Invincible Summer, You Broke Me Down


Just days ago I was on the fence about my current read, Invincible Summer by Alice Adams. At that point, I was 60% of the way through the book and feeling like the marketing team had just used the word “summer” in the title as a clever way to get on summer reading lists. I wasn’t really sure that it was that great of a book – just one that had gotten some hype. Well, now I have finished it, and guess what?

It made me cry! Guess I can’t still be on the fence about it if it made me feel that strongly.

It wasn’t even that what the character or the author said was all that original or profound; it was just that what was said were things I had thought or experienced myself. This reminded me of a quote I read on Pinterest just today: bennettquote

As the characters in Invincible Summer grew up and experienced marriage, babies, and loss, I connected with them more and more. For instance, my friends and I ended up scattered across different cities and states after college as we followed job opportunities for ourselves or our spouses. The main character thinks, “I guess this is what happens when you grow up. People drift off in their own directions. Sometimes I look around at my job and my flat and my car and can’t believe that people have mistaken me for an adult and let me have all of this. But this is it, isn’t it? We’re the grown-ups now.’” And like myself, she also misses her friends: “It wasn’t that there was anything specific they needed to talk about; it was just that there were so many things she’d made mental notes to tell him, nothing of consequence, just anecdotes she’d been saving up because she knew they’d make him laugh. She didn’t really have that in her life anymore, and she missed it, really missed it.” Even though the characters in this book drift apart and deal with the hardships of divorce, losing their jobs, bad decision making, and dealing with the death of a parent, they eventually find their way back to one another. This gives me hope that my group of girlfriends will continue to keep our friendships going, even through the tough times.  

So would I recommend this book? Yes, I would – to the right audience. This book isn’t for YA-loving, dystopian, trilogy fans. Instead, I would recommend this to twenty and thirty-year-olds who are experiencing all of these major life changes. I think these are the readers who will appreciate the book’s simple beauty.


Finding Inspiration in the Finger

fingerI was driving in my very own neighborhood about a year ago when a car with two teenage boys drove past and instead of giving me the friendly neighbor wave, I got the finger. Yes, the middle finger.

I was shocked!

Why would someone stick up their middle finger like that at me? Was I driving poorly? Did they think I was someone else? A buddy, perhaps, who drives a Chevy Impala, too? Did they regret it afterwards? Or were they just mean, jerky boys?

As you can see, this moment stuck around long after the seconds it took for the boy to hold up the offending finger at me. And clearly, I’m not the only person who’s had a moment like this. In Jo Knowles novel, Read Between the Lines, she includes a dedication to “the man driving the station wagon who gave my family the finger in 2003 even though we didn’t deserve it.” Each chapter in the novel is voiced by a different character who encounters the finger during the course of a single day in a single town. Their reactions to the finger differ: one girl is shamed by it, a boy is emboldened by it, a father is at first stunned and then angered. Some find it liberating and others find it hurtful.

Knowles’s writing style is just right for this story – honest and heartfelt – young adults will be drawn to this, especially those who like books by Siobhan Vivian, Jenny Han, Carolyn Mackler, and David Levithan. I found the characters to be realistic and believable. They each seem to feel that there is something more to life than what they’ve been stuck with, but they don’t really know how to make their lives any better. A pretty cheerleader searches for meaningful conversations and friends who aren’t so shallow. A kid who is bullied – both by kids at school and his own father – searches for respect. A 19 year old man strives for a better job than the “temporary” one he has now at a fast food restaurant. A teenage boy wishes his friends would grow up and quit their mean pranks, yet also wishes they were still just kids again, enjoying summers in their tree house. Each character, who was briefly mentioned in a previous chapter, becomes more than what others see when they look at them. The only thing I disliked about this book was that the chapters never went back to the other characters to see how their lives turned out. Instead, we as readers have to imagine what will happen. Maybe getting “the finger” will inspire a change in their lives, or maybe it will simply fade from their memories as time passes.

While most of the characters are teenagers, the final chapter is narrated by a young, female teacher. I could definitely relate to many of her struggles and worries. She has taken the place of another teacher and hasn’t figured out how to gain her students’ trust. Teaching is just not what she thought it would be. She’s considering giving up, but in the final lines of the book, she states, “That just like there is more to her than what they see, there is more inside each one of them. What’s your story? she will wonder as she scans the room from face to face. And this time, when she pleads with them to read between the lines, she will try to do the same.” This is exactly what I tried to do with my students, and what we really need to do with each other: stop and consider what issues other people may be dealing with and be kind to one another. Read Between the Lines hasn’t received as much attention as other YA books, but it’s quietly compelling and worth the read.

