Month: March 2011

31 Mar 2011

March 2011 Reading Round-up

Even though I have a week off for Spring Break, March is usually a fairly light reading month for me. Maybe because a week off from school means a week off from my syllabus? But heck, who am I kidding, I am having trouble even attending to my obligatory 2-novels-a-week quota.

Ah, well. Some months are lean, some have books of plenty, their reading cups runneth over, et cetera. Take it easy, Jessica, it will all get read, in time.

1. Alice in Charge by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I read my first Alice book in 5th grade, when Alice was a year ahead of me. Now, 10 years later, Alice is finally a Senior in high school, and Lester – her epically older, working on his Masters since I was in middle school, brother – just turned 24.

I am now the most epically old person alive.

Anyway, this year, Alice is going on (underplanned, heavily misguided) college visits, helping a friend report unsavory teacher-student relations, and investigating an undercover hate group that has targeted her friend, a refugee from Sudan.

But, most importantly, she’s pining over Patrick, who has started college a year early (what an idiot). Ah, sigh, Alice and Patrick, Patrick and Alice. Some things just don’t change in 10 years.

2. Real Live Boyfriends by E. Lockhart

I wrote about how much I enjoyed reading this book, but I didn’t go into much detail as to why.

Here’s the quick and dirty: E. Lockhart’s books, without fail, remind me of the sheer complexity of attempting to maintain a romantic relationship with another human being, the triumphs, the pain, the importance of keeping at it. They might be considered “romantic comedies,” but they never sell a single character or interaction short.

These books make me want to hug them. Like, actually hug.

3. Split by Swati Avasthi

Return of the Syllabus… but I really enjoyed this book. The novel begins with Jace knocking on the door of his older brother, who he hasn’t seen in a number of years and who isn’t expecting him for a visit, much less to move in and stay awhile. Christian is miffed, but he understands, since he ran away from the same home years before to escape the domestic abuse of their father… who is a District Judge. The story focuses on Jace adapting to a new life while trying to reach out to the mother he left behind, trying to relate to a similarly emotionally damaged brother, and dealing with a bit of a secret past that could come back to haunt him.

I found this to be one of those books that zips right along, the pages flying by for a few days and when you are done, you don’t feel floored (or prone to book-hugging) but just satisfied.

2010 Cybils Winner – Young Adult Fiction

4. The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

We read this book for class alongside Split, which turned this class period into a Domestic Abuse Extravaganza!! (These books are pretty much all super depressing this semester)

This time around, we have a crazy, occasionally violent mother. Nikki has three kids from two different fathers, and this novel is a letter written from the oldest (Matthew) to the youngest (Emmy). Matthew and his sister Callie have done a great job of keeping Emmy safe from Nikki’s crazy outbursts and drunken rages, but Matthew still secretly hopes that somebody – a Knight in Shining Armor – will show up and save them all, even though he’s not sure that Nikki is really “all that bad.” Matt and Callie see a strong, kindly stranger in their neighborhood and decide that he is the One, and they hunt him down and find his name and address. However, Nikki finds Murdoch first and seduces him, and when their romantic relationship fizzles, Nikki turns her rage towards him.

I’d read this book a few years ago and I definitely enjoyed the re-read, but unlike say, Split, the end of the book felt a little scrapped together, a little disconcerting. Well, the whole book was a bit disconcerting, but I didn’t close the novel feeling resolved – I left feeling a little lost, a little confused… and all the more glad that I have a pair of mentally balanced parents.

2006 National Book Award Finalist

5. Stolen by Lucy Christopher

I’ll say this first – this book has me all sorts of riled up, for a number of reasons.

I feel like I don’t want to spoil much, but I’m going to anyway. In chapter one, the narrator – Gemma – is drugged and abducted at the airport and flown against her will and her knowledge to the remote deserts of Australia where her captor has spent years building a little homestead for the two of them to live.

