Category: Coming of Age

Sep 27

Are You There God? It's me, Banned Books Week.

Banned Books, Children's Fiction, Coming of Age 19

Hi there, Bookworms. Next week is Banned Books Week. Every year the American Library Association celebrates the books that have been challenged or banned from schools and libraries. I plan on devoting all of next week’s posts to things I’ve read on the “banned classics” list.

A lot of them are books you’d expect that were challenged for reasons you’d expect. It’s hard to find a comprehensive list of this sort of thing, so I started googling. My selections for next week focus mainly on modern classics, but there are always tons of new works or children’s books that are the object of parents’ ire. I don’t have kids. I don’t think I’d be happy with my 7 year old picking up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey at school, but otherwise I’m pretty open. Reading is reading, y’all!

Take a breath to steady yourself now. People have apparently tried to have Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, the perennial classic for all tween girls, BANNED.

Really parents? Really?!

Being a girl between the ages of 11 and 14 is pretty much the worst thing ever. You’re awkward and ugly and developing… or not developing. It’s horrendous. This is around the age where girls get mean (they’re awful to each other. And I’m not even speaking as someone chronically bullied or anything. We were all really neurotic and hormonal and impulsive. I again take this opportunity to thank God that I came of age before Facebook…) I’m literally shuddering right now remembering middle school. Incidentally, this is how I know my BFF is indeed FOREVER. Anybody who can love you when you’re at your worst and weirdest is someone worth keeping in your life. Miss your face, HJM.

My visceral reaction to all things middle school makes me unreasonably angry that anyone would ban this book. If you didn’t know already, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is primarily about a girl waiting to start her period. I know, eww, right? But this is SUCH a source of concern for young girls! You start your period too early you worry there’s something wrong with you. You start too late, you worry there’s something wrong with you. You swear off white pants for all eternity. You live in fear that a boy will open your backpack and find your maxi pads… Or lack of maxi pads. It’s AWFUL.

You know what made me feel better at this age? Reading this book! I didn’t read into Margaret’s religious confusion (she was half Jewish half Christian). I didn’t start to question God’s role in my life or refuse to go to CCD. (That’s a lie. I refused to go to CCD all the time- because it was always on Saturday mornings, MOM! But it’s not like reading about a girl with questions undid 12 years of church and Catholic-ness.)  All I gleaned from the book was that I wasn’t the only girl going through this! I wasn’t the only one waiting around to grow up, all the while being terrified of the process.

The watchdog groups say to watch out for discussions of bras, kissing, and emerging sexuality. Well, DUH! That’s kind of what PUBERTY is, people. Seriously. There are physiological changes that happen during puberty and you can’t just change that by not buying your daughter a bra, telling her kissing causes pregnancy, or refusing to explain the birds and the bees. If you take that route, you’ll either end up with a daughter who never ever moves out for fear she’ll catch pregnancy from a public toilet or a pregnant teenager.

Since we’ve taken a trip down the awkward memory lane, do any of you bookworms have a YM moment you want to share?

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Sep 17

Airplane Reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction 3

Hello bookworms! I’m back! I was on vacation, but you’re not supposed to say things like that on the internet, because 20/20 says that’s an invitation to burglars to, um, burgle your home. As we did not want to be burgled, I claimed to be an international super spy instead. Smoke in mirrors. (Mark it off the bucket list- I used three forms of “burgle” in two sentences.)

Jim and I went on our first “real” vacation. We went to Florida this past January, but it didn’t count because Jim had to work while we were there. THIS counted. 10 days at Walt Disney World! Don’t you dare go judging, we are simply young at heart.

I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party as the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts was suspicious…

The first of my three meetings with Alice. What can I say? I’m a fan!

This is one of Mary Poppins’ penguins! All time favorite movie. All time favorite animal. Mr. Penguin is preparing to give me beak kisses here.

I learned several important things on this trip. First- the concept of personal space is one that is not shared by all cultures. Second- no matter how much zumba SHOULD prepare you for walking all day, it does NOT. Bring Advil and blister bandages (I was actually prepared for this, but still. Ouch.) Third- I am still not quite ready to have my own children. The vast majority of kids were adorable, but there were enough jerky little punks to make my womb shut tight for a while still.