Current Read: Beautiful Ruins

imageI’ve read some wonderful books lately; however, for my first installment of Current Read Monday, I’ve got a book I’m really not crazy about. The book is called Beautiful Ruins, and it’s written by Jess Walter. I waited several months for a digital copy to become available from my library, and now that I’ve got it, I can’t seem to get through it. I’ll admit that the first thing that drew me to this book was its cover (look at that idyllic coastline), but the book’s blurb reeled me in too.

Goodreads blurb: 
The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot—searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier. image

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the starstruck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion—along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow.

Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

Sounds pretty great right? The part I’m struggling with is the amount of characters and time periods the book contains. Just when you get interested in a character’s storyline, the chapter ends and you’re sent in a different direction. I’m sure this was done very purposely. It keeps you reading to find out what happens to those characters later, but it’s a bit frustrating. There are also some slow and tedious sections that I just don’t care for. I’m 49% of the way through the book at this point, and I hope I’m not still reading this book next Monday!

The beautiful cover got me this time! Have you had a similar experience where the book’s cover was better than its contents?

A Box of Books

box_of_booksI recently mailed a package to the school I worked at for four years. Inside the box was a stack of books that I had picked up at the Half Price Bookstore, read, and wanted to share. Mind you, I bought these books months ago, but I couldn’t bear to part with them! I almost decided not to mail them at all. Then I looked around at our apartment (which is bursting at the seams already) and decided that since I had read the books, I could live without the physical proof. Here’s what I sent and a review in fifteen words or less, plus some notes to help you decide whether or not you should add it to your summer reading list:

  • Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson: Average teen pulls prank, earning a reputation. He then deals with rumors and ruined reputations.
    • Read Twisted if you like realistic characters and situations, and topics that are relevant to today’s teens. Also read if you liked Anderson’s other novels, like Speak.
  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman: Accident lands a girl in a coma. She must decide to live or let go.
    • Read If I Stay if you saw the movie preview and thought it looked interesting, or if you like teenagers put in difficult situations that they must overcome. This one’s a bit of a tearjerker.
  • The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler: 1996 teens access their future Facebook pages through AOL CD. Their choices affect their futures.
    • Read The Future of Us if you enjoyed Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, or if you are interested in how technology has changed our lives in a relatively short time, thanks to the internet and Facebook.
  • Starters by Lissa Price: Elderly rent out teenagers’ bodies for fun, but teens soon become mindless weapons.
    • Read Starters if you like YA dystopian novels with strong female leads like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Matched. This novel has a sequel titled Enders, which I picked up from the library this week, but haven’t started yet.
  • Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian: Lillia, Kat, and Mary help one another seek revenge, but maybe they go too far…
    • Read Burn for Burn if you are tired of YA dystopian novels! This novel has three girls from different social cliques working together on revenge plots. There is also a bit of the supernatural involved. This book is followed by Fire with Fire, which I also read and enjoyed, and I’m interested to see what will happen in the third book in the series.
  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer: Meteor pushes moon closer to earth and family must survive with stockpiled food and wood-stove.
    • Read Life As We Knew It if you’re interested in finding out what life would be like if a global natural disaster really happened and you were forced to survive without grocery stores, water, heat, electricity, cell phones, and the internet. The novel is written as a series of journal entries. It is followed up by three other books in the series (which I have not read, and I’m not sure that I will).
  • The Kill Order by James Dashner: Prequel to Maze Runner series. How it all started. Mutating disease released on innocent people.
    • Read The Kill Order if you read the Maze Runner series and are still confused! While this novel still didn’t answer all of my questions, it did help explain how the disease started in the first place. It also shows what life was like right at the time of the sun flares, which are discussed in the Maze Runner books.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Kid leaves reservation school to attend a white school for hope of a better future.
    • Read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian if you have ever felt like you didn’t belong in your family, community, or school. Read this book if you’ve felt like there was more to you and your potential than everyone around you imagined. As the main character is a teenage boy, I feel like boys would be drawn to this book more than girls would. Read this book if you disagree with book banning/challenging and you want to see what all the fuss is about.
  • Brian’s Hunt by Gary Paulsen: Author of Hatchet and Brian’s Winter returns with more of Brian’s story.
    • This is the only book out of the bunch that I didn’t read. I just know that kids always like Gary Paulsen’s books. Students are captivated by Brian’s ability to survive in the wild on his own. I remember reading Hatchet and Brian’s Winter in elementary school and really enjoying them. I think I remember this unit in particular because we even got to build our own forts in the school forest. How cool is that?!

How did I do?  Do you think my box of books will be a hit with teenagers looking for something new to read?