Friday, March 30, 2018

Three Thrillers in Two Days

If you just count the books in my house, there are easily 60 around that I haven't read. Mostly library books. If you add in the 1,500+ classroom library I have at my disposal--why would I ever need to check out more books?

But Friday found me at the library, and for some reason, I kept picking up thrillers. I guess I need something plot-driven right now.  Something where I care about what's happening, but don't have to really care about the characters. I don't need anyone's pain, and I don't need anyone's happiness. I just want twists and turns and a rush to the end.

So I read three of them in a row this weekend. Two YA and one adult. They all had a lot in common, of course, and they all had their own strengths and weaknesses. I'm not going to straight-up spoil anything, but it's hard to talk about thrillers without giving things away, so be warned. If you like going in with no idea of what to expect, skip to the summary at the bottom.

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten
This is my second Weingarten thriller, and will probably be my last. Not because they're bad, they're just not AS good as I want them to be. Thrillers are not my go-to genre, so I really only want the best of the best.

The cover is just weird, frankly. The title doesn't match the story in any particular way, and as for the fly in the lipstick--ew.  

One thing this book does well is create the sense that but for a few terrible decisions combined with some terrible luck, the protagonists would have been okay. Some thrillers star people who are so decidedly messed up that they and those they come up against are doomed to a bad end. But Sasha and Xavier could have been so happy...

Red herrings abound, there's an astoundingly gruesome road trip, and if you like to read about people eating good diner food, this book is for you.

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
I know We Were Liars got a lot of attention (deserved, in my opinion), but I always think of Lockhart as the author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which I loved. I'd heard mixed things about this one, but am willing to take a chance on an author that has charmed me before.

The story starts off with a bang, and I loved how it pulled you into Jules's escapades right away. As the story develops, it isn't hard to see the shades of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and even Single White Female, up to and including the less-murderous-than-expected-assault-by-high-heel. It's back-to-front setup works well and helps keep surprises coming even as the reader slowly works out what's really going on. I found some elements of the final few chapters a bit of a let-down, but up until then I was on the edge of my seat. (Metaphorically only, as I actually spent the entire time sprawled on the couch.)

Lie to Me by J. T. Ellison
This one was twisty! I don't know if the jump from YA to adult means this author was granted more pages to play and plot in, or more license to create seriously messed up characters, or what, but it felt very different from the first two books, while still being clearly in the same genre.

One subplot involves the whole Authors Behaving Badly thing on Goodreads (mildly disguised as "Superb Reads" for obvious reasons), which was kind of meta. I really liked how the author had me going in one direction as I anticipated the twist, and then doubled back on it and actually caught me off guard. The characters aren't particularly likable (other than the police officer), but they were definitely engaging.

When I read them, I liked Genuine Fraud better than Bad Girls, but a day later, I'm starting to reverse my opinion Genuine Fraud had such a cool structure, and Bad Girls had that whole classical tragedy/fatal flaw thing going on. Lie to Me was the most gripping of the three, without containing anyone I could relate to. Only one of these had an ending in which the plotted-against got out from under the plotter, and I won't tell you which.  If you like thrillers, I think they're all worth a read.

And if you need to get out of your own head for a weekend without having to get overly emotionally engaged--read them all at once, like I did.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Walking Out and Talking It Out

Okay, so I know I said I wasn't going to post for a couple of weeks, but this is a) super timely and b) not actually book related, so, you know, here it is. I'll be back in a couple of weeks though. It's like the days when I have a substitute, but I'm at a meeting in the building, and kids freak out if they see me, so I tell them, "I'm not really here."  

It was second period on March 14th, around 9:40 in the morning. I was trying to keep students engaged in my reading class by having them generate questions they had about the school walkouts planned nationwide, then reading a variety of articles to see if they could find their answers.

“It’s stuuuupid,” snarled a young man named Connor*. Three others started to shout him down. Rather miraculously, they all let me shush them and set some parameters.

