Kiss Crush Collide – Christina Meredith

kisscrushcollideJust once I’d like to see a girl go on a journey of self-discovery that isn’t instigated by the boy she meets. But essentially that’s what happens to Leah Johnson, youngest of a trio of golden girls in Christina Meredith’s YA novel Kiss Crush Collide. These are girls whose futures have all been mapped out by a cliché of a mother and a doting but passive father. Yorke, the eldest, is in college and planning a wedding to her boyfriend, Roger; Freddie is graduating from high school and heading off for a year in France; Leah is about to start her last high school summer before she, too, becomes (like her sisters before her) valedictorian and then on to bigger and better things.

But that all changes when Leah meets Porter at her family’s country club (yes, they’re that kind of family; they go to the country club on Friday night).

When he wrapped his fingers around mine, a warm current of electricity flowed through me. I felt suddenly solid, as if my world had been rolling past me and it had stopped right now, amazingly sharp and in focus as if I had just taken off my roller skates. I didn’t want to let go.

That’s the boy: green eyes, beautiful brown hair, penchant for stealing cars. He pushes/pulls Leah in ways that Shane (her perfect high school boyfriend) never has, so of course she wants him. She sneaks off with him on the very night she meets him and then can’t stop thinking about him.

I suspect that lots of girls in my class will like Kiss Crush Collide and that’s okay.  There are lots of girl meets boy books out there, and this one sits pretty much in the middle of the pack. What has Leah learned from her seventeenth summer? How to drive her car (finally) and her life. Too bad it was a boy who taught her how to do both.

Off the Shelf – December 8

This morning on CBC’s Information Morning I talked about some of my favourite YA novels of 2014. You can listen to that interview here.

At the end of the year, some people reflect on whether or not they made good on their resolutions, I think about my reading year. Book junkies like me start considering the state of their bookshelves.

There are usually a few memes floating around that ask book bloggers to consider what they’ve read this year. It’s always fun to go back through my blog and think about the books I’ve read.

It’s also the time of year when all the major book players start posting best of…lists. That’s good and bad for people like me – because if there’s one thing I don’t need…it’s more books. However, if you’re looking for some new reading material, here are some great lists to get you started:

Kirkus: Best Teen, Best Fiction; Best Nonfiction

Huffington Post

The Guardian

Telegraph’s Best Teen Books

Book Riot’s Must Read Books from Indie Presses

School Library Journal

and the Mother lode of book lists…

Today, I thought I’d talk about three stand-out YA reads for 2014, one of which is geared to 12-14 year olds, so middle school.

totally joeTotally Joe – James Howe

So, James Howe is super prolific (he’s written over 80 books) and is probably best known for his Bunnicula series. That’s a vampire rabbit that sucks the juice out of vegetables. Totally Joe is part of the Misfit series, the Misfits being this group of friends who are sort of picked on in school and band together. These books actually inspired ‘no name-calling’ weeks at North American schools.

Totally Joe is the second in the series, but I didn’t read the first book and it didn’t really matter. This is the story of Joe Bunch, a kid in 7th grade who is given this very cool class project…and alphabiography. He has to come up with something about his life for every letter. Joe is funny and smart and kind and has a great, supportive family. He also happens to be gay and so he takes a lot of grief from some of the meatheads at school. I loved how open and honest Joe was about his sexual orientation – he’s a really positive role model. I think it’s super important to see kids reflected in the books they read, and I think Totally Joe is age-appropriate and important.

