Posts tagged ‘disabilities/handicaps’

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. [...]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.

Elvis and the Underdogs

Each month for my job, I write a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ll be expanding that idea to the blog in a new feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Elvis and the UnderdogsTitle: Elvis and the Underdogs
Author: Jenny Lee
ISBN: 9780062235541
Pages: 300 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.
Publication Date: May 14, 2013

“Hi, doggy. My name is Benji. What’s your name, huh?”
The dog opened his mouth again. I thought he was going to lick the other half of my face, but instead he said, “Very nice to meet you, Benji. My name is Parker Elvis Pembroke IV. You may call me Parker Elvis Pembroke. Or Mr. Pembroke, if you prefer. So . . . this place is much smaller than I imagined.”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, did I just read that correctly? Did he say the dog talked? Well, I’m here to tell you that you did read correctly, and yes, the dog did talk, and that’s exactly what he said, word for word. But if you’re surprised, you should be, because when it happened, I was just as surprised as you are. So much so that I didn’t even know what to say. My first thought was that the twins were playing a joke on me, and my second thought was that perhaps I was having some weird allergic reaction to the dog, and my third thought was that I’d imagined the whole thing, because I’m a pretty smart kid and I know that dogs do not talk! [...]
And then I fainted. (72-74)

Ten-year-old Benji was born premature and as a result is small for his age, has lots of allergies, faints frequently, and finds himself at the hospital more often than school. The doctor offers Benji an ultimatum; wear an ugly padded helmet everywhere or get a therapy dog. When the dog arrives, it’s not a cute, furry creature but a 200 pound, two feet tall, TALKING Newfoundland named Parker Elvis Pembroke IV, who Benji promptly nicknames Elvis. Only Benji can understand him, which might not be as great as it sounds since bossy Elvis was destined for the White House and is unimpressed with his current situation. Both Benji and Elvis struggle to make sense of this mix-up and determine who’s really top dog. But will Elvis come through for Benji when it matters the most?

Wonderstruck

Title: Wonderstruck: A Novel in Pictures and Words
Author/Illustrator: Brian Selznick
ISBN: 9780545027892
Pages: 639 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, c2011.
Publication Date: September 13, 2011

He inched closer until he was right outside her door. He turned off the flashlight and put it in his back pocket.
The door was open a crack, and he could see the framed Van Gogh print– a big black tree and a swirling night sky with golden stars. A shadow moved across the room.
Ben thought about the shooting star and the impossible wish he’d made. With a trembling hand, he slowly pushed open the door. (69)

By 1977, Ben had lived on the edge of Gunflint Lake, in Minnesota, with his mom for all 12 years of his life until a car accident forced him to move in with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. After a lightning storm strikes the house, Ben discovers a part of his mother’s past and runs away to New York to follow the clues and find his father. Little does he know that he’s tracing the path that another child took 50 years ago, when Rose braved the streets of 1927 New York to follow a mysterious actress. Told in alternating text and pictures, Brian Selznick immitates and expands the concept that he first brought to life with the Caldecott winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret to bring these two stories together.

Anyone who loved Hugo Cabret is bound to fall in love with Wonderstruck because his pictures are just as detailed and intricate. Readers can see the care that Selznick took with each distinguishable pencil stroke, from the scrollwork on the set design pieces to the twinkling eyes. I get the impression that Selznick has a special affinity for eyes, as he “zooms in” through the use of several consecutive pictures that get closer and closer to the iris. I’m just drawn to the characters’ eyes in every one of the portraits, and the engaging expressions you find are very appealing and emotional.

The story itself, while elements are unique and I like the homage to the museums, is not as original as Hugo Cabret. Pardon the pun, but I was not “wonderstruck” by the plot. Maybe my expectations were too high, but it just seemed like the story dragged in spots and there wasn’t a whole lot of urgency. The ending I saw coming and wasn’t really surprised by the outcome.

