I love it when I read a book that is engaging and thought provoking and that I can share with my kids. This is not that book. Reading Struck by Lightening was like watching The Breakfast Club, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, and a host of other 80′s movies rolled into one. -but not in a good way but in a “this has been done over and over kind of way.”
Carson who is both the protagonist(sort of) and antagonist in this novel is a smart kid. And like all smart kids in teenage angst novels, he is a misfit. His parents are a nightmare. And everyone in his small town is an idiot. What an original concept! When Carson realizes he needs to create a literary magazine to secure his chances of getting into Northwestern he decides to blackmail all of his classmates into contributing to his publication. Luckily, this is not hard to do because all the cool kids at his school (coincidently the ones who have been torturing him since grade school) have dirty little secrets.
The head cheerleader is sleeping with the football coach. The son of the town’s richest, most respected citizen is having a homosexual affair with his best buddy. The yearbook editor likes to send pornographic photos of herself to strangers over the Internet. The sexy foreign exchange student is really from San Diego. And the goth girl’s baptist parents don’t know that she worships Satan. Blackmailing these kids is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Predictably, as each of these pathetic individuals turns in a submission, Carson comes to realize that everyone has problems. They don’t all have perfect lives or hearts of stone as he had assumed. (Think less likable version of the football player and the prom queen in The Breakfast Club.) He actually does feel some sympathy for his victims – not enough to call off his plans but enough to make him not a complete sociopath.
What is not predictable about this book is the ending. I fully expected Carson to form some sort of bond with his peers, or maybe even end up kissing a former enemy – you know, like Emillio Estevez and Ally Sheedy just before Tears for Fears starts to sing. Instead, Carson doesn’t seem to give his new revelation a whole lot of thought. After all, he’s trying to get into Northwestern. Who has time for a conscience?
We do see some change in Carson when he finds out his drunk, depressed mother has thrown away his acceptance letter, and he’ll have to stay in his hometown and go to community college with all the other losers. At first he is devastated that all of his hard, dirty work was for nothing, but eventually decides that he will rise above his circumstances and make the best of things. He’s not going to let these idiots get the better of him. Just when we see a glimmer of hope for our young, errrr ummm, hero, he gets struck by lightening as he’s leaving the high school and dies. I’m serious. That’s how it ends. I think Colfer was trying to be funny and ironic. Or maybe he just ran out of snarky things for his main character to say. Either way, I was both annoyed and relieved.
All and all I thought Struck by Lightening was a horrible book. But I’m not gonna lie. I laughed out loud more than once. Colfer did manage a few observations about teenage life that were spot on, and the homecoming float scene in which Phillip and his sidekick dress up as a notebook and pencil is particularly hilarious. I thought it was funny, but my kids will not be reading it.
YES! All the really bad ones.
Yep. What’s a good blackmail plan without the sex to back it up.
None. These people are entirely Godless.
“Can I please just say that it has been scientifically proven that teenagers learn and test better when they go to school later in the day? Which I suppose would be taken into consideration if school wasn’t really just a government-funded day care meant to keep kids occupied. (I don’t know about you, but I’m most prone to committing crimes between the hours of 6:00 am and 3:00 pm). Thumbs up!”
“She struggles with concentration, metabolism, and plagiarism…but who’s perfect.?”
“What grinds me the most is that we are sending kids out into the world who don’t know how to balance a checkbook, don’t know how to apply for a loan, don’t even know how to properly fill out a job application, but because they know the quadratic formula we consider them prepared for the world.”
“I wonder how much I could get done if I wasn’t in the way.”
I downloaded the audio of The One and Only Ivan after reading about it in my Chinaberry Books catalog. It looked like a cute story and the right length for a three hour drive alone. Perfect. I plugged in my iPhone and took off. It was a lovely, heart-warming way to spend my time in the car.
The One and Only Ivan is the story of as silverback gorilla who spends most of his life alone in a cage as a shopping mall attraction. His only companions are an elephant, a stray dog, and the daughter of the mall janitor. His only entertainment is a television (when his owner remembers to turn it on), and his art supplies (crayons and paper). Ivan is an artist. His owner provides Ivan with crayons and paper, not because he recognizes Ivan’s gift, but because he can sell Ivan’s drawings for twenty a bucks a piece in the mall gift shop.
Fortunately for Ivan, Julia, the janitor’s daughter, does recognize his gift, and she sneaks him paints. Little does Julia know, however, that Ivan will use the paints to help help Ruby, a baby elephant and the mall’s newest attraction. Ivan has become used to life in his lonely “habitat.” It’s not in his nature, nor in the nature of gorillas in general, to complain. But he does know that Ruby deserves better – the chance at a life with other elephants. He also made a promise to a special friend that he would save Ruby.
I tend to be skeptical of animal stories that garner sympathy for the animals by making all the humans look cruel and greedy or stupid and insensitive. This novel doesn’t fall into that trap. Even Ivan’s owner is more pathetic than cruel, and most of the humans he encounters are kind.
The One and Only Ivan is a beautiful, touching story, about friendship, determination, and kindness. And that alone would make it a wonderful book, but it is actually based (although loosely) on the story of the real Ivan – a gorilla who really did live most of his life alone in a mall cage.
The real Ivan’s story did have a happy ending. You can read about his life on the Atlanta Zoo page.
The story of Ivan’s capture and the deaths of his parents and sister might be upsetting for some younger readers.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Do animal have feelings?
-As humans what is our responsibility to animals?
-Are zoos a good thing or are they cruel? How about circuses?
