Thursday, November 22, 2018

March Trilogy - John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell


I am not a usual reader of graphic novels (as I have probably revealed here before), but my son is - and in my attempt to understand his obsession, from time-to-time, I try to pick up one of my own.  March has received a lot of attention - and rightfully so.  It is the story of Congressmen John Lewis's experience as a critical part of the Civil Rights Movement.  While this is a story that most of us know on some level - I was blown away by how powerful seeing/reading it in this format was.  It's absolutely true that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think seeing the illustrations (like seeing actual photographs from the time) really brought home for me just how brave the people were who organized, marched, and literally put their lives on the line to fight for civil rights.  I took my son to the Comic Book Museum in San Francisco earlier this year - he wanted to see an exhibit on Raina Telgemeier - but there was also an exhibit there about March  - and how it came to be in graphic novel form - both in terms of getting the story told, and in the development of the illustrations.  It sparked wonderful conversation between me and my son, both for him to learn a bit about this important piece of our history, and in a shared appreciation for this storytelling form.

Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

I love a good multi-generational story - Pachinko is a perfect beach-read with a little more going on.  It's the story of Sunja who lives in Korea and comes from a poor family.  After finding herself unexpectedly pregnant (and unmarried), she marries a man willing to take her and her unborn child as his own - and moves to Japan.  The book follows the family through generations, as they struggle with poverty and racism in their new country.  For the most part I loved this book - the story is compelling and I cared about what was happening to the characters.  There were some parts of the book that seemed oddly out-of-place to me - scenes where complicated characters were presented as one-dimensional, or simply written off and forgotten.  Like many multi-generational novels that cover so much - I often found myself just wanting to know more about a given character- or to learn more backstory - but I always remind myself that books are like life in this way. There are so many people that come and go in your life, many with interesting backstories that you'll never learn - or perhaps you only get a glimpse when you really want more.  For me, this was exactly the kind of book I like to read while on vacation or on an airplane - when I have time to really get into it.  Not perfect, but one of my favorite reads of the year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Written in Verse

I've never been a huge fan of poetry - I don't find it that accessible when I read it to myself.  So, when there are popular books in verse, I tend to shy away from them.  But, here are a couple - which also happen to be YA (so maybe that's why I could sort of understand what was going on) that I recently enjoyed.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai: Set during the Vietnam War, this is the story of ten-year-old Ha, who lives in Saigon.  When her father disappears, she and her family (her mother and two older brothers) are forced to flee.  They end up in Alabama, where everything is foreign to Ha - the food, the smells, the language.  This story is absolutely beautiful in its language and imagery - in evoking the beauty of Vietnam, and the horrors and traveling unwillingly to a hostile country.  I read this book out loud to my son - and I think the power of the poetry was enhanced by speaking it rather than just reading it.  We had to stop a few times and reread stanzas just to talk about how incredible it was to be able to tell a story in such a form.  I was simply blown away by the brutality of this book.  The Bay Area Children's Theatre then did a production of this book - which I took all three of my children to - I wasn't sure how it would translate to the stage, though again hearing the words out loud brought so much more power to them.  This is an important story in terms of history- but also in terms of telling the story of relatively recent immigrants - how difficult it is to leave a country you love and where you feel you belong - and what means to give up everything to start all over in the United States.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander:  Someone recommended this book to my 7-year-old son, so I assumed that it was mostly just a book about basketball.  But, I wondered if he'd be able to get into the verse format, so I decided to read it for myself first.  I'm glad I did because while there is certainly a back-drop of basketball going on in this book - it's really about much more mature issues.  Twin brothers Josh and Jordan are phenomenal on the court - they play together just as you would expect twins to play together - as if they can read each other's minds. But as they are growing up - they begin to grow apart.  One brother has a girlfriend, while the other remains focused on his game.  And all the while they are also dealing with school, an aging father, and all the push and pull that comes with being a twin.  This is a wonderful coming-of -age story and the way in which the story is told help speed up and slow down the pace.  It almost felt as if the book had the pace and cadence of an actual basketball game.  I loved reading about all these typical family and sibling issues in this this really novel format.  I'm very eager to read Alexander's book Rebound - the prequel to Crossover which gives the background on Josh and Jordan's father. 

Young Adult (YA) Novel Round-Up

There's nothing like a quick YA read to make me feel accomplished - though of course often they also make me feel incredibly old.  But, this is the price I pay to get closer to my book-a-week reading goal for the year!

