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My So-Called Bollywood Life (Nisha Sharma)

19 Sep

I had a feeling, as soon as I read the synopsis for the book, that I was going to love My So-Called Bollywood Life, and I’m happy to be right.  I half hope that this will be made into a movie – but only half hope because as much as I’d like to see Winnie Mehta’s life played out on screen, I also don’t want to risk ruining a great narrative along the way.

 

My So-Called Bollywood Life Squinklethoughts

1.  I love Nisha Sharma’s voice and writing style.  There’s so much wit (and snark!) in all the characters’ words.  Even in just describing Winnie herself, Sharma has so many funny, quotable lines to make the reading experience pleasurable.  As someone who has never really not code-switched in everyday communication, I not only appreciate but also enjoy and welcome all of the characters’ flips among English, Hindi, and Punjabi.  I really would have loved a glossary at the back of the book (I’ve only seen the ARC and eARC, so I’m not sure if the final copy has one) alongside the list of movies Winnie mentions throughout the novel.

2.  In recent years, the call for stories (in novels and movies, especially) with diverse characters has grown louder.  Of course, it only makes sense that narratives highlighting the experiences of characters from different ethnic backgrounds should be readily available, even prevalent, in our modern global society.  However, I also believe that any story – whether featuring diverse characters or not – should, above all, be well told and authentic.  One of the reasons I really enjoyed this story is the way Sharma doesn’t force Indian/American-Indian culture down the reader’s throat (Eye?  This idiom got away from me …).  Winnie’s life (and, therefore, this story) is intrinsically entrenched in the culture of her family, but not everything is about being Indian.  She’s deeply stressed by her family’s pandit’s prophecy about her love life, but she’s also worried about whether she has enough worthwhile entries on her university application to give her a fighting chance to attend the school of her dreams.  In this way, Sharma encourages her readers to learn and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of our ethnicities while reminding us that we belong to more than one culture/subculture.  Our everyday experiences reflect the fact that we are so much  more than just Indian/Italian/ Indonesian/Iranian, etc.; we are also students/bookworms/film buffs/artists/athletes, etc.  Sharma gets this so right in the story.  Winnie can simultaneously worry about organizing a student film festival and finding a nice lengha to wear to prom.  Neither action defines her, but they both contribute to who she is.  THIS is something that will come up in my lessons when I use the book in my lessons.

3.  On a less wordy note, Sharma’s characters are endearing and interesting.  Bridget is a great sidekick, Dev is charming and enigmatic, Pandit Ohmi is adorably funny, and Winnie’s grandmother is a tough-but-sweet cookie.  Sharma took care to create characters with unique quirks that enhance the plot in their own ways.  If I had to write a story, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to make characters’ voices authentic and different from one another’s, but I can definitely spot an author who can masterfully do so.  I wish I could meet Winnie, and that’s a testament to how real of a person she became to me as I read the novel … as well as a testament to Sharma’s narrative prowess.

4.  Teachers/parents: There are many reasons why this title should be added to your shelves.  It can be because it’s a book with diverse characters in it, or because it’s a novel that has tons of allusions to various Bollywood films, or something else completely.  Point #2 includes many reasons for why My So-Called Bollywood Life has been added to my curriculum this term.  Ultimately, I found this title to have a lot of heart, and I think a lot of my students will love it, too.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Nisha Sharma’s Online Corners
Website | Pinterest | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Crown Books for Young Readers and Penguin Random House, for sending me a copy of My So-Called Bollywood Life in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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The Hazel Wood (Melissa Albert)

14 Sep

I knew, entering this novel, that I was in for a wacky fairy-tale-esque ride, but I wasn’t adequately prepared for the adventures that I encountered … many of which happened even before I entered the Hazel Wood.

 

Hazel Wood Squinklethoughts

1.  I received a late ARC of this title, so I had already seen finished copies at bookstores.  I was so pleased that the ARC included the gorgeous cover of the final version because it’s breathtaking!  The gold embossed figures against a black backdrop scream elegance and intrigue at the same time.  I spent a good while trying to figure out how each image – a comb, a dagger, torn pages, to name a few – might fit into the story.  Just from the cover alone, I knew this would make an excellent lesson for my students.

2.  I don’t know if this story can fit seamlessly into any one genre.  On the one hand, it’s definitely meant for YA audiences because some of the scenes are too mature for my youngsters.  On the other hand, anyone who loves fairy tales will enjoy the allusions in this story, regardless of the age of the reader.  The noir-ish feel of this story is particularly alluring.

3.  So what’s The Hazel Wood got that makes it a worthwhile read?

  • Unpredictable plot … Sure, you could slap various scenes against a plot graph and see the overall arc, but I would never, in a million years, have seen most of what transpired coming.  There are surprises, left and right, by way of betrayals, unexpected enemies, unlikely alliances, sheep in wolves’ clothing, … all of which propel the story to its final destination.