(Cover photo retrieved from goodreads.com)
Cole Matthews is a punk, through and through. For years, people have tried to help by sending him to detention centers, drug counseling, anger therapy sessions, and residential treatment centers. Most of Cole’s anger stems from his dad getting drunk and then beating him while his mother does nothing to stand up for him. Cole finally reaches his boiling point after a kid rats him out for breaking into a hardware store. After school one day, Cole catches up with the kid, Peter Driscal, and beats him up by smashing Peter’s head into the sidewalk repeatedly.
Garvey, Cole’s youth probation officer, suggests applying for Circle Justice. Circle Justice is a healing form of justice practiced by native cultures for thousands of years. After much debate, Cole is sentenced to a year on a remote Southeast Alaskan island. Cole must prove himself by releasing his anger and finding his inner peace. At first, things do not go out very well for Cole. He burns the shelter that was built for him, tries to escape by swimming to another island, and is mauled by a white Spirit Bear. After being mauled by the Spirit Bear, Cole is sent back to Minneapolis to heal from his wounds.
After about seven months, the Circle Justice agrees to send Cole back to the island. He must build his own shelter, find food, cut firewood, and figure out how to live by himself. Cole soaks in an ice cold pond, carves a totem pole, and rolls ancestors rocks down a hill to release his anger. Meanwhile, Peter is still struggling with his injuries and tries to commit suicide twice. Cole convinces Garvey to talk to Peter’s family about Peter coming to stay on the island. Eventually, Peter comes to the island where the story of redemption and friendship truly begins.
There is some, but it is not very graphic.
Seeing a Spirit Bear is a little mythical, but they really do exist.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
What are some ways that you can find your inner peace and deal with circumstance that do not always seem fair?
Would Circle Justice work for troubled teens these days? Why or why not?
Who in your life has been most helpful when you are feeling down or not appreciated?
(cover photo from goodreads.com)
I am about 100 pages into this nearly 600 page book, and I’ve had enough. To be sure, I’ve read plenty of books that started slow and got better. I am not usually a book quitter. But the problem with Beautiful Creatures is not that is started slow. It’s that is started predictable. The story (at least the first part) is told from the point of view of Ethan Carter Wate, a teenage boy from a small town in South Carolina who is tired and bored with all his shallow friends, superficial teachers, and the town’s busybody citizens (which is all of them). Poor Ethan’s only solace is in reading (of course) Vonegut and Salinger. Fortunately, for Ethan life begins to gets considerably more interesting when a dark and mysterious new girl, Lena, moves to town to live with her reclusive uncle (the town crazy). Of course all the other kids hate her instantly because people from small, southern towns can’t possibly tolerate anyone different. Only cool, Kurt Vonegut-reading types could ever do that. Ethan on the other hand, is drawn to her not just because he is a secret intellectual, free-thinker, but because Lena has been haunting his dreams for months. And if I’m right Ethan and Lena will fall madly into forbidden love and have to fight against both human and supernatural forces to be together.
Maybe if there weren’t a zillion other paranormal teen romances on the market, I might have found Beautiful Creatures more intriguing. Maybe. And maybe if I weren’t from a small southern town, I wouldn’t be so tired of the stereotype. Maybe. But aside from all that, I frankly did not care for the supernatural elements. For example Ethan’s beloved housekeeper is practiced in spells and potions and, I suspect, other dark arts. I can handle a few do-gooding vampires and werewolves. And I like my fair share of witches and wizards stories – but only when there is a clear distinction between good and evil. When that line becomes too blurred, you can count me out. It is up to every parent to decided where that line is and how blurry is too blurry but when it comes to what my teen and tween read, I think we will pass on steamy teen romance laced with black magic and sorcery.
If you would like to read a review from someone who has actually read the whole novel here is a link to GoodReads. Be sure to scroll down to get reader reviews.
I’m also including the movie review from Catholic New Services. I like their reviews because they usually take into account, not only parental concerns, but artistic merit as well.
The False Prince, the first book in the Ascension Trilogy, is the story of Sage, a fourteen year old orphan who suddenly finds himself caught up in a clandestine plot of such magnitude, that to fail, will certainly cost him his life. Sage, along with three other boys, has been purchased from an orphanage by Bevin Conner, a nobleman of Carthya. Unfortunately for the boys, Conner is no wealthy benefactor. In fact, for his diabolical plan, he needs only one boy – the one who can pass himself off as the long-lost (and presumed dead) Prince Jaron – the only surviving member of the Carthyan royal family.
Sage has perfected life as a loner and a survivor. Now he is being forced into “prince lessons” with two rival boys. On Conner’s luxurious estate, Sage and his rivals undergo reading, sword fighting, horseback riding, and manners lessons. In the end, only one boy will be chosen to be presented at court as Prince Jaron. To succeed and be chosen as the False Prince will mean a life Sage has never wanted and possibly one as Conner’s puppet. To fail will certainly mean death.
The False Prince is an exciting novel with twists and turns I did not see coming. I chose it because, unlike all the paranormal romance novels lining bookstore and library shelves, I thought this book might appeal to boys. I was not wrong. I’m thrilled to have a book I can recommend to the guys in my English class.
Yes, some mild. But nothing too disturbing. I think kids from upper elementary age through high school would enjoy this book.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
~ What is true freedom?
~ Sage prefers life as an orphan – a life that is sometimes very very difficult. Why do you think this is?
~ Which of Sage’s rival do you like best the most? The honest but brutally ambitious Roden or the submissive and sneaky Tobias?
~ Does life as a royal sound like fun, or do you think the cost (high expectations, scheming noblemen, enemy nations, etc.) is too high a price to pay for that level of fame, wealth and power?
If you've looked at my 2012 reading list, you may note that I've read quite a few children's books this year. And yes, you may infer from this fact that I still love children's literature. While I've read quite a few of the "greatest hits" over the years—Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the…