Posted in Book Reviews, My Teaching Journey

The Benefits of Being an Octopus – Review

Summary from Goodreads:

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

My thoughts

This review has been sitting in drafts for almost a week. I keep coming back to it, and I keep putting it away because I don’t know what exactly to say.

The book made me pretty emotional. I work in a school where a lot of our students come from poverty, and I think it is pretty easy to forget that not every student has hours at home to do homework or study for a test. Then, my mind really started to wander to what I can do as a teacher to help this. There are so many standards and expectations placed upon us that it is almost a necessity to assign homework and force students to work outside of school time to complete projects, but most of the time, students simply cannot do work outside of school for one reason or another.

Then there are the grumps out there who will say, “Well, I did it when I was a kid. I had two hours of homework each night. These kids are soft!” But even when I was in school, a lot of my friends had one parent (100% of the time, the mom) who stayed at home, and I went to a pretty expensive private school. I grew up in a time when it was doable to survive on one income. We now live in a society where this is not possible. I have a BA, and two Master degrees, and after nine years of teaching, we are finally at a place where if we HAD to, we could survive on one income. It wouldn’t be comfortable, and we would definitely not be able to save any money for college for our girls, but our needs would be met.

What do we do for these students whose parents are working full time jobs, sometimes multiples, just to make ends meet? These students who have to fend for themselves and their younger siblings when they get home? Do we keep saying, “Well, this is how it worked when I was a kid?” Or do we start making changes?

Now, you see why this post has taken me so long.

The book was really well-written. The main character, Zoey, was someone I definitely was rooting for to succeed. Zoey and her three younger siblings live with her mom, her mom’s boyfriend (who I hated from the first time he was mentioned), and her boyfriend’s dad in a trailer. But it’s a nice trailer, and her mom reminds her many times that they should be thankful for the nice place to live.

I found myself frustrated, then extremely sympathetic with the mom. I can’t write too much about the mom because that will give away a lot of the story, and I don’t do spoilers.

I highly recommend this book, and I am hopeful that it makes the list of the top 12 for the Truman nominees. I think the middle school students will really enjoy reading about someone they can relate to.

(Sorry for the longer post, but you now have a glimpse into how my brain functions while reading.)

Posted in Book Reviews

2019-2020 Truman – My Rankings

Since starting this blog in May, most of my book reviews have been about the Truman nominees from this year or for the upcoming year. Having just finished the 12th book for the 2019-2020 list, I decided to do my favorites list. I’ll start with 12 then work my way to my #1. My #1 the last two years hasn’t even made it to the top three of the finals, so hopefully I don’t jinx anyone’s chances this year.

Disclaimer - just because a book is in 12th place, doesn't mean I didn't like it. Each book has to go somewhere on the list 🙂

#12 – The Trail by Meiko Hashimoto

#11 Refugee by Alan Gratz

#10 – Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

#9 – To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

#8 Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

#7 Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

#6 Hideout by Watt Key

#5 Renegades by Marissa Meyer

#4 Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

#3 Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

#2 Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

#1

Posted in Book Reviews

Lost Boys Review

Summary from Goodreads

It’s 1982, and twelve-year-old Reza has no interest in joining Iran’s war effort. But in the wake of a tragedy and at his mother’s urging, he decides to enlist, assured by the authorities that he will achieve paradise should he die in service to his country. 

War does not bring the glory the boys of Iran have been promised, and Reza soon finds himself held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Iraq, where the guards not only threaten violence—they act upon it.

Will Reza make it out alive? And if he does, will he even have a home to return to?

A couple quotes I liked that don’t give away too much from the book.

And you know this jazz comes from American slavery. Picture a whole people caged - you hear that sadness? But their music was subtle rebellion, something that made them free. It's no surprise our government bans music. Music can be power to people who are struggling. - pg. 38

I no longer prayed. At first I had no idea time was passing. Once I could tell one day from the next, I couldn't physically kneel down. But as weeks went by, it wasn't the physical pain that kept me from facing Mecca with the others. It was the knot that lodged just below my heart. - pg. 105

When I got the final list of Trumans for the 19-20 school year last spring, this was one of the first books I got from the library. But, I do this thing where I check out 10+ books at a time and only make it through three of them before they’re due back. So this book kept getting check out and returned. In fact, when I got it from my school library last week, it was the fourth time I had checked it out.

Lost Boys ended up being my last Truman nominee to read, and I think I’m glad it ended up that way. I absolutely loved this book. It made me have all sorts of feels, and there were multiple times throughout the book when I cried. I also found myself getting angry multiple times.

Reza was such a well-written character, and I loved seeing his growth as a person and as a musician. I felt his heartbreak at the beginning of the book, and as he made a difficult decision toward the end. (Really trying to avoid spoilers here!)

This book made me realize how much I do not know about history and other countries. Obviously there is much more that has happened in our world than what can be taught in history classes in high school and college, but man, I feel like I wasn’t taught much more than US history up until the Civil War with WW2 being taught during Holocaust units in English classes.

With that said, I think it will be my reading goal for 2020 to read more historical fiction (and maybe a couple nonfiction pieces…gasp!). Feel free to recommend your favorites.