"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

30 August 2011

Gifted by Otherness

Countryman, L. William and Ritley, M.R. Gifted by Otherness. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2001.

This book is a collection of essays and short articles by Countryman and Ritley.  I was glad to find a book encouraging gay and lesbian people to be involved in church, but I found some of the articles to be difficult to follow.  Nonetheless, I think this is a good book to use as a resource, although not necessarily a book to read straight through.

28 August 2011

My Most Excellent Year

Kluger, Steve. My Most Excellent Year. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.

I was intrigued when I started reading this book, intrigued, because one of the main characters was described by his friends and family as "gay, but he doesn't know it yet." I found it interesting that a character could be out to everyone but himself, and I wanted to see how this story would progress.  Unfortunately, there is little narrative in this book; the story is mostly told in emails, texts, and instant messages, so it is very difficult to follow.  I tried, I really did, but I couldn't finish it.

26 August 2011

What God Has Joined Together?

Myers, David and Scanzoni, Letha. What God Has Joined Together? New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

Myers and Scanzoni have written a book about gay marriage, but their target audience is heterosexuals, specifically evangelical Christians who are as yet unconvinced of the benefits of gay marriage.  I found this book to be very easy to read, and I think it would be a good resource both for those who are trying to talk to their Christian friends and family and for those Christians who are interested in what "the other side says."  This one, my friends, is a must-read.

24 August 2011

Say the Word

Garsee, Jeannine. Say the Word. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.

Shawna has tried to be the perfect daughter. She works hard at school, helps out at home, and follows all the rules.  Everything is fine until Shawna's mom's wife calls to tell Shawna that her mom has had a stroke and may be dying. Shawna's life rapidly spirals out of control in the midst of a tense funeral, the unchanged will, and her father's insistence that her mother's lifestyle was very, very wrong. In the end, Shawna must decide between what is right and what is easy.

This was an interesting read.  I was intrigued to see a story told from the perspective of a child with a gay parent, and I was glad for Shawna's actions toward the end of the story.  This story didn't necessarily have a happy ending, but it did have a satisfying one, and the reader gets to watch Shawna wrestle with some tough decisions.

22 August 2011

My Tiki Girl

McMahon, Jennifer. My Tiki Girl. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.

Two years ago Maggie's life was irrevocably changed.  A car accident shattered Maggie's leg and took the life of her mother.  Maggie spent most of the year in the hospital and then recovering at home.  Once a straight-A student and heavily involved in drama, Maggie's not sure who she is anymore.  Her friends and classmates don't know who she is, either, and Maggie is feeling very alone. 

Enter Dahlia.  Dahlia lives with her mentally ill mother in the not-so-nice part of town.  Maggie soon finds herself spending most of her time at Dahlia's house.  But soon Maggie's relationship with Dahlia turns romantic, and Dahlia's mother, whom Maggie thought to be a cool person, kicks Maggie out of the house while screaming "abomination!" at her over and over again.  Soon the too-big secret is out and Maggie and Dahlia are facing teasing at school and stony silences at home.  Maggie must sort through her feelings and discover what is truly important to her.

Again, it intrigued me that the only characters who were against homosexuality in this story were Maggie's mostly-absent father (still grieving the loss of his wife), Dahlia's mentally ill mother (taken away to a state home as soon as she's discovered to be off her medication), and Maggie's less-than-mature classmates.  None of the good characters take any issue with Maggie and Dahlia's relationship. This was an interesting book, in that it addressed abusive homes, death of parents, terrible accidents, teasing and bullying, and relationships all in one fell swoop.

20 August 2011

The House You Pass on the Way

Woodson, Jacqueline. The House You Pass on the Way.  New York: Delacourte Press, 1997.

Staggerlee doesn't have much going for her.  She has a completely unusual name, first of all.  Second, she is a child of mixed race in a time and place where this is not acceptable.  Third, she has a crush on her best friend, who also happens to be female.  When her friend moves away, Staggerlee isn't sure what to do with herself, until her cousin Trout moves in.  Staggerlee and Trout become fast friends and soon confess to each other that they both like girls, but both have realized that they cannot talk about this issue with their families, ever.  Trout was sent to Staggerlee's house to solve her "little problem," but it isn't until she returns home that Trout develops a crush on a male classmate.  Staggerlee is still trying to find her way in a world that is very unfriendly to her.

This book was kind of slow and rather difficult to follow.  There isn't much action and not much conflict, and Staggerlee's problem isn't resolved in the end.  I found this book to be rather unsatisfying.

18 August 2011

Empress of the World

Ryan, Sara. Empress of the World. New York: Penguin Group, 2001.

Nic is spending the summer at a camp for gifted students, and while she explores her passion of archeology, she also has the opportunity to meet some new friends.  One friendship soon turns into a romantic relationship, which leaves Nic examining herself and wondering at her changing identity.