“We can talk about this. We can have different opinions about it, and we can explain why we think what we do. But we’re not going to call names or be rude to each other. You are all entitled to your own opinion, but I want to be sure you’ve gathered some information and done some thinking first.”

“Can I talk first?” asked Connor. Knowing as I did that his point of view was furthest from mine, I figured it would be diplomatic to let him say his piece. 

“Okay, but can you rephrase how you started that?”

He nodded seriously and said, “Okay. I disagree with the walk-out,” (pointed look at me to be sure I’d clocked his more academic language) “because I don’t think it is really going to change anything. I think a lot of kids are walking out just to get out of class. And the second amendment says we can have guns.”

Other hands shot up, and a quick side debate settled who would get to speak in what order. Most of the kids with strong opinions supported the walk-out, and were able to explain why. Honoring the dead. Ending school shootings. Nobody needs army-style weapons in their home. Better background checks. When Connor argued that we already have background checks, they told him that there are “black market” deals and other situations where that doesn’t apply. “Can you buy guns online?” they asked. I could tell they were a little iffy on their rebuttal, and suggested they do some research to find out what the deal is with background checks.

I also pointed out the fact that in the list of links I’d provided them with, there was one article about an armed teacher who’d been able to keep a student from shooting up the school, and another about the teacher who’d just yesterday accidentally discharged his weapon at school. Connor started spluttering again. “What kind of idiot…” he began, and I directed him to the article itself.  Read it and find out for yourself what happened; don’t make assumptions based on your knee jerk reactions, and don’t rely on someone else—like your teacher who would quit before she’d carry a gun to school-- to fill you in on the details.

He read. The others read. Some were reading about the civil rights of students, and some were reading about different school districts’ varying responses to the planned walk-out. Another boy put his head together with Connor to pore over the article about the accidental gunshot during a gun safety demonstration.

Connor started telling his partner what he thought. “See, it’s not the guns, it’s the people, and it’s gun safety. So what we should do is you should still be able to buy guns and everything, but you should have to go get re-certified every year.”  He noticed me listening, and started addressing me too. “And, like your brain isn’t fully developed until you’re 25, right?” I concurred, maybe a bit too enthusiastically.  “So you should be able to go huntin’ and stuff before then, but you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun on your own before then. But if you’re like in the military or police of something, you wouldn’t have to get tested as often, because you’d be really well trained. But you should still get tested every five or ten years, because sometimes people’s brains start to get messed up, or maybe you’ve forgotten some stuff.”

I was nodding at him as he thought out loud.  “Can I tell them what I think now?” he asked.  I pulled the class back together and told them that after doing some more reading and thinking, Connor had an idea to share. There was some eye rolling from the kids who’d been arguing with him earlier, but I gave them that teacher eye, and they let him talk.

He didn’t get that far before Kayla*, a girl who matches Connor in her eagerness to share her opinions on everything, interrupted him. “See, you actually agree with us! Because I know people like to hunt and stuff, and I’m not saying they should lose their guns. I just don’t want people to keep getting killed.”

Connor nodded. “They just need to get better about being safe with their guns. I think if they had to go in every year and get a complete check and safety test, it would really help.”

Kayla countered with, “Well, I still think they don’t need assault weapons, but basically, yeah, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.”

I teach kids who struggle academically. Yet they were able to not only explain their point of view, they were able to listen to someone with a different take on things, to assimilate new information, and to find common ground. Connor was one of four students who stayed in my class during the walk-out, because he felt the focus was still on restricting gun access, not improving gun safety. Kayla and the other kids who’d been arguing with him walked out. But they did so with a far greater measure of respect that I would have imagined when they came into class all fired up. It was almost like they could believe that someone could disagree with you yet still have decent values.

KIDS THESE DAYS. They just might save us all.

*Names have been changed.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Leave of Absence


I haven't posted in over a week, and I think I'm just going to go ahead and make it official--I will be taking another two weeks away from blogging. I'll see you again during my spring break, the last week of March.

For now, I'm leaving you with this image Victoria Jamieson created.  See here for more information about how the kidlit community is getting involved in the #NeverAgain movement.