The novel has two storylines, then:

1) Gemma tries to escape

2) Gemma falls in love with her captor

The second story line bothered me, but it mostly bothered me because it was really obvious that the story line was SUPPOSED to bother me.

I don’t like feeling manipulated…

but I suppose it DID make me think, right? And also we talked about Colonialism in class – Stockholm Syndrome = the oppressors tricking the oppressed into wanting to be oppressed – which I thought was crazy-interesting.

So I’m torn.

2011 Printz Honor

6. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

It was a BPL miracle: this book was getting a lot of hype in the media/blogosphere, I went to put a hold on it, I WAS NUMBER FOUR IN LINE.

Anyway, last week when I was recovering from my terrible illness, I missed out on 12 hours of work on Thursday and thought I would go onto campus and do a little extra on Friday. But first, I had to walk to the library to drop off my overdues and pick up my holds.

The bags were really heavy, though, and I forgot my caffeine in my fridge, and walking a mile was a little exhausting. I did not make it to work on Friday – I made it back onto the couch and read through this book in the span of an afternoon.

I found the book to be not much at all like the media portrayed it – it wasn’t a parenting polemic, it was a memoir. It wasn’t a “This is How You Should Raise Your Kids,” this is “This is How I Raised My Kids and It Kind of Worked and Kind of Didn’t.”

The book revolves around her two daughter’s music lessons and skills – they are both highly advanced musicians because Ms. Chua lorded over their hours-a-day practicing and arranged for them the best lessons available – so I naturally handed this one off to my boyfriend.

However, I didn’t expect him to eat it up like he currently is…

more about THAT later…

29 Mar 2011

socially networked

Talking about teens and technology in a room full of library students is a trip.

Most of my classmates are in their mid-twenties, with a bit of distribution higher or lower, which means most of us have used computers since elementary school, the Internet since middle school, Facebook since college, et cetera. We are pretty digitally savvy/integrated although we aren’t quite as “digitally native” as the teen patrons we hope to someday serve.

By the way, if I hear or say the term “digital native” one. single. more. time, I am really going to shoot myself in the eye. Seriously.

Anyway, even though we are online-type people, we still, as a group, have quite a few hang-ups regarding teen use and Internet use in general.

  • It’s great that teens can find social communities online when their human communities fail them, but it can be dangerous….. if you’re not anorexic or suicidal when you first touch a computer, you probably will be before the end of the year, and what about their social skills? Are they just going to meet people and fall in love and get married on Second Life?!?! HOLY MOLEY!
  • The Internet makes things EASIER and FASTER and MORE FUN! But if you read Sparknotes, you might as well put your application in at McDonalds. And you’ll just never learn to write properly in a text message box and with all those windows open all the time distracting you from Deep Thinking, so kiss your English major dreams goodbye.
  • If you’re a teenager, you shouldn’t give your mom your Facebook password. That’s just stupid. But your parents and your school should have taught you “net safety” tips – don’t give out your address, take a hooker-picture in your bathroom mirror, send your boyfriend a naked text – so you can be a responsible Internet user. In other words – you can use technology, but NOT LIKE THAT!

What really got me thinking was our chats about Facebook. The class was open to the idea of Internet as an addiction, as if the existence of technology creates a need to use said technology that was not there before. On a personal level, I completely agree, and I constantly assess the way technology affects my life and my choices and whatever. I try to control the amount of time I spend on the fun Internet things, the number of subscriptions and memberships and tools I use and subscribe to.

But at what point does something “cool” become something “essential?”

The class example was Facebook. Most people in the room, I’m assuming, use Facebook socially. The conversation turned to the weirdness of teens having hundreds of friends on Facebook they didn’t know (“Why is that necessary?”), the weirdness of needing to check Facebook constantly (“I quit for a year, voluntarily, and I found other things to do”), the weirdness of people spreading information “inappropriately” through Facebook (“I found out my friend was PREGNANT! On FACEBOOK. WHAT THE HELL?!” “Somebody posted that they ate a SANDWICH? On FACEBOOK? WHAT THE HELL!?!”), and why do we all NEED to be online so much anyway? (“I barely use Facebook, gawd, you guys are all addicted).

