30 Day Book Challenge: Day 24 – A Book that I Wish More People Would’ve Read

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I love this book because I’m fascinated with Girl Culture, what it means to be a girl, and how our society is changing girlhood. Being a young girl today is SO much different than being a girl a few decades ago. You have to be sexy, innocent, girly, smart, stupid, everything and nothing and adfshfasd;fjaslkv;jbera;g

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The worst part is that we’re so indoctrinated to our culture’s beliefs on how girls should look and act that we, even the most passionately feminist among us, don’t even realize what we’re doing sometimes! This book gives great insight into the problems facing young girls and how our cultural practices can either help or hurt them. Since the beginning of time, women have been subject to double standards, objectification, and a whole multitude of other crappy stuff!

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In my opinion, the best place to act against misogyny is to build strong girls. (Which just so happens to be my sorority’s philanthropic mission!) We have to build girls a strong foundation so that they can deal with all the bull they’re going to encounter in the world. Then they’ll be better able to put a stop to it!

A Goodreads summary of Orenstein’s book:

The acclaimed author of the groundbreaking bestseller Schoolgirls reveals the dark side of pink and pretty: the rise of the girlie-girl, she warns, is not that innocent.
Pink and pretty or predatory and hardened, sexualized girlhood influences our daughters from infancy onward, telling them that how a girl looks matters more than who she is. Somewhere between the exhilarating rise of Girl Power in the 1990s and today, the pursuit of physical perfection has been recast as a source, the source of female empowerment. And commercialization has spread the message faster and farther, reaching girls at ever-younger ages.

But, realistically, how many times can you say no when your daughter begs for a pint-size wedding gown or the latest Hannah Montana CD? And how dangerous is pink and pretty anyway, especially given girls’ successes in the classroom and on the playing field? Being a princess is just make-believe, after all; eventually they grow out of it. Or do they? Does playing Cinderella shield girls from early sexualization, or prime them for it? Could today’s little princess become tomorrow’s sexting teen? And what if she does? Would that make her in charge of her sexuality, or an unwitting captive to it?

Those questions hit home with Peggy Orenstein, so she went sleuthing. She visited Disneyland and the international toy fair, trolled American Girl Place and Pottery Barn Kids, and met beauty pageant parents with preschoolers tricked out like Vegas showgirls. She dissected the science, created an online avatar, and parsed the original fairy tales. The stakes turn out to be higher than she – or we – ever imagined: nothing less than the health, development, and futures of our girls. From premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism, the potential negative impact of this new girlie-girl culture is undeniable; yet armed with awareness and recognition, parents can effectively counterbalance its influence in their daughters’ lives.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is a must-read for anyone who cares about girls, and for parents helping their daughters navigate the rocky road to adulthood.

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30 Day Book Challenge: Day 13- My Favorite Author

Meg Cabot. (Rhymes with “rabbit,” just an FYI)

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Reasons I Love Meg Cabot:
-We’re very similar! We’re both from southern Indiana. She attended Indiana University, and I did too for a while. We both love to draw. We both have cats. The list goes on.
-She writes SO much! Once I got to meet her (which was a pinnacle of my existence), and I asked her how on earth she is so prolific. She essentially told me that she knew no other way. She just did it all the time. This is awesome because I can always look forward to a new book and have so many others to go back and re-read.
-She started out under the pseudonym Patricia Cabot and wrote a series of period romance novels which were my first introduction into the romance genre. I used to dream of writing books like those. Maybe it will happen someday.
– I love her characters. There’s never a character who I can’t relate to on any level. Seriously, I couldn’t even pick a favorite. I always find myself thinking that I would react the same way her characters would. Her female protagonists are so endearing because they’re humans who have flaws, for better or for worse and have character and heart. I want to be them or be best friends with them!
-Cabot herself is awesome. She writes a great blog which she updates regularly. I love reading her take on everything from books to pop culture.
-She supports good causes, often writing for anthologies when the proceeds go to charity.
-She has often said that she never sets out to write The Great American Novel or the next War and Peace. She just wants to write to entertain and make people happy. I think this is what all writers should aspire to do with their stories.
-Her sense of humor is spot on. I constantly laugh out loud while reading her work!

