Two August Girls

A Blog about reading and everything else.....

Monday, May 12, 2014

Counting by 7s

“It has been my experience that rewarding and heartbreaking often go hand in hand.”

“A genius shoots at something else no one can see and nails it."  This quote defines this book.  I had gotten this book a few months ago from scholastic based on the fact it was titled, "Counting by 7s".  Seven has always been my favorite number and it was an impulse buy for me.  None of my other colleagues or students had read it so I was shooting blind.  That is why the above quote is so meaningful to me; the book revealed itself to be absolute GENIUS.

Looking on Goodreads, I know I appear to be an easy reviewer. In fact, almost all books reviewed are 4-5 stars but this is also because anything that is not good, I stop reading.  I gave myself permission to do this , I now readonly  for pleasure.  
Counting by 7s starts out to be a book about a little girl who loses her parents tragically.  It is, in fact, so much more than that one event.  It is a hopeful tale that leaves you smiling at the end.

Willow Chance is the adopted daughter of parents she adores. She is also obsessed with the number 7, plants and diseases.  She is a genius and comes with all the awkward baggage of one who is bound by spending time learning about things as opposed to learning how to fit in to society.

Willow is all at once, unique, brilliant, and endearing.  As the book moves on, the story unfolds revealing beauty and flaws that are so realistic in a wonderful story that envelopes you from the first line. Additionally, Ms. Sloan writes her characters in such a way that you can both identify and truly see them as real people.  Her characters are three-dimensional!

Due to her brilliance and preoccupation with the specific things she views as important, she has never been a stellar student, so when she scores a 100 on a state test that no one has ever scored perfect on, in 17 minutes; she is viewed as a cheater.  As such, she is forced to engage in counseling sessions with Dell Dukes, a bumbling, overweight therapist who is not just incompetent; he is downright lackadaisical.

Right away Dell realizes she is brilliant and different, he has no “special category for her”.  However, he still so narcissistic he fails to figure out how to engage with her.  He does not even understand how to engage with others his own age.  As the book progresses, his experiences with Willow and those who come to be a part of her world change him. This change feels  real and important, not contrived or silly. “Every person has lots of ingredients to make them into what is always a one-of-a-kind creation.”

After the death of her parents: “A second can feel like forever if what follows is heartbreak.”  This sudden and tragic incident, with its unplanned and unforeseen circumstances, Dell is drawn into Willow's world along with Mai, and her dysfunctional angry brother, Quang- Ha who is also in counseling with Dell.

This book is very optimistic mainly due to Willow and  the strong women she meets in her life,; Mai and her Mother Patti:  “She is like me. Silent. I admire that in a person. The ability to keep your mouth shut is usually a sign of intelligence. Introspection requires you to think and analyze. It's hard to do that when you are blabbing away.” 

 Mai and Patti help her learn to grieve, accept and become a part of the world.  This happens while Willow in her own unique way helps  Dell, Mai, Patti, and her son Quang Ha, engage and interact with each other on a much deeper level.  “And just being there is ninety-nine percent of what matters when your world falls apart.”

This book is pure genius, my review cannot give it justice, too much happens in it  and for me to give you too much of the plot is to take that experience from your reading. “When you care about other people, it takes the spotlight off your own drama.”

Honestly, I could not put this book down, I read the first 225 pages in a little over an hour at a children’s softball game, stopping only to watch my daughter.  I then went home and finished it.  It is a magically woven tale.  Now I want to plant a garden, and  find myself seeing the number 7 in everything. I now sometimes see the number 7 as red; which is weird because it has always been a green number to me.

“And endings are always the beginnings of something else.”

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An interesting article on Agloe NY a real-life paper town