And I started to balk.

So people are checking Facebook too much, and people are putting more and more information out there and the rules of “conduct” for spreading information online is changing.

How can you ask people – especially – teens to “opt out” of technology because you think the whole thing is WEIRD and OBSESSIVE?

Like I said, I’ve thought about this in my own life, about whether I’m “addicted” to checking my email and my Facebook.

And yeah, I probably am addicted to the process, to the clicking and the reading and the feeding boredom perpetually without pausing to think.

But there’s nothing about FACEBOOK itself that is inherently bad.

It’s just the place where my friends are, the place where people “hang out” on the Internet, the place where we exchange information – important and not. I feel connected to my friends and family that live far away by reading a stupid status telling me they are tired because they had to work late, and they feel connected to me. If I didn’t have Facebook chat, I wouldn’t be able to talk to one of my best friends who is stationed overseas, or see pictures of her new baby. If a friend from college was visiting or moving to Boston, I would have no idea, we wouldn’t meet up for lunch or a cup of coffee even though I would probably like to.

If I decided to go the Puritanical route and give up Facebook for good, it would be like closing my bedroom door to the weird community of people in my life, past and present.

Facebook isn’t just a random url, a time-suck, a dirty habit.

It’s a tool.

Well played, Mark Zuckerberg.

28 Mar 2011

twenty-something success

The hardest part about being in my twenties is trying to figure out if I’m doing things right.

I mean, it’s pretty clear when I’m doing things wrong. Usually, failing-at-life is accompanied by some kind of daily dread, a feeling of imbalance, self-doubt, stress, and other objective measures of things-are-just-not-right.

See: last semester.

But it gets confusing when I start feeling good about myself only to realize I’m REALLY not paying attention to all the balls in the air.

Case in point:

This semester, I am doing a REALLY good job on…

  • Not being such a basket case.I am not-so-stressed out all the time, I seem to have enough hours in the day to do most of the things I want/need to do, I have time for relaxing and playing with friends, I am not crying a lot, et cetera. Mood, on most days, is high.
  • Academics. I have caught a Good Grade Wave this semester. Part of the time, I’m thinking, “Damn, my professors are on crack this semester,” and part of the time I’m thinking, “Hey, Jessica, you are finally catching on here!”
  • Keeping the apartment from being completely filthy. My living quarters are still messy most days, but I don’t walk around feeling like a live in a hell-hole, so we’ll call it a win.
  • Keeping in touch with friends and family at home. Maybe because everyone just had babies, but I’m hearing from my friends with some regularity, which makes me happy. Maybe because my sister just got a job with a commute, but I talk to her a few times a week, and my mom.
  • Feeling on top of things at work. I’ve been at one job for almost 2 years now and the other for over 6 months. I feel comfortable and confident with my abilities and don’t ever dread showing up to make my 12/hour.

So I live most days feeling like a successful human being. I’m twenty-six now, isn’t it nice to feel so in control?

Until something happens – something small, something large – that reminds me that I’ve been too busy feeling great about myself to notice the balls that are dropping.

