Everything I Never Told You

December 26, 2015 at 3:39 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

51pPrXUd+7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgTitle: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celeste Ng

Genre: Fiction

Length: 297 pages

Leave it to me to take an 80 degree Christmas day to snuggle under the softest blanket to ever touch my skin and read the most beautifully depressing book.  The blanket, a gift I received this morning, is the same color scheme as the Penguin trade paperback edition cover of Ng’s work.  And as I sank into a cloud of a blanket, I also became lost within the pages of a story that begins: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know that yet.”

Ng’s book is a beautiful representation of a family trying to come to terms with their differences and contradictions – within society, among themselves, and in the depths of their own souls.  A mixed marriage in a time when it was not only uncommon, but in some states still illegal, James and Marilyn are more different than their skin tone.  James, desperately trying to blend in and fade into the crowd, while Marilyn is ever the opposite – wanting to be unique and important in a generation of women who are still encouraged only to please their husbands.

“[…] her mother promised to teach them everything a young lady needed to keep a house.  As if, Marilyn thought, it might run away when you weren’t looking.”

Nath is the oldest of James and Marilyn’s children, the big brother who does his best to be his little sister’s only emotional support in a family dynamic that is oppressive, codependent, and full of too much subtlety and things left unspoken.  Lydia, the people pleaser, is dead; and Hannah, the youngest of the children, is unnoticed.

Despite being a celebrated bestseller, I was surprised to find a number of poor reviews.  People unhappy with the layers of the storytelling, of being spoon-fed too many sides of a story.  People annoyed by how over the top and unrealistic the characters are, calling them allegorical or fairytale-like in their melancholy and their lack of cohesive expression.  I find myself at odds with these reviews.  I disagree completely, having loved the way Ng tells the story like a tide coming in… in three different tenses, the tale splashing over your toes, receding so you could see it from a distance, then rushing toward you to engulf not just your toes but the tops of your feet as well.  Again.  Again.  And again.  Until your whole body is submerged.  Until the entire story has saturated you, body, mind, and soul.

People who do not recognize these characters have the blessing of never living in a dysfunctional family.  People who cannot see how very real these portraits are, how they sting in their accuracy, have – perhaps – not lived long enough to see how someone’s childhood shapes them in a way that easily distorts the lives of their children in a slightly different way, and can keep going for generations until something tragic occurs to shed the tiniest bit of light on what has never been spoken aloud.  People who don’t understand this novel, have never seen loss and grief played out… have never sat wondering how well they knew the person who has just left them forever.  Have never sat and realized that when someone is gone, there are pieces of them no one will ever know, because no one can completely know another’s mind.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

This book is gorgeous, and a little bit awful.  It will strike a chord and leave you questioning how your own actions will be perceived.  I will keep my copy and I anticipate reading it again in the future.

“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”

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Teaching Life and Liberty

February 3, 2015 at 11:17 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000701Title: Thomas Jefferson

Author/Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Publisher: Penguin

If you want to teach about the founders of America via biographical picture books, Maira Kalman is a great place to start.  With spunky pictures and fonts, Kalman introduces children to Jefferson (and in another book she tackles Lincoln), his love for books, language, and gardening.

Kids can discover in Thomas Jefferson quirky details about how Jefferson got out of bed in the morning, his obsession for peas, and learn the quote he told his wife:

“Determine never to be idle.  No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.”

There’s a few pages dedicated to Jefferson’s friends: John Adam, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and the ideals the team struggled for.

Kalman doesn’t pull any punches.  She talks about slavery and addresses the truth of Sally Hemings.  Jefferson had so many wise quotes that adults praise and sharing them with a four year old is especially wise:

“When you are angry, count TEN before you speak; if very angry, to ONE HUNDRED.”

The book ends with a visit to his burial grounds and notes regarding his epitaph.

As a whole it’s lovely and educational.  When I told kiddo I was finally posting the review and asked her what she wanted to say about it, she said, “I think we should read it again.”

President’s Day is fast approaching.  This one is worth having in your hands on that day.

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How a Reader/ Texan/ Redneck Does 4th of July

July 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm (In So Many Words) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

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No words needed.

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Happy Fourth of July

July 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

fireworks

The Half Price Books Humble book club read John Adams by David McCullough this month.  We discussed it together Monday night, even though I had only read the first 400 pages.  The best thing about holidays, for me, though is their ability to mandate what gets read off the TBR pile next.  So this week, as I researched for book club, lounged with family, watched fireworks, and read to the kiddo… this is what freedom looked like:

John AdamsTitle: John Adams

Author: David McCullough

Genre: History

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Length: 751 pages

1001 and one things to discuss about this book, and we mostly got caught up in the assessment of the character of John Adams.  Was he an ambitious man willing to run off from the family and farm at a moments notice to pursue more exciting ventures of fame? Or, was he a great man of virtue who was gifted with the sight of the big picture, willing to sacrifice personal happiness for the greater good of the establishment of our country?  Before reading the book, considering my skepticism regarding ALL politicians, I probably would have said the former.  But McCullough has me convinced it was the latter that held true.