  • Interesting characters … The MC, Alice, is quite likeable.  She’s a little self-deprecating, but not annoyingly so.  Because she discovers truths about her life at the same time as the reader does, we can feel very much as if we’re part of her journey.  I also really like her relationship with her mom.  Oh, and Alice Proserpine – great name.

  • Mini side stories … It’s almost like the various tales of Beedle the Bard are strewn throughout the narrative.  Some side stories reveal info pertinent to Alice’s plotline, and others are just colourful tapestries that add to the noir-ness of the book.

4.  If you’re looking for a unique take on well-known fairy-tale creatures, villains, heroines, and overall fantasy feel, you’ll definitely enjoy Albert’s The Hazel Wood.  The author does a great job building her world and fleshing out her characters.  Even if this kind of story is not your thing, you’ll still find enough mysteries that you’ll want to keep reading to see which are solved at the end.

5.  Teachers/parents: There are some scenes (mostly in dialogue, but also in situation, including references to intimate relations) that may be too mature for some kids in elementary school.  Some of the actions in the story, which revolve around hurting/killing people might also be too scary or violent for younger readers.  Writer’s Craft teachers will find this novel to be a rich source of potential lessons and activities.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Melissa Albert’s Online Corners
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Flatiron Books, for sending me a copy of The Hazel Wood in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Flawed (Andrea Dorfman)

6 Sep

Some messages never grow old – they can be read and received throughout your life, and still continue to hold meaning regardless of how many times you hear it.  The message behind Flawed – that we should accept our whole selves, including our imperfections – is one that might change as we grow older but ultimately stays the same.

 

Flawed Squinklethoughts

1.  Dorfman’s first book, which is adapted from her Emmy-nominated film (also titled Flawed), falls somewhere in the middle of graphic novel, picture book, and memoir.  It’s an autobiographical retelling of the relationship between the author and her now-husband, Dave, which leads her to confront insecurities about her body, and her feelings about plastic surgery.  She reaches into memories to recall other moments when body-image issues arose as she decides whether Dave’s career as a plastic surgeon might be a deal-breaker between them.

2.  Young people will enjoy this book, which is easy to read and understand, and full of powerful images that highlight the narrator’s emotions throughout the story.  Older people will enjoy this, too, which serves as a good reminder that while we can aspire to improve our health and present a professional  demeanour/presentation, we should ultimately learn to accept ourselves, flaws and all.

 

Flawed 2

 

3.  I particularly enjoyed the extra pages at the end of the book that include a note from Andrea and sample postcards from Dave’s and her postcard project.  It’s always great to get behind-the-scenes stuff!

4.  I haven’t seen any of Dorfman’s films before, but I’m very keen to look them up now.  Cool Canadiana aside, they also tackle important life issues and lessons, which my students would enjoy.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Andrea Dorfman’s Online Corners
Website | YouTube | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Firefly Books, for sending me a copy of Flawed in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

That’s Not What Happened (Kody Keplinger)

4 Sep

Happy September, Squinks!  We’ve had a crazy-busy spring and summer in our little corner of the world, so while I’ve been updating our school library shelves and spotlights list, I haven’t had much time to write on this blog.  But September is a great time for new beginnings, right?  There’ve been tons of awesome books published in the last few months, and I can’t wait to share them all with you here.

First up is Kody Keplinger’s unforgettable That’s Not What Happened.  A few years ago, a YA novel about school-shooting survivors would not have been on my TBR list.  I don’t usually opt to read sad stories, especially those involving kids – I get too sad too easily.  But something about the premise of this novel really called to me, and not only did I request this book, but I bumped it up to the top of my list when it arrived.

 

That's Not What Happened Squinklethoughts

1.  That’s Not What Happened is about survivors whose perspectives don’t get as much play in the media as the victims’.  We read and hear a lot about the lives of the victims and their futures that were taken away, but we don’t get as much information about the people who have to keep on going after witnessing their friends die.  Above all else, this novel gives us a story told from much-needed perspectives.

2.  Speaking of perspectives, while the story is told from the point of view of Lee Bauer – one of the witnesses, and best friend of one of the victims – Keplinger masterfully allows the other survivors to tell their tales, too.  The survivors have a voice, and the victims’ stories are told by people who knew them best.  There are many times that I think a story with multiple narrators would have been better told from just one person’s point of view, but I’m really pleased with how Keplinger neatly sews together the various narrators’ sections to create a seamless storyline.

3.  This novel was very unputdownable for me.  I read it in a couple of days, and it only took me that long because I started on a weekday, and couldn’t read much while teaching (though I snuck in a few pages here and there).  I really, really wanted to know, first, what detail about Sarah (Lee’s best friend) everyone keeps getting wrong, and, second, what Kellie has to do with it.  These mysteries propel the story forward, on top of the fact that I was very invested in all of the survivors’ lives since the tragedy of three years ago.  The six survivors are treated by the police, the school community, and the town at large as one group, but the shooting occurred at different moments in their lives, which inevitably leads to very distinct ways of dealing with it.