  • Fitness/Health. Remember that Holiday Weight? Still there. Remember that giant bag of barbecue chips you bought on Saturday? And the one you bought last Saturday? And all that cheese you keep throwing all over your eggs every morning? And running, whatever happened to that?
  • Money. Savings haven’t been great this year, we stopped putting extra $$ toward Lance’s loans for some reason, my personal spending coffers seem to always be running dry…. and don’t get me started on what happens next year with financial aid/potentially losing a job/living situation. I have a 300 dollar plane ticket on a credit card with no immediate 300 dollars to pay for it… that kind of thing keeps popping up.
  • Planning for the future. Speaking of which, what are we doing when, in a year, we are done in Boston? And do we have enough money to make whatever-it-is happen? And why haven’t I thought about that at all in the past six months?
  • Having some kind of meaningful chats with your boyfriend. Sure, we eat dinner together, but now that we aren’t Two People Trapped in a Tiny Apartment with nothing better to do than spill our guts, shouldn’t we be having some scheduled gut spilling? Or at least a date once in awhile?
  • Sleep. Remember when I used to go to bed by 10 and wake up refreshed without caffeine at 6? Yeaaaah, about that….
  • Immune System. I think you’ve heard enough about that lately.

I know that it’s impossible to juggle everything all the time. Most of the time, it’s nearly impossible to do anything other than Finish My Schoolwork, Show up to my Places of Employment, and Not Kill Myself or Anyone Else. And I know that, in a way, focusing on my academics is also a way of focusing on future plans (I need a degree so I can get a job), which will help the financial situation (Job = money!), and planning for the future.

But it’s still shocking to feel so on top of the heap in some ways

and then, when I least expect it,

so buried.

10 Mar 2011


I think I feel less old than I didlast year on this particular date.

Maybe because I’m, god help me, busy.

When you are busy, you don’t have time to sit around and think about how when your mother was your own age, she had a one-year-old baby named Jessica.

When you are busy, you don’t fret over your stupid gray roots – you have places to go, so you figure out where that magic place is to part your hair, and you get out the door.

When you are busy, you have the following to-do list:

  • Make onion dip
  • Shower
  • Get coffee
  • Return library books
  • Clean the litter box
  • Get a tiny bit of work done on your as-of-yet not started paper
  • Send back Netflix movie
  • Fancy lunch with fancy friends
  • Pick up more lime juice and confectioner’s sugar
  • Take out the trash
  • Once-over the apartment
  • Figure out how to make simple syrup without burning anything or anybody – see this failure
  • Figure out how to make a margarita that doesn’t taste like watery tequila
  • Entertain those friends you keep trying to tell yourself you don’t have, but YOU DO and they are coming over.

So there you have it. The secret to feeling young: don’t give yourself room to feel like an old granny.

Plus, you’d have to have children to be a granny.

And you had a dream last night that you were pregnant and also drinking a large glass of wine, telling your friends how you couldn’t possibly be actually pregnant, because you had the flattest stomach ever, even though the doctor DID do a blood test, and even if you were, isn’t that just one of those old wives tales? You can still have a large glass of wine every night with a flat-stomach fetus, right?

So let’s take it one step at a time.

Margaritas first,

then we’ll think about getting old.

09 Mar 2011

a trivial pursuit

Back in late August, before the semester started its steamroll over my weekly schedule, my boyfriend, myself, and our friend Geoff decided to spend a Sunday night playing pub trivia at a random bar.

We came in second place. We were excited, but I wasn’t surprised. I have a good memory for facts. I read a lot of entertainment news and celebrity gossip. I am, perhaps, genetically inclined to do well at games of trivia – my mother is a notoriously good Trivial Pursuit player.

I’m even a reigning Claude S. Larzelere Trivia Challenge Champion.

I used to watch Jeopardy every day with my dad.

I’m a nerd.

The semester got in the way and I don’t think we made it out to trivia again until just before Christmas, when I was done with school. This time, we decided to stay local and hit up our neighborhood hole-in-the-wall on a Tuesday night.

We were cocky.

We got schooled.

Sometime between then and now, trivia has become a weekly ritual. We adjust our schedules around scouting out our favorite corner table, we set aside cash to procure a few weekly PBRs. Then we started getting to trivia so early we didn’t have time to eat dinner first, so we started packing a weekly picnic dinner. We started inviting all of our friends, subbing team members in and out. We started training, playing Scene It and memorizing Oscar winners and state capitals and adding all of those “Man, I really should have seen this movie already” to our Netflix queue. We brainstorm team names with funny, quiz-related puns.

