An Untimely Post About Leftovers

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Well, one of these recipes is untimely. It’s very difficult to hold or attend a Thanksgiving meal without receiving leftovers. Turkey is not my favorite, but I recognize that it is traditional, and I would frankly miss it if I were to attend a Thanksgiving meal without it. The sides are what I love best. This year I discovered a wonderful remedy that helps me eat up all of the Thanksgiving leftovers without becoming tired of turkey or of any of the leftovers either:  I wrapped it all up in a tortilla. This year’s leftovers included turkey, stuffing, cranberry chutney, and Brussels sprouts (the last not shown here, but they were actually pretty tasty in this tortilla recipe; I had it several times in the weeks following the holiday).

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I never did quite figure out how long to microwave these tortillas for. The easiest thing seemed to be to microwave the fixings without the tortilla and then spoon all that onto the tortilla.

This next recipe is less seasonal, though perhaps it is more fitting for winter. One of my first roommates post-college used to buy roast chickens and from the leftover bones make some really excellent chicken soup. I got into the habit then of not tossing away the bones, knowing they could have some use. I don’t have her chicken soup recipe, but I found a recipe on 100 Days of Real Food for Crockpot chicken stock.

We had maybe two and half sandwich sized Ziploc bags worth of frozen chicken bones from various meals, fried and roasted, in the freezer. I used baby carrots because they are simpler to snack on and so more likely to get used in our household. The onion we had.  I bought a whole celery from the grocery store, but retrospectively, I wish I’d bought a more expensive but less wasteful carton of celery sticks.

I used what spices we already had: a bay leaf, thyme, and salt. I didn’t have parsley.

The recipe was simple—beyond simple. I minced the carrots and celery and tossed it all in the Crockpot without bothering to defrost the chicken.

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Then I filled the Crockpot with water to within about an inch and a half from its lip, and I turned the Crockpot on low.

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Because I’m still nervous about using a Crockpot and leaving it be, I did this all during the day instead of overnight as the recipe suggests, though my roommate did convince me to leave it on overnight to make more flavorful stock. (We tasted it before bed.)

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In the end, we had four full Tupperware containers of thick yellow stock, ladled from the Crockpot into a wire mesh strainer held over the Tupperware. (The remaining bones, overcooked celery and carrots, and all we had to toss in the trash, which seemed a sad waste. Maybe the carrots could have been edible if I’d been able to detangle them from the bones.)

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We kept one container in the refrigerator and froze the rest to be used later. Since then we’ve used it to cook chicken noodle soup, to add some flavor to rice and to pastas, and mostly to add to soup cans to make a can of soup last a little longer. I mixed it with both chicken soups and beef soups, and both were delicious.

There’s still some in the freezer.

All photos are mine.  Click to view them larger.

Challenge: Legal Theft: My Dad Taught Me (295 words)

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Someday I’m going to start a legal theft piece early in the week.  Someday I’ll remember that I have a post to write and that I shouldn’t let myself be talked into staying past sunset to learn this and learn that on the chance that I’ll have to use it again.  Someday I’m going to learn the days of the week.

Someday.

I hope you don’t mind that this is more… character study than story.

When charging into dangerous situations you can either be fast and silent or fast and prepared. My dad had lots of sayings like that, sayings that you wouldn’t expect to come from the mouth of a fisherman or from a tinker either when it comes to that.

I don’t know what dangerous situations he expected me to land myself in. The most dangerous thing in our village was the lake in a storm, and no skill with a sword or swing of my fist was going to save me if the lake took a mind to drag me under.

Maybe he saw the fighter in me and decided to train me or maybe he put the fighter in me. Either way, I found my causes, even as young as six, they tell me, and I put to use what my dad taught me. I heard an insult slung at another and took personal offense. I don’t think I was ever looking for a fight, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I was looking to practice. Maybe I was looking to prove myself to Dad. After I’d told my tale, he never once told me off for fighting. He’d nod and smile, and I’d know I’d done right.