The Gaither Sisters Trilogy by Rita Williams-Garcia:  This trilogy, made up of  One Crazy SummerP.S. Be Eleven, and Gone Crazy in Alabama, is the coming of age story of Delphine and her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern.  In the summer of 1968, the Brooklyn-raised girls are sent out to Oakland, California to visit the mother who abandoned them when they were just little girls.  Once out there, their poet Black Panther mother doesn't seem much interested in them - and the girls, raised to keep their heads down and keep in their place, are suddenly forced into an environment where they are taught to speak up and recognize their own power.  In the later books, the girls return home to Brooklyn to deal with a lost uncle home from Vietnam, and later on to their grandmother's home place of Alabama - where they learn that being black in the South means something very different than back home in Brooklyn.  I absolutely loved these books.  I loved seeing these girls find their power and voices - and I appreciated the head-on manner this young adult series presented and challenged concepts of race and identity in the United States.  Hopefully required reading in all middle schools, I can't wait until my kids are old enough to appreciate and discuss these novels.

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson:  A co-worker left this book on my chair - mentioning that it was a fun creepy fast read.  I don't think this is anything I would have picked up on my own - but as long as you don't take it too seriously, it wasn't a bad form of entertainment.  When three teenage girls are found dead in a small town - the assumption is that they died by suicide. But the best friend of one of the girls knows better.  Mila, who has dabbled a bit in witchcraft, figures out a way to bring the girls back from the dead in an effort to learn how they really died - and to keep the town safe from any further murders.  As you might expect from a YA novel filled with teenage zombies - the dialogue is a bit too much to take at times - and obviously you have to lose yourself in the premise.  This reminded me a bit of the Sookie Stackhouse books in terms of the writing.  I wouldn't highly recommend it but nice for a quiet evening at home.

Wonder by R. J. PalacioI received so many recommendations for this book - from adults and young adults.  I appreciated the idea that it was helping younger students to learn and express empathy and perhaps to be more inclusive to students with differences.  For the most part, I enjoyed this book - I liked the way it was written and it tells a good story - albeit heartbreaking at times to read.  As most people know by now, Wonder tells the story of a boy (August) who is born with a facial difference - that causes other people to stare at him, and to often times be afraid of him.  As a result, he is ostracized, and there are even parents who do not want him at school because they believe he makes their children uncomfortable.  What is excessively emphasized throughout the book is how intelligent August is - far more intelligent than the average student at his school - which does go to prove the point that physical differences don't necessarily amount to intellectual differences.  But what if they do? This point was highlighted late in the book when August uses the r-word - as if to differentiate himself, or see himself as better than people who do suffer from intellectual disabilities.  While I found his use of the word perhaps realistic in his frustration and anger, it just didn't sit well overall with me since the use of the word was never addressed in the book.  And early on in a new school August is befriended by a student who is seen as somewhat popular in the school.  This helps him to acclimate somewhat to school and feel ok about everything - this seemed highly unrealistic to me - but perhaps it was the author's point to show the difference that once student could make.  To me the book was a bit overly-simplistic, BUT - as I say when I criticize books or movies by and about people of color - we have to start somewhere - and it seems like this book has gotten a lot of conversations started that are hopefully leading to more inclusion and acceptance. 


Angry Optimist by Jon Stewart:  Fans of The Daily Show who miss Stewart will probably enjoy this book - not because it contains anything that new or insightful but because it's just something about Stewart.  It's an easy-to-read telling of his rise to stardom from humble beginnings - the usual rags to riches story filled with incredible failure - where you marvel at how determined some individuals are to make their dreams come true - and also how overlooked obvious talent so often is.   Most of the book focuses on his time at the Daily Show - I'm not that interested in the inner workings of television - more interested in Stewart's own brand of humor and his own insights - which is probably why reading a biography of his life, was not as fulfilling as reading something actually written by Stewart himself.  But, it had some interesting tid-bits and was worth a quick read.