But despite all of our efforts, we still suck.

We lose every week.

And then we start to get grumpy about our inability to perform as a team, and start fighting with each other.

There are a lot of reasons why I think we suck at trivia.

Reason #1: The bar we first visited was in Kenmore Square – an area more likely to be visited by bar-hopping undergraduates than our little hood in JP. The questions are a lot harder, the competition fierce. We’ve talked about switching bars, go back to being the big fish in a small pond… but dammit, the small pond is two blocks from our apartment!! And we can bring in food!! And we have a corner table!! And it’s two blocks from our apartment!!

Reason #2: We have some noticeable trivia-deficiencies. Anything involving sports, history, or TV/movies beyond our generation? We falter.

Reason #3: There’s a bit of strategy involved in pub trivia – you have to wager different point values for each question – and we continuously miss the mark on our guesses. We bet our high values on answers we are certain are right (they aren’t), or save them up until the end and end up guessing right on our 1 and 3 point questions and then bombing the last two. This boils down to our group’s inability to communicate effectively. Somebody is always muttering the right answer and nobody listens, or somebody is dead certain on something that should have been doubted. We are maybe just not a good team.

It’s starting to wear on me. I, for one, am starting to enjoy having a little Tuesday night routine. I like feeling like I live in a sitcom, and I have a neighborhood joint where I can kick back on a weeknight and play a game while I have a few beers and eat a few slices of homemade pizza with the cheese stuck to the inside of a freezer bag we carried over from the apartment. But as the game rolls on, we are always just on the edge of winning or losing, my friends and I get edgy, and then, we lose. We lose, we lose, we lose. Everyone starts griping and snapping at each other and we are just big fat losers.

So maybe it’s just a losing game, trying to become Trivia Champions Of The World.

Or maybe we just need to go beat up on some little undergrads in Kenmore for awhile.

08 Mar 2011

pleasure reading

Grad school has been sucking away at my will to read.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Actually, grad school makes me want to read 40 hours a week; there are SO MANY books that I haven’t read that I simply need to, and SO MANY books coming out, every day, to keep up with.

But reading the Books I Should Read and keeping up with the Books That Everyone Is Talking About on top of reading the Books On My G.D. Syllabus,

kind of sucks away my will to read the Books I Used to Live For.

New books by Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, M.T. Anderson, Maureen Johnson, Megan McCafferty, Sarah Dessen, David Levithan, E. Lockhart… used to get me to Walden Books on my way to work, used to get me going to the gym to read, used to get me excited with my little release date calendars…

now, I can’t seem to scrounge up the money or energy to get myself to place an Amazon order.

But a few weeks ago, I found myself at one of those Borders that is being closed… and everything was 20% off.

And even though I didn’t think I would read it, I picked up the last book in E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series. I have the other three in hardback and wanted a complete set… even if the publishers had the audacity to CHANGE the cover-style on the last book. Jerks.

It sat on my desk, looking pretty for a few weeks, and then a grad school miracle happened:

I got a little ahead in my reading, and the other book I have to read was still waiting for me at some library.

I literally didn’t have any of the books I needed to read…. so I HAD to read something not on a syllabus.



Even though I am a failed children’s literature grad student who is seriously behind in her required reading, and hasn’t yet read Heidi or The Secret Garden or The Yearling or maybe not even Harriet the Spy

Even though I have dozens of Christmas and Birthday books lining my shelves, spines uncracked.

Even though I have sat through lectures maligning the literary attempts of the same authors I used to love so very much.

I still love this series.

I still love characters like Ruby Oliver.

I still love smart books about the intricacies of trying to relate to the opposite sex.

I still love writers like E. Lockhart.

I am super, super sad that this was the last book in the series.

And I’m glad I was able to pull my head out of my syllabus for a few days and remember this kind of pleasure.

