Category Archives: Childrens

THE WRONG SIDE OF RIGHT by Jenn Marie Thorne

51tzzsl0zgl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Our October Mother-Daughter Book Club pick was the very topical The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne. The book is about Kate, a sixteen year-old girl who discovers that her father, whom she never knew about, is a Republican senator from Massachusetts who is running for president. This news comes to light (via a leak to The New York Times) a year after Kate’s mother died in a car accident and five months before Election Day.

Kate has a decision to make: keep living with her aunt and uncle in South Carolina, or move to the Senator’s house in Maryland with his wife and twins and live a life in the spotlight while she travels with the family on the campaign. She moves to Maryland, and what follows is a whirlwind of campaign stops, photo opportunities, interviews and events, with some time squeezed in to get to know her new family.

The Wrong Side of Right is about a young woman figuring out who she is and what she stands for, without much help from the people around her. She finds an unexpected ally in her stepmother, but is repeatedly disappointed by her father’s remote disinterest despite her attempts to get to know him. The plot of the novel is implausible in many ways – the secrecy of her paternity and the convenient timing of its reveal, for example – but the depiction of the modern campaign definitely rings true. (If only our current campaign were as tame as the one in the book!). Cell phones abound, and there’s even a love story thrown in to keep teen readers interested. (With the president’s son, no less!) Kate is a relatable, imperfect main character whose situation might be highly unusual but whose feelings are not.

The Wrong Side of Right was enjoyable and compelling, and I wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen. Our book club had a good discussion about the reality of living through a presidential campaign and the ethics of the Senator’s behavior throughout the book. Not everyone finished the book, as it’s pretty long, but those who did seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. And it was perfect timing, with the current election three weeks away.

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry

51usrhmubkl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Our mother-daughter book club pick for September was The Giver, by Lois Lowry. The Giver is one of those books I’ve always heard about but had never read, and because it was on the girls’ summer reading list for school, I made it the first book of the year. I’m glad I did.

The Giver is about a futuristic society that celebrates Sameness. There is no color, no music, no variation. Children are born, assigned to parents, grow up, and are given roles in the society based on their talents. They marry, raise their own two children, and then live out their lives until they are “released” to another land.

The book centers on Jonah, a boy who turns 12 and receives his vocational assignment: a Receiver. This means that he receives memories from an older member of the society, who passes along institutional memories from many generations back. These memories are of sensations long gone – pain, joy, love – as well as evils that have been eradicated, like disease and war. They even contain memories of nature that have basically been engineered away – snow, birds. As the Receiver, Jonah must process and absorb these memories, but he cannot share them with others unless he is asked to advise the community’s elders.

The Giver is a disturbing but thought-provoking book, and one that is great for middle school readers. It prompted discussion questions about the costs of giving up freedom in exchange for predictability and safety, and about individual responsibility in a place where most people don’t understand what is really happening. What is the role of parenting in this society, and of marriage? Would you want the responsibility of being the Receiver?

We ultimately concluded that while there are a lot of things wrong with our world today, the answer isn’t to get rid of emotion, variety and individual choice.

I can understand why The Giver was such a sensation. I am always surprised to find that I like dystopian books as much as I do – Station Eleven, The Age of Miracles, The Hunger Games. Maybe it’s time to broaden my horizons a little more? More important, the 7th graders (I can hardly believe I just typed that – we started this club when they were in 1st grade!) enjoyed it too and seemed to get a lot out of it.

FLIPPED by Wendelin Van Draanen

flippedOur last mother-daughter book club read for the academic year was Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. Flipped is the story of a friendship between Julianna and Bryce, who meet in second grade when Bryce moves in across the street from her. She is instantly smitten with him, while he is put off by her intensity and immediate attachment to him. For the next 6 years, Bryce basically tolerates Juli, and she continues to indulge her crush, sitting behind him in class and smelling his hair.

Fast forward to 8th grade. Bryce and Juli are still in school together, and she still likes him. Flipped relates what happens that year in chapters that alternate between him and her, in he-said she-said perspectives that reveal, of course, that both characters are more complex than they appear. Juli is a free spirit who raises chickens and mourns the loss of her favorite tree, while Bryce is a popular boy who keeps his emotions in check and cares what people think. But Juli starts to grow on him. He won’t admit it, but he cares about her feelings and admires her passion. And Juli gets to know Bryce’s family better and learns that he is not perfect. In fact, he can be thoughtless and inconsiderate, which we know, of course, because we see his side of things.

