Book Review: Amazing Grace by Megan Shull

amazinggrace.jpegLast night Catherine and I met with her book club (8th grade girls) to talk about Amazing Grace by Megan Shull. Amazing Grace is the story of a teenage tennis whiz/model/endorsement celebrity who wants to get off the roller coaster that her life has become and live the life of a normal 15-year-old. So her mom arranges for her to be whisked off to a remote island in Alaska to live with a friend under an assumed name for a few months until she can decide how she wants to continue.

Discussion centered around these questions:

  • How does Grace’s story of wanting to leave the celebrity behind strike you in relation to real-life celebrity stories of problems with alcohol and other issues?
  • What did you think about Grace’s romantic relationship with Teague?
  • What did you think of the advice Grace received from Theona?
  • Do you think you’d like to live in an isolated small town?
  • How do you think Grace should have handled herself at the party where she drank alcohol?

While no one in our group particularly liked the book, we didn’t dislike it either. Mostly we felt the characters weren’t developed well enough for us to know enough about them to understand them. We didn’t get a feel for the people or things they liked or disliked. But our discussion about the issues in the book was very interesting. We talked about the current events and woes of young superstars like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. We talked about the reasons that teenagers drink at parties even when they know they shouldn’t. We talked about the benefits of having someone to talk to – like a counselor at school or someone else’s mom – when things in your life are difficult. We talked about romance, and being attracted to someone as well as being friends with someone you date. The girls and the moms both talked for over an hour, and we only stopped because it was getting late.

All in all it was a good book to discuss, and it was a good transition book for groups where the girls are about to enter high school. I’d love to hear from anyone else who read this book and has a different opinion or had a different experience.

Book Review: The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

motherdaughterbookclub.jpegI just finished reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick, and I found it delightful. The structure of the fictional book club was very different from either of the clubs I’m in with my daughters, and I liked reading about how the girls and their moms worked to help their group gel. The book is told from the perspective of the four different girls who are in the club, Megan, Jess, Cassidy and Emma. The girls don’t all have good opinions of each other when their moms “force” them to create the group, and it’s very interesting to watch the girls and the moms deal with conflicts as the club continues. I found myself thinking, “I don’t know if I could ever handle conflict as directly at these girls and their moms do. And I liked the fact that the club chose one book to read for their first year, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. By reading a few chapters at a time, the book club members were able to go more in-depth into the book as they went along.

The stories relating events in Little Women to similarities in the lives of people in the group tied in really well, illustrating how timeless Little Women is. And I loved the setting—Concord, Massachusetts, where Louisa May Alcott lived and wrote. It made me want to pack my bags and drive through little towns all over New England.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club would be great to read with your own book club, because you can discuss similarities and differences between the fictional club and yours, as well as possibly find things you’d like to incorporate into your own group.

Book Review: The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages

the-green-glass-sea.jpegI just finished reading The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. It’s been highly recommended from friends, and the recommendations are warranted. The Green Glass Sea is about two girls who live in Los Alamos in the closing days of World War II where their parents are working on a “gadget” that will help to win the war. It’s very top secret, and their community doesn’t even appear on a map. Dewey is a whiz at building gadgets of her own from scrounged parts that she finds in the dump and Suze is a budding artist. Neither fits into the inevitable hierarchy of kids in their community, and they don’t like each other either. But when they’re forced to spend time together, their relationship grows in ways that neither of them expect.

While the relationship story may be familiar, the way the girls interact and the way the story progresses is anything but formula. And the historical background of the story provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of Los Alamos and life in that desert complex. This book doesn’t shy away from tough issues dealing with family, friendship and the moral dilemma of the bomb. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges

whats-eating-gilbert-grape.jpegMy daughter and I hosted the meeting for her high-school mother daughter book club a few days ago. We only host once a year, and it’s always in January. We switched to a lighter schedule when all the girls entered high school and more activities started claiming their time. So we try to make the most of the one meeting at our house each year.

