Saturday, January 14, 2012

Trapped by Michael Northrop

A huge Nor’easter drops a ton of snow on a Massachusetts town and traps seven students and one teacher in their rural high school.  What follows is a survival tale spanning five days and countless cold, dark hours in the school.  15-year-old sophomore basketball player Scotty Weems narrates and tells the reader up front that not everyone will survive.  The students have to find food and a place to hole up for the duration.  As the power fails and then the emergency lights fail, they will have to work together to survive and with this mix of personalities that might be difficult.  Then the pipes freeze and the roof collapses and romance goes bad and jealousy leads to fights.  Who will survive and how?  Will they be rescued and when?  Does anyone even know they are there?

The novel got a little muddy in the middle, maybe because we knew from the first pages that not everyone would survive, so the reader was just waiting to find out who and how.  It’s nice to have a male narrator in a non-sports book for a change.

Themes:  survival, teamwork, priorities, perseverance, ingenuity

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Skeleton Creek (Number One) by Patrick Carmen

This book is presented as the handwritten journal of Ryan McCray.  Ryan lives in Skeleton Creek, Oregon, a former gold mining town with an eerie past that he and his best friend Sarah are determined to discover.  On one of their adventures out to the dredge, a former mine site, Ryan breaks his leg and his parents forbid him from seeing Sarah.  While he’s home recovering, he journals what has been going on and of course, keeps track of his contact with Sarah.  (They have both found a way around the tracking software their parents placed on their laptops.)  Ryan prints out Sarah’s email messages for his journal and she posts videos to her website.  Readers can also watch the videos with passwords that Sarah provides.  This is an interactive media with the text and the videos.  The plot was a bit thin and dragged on without a resolution, which may be because this is a series.

Themes:  Friendship, discovery, problem-solving

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

This memoir of William’s life growing up in Malawi the son of poor farmers, showcases what one can accomplish if one is willing to work for it.  William earns a spot in secondary school, but due to a famine and poor harvest seasons, his family is unable to pay his tuition.  William wants to keep up with his studies so he gets class notes from his friend, Gilbert, and visits the library at his primary school. 

While at the library, William discovers a few books on physics, energy and science.  Although William’s English is poor, he is able to understand the diagrams and looks up words he doesn’t know in the dictionary.  William decides to build a windmill to provide lights for his family’s home and hopefully power an irrigation system for the farm so they never have to go hungry from a draught again.  William’s windmill is successful in providing energy and gains much interest from local villagers and some businessmen in the city.

The windmill changes William’s fortune and future.  His radio interviews yield an invitation to be a TED Global Fellow in 2007 at age 14.  See his TED talk here.  He meets many people at the TED conference who eventually help him with tuition for school and encourage him to write this memoir.  While on the book tour in the U.S., William visits many colleges and decides to attend Dartmouth where he is currently a student.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One Little Word, 2012

So I’m not the New Year’s resolution type.  Really, I’m not.  I know that comes as a surprise to those who know me since I’m “Type A” and goal-oriented and all.  I’ve just never gotten into resolutions.  However last year, I was reading some of my blogs (like this one) and noticed that folks were choosing a word of the year - a word to live by or to live for or to live up to.  I liked this idea, so I came up with a word, or rather, a word found me.  My word for 2011 was flexibility.

Remember when I said I was “type A”?  Well, that doesn’t really make one flexible.  I was in a new job and things were quite reactive instead of proactive and I was having a difficult time adjusting and finding my happy place.  So, when several months into the job, the word flexible found me, it was PERFECT.  I needed to learn to be less rigid; to let things go; to take things less seriously; to stress less.  I applied this in my personal life as well.  My husband and I went away for the weekend with nothing but hotel reservations.  I hadn’t planned the whole trip out or done a ton of research; we just arrived and found stuff to do.  The one area of flexibility I didn’t work on (but should have) is physical flexibility.  You know when you take those fitness assessments at the gym and they tell you your body age vs. your real age?  Well, I stink at the flexibility part.  Actually, my score is poor!  So, I should have worked on that, but I didn’t.  My loss, or rather my hamstrings’ loss.

On to 2012!  I’ve been thinking for weeks about my word and tossed around some possibilities.  But the word that found me is blessing.  According to

1.  the act or words of a person who blesses.
2.  a special favor, mercy, or benefit: the blessings of liberty.
3.  a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.
4.  the invoking of God's favor upon a person: The son was denied his father's blessing.
5. praise; devotion; worship, especially grace said before a meal:  The children took turns 
reciting the blessing.

I’m thinking of counting my blessings and being more appreciative and thankful for them all.  I’m thinking to try and be a blessing to others with my speech and actions.  I’m thinking of using my faith to appreciate the blessings from above with my thoughts, speech and deeds.

Here’s my first example, January 2 found me back at work while the majority of the country enjoyed a federal holiday.  Instead of being bitter, I acknowledged that there are many out there without a job and I should feel blessed that I GET to go to work every day!

So, we’ll see how it goes, my year of the blessings!  What words are speaking to you?!

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Part fantasy, part science fiction, this novel set in present day Nigeria chronicles the life of 12-year-old Sunny.  Sunny is albino and was born in America where she lived until she was 9-years-old, both of these cause her to be teased mercilessly at school.  She does befriend Orlu, a boy who sticks up for her against the bullies, and his neighbor Chichi, who is homeschooled.  Sunny soon discovers something Orlu and Chichi already knew, she has magical powers and can visit the spirit world (Leopard) and the human world (Lamb).  Orlu and Chichi have powers as well and they all meet Sasha when he comes from America to live with Orlu’s family.  These four young people must navigate both worlds while learning many difficult lessons.

I don’t know if a sequel is planned, but I could see the author tracing the adventures of these four adolescents for years to come.

Themes:  friendship, trust, maturity, change, parent/child relationships