The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Know this- I do not read e-ARCs.  I try to avoid reading ebooks because I spend enough of my time on the computer as it is so I don’t need to add more screens to my life.  As a result, you will find me reading ebooks while traveling or as part of committee work.

Except for this book.  I made an exception for this one and it was so worth it.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory will rip your heart our, stomp on it, throw it against the wall, and then pick it up and put it back together again.

Hayley and her father, a war vet, have spent the last five years on the road.  He drives a truck and she rides alongside, taking care of him.  Struggling with demons, haunted by what he saw in Iraq, her father spends his time moving from town to town, never staying in one place for very long.  Hayley looks out for him, acting as his parent in a reversal of roles.  But now they are living in her grandmother’s house and her father is determined to settle down so Hayley can go to school and graduate on time.

But her father’s PTSD only gets worse and there’s only so much Hayley can do.  She can’t take care of herself and her father.  Can she save him from himself?  Can she save herself?

The Impossible Knife of Memory  is unputdownable.  Laurie Halse Anderson handles PTSD and the effects of war in a deft and powerful manner.  It’s not just our vets who suffer, but also their families.  Hayley’s voice is spot-on, as Anderson has an uncanny knack for capturing the teen voice.  But her actions, as her father’s support system and caretaker, are also inherently teen.  How much can we expect teenagers to take on?  How much do we know about what they deal with when they leave our classrooms?  Anderson brings forth these questions and many more.

Dealing with other issues ranging from education funding, to teenage herd mentality, to drug abuse, Laurie Halse Anderson manages to craft a heartbreaking story that still manages to leave the reader with hope.  Highliy recommended for all readers, I think The Impossible Knife of Memory  has a lot of crossover appeal and I expect to see it mentioned on many awards lists later this year.

Thank you to Laurie Halse Anderson for giving us stories that no one else is able to write.  Powerful and thought-provoking, this is a book for all ages.

A #coverflip Experiment with High School Freshmen

Today in class the freshmen read Maureen Johnson’s awesome essay, “The Gender Coverup“, wherein she takes a look at gendered book covers and calls to task those who think there are  “boy” books and “girl” books.

“I don’t care,” say some other people. Probably most of the people. Because a lot of people don’t read much or see why any of this affects their lives. But I believe it does affect us all, very much so, because these are all subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) value judgments on what kind of narratives matter.

“But!” some of those people who are still paying attention cry. “Boys don’t like to/can’t read about girls!”

“&^%$@,” say I.

Of course they can, and stop making their choices for them or telling them what they do or don’t want to do. This may be a big part of the problem.

I see this issue every day as a teacher.  I saw it in 6th grade and I see it with my high schoolers.  I’ll booktalk a fabulous book and the cover will influence students to read it or not read it.  I have plenty of male students who, as avid booktalkers of Thirteen Reasons Why  would love Before I Fall, but avoid it because of the cover. They deem it “feminine” and say that they will be made fun of.  A problem in and of itself, obviously, but we need to stop placing gender labels on books, too.

The conversations that stemmed from the article were fabulous.  I eavesdropped as students argued over whether girls are more willing to read broadly while boys stick to certain topics.  I watched as they analyzed the covers of the books on their desks.  And I hid a smile as they vehemently argued over whether the covers of YA novels fit gender stereotypes.  Plus, it led to a great analysis of the many editions of our current class novel, Things Fall Apart.  The students noted similarities between how Achebe’s characters were presented on some covers and how those in the Western world view(ed) Nigeria (and Africa as a whole).   Could this English teacher be any happier?

After reading the article and viewing the slideshow, I challenged my students to try #coverflip.  In groups, they decided on a book that they felt had a cover that appealed more to one gender than necessary.  Then, they searched for Creative Commons images that they could use to create a new cover.  In photoshop, they designed their new book cover with either a more neutral cover or one that appealed to gender stereotypes.  Take a look at what they came up with!

Holes

 

 

a wrinkle in time

 

 

WAR HORSE

 

 

eragon

 

 

 

Twilight Flipped Cover

 

 

 

????????????????????

 

 

 

400_F_13225159_5BT7QKgJEodkZX5q2k5uB9MUcTJjIxND

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.53.46 AM

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.55.38 AM

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.53.28 AM

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.58.59 AM

 

 

 

 

trafficked

 

 

 

CoverFlip_Patel_Donahue

 

fahrenheit 451

 

 

 

Screen shot 5773-09-29 at 10.38.41 AM

 

 

 

 

coverflipet

 

uglies

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 10.46.12 AM

 

 

 

PJ Book Cover

 

 

 

the hunger games

 

 

1984

 

 

 

The Fault in Our Stars

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 10.55.21 AM

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 10.56.57 AM

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 10.57.55 AM

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 10.58.36 AM

 

 

 

 

 

So impressed with what these students came up with in only 40 minutes!  And I have to admit, some of these #coverflip books really make me think.  What about you?

As a lover of books, I dream of a day when there are no “boy” or “girl” assumptions when it comes to audience.  After discussing it with my students, I think they will be the ones to make it happen.  For the most part, they see no reason why the narrator or characters should influence  the gender of a perceived audience.  You hate romance and love action?  Great!  Doesn’t matter if you are male or female.  You love character-driven stories with romance and can’t deal with gore?  Awesome!  Who cares if you are a girl or a guy?  An appealing cover should show some aspect of the story and the audience will find it, as my students said.  Marketers can’t always predict who will buy a book (data isn’t perfect, they pointed out!) so why not appeal to the broadest audience possible?

I love my students. :)

 

 

*students- if you don’t see your cover here, it’s because I didn’t get it!  Tweet or email it to me and I”ll update this post!

 

 

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Grab a box of tissues, find a comfy chair, turn off the cell phone and the computer, and settle down to read Jo Knowles’ See You at Harry’s. When Kate Messner advised me to search for an ARC at NCTE, she warned me that the book would make me cry.  I was thrilled to

get an ARC and when I sat down to read, I figured it would be sad but that I wouldn’t cry because it was probably just another sad middle grade book.

This is not a book that’s about what you think it will be about.  It is a book, though, that will take your heart and run it through the equivalent of a paper shredder over and over again.  You will find yourself stifling gasping sobs and weeping on the pages in front of you.  This book will break your heart but you will love it anyway.Oh readers.  How wrong I was.

 

See You at Harry’s is a conversation book.  You will need to talk about it when you are finished.  I passed my ARC to a student reader who came to me the next day raving about how unpredictable the book was.  Today she told me she is going out to buy her own finished copy because even though she already read it, she needs to own her own copy.  It’s just that good.

Highly, highly recommended for middle grade and high school readers.  This one crosses the fence, folks.  Pass it on to the readers in your life and they will be grateful.

 

 

*ARC courtesy of publisher, via NCTE Annual

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