As long as there are a few compensations…

I recently tackled The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This was my first time reading a novel by the respected and revered Atwood, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course I knew her name, but I was unfamiliar with her actual work. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m curious to learn more about her and her other books. As Hulu is set to release a television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale this April and some women recently wore handmaid’s robes to the Texas Senate, you’ll probably be hearing about this book, originally published in 1985, quite a bit.

Here’s what Goodreads tells readers about the book:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

It’s hard to say that I “liked” this book, because it made me feel anxious, on edge, and desperate for more information. The narrator held back a lot, in fear for her safety, but I wish more of the gaps could have been filled. I definitely wanted to know more about the world she was living in and the history behind it. Then again, this made me want to keep reading and my imagination was spinning with all the possibilities. This is a grown up version of a sci-fi(ish), dystopian story. Basically, the government has been replaced by an ultra-religious governing body which has stripped women of their jobs, money, privacy, and dignity. Why do people go along with it? Well, as the narrator’s mother says, “Humanity is so adaptable…Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.” Words that are ominous and thought-provoking, for sure.

In our current political climate – women ridiculed for rallying and voicing their concerns on many important topics, attempts to defund programs that provide quality medical care, advice, and contraception for women, government officials who claim to be Christians yet strip others of their basic human rights – Atwood’s book feels more cautionary and relevant than ever. Sales of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 may have gone up since Trump took office, but The Handmaid’s Tale makes me even more terrified of what would happen if, say, Mike Pence became president.

Our current president may have campaigned under the slogan “Make America Great Again,” but as Atwood writes, “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

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The Next Must Read Series

chaos_postoneWow, readers. I just finished a series that was unlike anything I’ve ever read. It was thought-provoking, action-packed, suspenseful, and invigorating. It was so special that I’m going to focus three blog posts on this particular series. What series would deserve so much attention? The Chaos Walking series, made up of three novels and three short stories (one short story is at the end of each ebook). The series starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go, whose dramatic cliffhanger ending leads you right into The Ask and the Answer, and culminates with Monsters of Men. It’s a Young Adult series, but the content is pretty mature, so I would recommend it for readers over 13. Intrigued?

Have you ever wished that you knew what someone was thinking? Well, in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, you can hear what everyone is thinking. All. The. Time. All of their most secret and mundane thoughts, hopes, dreams, and memories are broadcast as “noise” to everyone around them. Oh, and everyone can hear what YOU are thinking too. Now maybe that doesn’t sound so cool. Got a crush on someone? Everyone would know. Don’t know how to do something? Everyone would know. Tell a little white lie? Don’t even bother, because everyone would know. The animals all have noise too, so it’s practically impossible to find some peace and quiet. But wait. Are you female? Then you don’t have noise. Lucky you! Only the men have noise, which means they are jealous and mistrustful of you and all your silence. How is such a thing possible? Well, this series takes place on a new planet where settlers have landed to get away from the problems of “Old World.” When the settlers arrive, the noise is like a disease they catch. So not only are they working hard to survive and build new communities, but they are also struggling to adapt to this strange phenomenon. Communities choose to deal with this issue in different ways.

The Knife of Never Letting Go follows the story of Todd, a young boy who is about to reach the age of manhood. His community- which is the only one he believes exists- no longer has any women. It’s just a town of angry, frustrated, depressed, and noisy men. One day, Todd is out gathering apples when he comes across a pocket of silence. This silence starts a chain of events that sends Todd running from his community in fear for his life. Along the way, he discovers the truth behind his community’s history, what it means to be a man, and how love can be a powerful force. I’m going to leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. You should know that the book may be a little strange and difficult to get into at first, but keep reading–it’s worth it!

This series has the potential to become the next big thing. Like The Hunger Games, the series is violent and brutal, and not for the easily offended. As in The Maze Runner series, the main character is a boy, instead of a girl like a lot of popular teen stories (Katniss, Katsa, Cassia, Bella, etc). Despite the heaviness of some of the events of the series, there is also a theme of tolerance, respect for the planet, and the courage to do what is right even in the toughest of times.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up The Knife of Never Letting Go at your local library, bookstore, or online outlet. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this wonderful series.


Read more about the Chaos Walking series on Goodreads:

Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go          + Short story “The New World”

Book 2: The Ask and the Answer                  + Short story “The Wide, Wide Sea”

Book 3: Monsters of Men                             + Short story “Snowscape”

Entry #5 – Sharing is caring

theoutsiders

Entry #5 – Sharing is caring:  “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” Share a book that EVERYBODY NEEDS TO READ. 

Books that have left me with a “weird evangelical zeal” are not necessarily books that I think everyone would enjoy.  They were important to me, but were perhaps too girly, too historical, or too fantasy-based for other readers.

However, I did come up with a book that I think everyone should read.  That book would be The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  Hinton was only 18 when her book was published in 1967.  I love hearing about authors who found success at a young age.  The Outsiders is narrated by Ponyboy Curtis, a 14-year-old living with his older brothers Sodapop and Darry.  He tells us about his life as a Greaser on the tough side of town.  Even though he gets good grades at school and is athletic, he doesn’t fit in with the rich kids, the Socs.  The novel is a coming-of-age story.  Ponyboy learns that “things are rough all over”—no matter what side of town you live on.  He learns that his brother is tough on him because Darry doesn’t want to see Ponyboy’s potential wasted.  Ponyboy encounters adventure, as well as loss, and learns the value of family and friendship.

As an English teacher, this was always one of the best books to teach.  Kids legitimately enjoy this story.  They want to know what happens to the characters: Ponyboy, Soda, Darry, Johnny, Dally, Two-Bit, Steve, and Cherry become important to them.  This is the only time when kids read MORE than what they were assigned.  In fact, some students finish the book only a day or two after handing the books out.  Teenagers can relate to this book, and the writing is easy to read and understand.  It’s Young Adult literature at its best.

This was also a great book to use because the film version is wonderful too.  So many students loved the book that they begged for a film adaptation.  Francis Ford Coppola directed a version in 1983.  The film stars C. Thomas Howell as Ponyboy, Rob Lowe as Soda, Patrick Swayze as Darry, Ralph Macchio as Johnny, Matt Dillon as Dally, Emilio Estevez as Two-Bit, Tom Cruise as Steve, and Diane Lane as Cherry.  Everyone in the cast went on to have lucrative TV and film careers.  It’s fun to see them all so young.  My students always swooned over Rob Lowe, though I preferred Matt Dillon!

Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.