07 Mar 2011

Whose foods?

So a few months ago, the news broke that the quirky Hispanic grocery store in my neighborhood was closing, and a Whole Foods was moving on in.

This announcement created quite a stir in the community and in Boston in general. Google “Whole Foods” and “Jamaica Plain,” and check out the maelstrom of articles on the topic. Basically, the announcement and the closing was quick, the history of the Hi-Lo was rich, and everybody’s getting livid. There have been town meetings, protests, interviews, and activism galore.

Being that this is all happening literally around the corner from my apartment, my friends and I have been talking about how we feel about the situation, and I don’t even know where to begin.

The crux of the debate is this: the area I live in is somewhat low-income friendly and home to a large percentage of Hispanic residents. The Hi-Lo was a full-service type grocery store that was well-known for being well-stocked with out-of-country brands and obscure produce, and for being pretty cheap. So not only is the “takeover” offensive to the local-business-friendly JP residents, it’s offensive to those who think that these Hispanic residents are valuable members of the community and should be able to feed themselves and their families in an affordable manner. Jamaica Plain has been “gentrifying” over the years, I suppose, but the people that live here care about maintaining a diverse community, and want to make sure people aren’t booted out of town just because JP is getting too trendy, or whatever.

I totally agree with all of that.

Which is why I feel so conflicted about liking the idea of a Whole Foods moving in next door.

It’s making me think a lot about business and capitalism and all of that jazz, which is not really my expertise or anything, but here are my thoughts about the whole mess:

  • I’m wondering about what it means to be a valuable voice in your community. When people ask me how I feel about the whole debate, my first instinct is “I have no idea, I shouldn’t really say anything because my opinion doesn’t matter because I’ve only lived here for a year and a half. I love living in JP, but I’m a grad student. My permanent address is still in Michigan, for crying out loud, and staying here and growing roots isn’t in the plans right now.” Just because I feel transient, does that mean I have to act transient? I have a feeling that it would take me years and years and years to feel at home ANYWHERE…. and it doesn’t seem right to feel like I have to shut up until then if I have something to say, or to wish that my community would advocate for the needs of people like myself as well as the needs of residents who have lived here longer.

Not that I do have something to say, it just made me think about what authority I even have in this situation.

  • That being said, I am worried about rents rising. I can barely afford my apartment as it is, and after navigating the Boston realty scene for the last two years, I can totally see a Whole Foods within walking distance leading to 100-200 dollar/month raises in rents. And I guess this is a big part of the opposition to the store – if there was a virtually-identical, Whole-Foods wannabe store that moved into the space, especially one that was independently/locally owned, it wouldn’t show up on the realty radar, and I think the community would have embraced it. Instead, this Big Name store is moving in – rents for apartments and the other businesses around the area will go up and in this economy, maybe people will have to leave. That’s sad and does seem pretty unnecessary.
  • I’m not really convinced, however, that Whole Foods deserves to be villainized here. The owners of the store decided to sell – I doubt Whole Foods came in with guns to their heads and demanded a lease-transfer. They probably had reasons to sell. I’ve read that the store management was past-retirement age and their kids wanted nothing to do with running the store, so maybe they were looking for a way out already. It’s possible that whatever money Whole Foods offered the owners far surpassed any profits the Hi-Lo would ever bring in for the owners and managers, but there was still a choice made, and one that wasn’t malicious, just economic.

Maybe it’s my Michigan roots showing, but I posted this story on my Facebook awhile ago and one my pals replied with something like “Um. People are getting up in arms because a store closed and another store moved in? They need to take a trip to Detroit and quit whining.”

  • Do the people who are now getting up in arms about the loss of the Hi-Lo even shop at the Hi-Lo themselves? I ask this question because although I feel affectionate toward my local grocer, I never did any of my major shopping there. To me, the Hi-Lo was always heavy on junk-food type packaged-goods, produce that I don’t know how to cook or eat, and meat (I’m a sort-of vegetarian). The Hi-Lo was reserved for individual items that fell off the grocery list; and for things like sugar, butter, and mozzarella cheese, I was always surprised at how high the prices were.

