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.

Speak Loudly

This week, Wesley Scroggins,an associate professor of management at Missouri State University (and fundamentalist Christian), wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO, in which he characterized Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as filthy and immoral, calling it “soft pornography” because of two rape scenes. He is demanding that Speak, along with a few other books, immediately be pulled from the district.  This leaves me infuriated.

Melinda Sordino is one of my all-time favorite YA characters.  I can still remember the first time I got a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. My aunt was a seventh grade language arts teacher at the time and she used to hand books to me on a weekly basis. One of those books was Speak. I was immediately drawn to the cover and remember that I read it, from cover to cover, that night. I was only in junior high, but I knew this was an extremely powerful book.

Six years later, as a freshman in college, I volunteered with my campus’s Sexual Assault Services. I still remembered Melinda, even though I hadn’t read the book in years. For the next two years I saw real-life Melindas. I also saw the other characters in her life- her classmates. I was a part of SCREAM (Students Challenging Reality and Educating Against Myths ), a group which uses improv and theater to address interpersonal violence. This involves issues such as harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, emotional, physical, and verbal abuse, and same-sex violence. Most of the skits I was involved with centered around dating violence and sexual assault. I will never forget performing for various high schools around the state, watching their faces during the performance and listening to the questions those students asked at the end of the performance. Not every high schooler has access to something like SCREAM Theater. But EVERY adolescent should have access to Speak.

Why?  Take a look at these statistics, courtesy of RAINN.

  • Every two minutes someone in the United States is a victim of sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.
  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.
  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

How DARE Mr. Scroggins characterize Speak, an important and vital book for YA readers, as filth?  Apparently he is unaware that young readers can actually be the victims of horrible things like sexual assault.  In fact, as Jordan Sonnenblick once said, there are children everywhere experiencing things everyday that we won’t let them read about.  Mr. Scroggins, Speak might not be right for you or your child.  But it could be life-saving for a teen out there.  You have every right in the world to keep your own children from reading the book, but stay the hell away from everyone else’s children.

There has been an outpouring of rage on Twitter and book blogs.Authors are stepping forward in defense of Speak, as are readers (both teen and adult).  Check out the #SpeakLoudly hashtag on Twitter for hundreds of responses.  At 8pm there will be a live tweet of #SpeakLoudly.  Do your part and Speak Loudly!  Speak up and speak loudly.

Making Text-to-Text Connections

Today my students impressed me so much!  We were reading Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic and discussing the part of the story where Hannah/Chaya experiences the tattooing of Jews in the camps. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Ms. M., that reminds me a lot of Chains“.

Intrigued, I encouraged him to continue.

“Well, the tattooing reminded me of Isabel being branded with an ‘I’ by Mrs. Lockton. In Chains, the ‘I’ is a punishment, a way for Mrs. Lockton to take even more away from Isabel. But instead, Isabel took back the branding and made it hers. She said the ‘I’ stood for Isabel, for her, and not for insolent. And now Hannah/Chaya is taking back the tattoo, making it meaningful to her instead of just giving in and taking it.”

WOW! I had never even thought of that connection, but how great is that? It’s so true, and such a solid connection between the two novels we read this year. I am so proud of my students!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.”

Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest YA novel, Wintergirls, is a haunting story of loss, depression, anger, and anorexia. Lia is literally dying to be thin.  She and her best friend Cassie, who is bulimic, spent most of their lives competing to be skinny-skinnier-skinniest.  The book opens as Lia learns that Cassie has died alone in a motel room.  Despite the fact that they haven’t been friends for almost a year, Cassie’s death sets Lia on an even more dangerous course.  Lia has been in rehab twice, and after the second time she distanced herself from Cassie.  But on the night she died, Cassie called her 33 times.  And Lia never answered.  

Lia tries to pretend she isn’t affected by her friend’s death, telling her parents, her therapist, and herself that Cassie’s death isn’t hurting her or causing her to relapse.  But at night, she is haunted by Cassie’s ghost, encouraging her to continue starving herself so that they can be together again, as wintergirls- stuck on the border between life and death.  And relapse isn’t the issue- Lia never stopped starving herself.  Instead, Anderson shows the reader the vast array or strategies that girls like Lia use to fool their parents and doctors into thinking that they are eating and staying at a healthy weight.  