The setting and illustrations are what lend the magic to the story, as Selznick weaves museum history and the awe that museums inspire with his characters’ enquisitive and curious natures. The other unique aspect was including the Deaf culture and perspective, since one of the characters is deaf. Selznick addresses some aspects of Deaf culture in his acknowledgements, and I really hope his next endeveaor is a sign language book, because the illustrations are so detailed.

The Running Dream

Title: The Running Dream
Author: Wendelin Vaan Draanen
ISBN: 9780375866678
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, c2011.
Publication Date: January 11, 2011

I am a runner.
That’s what I do.
That’s who I am.
Running is all I know, or want, or care about.
It was a race around the soccer field in third grade that swept me into a real love of running.
Breathing the sweet smell of spring grass.
Sailing over dots of blooming clover.
Beating all the boys.
After that, I couldn’t stop. I ran everywhere. Raced everyone. I loved the wind across my cheeks, through my hair.
Running aired out my soul.
It made me feel alive.
And now?
I’m stuck in this bed, knowing I’ll never run again. (6)

Sixteen-year-old Jessica is a runner. She runs for the thrill of feeling the wind through her hair and the punishing burn of continuing even when you’re brain and body are telling you to stop. Her promising career as a runner is cut short after her team’s bus is involved in an accident and she loses her leg. Jessica is heart-broken, and the mounting pile of medical bills, missed homework, and her secret crush’s interest in a teammate who’s anything but a team player does nothing to lift her spirits. Her coach and her best friend have other ideas though, and hatch a plan to help her recuperate. Jessica however, learns the most from a wheelchair bound classmate who is also fighting to be recognized as a person rather than a disability. Will she ever return to the life she loved?

Personally, I had a friend in high school who walked with a limp. I never questioned her about it, and accepted her as a friend. After four years of high school, during the last week of school, she told me that she really appreciated the fact that I never treated her any differently or asked her about her limp, which was a result of a childhood illness. I’m insanely proud and pleased that she felt compelled to tell me that, and I’ve tried to use that as a basis for interaction with others. Readers might also discover this same standard for accepting others as who they are. I’m not going to beat a dead horse about how stereotypes influence our impressions of others, but the lesson rings true throughout this book.

I discovered this book from Ms. Yingling Reads who was raving about it, and actually asked “Is it possible to call dibs on a Cybil’s nomination?” And while I agree with the YA YA YAs who said the happy ending was a little predictable, I didn’t mind. I really didn’t mind all the wonderful support that Jessica gets from her family and friends and doctors and teammates and community. It’s Jessica’s story that readers are engrossed by, and it’s Jessica who has the roller coaster of emotions that keep us riding this heartfelt story that belongs on Lifetime or ABC Family. It’s Jessica’s strength, both internal and external, who inspire readers and had me cheering her and kept me reading until the very end. Jessica is also surprisingly sensitive to others, and worries about how people might react to her missing leg, her insurance problems, and the attention that she is gathering.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jessica’s classmate Rosa, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. Rosa has some wonderful insights that make readers pause and consider just how they are acting around others who are different than them. It also makes you wonder how should people react. Rosa’s insights just aren’t about treating people properly, but she’s remarkably perceptive and helps Jessica make decisions and guides her in making her own conclusions.

Want more information about this story? Check out the publisher produced book trailer, where Wendelin Van Draanen talks about the book and her motivation for writing it.

Friday Feature — Guest Post by Kathryn Erskine

I was invited to serve as guest reader for a local upper elementary (5th and 6th graders) and I wanted to do something special. I asked around for an advanced reader copy (otherwise known as an ARC) to read from and then giveaway to a student in a random drawing. Kathryn Erskine reached out to me and offered a copy of her upcoming book The Absolute Value of Mike. In that book, Mike has a math learning disability, and in her previous book (Mockingbird) the main character Caitlin has Asperger’s Syndrome. In honor of Disabilities Awareness Month (which is March — I bet you didn’t know that) I invited Kathryn to do a guest post, and she generously agreed. So Thank YOU Kathryn! May I say I think it’s somewhat ironic that we both choose to quote the same scene… you obviously did something right when it speaks to both of us.


