Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why I am Glad My Kids Cried During The Fault in Our Stars

I took three teenagers to see The Fault in Our Stars, or TFIOS, last week.  I was not thrilled, but it was my soon-to-be thirteen-year-old daughter's greatest wish. Originally, it was just going to be the two of us - a girls' day, but we added my 16-year-old son and his girlfriend.  We ate at Chipotle first.  That was good.  So, TFIOS.  I read the book, of course, and was less than blown away.  I felt like I had missed something. It was a nice story, and I liked the characters for the most part.  They were a bit pretentious and know-it-all, but I think most of John Green's characters are like that.  John Green is kind of like that.  It's sad, and cancer sucks.  But, I was underwhelmed.  I think one of my English teacher friends summed it up well when she commented on my Goodreads review that teens have had such a small number of emotional experiences that a book like TFIOS really resonates with them and hits' em hard right in the heart.

While I was reading the book, and watching the movie, I couldn't help but take the parents' side. The movie doesn't really portray Hazel's mom the same as the book.  Laura Dern was pretty laid back and really let Shailene Woodley (or whatever her name is) do what she wanted to.  But the book mom was tough.  She loved her daughter and she was in charge of her.  Hazel is a teenager, after all, and teens shouldn't make some of the decisions they make.  I don't think any adult would argue with me on that.  I kept thinking, "Right on, Mom!  She shouldn't go to Amsterdam or spend all her time with that boy and not eat."  I am a mom.  I can't help but think like one and have empathy for other moms.

After we saw the movie (the sniffles were very loud throughout the theater), I kept thinking about why the teens were so sad.  And I remembered a couple of movies I saw as a teen and cried during.  A lot.  One was Lady Jane with Helena Bonham Carter.  It is about Lady Jane Grey who was Queen of England for about three days until her cousin Mary came back and Jane beheaded.  It was a love story too.  Cary Elwes plays her husband and they are sooo in love.  They both get their heads chopped off.  Perfectly romantic.  I sobbed watching that when I was a teen.  The other one was Stealing Home with Jodi Foster and Mark Harmon.  I went to see it with three of my friends and we couldn't stop crying on the way home.  That one was a little more than a love story; it was also a coming of age movie, and I think we all knew we were growing up.  What made me cry in those movies?  I was a hopeless romantic as a teen (really, I still am) and I had never had a boyfriend.  I couldn't imagine having someone to love and who loved me and then watching them die.  To teenage me, there could be nothing worse.

Fast forward to 42-year-old-me.  I've seen worse.  Life is hard, and full of losses.  Dads get cancer; moms get Alzheimers.  Children struggle and get made fun of and cry and get depressed.  Couples grow apart and separate, and the pain is like a knife in the heart.  It snows on Easter, and there's no money for Christmas.  The new position at work turns you into an outsider, and old friends become new enemies.  It's sad and sometimes bleak, and it often makes it hard to get up in the morning.  But it is life, and I wouldn't change a thing about the 42 years I've had so far. The bumps and bruises have only made me wiser, stronger and believe it or not, more hopeful.

I am glad my kids cried during The Fault In Their Stars because to me it means they haven't had to experience those really tough things in life yet.  They haven't lost my husband or me, and Christmas was still joyous. They have people in their lives who love them and care for them - family, extended family, friends, church family, teachers....the list goes on.  I know that they will eventually face darker challenges than the internet  going out, or losing the wrestling match, and even losing a grandparent.  That's okay.  It is part of life, and I hope I am teaching my kids that bumps and bruises hurt, but they happen and you can live through it.  With hope.  I'm saving their tears like ZuZu's petals...for a rainy day, to remind me that things can always be worse.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


When I Was One-and-Twenty

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

When I was sixteen, the world was absolute. I would always have the same friends. Nothing would ever be as important to me as going out with my friends TONIGHT (and no tomorrow is not the same, Mother, the world revolves around right now!) I would always love the same things, and feel the same way, and there was no point in telling me anything different. I understood the cosmos at 16; surely I had seen it all.

As I grew up, I experienced a lot - love, marriage, death, loss, birth, joy, angst, betrayal, humility. We all do, right? Experience equals learning and learning comes with growing. It's all a beautiful cyclical process, and while I certainly do not understand the cosmos at all, I do think that this process is part of what it all means. I am in my 40's now, and I know only one thing with absolute certainty: there is no such thing as certainty.

E.L. Lockhart's newest book We Were Liars is, in a way, about experience. It is also about being 15, and knowing the cosmos as we only can during our early years. It is about absolutes, and the knowledge that comes when absolutes are challenged and lost. It is a book for teens, but it is also a book for adults.

As Shakespeare said in King Lear, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.” It is important to bring Shakespeare and old man Lear into this because to me, this book was very much a retelling of King Lear: an aging King rules over a vast, wealthy kingdom. He has three daughters who all want his kingdom. They fight, there is death, and loss. Experience reveals what once was absolute is seldom ever certain. The liars are Cadence, Mirren, Johnny and Gat, all Sinclairs except for Gat. The Sinclairs are old money, and own their own island just off of Martha's Vineyard. Granddad has three daugthers, who are the mothers of Cadence, Mirren, and Johnny. Gat is an extra, an outsider, as un-WASPish as they come. Grandmother Sinclair dies; three daughters vie for their father's attention, his money, his favor. Tempers rage, jealousies emerge, tragedy ensues.

