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Quick Update and It’s Monday What Are You Reading?

September 20, 2010

On with the bookish stuff:

Books Reviewed This Week:

Dracula in Love by Karen Essex

I Also Read:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

from It’s the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop’s Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she’s inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities. But who can blame her? What else does an eleven-year-old science prodigy have to do when left to her own devices? With her widowed father and two older sisters far too preoccupied with their own pursuits and passionsโ€”stamp collecting, adventure novels, and boys respectivelyโ€”Flavia takes off on her trusty bicycle Gladys to catch a murderer. In Alan Bradley’s critically acclaimed debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don’t be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel (the first in a new series) features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail. As the pages fly by, you’ll be rooting for this curious combination of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes. Go ahead, take a bite.

Reading Now:

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

from Since the beginning of the school year, high school freshman Melinda has found that it’s been getting harder and harder for her to speak out loud: “My throat is always sore, my lips raw…. Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze…. It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis.” What could have caused Melinda to suddenly fall mute? Could it be due to the fact that no one at school is speaking to her because she called the cops and got everyone busted at the seniors’ big end-of-summer party? Or maybe it’s because her parents’ only form of communication is Post-It notes written on their way out the door to their nine-to-whenever jobs. While Melinda is bothered by these things, deep down she knows the real reason why she’s been struck mute… Laurie Halse Anderson’s first novel is a stunning and sympathetic tribute to the teenage outcast. The triumphant ending, in which Melinda finds her voice, is cause for cheering (while many readers might also shed a tear or two). After reading Speak, it will be hard for any teen to look at the class scapegoat again without a measure of compassion and understanding for that person–who may be screaming beneath the silence.

Edited to Add: Several commenters pointed out that Speak is currently the center of controversy. I didn’t know this — my choosing Speak this week was a coincidence. However, I read up on it a bit.

I am enjoying the book so far, which seems to be well loved by YA readers, and I would be happy to express my support for this author. And as you might have guessed, I don’t believe in censorship. But to play the devil’s advocate a bit, I did have some sympathy for one critic of using Speak in high school English classes. This person feared it would be required reading, and the rape theme would be hurtful to students who had been rape victims. Of course, it’s just as likely to be therapeutic for someone who’s experienced rape. But I think that’s an individual choice, one that should ideally be made with a supportive adult.

My older daughter was once in a public school class where 4th graders were required to read a book titled Belle Prater’s Boy. It seemed to be a good choice for most of the students, but my daughter — who’d figured out it dealt with painful subjects like suicide — didn’t want to read it. She told her teacher this, but the teacher insisted it was a requirement of the class. Period. I felt her decision, and her sensitivities, should have been honored.

This is not an argument for censorship, and I certainly don’t want to see Speak removed from schools.ย  However, I am also leery of forcing books on students. I think novels with sensitive subjects should be handled — well — sensitively, and that teachers should give students choices.

I’ll probably come back to this issue after I finish Speak.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2010 1:05 am

    I have read parts of Sweetness. The narrative style is simply brilliant and I love the main character.

    Great party James and friends were having there.

    Amazon makes a point about the class scapegoat, in the review of Speak.

    The book I have just read is The world beneath by Cate Kennedy. She creates this world and this initiation ritual, and the parents try to reconcile and live separate lives as people.

    The movie I had just seen is In the loop which is about British and American politics and is a rollicking comedy.

  2. September 20, 2010 1:31 am

    Perfect timing for reading Speak, given all the controversy!

  3. September 20, 2010 1:37 am

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an awesome read. I hope you loved it. The third one should be out in Feb. Speak seems to be making the rounds this week with the awful “hey lets ban books” fever that going around. While Speak is not my go to book (I read it), it is a very well written book on a subject that is real. Hope you have a great week.

  4. September 20, 2010 1:41 am

    Sounds like you have a lot going on, but with some fun thrown in there too! I really want to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

    • September 20, 2010 1:53 am

      The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a good one, Steph. I’ll look forward to seeing what you think of it.

  5. September 20, 2010 1:50 am

    Sweetness is on my list. Love that you are reading Speak this week as well.. so much support being given for that book, and rightly so!

    • September 20, 2010 1:54 am

      It was a coincidence that I picked up Speak this week — it’s just something I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I need to read up on the controversy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. September 20, 2010 2:12 am

    I love the cover for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and it sounds pretty interesting too ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll have to look for your review! Have a great week ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. September 20, 2010 2:59 am

    I’m a total bookworm who isn’t fond of a lot of required reading. It seems that most required books deal with pain in one way or another, and few are happily ever afters.

    • September 20, 2010 3:11 am

      That’s true. And when you’re dealing with a classroom full of kids, how do you know they’re all ready to get into these issues? I’m not saying teachers should avoid these books, I just think they should be handled sensitively and students should be given choices. I also think parents should be in the loop when painful topics are being broached.

  8. September 20, 2010 3:05 am

    Wow, girlfriend?!!! How quickly they grow up! :–)

    I’m amazed at the topics explored in books nowadays, even Middle Grade books. I wish I had that when I was younger so I wouldn’t have been so naive! I think they make great opportunities for parents or teachers to bring up touchy subjects that impact young kids even if we wish they were too young!

    • September 20, 2010 3:09 am

      Actually it’s my dad who brought his girlfriend. My 12-year-old son is pre-puberty — as far as he’s concerned, girls don’t even exist. ๐Ÿ˜€

      I agree — the kind of material covered in kids’ and YA lit these days blows my mind. I’m glad these books are available so kids can explore tough issues, through books, when they are still in a protected environment and have trusted adults to discuss them with. It’s definitely better than being thrust into adolescence and adulthood without preparation for the problems people might face. On the other hand, I don’t think a child should be pushed into a grappling with a book or a topic she’s not ready for.