As the author of Mockingbird and The Absolute Value of Mike, both of which have main characters with “disabilities” (although I would argue with the use of that word) people ask why I choose such topics.  Well, I simply write about things that are important to me, that speak to me.  I think we can all relate to having a disability because we all have things that are hard for us.

Also, people in my own family have learning disabilities or Asperger’s and I’ve seen how it can rob them of self-esteem, leave them open to teasing, and generally add a lot of difficulty to their lives.  It’s hard, and it’s hard every day.  I think sometimes it’s a challenge to “see” and understand certain disabilities because the people look “normal.”  So, when people don’t follow what we’re saying or don’t catch on to a joke, it’s easy to start dismissing them and perhaps even name calling, in our heads, at least.  As a writer, it’s my job to go inside the story, find out what’s really happening, and give that view.

What does it feel like to have a disability?  For a language related disability, think about hearing only every other word, or what it sounds like when you try to hear under water, or what it would be like to try converse in another language when you only know some of it and you have to find a doctor or an emergency room, fast, and explain the medication someone needs.  That actually happened to me — a great opportunity for me to appreciate what it must be like to have a language impairment — and believe me, my language was incredibly impaired!  It’s both frustrating and frightening.

For Asperger’s, think about being in a totally unfamiliar culture where eye contact is seen as threatening, handshaking is rude, and certain hand gestures, that we’re used to, have different, and sometimes very offensive, meanings.  Or going to a house of worship with which you’re not familiar, and trying to do all the right things at the right times, some of which you’ve never done before and all of which you don’t understand the meaning of.

For a math disability, think of having to do multiple calculations in your head when you’re really sleepy.  Or using an abacus or slide rule if you haven’t used one before (or it has been so long that you don’t remember) and someone is staring at you wondering why you haven’t come up with the answer yet.  Think about balancing your checkbook.  We’ve all made a minor error on occasion and it’s a pain to find and clear up.  Think if that were a regular occurrence.  And the ramifications of those mistakes.

Fortunately, there are many tools and organizations to support a variety of disabilities.  You can access most online.  There’s a wealth of literature out there, too.  You may have friends or family who have learning or other issues, or work with those who do, so you can get some first hand knowledge.  That’s probably the best way to gain an understanding of what it’s really like.  For my writing, I use all of those sources.

Using humor in writing, and in real life, is one of the best tools to deal with any difficulty.  In Mockingbird, Caitlin is very matter of fact in her behavior, which is authentic to many kids with Asperger’s, and yet it provides some comic relief for the rest of us from what can be a very heavy topic.  In The Absolute Value of Mike, we can hear and feel Mike’s insecurity, which makes us chuckle about both his and our own.  Humor can bring us closer together.  And understanding can break down barriers.  In Mockingbird, Caitlin has just lost her brother and tells her counselor that she feels like she’s in TiVo because things seem to start and stop and she feels removed from them.  She really doesn’t want to talk about her feelings, though, so when her counselor keeps talking, Caitlin thinks, I want to tell her that I prefer TiVo on mute and I wish she’d cooperate.  But if I do it’ll start a whole Let’s Talk About It discussion so I say nothing . . . haven’t we all felt that way?

Yes Kathryn, I think we have.

The Absolute Value of Mike

Title: The Absolute Value of Mike
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Pages: 256 pages
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. c2011
Reviewed from ARC furnished by author
Release Date: June 9, 2011

Since I realize ARCs (Advanced Reader Copy) are not the finalized book and can go through the editing process still, I figured I’d quote from GoodReads.com rather than the ARC itself. The cover image was also taken from GoodReads.com.

Mike tries so hard to please his father, but the only language his dad seems to speak is calculus. And for a boy with a math learning disability, nothing could be more difficult. When his dad sends him to live with distant relatives in rural Pennsylvania for the summer to work on an engineering project, Mike figures this is his big chance to buckle down and prove himself. But when he gets there, nothing is what he thought it would be. The project has nothing at all to do with engineering, and he finds himself working alongside his wacky eighty-something- year-old aunt, a homeless man, and a punk rock girl as part of a town-wide project to adopt a boy from Romania. Mike may not learn anything about engineering, but what he does learn is far more valuable.