The book is told from Lia’s perspective and you are literally in her brain.  The style decisions made by Anderson make the book even more powerful.  There are strike-outs, fragments, sort-of-poems, and words that creep in from the right margin like thoughts fighting to be heard.  Lia’s head isn’t a good place to be.  In fact, you may even hate her at some points.  But you can’t turn away from her.  She is that girl we’ve all known, whether she is a reflection of us or a friend in middle school, high school, or college.  On the outside, she has it all. Her divorced parents live in the same town, she has a great stepsister who adores her, she goes to a normal high school, and has a best friend.  But somewhere in there, Lia gets lost.  As she says, she “failed adolescence” and lost herself.  Constantly berated by the voices in her head that call her “Stupid/ugly/ stupid/bitch/stupid/fat” and unable to look at food without seeing it’s calorie count in parentheses, she is swimming in a fog and about to drown.

Wintergirls isn’t an easy book to review because I don’t think any of my words can do it justice. However, it is a book that every girl, parent, and teacher SHOULD read. Like Anderson’s Speak, this is a powerful, haunting, and lyrical book. It deals with the issue of eating disorders by getting into Lia’s head.  It’s not an easy book to read- I literally felt sick to my stomach at points and my heart was racing throughout it.  In fact, I had to put it down twice because I actually felt stressed out.  When I couldn’t figure out why I was suddenly feeling nervous and stretched, I realized Anderson’s writing was eliciting this physical response in me.  Talk about words having power.  

This is a book that should be read, passed on, and recommended.  This novel will make an impact.  I’m throwing out my prediction now- this will be a National Book Award Finalist or Printz winner.  It’s that powerful and important.

Predicting the Newbery as a Class and 21st Century Literacy

We are almost finished reading Chains as our current read-aloud. Both classes have about 25 pages to go, and they were begging to read more today! We ended right after Isabel escaped from the potato bin. The greatest sound in the world is the united groans of 20 6th graders begging you to continue reading a read-aloud!

Seeing as the Newbery will be announced in a little over a week, we have slightly altered our read-aloud plans. I plan to finish Chains tomorrow, complete with an awesome discussion.  We then have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr., Day.  My class begged that we read Diamond Willow  beginning on Tuesday.  After considering the logistics for about a second, I said, “Of course!”  At 108 pages, and with a lot of white space, I think we can finish it before the announcement is made.  Then we will have read three books that are on numerous mock Newbery lists.

Diamond Willow will present some interesting challenges.  The diamond-shape poems and the bold words throughout need to be viewed to be appreciated.  I think I will show the book using my document camera.  This way the students can see the poems as I read them, just like if they had the book in their hands.  It’s the first time I will be combining technology and literacy this way, and I can’t wait to see how it goes!  Will the experience of reading the book on the board, via the camera, be the same as reading the book in your lap?  It should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to find out!

And now January 26th will be even more fun!

Newbery Award Discussions

Last week I did a quick Newbery unit in my 6th grade class.  We reviewed the history of the award, the terms, criteria, and rules.  We also read articles about the recent Newbery controversy and discussed them as a class.  It was amazing to hear my students’ thoughts on the award and the recent controversy and I think we all learned a lot!  But my favorite part was the end of the unit- I had my students write me at least a paragraph explaining whether they thought Chains (our current read-aloud) or The Underneath (which we previously read as a read-aloud) deserved to win a Newbery or Honor on January 26th and why.

I was stunned by the responses I received!  Some of my students wrote over a page, expounding the virtues of one or both of the books.  They were extremely passionate in their opinions, so I wanted to share a few with my readers.

 

“I think that The Underneath should win because I like how it tells different problems happening with different characters.  If you don’t understand one problem that’s going on you may understand another one.  I also liked in The Underneath  how at the end all the characters come together.  “

“I think that Chains should win the Newbery because it is a good book with real info and sometimes you think Wow I have it good.”

“I think that both Chains and The Underneath should be honors.  The Underneath should not just be in the honors but it should win…It should win because it keeps you thinking and it keeps you reading.”

“I think that Chains will win the Newbery and The Underneath will be recognized as an Honor book.  Both books have great writing in them and the authors really did a good job with the character development.  In my opinion, Chains is written better, but The Underneath is good, too.  I can’t wait until Jan. 26th!”