raftThe Raft – S. A. Bodeen

This book is fantastic. I’m not really one for survival stories, but this book is a real page-turner. It’s the story of fifteen-year-old Robie who lives with her scientist parents on Midway, an island about 1300 miles from Honolulu which is where Robie is when the book opens. She’s visiting her aunt. Midway’s teeny, about 2.4 square miles so every once and a while, Robie needs a little taste of civilization. Anyway, she’s on Honolulu and her aunt gets called away on business, which is no big deal, Robie’s used to being on her own…but then something happens on the street and it freaks her out and she decides to take the cargo plane back to Midway. Phone and Internet service is spotty, as you can imagine, and she can’t let her parents know what that she’s coming and then – of course – the plane crashes in the middle of the Pacific and of the three people on board, only she and Max, the co-pilot, survive. They’re on this raft with nothing. It’s a real OMG book with a feisty protagonist, lots of interesting things to say about the environment (none of it preachy) and a terrific, propulsive plot. Great book.

morethanthisMore Than This – Patrick Ness

So I’ve talked about Patrick Ness before, he’s the author of the Chaos Walking series. I actually chose this book for my book club this year. We don’t normally read Young Adult books, but this one seemed interesting and because I’m a fan I figured why not. There was mixed reactions in the group, but the students in my classes who’ve read the book have loved it…and that’s really the litmus test.

When the novel opens, a boy is drowning. Then he wakes up and he’s not dead. But he’s also alone and he actually remains alone for about 160 pages. At first he doesn’t have any memory, then he figures out that his name is Seth and he appears to be in the English town he grew up in before he moved to the States. This is a post-apocalyptic town though. There are houses and business, but they’re empty and it’s all just creepy. Then, about half-way in Seth meets Thomasz and Regine and “the driver” this faceless, seemingly indestructible guy whose mission in life seems to be to hunt the three teenagers down.

This is a smart book. It works on a bunch of levels: sort of a crazy hybrid between thriller and speculative fiction and a book that asks BIG questions about that journey between self-centered adolescence and manhood and what Seth discovers is that “whatever is forever certain is that there’s always more.”

Any of these books would make great Christmas gifts for the young readers in your family.

Silent to the Bone – e.l.konigsburg

silentWhen thirteen-year-old Branwell’s baby sister ends up in a coma, Branwell stops talking and it’s up to his best friend, Connor, to figure out what really happened the day Nikki was hurt. That’s pretty much the plot of e.l. konigsburg’s YA novel, Silent to the Bone. Luckily, in konigsburg’s skillful hands, this story ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts.

I cannot explain why Branwell and I became friends. I don’t think there is a why for friendship, and if I try to come up with reasons why we should be friends, I can come up with as many reasons why we should not be. …Friendship depends on interlocking time, place and state of mind.

Connor is, in fact, a true-blue friend to Branwell. After Nikki is hurt, Branwell is sent to the Behavioral Center for observation. Connor visits him frequently and despite Branwell’s silence, Connor knows in his heart of hearts that Branwell did not hurt his baby sister.

Connor devises a genius way of communicating with Branwell based, in part, on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In that book, a paralyzed man dictates his life story by blinking his left eye. Connor creates a series of flash cards using words he thinks might trigger a reaction. Slowly the true story of what happened to Nikki is revealed.

Silent to the Bone ended up on just about everyone’s “best” list including the ALA, New York Times and School Library Journal. One of the reasons, I think, is that the book is layered. There’s the central mystery of what happened to Nikki; there’s the complicated blended family relationships, there’s the love and petty jealousies that mark any solid friendship.

Branwell and Connor are believable characters. Connor’s older sister (from his father’s first marriage) helps Connor disseminate all the information he gathers from his visits with Connor. Connor is only a kid, sure, but he’s tenacious and smart and he is determined to figure out what really happened.

This is a great book for thoughtful readers.

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

children's actYou can always count on Ian McEwan to bring on the controversy. This is the fourth of the prolific British novelist’s books we’ve read in my book club and it prompted a loud and lively discussion.