She gave this sage writing advice:
“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.”

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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One of the most buzzed about books in the past year! I was draw to this book for some shallow reasons: I love the name Eleanor; I loved the cover art; I love red hair; I thought it looked like a super cute love story. Though these were superficial attractions, the heart of the book drew me in.

I was going to summarize this one for myself, but the Goodreads blurb is PERFECTION.

A stunning debut young adult novel about cassettes, comic books, misfits, and the incredible experience of first love.

Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

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What I liked:

  • I AM SO STUPIDLY IN LOVE with Rowell’s characters. I love how endearingly and realistically human they are. They have flaws. They’re stubborn. They make mistakes. But they’re funny, kind, brave, and loving.
  • I love that Eleanor is not a size negative three. I feel like I either read books about characters who are reed thin and tall and lanky, or they’re overweight and suffer because of it. Rowell makes it clear that Eleanor isn’t skinny without making the character’s identity revolve around her weight. THANK YOU! It is so refreshing! She’s not super beautiful or super hideous (in her mind). She’s just a girl, and her world doesn’t focus on her appearance, even when people make fun of her or call her “Big Red.” She wears what she wants and isn’t afraid to be who she is.
  • I love that Park is part Korean. Rowell manages to orchestrate a humorous and interesting family dynamic between Park and his family: his younger, more masculine brother, his white father, and his cosmetologist Korean mother. There are moments when the family is light and happy, but there are also moments that really touch on important issues like parents’ expectations of their children, being mixed race, and having family problems that are bigger than what to have for dinner.
  • Eleanor and Park don’t hit it off right away. They bond through reading comics on the bus.
  • The story manages to be sensual without being over the top. It’s extremely appropriate in the best way possible.
  • The plot is great and full of little twists and turns. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as I went through my day, and I devoured the book because I needed to know how it ended.
  • It portrays people and circumstances in a real way. I don’t want to give anything away, but Rowell does a great job of giving each person layers and real emotions.
  • It portrays young love (or any love for that matter) as it is: beautiful but sometimes difficult and awkward with great moments mixed in.
  • There are righteous nerdy references.
  • It was written in third person which presented a unique narration and perspective on the characters that I enjoyed.
  • The ending is amazing. I like Rowell’s style. Many people have said that they’d like to see a sequel to this book, but I think there’s something to be said for a good, solid stand-alone book that doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up with a perfect little bow.

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What I didn’t like:

  • If I had to pick something, I would have liked to have read more about Eleanor’s family situation.

A Love Letter to Rainbow Rowell:

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Thank you for being you. Eleanor & Park was fantastic, but learning more about you has made it all the better. I love that you interact with your fans (including me!) on your personal Twitter. I love that you’re not afraid to be wacky and write about real things, but you also have a great romantic streak. Your cover art for your books is awesome, even if you had nothing to do with it, it still reflects well on you. Thank you for writing this article about Eleanor’s weight and why Park is Korean. Your website is super cool. I can’t wait to read your other books: Attachments, Fangirl, and Landline. Finally, your name is Rainbow, and that is pretty freaking awesome.

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30 Day Book Challenge: Day 10- Favorite Classic Book

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It quickly became one of my favorite books when I read it my senior year of high school English. Everyone else HATED reading it. I admit, it was a book I had to read in absolute silence with no disturbances so that I could fully concentrate. It ignited my love for Russian literature. The prose is so rich and complex that it’s a challenge to read it, but it’s well worth it. It opened my mind at an important time in my life, exposing me to the shades of gray that exist when it comes to good and evil. The characters are fantastic, and the plot is intriguing. I really hope I get to teach this book in my classroom someday!

