Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review - Divergent, by Veronica Roth

In Divergent, by Veronica Roth, Chicago has been overrun by war and conflict, and five factions have been formed: Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), and Dauntless (the brave). When you're sixteeen you are given a test to see which faction you belong in. Still, if you want, you can choose whichever faction you prefer. The choice is yours.

But there's a catch: Once you choose, that's it. If your family is in a different faction, too bad. You can see them on visiting day, but your life is now about the faction you live in. And first you have to train and take some really awful tests to be accepted by this faction. If you fail you wind up factionless, which is a fate worse than death.

The main character, Beatrice, picks Dauntless rather than sticking with Abnegation, which is what her parents belong to and where she's been raised. But a whole host of other problems present themselves, including the knowledge that Beatrice is "divergent" - meaning she doesn't just belong in one faction. I won't tell you why that's a problem (it would ruin the story) - but believe me, it's a really big problem.

So, I loved this book. It had great suspense, and it was original and fun. If you liked The Hunger Games then you will like this too. I did spend a lot of time trying to figure out which faction I would be in. Where's the faction for sarcasm and love of fiction? I thought maybe I'd go for Amity, because that's the only faction that seems to value art and creativity, but what if it's full of perky, Trader Joe's type people who judge you for your cynicism? That would suck.

Anway, I picked this up because as an English teacher, I wanted something new to read to my 10th graders at the top of each hour. This seemed like a good choice because the chapters are short, the suspense is high, and it will appeal to both males and females. I wasn't disappointed, and I can't wait to read it to my students. There are tons of discussions we can have about society, personal repsonsibility, and identity, which are all themes in this book. I highly reccomend it for any age. It's just that good.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review - The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells

I think I'm too old for this book.
I loved it most of the way through. I thought Howells did an excellent job of creating a story that centers around summer life in the Hamptons. Mia, the main character, is an outsider, and we see the enviroment through her her eyes. Mia has to navigate a world where the kids are already jaded and way too experienced, while her family is hiding secrets and nothing is as it seems.

Then she meets Simon, and her summer starts to go a lot better.

What I loved about this book is it couldn't have taken place anywhere else. The Hamptons was as big a character in the story as Mia was, and reading it made me feel, and wish, that I was there. I also loved all the allusions to The Great Gatsby. That was neat.

But the ending was a little to dramatic for me. However, if I had read the book as a teen I probably would have loved it, because part of being a teenager is having everything feel heightened. And teens are the intended audience, after all.

One thing did surprise me... there were several typos and errors in formatting. I mention this only because it's not a indie book; this book benefitted from a professional editor. I feel like indie books are constantly being criticized for this type of thing, yet it can happen with big-time publisher books too. It wasn't a big deal, though.

Anyway, I recommend this if you're looking for a satifying, end-of-summer read. But if you're not a teenager, you might feel pretty old by the time you finish it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm not friends with Tim Pawlenty or Michele Bachmann, and I'm from Minnesota

The summer has gone by so fast. Pretty soon school will start back up, and it will be time for Eli to start first grade, me to resume teaching high school, and Pauline to go back to daycare. Life is tough.

If you don't believe me, just ask Tim Pawlenty.

Poor Tim. He really thought he had a shot, until Michele Bachmann came in and stole his thunder. I guess two presidential candidates from Minnesota is one too many. (It's actually two too many if you ask me, but nobody has...)

I'm just curious if his lack of success has more to do with his personality than with his message. I know the Tea Pary is a big deal right now, and I get that's why Michele Bachmann is gaining popularity. But that's not the only reason. Obviously. It's also about personality. Think about what sort of friend Michele Bachmann would be.

 I believe there are three types of friends. There are the compelling, fun kind who are sort of undpredictable and a little unstable. They are fun to be around because you never know what will happen next. This is the Michele Bachmann type of friend. Even though she might lie to your face about her plans for the weekend (the party she didn't invite you to or the guy she's stealing from under your nose), when she's fun she's a lot of fun, so you put up with her.

Then there's the stable, nice guy type of friend. He's the guy who will mow your lawn when you're out of town, but you sort of don't want him because then you'll be obligated to invite him over for a beer, and what will talk about? Tim Pawlenty is obviously this type of friend - heck, he offered to come over and mow the lawns of anyone who could find flaws with his budget plan, or something like that. But nobody wants to have a beer with Tim Pawlenty. Poor Tim Pawlenty.

The third type of friend, which is much more rare, is the type who is both compelling and reliable, fun and sane all at once. These people are hard to find, especially when they're political candidates. But we know this already.

I guess in the political arena, Minnesota nice is a handicap.