The main character in The Children Act is Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London. She’s about to turn 60 when her husband, Jack, a professor, announces that he wants to have an affair (this is not a spoiler, really; the revelation comes pretty much on page one). She’s been married for thirty years and until the moment her husband tells her that he needs this because it is his “last shot” and he’s “yet to hear evidence of an afterlife” she’s been pretty smug about her life. While it is true that they don’t have children, they have had a good life together: enough money, a nice home, friendship and, Fiona admits ” she had always loved him.”  To say that Jack’s confession throws Fiona for a loop is an understatement, but she does not intend to “manage the rest of her life alone.”

Into Fiona’s fractured world comes the Henry family. Adam Henry is seventeen and he and his family are refusing the blood transfusion that may save his life because they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to their beliefs, “Mixing your own blood with the blood of an animal or another human being is pollution, contamination. It’s a rejection of the Creator’s wonderful gift. That’s why God specifically forbids it in Genesis and Leviticus and Acts.”

Fiona’s actually quite adept at sorting through these complicated and potentially incendiary cases, but even she is not quite sure what compels her to reserve judgment so she can visit Adam in the hospital. She calls the decision “a sentimental error,” but she goes anyway and discovers that seventeen – year – old Adam is , despite his illness, “beautiful.” It’ll be obvious to careful readers that Fiona is smitten. In fact, during the first few moments of their meeting she “caught nothing.” The visit that follows is charged – not sexually, really, although there is an element of that, too – with the kind of energy that happens when two people discover a shared passion. For Adam and Fiona it is music and poetry. Ultimately, Fiona’s decision sets Adam on a path that has profound consequences for them both.

I really liked The Children Act. McEwan is a smart writer and he’s adept at spinning a narrative that is tightly focused. Fiona isn’t a particularly likeable character, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to relate to her. This is a great book to get people talking.

 

 

 

Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough

longlankin When I was a kid, they used to air these British films about kids on TV. They all would have been set in the 60s (it was probably the early 1970s when I watched them) and although I don’t really remember what any of them were about, I do remember that I wanted a British accent more than anything. I was also a fan of Enid Blyton’s books – especially the ones set in boarding schools.

Lindsey Barraclough’s debut novel Long Lankin doesn’t take place in a boarding school, but it did make me think of those movies. The language, in particular, was reminiscent of that particular time. Things in Barraclough’s novel are “smashing” and words like  “blimey,” “cheerio” and “crikey”  pepper the novel. The whole novel unspooled in my head like one of those movies. I loved it!

Long Lankin is inspired by the English ballad “Lamkin” which tells the story of a woman and her infant son who are murdered by a mason who seeks revenge for not having been paid. The original ballad can be found here.

Said my lord to my lady as he rode away:/ Beware of Long Lankin who lives in the hay.

In Barraclough’s intelligent and creepy re-telling, Long Lankin is a sinister, slithering man who steals children in the small English town of Bryers Guerdon. When Cora and her little sister Mimi go to  Guerdon Hall to live with their great-aunt Ida, Cora soon discovers that her aunt’s crumbling home is full of secrets and her aunt doesn’t seem all that pleased about their arrival. It’s 1958 and Cora and Mimi’s father has sent his children to Ida as a last resort. Their mother is ‘away.’

The story is told from the perspectives of Cora, Aunt Ida and Roger, a local boy. Cora is smart and inquisitive and soon becomes interested in what she knows her aunt is not telling her. Something strange is going on in the isolated little town and it has to do with the church which Aunt Ida tells her she is “absolutely not – under any circumstances…it was completely forbidden” to visit. Of course, that makes it the first place Cora wants to go.

Long Lankin is atmospheric and smart. It’s filled with Latin warnings, menacing shadows, whispers and more secrets than you can shake a stick at. Readers will have to work a little to keep the characters and the story straight, but it’s totally worth the effort.  As with the best ghost stories, this one has a beating heart at its centre and it takes Cora and Roger quite a while to uncover the town’s secret. It’s worth the wait. The novel’s conclusion is terrific, too.