What does this have to do with reading? Other than my obvious obsession with Alice in Wonderland, nothing. So…Let’s talk about what I read on the plane!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was my choice for travel reading. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book, but whatever my expectations were, it certainly wasn’t what I got. Miss Peregrine combines aspects of A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and the TV show Heroes. Our protagonist Jacob is a teenage boy traumatized by witnessing the tragic death of his grandfather. He sets out to learn about his grandfather’s childhood in the orphanage he inhabited during WWII. What Jacob doesn’t realize is that his grandfather was more than just a Jewish refugee from Poland given asylum on a remote Welsh island. He was “peculiar.”

“Peculiar” people basically have super powers. Some are invisible, some can fly, some can light fires, some can resurrect the dead, and some can make things grow into elaborate tree sculptures (if teleportation is not an option for my personal super power, I wouldn’t mind having the ability to grow hedges into amusing shapes. Runner up super power acquired ). It is said that the peculiars often hid out in plain sight- as sideshow acts in circuses. That’s kind of brilliant, because as I mentioned in my post on The Night Circuseverybody expects crazy fakery in circuses.

Another trait amongst the peculiars? Some of them can see the invisible monsters that are trying to exterminate the peculiars by devouring them. Yes, the MONSTERS that want to EAT peculiar people. Are you still with me? Good.

In order to keep the peculiar  children safe, they live within time loops that allow them to hide from the monsters. A time loop is essentially the same day played over and over again- so the children never age and are hidden from the monsters. The time loops are overseen by… how do I describe this without it sounding stupid? There is no good way. The time loops and the peculiar children within them are overseen by shape shifting bird-woman nannies.

Jacob stumbles across the time loop and discovers that his grandfather was devoured by a monster, not a pack of wild dogs (a pack of wild dogs in Florida. Really? Gators are so much more glamorous.) Jacob and the peculiar children work at solving some mysteries, chaos ensues, the day is saved by a team effort of super powers. You know the drill.

It sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s actually a pretty good book. The only gripe I have is that it was left sooooo open ended. I’m a little concerned that this story won’t hold up as a series, but hey what do I know? I certainly liked it enough to check out book 2.

Also! I was apparently nominated for THREE blog awards while I was away! Thank you, thank you, thank you to Pocketful of Joules, Quirky Chrissy, and The Life of a Thinker for nominating me! The rules for accepting the award include some extra odds and ends, so it may be a while before I get around to all of it. But thank you from the bottom of my wormy little heart! 🙂

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Sep 14

Confession Friday: The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Katie's Teen Angst

Coming of Age, Young Adult Fiction 19

Confession Friday: I was an angsty teenager. That’s not much of a confession. But I used to dress like this:

Photo of me and some friends in high school. Tragically hip.

I went through what I like to call my “grunge phase” in high school. What can I say? I was a socially awkward girl in the late 90s, and it was perfectly acceptable to hide one’s perceived imperfections underneath layers of enormously baggy pants and giant t-shirts. It wasn’t EXACTLY the age of Nirvana, but you know, trends hit the suburbs a few years late.

Anyway, being a teenager and tending toward the angst ridden, you may understand why I list The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky among my favorite books of all time. It was given to me by my friend Kim (the girl conveniently hiding half her face in what she must have known would someday be an embarrassing photo) and I’ve loved it ever since. It’s one of the few books I’ve read more than once. It’s the ultimate teen misfit tome- it was published by MTV, for heaven’s sake!

This book was hipster before hipsters were ironic. Or something. I don’t “get” the hipster thing. I HAVE mentioned that I’m uncool, right?

Our protagonist is Charlie, and he is a freshman in high school. He’s brilliant, but awkward. Two seniors take him under their wing and introduce him to all that high school has to offer angst ridden teenagers (sex, drugs, and rock and roll, obviously.) Charlie’s English teacher also takes a particular interest in him and supplies him with a series of novels that shape his world view. This book was billed as a modern day Catcher In The Rye and it lives up to this when Charlie breaks down and is admitted to a mental hospital at the end. It’s not all bad news though- Charlie seems to be making a steady recovery and we leave him hopeful for the coming school year.