Of course, I am biased, mostly by the sheer fact that Adams was a great reader.  Nothing romanticizes a person more to me than their love for a good book, for the art of research, and for a passion for knowledge and action.  Several times throughout the biography, Adams is quoted saying such excellent things as,

“I must judge for myself, but how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened by reading.”

Where others in the group found him willing to cast aside his wife and children for politics, I found him endearing.  He wrote to his wife avidly.  He and Abigail would often refer to each other as ‘dearest friend,’ and their relationship seemed to be what kept him grounded and successful.  In addition to that, it also seemed that any chance he had to take his children with him, he did.  Off sailing across the pond to Europe, the boys equipped with an educated father and a personal tutor, they got first hand experience seeing how nations make peace and build relationships.  Sure, Adams renounced his son Charles later in life and that relationship was never rebuilt before Charles’ death, but in my opinion Charles did not deserve anymore second chances.  Charles, the favorite as a child, turned out to be the bad seed in the bunch – possibly spoiled by being the favorite to so many – as he turned to alcoholism and abandoned his family.  It was John and Abigail who raised his children and looked after his wife, leaving their own son to his own devices as they tried to do right by all his mistakes.

John Adams was quite the fascinating man, one I have, until now, always overlooked in history.  Having shared a birthday with George Washington my whole life, he always got my ‘favorite’ vote as a child.  As an adult, the Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaoron Burr phenomena fascinated me – mostly driven by that infamous ‘Got Milk’ ad as well as Joseph Ellis’ riveting storytelling in Founding Brothers.  It wasn’t until reading McCullough’s version of Adams life that I really began to understand what a crucial role Adams played in the timing of the Declaration of Independence and all the aftermath of our fight for freedom.  And of course, timing is everything.

With all this important political talk, I found it necessary to re-read the Declaration.  With toddler in tow for nearly all my reading ventures, it’s important to find kid friendly things to read alongside all my own reading.  That’s where Sam Fink comes in handy…

Sam FinkTitle: The Declaration of Independence

Illustrated & Inscribed: Sam Fink

Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction

Length: 160 pages (but only takes about 15 minutes to read aloud)

I absolutely adore this copy of the Declaration of Independence.  As a homeschool mom, I love creating my own curriculum and finding unique ways to share information with my kid.  Kiddos everywhere, whether homeschooled or public schooled, should find this a fun way to absorb the meaning behind the declaration and be introduced to the ideas of why it was so important for it to be made and signed.

With large print, clear illustrations, and political cartoons to accompany nearly every sentence – if not sentence fragment – Fink helps walk a kid (and even some adults) through every nuance of our founding fathers’ meaning and intention.  If read often enough, you may find you have a kid who has memorized the declaration long before they are ever asked to do so for school purposes.  This is just a good old fashioned fun picture book that just so happens to also be an important document to our country’s history.  Sam Fink is pretty awesome and I am so glad he tackled this project.

In addition to all that,

George IIITitle: George III

Author: Christopher Hibbert

I’ve been plucking through a biography of King George III for awhile now.  It’s been loitering on my TBR pile and periodically I get the bug to read a chapter or two.

I am no where near finished reading this book, Hibbert is very detailed but also very dry as a biographer, but I find it a handy reference and do look forward to the times that I decide to sit down with it.

I like having large sweeping views of history as well as the tiny details.  Reading through John Adams and peeking here and there at George III this week, I was grateful to have already tackled Napoleon’s Wars recently. It helped me keep straight in my mind what was happening with the French while a few of the Adamses friends were busy getting beheaded. Another handy tool for both children and adults while reading through history is The Time Chart of History of the World. I don’t take a step into non-fiction without it.

TimeChart

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True to the Code

June 22, 2013 at 2:37 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

True to the CodeTitle: True to the Code

Author: Peter Devine

While reading Peter Devine’s new book True to the Code, I realized that this is not a book to read in one sitting. Instead, it should be divided up over time and each story discussed in a club or an ethics class along with that portion of history.

Devine has married ethics, history, and the over all culture of America into a book that defies category. Novel? Not really. Collection of short stories? Probably the most accurate, but still not quite how I’d like to label it. Philosophy? Yes, but easier to read.

So where do you put this in a bookstore? My easy solution… up front with the author.

Devine is most engaging when interacting with other readers. His lovely wife pours lemonade and serves cookies while he pleasantly gets to know those around him. It’s impossible not to feel like you get to know him a little back.

me with Peter DevineHe has the air of being well traveled and well researched. He has a comfortable patriarch mentality to him splashed with a bit of edgy hippie. He is fun, endearing, knowledgeable, and a joy to have in a bookstore. Although I met the man at a very informal event, I imagine he could make a cozy guest speaker at a gathering similar to the ones Mensa is known for.

I plan to keep his book True to the Code on hand and place the stories as supplemental reading for the kiddo’s homeschool curriculum. After kiddo has read all the stories in chronological order of their place in history side by side her research, I’d like her to review them as a whole.

This is a great book to keep around for students… of both the traditional and world variety.

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