Paper towns By John Green 5*****

">“Peeing is like a good book in that it is very; very hard to stop once you start." John Green is a masterful writer who manages to capture the angst, and reality of adolescences. He writes as one who remembers all of the pains and triumphs of being a teen without the "outside looking in" feel that so many authors of this genre are encumbered by when writing. The focus of this novel is the Quentin "Q" an awkward but bright 18 year old senior in high school. He has always been a bit in awe and in love with his neighbor Margo. As in most cases, as we grow up the friends we had in elementary school and middle school become a thing of the past; this is what happens between Margo and Q. They remain neighbors, attend the same high school but reside in vastly different worlds. As youngsters they stumble upon a tragic "mystery" that affects them both in different ways. Margo becomes fearless and Q experiences more fears of many things. "I think maybe the reason I have spent most of my life being afraid is that I have been trying to prepare myself, to train my body for the real fear when it comes. But I am not prepared." While not friends, Margo, who has become very popular, ensures that Q and his "band geek" nerdy friends are not harassed by the high school elite. Margo and Q have gone years without exchanging nearly a word, until one night near the end of their senior year. Margo appears in Q's room and asks him to help her take care of some "stuff". Q is terrified of getting caught but drawn in by Margo; who he cannot tell no and embarks on what he believes is the most terrifying and best night of his life." And we are going to wrong some rights. The first shall be last; the last shall be first; the meek shall do some earth-inheriting. But before we can radically reshape the world, we need to shop." However, the next morning everything changes and Margo is gone. Q cannot move on and begins a journey that encompasses more than just miles of driving, but a self-discovery for all who travel with him. Q will never be the same but who he discovers is worth all the terror, fun, and sadness. This book is an incredible story of self-actualization and just plain fun. It makes us realize why we are still so impacted by our time in high school, in spite of the fact we only spend four short years there. High school leaves an indelible mark on us all and John Green's Paper Towns is an incredible journey! "The town was paper, but the memories were not. All the things I'd done here, all the love and pity and compassion and violence and spite, kept welling inside me. These whitewashed cinder block walls. My white walls. Margo’s white walls. We’d been captive in them or so long."

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Beacuse of Winn Dixie 5 ***** Great book for kids and adults

“There ain't no way you can hold onto something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.” Because of Winn Dixie is a wonderful read. I am reading it for about the 3rd time. I am actually using for my in class character/guidance lessons for grades 1-3. Yes, I know it is recommended for ages 9 and up but who would not relate to this book. The story centers around India "Opal", a 10 year old girl who lives with her father a preacher who has moved her to the fictional town of Naomi, Fl. Opal narrates the story and it is a delightful yet deep story of the importance of human interactions. Opal is very alone at the beginning of the story until she finds and rescues a dog, Winn Dixie, from the Winn Dixie (a southern supermarket chain). "..Just about everything that happened to me that summer, happened because of Winn Dixie." Opal's mother left her when she was three and she remembers nothing about her. She is a bright precocious but simply likable girl who begins to make friends and develop relationships in her new town. Her bond with Winn Dixie is just the beginning of the circle of friends she begins to weave around herself to help her cope with the loss of her mother and to create a sense of belonging. “I said, "you don't have any family and neither do I. I've got the preacher, of course. But I don't have a mama. I mean I have one, but I don't know where she is. She left when I was three years old. I can't hardly remember her. And I bet you don't remember your mama much either. So we're almost like orphans." Opal becomes friends with the elderly libririan, "We could be friends," I said to Miss Franny. "I mean you and me and Winn-Dixie, we could all be friends. ‘Miss Franny smiled even bigger. 'Why, that would be grand,' she said, 'just grand." Ms. Franny tells her stories and checks her out books; she also helps her understand that everyone misses someone and has experienced some loss in life. She teaches her that one can wallow in despair or create beauty out of it. 'I thought about my mama. Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth." She told her about her great grandfather, "Littmus W. Block figured the world was a sorry affair and that it had enough ugly things in it and what he was going to do was concentrate on putting something sweet in it." Opal discovers the rich and mothering type guidance in Gloria Dump, who talks to her and let her know that everyone has their own demons."You can't always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now." She learns in order to make friends and to become a better person she must step out of her comfort zone and interact with everyone even those who make her uncomfortable or angry. The Preacher and Otis are similar in many ways, both have a passion about something but they are both withdrawn and scared by their own experiences. Opal describes her father who she refers to as the preacher, "Sometimes he reminded me of a turtle, hiding inside its shell, in there thinking about things and not ever sticking his head out into the world." Otis runs the pet store and is quiet, afraid and terrified of interacting with others except by playing music for them. I love the simple yet complex nature of Otis."I ain't a dangerous man," Otis said, "if that's what you're thinking. I'm lonely. But I ain't dangerous." I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, the lyrical phrasing of the words, the simple depth of the characters makes you fall in love with them. This book begs to be read aloud and again and again.