six windows


Bloomability has been one of my favorite books ever since I picked up first, years ago. It’s about Dinnie, a girl who’s always moved from place to place with her box of things, following her father from opportunity to opportunity. She’s quiet and introspective and adaptable, but when her aunt and uncle take her with them from her home, from the only family she knows, she doesn’t want to be adaptable. She wants to be with her parents and her sister, Stella, and Stella’s new baby, and her brother, Crick. This opportunity is a lot more than she realizes when she first leaves home, though. Her aunt and uncle are moving to Lugano, Switzerland, to work at an American boarding school. The school is American, but its students come from all kinds of backgrounds and from all over the world. Though she’s reluctant at first, this is an experience that changes Dinnie in amazing ways she couldn’t have imagined before.

This book inspired me. At first, it just inspired me to wish I could go to an international boarding school in Lugano, Switzerland, but after my parents told me I was being ridiculous, it didn’t stop being an inspiration. Bloomability inspires me to seek out new experiences, new places, new people, and to take advantage of opportunities. It’s also the reason I started looking to go to college overseas. I actually applied to a school in Lugano, and wanted more than anything to go there, but I can’t afford it. I might be going to school in Germany, though (my decision is still not made). I want to experience new parts of the world, and meet people from even more different places, and see it all from somewhere new, an idea whose seed was planted by reading this book. It’s one of the books that has most affected my life.

More than my personal love for this book, though, rereading it with a more critical eye was something I thought might be disappointing. It wasn’t; instead, I was only now able to realize how truly amazing this novel is. I want to read it again! Sharon Creech writes gorgeous, gorgeous prose, and creates fully realized, very interesting characters, and tells a story that really means something. Dinnie’s voice is distinct and honest and authentic and a pleasure to read. She recreates the setting of Lugano so vividly that I wanted to move there! It’s not just the characters I love; the way they relate to each other is also very well done. I also love the descriptions of Dinnie’s dreams, and, now, seeing how they connect to her life (connections I wasn’t always able to make reading it years ago). Her window signs, too! And Guthrie, his love of life is contagious even to the reader. 

I could go on, describing everything I love about this book, but then this review would be as long as the book itself, because I love everything. This book works on so many levels, too; when I was ten, it was enjoyable and inspiring and made me want to see the world. Now, it’s still those things but it’s also brilliant and meaningful and beautiful in ways I couldn’t recognize then. There’s so much more to this book than a story about a girl who goes to boarding school in Switzerland. I really don’t know how I can communicate how much you need to read this book effectively, but, trust me, you do. Bloomability is hopeful, gorgeous, inspiring, and, for me, life-changing.

Six out of six windows and a heart:

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In this beautifully crafted piece of historical fiction, fifteen-year-old Ruby is forced to quit school and work to support her family after her father’s death when her mother is no longer able to do so.  She doesn’t have any skills that will help her (she never took typing or shorthand in school), so she takes a job at a meatpacking plant. It’s harsh work, but there are few options for a girl in Chicago in the early 1940s, and she doesn’t see a way out.

All that changes after Paulie Suelze, neighborhood legend and a boy her mother would die to see her with, is impressed with her dancing and directs her to the Starlight Dance Academy. There, Ruby can get paid for dancing all night, as long as her mother never finds out (her cover story is that she’s found work as a telephone operator). Despite what its name suggests, Starlight is a taxi dance hall, where girls like Ruby (taxi dancers) are paid ten cents a dance, and sometimes more for extracurricular activities with the men, which range from casual conversation over dinner to, well, you know.

Soon, Ruby is deep into the world of nighttime Chicago–the music, the clubs, the dancing, the drinking, the gambling–and having trouble reconciling who she’s forced to become with the innocent girl she used to be.

Ten Cents A Dance is gorgeous. The setting comes vividly to life, and I do mean vividly. I felt immersed in Ruby’s world, and 1940s Chicago is certainly a fascinating place to be. I do love a nice setting, and, wow, I honestly can’t think of a better book in terms of the very real sense of time and place and the culture and language that come with it (I loved the 1940s slang!). I can’t even describe how well Christine Fletcher pulled this off–for those words, you’ll need to read the book itself.