I haven't read much YA lit with a homosexual theme, so I was intrigued to see how authors in general would choose to portray this issue.  I find it interesting that Nic's friends were all okay with her relationship with Battle, while the two characters who objected were already portrayed in a negative light.  The two boys who picked on Nic and Battle were already seen as ignorant and arrogant before they displayed their obvious homophobia.  Other than this, I definitely could see Nic's mental/emotional skirmishes as she tried to wrap her brain around her relationship with Battle.

16 August 2011

Hearts and Minds

Main, Darren. Hearts and Minds: Talking to Christians about Homosexuality.  Scotland: Findhorn Press, 2008.

If you are a Christian and want to see how others understand your viewpoint, or if you are gay and want to know how to talk about homosexuality with the Christians in your life, this book would be an excellent resource.  A lot of the information in this book was not new to me, as the author truly chooses to "put the cookies on the bottom shelf," as it were.  He explains the evangelical Christian's stand on homosexuality and offers suggestions for open, calm, honest discussions between those who disagree on this particular issue.  James Waygood calls this book "a brilliantly executed and sound approach to what can be a dangerously impassioned topic" (his review can be accessed here).

12 August 2011

An Interview with the Author

So, Jenni, what was it like living in San Francisco for a year?
I absolutely loved it.  San Francisco is a great city.  There are tons of things to do, the library is huge, there are beautiful parks and beaches and lots of coffee shops and the bus can take you anywhere you want to go. The people are friendly and relaxed and it's never, ever boring.

What would you say was the highlight of your San Francisco experience?
Wow, I have to pick just one thing? I think the most exciting part of being in San Francisco was the people.  I got to work with some very nice people at all three of my jobs.  I also met some great people at church and was able to worship and serve together with them.  At my bus stop I never failed to run into a few interesting street people.  If I had had my own apartment and could balance my "with interesting people" and "alone, away from interesting people" time, I might have been convinced to stay.

Why are you leaving San Francisco now, anyway?
Well, first, it's very expensive to live here.  I don't have my own place, and if I were to stay, I'd need my own place.  Second, and kind of tied to the first reason, I don't have a decent job.  I mean, I have a good job, but not one that affords me the independence of my own apartment.  In order to get a better job, I need a college degree, so I'm going back to school.

Would you ever consider returning to San Francisco?
Absolutely! After I have a decent job and if my loans are paid off so I can afford living here, I'd love to be back in the city.  As I said, it's a great place to live: beautiful and interesting and friendly.

Is there anything you wish you'd done while you were here, something you won't have time for before you leave?
Well, I didn't explore nearly as much of the city as I'd have liked to.  There's so much to see and do here, I feel like I barely scratched the surface.  And a short drive away from the city leads to so many other neat things, too. But the one thing I am sorry I never did is I never walked all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I made it to the first tower, but my sprained ankle wouldn't allow me to go any further.

That's unfortunate.  Hopefully the bridge will still be here if you come back to visit.  You've done quite a bit of reading and studying while you were here, even though you weren't in school. What lessons have you learned during your time in San Francisco?
I have learned a lot from being here and being around so many different kinds of people.  The two big things I have learned are that, first, everyone has a story.  Every single person has lived a life that I have not lived, and they have experiences that I don't know about.  I try to keep that in mind when I have a grouchy boss or a customer who is acting entitled and getting on my nerves.  I don't know what kind of day they've had and I don't know what they're going through. Sometimes I wish I could wear a shirt that says, "I'm having a rotten day. Please be patient." I try to remember to extend that same patience to those around me.  Knowing that other people have back stories has also made me a good listener.  Sometimes people just need someone to talk to - they don't want answers or great solutions to their problems, they just need validation that someone else cares about what they're going through.

That sounds like a great thing to learn.  What was the second thing?
That I don't have the corner on the market of the truth.  One of the neat things about being in San Francisco is that I got to play around with different ideas, I got to look at things from other perspectives.  And while there are some things that I still believe and think are fundamentally important, other things just aren't that vital anymore. In fact, in some cases I have changed my mind because I saw what "the other side thinks" and I have come to the conclusion that they are right and I was wrong.  But that doesn't mean necessarily that now I can say I have the corner on the market of the truth - I might still be wrong.  But God's grace is big enough to cover all of our human frailties, and I know that He loves me in spite of my mistakes.

God's grace is truly amazing. For most of your life now you have been involved in an extremely conservative church group.  This was the first year you were out on your own, so to speak.  How has that been?
It's been wonderful.  At first it was really scary and overwhelming.  The first week at my church here in San Francisco I was kind of in shock.  It was quite different from what I was used to.  Joining a small group was great for me; I got to discuss things with other intelligent, educated people who love Jesus and might look at things differently from the way I've been taught.  The biggest thing I learned is that it's so much more important to love those around us than to make sure they know what we stand against.  So many people only know the church as a place that is against abortion, against gay marriage, against teaching evolution in public schools, against rock music, etc. etc. They hear all these negative messages, and then they ignore the most important message which is, "God loves you! He loves you regardless of your opinion on all those issues. Issues are not the main thing. God's love is the main thing."

