Review of The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Ascher and Carolyn Mackler

Josh and Emma are about to discover themselves—fifteen years in the future.

It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—at least, up until last November, when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since then, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook. but Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Josh and Emma are looking at themselves fifteen years in the future. Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of their future, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present. – from Wikipedia

I have to give this a slightly less than perfect score of 4 & 1/2 stars for a specific reason – Dave Matthews.

Look, if Josh is a skater, he’s not going to be into a girl who likes Dave Matthews. And no one in the 90s would make a mix tape of Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews, and Pearl Jam! That’s not even in the same category. The 90s were about breaking into new genres that was all “alternative,” but that wishy-washy, radio-friendly stuff was not good. 1996 had so much more to offer than that, for crying out loud! Smashing Pumpkins had released 1979 as a single, for instance, and Rage Against the Machine had Bulls on Parade. That will always outshine Dave Matthews, I don’t care if some preppy misogynist character like Cody Grainger tries to convince us that a bootleg copy of Crash Into Me has some amazing guitar work. No, just no. Not even close.

Granted, not everyone’s 90s experience or musical tastes are the same, but only middle of the road people at that time wouldn’t have a strong connection to a ground breaking band. I can’t like Emma because she likes Dave Matthews. A lot. It’s discussed way, way too much in the book. I’m guessing that one or both of the authors really, really like his music and may have never given Lollapalooza a try.

Plus, were we supposed to think that Emma was ironic or just plain boring for not liking Wayne’s World?

Some other reviewers said they didn’t like Emma being such a spoiled brat who didn’t change at all through the whole book. I quite agree. I didn’t hate her, but she didn’t seem good enough for Josh. The plot was predictable, but I still found it engaging. It took me a day & 1/2 to finish because it was easy to get in to. I think it speaks to a very certain age group. I graduated in 1994, so the book was pointing just past the Nirvana era. I think that’s why I was a bit critical of the stereotypical push to discuss the 90s with the over-use of Dave Matthew-isms. It seems less authentic than if they had been all over the shop with 90s references instead of sticking with the same, boring thing.

My other main criticism that I also agree with from Goodreads, is just how the idea was executed. Would two kids really be able to accept the technology so easily? Would 16 year old care about their future that much? They’d have to be less angsty, focused on school, then aim for their future college, life, etc. I mean, the book references Back to the Future, but Marty was dealing with saving Doc, his family, and the whole town. Most 16 year olds wouldn’t be that apt to plan out their future.

Unless they listen to Dave Matthews, I guess.

I liked Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt…, but I didn’t dig Jay Ascher’s Thirteen Reasons Why because of the back and forth switch in narrative. (I hear it’s easier to listen to on audiobook, so I’ll try that later.) But both authors are older than me, so I’m going to assume that they’re taking researched information on a 16 year old’s 1996 experience, and making it mild because it will connect to a wider audience.

All in all, I liked the book, but I didn’t feel really emotionally moved by it. It was a quick read, which makes it good in its own right. Great book, it just had some glaring problems that I couldn’t get past. I’d still recommend it to teen readers (then I’d hand them a decent 90s mix tape.) I also appreciate the fact that I bought the print version of this, just to feel old school.

And one last thing:

Marvin the Martian on a skateboard is from Clueless, if no one else noticed.


Friday Reads for 11 Jan 2013

My Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2013 is to read (at least) 30 books. I looked around my couch and made a list of 26 “to read” books that were either on my Kindle, Nook, or coffee table. Some of these are Friday Finds because I recently got them in ebook form from the library.

There are plenty of books I have stashed away that I can still get to but after making this list, I get the idea that I do not need to purchase any more books. Well, until I bump my challenge number to 40 or 50. I don’t think I’ll ever stop finding new books I want to read.

  1. Novel Writing – Marshall
  2. The Truth About Forever – Dessen
  3. Along for the Ride – Dessen
  4. Beautiful Creatures – Garcia and Stohl
  5. Reading like a Writer – Prose
  6. Liar and Spy – Stead
  7. The Diary of Anne Frank – Frank
  8. If I Stay – Foreman
  9. Eve – Carey
  10. Adoration of Jenna Fox – Pearson
  11. Cold Kiss – Garvey
  12. Hollowland – Hocking
  13. Must Love Dogs – Cook
  14. The Summer I Turned Pretty – Han
  15. The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald
  16. Bright Young Things – Godbersen
  17. Pretty Little Liars: Killer – Shepard
  18. Pretty Little Liars: Heartless – Shepard
  19. Burn for Burn – Han and Vivian
  20. Matched – Condie
  21. One Day – Nicholls
  22. The Secret Life of Bees – Kidd
  23. Glass – Hopkins
  24. Mockingjay – Collins
  25. All the Wrong Questions? – Snicket
  26. Divergent – Roth

Of course I also have classics to finish reading like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

Again, these are books that I can access right now. There are plenty of others on my “to read” list.

Review of “The Help”

“All I’m saying is, kindness don’t have no boundaries.”

