The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It by Lisa Shanahan

the sweet terrible gloriousReading level: 6.5 (ish)
Genre: Realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Goodreads summary:

Gemma Stone is convinced that it’s always unseemly to chuck a birkett and that it’s actually insane to chuck one in front of a complete stranger. But that was before she fell in love with a boy who barely knows she exists, before she auditioned for the school play, before she met the family of freaks her sister Debbie is marrying into, before the unpredictable Raven De Head took an interest in her, and before she realised that at the right time and for the right reason, a birkett could be a beautiful thing.

I’m not the biggest fan of chick lit, so I was wary initially. As it turns out, while it can certainly be classified as chick lit, it is legitimately funny and heart-wrenching and deep. My biggest issue is with that cover: it has nothing to do with the story…

It took me a good while to get into the story and to love Gemma, our narrator. Gemma is an observer. She discusses what she sees, often as if she is separate from it. Unlike Dimple in Born Confused who is incredibly introspective, Gemma seems to let most things pass before her eyes. This type of narration was annoying to me because she felt so flat, but then I realized that Gemma is a lot like me, because she tries to separate herself from crazy and stressful events happening around her. Near the end, we get a much better sense of who she is.

Speaking of the ending – I turned the page and the story was over! Oh, another part of stereotypical chick lit that I dislike is the romance, but this story stopped before things could get too soppy, which I both appreciated and was frustrated about because I wanted to know what happened!

This story teaches a few, excellent life lessons, such as not judging people based on their background, family, or past actions (i.e. Raven and the De Head family). It’s also about taking risks and going out of your comfort zone.

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It is a high school book for several reasons: Gemma and her friends are in high school, there are curse words peppered throughout (though not at all excessively), and there are brief mentions of various body parts, but nothing is described in detail. That said, mature middle schoolers might enjoy it, too. The author Lisa Shanahan is Australian, and the story takes place in Australia, so the vocabulary is quite a bit different to the point where it really slowed down my reading at times. For that reason, it’s not ELL friendly, but I think it’d be okay for strong readers who are good at using context clues and/or know to skip over non-essential vocabulary they don’t know.

This book isn’t leveled with Scholastic, so my best guess is that it’s at about 6.5 (6th grade, half way through the year), if not a little higher.

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It is my thirty-second book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

Beauty Queens – Libba Bray

beauty queensReading level: 5.3

Genre: Chick lit, survival, satire

ELL-Friendly: Yes

Library recommendation: High school (because of mature content)

This was my first experience with Libba Bray and I was not disappointed. I listened to the audio book which was read by Ms. Bray herself which may have had something to do with how much I loved it due to the voices she had for the characters and her natural ability to narrate. The way she made the voices of certain characters helped me love them (or not, in some cases), and I wonder how different my experience with the book would have been had I read a paper copy. Regardless, an excellent read.

There’s so much in this book: feminism, sexism, beauty, love, body image, family, friends, corporations, media… In some ways the book is true to life but at the same time outlandish enough to be fun yet deep. I also particularly liked the ending, where not everything was perfect – because our society isn’t perfect, and really that’s what the book is reflecting upon.

Beauty Queens, I am sad to say, has no place on my middle school bookshelf. Here’s why: there’s some swearing (okay, a lot) as well as a handful of F-bombs and references and descriptions of sex.

But wait – the language and sexuality bits are powerful and very deliberately written. The problem is that the language and sex is still there. Nobody expects beauty queens to swear like this! And the sexuality bits are about girls coming to love themselves while being in control. But if high school parents are going to panic about one scene in John Green’s Looking for Alaska, parents will have heart attacks over Beauty Queens. I don’t even know if I’d be okay with it in a high school class. I fully believe high schoolers to be mature enough to understand and appreciate these components, but I’m wary of parents. Parents might also flip out over the homosexual romance as well, but that’s a fight I’m willing to have.

Basically, it’s a truly wonderful, reflective book that high schoolers should read. Whether or not I want to risk getting in trouble for having teenagers read it is another question. But outside of school, kids (and adults), go for it.

Girl Goddess #9 – Francesca Lia Block

girl goddess

Reading level: 4.3

Genre: Short stories, empowerment, coming of age

ELL-Friendly: Basically yes, but some sentences are deliberately run-ons or fragments.

Library recommendation: Maybe high school, although I’d rather not have the book on the shelf and instead use certain stories as mentor texts due to the graphic content of certain stories.

Francesca Lia Block fills her 9 short stories with beautiful prose and imagery. Some of the stories resonated with me while others were boring. I regret to say that this book will stay off my classroom shelves because of the frequent references to sex, drugs, and alcohol that show up in almost every single story to a point where it is a bit graphic if not excessive. Not appropriate for middle school students and maybe not even high school. However, individual stories could be xeroxed and read in class. I would feel much better reading hand-chosen stories as a class so that the teacher has time to explain and discuss the references to the above-mentioned inappropriate (for school) topics.  Some could be used as mentor texts.

Because I will forget which stories I loved and why, here is a brief summary of each story.

Spoilers

Tweetie Sweetie Pie: Written from the viewpoint of a toddler. Story could be analyzed for use of language and perspective that emerges through the eyes of a very young narrator. (liked it)

Blue: Narrator is young girl (middle – high school) whose mom has died and there are hints that she had schizophrenia. Girl finds an imaginary friend who is both male and female. Girl shows signs of being bisexual while struggling to make friends. Deals with mental illness of the girl’s mother and how that causes the girl to find the imaginary friend. (loved it)

Dragons in Manhattan: My favorite! Narrator is a young girl who lives with her two moms. She faces bullying at school because she has two moms and no dad. She seeks her real father and learns the value of having her two moms as her family. Deals with sex change, cross-dressing, lesbian families, and bullying, but is ultimately about love and family. (loved it)

Girl Goddess #9: Two girls are in love with a rock star and possibly in love (more like infatuated) with his female partner. Didn’t care for this one too much. Lots of swearing in this one too. (meh)

Rave: Narrated by a boy (the only story to do so) who loves a girl named Raven. In just a few pages, the reader feels his love for her. Rave parties and takes drugs, and they part ways before the boy knows of Rave’s fate. I struggled to find the message behind this story, but it was beautiful and heartbreaking. (liked it)

Canyon: Features an inter-racial teen couple. Includes drinking and drugs and a graphic sex scene. Has a theme of escape because the narrator seeks to escape from her life and town by fleeing with a boy she doesn’t even know. This is the story that solidified that I can’t put this book in my classroom. (meh)

Pixie and Pony: Made me wonder why almost all characters (all of them, even) have odd names. Anyway, this story is about what it means to be friends versus “best” friends. I found it pretty boring… (meh)

Winnie and Cubby: A teen couple where the boy reveals that he’s gay. The couple decides to stay friends. Includes some beer-drinking and dead and abusive parents. Has tidbits about the girl looking like a guy and her boyfriend being a beautiful girl. My favorite quote from the entire book: “The most beautiful people are the ones that don’t look like one race or even one sex” (163). (liked it)

Orpheus: About a woman (older than just a girl, I think) who loves a singer-song writer but breaks off the relationship to find herself. Kind of a let-down as a last story. (meh)