As a narrator, Cadence is unreliable, and emotional. I was initially put off by her dramatic voice, but I realized how true it was for a teenage girl whose ideas are absolute: She will always love Gat. Her family will always be the same. She will do whatever it takes. Half-way through the book, the story changes. At first we are living with the Sinclairs, lazing on the beaches, living in one of the four houses on the island, saying only what each should, and never what we feel. It is summer 15 for the Liars - a seemingly endless repetition of rituals for the four teens who have never known change.

Then, there is an accident. Cadence is unsure, forgetting what happened. She is sheltered by her mother, and for a year, does not return to the island for the summer. She suffers migraines, and sends emails to her beloved Liars, only to be ignored. Why won't they talk to her? How did Gat forget their love? What was the accident that left Cadence so alone and in pain?

In summer 17, she returns to the island. Everything is different. All is flux. The Liars stay in Cuddledown, one of the four houses; Aunt Carrie walks the beaches at night. Granddad's beautiful old Victorian is gone, replaced by a glass and metal house that is not a home. Slowly, truth comes back to Cadence as she remembers what happened during summer 15. The climax is a quiet storm, a flash of light that reveals to Cadence the darkness of her youthful existence. The end of the book is full of uncertainties, lacks absolutes, but promises growth, endurance and sunlight.

I was breathless from the climax to the ending of this sweetly cruel book. Experience changes us all, growth leads to wisdom. Just wait for it to come.

“The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.”
William Shakespeare, King Lear

Thursday, February 27, 2014


What?!  It has not been over a year since I last posted!  Seriously.  Let this post remind all how very much can change in a year.
1.  My children are all a year older.  In adolescence, a year is a long time.
2.  My beloved mother is  spreading joy safely supervised  in a dementia unit.
3.  My husband was unemployed, and now employed in a job he enjoys.
4.  There was a pony in my pool.
5.  We are experiencing the third snowiest winter on record.
6.  I got a new job.

Okay, so let's focus on #6.  I got a new job.  I loved my former job - K-12 school librarian/HS English teacher.  I was in that school district for 20 years. My children go to school there.  I loved the people I worked with and my students.  I loved buying books with other people's money.  But one day in September, an email came about a job opening for an institution I admired and had always kept in the back of my mind as a home for my retired self.  So, I applied.  And I got an interview. Then, I had a second interview.  I got the job. I am now an ILibrarian (the I stands for Integration) at INFOhio, Ohio's PreK-12 Digital Library.  I work from my home, and travel locally about 5-6 days a month.  I love it.  I miss my students and my friends at my former school, but I do not miss the new Ohio teacher evaluation system, the testing we piled on students, and the frustration of the testing and evaluation system combined.  I do not believe I am alone in saying that this was a small part of the reason why I left teaching after 20 years.

Did I mention I miss buying books?  I am still reviewing, but I feel an emptiness in the results.  I have seriously considered making lists to buy just for fun. I have not done it yet, but I have thought that maybe somewhere, someone needs a book-buying consultant on the side.  That could be me. I haven't visited Net Galley in a while, but I was prompted to do so in search of a sequel to M.D. Water's Archetype which I received through Penguin's First Read's program.  It was such a great read, but more importantly, when I shared it with some of my older student readers, they loved it.  We can't wait for the sequel - I am hoping I can track down an ARC or galley somewhere!

 In my quest for Protoype I found Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrel, a fictional book about a young, married couple's brief stay with the author Shirley Jackson.  I have greatly enjoyed Shirley Jackson's writing.  The Haunting of Hill House is near the top of my scariest-books-ever list.  I taught it to my sophomore English classes, and I love exploring with them the psychological terror and uncertainty that Hill House evokes.  That scene in the bedroom and the walk in the garden....brrrr.  Still gives me the shivers.  Whatever walks in Hill House walks alone, and so does whatever walks in the home of writer Shirley Jackson and her scholarly husband Stanley Edgar Hyman.  The troubled marriage of two larger-than-life characters and their old, creaky, well-lived in home provides the setting for the book.  It takes place a few years before Shirley's sudden death at the age of 48, and is told from the viewpoint of young Rose Nesmer, whose husband Fred has come to be a teaching associate at the college.  Rose can only be 18 or 19 years old, and is incredibly naive, but likable.  She is pregnant, and finds herself attached easily to Shirley's big personality and her unpredictable moods.  Over the course of about 8 months, Rose finds herself both loved and hated by Shirley, but through it all, she remains enamored of the author.

What is most frightening about this book for me is not the underlying question of  Shirley's involvement in the death of a young college girl.  Hyman was good at sleeping with his students, and Shirley's instability is largely hinted to be due to his infidelity.  There is plenty of suspense from this elephant in the book, but it was not this plot line that frightened me.  I was most afraid of how Rose changed while she lived in the Jackson-Hyman house.  She was a young bride whose own mother had left her, and Rose absorbed Shirley's energies, as well as the miasma of the house itself.  For me, the climax of the book was when Rose finally succumbed, much like Eleanor to Hill House, to the ghosts and horrors of her temporary home.  Rose became part of what was bad, ugly and wrong in the house and within two highly intelligent, dramatically charged and fatally entwined people.

The ending was full of irony and wisdom; Rose's transformation in the book is tangible, but not in a decrepit or stale way.  She has grown, as all humans do, through hardship and hurt.  Rose's character is very much a foil to the Ozymandias that was Shirley Jackson, broken and forgotten too soon.(Though really, Shirley's writing has certainly kept her alive!)  Instead of living in a haunted house, Rose moves on, and find where joy abides.  It was a thought-provoking, dark and eerie book.