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 5: A Book that Makes You Happy

Underneath my tough exterior (who am I kidding?), I have a deep love for sweet, sweet romance. Not even the kind that you read about in paperback romance novels where the man is a duke and the woman a secret princess (I really love those too). I love romantic comedy books, even more than I love rom com movies. I think that books just offer so much more in terms of letting my swooning imagination run wild.

That is why my selection is Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot, the third and final book in the Queen of Babble series. First off, I ADORE Meg Cabot, of The Princess Diaries fame, WITH A PASSION OF A THOUSAND ETERNAL FIRES. I’ve read basically everything the woman has even written. I chose this particular book because it’s so sweet and funny and light that it never fails to make me smile. I have read the romantic scenes between Lizzie and the man she ends up with so many times, I probably have them memorized. I just love the characters.

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Publisher’s blurb:

Big mouth. Big heart.

Big wedding. Big problems.

It’s the wedding of the century!

Things are looking up at last for Lizzie Nichols. She has a career she loves in the field of her choice (wedding gown restoration), and the love of her life, Jean-Luc, has finally proposed. Life’s become a dizzying whirl of wedding gown fittings—not necessarily her own—as Lizzie prepares for her dream wedding at her fiancé’s château in the south of France.

But the dream soon becomes a nightmare as the best man—whom Lizzie might once have accidentally slept with . . . no, really, just slept—announces his total lack of support for the couple, a sentiment the maid of honor happens to second; Lizzie’s Midwestern family can’t understand why she doesn’t want to have her wedding in the family backyard; her future, oh-so-proper French in-laws seem to be slowly trying to lure the groom away from medical school and back into investment banking; and Lizzie finds herself wondering if her Prince Charming really is as charming as she once believed.

Is Lizzie really ready to embrace her new role as wife and mistress of Château Mirac? Or is she destined to fall into another man’s arms . . . and into the trap of becoming a Bad Girl instead?

30 Day Book Challenge: Day 3- My Favorite Series

This might seem like an obvious choice. I’ve read many great series, but none of them compare to my Holy Grail of a book series.

Harry freaking Potter, written by the ever brilliant and tricky J.K. Rowling. Rowling instilled in me a love of reading that no other books could ever have done. I grew up with the books. Made friends because of them. They altered my life for the better. Say what you want, but Harry Potter will always be the bomb dot com.

Harry Potter Covers

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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Remember the sweet fairy tales of Cinderella or the Disney movie with the catchy songs about true love? Marissa Meyer changes everything you thought you knew about the story and turns up the volume. Meyer trades Cinderella, damsel in distress, to Cinder, cyborg on a mission, frolicking animals for androids, and the glass slipper with a mechanical foot.

Set in the futuristic streets of New Beijing, the novel opens on Cinder, a renowned mechanic replacing her mechanical foot with a new, more proportional model when a disguised Prince Kai visits her booth and urges her to fix a very important android for him. Not moments after his departure, a sign of the plague that has been ravaging New Beijing makes an appearance, setting everything into motion. When the plague hits her family and she becomes involved in finding a cure as well as the handsome Prince Kai’s affairs and a potential war with the lunar people from the moon, Cinder begins to learn more about her mysterious past and how her existence may change everything for the world.

It’s no secret that Fairy Tale Revisited is extremely popular right now. For me, it started with Beastly by Alex Flynn, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that was made into a movie a few years ago. There have been dozens of other contributions to this growing genre including TV shows like Ever After and Grimm and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman. We don’t seem to grow out of our love for fairy tales.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. These stories have been around for centuries and come from all parts of the world, constantly changing form for their audience but never losing relevance. Could Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm have ever imagined a cyborg version of their Cinderella?

Probably not. Enter the genius of Marissa Meyer.