We opted for a book/movie combination of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges. It was a great choice. It was interesting to compare and contrast the two, since both the book and the screenplay were written by Hedges. Here are some of the points that came up during our discussion.

1. The movie is a lot more sympathetic to the characters than the book. The characters in the book are gritty and flawed and repulsive and totally engaging as well as entirely believable. Most of the characters in the movie are nicer, and the plot line is nicer to them. Particularly to mama and Ellen, the teenaged sister. The exception is Mrs. Carver, who seems more neglectful of her children in the movie than in the book.

2. The extra characters in the book help to round out the story. We missed the presence of Gilbert’s two older siblings, Melanie, the receptionist in Mr. Carver’s insurance office, and the never-seen-but-talked-about deceased second-grade teacher.

3. Becky seemed older in the movie, which both girls and moms saw as a plus. In the book she’s 16, and the girls especially thought it was “gross” that she wanted to be with a 24-year-old man. (What a relief!)

4. Both the book and the movie were wonderful for very different reasons. Some of us preferred the movie to the book, and some of us were just the opposite. But most of us liked them both.

The biggest problem I had was deciding what to serve, as the book’s descriptions of mama’s eating habits were not very appetizing. In the end I decided it didn’t really matter what I served. There is so much talk in the book about food, that I figured anything I picked would work. So I opted for spaghetti with meat sauce, bread with butter and green salad. Madeleine made chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is charming to read and to watch, and I highly recommend it for high-school-aged readers and their moms.

Here’s my official review of the book:

The characters in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges are gritty and flawed and repulsive and totally engaging as well as entirely believable. It’s a great study of a young man seeking meaning for his life and trying to decide when he can put his own needs before the needs of a very dysfunctional family.

Gilbert’s day-to-day life in small-town Iowa is mind-numbingly realistic, and you can understand both his frustrations at the life he’s living and the limitations that keep him living it. Gilbert feels trapped by a family that needs him, and there is so much truth that goes unspoken between him and his mother and  his sisters it’s almost painful to read. Over and over Gilbert has to decide between doing what he wants to do and doing what his family needs him to do.

Since Gilbert’s father hanged himself in the family’s basement, his mother has not left the house and has become morbidly obese. His teen-aged brother is mentally disabled, and it falls to Gilbert to help him with most of his personal care. Tension is always present, but as long as Gilbert doesn’t think too much about his situation or analyze his prospects for the future, life can go on as before.

When a girl who is very different from anyone else Gilbert knows arrives on the scene, he begins to question everything in his life, with consequences both heart wrenching and hopeful. This is a great book to read in a mother-daughter book club of girls in 11th grade up or an adult book club and then to watch the movie. Comparing and contrasting the two is very interesting, particularly since author Peter Hedges also wrote the screenplay.

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

i-capture-the-castle.jpegMy middle school Mother Daughter Book Club met last night to talk about I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. What an interesting book. As we talked, we all discovered even more layers than we had thought of before.

I Capture the Castle takes place in the 1930s, and it tells the story of a family living in a crumbling castle in England. The dad is a well-known author who hasn’t written since his first book was released to critical acclaim in both England and the U.S. The narrator is Cassandra, the 17-year-old daughter. Rose, 21, Thomas, 15 and stepmother Topaz, complete the family.

With no income coming in, the family has gradually sold off all its furniture and other valuables until they are on the brink of crisis. When two young men from America inherit the castle next door,  it’s no surprise that the family sees the men as their salvation in more ways than one.

The characters are all very complex, and as Cassandra writes in her journal, the reader watches them grow in many different ways. We see Cassandra grow from childhood to adulthood and take on more responsibilities.

Some of the many things that can be discussed after reading this book: the changing role of women in society, love and marriage, the role of religion in our lives, money, children and their parents

I served tea sandwiches and scones for dinner, and everyone seemed to think it was a fun tie-in to the book. We talked about our favorite scenes in the book, and all twelve of us had a different one. I think that’s amazing depth for one book. As we talked about what we liked about the characters, I also felt like I learned a lot more about each one.