It gave me purpose, but it wasn’t a purpose everyone saw as fit for anyone—especially me. I heard my mum tell more than one indignant woman that my dad wouldn’t be moved and she didn’t really disapprove either of her daughter knowing how to defend herself or others. They both of them taught me a sense of right and wrong. They made sure I knew I was never to use the skills Dad taught me to terrorize anyone. But maybe they did let me run a little wild.

This first line came from Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad, who wrote “Hindsight.”

It was stolen by Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master, who used it to write “Foreknowledge” (496 words).

Bek at Building A Door used it to write “The Final Test” (393 words).

Welcome to legal theft Trebez from Machete Diplomacy, who used the line to write “Silence and Preparation”!

Book Reviews: February 2015 Picture Book Roundup: Evocative is Today’s Word

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Click, Clack, Peep! By Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades: PreK-3.

Cronin’s Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type has been fairly successful, frequently being displayed in various places in Barnes & Noble. This latest edition to the series takes on a far more relatable and age-appropriate topic, I think, than did this first book of Cronin’s, which I found a little too bureaucratic in its subject. In this, a new duckling is born on the farm, and like a child sometimes, he will not be quiet and will not sleep, so the animals can’t sleep. With a plethora of onomatopoeia’s and creative text formatting, this is a visually pleasing story and visually evocative too. There’s one page with so many peeps that I’d have been irritated if I’d felt the need to read each one, just as the characters in the story are irritated by the constant peep of the duckling. On another page the tension of waiting for duckling’s egg to hatch is palpable, evoked by the text and illustrations alike. This funny book will make a great bedtime story.

****

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Walking Home to Rosie Lee by A. LaFaye and illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd. Cinco Puntos, 2011.

A. is a professor of mine. I was in her class when or shortly after this book was released. She read the book aloud to the class and several of us were unable to keep our eyes dry, and while I’m sure some of that is attributable to the emotion that A. as the author put into the characters through her reading, the story remains evocative without the author’s interpretation. Gabe’s is a perspective little covered in texts for any age: the struggle for African Americans, former slaves, after the Civil War. Gabe’s syntax adds life to Gabe’s voice. Heartbreaking and finally uplifting, this is a story I think needs to be told. Gabe’s search for his mother, for family, for love, for home is universal as well as historical. Shepherd’s illustrations are bright and bold. There’s enough detail in the story to illuminate the suffering of African American slaves, but not enough to make it inappropriate for most children, especially on the older end of picture books.

****

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Disney’s Frozen’s Melt My Heart: Share Hugs with Olaf by Reader’s Digest. 2014.   Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This book is a collection of lines of Olaf’s from Disney’s Frozen. The lines do not make a plot. I would love to see if this book makes any sense separate from the film, but I saw the film and so could add a little weight and meaning to the text and illustrations. I would have liked an original plot, a plot separate from the film, or even any connection beside the central character between pages. The board book does sport plush arms, but I have seen even this concept better handled. They are difficult to manipulate and still hold the book.

*

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The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2014.

This is the latest Caldecott Medal recipient, and this is a wonderful and wonderfully illustrated book. Santat’s imagination is, frankly, stunning. He built a world and culture here and peopled it with fantastical characters that might bear some resemblance to creatures and objects in this world, but are unique nonetheless. With equal prowess he captures our world, the “real world,” though in the absence of children and imagination, the world appears in grayscale. Beekle leaves the world where imaginary friends are born and wait to be chosen by a child in the real world. He sails alone to the real world and scours our world for his friend, finally finding her. Together they learn about friendship, and he helps her make other friends too.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

In Defense of the Small, Women’s, Liberal Arts College

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Hollins University.  Photo credit to myself.

Hollins University. Photo credit to myself.

Today is International Women’s Day making this attempt to process recent events seem particularly timely.  I hope this says what I want it to say.

***

The world is big. Like, really big. Most of you are not from our little valley, down here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Most of you probably have not heard of Sweet Briar College if you’ve heard of Sweet Briar College at all till Wednesday when the college announced that at the end of this summer, they will shut their doors forever.

But sometimes things happen, and you have to process them. I process by writing, and I have a blog, so I may as well share my thoughts. So welcome to my thoughts.