Okay, be prepared for some family issues. Mike’s great-aunt is named Moo (as in the cow) and is as blind as a bat, but not ready to admit it. His great-uncle is named Poppy (like the flower), and is so overcome with grief by his grown-up son’s death that he stares at the blank television all day, every day. The town project involving adopting this Romanian boy gets put on the shoulders of Mike since no one else is really all that competent at putting things together. The colorful cast of characters in a small secluded town reminded me of Gilmore Girls. Moo especially came to life to me as the stereotypical grandmother. I heard Moo’s voice in my head.

I read a portion of it to a group of fifth graders, doing a grandmotherly voice for Moo, and I felt like a rock star being able to read from a book that hadn’t been published yet. When I told them I was going to raffle it off and give it to one lucky student, the class went crazy. I was a little concerned about some mild swearing. It’s not like it’s the f bomb or anything like that. But when I grew up, “crap” was considered a swear word. My cousins (ages ranging from 10-13) have assured me that no, “crap is not a swear word.” When that changed happened, I don’t know, but I haven’t been able to adapt my thinking to that attitude. So I will admit I was a little concerned.

But the story is a team-work tale, showing the power of working together. It doesn’t matter that Mike isn’t a great architect like his father, because he organizes the rag-tag group of towns people. And while the ending leaves readers wondering if they really will be able to accomplish their goal, I like where it leaves off because the other plot points become resolved. Something different than Mockingbird, but still satisfactory.

Mockingbird

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
ISBN: 9780399252648
Pages: 235 pages
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguing Group (USA) Inc. c2010.

Finally, I say, I feel like TiVo.
She leans across the table toward me. Not too close to my Personal Space because I’ll use my words to tell her to back off if she gets too close. Say again?
TEE-VO
What do you mean?
I fast-forward through the bad parts and all of a sudden I’m watching something and I’m not sure how I got there.

She scratches the part in her hair with her forefinger. The rest of her fingers stick up in the air and move like they’re waving. Then she stops. I see, she says.
I look around the room. What do you see? I ask.
I think you’d like to forget about the painful events you’ve been through.
I want to tell her that I prefer TiVo on mute and I wish she’d cooperate. But if I do it’ll start a whole Let’s Talk About It discussion so I say nothing. (11-12)

Fifth-grader Caitlin has Asperger’s Syndrome, which forces her to see the world differently and quite literally. She doesn’t handle emotions well, from other people or from herself, and has difficulty relating to other people. When a local tragedy hits close to home, she is forced to face not only her own grief but that of her father. Her school counselor encourages Caitlin to find Closure, but Caitlin is frustrated because she doesn’t know what it is or where to find it. A younger student affected by the same tragedy enters her life, and Caitlin finally realizes that closure is something she can help others find, even while she’s still trying to discover it for herself.

Caitlin’s struggle pulled at my heart strings. I’ve read other stories about autism, but this one is really well suited for the upper elementary and early middle school because of Caitlin’s voice. She talks about how adults encourage her to Get It, Deal With It, and Talk About It, all phrases that I’m sure every pre-teen has heard at least once in their life. But Caitlin has obviously heard it more than once, and the repetition is getting on her nerves, even if she has difficulty vocalizing that idea. In a way, it kind of reminded me of Clementine, by Sarah Pennypacker, because she also hears the same phrases over and over and doesn’t understand.

Her school counselor is very understanding, even if the kids at school are not so forgiving for her behavior. It’s not that their specifically mean, it’s just that they don’t understand her and Caitlin doesn’t understand them. It’s like they’re speaking two different languages, so the kids try to avoid her. It also doesn’t help that the whole town knows what happened but doesn’t know how to comfort someone who is so emotionally detached from “normal” society. Readers really witness how childlike Caitlin is when she starts bonding with Michael, a boy in a younger grade. When another classmate named Josh starts bonding with Michael as well, it really upsets Caitlin, especially because she doesn’t see Josh in the same way. But by the end of the book, other classmates have shown some kindness towards Caitlin, which gives some hope for her future at the school.