Highly recommended.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

shininggirlsFull disclosure: I like Criminal Minds. And no, it’s not just because FBI profiler Derek Morgan is sometimes shirtless and also often kicks down doors or flies through the air to take down the perps. I have to admit that I have a sick fascination with serial killers and their creepy-crawly minds. So Lauren Beukes novel The Shining Girls  seemed like it might totally be up my dark alley (with the crazy person waiting at the end in the shadows.) This book was a recent purchase, never a guarantee that I am going to read it imminently, but  – as it turns out – I did read it in short order. Was it a wholly satisfying experience? Um, no. However, I was still turning the pages way past my bedtime last night, so that’s saying something.

Harper Curtis is a nondescript sort of guy, remarkable only for his limp. Oh, plus he’s a time-traveling serial killer. Why he is able to skip through time is never really explained, but how is a different story. There’s this House (yes, with a capital ‘H’) and Harper has the key.

Kirby Mazrachi is almost seven when she meets Harper. Harper doesn’t like the “unpredictability of children” but he assures Kirby that he will be back for her. He tells her:

I’ll see you when you’re all grown up. Look out for me, okay, sweetheart? I’ll come back for you.

Harper does come back for Kirby; he comes back for all his “shining girls.” Beukes gives us just enough of their stories to make us care about their awful, violent deaths. One by one, he picks them off, leaving mementos of another time with their ruined bodies.

Harper doesn’t count on Kirby surviving, but she does. Now,  years after her attempted murder, she’s determined to find the man who almost did her in. The thing is, since he’s able to move through time, he’s almost impossible to catch.

The Shining Girls might be the sort of book that readers give up on because it’s too confusing or they don’t buy the time travel element of it. I was happy to go along for the ride, especially for the first three-quarters of the book or so. Harper wasn’t especially scary – we don’t really learn anything about him until about two-thirds of the way through the book – he’s pretty much a garden variety psychopath with a penchant for knives and intestines. What really kept me turning the pages was Kirby. She’s smart and resilient and determined. I liked her and I wanted her to be safe.

Something happened, though, near the end of the book. The carefully sustained tension was somehow deflated. Kirby became that girl. You know, the one who chases after the killer all on her own and then goes into the House all on her own…without a weapon. It was more than that, though. (Seriously, I knew she had to chase after Harper and go into the house – what kind of ending would we have had if she hadn’t?)  I think it was just that when all the pieces of Beukus’ intricate jigsaw puzzle were exposed it somehow seemed silly.

Time heals all wounds. Wounds clot, eventually. The seams knit together.

You had me, Ms. Beukes, until the very end. But even still – I’d highly recommend this book as  genre-bending, well-written, page-turning fun. (If serial killers are your thing, that is.)

 

A bookish alphabet…a to zed

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From:

I am cheating a bit here and naming two authors. I read Stephen King voraciously as a teen and young adult…and then didn’t read anything by him for a couple decades until I picked up Joyland, which reminded me of why I read him in the first place: he’s awesome. I am looking forward to reading Revival, which sounds terrific. Carolyn Slaughter is probably the other author whose work I’ve tracked down relentlessly over the years based on her novel The Banquet, which remains one of my all-time favourite reads.

Stephen King: Joyland; Misery; Bag of Bones, On Writing; Cujo; It; ‘Salem’s Lot; Christine; The Shining; Firestarter; The Talisman; Carrie; Nightshift; Pet Sematary; Needful Things; The Dead Zone; Rose Madder; The Dark Half; Dolores Claiborne; Skeleton Crew; Danse Macabre; Gerald’s Game; Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Carolyn Slaughter: Story of the Weasel; Magdalene; Dreams of the Kalahari; The Banquet; A Perfect Woman; Before the Knife: Memories of an African Childhood

B. Best Sequel Ever:

ask and answer

I am brutal for starting series and not finishing them, except when it came to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, which begins with the book The Knife of Never Letting Go. and continues with The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, both of which I devoured in short order.

