It’s More than Okay to Love your Mom

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa posted a blog in Scriblerians talking about moms in YA literature. I reacted quite strongly about the lack of good mom role models in modern YA novels.

 

Bamboo People

 

The very next week, I read a novel by Mitali Perkins titled Bamboo People. Not only did it have an excellent role model in the main character’s mom, two other moms stood out as women to be admired as well. AND two dads! I was so excited to find an author who wrote in a style I admired, that I emailed her and gushed my appreciation. I also asked for an interview for a future Scriblerian post. She graciously agreed. Stay tuned!

 

But back to Bamboo People. This is the kind of fiction that I love. Realistic. Gripping. Teens striving to be the best people they can be – so their parents will be proud of them!

 

By the title alone, you know the story does not take place in America. The setting is Burma. Or Myanmar if you are supportive of the communist regime that runs its government. (Another tidbit that I learned from this real, gripping, fictional story.)

 

Burma

 

 

Chiko is the son of a doctor. His father has been sent to prison on a trumped up crime. In Burma the reality is that an educated man should be feared, thus imprisoned. Chiko is forced into the army, and he must figure out how to survive without shaming his parents.

 

Tu Reh is a member of the Karenni tribe. Strongly independent, mostly Christian, his people flee from the army’s intended annihilation. When he stumbles upon a wounded Chiko, Tu Reh must decide: kill the enemy or offer a wounded boy refuge. Which decision would his Christian father find most honorable? Since his father is away on a mission, Tu Reh cannot ask for advice directly.

 

credit to deepspeakingup.wordpress.com

credit to deepspeakingup.wordpress.com

 

The mothers do not tell their sons what to do. Mitali Perkins writes in such a way that the reader knows the mothers have already instilled righteous values in their boys. They encourage, they praise, but each boy must make an adult decision on his own. This is the perfect meld of the protagonist solving his own problem AND his parents as influential mentors in his decision.

 

When I returned to  my local library, I searched the shelves for more Mitali Perkins books. They only had one: Extreme American Makeover. Totally different premise, far more lighthearted, but the parents were there, married, loving each other, teaching their daughter right from wrong. Mitali has several other books published. I’m looking forward to reading them all.

 

Realistic and gripping, with excellent parent role models. What other YA books are out there that you may know? Inform me!

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Anthony’s Challenge

We stood around, enjoying a couple of minutes of down time as we waited for the lunch rush to begin. I don’t remember exactly who said what, but a dare was issued for a guy-type, could-get-you-in-big-trouble escapade. Aaron’s face lit up, his eyes danced with mischief. I could practically see the wheels of his mind churning. He spouted a clever response that by the way his glance caught mine, clearly said he knew I would not approve.

file000527564214I didn’t disappoint. “Aaron,” I chided. “You wouldn’t do that.”

A huge ornery grin spread across his face as his fellow employees snickered.

“Nah, you wouldn’t do it,” Anthony further challenged, “not if Beth’s around. She brings out the best in us.”

“Ah, Anthony.” I was touched. Our eyes met, and his clearly said he meant it.

The lunch crowd poured in. The moment passed.

Although I was flattered, I wasn’t sure I considered myself deserving of the compliment. The brief exchange simmered in my mind over the next couple of days. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted those simple word to be true of me. I wanted to be the kind of person who brought out the best in people. Especially the impressionable young people I worked with each day.

I liked the thought that I was having a positive impact on these guys. Okay, liked doesn’t quite cut it. On the inside I was jumping with excitement. Could it be I was getting through to them? Maybe when they rolled their eyes at my comments, suggestions and what might at times be considered gentle nagging, the words were still finding a home in their hearts and minds.

You see, Aaron at 18 had moved three states away from home to be close to his girlfriend. Anthony and his young wife were parenting their first child, also a long way from family. Then there was John whose life had lacked sorely in the parenting department since he was a young boy. And Stephanie whose groom shipped out to basic training on their two month wedding anniversary, exactly two weeks after discovering that she was pregnant.3 guys walking

All were facing the very real world of adulthood. Some shifts found them eager to share the happenings in their lives—the good and the bad and the man-I-had-no-idea-it-would-be-like-this. Other days, silence and grunts told me things could be better.