On the Move by Oliver Sacks:  I'm a big fan of Oliver Sacks - I first started reading his books in 2007 when I wanted background on neurological disorders.  He was a tremendous story-teller and made complicated brain science accessible and completely fascinating to the average person like myself.  On the Move is Sack's memoir - about his fast-paced life, his obsession with motorcycles, his drug addiction - it's a brilliant look into how the personality traits that makes someone so determined and successful can also lead dangerously close to their demise.  This book was published just shortly before Sack's death in August 2015 - reading it after his death was a nice way to learn more about about and hold on to his genius.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton:  At the beginning of this year, I decided to open myself up to a few "self-help" type memoirs - the type that talk about life reaching rock bottom, and then how people find the will to keep going on, to reinvent themselves, etc   I have no idea why - but I thought maybe I could gain some perspective and generally feel like - well, if these people can pick themselves up after so much loss/tragedy/etc, then surely I can find a way to be more positive about work and life in general!  Can't hurt.  I think I probably picked this one up because it was an Oprah Book Club Selection, and I have read Melton's blog Momastery once in awhile and thought it was pretty funny.  But, it turns out that sometimes a book about hitting rock bottom can be so incredibly depressing that it's hard to find the message in the end.  This one is about Melton's marriage (which takes on new meaning when you know that she has since gotten divorced and remarried), and the lengths so go to to forgive - even when it absolutely seems like there is no reason she should - and maybe that was my problem.  I felt like she was punishing herself and bending over backwards for someone who she just didn't seem to belong with - and I guess it turns out that was true.  I was ambivalent at best about this one.

Non-Fiction Round-Up

The Stranger in the Wood by Michael Finkel:  I am interested in the concept of hermits - the idea that there are people so introverted, or perhaps so disenchanted with the world, that they would choose to live separate and apart from it.  So this book's subtitle: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit called out to me as I wandered through a local bookstore.  Christopher Knight lived in the Maine wilderness, with almost no human interaction, for nearly thirty years before he was arrested for trespassing.  In the retelling of his story, it becomes clear that while Knight has lived apart from society, he has not lived independent of it.  In fact, he is heavily dependent on other hard-working individuals for his food and creature comforts - because over the decades he lived in the woods, he systematically stole from the communities in his nearby surroundings.  His presence created a sense of terror among the people he burglarized, and while he believed himself to be somehow better than the people living in the materialistic world he shunned, he absolutely could not have survived without them.  There is some interesting background in this book about the effects of solitary confinement and social isolation on most people, revelations about individuals who have purported to live hermetic lives, and a real attempt to understand the type of person who might choose this life (mental illness and ASPD both explored as contributing factors).  But ultimately, I mostly found the story of Christopher Knight irritating - and I questioned the integrity of the author himself, who had never truly been invited by Knight to tell his story.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish: I can always use a little more laughter in my life, so when comedians come out with memoirs, I usually don't hesitate to pick them up.  I'm actually not familiar with Tiffany Haddish as an actress.  I've heard she's quite funny, but I just haven't watched many shows or movies recently, so I wasn't familiar with her work.  But, I decided to read her book anyway.  From the get go it's obvious that this woman's success certainly has not been handed to her - she tells both heartbreaking and hilarious stories about her childhood and difficult rise to stardom.  While some of her humor crossed the line a bit for me - I do think that anyone who knows they enjoy her genre of humor would appreciate this book - and be incredibly impressed by what she has survived, overcome, and embraced in her life.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari:  Ugh.  I hate when you find out stuff you don't want to know about famous people you like (or any people for that matter).  I think Aziz Ansari is hilarious - but after what came out about him  in the wake of the #metoo movement, it's hard to view him in the same light.  Modern Romance is Ansari's witty observations about dating life in the modern world - much of which I feel like I'd seen as part of his stand-up or other late-night show appearances. For any Ansari fan, I'd recommend this book - it has some clever lines and I laughed out loud at times- but given the circumstances, I am disappointed and don't feel right (right or wrong) recommending this to anyone.

Clock Dance - Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler rarely disappoints - she's one of those writers who always seems to have a new book out.  So, when I experienced a reading drought over the past couple months, I thought Clock Dance might be just the book to get me out of it (the cactus on the front was the perfect symbol for my drought!).  Clock Dance has many of my favorite elements in a story - it's about a woman, takes place over time, and focus on her relationships - to her husbands, to her children, and to others around her - in attempt to find her way.  Willa Drake, the main character, does not have much to commend her.  She seems like the type who goes along to get along - puts up with irritating men, and allows her children to disrespect her.  So when faced with the opportunity to develop a meaningful connection with someone who actually needs her, despite making no logical sense, she finally takes a chance - for herself.  The unfolding of this story is painful at times, but also hopeful - filled with what ifs as Willa is forced to discover how much power she has to undo the terrible decisions she has fallen into over the years and finally make the happy life for her that she deserves.