C. Currently Reading:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

D. Drink of Choice While Reading: Tea

tean and a book

 

E. E-Reader or Physical Books:

Oh please. Physical books. My brother gave me a Kobo a couple Christmases ago and I still haven’t figured out how to work it.

F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School:

Some bad boy who is really good beneath the tough exterior.  (I have a type; don’t judge me.) Lucas from Easy comes to mind.

G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

The Book Thief  I know, it seems ridiculous considering how much I love this book but in the beginning…not so much.

H. Hidden Gem Book:

ourdailybreadIt’s amazing how many books get published each year to little or no fanfare. I don’t know enough about the publishing world to understand why mediocre books get all the bells and whistles and books like Lauren B. Davis’s riveting novel Our Daily Bread, despite being shortlisted for the Giller,  barely made a blip on the literary landscape. I only discovered it by accident and I am so glad I did. Read this book!

I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life:

I find the moments that I bond with my students over books the most meaningful. I love it when they discover books because of my recommendations. I also love it when they offer suggestions to me – although it doesn’t always work out. (John Dies at the End!)

J. Just Finished:
Love Remains by Glen Duncan

K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
Straight up Science Fiction.

L. Longest Book You’ve Read:
Probably Stephen King’s It, which clocks in at over 1000 pages and I loved every single moment I spent with those characters.

M. Major Book Hangover Because Of:

I don’t know what this means. Does it mean books that I can’t stop thinking about? Or books that drove me crazy? I dunno.

N. Number of Bookcases You Own: 

lr shelves

 

I have beautiful built ins thanks to my brother, Tom. He also built me a nice set of shelves for behind my couch. Plus, let’s not forget the TBR shelf, which you can see in this post. I have a really nice IKEA bookshelf, too, but it is currently being used for a non-book purpose.

O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times:

velocity

I have read Kristin McCloy’s novel Velocity multiple times. I bought the book at the Strand in NYC probably the summer of 1984 and I’ve read it every couple of years since. Maybe it’s time to revisit and write a review, since I talk about it so much.

P. Preferred Place to Read:

Reading is the last thing I do before I turn off my light – so in bed. But I’ll read just about anywhere, though maybe not as comfortably.

Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You:

“Imagine the sense of peace that comes from knowing you’re in control of your life.” Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Debt-Free Forever

R. Reading Regret:

I don’t really have too many reading regrets – maybe that I don’t have all my childhood books. Or maybe that sometimes I do other pointless stuff when I should be reading.

S. Series You Started and Need to Finish:
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins…seriously. Also Ilsa Bick’s Ashes and Kelley Creagh’s Nevermore

T. Three Of Your All-Time Favourite Books:

This is like asking a mother to choose her favourite child, you know that, right?

Velocity –  Kristin McCloy

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

A Little Princess – France Hodgson Burnett

U. Unapologetic Fangirl For:

6fa389c166845d58b0b214b55af9eccd
Ryan Gosling. Enuf said. (Oh, okay, an actual writer – John Green. Love him and everything he stands for.)

V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other:

This is not something I follow because I don’t run out and buy books as soon as they come out.

W. Worst Bookish Habit: 
Buying way more books than I can possibly read in the time left in my hourglass.

X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book):
(I used my tbr shelf for this instead of my books read shelf) – Best Friends by Thomas Berger

Y. Your Latest Book Purchase:
The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes…let’s not talk about the box of YA books I received via Bookoutlet this week.

bookhaul

Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Probably The Fault in Our Stars I was bawling into my pillow at 3 a.m. On a school night!

Off the Shelf – CBC November 10, 2014

This morning on Information Morning I talked about books…about other books.

Here’s what I prepared in advance.

I am a tsundoku. That’s the Japanese word for a person who buys books and leaves them unread. Some women buy shoes, I wear my Birks and buy books. Apparently it’s hereditary because when I tell my 15-year-old son, Connor, that there’s no point in him buying any more books when he has at least a half dozen that he hasn’t read yet, he just shoots me this incredulous look, You’re kidding, right? I have over 500 books on my ‘to- be- read’ shelf at home, to say nothing of the books on my shelves at school.