  9. September 20, 2010 3:26 am

    Chief Chauffeur and Headmistress of the Monkey House? LOL Love that! SPEAK looks good! I also really want to try Dracula in Love… maybe for Halloween? ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. givingreadingachance permalink
    September 20, 2010 3:37 am

    Well even I thought James had a girlfriend :o)
    I also had no clue about the controversy surrounding Speak. But I do agree with you and also think that kids should be given a choice on what they want to read, when such books are read in school!

    • September 20, 2010 5:38 pm

      Many 12-year-old boys do have girlfriends, I guess. Though I’m in no rush for him to hit puberty and notice that an opposite sex exists.

  11. September 20, 2010 4:04 am

    both Speak and Darcula In Love is in my to-buy list. I was supposed to buy speak a week ago but I decided to buy another book instead. Let me know what you think of the book. Here’s my What Are You reading Monday

  12. September 20, 2010 4:10 am

    You certainly picked the right time for Speak with all the buzz in the Blogosphere today. Its been on my TBR for a while so I might have to move it to top priority.

    Have a great reading week!

    • September 20, 2010 5:41 pm

      Hi Cat, I just finished Speak, and I thought it was terrific. After reading about that minister panning it as “pornography,” I was surprised at how understated the sexual assault scene was. Good grief! I guess pornography is in the eye of the beholder, but some people really know how to stretch the truth beyond recognition. I look forward to hearing what you think of this novel.

  13. September 20, 2010 8:17 am

    You review of Dracula in Love was amazing and makes me what to read the original first before reading this one so I can get all the background and underlying themes. Writing a review like this takes time and with everything else you describe life is full.

    I loved Speak and I hope you enjoy it this week.

    • September 20, 2010 5:42 pm

      Thanks so much for the compliment! You made my day. ๐Ÿ™‚ I just finished Speak, and I thought it was terrific, too.

  14. September 20, 2010 10:05 am

    I agree that where a book deals with difficult issues students should be given the option of choosing an alternate assignment. It’d have to be dealt with on a case by case basis though.

    Sweetness sounds quite cool. I might check it out, though probably not until Mount TBR gets a wee bit smaller.

    • September 20, 2010 5:44 pm

      I agree with what you said about handling things on a case by case basis. And I hear you about Mount TBR. I currently have 3 TBR piles. I’m afraid if I stacked them in one pile, someone would get injured! ๐Ÿ˜›

  15. September 20, 2010 10:16 am

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie & Dracula in Love are both on my tbr pile so I’m glad you enjoyed them. Speak has also been on my must read list for a while and Wintergirls was a brilliant read but I think it left me a little traumatised so I’ve been slow to pick up another Laurie Halse Anderson book. Looking forward to your thoughts.
    Have a wonderful week and happy reading ๐Ÿ™‚
    Your comment about your son – “tigger on crack”, cracked me up, reminds me of my 18 year old haha

    • September 20, 2010 5:46 pm

      So the “Tigger on crack” thing doesn’t end, even at age 18?!? Egads!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I am interested in reading Wintergirls, and everything else by Laurie Halse Anderson, for that matter. But Wintergirls does sound like a painful read.

  16. September 20, 2010 1:16 pm

    That birthday party looks like so much fun. I can’t wait to see what you think of the Alan Bradley book!

    • September 20, 2010 5:47 pm

      Thanks! The party was a lot of fun — the kids went completely wild which, in this case, is a good thing! Next year I’m investing in a bottle of wine and some earplugs, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. September 20, 2010 5:35 pm

    I am undergoing a reading slump. You did well. Have another great reading week ahead!

    Here is my Mondays: Mailbox/Where Am I/Musings post.

  18. September 20, 2010 6:52 pm

    My little boy just got married, but I remember having awesome birthday parties with him. I believe birthdays ought to be very special and I love having them – some people don’t.

    I’m on a bit of a vampire kick myself. I think I’ll add this selection to my TBR pile.

    Here’s my post for What are you reading? :

    Come visit if you get the chance.

  19. September 20, 2010 9:46 pm

    What a fun week! Birthday parties can really be exciting, but the older my kids get the more work I realize goes into them. It can definitely be overwhelming, but it looks like you had a fantastic time.

    SO glad to hear you are a fan of Speak! I completely understand your concern about the book your daughter was supposed to read, it’s too bad there can’t be an exception in certain cases based on individual needs. I’m not for censorship either, but if a child truly feels opposed to the subject matter than they shouldn’t be forced. I think it only prohibits their future interest in the subject. So sorry about that!

    Have a fabulous reading week and if you get a second stop by Thereโ€™s A Book to take a look at what Iโ€™ve got planned for the week! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. September 20, 2010 10:33 pm

    I haven’t read a lot of the Speak controversy yet, but I think you make a good point that it might be a tough book for some students as a requirement. For some books, it would be good if teachers could have some flexibility for reading choices.

  21. September 20, 2010 10:39 pm

    Love that picture of James! Looks like he had a fantastic birthday!

    I’ve been driving my daughter to the college too. Luckily, it’s not far from us. If there were sidewalks and people drove sane around here I might even let her walk there. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s great to hear that Sarah is taking that course. It sounds perfect for her!

    Peace and Laughter!

    • September 20, 2010 11:17 pm

      I can’t believe they don’t have sidewalks around a campus. Oy vey! At least it’s not a long drive for you.

  22. September 22, 2010 3:57 pm

    That is a compelling argument for not forcing someone to read a book with a painful subject such as rape. Certainly, students should be given a chance of opt out of such required reading.

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