Fiction: A few stories about family

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal:  A co-worker recommended this one to me, and I'm so glad - it turned out to be one of my favorite books in awhile.  Eva Thorvald has always been a little different - as a kid bullied and on the outs with her peers, she becomes obsessed with hot peppers, and seems to have a knack for cooking.  There's a little mystery that goes along with her talent, but eventually, her pop-up restaurant becomes one of the hottest tickets in the country.  Along the way, this is a story about family and loss, and a lot about food.  A little fanciful at times, but very enjoyable.

The Heirs by Susa Rieger:  This book is a reminder to me that I always mean to keep better track of where I get my recommendations, so I can go back to the good sources.  This was another solid novel about family and the secrets that threaten to destroy them.  When a wealthy husband and father to five boys passes away, he leaves behind his fortune - and perhaps a mistress and a couple extra children.  This book follows the family as they each cope in their own way with their memories of their father, and the acknowledgement that he possibly was not who they actually thought he was.  I feel like this basic plot has been done over and over, but I appreciated the writing style of The Heirs, and I'm always one for a little dysfunctional family drama.

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford:  It's hard to imagine that the follow-up to Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet could be anything but a disappointment.  After all, can lightening really strike twice?  So, I approached this novel with a mixture of excitement and a little trepidation - I really wanted to love it, but would have been so sad if I didn't.  Turns out, all my worry was for nothing.  Songs of Willow Frost tells the story of Willam Eng, orphaned as a young child, who becomes convinced that a famous actress is actually his long-lost mother.  William and a friend escape the orphanage, full of hope, on a quest to discover the truth behind the famous Willow Frost.  As the storytelling balances between the Great Depression and the 1920s, I was full of anxiety - hoping for William to find the mother he'd always wanted, and worried that he would find nothing.  A beautiful story of loss and home, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

An Old Favorite

Like so many people, I have fond memories of Ramona from my elementary school days.  I remember feeling a kinship with Ramona who always tries so hard, but never manages to do anything quite right - and of course, Beezus, her perfect sister who was always there to remind Ramona of how far she still had to go.  A few months ago, I started reading the series out loud to my five-year-old twin girls.  They immediately identified with Ramona, while I found in my old age that I had a little more sympathy for Beezus's exasperation over all of Ramona's antics!  But, as the series progressed, I grew to love Ramona again.  Cleary is just a master at capturing what it feels like to be a kid - to feel at times like the world is against you, and all the small things that can cause a world of anxiety - and in the next moment to feel so contented with a good friend, a sympathetic parent, or an understanding teacher.  We worked our way through the whole series with the girls asking for "just one more chapter!" each night.  It's safe to say that these classics withstand the test of time!

  • Beezus & Ramona
  • Ramona the Pest
  • Ramona the Brave
  • Ramona and Her Father
  • Ramona and Her Mother
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8
  • Ramona Forever
  • Ramona's World

Monday, August 20, 2018

Children's Book Pick of the Week!

The Lemon Sisters by Andrea Cheng - lately my girls have been starting to pick out their own simple chapter books and graphic novels to read on their own, and  I keep choosing the chapter books to read to them before bedtime.  For a few months, I've really overlooked just picking out books at random from the children's picture book collection at the library.  So, last week I sat down in front of the A-C section and picked out 10 books that just looked good.  Then we sat down and read them - and it was a wonderful reminder that even as the kids get older, they still appreciate a good little story with wonderful illustrations.  I absolutely LOVED this book.  It's the story of an elderly woman who lives alone in her house - one winter morning she looks out her window and sees three sisters playing in the snow.  They remind her of her childhood days with her own two sisters.  As the little girls play, the older woman reminisces.  I teared up a bit at the end!  This is a beautiful story about siblings, the joy of childhood, and the challenges of growing older - but also the happiness in sharing memories.  I also appreciate any story where young children and older people learn lessons from each other.  We happened to read this on a summer day, but I think I'll be borrowing it again once the weather starts turning a bit colder.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Very Good Lives: J.K. Rowling

This is Rowling's 2008 Harvard Commencement address published in book form - with colorful illustrations of inspiring quotes.  The main themes of her speech are the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination - both topics one would assume she knows a great deal about.  I might have edited this down a bit, but she does have some beautiful language - and humorous points.  I appreciated learning about her time working for Amnesty International, and the impact that had on her view of the world.  I also appreciated her articulation of the obvious message to a group of Harvard graduates - that with great privilege comes great responsibility - not to go out there and become famous or wealthy, but to lead a good life - one that lifts others and recognizes each of our role's in diminishing human suffering.  I read this on the bus during my commute in to work - not sure it warranted it's own separate book, but a worthwhile quick read.