Aibileen and Minny are two of the many African-American maids working in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s. Skeeter is a young white girl who wants to be a writer. When Skeeter hears that her friend wants to put in a separate toilet for her maid, she starts wondering how these maids feel about being treated this way. While it is extremely risky, the maids agree to tell Skeeter their story for a book that may be published. The problem is for Aibileen, Minny and the other maids – the consequences of their actions could be deadly.
I absolutely loved this book even though it took me so long to read it. Going through three main characters’ stories was time consuming but enjoyable just the same. I guess I didn’t want the book to end. There weren’t any dull parts or anything that wasn’t sincere about this book. The story was written in the best, most candid way a white female writer could have done. I appreciate Kathryn Stockett adding to the end of the book, her personal account, just as Skeeter did about Constantine. She addresses the criticism that comes from her writing from her perspective too:

What I am sure about it this: I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.

I think that is enough of an explanation to give the writer credit for trying to teach us something about our own human experience – and that is what makes for good literature. Reading for entertainment is fine but when you understand yourself and the world around you makes the experience that more impactful.
I’ve also heard someone say they hate narration written in dialogue, which makes me assume they don’t like many quality writers either. The big names such as Dickens, Twain, Hurston, and Faulkner write in dialect because it would be ineffective and unauthentic if they didn’t capture the voice of the characters. I’ve also heard that the book is funny which is true, in parts, but the overall tone of the book is so sad. But sad in a good way because you take something from that emotion – you feel for the characters, and, again, that’s what makes for a good book.
Anyway, I’ll have to watch the movie now and I did what I could to not think of the characters as the actresses I saw on the red carpet not long ago, but I assume the movie will be very good as well. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 76% which doesn’t mean much to me anymore since they gave Prometheus a 73% when it’s the biggest sci-fi film of the decade. But for students in class being able to compare and contrast with a novel like To Kill A Mockingbird would be a good idea for high school literature classes. It would especially be nice to tie in their history lessons on the Civil Rights Movement as well.

Review of “A Moveable Feast”

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Ernest Hemingway wrote of his time in Paris in the 1920s. This was a time of painters, writers and the Lost Generation between World War I and World War II. While Hemingway and his wife Hadley are poor at the time (as he claims in the memoir)  they enjoy good food and the kindness of others to get good books. Many of these creative minds are wonderful people personally, as Hemingway tells us of Ezra Pound, tiresome and unnerving as well. We get a look inside what these friends of his were really like in the way only Hemingway can do.
I wanted to re-read this after going through passages here and there over the years. The best part of Hemingway, to me, is his life. His style of writing is so interesting when he’s talking about himself and people he comes into contact with. His descriptions of physical features, conversations and the way he feels about these people is extraordinary. You don’t even have to know all of their works to get the idea of them as people who are intermingling in a play, of sorts, during this time in Paris.
For anyone who wants to read Hemingway in a quick and dirty way, I highly recommend this. I know some have been scarred by their high school assignment to read Old Man and the Sea but getting to know Hemingway is really rewarding. It’s all in his style that makes the reading so good. He doesn’t mess around with his readers – he tells you the story as straight as he can and it’s totally worth taking the time to read his short memoirs of Paris.
Best line of the whole book, when describing an Wyndham Lewis, “I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man…. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.” Only Hemingway can explain things like this, bless him.

Review of “Pride and Prejudice”

Elizabeth Bennett is one of five daughters whom her parents hope to marry off to rich husbands. Lizzy, being the quick witted, sensible one does not accept any proposal easily, nor does she think her sisters should either. Her encounters with Mr. Darcy prove him to be a mean, unlovable man but he shocks her with his proposal of marriage and subsequent good deeds to help her family. While her sisters are marrying left and right, Lizzy ponders her choice and realizes in the end that Mr. Darcy is not the horrible wretch he thought he was and she agrees to become the wealthy Mrs. Darcy.
I’ve glossed over a lot of the main points to this book because I had to get my head around the plot during this first attempt at reading Austen. I’m sure I’m not the first to complain that the language is so overbearing that it is hard to get into it at first. So I admit, I went to the summary on Spark Notes and prepped myself for each chapter before reading it myself. Me, being a big literary nerd, I loved that. It made me feel like I was back in college and actually challenging myself again.
While many readers would be totally put off by needing help getting the key elements in the story, I loved it. It made me re-think how I read. I had to concentrate and take in the whole world that Austen had created.  I opted for classical music to listen to so my wandering thoughts wouldn’t get in the way. I appreciated each scene on its own and felt as if I were in the scene that I had watched on the Colin Firth film version of the book. It made me a Jane Austen fan even though I have to re-read this to get past the plot and into appreciating her good writing.
There is plenty of study on with this novel and the discussion questions in the back of the book would help even me from a teaching/student perspective. However, unlike Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre the language is much more dense and it wouldn’t be a book you could just throw at anyone and expect them to get caught up in the story very easily.