It’s not just the setting, though. The characters are very real, and their relationships rung true as well. Ruby is a wonderful heroine, and her character develops nicely over the course of the story. She comes out a different person at the end of it all, in some ways, as would anyone, but she’s still Ruby–just the way it should be. Very believable. Ruby is strong and spirited and I can’t imagine not loving her. Even the minor chracters were well-drawn, and I was quite intrigued by some of them (I’d love to look deeper into the life of Ozzie, who plays in the band at the Starlight, for example).

Ruby’s voice is authentic and a pleasure to read. Christine Fletcher is brilliant in her use of language, and she chose an excellent story to apply it to. I’d never heard of taxi dance halls before, but suffice to say I am plenty interested now and have been doing a bit of my own internet research on them and the culture of the time. I was completely hooked by this story, and not just the story, but also, almost independently, its setting.

Ruby’s visits to the black-and-tans (the clubs where all races are welcomed) also provide an interesting window into another aspect of this time and place. It’s certainly not any kind of an issue book, but I did enjoy the insight into the race relations of the time. I enjoyed all insights into the time and place, honestly. As much as all aspects of this book stand out, it’s the setting and Christine Fletcher’s vivid portrayal of it that really pushes it to over-the-top amazingly brilliant.

I adored the author’s previous book, Tallulah Falls, and expected this one to be amazing as well, and it was even better. They’re very different books, too, and I love Christine Fletcher’s versatility; I can’t wait to see what she writes in the future. She’s an incredibly talented author, and you will be far from sorry for picking up this book.

In six words: 1940s Chicago, great characters, absolutely brilliant.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is Mark Haddon’s rather brilliant novel from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old English boy who is incredibly clever when it comes to things like math and memorization, but clueless when it comes to things like human emotions and how to function in everyday life and society. It seems like he’s autistic, though Haddon never expressly says that in the novel. This book begins when Christopher decides to write a mystery novel based on the real-life mystery of “Who Killed Wellington?,” Wellington being his neighbor’s poodle who was horrifically murdered with a garden fork.

In the series of events that unfolds from there, Christopher is pushed unbelievably far out of his comfort zone, trying to solve Wellington’s murder, figure out a new mystery having to do with his mother, and just deal with the parts of everyday life that are so effortless for the rest of us.

Christopher’s voice rings true in this clever book. I am usually not a fan of required reading (I read this book and wrote this review for my Psych class), but I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. It’s smart and funny and observant. The narration is detached in just the way Christopher is supposed to be, perfect for the character—all cold and logical without any of the passion or emotion that regular people have. Christopher is overwhelmed and confused sometimes, but there are many things that would upset most people that leave Christopher completely unemotional. It’s a little bit alarming, the way he does not seem to understand other people as being human like him. The way the entire story is told just as Christopher would tell it. For example, the way he doesn’t care that his mother left his father, cheated on him. He doesn’t care about that, still sees his mother the same way she always has been, but when he finds out his father killed Wellington, a dog, he is horrified and terrified of his father, seeing him as something of a monster, something to fear. He identifies far better with animals, whose emotions are relatively uncomplicated, than with people. He actually compares the minds of other people to computers at one point. Mark Haddon has done a brilliant job with this book. He’s an amazingly gifted writer, with his perfect characterization of Christopher. I saw that he’s written another book, and I’m definitely going to read it as soon as possible.

North of Beautiful is Justina Chen Headley’s third book, and she just keeps getting more and more awesome. The protagonist of this novel, Terra Rose Cooper, is a girl who works hard to keep her body perfect, but that’s not what makes strangers stop and stare. Terra has a port wine stain covering the left side of her face. This blemish is all that many people notice, and it’s taken a toll on her life.

