Review: American Fire by Monica Hesse

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 9.18.28 PMThere were buildings that burned down. Some of the buildings that burned down had meant something to people, and their burning was a tragedy. Some of the buildings that burned down were ugly and old. Nobody knew who they even belonged to and why they were still there. Those buildings weren’t missed. A normal person wouldn’t have burned them down, but the fact that [someone] did –well, that wasn’t the worst thing in the world, either. And the people who really made the county, the firefighters and teachers and librarians and police officers, they were all still there. That mattered. (Pg. 232)

In November of 2012, a string of fires started in rural Accomack County, Virginia. It was one, then it was six, then it was over fifty fires. Far too many to be coincidently or naturally occurring. Area investigators were stumped. The strip of Accomack County coastline where the fires took place was a community of under five hundred people. Who could possibly be committing so many crimes of arson in such a tight knit community?

After countless hours of volunteer fire fighting work, police investigations, and amateur arson hunting, the perpetuators were finally caught. But what was uncovered was much more than many anticipated. It all boiled down to one question: What would one really do for love?

For more on American Fire, published by Liveright Publishing Corp. (division of W.W. Norton) in July 2017, continue… 

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Review: After the Dam by Amy Hassinger

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.54.52 AMParenthood is defined by many as the genesis for the best years of their lives. Hashtags and aphorisms abound on Father’s and Mother’s Day that the day one became a parent is the “best day of their lives.”

To be fair, for many becoming a parent truly is the best day of their lives. A day for love, loyalty, sacrifice, and lifelong selflessness.

For others, it begins an era of self-realization in which the boundaries feel metallic, a permanent stifling. All the previous positive feelings still apply, but they’re wrapped in the metamorphosis of self to servant. A death of self.

Amy Hassinger’s After the Dam explores not only this commonly overlooked contrast, but also the personal paradigmatic elitism all have about their views on the world. All believe their views are right—-justified—-and others are usually wrong somehow. Other views are not bad, per se, but they’re misguided, politely mistaken. Every single one of us does this, and while it is perfectly normal (predictable, probably) it can often lead to severe misunderstanding and disappointment.

And so begins the deterioration of the dam.

For more on After the Dam, published by Red Hen Press in paperback, September 2016, please continue.

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Review: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 9.14.52 PMmost importantly love
like it’s the only thing you know how
at the end of the day all this
means nothing
this page
where you’re sitting
your degree
your job
the money
nothing even matters
except love and human connection
who you loved
and how deeply you loved them
how you touched the people around you
and how much you gave them

For more on Kaur’s Milk and Honey poetry collection, published in 2015 by Andrews McMeel, continue. 

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The Teacher’s Reasons Why

education-614155_1920It’s May. This time of year is both ecstatic joy and utter misery, somehow a simultaneous experience we English teachers chalk up to the definition of “paradox.”

This year is the end of my eighth in education, most of which has been an amalgam of high school and community college teaching.

In short, I’m tired. In length, I wonder how anyone is expected to run this race longer than ten years. Let me explain.

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Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 8.57.00 AMIt’s a Saturday night. You decide to buy a bottle of wine to celebrate a successful week of getting through life. Happy hour? you think. Adulthood has taught you many things, acceptance and gratefulness among them, so you accept that you’d like a beverage but you’re grateful for your couch. Heading home, you pick up a spirit at the corner store, and as you pry the cork from a bottle of cabernet, something begins to happen. Smoke pours from the top of the bottle, spilling over the edges and forming the shape of a wispy man. You begin to wonder who slipped drugs into your dinner as the genie says, “I am here to grant you three wishes. The only caveat is that you must repeat high school.”

And then you smash that bottle on the floor, crunching the glass beneath your boot just for good measure. You didn’t even think, acting only on impulse.

Repeat high school? Over your dead body.

13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher’s 2007 novel, details exactly why repeating high school in today’s world would be The Worst. Certainly not for all, but the logistics, mechanics, and decisions of teenagedom today can be too much to bear for many…. many who cannot see a way out besides death. Hannah Baker could not see that way out and details the thirteen reasons she decided to commit suicide.