The only criticism is that the book was a little wordy, and some people had a hard time getting into it. It also uses fairly sophisticated, complex language. With that in mind, I still highly recommend it for a mother-daughter book club where the girls are in 8th grade or older.

One final note: I Capture the Castle is also a movie, but it’s rated R. It’s hard for me to imagine how this book was made into an R-rated movie, but the mom’s have decided to have a movie night in the next month or so and find out for ourselves. We’re really looking forward to getting together with just the adults.

Book Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

twilight.jpegLast night my daughter, Madeleine, and I met with our book club to talk about Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer. Kirsten started the conversation by saying she loved! the book and she thought Edward was the perfect guy. The other girls jumped right in and echoed the exact same thought. The moms tried to bring the discussion around several times to other things that went on in the book: Would you so eagerly put yourself at risk in a relationship? Do you think Bella would continue to be so enamored of Edward if she had time away from him? Would you trade your life for an eternity with someone else if it meant never having children or forming close ties with anyone else?

Clearly the girls were more interested in the image of Edward as the perfect boyfriend than in thinking about any lasting consequences. A couple of us moms said we thought Twilight was an Outlander (an adult series by Diana Gabaldon) book for teens. While Outlander involves a totally different plot line, time travel in Scotland as opposed to moral vampires in Washington, the books are similar in that they feature a male hero who is loving, attentive, protective, strong and seemingly perfect (except for an endearing flaw or two).

The girls say everyone else they know who has read Twilight loves it. It certainly has it’s place as a light, fun book to read as long as you’re not expecting to explore issues in-depth during a discussion. We all need that sometimes.

Youth Librarians Can Help You Choose Books for Your Book Club

If you’ve ever been stuck for an idea of a book to recommend for your mother-daughter book club, you know how valuable it can be to get advice from someone who works with kids and books everyday. Web sites like this one and other book sites certainly provide good information, but being able to talk to your local youth librarian about your group can be even more helpful.

If your group tends to like science fiction or historical fiction or any other genre, she’ll often be able to recommend related books by age group. She’s probably read many of the selections herself, and she’ll be able to talk to you about themes that will make good discussion or challenge group members to see issues in a different light.

Our youth librarian is named Susan, and when my daughters walk into the library she greets us immediately and talks about exciting new books she’s heard about. If a book is not in at our local branch, she’ll put a copy on hold for pickup at a later date.

Through her recommendation, we’ve all discovered books we probably never would have on our own. She makes going to the library fun! Look for your own Susan at your local library and get to know her. Chances are she’ll become one of your most valuable resources.

Book Review: Every Crooked Pot by Renée Rosen

every-crooked-pot.jpegI was sucked into Nina Goldman’s life the minute I started to read this little gem of a book from Renée Rosen. Nina was born with a strawberry birthmark that covers one of her eyes, and early on she learned that it brings both good and bad attention to her. I agonized along with Nina as she struggled to fit in socially through middle school and high school, sure that her eye was the only thing keeping her from being popular. Nina’s story brought back memories from the mixed up social scene of my own school years, where everyone was trying to find who they were, and most of us were insecure about something.

Dominating Nina’s life outside of school is her father, Artie, whose larger-than-life character sucks in everyone around him as they try to live up to the high expectations he creates for himself and his family. There’s not much room for other memorable players in this story, but Rosen weaves other characters into the narrative seemlessly, and she makes it easy to get the dynamics between Nina and her friends, and Nina and the rest of her family.

Nina’s mother is a minor character, but readers will find lots to talk about in the family dynamics at play, the times described in the book (1960s and 70s), and Nina’s search to find what’s really important to her.

It’s hard to believe this was penned by a first-time author, but Rosen brings very complicated issues together seamlessly in a book that’s hard to put down once you start it. Something to note: the frank handling of drug use and teenage experimentation with sex probably makes Every Crooked Pot most appropriate for high school readers and their moms.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...