That seems to be the main thread of this book, is hope for the future. Hope that things will turn out alright, even when things have changed so drastically. Hope that memories and momentos will serve to comfort the people most traumatized by tragedy.

Sorta Like A Rock Star

Title: Sorta Like A Rock Star
Author: Matthew Quick
ISBN: 9780316043526
Pages: 355 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, c2010.

“But the truth is that I don’t want anyone to know that I am living out of Hello Yellow — that my mom’s last boyfriend, A-hole Oliver, threw us the hell out of his apartment, and that my mom has to save up some dough before we can get four walls of our own. I mean, it’s a pretty pathetic story, and I’m not really all that proud to be my mom’s daughter right now. Homelessness reflects badly on both of us. True? True.
I’m sure there are people who would let us crash at their houses, because the town of Childress is full of good-hearted dudes and dudettes. Word. But charity is for cripples and old people and Mom is sure to come through one of these days. I still have Bobby Big Boy, and Mom still has her job driving Hello Yellow, all of our clothes and stuff fit in the two storage bins between the wheels, below the bus windows, so it’s all good in the hood. (8)

Amber Appleton is full of optimism, which is difficult to believe considering she lives in the school bus that her mother drives for work. Intent on making the most of her life, Amber befriends a group of misfits at school, teaches English to a group of Korean women through music, and spends time with the residents of a nursing home and a reclusive veteran. But even Amber cannot maintain her eternal enthusiasm for life, and when tragedy strikes, she’s left questioning what is really so great about life.

I want Amber’s attitude! In the beginning of the story, she has an insurmountable spirit that she is intent on spreading. She reminds me of Pollyanna. Actually, the whole story has that Pollyanna quality, because in both something happens where you want to reach over and grab the tissue box. Like Pollyanna, Amber is full of character, spending all her energy to make the world a better place. It’s hard not to admire Pollyanna, but it’s also hard to blindly accept that there is someone who is that optimistic. In Sorta Like A Rock Star, Amber’s reaction is what really convinces readers of her strength, because of what she is forced to overcome and the emotional journey she takes in order to maintain her positive outlook on life. Her courage and conviction regarding everything is what really sells the character, and makes her much more than a Pollyanna look-alike.

Amber has some good people in her life that combine to offset her mother’s ineptitude, including Donna (a concerned parent of one of Amber friends), Mr. Franks (the marketing teacher), and Father Chee (the pastor of the Korean Church). But even her mother, with all her faults, still tries the best she can considering the circumstances. Her mother seems to forgo food for herself to ensure that her daughter is eating. She covers Amber up with the blanket at night, to ensure her warmth. And she tries to give Amber as many good memories as possible, which Amber shows readers through her recollections of “all-time Amber-and-her-mom” moments.

While yes, the ending might strike some as a little corny and predictable, it’s one that you really don’t mind and you still find yourself smiling at the outcome. It’s the ending that somehow makes up for all the heartache that you and Amber felt through the journey.

Dirty Little Secrets

Title: Dirty Little Secrets
Author: C. J. Omololu
ISBN: 9780802786609
Pages: 212 pages
Publisher/Date: Walker Publishing Company, Inc. a division of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., c2010.

Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.
At least that’s what I told myself whenever I stood in a crowd of normal-looking people and felt like I was the only one. The only person on the planet who had to hide practically everything that was real. It was soothing to look at all the unfamiliar faces and try to figure out the thing each person hid inside–true or not, it made me feel like less of a freak. (1)

Sixteen-year-old Lucy has lived with her mom’s compulsive hoarding tendencies for years. It got bad after her mother’s divorce. It got even worse after Lucy’s older brother and sister moved out of the house to get away from the piles of magazines, newspapers, and trash. Lucy just keeps telling herself that she only has to hold on for two more years, and then she can move out and away from the suffocating living situation. She’s fed-up with keeping people at a distance so they don’t discover this embarrassing secret, especially new friend Kaylie and longtime crush Josh. But when she discovers her mother buried alive underneath the garbage, has her mother solved all Lucy’s problems or just caused the biggest problem ever?