I liked Flipped. I thought the characters were textured and interesting, and the way the year played out was pretty realistic. The book had an old-fashioned feel to it, which I enjoyed. Oddly, the girls in book club did not it that much.A few thought it was boring, while a few thought it was anti-feminist, which I didn’t agree with, because Juli never compromises herself or acts like someone she isn’t – she just has a crush! She was a strong female protagonist.  I was surprised that the girls didn’t enjoy the book as much as I did.

FYI – there is a movie version of Flipped with a good cast – Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney – which came out in 2010. We watched it after book club and we really liked it. Rob Reiner directed it and set it in the 60s, which felt pretty natural. So if you do read the book, check out the movie afterwards.

That’s a wrap for mother-daughter book club for 2015-2016. We’ll be back in the fall with a new year of books for 7th graders. (Any suggestions?)

RED THREAD SISTERS by Carol Antoinette Peacock

51V1x2hEuoL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Our May mother-daughter book club read was Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock. I’ve always been interested in Chinese adoption, so I was excited to add this title to our reading list.

Red Thread Sisters is about two Chinese girls who are best friends growing up in an orphanage. Wen was abandoned at age 6 by her family at the orphanage after her father lost his job and they couldn’t afford to keep two children, while Shu Lin was left at the orphanage as a baby because of a deformed foot. While the two often dream of being adopted, in the end, it is only Wen who is picked by an American family. When the book opens, Wen is meeting her adoptive family for the first time and having to say goodbye to Shu Lin.

Wen moves to the Boston area and tries to get used to life with her new parents and at her American school. She has a lot of trouble trusting that her parents will keep her and that she won’t be sent back to China if something goes wrong. Wen tries to reciprocate her younger sister’s affection, but she doesn’t know how to be a member of a family, or how to express love for someone other than Shu Lin. Meanwhile, she misses her best friend terribly, and feels guilty that she is in America living a comfortable, privileged life while Shu Lin is still at the orphanage.

Before she left, Wen promised Shu Lin that she would find her a family in the United States. She soon realizes that that is a hard promise to fulfill. At first, she tries to talk her new parents into adopting Shu-Ling too, without understanding how big of a commitment an adoption is. She then starts to learn more about the adoption process and how she can help Shu Lin’s chances of being adopted.

Red Thread Sisters prompted a good discussion among the group about girls in China, international adoption and the challenges of being integrated into a new family. We also talked about friendship and responsibility, and whether Wen should have made her promise to Shu Lin. The girls liked the book – it held their interest and they felt compassion for the characters. We all agreed that there wasn’t enough detail in the book: Wen seemed to have little problem understanding what was happening at school, and the months just seemed to fly by with no sense of her daily life in America. She was also pretty inconsiderate of her adoptive parents’ feelings, but that was in part due to her inability to connect emotionally.

Overall, Red Thread Sisters was a good perspective-broadening book, even if it wasn’t the best-written book we read this year. It led to a robust discussion between the girls and mothers, and that’s usually the sign of a good book club book.

SPY SCHOOL by Stuart Gibbs

My 11 year-old daughter starting hounding me to read Spy School by Stuart Gibbs as soon as she discovered it – and him – last year in 5th grade. She read Spy School and then its two sequels, and then anything else by Gibbs that she could get her hands on. And when it came time for me to pick the books for our Mother-Daughter book club this year, she insisted that I include Spy School.

So I finally read it for our book club meeting yesterday. And she was right – it’s great! It’s not my usual fare – thriller/adventure – but it was quite entertaining. Spy School is about a 12 year-old boy named Ben who is chosen to leave his typical public school to attend spy school run by the C.I.A. outside of D.C. Spy school is exactly what it sounds like – training grounds for kids who have shown aptitude to become a spy, with classes like self-defense and cryptography. At first, Ben is thrilled, as this is his dream come true. But once he gets to the school, he realizes that may not be cut out for it… and that he might be there under false pretenses.

As the plot unfolds, Ben finds himself being chased by an assassin, bullied by a dumb upperclassman, collaborating with the coolest girl in the school, and let down by the administrators who are supposed to protect him. There is a lot of action, as Ben is constantly on the run from danger. It’s a relatively lighthearted book, despite the high stakes of the story, with a lot of humor thrown in. Ben is a typical 12 year-old: nerdy and girl-crazy, quick to question authority, but underneath it all excited and earnest about what he’s doing.