So was your sister justified in her concerns that you would become a tattooed, pot-smoking hippie?
In a word, no.  No tattoos. No pot. No hippiness. Even if I talk about God's love a lot. I want to round up all those people who have been pushed away from church, apologize to them for their hurts, and bring them back to Jesus. Because He really does love them.

Well, it sounds like you have an exciting future ahead of you.  I wish you all the best as you head off to grad school.
Thank you.  And if you're ever in my neck of the woods again, feel free to stop by for coffee.

10 August 2011

Numbers: The Chaos

Ward, Rachel. Numbers: The Chaos. New York: Scholastic, 2011.

When Adam looks into your eyes, he sees a number.  That number is the day on which you will die.  He can also get an impression of how you will die - whether it will be a violent death or death due to disease or accident. Adam is struggling with this "gift," especially once he realizes that almost everyone around him has the same date.  What exactly is going to happen on January 1, 2027 that will cause so many deaths? Can Adam do something to save those around him?

This was an unsual book with a few interesting subplots.  I continued reading it even though it dragged a bit at times.  I don't know that I would necessarily recommend this book.  There are other, better books out there.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first book in the series before reading this sequel.

08 August 2011

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

Sonnenblick, Jordan.  Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. New York: Scholastic, 2006.

I read After Ever After several months ago and enjoyed it immensely.  Imagine my delight when I found another book by the same author and with the same characters. In this story, Jeffrey's older brother Steven is in eighth grade.  He is enjoying school, getting good grades, learning to play the drums, and everything is fine until his five-year old brother Jeffrey is diangosed with leukemia.  Steven's life takes a back seat as his parents focus on Jeffrey's treatment and recovery.  Soon Steven is attempting to survive eighth grade on his own, and he is failing miserably.  Only once he admits to his teachers and classmates that his brother has cancer does he find the help he needs and find a way to help his brother as well.

This was an excellent story, and I will admit it was easy for me to read because I knew from the sequels that Jeffrey survives his cancer. It was also a good reminder to me that sometimes people will "drop out of life" not because they have given up but because there's so much going on that they don't know what else to do.   I was also very impressed with the actions of Steven's classmates and fellow band members in this book.  If you have a classroom library, Sonnenblick needs to be on your shelf.

06 August 2011

Zen and the Art of Faking It

Sonnenblick, Jordan. Zen and the Art of Faking It.  New York: Scholastic, 2007.

San Lee has moved once again and once again is starting at a new school.  There are benefits to this: his new classmates don't know his dad is in prison or that his dad has cheated his way across the continent. However, his classmates also don't know anything about San himself, so San decides to invent a new persona once again.  San's new "self" is a Zen Buddhist, and San himself has some serious studying to do if he is going to be a proper Buddhist.  But what will his classmates say when they discover that San, adopted from China when he was a small child, is not the next Zen master?

This book was fun.  I can relate to San's identity issues, as well as his choice to try on a new persona whenever he arrives in a new location. I am glad that his lies caught up with him in the end and that he chose, finally, to tell the truth, both to those around him and to himself.

04 August 2011

Notes from the Midnight Driver

Sonnenblick, Jordan. Notes from the Midnight Driver. New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Alex is upset over his parents' divorce, so one night he raids the liquor cabinet and steals his mom's car keys in an attempt to drive to his dad's place.  His attempt fails miserably, though, when his car bumper meets his neighbor's garden gnome.  Alex is assigned community service to pay for his crimes, and his mother chooses for him to volunteer as an assistant in the hospital.  Alex is assigned to an older man who is slowly dying of emphysema, and it looks like this will be the longest 100 hours of Alex's life, until he starts looking beyond himself and sees how he can use his time of service to truly serve others.

I chose this book for two reasons: I have enjoyed other books by the same author, and this book has a really funny cover. And I was not disappointed. Sonnenblick has a very engaging writing style and hooks the reader into his stories quite quickly.  Not only that, but his characters do good work while enduring incredible hardships.  I have been very impressed with Sonnenblick's novels, and if I had a classroom still, his books would be on my shelf.

02 August 2011

Miles From Ordinary

Williams, Carol Lynch. Miles From Ordinary. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2011.

Lacey is excited about starting her job at the library, excited because this job gives her a reason to be out of the house in the summer and to take a break from caring for her mother.  Lacey's mother is mentally ill: she hears the voice of her dead father speaking to her and telling her to do things like store up enough food to last a lifetime.  She refuses to take her medication, and slowly everyone in her life has left her, except Lacey.  But when Lacey finishes her first day of work and cannot find her mother, what will she do?

This was an interesting book and a quick read.  I felt bad for Lacey having to deal with her mother's craziness and trying to be a normal teenager at the same time.  I was glad that she finally got the help her family needed by the end of the book.