Another less-than-perfect aspect of Terra’s life is her overly controlling father. Terra can’t wait to escape to college three thousand miles away from him, but this is more complicated than it seems. Everything is always more complicated than it seems. Oh, and there’s also a romance aspect to this book–Terra meets Jacob and is falling for him, even though she’s already got a boyfriend who everyone thinks is perfect.

The backdrop of the book, so to speak, is Terra’s father’s profession. He is a cartographer, and location is a big part of this book. There’s maps (both actual place maps, and maps of a more artistic sort), geocaching (which I’d never heard of, but it sounds pretty awesome), travel, and Terra’s desire to get far away from her father. This is present throughout the book, and I really liked that aspect of it–it’s part of what made North of Beautiful stand out so much. It’s an original way of looking at a story that is really fairly common, in its most basic aspects. Terra’s port wine stain was part of what she had to overcome in this story, and that was also unique to this story.

There are many themes to this book. It’s a book about finding yourself, finding your way, finding your voice, finding real beauty, finding love…It’s about searching and finding and journeying, in a figurative and literal sense. And I loved it. I loved the wonderfully human characters. I loved the originality of this story that is, yes, in some ways predictable, but still amazingly unique. I loved Justina Chen Headley’s gorgeous prose, the way she makes Terra’s voice really come alive on the page. In case you couldn’t tell, I found North of Beautiful to be absolutely brilliant. It’ll be out in February 2009.

Before you pick this book up, I’ve got to warn you: it is heartbreaking. There is beauty and hope there, too, but there is so much sadness in this story that begins with a car accident in which five people die on the Jellicoe Road. Three survive, though, and one saves them and the bodies of their loved ones. One more is added to their number, and those five friends are everything to each other.

Over two decades later, Taylor Markham is a student at the Jellicoe School. She becomes the leader of her school in the territory wars between the Jellicoe School students, the Townies, and the Cadets, who come in for six weeks from the city. The three factions fight and negotiate and bargain for territory, with an extensive set of rules and lots of tradition and history. That history is personal, too, when it comes to the relationship between Taylor and Jonah Griggs, the Cadets’ leader…

Read the rest of my review on Chicklish

This book will be released in the USA with the title “Jellicoe Road”, to be published by HarperTeen in September 2008.

Check out my review of Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca on Curled Up With A Good Kid’s Book.

I have to start by saying, Naomi Shihab Nye is one of the most amazing writers whose work I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I have read her poetry and her young adult novel, Habibi, which has been a favorite of mine for years. I am not the biggest fan of poetry, in general (I do like it, but not as much as I do novels or short stories most of the time), but Naomi Shihab Nye is a huge exception to that. I’d rather read her poetry (or her prose) than almost anything else. Her way with words is just astounding and beautiful. Her words, in Honeybee and in all of her other writing that I’ve ever read, bring out so many thoughts and questions and emotions and images and are just so brilliant that my words cannot possibly be enough to describe hers in any way doing justice to them.

Honeybee is a collection of poems and short prose (though the prose is more poetic than most), some right from the author’s experiences and life, others more about politics (though that’s not an adequate description for many–more about the daily lives of those people of whom all we see is the politics of their situation, but she shows their humanity), and others a mixture of the two, being about her experiences as an Arab-American in post-9/11 America. Everything in this book is so honest and true and  thoughtful and observant and so, so many things. Often, sad, when we read about the state of the Middle East today or the way we treat our fellow humans. There is despair here, but there is also hope.

Naomi Shihab Nye sees so clearly and writes so wonderfully about the sad state of the world today, as in this poem “Consolation”:

“This morning the newspaper
was too terrible to deliver
so the newsboy just pitched out
a little sheaf
of Kleenex.”*

Naomi Shihab Nye takes the title of my favorite poet, hands down, even more so after reading this collection. It will be available in May, at which point I strongly suggest you go and buy and read it. Until then, go read something else of hers, if you haven’t already!

The sad thing? One of the greatest poets and writers around is probably on a ton of government watch lists because she has the courage to speak the truth (and does so quite eloquently).  And, of course, because of her ethnicity. What a world we live in.
*This is from the Uncorrected Proof copy and subject to change in the final book.