Sweet Briar College was my first choice until a somewhat disastrous overnight visit changed my mind. I ended up at Sweet Briar’s rival college, Hollins University, and I never looked back—or maybe only once or twice.

The girl I was who dreamed of marrying a landed nobleman and running a household while walking about in opulent clothes and changing to go riding through fields and woodlands that I owned, that girl loved Sweet Briar. Wandering the grounds feels like wandering through a Bronte or an Austen novel. The wooden banisters are worn smooth by thousands of hands over decades. There’s one room in the library that could have been lifted from my wildest imaginations of my manor house, all dark wood, plush couches, and pleasurable fiction. The horse barn is the nicest I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen a fair few. I’d have loved to spend nights going up to the observatory, from which I could view the night sky with so much less light pollution than, well, just about anywhere I’ve ever been.

My opinion of Sweet Briar has been clouded both by that overnight visit and by the traditions and history of my own alma mater, which proclaimed the annual soccer game between our two universities “Burn the Briar Day” and sold student-made t-shirts proclaiming “Friends don’t let friends become Vixens” (the Vixen is the Sweet Briar mascot).

I never had the opportunity to interact with any of the Sweet Briar women or visit the college again after deciding to become a Hollins woman.

***

The announcement of the closing of Sweet Briar rings like death knells across the Internet (or at least within certain circles of the Internet) for a certain types of universities, or at least universities that, like Sweet Briar, share three qualities. Sweet Briar is a small, rural, women’s college. (And a liberal arts college besides, but enough large liberal arts colleges are thriving that I’m going to leave the argument alone for now.) Maybe the three stresses were too much, but each I feel has its benefit, and if the landscape of colleges becomes one where any of these three aspects is absent, we as a country will lack much. In this alternate universe where schools like Sweet Briar, schools like Hollins do not exist, social pressure probably would have found me in a college, but I would not be the woman I am, and I honestly don’t think that the woman I am now would much like the woman I would be.

I wanted a small university. I wanted a relationship with my classmates and professor. Coming from a town of 16,000 and a high school graduating class of 200, I was used to personal attention, and I was unwilling to give that up. I needed a small university. I would not be the woman I am had I not attended a small university. I am quiet by nature. I don’t like to be called on in class because I would rather reflect and observe and process and answer questions later, preferably in writing. Being in a small class and being called on even when I didn’t feel like the most qualified student in the room or the only active participant in a class (the reasons I’d have spoken out in high school) taught me how to express myself. The observation rather than participation mode of learning works for me, and I would have learned the class material in a large university setting, but I would not have fought for my turn to ask questions or to share opinions and I would not have become the more confident woman I am today, more unrepentant than my high school self about having opinions and more willing to share those opinions.

That town of 16,000 is a Connecticut suburb not long removed from its days of farming, with open spaces aplenty but shrinking and old stone walls dividing properties and crisscrossing the woodlands between. By the time I was looking for a college to attend, I’d been to New York City and Boston, and I knew I didn’t want that hustle and bustle or that gray. I am not a city-girl. I specifically avoided schools in large cities, as surely as I avoided schools that are cities, anything with a population to rival my hometown’s. The landscape of Sweet Briar stole my breath and nearly stole my heart—did steal my heart for several months, and I think in my heart, I always believed that Hollins never really did compare for all its green hills and lawns, and its shady garden, and cool creeks, and the woods that kept us bounded on two sides, and the horse pasture that formed the third side. Hollins’ grounds became home, and I felt and feel privileged to walk and run unchecked across them, to explore their crannies and surprises, but Sweet Briar’s grounds are nearer to what Heaven will look like, and I would have spent my four years discovering their secrets and communing with nature among the grasses and woodlands. I’d have been unhappy anywhere without greenery, and Sweet Briar offered me by far the best.

Lastly, women’s colleges. Let me tell you about women’s colleges. I stumbled across women’s colleges accidentally. I didn’t intend to go to a women’s college when I began looking for schools, I just didn’t exclude them, especially as my guidance counselor pinned Hollins as the school for me from the get-go. All of the colleges of which I became aware that happened to have the right climate (I wanted to move south and escape the cold) and environment (small, intimate, with caring professors, and enough greenery to keep me sane) also happened to be women’s colleges.