Review of “The Wednesday Wars”

Schmidt, Gary D.  The Wednesday Wars.  Clarion, New York, 2007.  ISBN: 0618724834
Holling Hoodhood must stay in Mrs. Baker’s class in the year 1967.  The Vietnam War is going on and Mrs. Baker’s husband is a soldier there.  However, Holling doesn’t learn that, or that Mrs. Baker is an Olympiad, until later.  First he has to deal with Wednesdays when he stays in her class while the other kids go to Catechism or Hebrew school.  He is forced to clean chalkboards, clean the coat closet, then read Shakespeare.  Eventually he and Mrs. Baker form a bond but the Vietnam war still rages on.
Vardell states that, “Historical fiction definitely offers meaty content that has teachable value” (176).  There is plenty of historical reference for the 1960s that a student could gather from by using this book as a tool.  For a classroom lesson, I would read the book aloud and use any historical reference (Jesse Owen, Vietnam War, Mickey Mantle, etc.) and have students report back what information they learned about each subject.  This book is quite entertaining because it mixes unrealistic (the name Hoodhood and his fear of a teacher are my first notions of the absurd) but with the real theme of the Vietnam War. 
This book has won ALA’s Notable Books for Children award in 2008 as well as both Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book award and Best Books of the Year in 2007.  Booklist (June 1, 2007) gave this book a starred review by saying, “On Wednesday afternoons, while his Catholic and Jewish schoolmates attend religious instruction, Holling Hoodhood, the only Presbyterian in his seventh grade, is alone in the classroom with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, who Holling is convinced hates his guts. He feels more certain after Mrs. Baker assigns Shakespeare’s plays for Holling to discuss during their shared afternoons. Each month in Holling’s tumultuous seventh-grade year is a chapter in this quietly powerful coming-of-age novel set in suburban Long Island during the late ’60s. The slow start may deter some readers, and Mrs. Baker is too good to be true: she arranges a meeting between Holling and the New York Yankees, brokers a deal to save a student’s father’s architectural firm, and, after revealing her past as an Olympic runner, coaches Holling to the varsity cross-country team.”  It is definitely a book that has something that male readers could get into, especially with explanation of the historical references in the book.  I would also go as far as to suggest the class watches an episode of The Wonder Years, because it reminded me a lot of that television series.  I suggest Shooting the Moon as another comparable book if students are reading a novel in groups or choosing their own themes novel for a book report.

Review of “Catherine, called Birdy”

Cushman, Karen.  Catherine, called Birdy. Clarion, New York, 1994.  ISBN: 0395681863
Catherine is a “typical” girl living in 1200s England.  Her father wants to marry her off and her mother is teaching her to embroider cloth and act lady-like.  The story is told with a funny tone even though this girl is living in deplorable circumstances.  She is living with fleas, being “cracked” by her father, being sold off to “Shaggy Beard” and told to write an account of her life in order to become more mature.  Instead of hearing about princesses, as Cushman explains, this book is about the real life of a normal girl in medieval England.  Catherine has hopes and dreams to have a better life.  She is smart and talented but she has a kind heart towards animals.  Luckily, Shaggy Beard dies and she only has to marry his son, Stephen.
Vardell writes, “Cushman’s Newberry winning novel, The Midwife’s Apprentice…tells of a dirty, homeless girl in Medieval England who learns self-respect as well as midwifery in this short, excellent read aloud” (180).  This book is a bit more detailed to be a read-aloud I think, but the same premise is there.  By making this book show young readers (especially young female readers) there is an awareness of what kind of life young women had to endure.  I think readers will connect with the epistolary style.  Vardell states, “A well-written historical novel can give children a sense of participation in the past, a sense of continuity, of our place in the sweep of human destiny” (176).  This diary of a 13 year old girl really would give a reader a sense of participation in her world.
This book has won the Newberry Award  and the Golden Kite Award in 1994.  School Library Journal (June 1, 1994) reviews this book by saying, “This unusual book provides an insider’s look at the life of Birdy, 14, the daughter of a minor English nobleman. The year is 1290 and the vehicle for storytelling is the girl’s witty, irreverent diary. She looks with a clear and critical eye upon the world around her, telling of the people she knows and of the daily events in her small manor house. Much of Birdy’s energy is consumed by avoiding the various suitors her father chooses for her to marry. She sends them all packing with assorted ruses until she is almost wed to an older, unattractive man she refers to as Shaggy Beard. In the process of telling the routines of her young life, Birdy lays before readers a feast of details about medieval England. The book is rich with information about the food, dress, religious beliefs, manners, health, medical practices, and sanitary habits (or lack thereof) of the people of her day.”  I would love to see young female readers use one of Cushman’s books for a historical novel book report.  I know the local library keeps the Dear America series on the top shelf because many students come in looking for a required historical fiction novel for a report.  Carolyn Meyer’s books would be of interest to young readers also.  I think most students would like to tell the class all about the ways of life that children of such time periods lived.