together in such messy, complicated, needful ways? When the unexpected intrudes upon the routine, what do we discover about ourselves?"
I've been sitting on this review until the very last moment because I haven't known where to begin. My head is spinning. Every time I think I know what I want to say about this collection, I come up with a ton of other ideas, too much to include in one review.
Each story centers around a personification of "nature," which manifests itself as an aspect of the natural world, an aspect of human nature, or often, a blend of the two. Our hopes and fears, our virtues and failings, our natural lives and deaths, the balance we strive for, the societies we've created: All of these things are confronted, pled with, fought, accepted. It gets intense. It will take your breath away.
"Somebody's Baby" had the greatest impact on me, thanks to moments like these:
"She felt shot at every day of her life since she'd begun having children."
"Motherhood was naturally replete with loss."
"If you could suddenly get back everything you'd already said good-bye to, would you want it?"
There are so many ways to interpret the stories in this book because there are so many different things to see, and they come at you quickly, little wisps of understanding. Sometimes a new insight would jump out at me and, to be honest, it barely seemed to relate to the actual words I was reading. And sometimes a meaning felt juuuust out of reach, as if I needed to pause, sit with the words for a while, maybe read the story again at a later date in order to grasp yet another layer or angle.
I'm thankful I had Kelly from The Well-Read Redhead (whose review I'm going to read as soon as I click "Publish") because Man V. Nature is an astonishing collection that demands discussion. Grab some fellow bookworms who enjoy short stories, who enjoy a surreal read that is also grounded in reality, and who don't mind getting a little creeped out and uncomfortable ... because you are going to want to talk and talk about these stories.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
This weekend was Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon. I didn't get to participate fully this time around, but I gave it a try. I ended up reading a bit more of The Republic of Imagination, and listening to about half of the audiobook of Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. If I hadn't picked up an audiobook, I probably wouldn't have read anything at all.
This was a sloooooooow reading week. As in, I didn't read at all except for the audiobook yesterday. We've had some (minor) Girl Scout drama which I've been agonizing over. This week I finally decided to pull C from the troop we'd joined and I got her switched over to her an Individual Girl Scout membership (also called Juliettes). It sounds all isolated and lonely, but I've discovered it's not — individual scouts can attend any events or camps, and they even have their own newsletter. It's also an amazingly flexible, self-directed way to participate in scouting. I think it's going to tie in to our homeschooling style really well (that's a perk!) and mesh perfectly with how self-directed and internally motivated C tends to be.
Speaking of scouting, last week on Facebook I shared a couple of images of bookish badges from my dad's old Boy Scouts handbook. In case you missed it, here they are (click for larger view). Check out those rigorous requirements!
Yesterday was exciting for me, though. I finally got to meet Twitter friend Erica Sipes from Beyond the Notes! She presented our music teachers association with a fantastic program on what really goes on in the practice room. Later that day, she led a fun, energetic collaborative masterclass for some of our local music students. Seeing her work with the students was pretty magical. To be honest, her approach doesn't apply to music alone; I found her perspective on learning as it relates to life in general so inspiring. After the week I had, yesterday was exactly what I needed.
|L to R: Erica, my musician friend Victor (also active on Twitter), and me.|
In other news that is both musical and bookish, the soprano/piano version of Eric Whitacre's setting of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown was released in print this week. My best friend is an incredible soprano, so I can't wait to get a copy! (Read Whitacre's explanation of how this piece came about, it's really sweet).
Wow, I had a lot to say considering my reading stalled out this week. I have nothing special beyond my usual teaching schedule this week, so I'm hoping to get out of my little slump.
Have a great week!
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
My parents are originally from Maine, and all of my extended family lives there. Even though I grew up as a Navy brat, I lived in this beautiful state off and on throughout my childhood. My husband hates the cold, so I probably won't get a chance to move back. Books like Little Island by Katharine Britton and The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline give me my Maine fix, though they also make me want to look up travel prices!
2. Denver, Colorado
Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber makes me want to go to Denver. Not to ski, but to go to church!
3. Monroeville, Alabama
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a recent read for me. Sometime soon I need to make the hour and a half drive up to Monroeville in order to visit the Monroe County Museum.
4. South Carolina
I want to go back to Charleston for a visit thanks to Trip of the Tongue by Elizabeth Little. I lived there for almost six years as a kid, but somehow I never had an experience with Gullah.