For more on 13 Reasons Why, recently made into an original series on Netflix, please continue. 

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The Strategic Power of Story

A recent publication from NPR details the memoriam of Michael Sharp, both a man and a name not likely known to many. This past Monday, his body was found in a shallow grave along with that of his interpreter, Zaida Catalan, in the Dominican Republic of Congo after having left two weeks ago to travel into the jungle.

Sharp knowingly went into the rebel-run jungle, however, and he went armed with only one item: stories. His objective? To work for peace convincing as many rebels as possible to give up their violence and return to their families, their homes.

Upon first reading, I was struck by the naïveté of Sharp. How can one go into the jungles of the Congo (or anywhere, for that matter) to approach belligerent, armed rebels with only words? No spare machete or rifle, just in case?

It is only after sitting with Sharp’s ideas for a few days that I’ve come to understand the gravity of his discovery, and that if anything is going to change the world, rebel or otherwise, it is going to be stories.

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Review: This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 9.02.08 PMMore than anything, Busquets’ novella is a testament to loss. Taking place in Barcelona, Blanca has recently lost her mother. As she struggles to reconcile with the massive fissure of losing her one true love, as she puts it, readers see her engage in multiple amorous relationships and attempt to replace the love she is lacking. While I find the narrative somewhat without, there are paragraphs of startling insight that I would not give up if I had the chance to decide to read this book again.

Offering wonderful intuit of loss and the human condition, Busquets’ narrative explores what it means to love, lose, and grow up, regardless of culture.

For more on This Too Shall Pass, published in paperback on February 21st, 2017, by Hogarth Press, continue. 

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Review: Abandon Me by Melissa Febos

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 8.51.53 PMDo you ever just wonder if you’re enough?

Febos’s memoir Abandon Me strikes a chord, and not just for her language, stylistic approach, and content. Febos’s writing shows readers the unfiltered, completely honest story of herself. There are no sepia overlays or blurred green goggles needed; her story is raw, poetic, and life affirming. Abandonment is a deep-seated demon all must face, but in each of us, our own path, our own enoughness.

Through several essays and one lengthy memoir-novella, Febos delves into the abandonments of her life and the leavings that have made her.

Abandon Me is a must read memoir for 2017. I hold it up to Lindy West’s Shrill and Glennon Doyle Melton’s Carry On, Warrior and Love, Warrior, as personal, all-time favorites.

For more on Abandon Me, published by Bloomsbury Publishing (USA) in February 2017, continue. 

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Review: All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 12.26.22 PM“I can’t wait for summer,” I say longingly to my cousin as we gaze out the window, the sun peaking out its rays for the first time this week. “I hate to do that—wish for time to pass on to something else—but honestly. Summer is the best, and the rest of the year is just kind of blegh. Is this what being an adult is?”

“Yep,” she answers, mock-enthusiastically.

“Well then shit! We’re all screwed.” Quickly, I shift the conversation to something about food—something that makes everyone happy—so that we can push past this awfully depressing representation of adulthood.

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up is Andrea Berg’s representation of what it means to be a grown up, and, for her, that has meant a couple decades of giving up her love, her art; attempting to find love, by dating varied and multiple men; and learning what it means to let go of love through tumultuous family relationships and hardships. While her life doesn’t necessarily lead her to my paradigm, it’s certainly another perspective than happily ever after.

For more on All Grown Up, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 7th, 2017, continue… 

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Review: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 5.26.22 PMThis winter I’ve made a habit of attending book readings to keep myself entertained, so in January I headed up to Prairie Lights with some of my high schools students. Emily Fridlund read from her book History of Wolves with the cadence of a poet; her words drifted from her lips with a smooth, alto tone so lilting that I dreamt of sitting there for hours like a child.

And I’m not super fond of the “reading” portion of book readings, mind you.

Alas, she moved on to the book’s premise, and she discussed her novel’s attempt to address a young girl who’s manipulative instead of the victim, using her life and her connections to make the world turn in her favor.

Yet, after reading her novel, I’m not certain that’s what I read.

For more about History of Wolves, published by Atlantic Grove Press in January 2017, continue. 

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