Saturday, October 26, 2013

How to Steal a Dog, by Barbara O'Connor

Title:  How to Steal a Dog
Author:  Barbara O'Connor
Publisher:  Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
Year:  2007
Pages:  170
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Poverty, Family, Homelessness
Age Range:  4th-6th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
Georgina Hayes is desperate. Ever since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment, her family has been living in their car. With her mama juggling two jobs and trying to make enough money to find a place to live, Georgina is stuck looking after her younger brother, Toby. And she has her heart set on improving their situation. When Georgina spots a missing-dog poster with a reward of five hundred dollars, the solution to all her problems suddenly seems within reach. All she has to do is “borrow” the right dog and its owners are sure to offer a reward. What happens next is the last thing she expected. 
O'Connor does an excellent job with the character of Georgina.  Basically a good girl, she contemplates doing things she knows are wrong to help her family get a place to live.  She is not always likable, to be honest.  She is horrible to her mother, who from all appearances was doing everything she could to earn enough money to provide for her children.  But it is clear where her anger comes from-her father's desertion, the loss of her friendships, and her embarrassment over their situation are a lot for a 10 year old girl to handle.

Given the current climate of shaming the poor and blaming them for their own troubles, O'Connor does a fine job of making you feel empathetic towards Georgina, her mother, her brother, and the other characters in the book.  There is Carmella, the women who becomes the victim of the dognapping, and Mookie, the homeless man who Georgina befriends during their time on the street.  Both have important lessons to teach Georgina about love, loss, and how to live in the world in a way that help rather than hinders others.  This book would be a good jumping off point for discussions about poverty, homelessness, and issues around morality and survival.  In the end it is the kindness of others that allows Georgina and her family to find a safe place to live, and in the end that is the biggest lesson learned, both by Georgina and the reader-being kind is always the right thing to be.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gone Gone Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

Title:  Gone Gone Gone
Author:  Hannah Moskowitz
Publisher:  Simon Pulse
Year:  2012
Pages:  251
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  GLBT, Relationships, Overcoming Fear,  Terrorism
Age Range:  8th Grade and Above

Summary:  (from Goodreads)

It's a year after 9/11. Sniper shootings throughout the D.C. area have everyone on edge and trying to make sense of these random acts of violence. Meanwhile, Craig and Lio are just trying to make sense of their lives. 
Craig’s crushing on quiet, distant Lio, and preoccupied with what it meant when Lio kissed him...and if he’ll do it again...and if kissing Lio will help him finally get over his ex-boyfriend, Cody.
Lio feels most alive when he's with Craig. He forgets about his broken family, his dead brother, and the messed up world. But being with Craig means being vulnerable...and Lio will have to decide whether love is worth the risk.

I will admit that I have pretty much avoided any books, fiction or non, that have dealt with 9/11 and its aftermath.  To be honest, I'm not sure that I will every be ready to read accounts, real or otherwise, of that period in America history.  It's not that I'm uniformed-I can listen to the analysis and read about the political/cultural forces that led to the attack, as well as the response of our government afterwards-but reading about what people who were involved went through and the devastating effect it had on their lives leaves me shaky and teary-eyed.

For that reason I almost didn't read this book.  Despite the fact that the main context is the D.C. Sniper murders, I kept picking it up and putting it down again.  What finally made me choose it from my (full to overflowing) shelf of young adult novels comes down to sheer vanity...I like being the go-to person for my friends and the youth I work with for the best in young adult novels dealing with LGBT themes.  In this case, vanity was a good thing!  This was definitely one of the best YA books I've read this year.

I felt very unsettled while reading the book, which I hold up as a testament to the author's ability to accurately capture the mood in Washington, D.C. during the sniper scare.  The general mood of anxiety, dread, and confusion was perfectly mirrored in the way that Craig and Lio felt as they tried to navigate not just the external world, but their own emotional landscape.  Both of them had been scarred in some way, Lio very specifically by the events of 9/11 and his mother leaving the family, and Craig by his ex-boyfriend's mental breakdown.  Both boys felt as though the foundation on which they'd built their lives was shaky, much like we all felt a bit shaky in the year or so after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Basic assumptions they (and we) had made about what was safe and stable in our lives had been called into question.  In fact, it was sometimes uncomfortable to read this book.  Moskowitz did such a good job drawing me into the emotional lives of these two boys that I'd find myself, like them, feeling restless and unsettled while I was reading, but in a way that enhanced the story, rather than diminishing it.  I think this novel is excellent, and I could see it being used in a high school history class as a way to draw students into the way society responded and changed after 9/11.