Think I’m kidding? This is my TBR shelf at home:

IMG_0211

I’m a life-long bibliophile and I do a lot of thinking about what it is about books that I love so much. So today I thought I’d talk about some books that are also about the love of books. These are books in which people talk about their own reading lives.

bookchanged The Book That Changed My Life – Roxanne J. Cody and Joy Johannessen, editors

This books consists of 71 essays by writers who share with readers the story of the book that cracked open the world of reading for them. For example, Wally Lamb’s (author of She’s Come Undone and I Know this Much is True) wrote about To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been a staple in high school English classes for ever. (I am, in fact, currently sharing it with my grade ten class). Mr. Lamb says that “Until Mockingbird, I’d had no idea literature could exert so stong a power.”

 

shelfsiscoverylittler_thumb[2]Shelf Discovery – Lizzie Skurnick

This is a reading memoir, where Skurnick, who’s been a columnist for the New York Times and NPR and several other publications, revisits the books that shaped her growing up. Skurnick describes herself as “ravenous toward each book, like a vampire”. Voracious readers will know that exact feeling – like you can’t put the book down and carry it everywhere in case you find yourself with five idle minutes. For some people, Skurnick’s book will be a trip down memory lane; for teens, especially girls, this would be a great primer for all that fiction produced from 1960 on. It also answers that question: why do we re-read a book? Who has time for that? This a great memoir for people who have been profoundly influenced by their adolescent reading lists.

 

the-ultimate-teen-book-guideThe Ultimate Teen Book Guide – Daniel Hahn & Leonie Flynn, editors

This is a fantastic primer listing over 700 books – there’s something for everyone in this one. Authors and young readers offer up their picks for most amazing books. It offers, among other things, Top Ten lists in a variety of categories, a list of what to read next, so for example if you loved To Kill a Mockingbird it suggests you try John Knowles’ A Separate Peace or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Capote was reportedly the inspiration for the character if Dill in Lee’s book.) Terrific resource and really user-friendly.

 

readingpromiseThe Reading Promise – Alice Ozma

I love books where people talk about their own relationship with reading and Ozma’s memoir is very YA friendly. It’s the story of an agreement that she made with her dad that he would read to her every single night for 1000 nights. So that’s a lot of reading. When they hit that goal they decided to extend it – and in the end Alice’s dad read to her every single night for nine years – until she finally went off to college. Clearly books mattered to both of them, her dad was a teacher/librarian, and this book has a lot to say about the power that stories have to create conversation, develop empathy…all that good stuff.
myidealbookshelf1_grandeFinally, I want to talk about a book that Connor gave me for my birthday last year: My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly LaForce and Jane Mount

This is a beauty of a book and totally appealed to that part of me who makes a beeline for bookshelves no matter where I am – the houses of friends and strangers, no bookshelf is safe from me. These guys asked 100 people (writers, actors, poets, designers, artists) to think back over their reading lives and come up with their ideal bookshelf. What would be on it? Mount then did an artistic interpretation of the books. The paintings are accompanied by conversations in which the bookshelf owner talks about their personal relationship with the books – they might focus in on one or just talk about their reading life in general. It’s fascinating reading – even if you don’t know the people doing the telling.

I actually did this with some grade ten students and it was a terrific activity. It forced the students to think back to books that have made a real difference in their lives. There’s a template at the back of the book (and online) for students to recreate their own ideal bookshelf – although if you’re not at all artistic (which I am not) you could take a picture, too.