I enjoyed working with this fun, energetic, adventurous group. Sure, the labels a tad mischievous, a bit rambunctuous, and more than a smidge ornery also applied. Some days their antics tried my patience, forcing me to use my I-mean-business tone. But most of the time, they brightened my day. I hoped they could say the same.

After all, isn’t that that we’re supposed to do? Bring out the good, the positive, the very best in those we live with, work with, those whose paths cross ours. Yep, we are.

Proverbs 27:17 reminds of this.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (NIV)

Not that we all—regardless of our age—couldn’t benefit from some sharpening, teenagers and young adults need, even crave, the impact of positive attention from adults. Not the nagging “Shape up or else and cut your hair while you’re at it!” kind of attention. They tgirl by treehrive on “Hey, how’s it going? What’s new in your life?” affirmation that says I care about you.

I no longer work with Aaron, Anthony, John or Stephanie. They’ve moved on, but I’ll never forget any of them.

New names and faces, situations and circumstances fill the daily shifts now. Each one represents a new opportunity to impact a life.

I challenge you, amid the busyness of life, to take time to see people and their needs then get involved in their lives.

Orwell’s Wall: Moving Beyond The Simple Love or Hate of a Novel by T.J. Akers.

Student Reading Book Shows Research

The first post in my series  started with taking opportunities to express your opinion on the Internet. Specifically, your opinion about novels you think are good or bad. If you’re going to express your views, why not make it an opinion worth reading.

George Orwell said, “…The first thing we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.” So I mention Orwell’s wall as a way of structuring how we think about works of fiction. This approach can go by other names such as Reader Response or Ethical Criticism, but Orwell’s wall is the best metaphor I’ve found to explain critiquing books. Allow me to explain further.

Wall Demolition Shows Impact And Destruction

You read novel “X” and hate it. You log onto Good Reads, Amazon, or whatever platform to express your opinion to “save” some unsuspecting victim from spending good money on a bad story. Enraged that you wasted your time on a dumb novel, you click one star and set yourself to type a blistering response. All of sudden, the only thing you can think to write is “I hated this.” You may say you hated the plot, you might say you hated the characters, but many reading your response would be unimpressed by a simplistic opinion without offering a reason. If you want to be taken seriously, it helps to form well thought out critical opinions as opposed to full on “rants” or an all out “gush”. Hence, we can use a familiar form of criticism and Orwell’s wall to construct something more interesting than a rant or a gush.

Purdue University’s online writers resource, The Purdue Owl, defines Reader Response as the view that, “… considers readers’ reactions to literature as vital to interpreting the meaning of the text…(Reader Response) can take a number of different approaches…[but maintains]…that a text cannot be separated from what it does [for the reader]…”(Owl). Reader Response, sometimes called Ethical criticism, is used in public schools to teach literature. Students read an assigned book, discussion follows where students vocalize their responses to help them process their opinions to  “think out loud” and then organize their thoughts to express their take on the book. If you said that sounds a lot like “I love it or hate it” you would be close, but not quite there because teachers also want to know why a student thinks the way they do about a book.

Those that ascribe to Reader Response bring to their reading experience the complete subtexts of their life experiences or lack thereof, reading ability, world view, and morality to analyze the merit of a story. This subtext forms a lens in which to judge a work.Keep in mind that those opinions can be shaped by reading and a reader’s comprehension.

Upset Unhappy 3d Character Shows Disagreement Between Couple

Of course, everyone’s life experience can be unique and varied, so much so that a story may garner a variety of opinions. Is an opinion biased? Yes, of course it is, but Reader Response is most useful when you collect a lot of opinions from a good cross section of people of different backgrounds. When you see a lot of readers giving a book four out of five stars, you can count on one of two things: 1) Either a lot of people with the same life biases liked the book, 2) The book managed to catch the favor of a large cross section of different people and would be worth paying attention to. Either way, such ratings become more valuable by the increased number of opinions referenced. The fewer the opinions, the least trustworthy, unless you know the reading habits of the few people expressing that favorable or unfavorable view. This is how professional critics work.