The small class size was necessary to teach me to speak out, but I think an environment entirely composed of women helped me speak out as well. We were women who shared ideas, ideals, and circumstances, and my classmates were supportive in ways that I think male classmates would not have been able to be, speaking as they would have been from a position of privilege that had been denied to us women since birth. My classmate and I were all of us in some way, however intentionally or unintentionally, coming from a background of repressed voices, and so we listened to one another and encouraged one another to speak out as some of us had never been encouraged to speak out.

In a women’s college, I learned to see the struggles of women, of myself that would have been repressed beneath the usual blanket of social etiquette in a co-ed environment.

It took a little while longer to sprout, but there’s a fighter in me planted there by my experiences at Hollins. My experiences there opened my eyes—or gave me the tools to see the truth when it was in front of me later in the work field, in relationships. That fighter learned to speak out. She learned to see the injustices that needed righting. She learned to be unafraid to get dirty, to not dislike the grease of fried chicken on her fingers, to be unafraid of paint splatter or the “herpes of all craft projects”: glitter. She left behind the prim and proper lady who wanted to be only another ornament in an ancient household and peerage of ornaments, that woman who first fell in love with Sweet Briar’s campus.

There’s one thing more that the Hollins environment did for me, the most important thing. And I hope this is true of Sweet Briar too.

I would not trade the friendships for anything. I have a solid group of friends, any of whom I would take a bullet for, and among whom I know for whom I shouldn’t take a bullet because they’d be too wracked with guilt. Six of us meet weekly to discuss our lives and whatever else comes up, anything from trifling matters like television shows to big things like current events and societal problems.

Those six are the bulwark that keeps me together, at least as important as my family. It makes me so sad that there are those who do not have this support network and when I try to explain to them what my friends mean to me cannot understand. Those six are an absolute and true Godsend. But they are a small, small part of Hollins for me. We are all of us family—the whole of the university—and while we have divisions, our cliques, at the end of the day, we are Hollins women—everyday. Living with these girls was like living among an eternal educational summer camp or slumber party.

Now that I am an alumna, the divisions have ceased to matter near as much. No matter where we are or how many years divide us, Hollins women support one another. I once met a Hollins woman in a tack shop in Connecticut. She offered to let me ride her horses during that first meeting, before we’d even realized that we were Hollins sisters; it was an instantaneous Hollins recognition. I was recognized as a Hollins woman by man who, as a young orphan, had been “adopted” by Hollins women, students who took him out and bought him Christmas presents and generally loved him even if they couldn’t take him home. He stopped me at work to confirm that I was a Hollins woman and then to reminisce about those years, ask after me, and advise me.

We call the alumnae network “the Hollins mafia” because they are everywhere, unexpectedly, and those in the network will move earth to help you once they realize that you’re family.

In the end, Hollins and Sweet Briar share much, both small, women’s, liberal arts colleges, and neither in a large city, though Hollins is in a much more active area. We need small colleges like these to give personal attention to our students, to tease answers out of the more reluctant speakers, and to teach them to speak. We need women’s colleges to continue to inform our women, to show them the world in a new light. As I write this, women are demanding equality, fighting again for our rights. We fight against microaggressions and violence towards women, the unequal social footing, and unconscious and conscious degradation of our sex.  I know the Sweet Briar Vixens and my Hollins sisters will all back me up when I say:

Please, please, let’s not let this one university’s closing spell the closing of universities with their qualities and of their caliber.

***

My heart goes out to the Vixens and residents of Sweet Briar, VA. I know the college and college town more intimately than some as someone who so strongly considered the college. I know how tiny, how rural is Sweet Briar, VA. My heart goes out to those who work in the town of Sweet Briar, the population of which is almost entirely college students and staff. Without the college, I don’t know what will happen to that strip mall. I don’t know what will happen to that town.

I know that if it were my college, if Sweet Briar had been my college, I would be heartbroken to know that soon there would be no home for me to return to.