Here’s a sample from one of my strudents – her bookshelf and an excerpt of what she had to say about books:

LouiseT

 

“In the fourth grade I was stuck in a Geronimo Stilton phase and I had a cousin who was bound and determined to see me break out of the 100-page cycle. She began sending me “adult” books. The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. My mother read it first and then advised me to put it away for a few years until I could better handle it. I read it anyway, mainly out of sheer curiosity. And although it kept me up at night thinking about it, maybe that’s what I liked about it. I’ve read it every year since, and it always feels like I’m reading it for the first time.”

Come on – that’s like hitting the literature lottery for an English teacher.

To see some of my students’ bookshelves and read what they had to say about their reading lives,  check out this post

 

 

Love Remains – Glen Duncan

loveremains Despite the fact that Glen Duncan’s novel Love Remains is only 277 pages long, it took me about a month to finish because I could never read any more than a few pages at a time before my head started to swim. But I mean that as a compliment rather than a criticism.  Duncan is a well-known and much-praised British author who was new to me when I purchased the book. Love Remains, Duncan’s second novel, is almost relentlessly grim. Again – it’s a compliment, honest. There’s no way you could tackle the topic Duncan does in this book without being a skillful craftsman, and Duncan really is an amazing writer.

Nick and Chloe meet in university.

The possibility of love revealed itself to Chloe immediately, in a shock. When they sat opposite each other that first Wednesday, with rain streaking the steamed windows and the delicious reek of frying bacon in the air, she felt (thinking, stunned, of the billions who had felt it, down the long bloodied canvas of history) the first murderous utterance of romance: It’s him.

Nick’s feelings for Chloe are slightly more ambivalent, although he does concede that “he was so curious about what was going on inside her that lust only followed along afterwards, like an obligatory bit of luggage.”

The trajectory of Chloe and Nick’s love story is mostly straightforward. They get married, start jobs,  eventually move into “their first proper home” in Clapham and then, as with many marriages, the romantic impetus drains from their lives as they deal with life’s mundane and often inane decisions: “Do you think we should get a futon, Nick.”  As their marriage closes in around them, “They suffered, periodically, the ache of familiarity.” Chloe feels “suffocated by the sound of his breath escaping through his nostrils” and Nick “hated her for having finished the shape of him.”

Duncan masterfully builds a marriage from the ground up and then, just as masterfully, wrenches it apart in the most violent way possible.  In some ways, it’s almost as though Duncan has written two different, but equally compelling, novels.

When the novel opens, Nick has already left London because that’s what you do “when the future ended.” He is on a journey, it seems, of self-destruction comprised of smoking, drinking and having sadomasochistic sex. None of it makes sense until we learn what has happened to Chloe and, even then, it’d difficult to wrap your head around. Is Nick reprehensible for having abandoned his wife? That’s just one of the moral questions Duncan asks you to consider in this book.

Chloe is on a journey of her own. It is equally compelling, although perhaps more heartbreaking. The random and horrific experience she has endured has sharpened her: “Her face in the mirror, barely recognizable, rewritten.”

What was once a path traveled together, has now been cleaved. I commend Duncan for resisting the urge to offer a tidy ending, but the ending, nonetheless, is remarkable.

Highly recommended.

 

My students tackle their ideal bookshelves

For my birthday last May, my teenage son, Connor, gave me the most marvelous gift ever: My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force & Jane Mount. This book is a book voyeur’s dream-come-true. Essentially the authors asked 100 plus people to curate their ideal bookshelf – no restrictions. Then they were invited to talk about their reading lives and to explain some of the books they had chosen.

When I finished the book, I had this crazy notion. I teach high school English and I have worked pretty hard over the last few years to create a text-rich environment in my room. I want my students to read. A lot. I have hundreds of books in my classroom and I am happy to say that my little library is well-used. My students know that I love to read and I love to talk about books and I love to recommend books and argue about them. I have some avid readers in my classes and I wondered what they would think about creating  their own ideal bookshelves. Heck, I wanted to create one!