Using Orwell’s mirror you can structure an opinion to make it more useful. You start out with the basic novel construction (is the wall a good wall?). “Does the novel have a beginning, middle, and end. Do the elements of “story” (plot, conflict, setting, theme, character, tone, mood, symbolism, point of view, style) come together in pleasing or meaningful ways? Do you comprehend what you read, or were you tripping over poor writing. Sometimes a poor reading experience is blamed on the author, when it could be the reader’s poor comprehension.

The second half of Orwell’s wall is the trickiest part and embraces the basic idea of Ethical criticism, “…even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.” Did the novel take you any place worth while? Did you go their willingly, or were you kicking and screaming in misery much the way a bystander is sometimes captivated by a train wreck? Is that place somewhere other readers would like to go, or should they even want to go?”

This is where world view plays into Reader Response, Ethical Criticism, and Orwell’s wall. Many readers want the literature they read to be a mirror of who they perceive themselves to be, or want they aspire to. They want their personal beliefs reflected in their stories. Some readers like to have their self-views challenged, but many don’t, at least not on a regular basis.

Aggressive corporate worker with axe and case

Allow me a personal example. I hate Romance as a literary genre. My writing associates know this and accept this, but don’t share that opinion. I will almost never pick up a romance novel to read no matter how enticing the book cover is. To me, it is usually “stupid trash.” Those of you who do like romance might be saying, “Well who does that guy think he is?” Are you mad yet?

Is my view fair to all romance novels? No. There is nothing fair about my view because I am judging a whole set of unread books by some invisible perception or misperception buried in my psyche. This is the problem with Reader Response and Ethical Criticism. The perception of a book’s quality is dependent on what a reader brings to a story.

There have been some stories I’ve read and liked at certain times in my life, only to reread them later, and ask myself, “What was I thinking when I read this? This is awful.” In other words, the novel didn’t change, I did.

The true value of Reader Response comes from being around like minded readers and finding things that perpetuate personal preferences. There’s nothing really wrong with that, but if you want to grow as a person and a reader, it helps to read things other than just your preferences.

Believe it or not, I read a romance novel every once in a while. In addition, I have specifically read four romance manuscripts over the last several years and I found should these projects ever get published, I would buy them. The authors absolutely defeated my personal biases and silenced my inner credit. I think that’s pretty amazing, and very rare.

So to move to more meaningful opinions start by using Orwell’s wall. When you approach a novel, does it have a beginning, middle, and end. Do the elements of “story” (plot, conflict, setting, theme, character, tone, mood, symbolism, point of view, style) come together in pleasing or meaningful ways? When you, the reader, finish the story; do you understand where the author has taken you and why?

Child Improving His Education By Reading A Book

Next, is what the novel embraces good, bad, or indifferent? Did the novel take you any place at all? Did you go their willingly, or were you kicking and screaming in misery much the way a bystander is sometimes captivated by morbid curiosity when watching a train wreck? Did the novel take to a place you wanted to go as a reader? Did it take you someplace you’ve never been before? Is that place somewhere you and other readers should like to go, or even want to go?” Then write your opinion down and share it.

I Just Can’t Leave These Books Alone!

Thunder vibrates our house, lightning flashes outside our windows, but I’m warm and dry inside. I’ve got my half-sweet chai tea in one hand and a dog-eared book in the other. I slump into my sofa and snuggle into a pillow, happier than a pony in a clover patch.

I’d promised this reading time to myself, after the dishes were done, cherries pitted and in the freezer, and my regulation four hours of writing/editing were finished. My book is my reward. It is my third time through it, but it’s exactly the escape I need nonetheless.

As I open the roughed up cover, I ponder about what it is that draws me to this book and a few others again and again. As a writer, I need to analyze the book’s charm. I dream that one day, someone will curl up with a book I’d written with the same affection.