5. Salt Lake City, Utah
Is it weird to include The World's Strongest Librarian on this list? Josh Hanagarne seems like such a cool guy to hang out with. He's a librarian, and we all know bookish people are the best! And, he plays the guitar, so I could bring my flute and we could play some Jethro Tull.
Adé by Rebecca Walker made me hungry for coconut rice, cassava, and chicken biryani. I want to visit Kenya just to soak in the rich culture described in this novella.
I'd never heard of Lesotho (an enclave surrounded by South Africa) before reading Spiral Aloe by L.A. Forbes. It's called a "kingdom in the sky" because of its lush, green, mountainous landscapes. Plus, they have a traditional instrument called a lekolulo that looks similar to a renaissance flute.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi made me wish I could visit Iran before the 1979 Revolution. My impressions of Iran have always been pretty skewed, unfortunately. This book started to changed that, and I hate that I can't experience it by visiting. Where's a TARDIS when you need one?
I don't exactly need books to make me want to visit Italy! But La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales, At Least You're In Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell, and Travels with George by Olga Vannucci all pulled at my heart and reminded me how much I miss it.
10. Outer Space
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. All through high school, I was sure I'd major in astrophysics in college. Although parts of Mary Roach's Packing for Mars made me thankful I'd switched to music performance in college, the book definitely dredged up old feelings about how amazing it'd be to travel to space.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Time/Place // 12:30 p.m. I just got home from church. Catching a quick bite to eat, then I'm off to take C to her Girl Scout meeting.
Eating/Drinking // I found a cute coffee shop downtown that I've never been to before, so I'm thinking I'll give it a try while C is at Daisies.
Watching // The Walking Dead returns tonight! Also have this weekend's episode of Doctor Who in the queue.
Listening // I've been into the Pandora Astor Piazzolla station lately.
Reading // I finished reading Diane Cook's Man V. Nature, which was phenomenal, really. Friday night I started Azar Nafisi's The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books, and ending up needing to go out to buy more post-it flags.
Anticipating // Next Saturday I'm looking forward to meeting Erica Sipes, author of Inspired Practice [my review]. She's presenting a program about what really goes on in the practice room at our music teachers association meeting. Later, she's giving a "collaborative" masterclass, during which one of my piano students will be accompanying another teacher's voice student. Can't wait!
Have a great week!
Friday, October 10, 2014
The purpose of Foreign Language Friday is to encourage language learners to read, share, and discover books in languages other than their native language (in my case, Italian). Feel free to borrow the image above and create your own post. Please stop by and let me know if you do!
Last year I read three books in Italian, so I decided to try for three again during 2014. Last month I realized I hadn't even started on that goal! So I picked up a middle grade novel by Susanna Tamaro, Tobia e l'Angelo. This is the second Tamaro novel I've read (the first was Il grande albero last year), and I'm thinking I need to go ahead and read everything she's published. I love how her writing style is completely accessible to me as a non-native speaker; it's simple, but the way she phrases things is so very perfect and just stunning. (To be honest, I feel like that is a trait of the Italian language overall.)
Title: Tobia e l'Angelo
Author: Susanna Tamaro
Publisher: Giunti Junior
I purchased a copy of this book.
Find it on:
8½-year-old Martina is a thoughtful, questioning child who thinks about everything far more deeply than her peers (and many adults). This makes it hard for other children, her teachers, and her parents to connect with her. There's a touching moment when Martina first realizes she's different, that her curious musings make others uncomfortable.
She has a very difficult home life. I wouldn't say her household was actually abusive, but it was extremely . . . intense. This affects Martina in a very profound way. She is incredibly lonely and unhappy; her time with her grandfather is the bright light in her life. Later she gets a different perspective on her parents (and vice versa), but the majority of the story is a portrayal of the way Martina has internalized her environment.
There's a little bit of magical realism in this one, as well as a theological undertone ("angelo" means "angel" and Tamaro is a devout Catholic). And boy, does Tamaro know how to create tension in a story. She has us fall in love with Martina's grandfather so that we feel as connected to him as Martina does, then she has us worry and wonder about him for most of the book! By the end I was tempted to cheat via Google Translate, because my slow reading speed couldn't keep up with that sense of "must find out what happened, now!"
Unfortunately, this has yet to be translated into English, but I highly recommend Tobia e l'Angelo for anyone looking for a good book at an intermediate Italian level.