I’m not sure if I would love this book so much if I were to read it today without having my nostalgic connection to it. I mean, it’s good, but I think what makes it so special to me is the time it invokes. Despite all my brooding, I too had moments of feeling “infinite.” Picking up this book is like listening to Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York” for me- it takes me right back to that point in time (in the case of that album, it takes me to my BFF’s bedroom above the garage of her parents’ new house in Maryland. We haven’t lived in the same state since we were 14, but we are so awesome that it doesn’t matter.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been made into a movie that is due to be released later this year. I hear Emma Watson is playing a starring role (is there anything Hermione CAN’T do?!) Obviously, as it has not yet been released I can’t review the movie, but I’m going to go ahead and say that the book is better. Even with Emma Watson (although I am VERY curious to hear your American accent, Emma dear.)

Bookworms, do you have a nostalgia book? What did you love during your awkward teen years?

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Sep 10

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan

Asia, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction, Women's Studies 10

I promised you we’d “travel,” didn’t I, Bookworms? Let’s got to China! Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See takes us on an adventure though 19th Century China. More historical fiction, I know, but this is in CHINA, y’all! Totally new perspective.

Our heroine Lily is paired up in an “old sames” relationship with another young girl named Snow Flower. Because women were kept in near total seclusion at this point in history (at least women with any social standing) they didn’t exactly get to go out and meet people. Being in “old sames” was sort of like having a matchmaker find you a BFF. Then you and your BFF would exchange notes via your matchmaker on a fan using a secret phonetic form of women’s writing. (You remember having code names in your middle school notebooks for the boys you liked? It’s kind of like that, but it allowed you to actually communicate with other women without censorship, which is pretty cool.) Being “old sames” Lily and Snow Flower were destined to begin their foot binding at the same time.

Oh yeah. Foot binding. In graphic detail. Before I read this book, I really had no idea what foot binding entailed. I imagined ace-bandages wrapped tightly around the foot in an attempt to keep it small. There was no “attempting” in foot binding. They would essentially force young girls’ feet to fold over on themselves. Then the bones would break and they’d heal in a grotesque distorted version of a foot. Assuming you didn’t die of blood poisoning before the healing could take place, of course. The women were then doomed to wobble around on these “golden lilies” for the rest of their lives. Learning the truth about foot binding is reason enough to read this book.

The problem was, the foot binding was culturally NECESSARY. If your feet weren’t bound, you had virtually no prospects for marriage, and marriage was by FAR the most appealing life option for a Chinese woman at this point in time. It was like, all the dudes in China had a foot fetish. For real. Only the men would only see the feet while perfumed and wrapped in slippers, because naked deformed feet are stinky and unattractive. (Since we’re on the subject of feet, I think it’s worthwhile to mention that my feet are quite lovely. My toes go in perfect descending order, and although I’ve heard that having a long second toe is a sign of intelligence, I’m content to embrace my toes for their esthetics.)

My feet are gorgeous. Perhaps my best physical feature.

Lily and Snow Flowers’ childhoods are spent preparing for their marriages. They spent their time embroidering slippers for their newly deformed feet, making clothes, creating gifts for their future mothers-in-law,  and writing each other letters via the fan. When their marriages do occur, the girls are separated- Lily to a life with a respectable family, and Snow Flower to a life with an abusive butcher. (Being a butcher was NOT a well respected occupation. It was seen as one of the lowliest ways to earn a living, but when your father is an opium addict who has squandered his fortune on drugs, you don’t exactly have the reputation or dowry to “marry up.”)

Anyway, the poor girls suffer a misunderstanding at the hands of the secret fan, they have a falling out, then they have a dramatic deathbed reunion. It’s all very touching, I promise.

I recommend Snow Flower and the Secret Fan to anyone who is interested in Chinese history, women’s history, or the gruesome spectacle that is foot binding. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll learn something!