Crazy Rich Asian Series - Kevin Kwan


I've read countless books by and about Asians/Asian-Americans.  My favorites are the ones that talk about multi-generations of families - families that travel between and within countries.  Usually, the books are about pretty traditional families - Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, and Lisa See are among my favorites.  So, imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this series - about multi-generations of  Asian families - and they travel between and within countries.  But these are not the stories of poor immigrants fleeing their native lands in poverty, and enduring endless tragedy.  These are the wealthy elite who travel by private jet for weekends in Paris to by $100,000 handbags.   This series is so fun and fantastic - I can't wait for the movie version to come out.  It's almost impossible to describe - but this is the perfect indulgent by-the-pool imagining what you would do if you had all the money in the world and no limits.  

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A couple books with a little magic

Exit West by Moshin Hamid:  I've been a fan of Moshin Hamid since I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist a few years back.  And then when Exit West showed up on President Obama's Best of 2017 list, I had to run out and read it.  This book takes place in an unidentified county on the brink of civil war.  An independent Nadia - who is estranged from her family because of her unorthodox decision to live on her own - enters into a relationship with Saeed, a more traditional man who lives with his parents.  As the violence in their town increases, the two agree to escape - though strange doors that have appeared through the city.  The doors take people to new countries - where they are faced with possibilities, but also the fear inherent in leaving behind the familiar.  Nadia and Saeed find themselves navigating new situations and lives - while also working through their relatively young relationship.  As usual, Hamid's writing is beautiful - this is a book I'd recommend trying to read in long sittings to become immersed in the escapist fantasy/fears. 

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani:  I don't tend to read many graphic novels - but my son is very into them, so I have slowly been checking a few out.  I read the Persepolis series awhile back, and this one appealed to me in a similar way.  Pashmina is the story of Priyanika - a fairly typical American child growing up with a single parent.  Her mother is from India, and as Priyanka finds herself more and more interested in visiting India, her mother seems determined to prevent Priyanka from obtaining answers to any of her questions.  One day, Priyanka discovers a pashmina in her mother's closet that seems to transport her to India.  She finds herself increasingly obsessed with wearing the pashmina and finding out the answers to all of her burning questions about her past.  This is a wonderful story about relationships between mothers and daughters, the secrets we keep, and all of our needs to learn about the past in order to figure out who we are. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Just a couple memoirs...

Memoirs are all over the place - from people who have lived full lives to others who just want to write about a specific incident in their possibly still young lives.  I never think that I would have much to write about if I sat down and tried to tell someone about my life - but then I read some of these books and I think, well, perhaps everyone does have a story to tell.  Some more insightful or inspiring or instructive or interesting than others.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthini:  This book been sitting in my bedside table for quite awhile and I haven't been able to bring myself to read it. It just seemed too sad - since it's been all over the news that it was written by and about a young successful doctor at Stanford who dies of cancer. But, it's been recommended by so many people that I decided to make this my first read of 2018. Kalanithi is a beautiful writer - this book is short and can be read quickly, but I found myself reading slowly (and with my breath held), both because I wanted to savor the prose, but probably also because I knew what was coming. The book recounts his love of literature, and how he came to be a doctor - the grueling hours he put in, and the constant thinking he did about the meaning of life, even amidst so much pain and trauma. Even knowing what was going to happen, I couldn't stop myself from crying at the end. The thought of losing a spouse or a child or a father is so tragic - but there was also an incredibly peace that came from Kalanithi's words. My understanding is that Kalanithi's spouse, Lucy, is now in a relationship with a man who lost his own wife to cancer (her memoir was also published posthumously: The Bright Hour). I find the idea of making and finding that connection quite comforting. Facing the same fate, I don't think I would have made the same decisions as Kalanithi in terms of work and family, but that's obviously impossible to know - and reading this book (as probably with any book about someone dying far too early), I think it's made me rethink some choices, and certainly reevaluate my general outlook on life - and I suppose that's a good thing, especially as a way to start out a new year.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: Given my line of work as a capital habeas attorney, I am interested in most books having to do with the mess of our criminal justice system, and anyone who is attempting to tackle this huge problem.  Bryan Stevenson is well known in the world in which I work - as a crusader and tireless advocate.  So, I pre-ordered his memoir when it came out, and read it in just over a day.  It's well-written and easy to read - Stevenson tells the story of his upbringing and career, interspersed with the stories of a couple of his clients - clients whose cases best illustrate the problems he is trying to address in his representations - problems with racism at every stage of our system - and the effects that this racism has had, not just on individuals, but on entire communities.  At the end of this - I cried - mostly as a result of Stevenson's beautiful writing, and the way he was able to articulate so many of the feelings that I have had doing this work.  But, I still wished there had been more about his own life in the book - it didn't seem like much of a memoir to me.  There were certainly some tid-bits of his life, and his opinions about the system - maybe something that wouldn't have been as well-received had the book been billed as non-fiction simply about the work.  But, I found myself wanting to know more about how he lives, how he balances, how he gets up in the morning - and then I thought, well maybe someone who has made this huge of an impact doesn't really get to have much of a life.  He has dedicated everything - to the point that the work really is his life.  It is admirable, but is it healthy?  Does that matter?  Are we, as a society, dependent on having people - in all kinds of professions that benefit the greater good - who don't need/want/realize they need or want that kind of balance?  This is an important book that I wish everyone would read - particularly people who don't otherwise think much about our criminal justice system.  I think Stevenson has a kind and brilliant perspective to share - and maybe if each one of us does something, it wouldn't fall on just a few to do everything.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Few Quick Fiction Reads