 

That's Not What Happened 2  

4.  This is the kind of story that you have to read for yourself.  I can’t tell you exactly what might compel you to read through to the end, but for me, it was a combination of memorable characters, authentic dialogue, angst and conflict and misunderstandings, and a desire to know what really happened.  I know some people weren’t particularly moved by the story, and I think that’s just proof that how much a story or character affects a reader is based on when that story or character enters a reader’s life.  Some readers will devour this book, while others might think it’s just another YA title.  Regardless, I think this is an important book to be accessible to all readers in case there’s one out there who might need it.

5.  Teachers, there are a lot of ways this title can be incorporated into your lessons.  Potential topics include: truth, THE truth vs. what is accepted as truth, loyalty, finding your voice, survivor’s guilt, life after tragedy, bullying, knowing when a story is yours to tell, reconstructing a shattered life, and controlling the narrative.

 

4.5 Squinkles

 

Kody Keplinger’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Scholastic, for sending me a copy of That’s Not What Happened in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

Together at Midnight (Jennifer Castle)

26 Apr

I love stories about the end of the year, which is really what drew me to this one to begin with.  Add to that the premise of practising random acts of kindness, and I was sold!  Together at Midnight is a sweet story about finding yourself while being kind to others.

 

Together at Midnight

Squinklethoughts

1.  I started reading Together at Midnight way past midnight, and I was already on page 81 by the time I realized an hour had passed.  I had meant to just start the book to get a feel for it, but the first few chapters flew by really quickly.  If you like fast-paced stories and short chapters, you’ll love this.

2.  Kendall and Max are equally strong and compelling narrators.  It was great to read the story through their distinct voices.  Kendall is a very lovely flawed character.  She’s just spent a semester abroad in a school program that takes kids across various European countries.  For her, it was the perfect way to earn credits while undergoing teaching and learning styles that she could handle.  As the youngest and only girl in the family, Kendall has had supportive parents and siblings throughout her life, but there are some struggles she has to face alone.  Kendall is a great protagonist for anyone who’s ever felt just behind every one else – grasping academic concepts a little slower, or enjoying social milestones a little later.  She’s friendly and brave and optimistic, which makes it easy for other characters to like her, even if she can be hard on herself, but she really just needs time to grow.

3.  I was rooting for Max all the way.  He seems like the ultimate gentleman when it comes to his treatment of both Eliza, his erstwhile girlfriend, and Kendall.  He’s also a caring person, as evidenced by his relationship with his curmudgeon of a grandpa, Big E.  But what I like about Max best are his flaws.  Sometimes he cares a little too much, and that turns him into a helicopter parent, or – worse – he derails his life to help someone, even if he’s not asked to do so.  He actually reminds me a lot of Ted Mosby, architect.  He is inherently kind and obviously smart to have been accepted to Brown, but he, too, needs a little growing up.

4.  The adventures in this book take place during that fuzzy week between Christmas and New Year’s when you don’t know what day it is, but you’re thankful it’s still the holidays.  I love that.  I also love Castle’s decision to set this story in New York City, in and around the hustle and bustle of Times Square, a beating heart of a metropolis if there ever were one.  So many different cafés to try out, so many different people to observe.  I’ve been to NYC a handful of times now, and it’s so easy to see why Kendall and Max’s challenge works well here – and why the city itself helps the two of them evolve.

5.  I’m often wary about multiple narrators within a story, but Castle’s choice makes perfect sense.  In fact, knowing the thoughts of the people that Kendall and Max encounter adds a wonderful depth to the story for the readers.  It’s like a very satisfying instance of dramatic irony, especially when the two protagonists aren’t sure if they’ve helped or hindered their targets.  We, the audience, know the consequences of their actions, and it makes our journey so much better.

6.  There are so many quotable quips throughout the book that would look great on posters.  In particular, I loved:

It’s possible to have no regrets but also wish everything were different.

Every minute of being with [him] took effort, and not that I have anything against effort, but when you experience a different way of being with a person, stuff begins to make sense.

Together at Midnight 2

 

7.  Teachers/parents, Together at Midnight is a nice addition to your libraries.  There are a few discussion points that would be more appropriate for senior-level students, but nothing too earth shattering.  What your YA readers will take from this story is what I did: It’s entirely possible to be a wonderful human being even if you’re far from perfect.  Also: random acts of kindness can go a long way even if you can’t see their effects.

 

4 Squinkles

 

Jennifer Castle’s Online Corners
Website | Facebook | Tumblr | Twitter | Chapters/Indigo

 

Thank you, Harper Collins Canada, for sending me a copy of Together at Midnight in exchange for an honest review.  All Squinklethoughts expressed herein are entirely my own.

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