Vixens, we’ve been rivals for a long time, and I’m sure you’ve enjoyed that rivalry as much as I did. In this trying time, I hope we can learn to be friends. I hope we can focus on our commonalities and not on our differences. I know that no home will ever replace your home, and that your home is what they’re taking away from you, I hope you can find a little solace elsewhere, at Hollins if Hollins is where you choose to find rest. I know it may be too hard to come to us.

Book Review: Eternity Road: Strong World Building and Weak Characters

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I was caught by the blurb on the back of Jack McDevitt’s Eternity Road. It is not my usual genre by any standards. It is adult, post-apocalyptic, journey fiction. A plague tore through the population. Centuries on, humanity has grouped again into large cities though much of the knowledge of the eons has been lost—everything from basic geography to Christian philosophy to the printing press. The main transport is horseback though man-powered and current-driven barges and boats travel the Mississippi and Hudson. Recently several cities have formed alliances and unified their governments. People remain nostalgic for the time before the virus, awed by the giant and enduring ruins of that culture, called the Roadmakers.

It was refreshing to see a post-apocalyptic world that was neither technologically advanced nor dystopian. Life in Illyria is fairly civilized. There are not government-sponsored death matches or even a focus on government corruption within the text.

McDevitt does a very good job building new cultures and societies out of the scraps of ours. Language evolution is visible in the names. There are new gods and religious traditions. He uses the journey to explore several ways of living, and particularly several views of sexuality, with which he frankly seems a little preoccupied to me, but then I read a lot of kid lit.

I’d expected from the blurb, a greater emphasis on the power of fiction—or a greater connection between this plot and that of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but Twain’s novel serves only as proof that a sanctuary might have been discovered by a seemingly unsuccessful expedition where Roadmaker culture—American culture of at least several decades beyond present day—might have persisted or been preserved. There is still however a strong undertone of the value of literature to dandle every reader’s soul.

Chaka and Avila seemed very promisingly feminist characters. As too many do though, I felt as if this male writer didn’t quite know how to handle them. I don’t like to criticize on that front when my own story features at least one male protagonist, but Chaka particularly had the chance. She is the first to call for an expedition and the one to gather the crew, but she is never considered for a leadership role and seemed to not consider herself for one either. She is too preoccupied with the male characters, to willing to rely on male protection and leadership, making her more of a male fantasy than a feminist role model. Avila’s curiosity, readiness to break tradition, and resourcefulness make her a more feminist model, but she is also given less time in the text. I do have to give McDevitt a few points for his attempts to write feminist characters in these and then the very briefly present Judge… who is never named.

In truth I think it is less a problem of not knowing how to handle female protagonists than a problem of not knowing how to handle characters or maybe a group of characters. None of the characters develop as fully as I’d have liked. I had a difficult time distinguishing between the men of the expedition. McDevitt made attempts to differentiate them and to have them exhibit growth, but the characters never came alive.

Without vivacious characters, I had a difficult time investing in the journey, which, granted, took the team through some interesting ruins but one ruin did not really build to another so that the journey read as scenes of excitement bridged by lulls filled all too often with the characters’ romantic and lustful relationships with one another. One Goodreads reviewer compared the book to a bus tour, and that’s not inaccurate. Journey fiction is difficult. The lull between adventures is difficult. It really takes at least one strong character to uphold the reader’s attention. Stronger characters are I think one of the reasons why The Lord of the Rings works better than The Hobbit, for example. The Lord of the Rings has a whole company of strong characters. For me, Bilbo is perhaps the only standout in his company, the dwarves mostly blending together in the text. For me, Eternity Road’s crew seemed more like the dwarves of The Hobbit, acting mostly as a group than a collection of individuals. That might be one more reason why the romances between the characters felt so jarring.

***

McDevitt, Jack. Eternity Road. New York: Harper Voyager-HarperCollins, 2011. First printed 1997.

This review is not endorsed by Jack McDevitt, Harper Voyager, or HarperCollins Publishers .  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Witch Which? Stars an Overlooked Protagonist

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Spoilers.