I know that I’m not the only, or the predominant voice here, and that many, many people did rely on the Hi-Lo for their weekly shopping needs. But I also wonder about the other people who live in my neighborhood – should we have all gone to the Hi-Lo even though we would rather shop elsewhere, just for solidarity? Or is this a case of capitalist, supply and demand, where we simply demanded something that we couldn’t find at the Hi-Lo?


So I’m conflicted. But at the end of the day, I do truck it out to the Brighton Whole Foods every week to do my grocery shopping. I am a poor graduate student who should probably not be spending so much money at the grocery store, but that’s the choice my boyfriend and I made. We used to shop at Stop & Shop, but I found the prices similar, the selection limited, and the quality of meat/vegetables/baked goods lacking. According to this suggested spending chart written by the USDA that assumes the USDA’s suggested level of nutrition, Lance and I fall between the Low and Moderate Plans, and manage to spend much of that at Whole Foods.

It’s possible, though, that I’m selfish enough not to care about all the hubub just because when I forget to buy cat food and it’s after nine p.m. and Lance isn’t around to drive me across town….

yeah, that will be nice.

02 Mar 2011

February 2011 Reading Round-up

All-syllabus, all the time.

At least I’m getting more reading done than I was last year at this time, what with The Semester of the Picturebook weighing me down. And I’m actually caught up with my reading to the point that I *gasp* picked up a JUST FOR FUN book yesterday! And I might have time to finish it! Yowza!

1. Trash by Andy Mulligan

This book is much more action-y than I usually like, but I did like this book. It has a strangely dystopian-feel, but maybe that’s because the kids in the book make a living digging through the trash of the rich and selling what they find. It seems hard to believe that kids like this really exist in the world, that communities like this exist, but they do. These kids get in and out of a fair amount of trouble when they find some trash they shouldn’t have, and they end up doing the whole Fighting Off the Evil Opressors! thing throughout the novel. Really engaging.

2. Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I love me a good addict memoir, but this fiction is just as good. Alex is in rehab, but he doesn’t remember why. Actually, he just doesn’t want to remember why, so he doesn’t. But if he wants to leave, wants to stay sober, wants to return to the real world, he has to work with his therapist, with his friends, and with himself to figure out what’s worth remembering from his past and what’s worth returning to.

3. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

I read this book when it first came out, a few years ago. I thought it was pretty good, whatever. Read it again, and suddenly, I felt like a big fat creep. This could be because I’m currently enrolled in a graduate program, that besides from being freaking AWESOME, it also requires that I think about what it means to be an adult who wants to read about teenagers, and the inherent creepiness about the whole process. ANYWAY, the book is about a 13-year-old kid who has affair with his 24-year-old social studies teacher. Five years later, he’s 18 and she’s being let out of jail on parole, and he’s finally forced to dredge up the past and figure out what exactly happened in seventh grade.

The difference between my two readings of the book? When I first read the book, I was 22. Now, I’m older than his teacher.

Insert squeamish faces and noises and feelings in the pit of your stomach.

4. Fell by M.E. Kerr

This was one of my favorite audiobooks as a kid. Yeah, I listened to a lot of Books on Tape while I played with my Legos… what’s it to you? Anyway, I’ve heard this story a lot, but I’ve only read it a couple times in print. This time around, I was surprised that there was a lot that my mind had inflated – I knew the story so well, I was sure of this EPIC nature of the book, that scenes went on longer, that the plot moved slower. Nope. This is a lean, fast read. It’s about a boy, Fell, whose girlfriend stands him up at Prom. Angry, he backs out of her driveway too fast and runs into her neighbor’s car, an accident that ends up changing his life when the neighbor offers to get him out of his struggling single-parent home and take a place at a prestigious boarding school under a false name. I also wrote a paper on this book…. which was probably not very well executed. Urgh.

5. Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

I brought this book home in the summer, thinking it looked like a nice literary, edgy read. I never got around to it… THANK GOODNESS. It popped up on my syllabus, and I first found it…. dense. A lot of description. It wouldn’t have been what I wanted to read over the summer…. and then, close to the end, it becomes completely horrifying. I don’t even want to get into it, but jaw-dropping, eye-covering, horror. 2007 Printz Honor.

6. Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

No offense intended to Mr. Myers…. but how can you write a book like Monster and then KEEP writing books about kids in prison? I can’t read a single book about a kid in prison without comparing it to Monstermuch less another book written by Walter Dean Myers.

So it was good, fine, yes. But no Monster. 2010 National Book Award Finalist.

7. Nothing by Janne Teller

Just when I thought I couldn’t be more horrified by a book (See: Surrender), more horrifying books come along!

This is one of those books that you’ll find yourself trying to explain to every person you meet. It starts off with a bunch of seventh graders, one of whom decides that life is meaningless, climbs up a tree, and proceeds to harass everyone that walks by, screaming at his former friends for continuing to live when there’s really nothing to live for. So the rest of the gang want to prove him wrong and shut him up: they start to gather a pile of things that have meaning, to show their friend. Only, the things they put on that pile…. oh my good Lord. This book was so disturbing, but I do feel I’ll have to read it again, someday, when I’m done being horrified. (And want to be re-horrified?). 2011 Printz Honor.

8. Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

No one in my class seemed to like this book, but I was quite fond of it. Punkzilla is a fourteen-year-old runaway who has gone AWOL from military school. He’s living a questionable, drug-laden, crime-driven lifestyle in Portland when he finds out his older brother – also estranged from their parents – is dying of cancer, so he sets off across the country to see him before he dies. The novel, however, is told in letters. Letters Punkzilla sends to his brother, which may or may not have been sent, while he’s on the road. Letters he’s received from his parents and family and friends. Letters that are non-chronological, unreliable, and hard to decipher. What really got me was the last letter – after an entire novel about this really troubled, confused kid, the last letter is an older one, sent right after he left military school: Punkzilla – or Jamie, which is his real name – used to be a totally normal, kid with normal-league problems. WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM IN PORTLAND? Gah! Also, I’m fairly certain this was edited by my internship supervisor at Candlewick. *smile* 2010 Printz Honor.

9. Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

I heard about this book a lot, but never actually read through it until it -duh- appeared on my syllabus. The premise: the narrator, Keir, has raped his friend Gigi. The rest of the book: him explaining himself. So based on that, I thought the novel would be pretty salacious, pretty ridiculous, pretty over the top, whatever. But it wasn’t. I was reading, feeling like there would be some revelation at the end of the novel, that there would be some explanation that would make Keir’s actions make sense. But there wasn’t. So the whole book becomes, then, Keir trying to figure that out for himself – that there’s no explanation. Some things are inexcusable, and not just things that people do to him, but things he’s done to others. It’s a bit of a mind-trip, and really compelling. 2005 National Book Award Finalist.

10. Sorta Like A Rockstar by Matthew Quick

My roommate kept asking me if this book was any good. I kept answering “Yeah, it’s okay. It’s more like something we would actually read for fun.” I’m still trying to figure out what that means, exactly, other than 1) Not so literary 2) Kind of silly/fluffy 3) Not so depressing. Well, I mean yes, the book is depressing, and I *may* have shed a tear at the over-the-top Hollywood ending, but it’s nothing like.. oh… Nothing. It’s basically the story of a really plucky homeless girl who is really into Jesus and befriending the kind of people who nobody wants to befriend, and whether or not true tragedy can or should break your faith in God or the goodness of life or your eternal optimism. A nice way to round out the month. I flew through the last half of the book.