Everything Sad is Untrue
Although Shane Woods was born with a girls body, he realized by the time he was three that he was really a boy. He has a very supportive mom and an excellent doctor who are both helping him to adjust to living in a world that is nowhere near as accepting as he'd like it to be.
In the author's note at the end of the story, Hennessey says "This is first and foremost a story of hope overcoming hate. Love overcoming fear. Trust, empathy, and understanding overcoming all the forces that are sometimes rallied against them. I firmly believe that if we embrace these beliefs, the world becomes a better place for all of us."
I think that's why I liked The Other Boy so much. It really was a hopeful story.
In the acknowledgements Hennessey says, "There a saying that you can't hate someone whose story you know" and I've always always believed that to be true. Once you know a person... really know them... you realize that you have much more in common then you initially believed and it's easy to emphasize and impossible to dislike them.
A book like The Other Boy is an overdue and welcome addition to classroom shelves. Hopefully, in reading about Shane's painful experiences as a transgender teen being bullied, it might help develop love, understanding and compassion among readers who hadn't thought much about the transgender community.
If you're going to tell your own version of a classic fairy tale, and then spin it out a little longer to explain what happens after the original tale ends... Donnelly certainly knows how to do it with style. Stepsister starts, rather gruesomely, but true to the original Grimm's version, when the two stepsisters are trying on the glass slipper and then continues after that... almost. Before we start with the slipper fitting however, there's an intriguing prologue involving an interaction with the Fates (three sisters, but mainly the eldest aka the crone) and a dastardly and dashing fellow known as Chance. In my mind, I pictured him with the braggadocio of Johnny Depp in his Pirates of the Caribbean role. Chance steals a map from the crone, and initially, I thought it was Cinderella's lifeline, but then we find out that it is one of the stepsister's, Isabelle. Chance and the crone place a little wager on whether Isabelle can change her destiny as outlined on the purloined map and then the story begins. What I loved most about this tale is that Donnelly often throws in a little twist - not significant enough to be a major plot disrupter, but just big enough and frequent enough that the ENTIRE story, I was never sure about what was going to happen next. I also loved the language, the descriptions and the way everything that seemed insignificant came together and mattered.
I'm not sure if teens would love this story as much as I did; I've always loved fairy tales and their alternate versions. Isabella is a fantastically strong female character who discovers the pieces of her heart that have been cut away, and finds a way to make herself whole. There are great messages contained within the story but it never gets preachy in its tone. I'll be anxious to see what young adults think of it. The story is complex enough that you definitely need to be an avid reader in order to enjoy it.
Isabelle struggles with the fact that she is considered ugly and at one point asks the fairy queen to make her pretty. Here is a female companion of Chance attempting to make Isabelle feel better about being called names...
“Now, now, child. Ugly’s not such a bad thing to be called. Not at all! In fact, we’ve been called far worse . . . . Difficult. Obstinate. Stubborn. Shrewish. Willful. Contrary. Unnatural. Abominable. Intractable. Immoral. Ambitious. Shocking. Wayward. Ugly’s nothing. . . . Pretty … now that’s a dangerous word. Pretty hooks you fast and kills you slowly. . . . Call a girl pretty once, and all she wants, forevermore, is to hear it again. . . . Pretty’s a noose you put around your own neck. . . .”
I could have picked several other passages that had significance. The book is just that well written. Highly recommended for those who love fractured fairy tales.
It is a rare book indeed that ever gets a perfect score from me, but The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden deserves nothing less than top marks. It’s heart wrenching, believable, thought provoking and brutally honest. I absolutely love Zoey and at multiple points in the story wanted to applaud her courage, resilience and how she became her own hero. This is a great story for middle school students; one which might cause them to rethink what they consider to be dire. I also love the realistic representation of situations and the fact that the book does not conclude with a perfect happy ending but instead with a satisfying solution. This is a book that I'd like to have in great quantities so I could give it away to lots of classrooms. It would make a great read aloud as there are multiple opportunities to stop and discuss actions and choices and alternatives. I could not put this book down and I doubt you will be able to either. Get yourself a copy asap; you can thank me later.
(I had to republish this post because it disappeared when I was trying to create my Wilder Girls post. This, I read a long time ago.)
I’ve never read a book that tugged at my heartstrings so fiercely. Harbinger (Harry) Jones, the narrator, took me on a roller coaster ride of hope, anger, embarrassment, happiness, love, heartbreak, joy, frustration, pride, guilt, self- loathing, satisfaction and acceptance as he detailed his life’s milestones in a college admissions letter.
I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll leave out the details of the very significant event that happens to 8 yr old Harry which colours his elementary and middle school years. In high school, his best friend Johnny McKenna, who, for a long while is his only friend, suggests they start a band which they do, despite having little musical experience. Later, they decide to take the band on tour. Len Vlahos, the author, dropped out of film school when he was 19, to go on tour with a punk/pop band and his experiences give authenticity to the description of the escapade.
I think it’s important to read examples where your best friend is not necessarily a good-for-you friend and I liked the development of Harry as this realization grew. I also like that Scar Boys did not have a happily ever after ending, again because not all of our journeys do end that way.
I have posted a caution for my grade 8 readers due to the mature content and the use of strong profanity but I still feel Scar Boys provides a reading experience that will stay with them long after they finish the pages.
Middle School former Teacher Librarian - then MYP math and science. Update... VERY recently retired! Still adjusting that I'm not just on summer vacation!!!
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by Tahereh Mafi
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