Books I read come under two headings basically: books I need to read, vs. books I want to read. Of course, often the ‘need to reads’ combine with the ‘want to reads’, and when that happens, it’s fantastic. Most of the time though, ‘need to reads’ are educational non-fiction books on the writing craft, platforming (getting known on the internet etc.) or it may also be a bible study workbook. But for the time being, I’m going to discuss my ‘want to reads’.

Like my diverse taste in movies, my desires for books change with my moods. Sometimes I need a good brain-stumper murder/mystery that I can rehash for the next day or two, and sometimes I just want to ‘veg’ and be entertained, thank you very much. But both have one thing in common, I MUST enjoy or identify with the main characters. They are what pull me into the worlds, not the worlds themselves. Often the plot fades from my mind, but the characters’ personalities live on.

One of my ‘go to’ books for escapism is AIRBORN, by Kenneth Oppel. Not only is the setting fascinating, but the MC is engaging, likeable and slightly unpredictable. Matt Cruise, a teenaged boy, lives on a zeppelin-like airship. However, Pirates and strange creatures also inhabit the skies. Great Escapism that I highly recommend!

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But I don’t always need a fantasy in order to escape. Another book I love to go back to is MEN OF STONE, by Gail Friesen. Gail has hit the mark with her portrayal of fifteen-year-old Ben. He must deal with a house full of females, painfully awkward moments with girls, and bullies that hound him day and night. Normal stuff, right? But Ben hooks me with his sense of humor every time I enter his world, a sure way to keep me coming back!

51oSoiBTRjL._SL500_AA300_

So, on a dark and stormy night, with your beverage of choice by your side, what book calls to you?

 

Non-fiction: do you read it?

If you had asked me a month ago if I read non-fiction for enjoyment, I would have told you I only read it when I have to.

Like for a class.

Or to figure out how to do something.

Or for a class.

Photography and cookbooks aside, I recently realized that there is a type of non-fiction that I do enjoy and will read willingly: biographies and auto-biographies.

Now, not just any biography will do. It has to be about someone from a different culture. Why? Because to me that’s just a good as picking up a fantasy novel, or a dystopian novel. It’s a book about people who play by a different set of rules than we do. THAT is what I enjoy reading about. If it happens to be true, then so be it. It’s still a story. 🙂

Here are two I have read recently that led me to this shocking epiphany.

chinese cinderellaChinese Cinderella is appropriately named. It’s tells of a Chinese girl whose mother dies given birth to her. Her step-mother doesn’t want her or her siblings and tries everything to get rid of her. You learn about Chinese culture in the 1940’s and see the effects of WWII. I wish it had gone on a bit longer, but apparently there is another book that finishes her story as an adult.

I also very much enjoyed is The Iron Butterfly: Memoir of a Martial Arts Master: The True Story of a Mermaid’s Daughter. While the title on this book is longer than Chinese Cinderellairon butterfly, it only tells you part of what the book is about. A girl grows up on one of the islands in Korea. Her family is very poor and survival is difficult after the Korean War. Here, we learn about Korean culture, martial arts, the haenyo–Korean women who would dive year round to gather food from the sea, all from the perspective of a girl with an indomitable spirits. A truly inspirational read.

 

So now that I’ve found this whole new genre of literature that I like, I’m taking recommendations.

WHICH BIOGRAPHIES DO YOU RECOMMEND? WHAT TYPE OF NON-FICTION DO YOU ENJOY?

Twins: Terrific or Terrifying

new moonfall cover

 

 

 

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have an identical twin.

Twins I’ve seen in real life or in photographs look like some of the happiest people on earth. To have someone at your side from birth who understands you better than anyone else must be a fantastic feeling.

However, the idea of having a twin of my own scares me a little. Would I see one or more character flaws I didn’t know I possessed reflected in my twin?

Movies and television have certainly portrayed the evil twin. But rather than a truly evil one, a sibling who starts out with the same genetic material as our own and then is influenced by its environment makes more sense. Twins don’t necessarily want the same things or go about getting them in the same way.

Vanessa Morton

Vanessa Morton

In Vanessa Morton’s Moonfall, the characters Rachav and Zaron are identical twin teenage girls living during the time of the fall of Yericho (Jericho). Each thinks the other should desire the same kind of life she does. Each sees the difference in her twin as a flaw. I think it scares them both. But the love is still there.