Over the past couple years, I have fallen behind on my book reviews.  Luckily, I keep track of what I've read on Goodreads.  At present, I appear to have about 80 books that I have read, but not yet reviewed.  I have also set my reading goal for 2018 at a book a week.  So, it looks like I better get blogging if I want to clear out the backlog!  So with that, here are a few (shorter than usual) reviews of some books I've read in the not-too-distant-past!

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: I haven't read many graphic novels in my time, but at the beginning of last year, my 6-year-old son started to get really into them.  So while he read ones aimed at kids, I decided to try a few geared more toward adults (or older kids in this case).  I picked up American Born Chinese at the library - it's about a young Chinese-American kid growing up in a community surrounded by white people.  It's also about the Chinese fable of the powerful Monkey King.  The book flips between the stories, and tells the painful, but all too common tale, of those who are different trying to fit-in, questioning their identities, and ultimately (hopefully) discovering what's really important.  I'm still at the point where I'd rather read this story in prose - but I appreciated the exercise of reading in this way - not just with words, but incorporating everything going on in the illustrations.  My goal in 2018 is to read a few more of these graphic novels.  Maybe even a couple of the series that my son enjoys!

Elanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: I'm generally a big fan of YA literature- I loved it when I was a YA myself, and I like getting recommendations from current YAs.  It's great to know that they're out there discovering a love of reading - but I also think that when I read what they like, maybe it gives me a little window into understanding them a bit better.  That being said, the older I get, the harder it is to read these YA books - I feel like "no one talks like that!" or "no one thinks like that!" But, of course, the truth is - we did all talk and think like that at one point in time.  Life is dramatic.  Love is dramatic.  Emotions are all over the place.  And, so with that background - I read Eleanor & Park, a quirky little story about first love between two sixteen-year-olds - and brings back that special feeling of being completely misunderstood, but then finally finding that person who seems to kind of understand. 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green:  I never read Green's incredibly popular book The Fault in Our Stars.  Given the subject matter, I didn't think I could handle it.  But, it was also a reminder that I need to read these books closer in time to when they come out, so that I haven't been "ruined" by movie trailers.  And so, I picked this one up, as soon as I made it through the very long queue at the library.  Turtles All the Way Down is the story of Aza, a 16-year-old girl who has lost her father and suffers from a debilitating anxiety disorder.  When the father of one of her old friends disappears, she re-ignites her friendship with him.  While reading this, I found Aza's discussions about her anxiety exhausting and repetitive.  But, as I was annoyed, I did realize that well, this is how people who suffer from anxiety actually feel - and my irritation was probably how many of her friends felt (as later described in the book), and what further leads people like her into self-doubt and social isolation.  So, while not enjoying the book, I also found myself feeling terrible for being annoyed by Aza's circumstance.  After finishing the novel, I went online to read reviews - I was looking both for reviews by teenagers, to see if they found the friendship/romance plot realistic (or even if unrealistic, if they "liked" the relationship), and I was also looking for reviews by people who suffer from anxiety to determine whether they found Aza to be a relatable realistic portrayal of their circumstance.  I found reviews from many teenagers who suffer from anxiety - and most of them seemed to love the book - and to find comfort in her character.  So, even though I did not enjoy this book, reading those reviews made me appreciate all the more.  So, kudos to Green for apparently accurately depicting the teenage condition once again, and for giving the kids what they want, and certainly need.