I realize that as a modern American woman the idea of foot binding disgusts me, but it was the utmost form of beauty in China until a little over 100 years ago. What sort of beauty rituals do you Bookworms indulge in that may be considered barbaric by other cultures?

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Aug 21

Childhood: Be Grateful Yours Wasn't Like These

Coming of Age, Memoirs 19

“Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome.” That poignant quote is brought to you by the classic Sandra Bullock movie, Hope Floats (don’t judge me!) Personally, I think spending 70 years of one’s life obsessing over what occurred during the first 18 is counterproductive, but I didn’t spend my childhood like any of the following characters. If I had, I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune. To my psychiatrist. Whom I’d see 5 times a week, in addition to group sessions and a heavy medication load. In fact, I’m not sure how some of these people/characters survived- even bodily.

I was shamed into reading Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by a coworker. It’s not the first occasion I’ve been ashamed to admit some of the things I haven’t gotten around to reading, despite my dedication to the pastime. If you’re like me and have not read this book, it’s fiction and  centers on a poor girl named Francie Nolan as she grows up in Brooklyn. The family is poverty stricken, and saddled with an alcoholic, albeit well-meaning father figure. I’m partial to coming-of-age stories as a general rule, but this book has the added benefit for me of being set in the early 1900s. Historical perspective on child labor laws, tenement housing, and lack of creature comforts aside, I related to Francie. She was a bookworm, like I am, and she was bound and determined to finish school. (I still have frequent nightmares about missing classes and failing exams. I have issues.) The moral of this synopsis is: read this. You won’t be sorry. It’s not a classic people just pretend to like, they actually enjoy it. Thanks for the public ridicule, Erin!

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is another coming of age tale I read recently. Unlike Francie Nolan, Jeanette Walls is a real person, and she really lived through one of the most insane childhoods I’ve ever read about. I loved this book. Walls’ writing style was clear and easy to follow. She didn’t get overly sentimental or overly dramatic, which is quite impressive considering the subject matter. Her father was an abusive alcoholic, her mother was (armchair Freud here) mentally ill, and it’s an absolute marvel that they were never caught  by DCFS for child neglect and endangerment. Egads. Still, there are some funny moments out of the tragedy, and I like that Walls takes a well rounded approach to her parents. She’s not simply angry and ashamed of them, but she examines their faults and the life lessons they taught her in spite of themselves. It’s refreshing to hear the perspective of someone who lived a legitimately crappy childhood who managed to turn into a productive human being.

Speaking of crazy true life stories, I feel the need to mention Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. I may have been hyperbolic in describing The Glass Castle as the most effed up true life childhood story on record. That award might go to Augusten Burroughs for living though his own personal crazy town. First, I’ll say I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted to. It was touted as a David Sedaris-esque jaunt through a quirky life story, but it was much darker. (David Sedaris, you get your own post one of these days, because I adore you.) Burroughs is taken in by his therapist and god only knows how the therapist managed to keep his license for so long, because YIKES. Dilapidated housing, statutory rape, lack of formal schooling… All par for the course. The problem was that I had a hard time finding the humor in it. Memoirs can be hysterical or they can stray into bitter territory. I’m not sure I’d even call this one “bitter” per se, it’s just bizarre to the point where you can’t believe that it’s real. And yet, it is. Or at least, to my knowledge, Augusten Burroughs hasn’t suffered a James Frey style scandal of over dramatizing his memoir for the sake of sales, sensationalism, and manipulating Oprah. Oprah has done more for reading than… Well most celebrities. So shame on you James Frey! A Million Little Pieceisn’t nearly as shocking if you KNOW that scene about getting massive dental work done without painkillers is false. (Mom is a dental hygienist, she knew he was a fraud before Oprah did.)

So, I guess if you’re into childhood trauma, check these out? That sounds awful. How about this: “If you’re struggling with your own personal demons and unresolved issues, read these books! They’ll make you really grateful for your comparatively normal childhood! Also, for running water!” Seriously though, if you had a legitimately jacked up childhood, maybe skip these and avoid opening old wounds, k?

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