Hoarders seems to be garnering more attention recently, especially with a television series and numerous talk show appearance. This is the first book where I’ve encountered a hoarder, and while I’m sure it would have niche market I’m not convinced it has mass appeal. That being said, it would make an interesting choice for book discussions and character studies. And it certainly appears that C. J. Omololu went about it correctly, as it says in jacket information that this debut author conducted research with the Children of Hoarders organization, which I wasn’t even aware existed. (And by the way, she has a beautiful website and a blog where two teenage girls recommend books. When I saw they liked Hate List by Jennifer Brown almost as much as me, I knew I had to mark her blog for further visits.)

Lucy is distraught to find her mother dead in the house they’ve shared for years with piles of what amounts to garbage. But that quickly turns to fear over what the neighbors and the media will think if she does call 911 to report her mother’s death. Racked with guilt, stress, and anxiety, Lucy moves through several emotions before coming to the ultimate if unexpected conclusion. I don’t know how many readers will see it coming, and I know I was both surprised, appalled, and impressed by her final decision. Not many teens her age would have the wherewithal or the guts to do what she does. Her sudden mood swings and calculating actions might surprise some readers, but I think the author is trying to portray the various conflicting feelings that run through Lucy’s head. When found in this predicament, she knows what she’s supposed to do, but she also knows the lasting effects her actions will cause.

Lucy isn’t the only conflicted character. Her siblings are equally interesting, with her older sister Sara exhibiting some signs that she might have inherited her mother’s inability to throw anything out. Brother Phil is more empathetic to Lucy’s situation, but he is so happy to be out that he’s not willing to return, and is desperately trying to permanently remove himself from any association with the family or the “disease.” The responses of the three children could definitely lead to discussion regarding the different responses that people can have, even when in the same situation. Personally, I’m curious what would have become of Lucy’s mother if she had lived to see her daughter move out as planned, since the house and hording was causing health problems that were routinely ignored. Other characters include Lucy’s friend Kaylie who is just the sweetest and most caring side-kick that anyone could ever desire. Lucy’s budding romance is innocent in the beginning but quickly turns as layered as the trash pile she’s trying desperately to diminish. And whether or not things will work out for them is anybody’s guess, but it seems like at this moment they’re “right” for each other because they both have had to grow up way too quickly.

I can’t leave without saying something about the descriptions, which are riveting in both their grotesqueness and their straight-forwardness. In a scene describing one of Lucy’s attempts at cleaning, which her mother vehemently opposed, we really get a sense of how daunting this task is for her. (Please excuse the length, but this scene really stuck with me)

A McDonald’s bag was lying near it, and when I picked it up, the top half tore off of the soggy bottom. The bag must have had food in it when it was set down here however long ago, because whatever it was had liquefied and seeped into the layers of newspaper down below, providing a home and nourishment to a colony of rice-sized maggots. I scrunched up my nose and tossed the remains of the bag into the big green can. [...]
I felt something cold and wet inside my shirt. I quickly shook it out and watched as one lone maggot landed on the ground, still moving. I ground the disgusting thing into the remains of the carpet with my shoe until it was just a pasty, wet smear. [...]
I had come into this part of the job completely unprepared. Tearing off my shirt, I dug around in my drawer for an old turtleneck. There was a bandanna in my sock drawer from when we had Wild West Days at school, so I took it out and tied it around my head to protect my hair from whatever else I was going to find as I cleaned.
Armed with the neck of the shirt pulled up over my mouth. I walked back to the living room. Taking a deep breath, I grabbed the shovel again and tried to pry the stack of newspapers off the carpet. (96-97)

Here, Lucy impresses me with her determination to save herself and her family from ridicule. Some might see it as selfish, since the publicity will affect her life the most. Personally, I just think she’s fed up. Frustrated with her mother who caused the problem and her father and siblings who ran away from it, she feels just as angry at herself for putting up with it for so long.

Readers will be cheering for Lucy even as they feel the weight of the world and her own conscience that she is struggling so hard to dig out from underneath and overcome.