I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed this book. The characters, even the background ones, are so great. Cinder is a more modern (obviously) and independent upgrade. She has no need for a fairy godmother, though she is stuck with an evil stepmother and sister. Cinder is an excellent role model because she is so hard working and brave without being inhuman. She has vulnerabilities and valid emotions. THIS is how you create a great young adult novel female protagonist.

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She also represents minorities in that cyborgs in New Beijing are essentially second-class citizens. People treat her with disgust. I think this speaks to readers who find themselves in between identities like those of mixed race or even those with prosthetics. I think discussing these issues would be great in a classroom setting or a book group. Have we ever felt like we didn’t belong because of something that makes us different?

I also enjoyed that the story took place somewhere OTHER than Europe or North America. In fact, it is believed that the story of Cinderella originated in China during the 9th century. Today, China is a booming technology giant. They’re also known for their royal families. Obviously, Meyer knew what she was doing when she set this scene for her story. It is told that Cinder is from Europe (though her exact origin is unknown), but her prince charming, Prince Kai, is clearly Chinese. Interracial love! I don’t think we see enough of it in young adult literature. This could be another discussion point.

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The story has a few flaws as far as practicality and continuity and exploring more of what the author sets up, but there are also three more books in the works after this one so maybe all is explained in the sequels.

As far as teaching the book, I can’t see myself using it in curriculum just because I don’t think the academic tone or writing is there. I also don’t know that this novel would interest young male readers. However, I think the whole cyborg and android thing might carry some weight when trying to appeal to the masculine reader.

I would definitely recommend this to others! I can see it being very popular with late middle school to early high school readers.

Movie rights HAVE been sold and the screenplay is finished. I can’t wait for it to premiere on the silver screen. Romance and robots can’t fail.

Pick this book up immediately. It’s a great and quick read full of futuristic mystery and just enough sweet romance to make your heart do little flips. To tell you how much I enjoyed reading it, I literally downloaded the sequel Scarlet an hour after I finished Cinder. The second book continues where the first left off, adding a Red Riding Hood character into the mix. The next two installments of the series are set to include Rapunzel and Snow White.

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If you enjoy both of these books, Meyer has also come out with short stories, “Glitch” and “The Queen’s Army” as prequels to both of the books. You can read them both for free here:

http://www.marissameyer.com/books/short-stories/

Meyer’s website also includes her book recommendations that I have already added to my MUST READ list. Check it out here:

http://www.marissameyer.com/books/book-recomendations/

Check out Meyer’s pinterest board (how cool) for the Lunar Chronicles here:

http://pinterest.com/marissameyer22/the-lunar-chronicles/

Read an awesome fan interview with Meyer here:

http://izabella.tumblr.com/post/55065922902/we-skyped-with-marissa-meyer-and-she-answered-our

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Looking for Alaska by John Green

If you’re not familiar with John Green, you have either never been to a book store/ library or you’re incredibly lame. I feel sorry for you if either case is true. John Green has become well known in pop culture as a result of his award-winning young adult novels as well as his YouTube contributions which include video conversations between himself and his brother, Hank Green, known as the Vlog Brothers as well as the channel Mental Floss where he uses his knowledge to enlighten the masses in a fun, pithy way.

Vlog Brothers: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers

Mental Floss: http://www.youtube.com/user/MentalFlossVideo

In short, John Green is something of a phenomenon right now. And it all started with this book.

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Just a few awards this book has won:

  • Winner, 2006 Michael L. Printz Award
  • Finalist, 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • 2006 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults
  • 2006 Teens’ Top 10 Award
2006 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
  • A Booklist Editor’s Choice Pick
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
  • Borders Original Voices Selection

After begging his parents to let him go, Miles Halter leaves his Florida home to travel to Culver Creek Preparatory High School where he meets a cast of characters including his roommate, Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi, the school bullies, the “Weekday Warriors,” and Alaska Young, the beautiful, bipolar enigma. The students manage to get into the controversial pastimes of young adulthood like smoking, drinking, and sex- and then Alaska’s death that leads the boys to uncover her life’s mysteries and the mysteries of life.