Some reviewers complained about bad language – “damn” and “ass” – but that it didn’t bother me, and it didn’t come up during our discussion yesterday.

I am impressed by how much my daughter enjoyed this book and its sequels. She was totally involved with the story and loved trying to figure out who was after Ben and why. Some of the girls in the book club didn’t like reading a book with a male protagonist, while others didn’t mind, and in fact enjoyed getting a boy’s perspective.

Don’t be bothered by the fact that Spy School is totally implausible. (Why would these kids be in spy school in 8th grade? And how could so many high-ranking intelligence officers converge at this school and be unable to figure out who is trying to infiltrate it?) Gibbs has created a really fun world for middle-grade readers to experience without the weightiness or complexity of the typical spy or adventure novel.


WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech

I just realized that I never reviewed our last mother-daughter book club of 2015: Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, so here’s a quick review. Walk Two Moons is a rather sad book about Sal, a girl who moves with her father from a farm in Kentucky to Ohio after her mother leaves the family and moves to Idaho. Sal’s mother has died in a bus accident in Idaho, but she is either in denial about her mother’s death or has not been told by her father explicitly about it. (This aspect of the book is a little unclear and sparked a lot of discussion.) Sal ends up driving with her grandparents from Ohio to Idaho, tracing her mother’s final steps, so that she can learn about and get closure around her mother’s death.

During the road trip with Sal’s grandparents, she tells them a lot of stories about her life in Ohio, featuring her father’s close friend Margaret Cadaver, Sal’s new friend Phoebe, and some of the strange goings-on that happened to both of them. She also talks about Ben, a boy that she has developed a crush on, and another strange boy who keeps lurking in her neighborhood. In the end, Sal achieves the closure she needs, but she also experiences more losses and learns that she is not alone in feeling abandoned by her mother.

I counted five people in Walk Two Moons who were living without their mothers, some temporarily and some permanently. The book is about loss and adjusting your expectations and hopes to conform to the reality of your life. It’s also about empathy and understanding what other people are going through. The title of the book comes from an old Native American saying about walking two moons in someone else’s shoes to see their lives as they are living them. The book inspired a good discussion among the moms and the daughters, especially since some parts of the book was left a little vague and we were sharing our different interpretations. I found it a little slow at first, but it eventually picked up steam and was rather engrossing.

Overall, a sad but good middle grade read that our sixth graders enjoyed.

JAKE AND LILY by Jerry Spinelli

I am not on track for a record year of reading. Life just keeps getting in the way. Oh well!

I am almost done with the audio of Fates and Furies, which I have been listening to for several weeks. I  am in the home stretch and while I am tempted to just read the rest, I like the narrator of the second half and I want to hear it out. I have very mixed feelings about the book, and I’ve read a bunch of reviews and can’t seem to find anyone who sees it like I do. Review soon…

I am reading In The Language of Miracles too, which I think I would enjoy more if I didn’t read it for the 5 minutes before sleep every night. It’s very well-written and I want to get far enough in that I can’t put it down.

I did manage to finish a middle grade book for our mother-daughter book club last weekend. We read Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli. It’s about eleven year-old twins, Jake and Lily, who are going into sixth grade. They’ve always been very close, and have a special bond that lets them know what’s going on with each other even when they’re not together. But now they’re in middle school, and Jake is starting to want to spend time apart from Lily. He wants to hang out with other boys and do things that Lily doesn’t like to do. Jake goes along with a neighborhood bully who assembles a group of 4 to ride around on their bikes and find “goobers” (a.k.a dorks).

Lily, meanwhile, is devastated by Jake’s defection. She is left facing the summer without her best – or any – friend. She spends her days moping around and lamenting her brother’s decision to her grandfather, who finally urges her to move on make new friends.

I thought Jake and Lily was OK, but not great. There isn’t a whole lot to the story beyond what I summed up above. Lily does nothing but whine about Jake until the book is almost done. Jake’s story is more interesting, as he takes the blame for something his friend does and has to confront him about it. But in the end it isn’t a very memorable or deep book. I also thought it was a little young for 6th grade. Also – I didn’t buy the twin superpowers that Jake and Lily had, or their birthday tradition of sleepwalking to the train station.

None of the girls loved Jake and Lily (including my own eleven year-old twins), but it did prompt a robust conversation. There ended up being more to discuss than I expected. (Sometimes that’s the case with books we don’t like.)

So that’s where I am. I hope to pick up the pace going into the end of the year.