The notion of trying to choose ten favourite books is ridiculous for any bibliophile, right? I stood in front of my bookshelves at home and pulled out 17 books without any trouble. Then I started the process of negotiation. Then I gave up. It’s hard. (In the end I decided on a YA shelf and eventually I’ll do another less specific shelf, but the thing is I’ll never be happy with my choices; I’ll always feel like I’ve left something important out.)

Here is my YA Ideal Bookshelf:

idealbookshelfya

When I suggested to my grade ten students that they were going to create their own ideal bookshelves, they were, I have to say, enthusiastic. They began the work of making lists and I was gratified to see that they had as much trouble choosing ten titles as I did. Once their lists were chosen, I gave them the bookshelf template which is provided in the back of My Ideal Bookshelf and also at their blog . The results were quite delightful.

LouiseT

Louise wrote: “In the fourth grade I was stuck in a Geronimo Stilton phase and I had a cousin who was bound and determined to see me break out of the 100-page cycle. She began sending me “adult” books. The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. My mother read it first and then advised me to put it away for a few years until I could better handle it. I read it anyway, mainly out of sheer curiosity. And although it kept me up at night thinking about it, maybe that’s what I liked about it. I’ve read it every year since, and it always feels like I’m reading it for the first time.”

DanielleC

Danielle wrote: “The reason I like books so much is because I like to experience other lives; lives that would be impossible for me to even know someone living them let alone live them myself. Books open whole other worlds for me and reading them and experiencing them is like being reborn.”

DylanS

Dylan wrote: “I don’t just read these books, I make my own stories with them and when I was not doing that I’d be dreaming of the worlds of those realms and have myself take a place among the ranks of heroes. Reading definitely changed my life. It gave me refuge from the hardships of life and it’s probably the best hobby ever.”

EricaT

Erica wrote: “My personal favourite book on my shelf is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I read this book in two days and immediately began to read its sequels. I’ve read the series twice now and I loved it even more the second time. This series had a great influence on me. While reading the third book, I had a strong desire to follow the elves’ path and become vegetarian. One of the main reasons I love this series so much is because of the characters: Eragon’s honour; Shaphira’s wisdom; Roran’s bravery, and Arya’s strength. There is nothing negative I could say about Eragon; I couldn’t recommend it enough.”

BriannS

Briann wrote: “I was a born reader. I even read before I was born. Well, I guess my mother read to me technically, and only when she wanted me to stop thrusting my feet against her stomach. These books are very different from one another, but they all gave me the same pleasure of living a different life through the unique characters. They all show how life can be wonderful and horrible, even if it’s fiction. I could never aspire to write anything as amazing as these authors did, but reading their stories is a reward on its own.”

AlaraS

Alara wrote: “Even though there were many characters I liked, I never identified with any of them. They are their own person; they’re like real people to me. I would be happy for them, get jealous of them, and cry for them and get sad that I couldn’t help them. I love fictional worlds better than this one, I think. I have more than 750 books in my room (I paid my sister $20 to count them) and I wouldn’t get rid of any.”

NoahR

Noah wrote: “I always had great interest in the noble Count Dracula. He was my favourite character for his strength, smarts, fits of rage and great passion. Everything about him was over-the-top, from his ability to shape-shift to his hypnotic and telepathic abilities. He was so cool to me. Every power he had was every power I wanted for my own as a kid.”

AndrewB

Andrew wrote: “My fondest memory of Calvin and Hobbes was in grade five during silent reading I lost it laughing and got kicked out of class. That’s a really stupid and funny moment I won’t ever forget.”

ErinG

Erin wrote: Books that make me cry are the most memorable because it’s a rare occasion when a novel is powerful enough to make me cry. War and slavery books usually leave me blubbering like a baby. The endings of The Book Thief and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas left me wailing. The Lottery Rose gets me to cry my eyes out after chapter three. It’s not easy to make me cry, so these books are extremely important to me.

This is an activity I will continue to do with my students because it was AWESOME!