I’ve read several of Eva Ibbotson’s books, and reviewed one for this blog. Which Witch? is perhaps one of her best known, possibly for its clever title. It was too one of her earliest, preceded only by The Great Ghost Rescue (of which I’d not heard before writing this review). The theme of this book is a comfortable one: the power of love, the dangers of an absence of love, and the power of love to transform a person. It is told with a twist, however. The protagonists are the wicked witches and wizards one would normally expect to find as antagonists. The true antagonist is another familiar antagonist type: a cruel authority figure who ought to be nurturing but is not, in this case a matron of an orphanage (see Miss Hannigan, see Miss Minchin, see even Professor Snape).

The handsome but wicked Arriman the Awful, wizard of the North, raised by most understanding parents who gave him every opportunity and encouraged his wickedness and power, finds himself aging. Arriman, too busy smiting and blighting, has done nothing to prepare for such an eventuality. He is told by a clairvoyant that an heir is coming, so he posts a three-headed Wizard Watcher at his gate but it seems in vain. Believing that he will have to take matters into his own hands, Arriman agrees very reluctantly to seek a wife, and holds a competition to determine the most wicked and therefore most eligible wife to bear him an heir. Within the coven is one white witch, Belladonna, who wishes to be black and accepted by the coven that shuns her for her whiteness.

Though the romance is theirs, I feel that the truly pivotal protagonist is Terrence, the unwanted orphan, abused by his matron. In his defense Belladonna performs the darkest magic that she has ever managed. The two of them decide that the factor enabling this blackness is Terrence’s pet worm, Rover. Belladonna takes Rover as a familiar, and Terrence begs to be brought along as her servant.

Terrence has the most fun he ever has and finds himself the most sought after he that ever has done by making himself useful to Belladonna, Arriman, and Arriman’s staff.

Stolen away, Terrence overhears the matron discussing the reasons for her abuse, enumerating the inexplicable oddities that he has displayed. In fright, he manages a spell of his own, and returning to Darkington Hall, takes his place as Arriman’s apprentice and heir, enabling the marriage of Arriman and Belladonna.

I openly admit to a love of books that play with the readers’ expectations and with POV particularly. The story to me was predictable but the familiarity of a predictable storyline can be sometimes just what the soul orders. Ibbotson here does nothing to disparage goodness or whiteness. In fact, Ibbotson writes to ease the fear of the paranormal and supernatural that haunted her according to her Goodreads bio. So parents ought not to find fault with the book on that account. Belladonna’s whiteness stands as an impediment to her marriage to the man that she loves, and love is the ultimate goal of every character within the book—expect perhaps Madame Olympia, who is painted as too black for even these black wizards and witches. The story’s black magic is negligible (there seem to be no consequences to Arriman’s smiting and blighting and it seems to happen primarily within the confines of his own property, Madame Olympia’s most foul magic has the power only to frighten and is not lasting) and punished (Nancy loses her twin Nora temporarily to a bottomless hole and so learns the value of family) and reversible (Terrence and Arriman put almost all to rights at the end). Ibbotson writes with her tongue in her cheek, using humor to reveal the world and its flaws.

I was somewhat disappointed by the emphasis Arriman places on physical appearance in his search for love and with the clichéd linkage between goodness and beauty and wickedness and ugliness in this book, but no so much as to toss the book aside.

****

Ibbotson, Eva. Which Witch? Illus. Annabel Large. New York: Puffin-Penguin, 2000. Originally published by Macmillan, 1979.

This review is not endorsed by Eva Ibbotson, her estate, Puffin Books, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Last Night Before (318 words)

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“I can smell your bleeding heart from down the hall. What? Are you having second thoughts? Or fourth? Or hundredth? I’ve lost count.”

Darryn let go his knees and lifted his head and uncurled himself to look up at Talya. She wore a sad sort of smile as she stood above him.

Darryn would have liked to deny it, but Talya would know the lie. “Yes.”

“He has to be stopped.”

“I know. I know.” Darryn buried his face in his knees again.

Talya sank down beside him. He felt the pleasant weight and warmth of her beside him, more solid for not being able to see her with his head to his knees. She could be anyone or anything, the deity who could wipe the responsibility from Darryn’s sloping shoulders. Her skirts and sleeves whispered as she shifted herself.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.  Her voice was quiet, a breath, a question for him alone. “I can’t do this for you, Darryn.”