Moonfall will transport you to a time and place that is richly textured and historically fascinating.  And you will find that girls will be girls, and twins will be twins, even in 1406 B.C.

Have you ever wished for a twin? Are you one?

What am I Reading?

I thought I would share what I’ve been reading this month.
Here are the YA books I consumed,
and my thoughts on them.

1. Running Lean by Diana L. Sharples

Running Lean

Equilibrium. That’s what Stacey and Calvin found in each other. He is as solid as his beloved vintage motorcycle and helps quiet the constant clamor in Stacey’s mind. She is a passionate, creative spirit—and a lifeline after Calvin’s soldier brother dies. But lately the balance is off. Calvin’s grief is taking new forms. Voices of self-loathing are dominating Stacey’s life. When struggles with body image threaten her health, Calvin can’t bear to lose another person that he loves. Taking action may destroy their relationship, but the alternative could be much more costly.

This is a book about a young girls struggle with an eating disorder and the boy who loves her. Diana L. Sharples is an amazing weaver of words and you can tell that from the first page. The story is a difficult one that needs to be told. Her characters are real and struggle (and question) their faith as most teens do. Sometimes the characters were…whiny and it could be a little grating. But it didn’t detract from the beauty of the book.

2. Knife by R.J. Anderson

Once upon a time, a fairy is born. She lives in an old oak tree at the bottom of a garden with the rest of the fairy folk. Never has she known a time when life hasn’t been hard, with many dangers and much adversity. But when she becomes the Hunter of the group and learns to do battle in the outside world, her adventures really take off…Don’t read this book if you’re expecting fairy dust – the last thing Knife is likely to wield is a magic wand… 

R.J. Anderson is a Canadian writer that I have met a couple of times. She is Christian but she writes for the mainstream market. I’m not a big fan of faeries but this book is not about Tinkerbell. Anderson is a masterful storyteller and has a firm grasp of the writers craft. This is a book that was an excellent and enthralling read. It was a good clean read with just enough edge to it. 🙂 This cover was what they published in the UK. The one for North America is not as nice:

Spell Hunter (Faery Rebels)

3. Rebel

No ordinary fairy tale…Linden is a feisty faery with a lot on her mind. She her fellow faeries are under threat: their magic is fading, and if they do not act fast, they will die…When Linden meets Timothy, a human staying in the house opposite her Oak, she knows he can help. Together they embark on a dangerous journey to seek more magic ? and discover that there is more to fear from other faeries than they could ever have imagined.

This is the second in R.J. Anderson’s faery series. This one was even better than the first one. It has a lot of Christian themes and lyrical prose. If you haven’t read any of Anderson’s stuff I highly recommend you check her books out.

4. Like Moonlight at Low Tide

Like Moonlight at Low Tide: Sometimes the Current Is the Only Thing that Saves You

When high school junior Melissa Keiser returns to her hometown of Anna Maria Island, Florida, she has one goal: hide from the bullies who had convinced her she was the ugliest girl in school. But when she is caught sneaking into a neighbor’s pool at night, everything changes. Something is different now that Melissa is sixteen, and the guys and popular girls who once made her life miserable have taken notice. When Melissa gets the chance to escape life in a house ruled by her mom’s latest boyfriend, she must choose where her loyalties lie between a long-time crush, a new friend, and her surfer brother who makes it impossible to forget her roots. Just as Melissa seems to achieve everything she ever wanted, she loses a loved one to suicide. Melissa must not only grieve for her loss, she must find the truth about the three boys who loved her and discover that joy sometimes comes from the most unexpected place of all.

This was a sweet book (and I loved the cover). The writing was solid and there were times where it really sang. The structure of the book did nothing for me and the plot was often predictable. That being said, I enjoyed the read. It just wasn’t my favorite and that may speak more to my taste in books. 🙂

What have you been reading this past month that left you wanting more? Leave a comment with a book that you would recommend to me and I’ll add it to my To Be Read pile.

Karen deBlieck

Karen deBlieck