The Cardturner

Title: The Cardturner: A Novel About a King, a Queen, and a Joker
Author: Louis Sachar
ISBN: 9780385736626
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, c2010.

As I negotiated our way to table three, a woman wearing a big hat approached my uncle. “Trapp!” she demanded. “One banana, pass, pass, two no-trump. Is that unusual?”
It sounded unusual to me.
“That’s not how I play it,” said my uncle.
A moment later a man in shorts and a torn T-shirt came up to him.
“Trapp, can I ask you something?”
“Go ahead.” [...]
“Could I have set you?”
“You needed to cash the king and ace of spades before giving your partner his club ruff.”
“I didn’t have the king.”
“Your partner did.”
“How was I to know that?”
My uncle gave a half-smile as he raised his left shoulder about an inch, then lowered it.
Even though I didn’t understand what they were talking about, I think that was my first inkling that bridge wasn’t just a simple game, and that there may be something extraordinary about my uncle. (26-27)

Alton Richards has just finished his junior year of high school, and his mother is forcing him to play bridge with his blind Great-Uncle Lester. Lester (called Trapp by everyone who isn’t family) is very rich, and Alton’s mother hopes that Lester will leave the family lots of money when he eventually passes away, instead of giving it to the crazy Castaneda family, his housekeeper, or his nurse. Alton has nothing better to do, considering his girlfriend Katie recently dumped him for his best friend Cliff. But bridge appears to Alton to be an old game with old players, until he meets up with Toni Castaneda, whose scandalous family seems to be connected to Alton’s in some way no one wants to talk about. With the title of Grand Life Master riding on the line, will Alton be able to help his uncle achieve this one last wish?

I think Louis Sachar puts it best in his author’s note when he says that writing a book about bridge is like writing a book about baseball on an alien planet where no one has ever heard about baseball. “When you try to describe a triple play, you get so bogged down explaining the rules about force-outs that the excitement of the play itself is lost.” Sachar does an admirable job attempting to explain the game, going so far as to distinguish chapters solely about the rules of the game with graphics. This is so that, as the narrator tells readers, “If it makes you zone out, then just skip ahead to the summary box and I’ll give you the short version.” (44) But as even he realizes, the book is about bridge, which is like watching a chess game, for some it’s thrilling and for others it’s just little pieces moving around a board in a seemingly incomprehensible way. And I’ll admit, readers might get bogged down in the descriptions and game analysis. Since I play euchre and I’m somewhat familiar with poker, it sounds like bridge is a combination of the two with some extra rules thrown in just to make it extra confusing. Oh, and certain plays and betting rules are named different things, and there’s a highly complicated point system. But otherwise it’s a really simple game (said with sarcasm). There is also an appendix written by the fictitious Syd Fox, who makes an appearance in the novel as a highly ranked bridge player, that explains some of the phrases and game play that is related in passing.

All the complications of bridge playing aside, I think Louis Sachar did an excellent job with this book. Alton’s relationship with his uncle begins as an indifferent one, not understanding the game, his uncle, or the appeal that his uncle has for the game. But as the story progresses, Alton’s understanding of all three begins to improve. The historical back story is appealing, and gives Uncle Lester a motive for insisting (somewhat cantankerously) to continue to play a game that he can no longer see. It also explains his ingratiating attitude, as readers become sympathetic to his last-ditch effort in achieving this title not just for himself but in honor of someone in his past (I’m not saying anymore, I promise.) Uncle Lester’s mental prowess is impressive, and the philosophical discussions that are thrown in give food for thought for readers and Alton combined.

There is a little bit of realistic magic towards the end, that some people might be thrown by because it kind of comes out of left field. Although I think the book would have worked without it, I think Sachar was trying to emphasize the connection that Alton and his uncle had with each other, and it pays tribute to all they’ve been through together. If anything, the book might encourage kids to research and experiment with card games other than just “Go Fish”. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a bridge book written specifically for kids, although my library has quite a few in the adult section, including a Bridge For Dummies.

Bookpage did an interview with Louis Sachar when the book was originally released.

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