“I think Chains and The Underneath both have a chance of winning the Newbery.  Chains is very interesting and seems like I am actually in the Revolutionary War.  I like this book because it is suspenseful and you don’t know what will happen next.  I like how bad things keep happening and Isabelle doesn’t give up.  The Underneath is a book that I liked but I thought it was hard to understand. “

“I really believe that Chains should win.  I believe there should be a change.  Since we now have an African-American president, we should have an African-American book.  This books is fantastic because because it has true facts about American history.  I feel this book should win over The Underneath because The Underneath is about imaginary things. “

“I believe The Underneath should win the Newbery Award.  I think because it has lessons to teach the reader.  It tells the stories about the struggles of life and how to get through it.  When the animals in the story get into difficult situations they seem to find a way out.  It also shows the sacrifices we will make for friends and family.  For example, when the mother cat saves Puck from drowning. “

“I think The Underneath should win the Newbery Award.  I think because it was a great book and made my class so emotional.  I saw and heard crying when the calico cat died.  I heard rage when Ranger was beaten.  I saw happiness when Garface died.  But most of all tears of joy for Grandmother helping Ranger, Puck, and Sabine and when they all ran away together as a family.”

“I think The Underneath should win the Newbery- or at least an honor book- for many reasons.  One reason she should get the award is because her book is a page turner for children.  I am a child and I know I loved the book. “

 

Those are just a few of the opinions in my two classes.  Between all of my students, the votes are pretty evenly divided between Chains and The Underneath.  But every student felt that they both fit the criteria and deserved to at least win an honor on January 26th!  I just love how passionate they are about both books and how invested they are in the award ceremony.

2008 Favorites

Well, the year is almost over.  That means it is time for wrap-up lists, one of my favorite parts of the year!  What are your favorite books of the year?  

Below are my favorite titles published this year:

 

  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I read this way back in the beginning of the year and it still stays with me. An amazing, haunting gothic tale of the fall of the south, through a young girl’s eyes. I loved it and so did my students.  In my review I said, “This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. “

 

  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- A more recent read, this verse novel is gorgeous. The theme of the diamond willow branch flows smoothly throughout the story and is accessible to readers of all ages. Helen Frost is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to share this with my students.

 

  •  Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- I love Wendy Mass and I think this is one of her best.  It is a beautiful story with a ton of kid appeal.  Plus, it made me go out and look up more information on solar eclipses.  Plus, I haven’t seen it since I put it in my class library.  My kids absolutely love it, too!

 

  • Six Inningsby James Preller- I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book!  A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!

 

  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of this series when the news first broke. Trading cards? Online games? It sounded like a lame ploy to get kids to read. But when I gave in and read the first book, at the insistence of my class, I was hooked! This is a great mystery series full of Rick Riordan’s trademark humor and realistic characters who have unrealistic lives. Needless to say, it is a huge hit in my classroom and we are all desperately awaiting the release of the third book in the series!

 

  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- Our current read-aloud, my class and I love Chains! Isabelle is a complex, multi-faceted character and her conflict with the American Revolution has made us all stop and think of our fight for independence in new ways.  See my review here.

 

  • My Father’s Son by Terri Fields- I am a bonafide crime addict. Well, reading about crime, at least. And watching many, many episodes of “Law and Order”. So when I had the opportunity to read and review Terri Fields’ My Father’s Son, I was very excited. And the book did not disappoint! Terri has crafted a fascinating story about a boy whose father is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. I couldn’t put it down.

 

  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- From my review: “The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Our first read-aloud of the year, both of my classes absolutely loved this story.”

 

 

  • the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Susan Beth Pfeffer is single-handedly responsible for many of the voracious readers in my class. I am telling you- hand any reluctant reader a copy of the dead and the gone and they will be begging for more. The companion novel to her Life As We Knew It, takes place in NYC after a meteor has knocked the moon out of orbit. It’s absolutely terrifying, in a fantastic way!

 

  • What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell- This sat on my TBR pile until it was nominated for the National Book Award (which it eventually won). The nomination moved it up on the pile, as I finally learned what it was about. (The ARC had no blurb or summary!). Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine. There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story. This is a gorgeous book and one I would love to see used in classrooms over the next few years!

 

I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!  But I would to know what your favorite novels were this year.

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