“No.” Fear widened his eyes as he looked up to see her face near level with his. “Please,” he whispered, “don’t.”

She laid a hand on Darryn’s arm. “I know.  But I wish you didn’t have to. I wish I knew another way.”

“There’s no other way.” Darryn knew it. Talya knew it. They’d talked the point to death.

“I’ll be there,” she said. “Beside you. If you want me to be.”

“I don’t. I don’t want you anywhere near him.  You understand that, don’t you?” he asked.

“I,” she said, “do.”

“Promise me you’ll keep away. Let me do this. Alone.”

“Darryn—”

“Talya—”

“I will,” she said. “I’ll keep away.” She bit her lip. Her hand retreated into the folds of her skirt. Darryn missed the warmth of it.

“Thank you,” he whispered, and he looked away. He suppressed a shiver.

“Darryn,” Talya asked, “what if you can’t?”

The line this week was mine, stumbled upon while driving to work one morning and percolating in the back of my mind since.  The “boys” decided to be angsty (the dictionary declares this is not a word, and I think Merriam-Webster needs to get on that) today.  I would have liked a little more sass.  I may on a sassier day have to return to this line.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master stole the line to write “A Word for That” (741 words).

Kate Kearney at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Some People Juggle Geese.”

Book Review: Sold Accomplishes Much

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I purchased Patricia McCormick’s award-winning book, Sold, for Hillary Homzie’s Giving Voice to the Voiceless class, and while I did not end up completing the course due to time and financial restraints, I kept the books. This one for its free verse form and unexpected topic piqued my curiosity. Sold follows Lakshmi from her village in the Nepalese Himalayans across the border into Indian, where she is sold to a brothel. Ultimately, Lakshmi escapes the brothel with the help of an American.

Before I get too in depth into the structure and storytelling, there is one quibble that stands above the rest. This story is incomplete—for me. I read the last page and turned it to look for the next only to find a page of acknowledgements. Lakshmi runs to an American man who has brought with him policemen to help him help Lakshmi out of the brothel. We do not see Lakshmi leave. We have no guarantee that she safely arrives at the safe and clean sanctuary. Especially in a book that has been warning us of the wickedness of American men, I needed to see more. I needed to have Lakshmi truly safe before the story ends.

Now, there are reasons—that I can see—for ending the story mid-story. It leaves Lakshmi in peril like so many women still are in peril, and it leaves the reader to finish the story, to do what he or she can do to help these women.

But as a reader, as a human, I still wanted more closure in this tale, for this woman.  I would have liked to have seen her Ama with a tin roof.

This interview posted on McCormick’s website actually addresses a lot of my other concerns with the book. Why have an American man rescuing this Nepali woman? Why tell the story in free verse?

McCormick says that she chose an American hero because her primary audience is American, and she wanted her audience to see themselves as able to make a difference to these women. She admits though that given the opportunity, she would make her heroes the local Indian men and women. I notice too that for the upcoming film (release date March 2015), produced by Emma Thompson and directed by Jeffery Brown, a Caucasian woman rescues Lakshmi—or so it seems from the trailer.

The story is told in vignettes (which take the form of free verse) because McCormick found it too “daunting” to tell all of Lakshmi’s story. She liked the fractured format and she thought that the white space would encourage pause and reflection in her readers.

Poetry is rarely marketed for teens, although several authors, notably Ellen Hopkins, have enjoyed success with stories told in verse for teens. Hopkins like McCormick in this novel, tackles big social issues in her books: drug usage, prostitution, and mental illness. I’m not familiar with enough teen books in verse to comment on the correlation between verse and tackling social issues.

I think that—apart from ending her story too soon—McCormick told her story well. The form did not make for a confusing narrative, and I think—for me—the brevity of the poem scene helped make this book more accessible. This is a difficult subject, a heartbreaking subject, and one that can be difficult to read about. Because the encounters with Lakshmi’s horrors were brief, they were endurable, and for being endurable, the book made an apt vessel for McCormick’s message of social awareness. Within that form–a mere 263 pages of poetry, so not a great time commitment–McCormick is able to create well-rounded and vivid characters—as much as most prose novelists. McCormick too is able to create a full sense of place.  I think this book is well worth the time to read it.

