Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Me and Earl and The Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews was constantly checked out at the library. It took me about three weeks to finally get a call that the book had made its way to the hold shelf-- for me this time. I quickly realized why.
Book cover

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a wonderfully well-done story narrated by Greg Gaines, a senior in high school, whose mother forces him to start spending time with Rachel Kushner, who has just been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Greg knew Rachel from Hebrew school at a younger age, and had hurt her feelings when he had rejected her invitations to spend time together, saying his "foot was stuck in a toaster", or "I'm digesting an entire wombat right now". Now, Greg is forced to reconnect with Rachel and, without even realizing it, makes it his personal mission to cheer her up-- discussing the most ridiculous concepts and ideas with Rachel ranging from the thought that his parents won't buy him throw pillows for his room since they fear he will masturbate with them, to deciding a polar bear is a regretful animal since it eats all of its friends. The reader is hooked by Greg's outlandish thoughts and ideas and his underlying caring heart that he doesn't even realize he has.

Not only does the reader want to hear everything Greg has to say, but the other characters are developed just as well. His dad eats cuddlefish and kale chips, his sister is going through puberty and storms around the house, his mom periodically checks on him to make sure he's okay, which drives Greg insane, and his cat is named Cat Stevens and brings a few laughs himself. Earl, Greg's friend who comes from a rougher neighborhood than Greg and swears like a sailor, immediately hooks the reader since behind his dirty mouth is a huge heart that sees the all of the world's imperfections and beauties.

The characters in this story make it very genuine and believable. Also, Greg tells you from the start that he and Rachel do not fall in love, and that she dies. The reader is struck by how honest this is-- they do not elope into the sunset on a white horse; this book is too real for that. Greg also struggles with the fact that he doesn't feel like a great person throughout the story. He wonders if he really is a good friend because at times he doesn't want to see Rachel and doesn't really think he's making a difference in her life. He claims that he just wants to make her laugh because it's something he's become good at doing. His viewpoint of himself and his questions about his worth strike me as questions so many high schoolers wonder about themselves and those around them. This book leaves its reader thinking, "Okay, so I'm not the only one who does that sometimes! Good!".

About halfway through reading of this book, I decided to pick up the audiobook and film versions to see how they compared. The audiobook did a magical job of making the characters even more real and hilarious. I would definitely recommend it. The movie was also good, but very different from the book. I would say about half of the plot is altered, including some of the funnier, and at times vulgar, sections. Watching the movie, I was happy I had the background on each character that I did from the text, because some of these little back-stories and dialogues that really showed the characters' personalities were lacking from the film. However, the same ideas of friendship, differences, growth, and self-discovery were nicely presented in the movie. It is definitely worth a watch, as well, just with a less critical eye in regard to comparing it to the book.

Audio-book cover

Me & Earl & the Dying Girl (film) POSTER.jpg
Movie Cover

I would recommend this book to high schoolers. It is a little to vulgar at times (many references to drug use, alcohol. sex, and swearing) for middle schoolers (perhaps 8th grade would be okay). The ideas and themes about the cliques in high school, the various socio-economic situations of different students in a high-school, and the self-discovery through friendship, classes, and obstacles, would be perfect for this age group. At first I worried that the book may be too profane to hand to a high schooler, too, but I think students would appreciate its message and would connect with the story well since it is real and not  at all sugar-coated. After much back and forth, I decided I would certainly hand this book to a group of high schoolers for a book study. Also as a teacher, I would let the students analyze the film after reading the book, It brought up a lot of questions about writing style and development, in my opinion, and could lend itself well to a lesson surrounding author's

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is worth buying at the book store-- don't wait for it to be on the hold shelf, just go get it-- you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pick Me Up