I read Looking for Alaska when I was in high school after reading a short story Green had written that I really enjoyed. However, I had no patience for the book. I think the writing is gorgeous. I just couldn’t stand the characters. They were too brooding and needlessly “complicated” to endure.  I’m also not a huge fan of books set in prep academies. Maybe it’s because I can’t identify with the experience. Now that I’ve (in my opinion at least) matured a little, I have a new appreciation for the novel, but first, my annoyances with the book.

I have a particular pet peeve for Alaska, the girl, because she feeds into the stereotype that I see in many male-written stories. She’s the all too mysterious, unattainable, troubled, and gorgeous girl that the male protagonist pines for. She’s not real. She’s one-dimensional and a flimsy portrayal of a female character. It’s the same thing Green does in many of his books. He creates his female characters to be ideas instead of real people. I think this is dangerous because I’m not sure young readers understand the concept of the unreliable narrator. Just because the narrator views a person in a certain way doesn’t mean that is how they truly are. Green touches on this, but I worry readers won’t consider it enough.

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I DID like Miles’ fascination with biographies and famous people’s famous last words. I think it guides the book in a great artistic direction. I also think the story is a fantastic one for young adults. It’s not my favorite work by Green, but I think it’s worth a read for the narration’s pure gracefulness.

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Essentially: I did not personally find Looking for Alaska to be my cup of tea, but I think other people should try it because we don’t all like the same flavors of tea. Some of us like coffee or soda or just water so…  yeah…

To no one’s surprise, this book has been surrounded by controversy. To begin with, Green dared to write about anything other than teenagers behaving.  The sexually explicit scenes have been called “pornographic” and “disgusting” by concerned parents when teachers in Buffalo, New York taught the book.  Other parents have been angered over the smoking, drinking, and explicit language featured in the novel.

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Green’s defense:

“Some people say, ‘You wrote a dirty, dirty book.’ But there are very old-fashioned values and even a lot of religion in it,” Green said. “There are some adults who think that the only kind of ethics that matter are sexual ethics. So they miss everything else that is going on in the book.” Green also said, “The book has never been marketed to 12-year-olds. Never. It is packaged like an adult book; it doesn’t even say it’s published by a kids’ book imprint on the cover, and it’s never shelved in the children’s section of bookstores.”

Controversy even surrounded the book’s cover art. Learn about it here:

To best sum it up, I hand the microphone to Michael Cart, former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association and former chair of the Michael L. Printz committee who says in the publisher’s discussion guide:

“There is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) gratuitous in this book. Everything in it serves to define character, give style to voice, and develop theme.” This probably describes 95% of all books banned for similar reasons.

My opinion as a future teacher:

  1. I HATE the entire (if sometimes necessary or required) practice of book permission slips. Why don’t I just send home a piece of paper that reads, “I’m going to teach a book that challenges ideas and conventions. Please sign below if you’re ok with your child reading a novel that will expand their horizons.” It’s like a red flag for Complainer Parents.
  2. I think this would be a great novel to teach to upperclassmen in high school. I think there could be fun, rich book discussions and essay topics and writing prompts. The only issue would obviously be if there were any controversy coming from parents or my school that would prevent me from doing so.
  3. It’s IMPORTANT to read books that are controversial/ have been banned. I mean, hello! If there’s something in a book people don’t want me to read, I WANT TO READ IT. The reason people have been oppressed since the beginning of time is lack of knowledge. The best way to keep control is to manipulate people’s minds and make them think like you do, which is exactly what book-banners want. I want my students to challenge everything they know because it may be the first or only chance they get.

If you’re interested in reading from the people who disagree with my stance on censorship:

http://www.safelibraries.org/pushers.htm

Let me know either in the comments or through email if you’ve read or taught Looking for Alaska in the classroom or if you agree or disagree with my review.