****

McCormick, Patricia.  Sold.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2008.  First published 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Patricia McCormick, Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, or Disney Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: American Born Chinese Smashes Stereotypes and Issues Challenges Directly

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Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese is another book that I was introduced to by A. LaFaye in that same History and Criticism of Children’s Literature class at Hollins University, and is another that I have read many times since that class. This is an award winning graphic novel about Jin Wang’s struggle to fit into a predominantly Caucasian America as a Chinese American. It parallels with the ancient Chinese tale of the Monkey King, a powerful monkey who wants to be a god, but whom the gods refuse because he’s a monkey. Told with a laugh track and canned applause like a 90s television comedy, the third strand of the story, “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee” features the worst of Chinese stereotypes in Chin-Kee, a cousin of all-American Danny who so embarrasses Danny that Danny has to change schools each year after Chin-Kee’s visit. The three tales intersect at the end of the book with a lesson to learn to be happy as one is rather than wishing to be something one is not.

This was the first graphic novel I was able to enjoy, though a few others had been put into my hands prior, including Tamora Pierce’s White Tiger, which I’d have loved to have enjoyed. I cannot pretend to have a breadth of knowledge about either comic or manga illustration styles. I have had difficulty particularly with the American comic book format. When confronted with the form, my mind can focus on either the text or picture but not on both. A. suggested that this is a more common problem than I ever would have expected and related to the same reflex that makes me cover my eyes during horror films. In American comic books and horror films, the action is generally directed out of the page at the audience, so I flinch from horror films and dodge the illustrations in American comic books, glossing over the pictures, missing the details they add to the story, and catching only the dialogue. I also don’t approve of the hypersexualization of characters that seems pervasive in comic book illustration.

Yang’s style is more confined to the pages, even the fight sequences only occasionally having a limb extended out towards the reader. His colors are brighter, though I’m not sure what effect that would have on my reading ability unless the brighter colors are more welcoming in the same way that picture book illustrators recommend bright colors to keep a child’s attention and to create a stimulating image. The characters are not hypersexualized but rather of fairly average body type. Most of the illustrations feature forward facing characters and often direct stares, placing the reader in the position of a character, of a confidant or aggressor or opponent, creating empathy in many cases and inviting introspection and close reflection of the characters’ words.

That’s one of things I love best about this book: It issues a challenge to the reader while being readily accessible, even with its graphic novel form inviting more reluctant readers to read. It takes its challenges of stereotypes to every level, going beyond its text, challenging the belief that a graphic novel cannot have literary value (though this is becoming a less firmly held belief among critics, educators, and parents, I believe). Its illustrations blend manga and American comics while creating something new, its form a metaphor for the story’s message. It speaks openly about racism and race and prejudice.

I don’t admittedly know enough about Chinese mythology or folklore. I believe though that in the spirit of the melting pot, Yang melds Chinese mythology and Christian mythology. The emissaries of Tze-yo-tzuh, an all-powerful god who created the world and everything in it, are a bull, lion, woman, and eagle. A man, bull, lion, and eagle are traditionally used to depict the four Christian Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Journey into the West taken by Wong Lai-Taso and the Monkey King is to see and bring gifts to a humble man in a brown robe and a woman in a blue mantle with a young child. The couple and child look like the traditional representations of Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus, and Wong Lai-Taso’s and the Monkey King’s journey west to give them gifts then parallels the journey of the wise men (from the East) to present their gifts to the Christ child in the Christian story.

Yang creates a wonderful piece of fiction, complex and intricate.

*****

Yang, Gene Yuen. American Born Chinese. Color by Lark Pien. New York: First Second-Roaring Brook-MacMillan-Holtzbrinck, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Gene Yuen Yang, First Second, Roaring Brook Press, MacMillan Publishers, or Holtzbrinck Publishing Holding Limited Partnership.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.