Pick Me Up.. Stuff You Need To Know...
Pick Me Up book cover.gif
Pick Me Up, created by David Roberts and Jeremy Leslie, is a really wonderful book published by Dorling Kindersley, the same producer of the Eye Witness books. It is a modern-day encyclopedia formatted in a unique way. It is almost a stream of consciousness, helping it to serve the short attention spans of our current technology-driven generation. Its pages also hold bright visuals that the reader can feast their eyes upon as they browse through the array of pages. The catchy headlines like "Why Are We All Puppets?" and "Why Are We All So Obsessed with Celebrity Culture These Days?" grab the reader and pull them in. When I first picked this book up, I had the intention of reading one or two paragraphs and then moving onto the next thing-- before I knew it, an hour had passed and I had read about everything from relationships between males and their mothers, school structure in Japan, and why the potato is white. The 351 pages of this book are filled with everything from DNA to Democracy, Ancient China to Insects, and Rock Concerts to Teenagers. It is jam-packed with information and reminds me of a coffee-table book for kids that never runs out of new learning.

This book could be useful for teaching about specific topics or themes, for example the Ancient China unit could be used in a history lesson about Asia. This book also could serve to help engage readers who can tune out during silent reading. It offers so many opportunities to become interested and can hold almost anyone's attention. That being said, I would not recommend this book to anyone younger than about 10 years old (4th grade, maybe?). It is so packed with information that it would be overwhelming to a new reader, and covers some topics they might not even know exist, such a colonization, Nagasaki, and puberty. Although I wouldn't recommend this book to young readers, anyone over that age would be bound to love at least some part of this book. I think it might become an addition to my coffee table quite soon!

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is about a little girl named Willow Chance who is just entering middle school. The reader quickly realizes that Willow is a genius. She knows everything there is to know about medical conditions, every plant known to mankind, and all about current events. However, Willow knows nothing about being a middle-schooler. She is excited to start middle school, but upon being mistaken for the custodian on the first day, dressed in her gardener outfit, she quickly realizes she does not fit in. When Willow is sent to a social worker, Dell Duke, after a mix up on a test, she meets Mai and Quang-ha at Dell Duke’s office, who she eventually befriends.
Unfortunately, middle school is the least of Willow’s troubles. The reader knows as soon as they finish the first chapter that Willow’s parents die in a car crash. However, after the author introduces this idea, she backtracks to prior to the event. This transition was a bit confusing to me, initially—I couldn’t understand the timeline. The reader gets to know Willow’s family a little bit prior to the accident, so they are more invested when tragedy hits.  Willow is scooped up and saved by her new friends and her odd-ball social worker after her parents deaths. She has to rediscover herself and her hobbies.
I liked this story as a whole, however, it took me a long time to get fully interested. The story started off kind of slow for me, and Willow could be kind of frustrating at times.  However, the other characters really bring the story to life. They each have distinct personalities that the reader can’t help but like. They also understand and learn to love Willow for her whole self—smart, nerdy, and compassionate. The heart of the story lies in this friendship and new sense of family that develops.

I would recommend this story to a child who may struggle due to being very smart and standing out. I would not give this book to a child who was grieving. Although everyone grieves differently, I was surprised when I found very few similarities between myself and Willow Chance. Losing my mom five months ago, I have been going through the grieving process myself. I thought that I might be able to relate to this main character quite well, however, she rarely mentioned her parents at all. Willow was very focused on her situation and finding her new normal—two aspects of her situation that did seem realistic and releatable. She also felt very sad, which made great sense, however she didn’t mention her parents’ names, hobbies, memories at all. She mostly just seemed sad and quiet. I understand having these feelings and not wanting to think about hard times. Also, as I already mentioned, I know everyone grieves differently, but I could not relate to Willow’s experience very much at all. At times her reactions seemed unauthentic and distracted.   Since I struggled to make these connections as an adult, I really wonder how well a middle-schooler would relate. They could surprise me, of course, but I would be hesitant to hand a grieving teenager this book.

Overall, this story is heartfelt and about accepting everyone for who they are, despite their differences. All of the characters are extremely different with regard to their appearances, native language, hobbies and financial situations. The book has some laughs and cute moments. It left me crying at times, but smiling at others. Although it wasn’t my favorite book of all time, I did enjoy it.


Book Trailer provided on Youtube