Posts tagged ‘fantasy’

September 3, 2012

I write in a garbage dump…

…and other information for GUTGAA’s (Gearing Up To Get An Agent) meet and greet. Here are my answers in case you are hopping over from Deana Barnhart’s blog! And if you are not, here are a few things about my writing I’m sharing with some other unagented (pre-published) writers. ūüôā
Where do you write?
Usually (like now) I write at my desk, a huge, heavy wooden ones that movers hate and I love. My mom bought it for me when I was a lot younger than I am now. I did all my high school homework at this desk while listening to the Mariners lose games in the bottom of the ninth. Or sometimes earlier than that. I had a phone on my desk that I sometimes used to talk to this cute boy at school, the one who took the kids to the pool today so that I could get some time to read my book before submitting it to be read for the Highlights Foundation workshop this fall. (Eek!)
Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
This is not pretty. A messy pile of books, an upturned trash can, a closet stuffed with empty three-ring binders and an ergonomic keyboard I should be using right now. In my defense, we moved into this house three weeks ago and mom’s study is last on the list of rooms to be conquered. I’m trying to convince my husband that a great present for the person who unpacked every other room in the house would be having a professional organizer come and unpack my study. So far, it isn’t working. If you have a good argument for me, please include in the comments below.
Favorite time to write?
The mornings, but it’s usually at naptime or bedtime.
Drink of choice while writing?
Iced tea. I wish it was something cooler, like Jack Daniels.
When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
Both. I think silence is better, but sometimes I just need the music to keep my brain from running away.
What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
The inspiration at first came from my grandfather, through his introducing me to the Civil War through the letters of my great-great-great grandfather. Those letters have been an important part of my life and they inspired me to write this book. But the overarching theme in the book came from reading Night by Elie Wiesel and Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi. Both have important things to say about remembering our past, but Primo Levi says something that struck me powerfully: we cannot FULLY remember. If we REALLY remembered, we could never go on. Certainly that is true for a Holocaust survival. Is it true for all of us? That there is some delicate balance between remembering and not remembering that allows us to go on but hopefully prevents us from repeating the atrocities of our history? On an abstract level, my book tries to deal with that question, not only for society as a whole, as the present gets obliterated when people forget the past, but also for the characters on a personal level, as they struggle with the usual middle school issues and learn to embrace themselves and their pasts in their own ways.
What’s your most valuable writing tip?
Delete. Delete. Delete.
January 6, 2011

Geek out with Harry Potter literary analysis

Hardison, the computer geek character in Leverage, my current favorite TV show, is fond of saying “It’s the age of the geek!”¬† And looking at Google and Facebook alone, it’s hard to argue that, although whether or not it’s the age of the literary geek is probably more debatable.¬† However, I’m happily able to admit that I am a full Harry Potter geek, even if I don’t have my own wand or invisibility cloak.¬† And that as a result, this book made me REALLY happy.

Title: Harry Potter’s Bookshelf
Author: John Granger
Genre
: Reference/Literature, Young Adult, Adult, Middle Grade
Age: 12 and up

Summary and Review:

John Granger really goes all out in his literary analysis of Harry Potter.  His author email address is john@hogwartsprofessor.com, and he takes his professorship seriously.  Which, let me tell you, I appreciate.  Reading this book has given me not only profound insight into the Potter series, but also the centuries of literature it is built upon.  Whether Rowling was influenced by the exact books Granger mentions or whether she alludes to them with her writing style purposely, is irrelevant.  The brilliance of the book is how it ties together so many forms of literature and shows how those forms have influenced writing today, specifically the writing of the great JKR.

Topics in this book include the narrative structure of the book–why Rowling might have chosen the third person omniscient limited as her main form of narrative style, genre–how each book reads like a classic mystery tale, and author-influence–how frequently Jane Austen and her characters and ideas flit through the pages of the Potter novels.¬† He also covers the setting as structured like a familiar British boarding-school novel, and the moral meaning of the significant gothic influences and postmodern themes present in the book.¬† He covers satire, allegory, literary alchemy, and fantasy.

The book was a great read.¬† As a Harry Potter fan, I enjoyed a new glimpse into the books, and it has encouraged me to pick them up another time, reading at a deeper level.¬† As a reader, I loved learning about the literary history that I either never learned in school or have long forgotten.¬† And as a writer, I really appreciated the chance to dissect a great book and to really think about why it’s great and what choices the author may have made along the way.

This book certainly isn’t a children’s book, but a precocious Potter-loving middle school would enjoy it.¬† And any high schooler with an appreciation for the young wizard will get a kick out of it, especially since he or she would likely be in the middle of the stage of education where many of the books mentioned in here are required reading.¬† This might make Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre a heck of a lot more fun!

Follow-up with the kids:

It would be a lot of fun to reread one of the Potter books or even the whole series with this analysis in mind.¬† Or you could do a scavenger hunt through one of the books and look for some of the clues and allusions Granger mentions.¬† And despite the fact that it’s a literary analysis, you could probably (sigh) watch the movies (which, don’t get me wrong are great, but really) and find some of the trends, especially as regards the setting, in there as well.¬† So grab some popcorn and sit the family on the couch to look for gothic symbolism or medieval signs.

October 19, 2010

Is that your organ or mine? A compelling dystopia with cloning, slavery, drugs, and other things we bring upon ourselves

I had to read this novel.¬† It was for school.¬† I was about to assign it to my kids, 7th graders, for a dystopia project, on the advice of a librarian, so I needed to read it first.¬† What an awesome assignment!¬† I loved it.¬† It’s a page-turner.¬† It’s adventurous.¬† It’s emotional.¬† It makes you think about where the world today is going.¬† All things I love when I am reading a great book.¬† And it’s why I think young adult and children’s books are often so much better than adult books.¬† Wasn’t it the author of The Golden Compass who said that you can deal with so much more in a kid’s book?¬† Well, this book is a great example of that.

Title: The House of the Scorpion
Author: Nancy Farmer
Genre
: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Age: Middle School and High School and lots of Adults

Summary and Review:

The main character, Matt, is a clone.¬† He lives in the country of Opium, between the United States and another fictional country of this dystopic future.¬† In his society, clones are created and their minds altered with at birth so that they have none of their own emotions or thoughts.¬† They are treated like animals, or worse.¬† But Matt is a special kind of clone.¬† He is a clone of the country’s dictator, who demands that his brain be kept intact.¬† But this isn’t a gesture of good will–the dictator will kill Matt when the time is right, because Matt exists to keep the dictator’s life eternal–when he needs a new organ, Matt will be there ready, as have many clones in the past.

Matt must first understand that he is not a human at least as far as others see him, and then relearn his humanity with the help of a few caring souls.¬† He does eventually escape his horrible fate in his own country, but only to join a fate as a child slave laborer in the next one.¬† The book is full of issues that mirror today’s society, and this, combined with likable characters and a compelling narrative, makes it a great read.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

A lot of kids have trouble understanding what a “clone” is.¬† They know the term mostly from science fiction stories and snippets they hear, mostly out-of-context in the news, and so they don’t really get the full story.¬† As a result, I found some kids would read this book and have trouble understanding why a clone wouldn’t be treated differently.¬† So this is an important starting place for a conversation.¬† Make sure your child knows what it means to be a clone.¬† Basically, that the DNA is taken from one individual, put into an embryo, and a baby develops.¬† That baby is no different from any other baby, whose DNA happened to come from two individuals via an egg and sperm, but some students have a hard time understanding that.¬† Sometimes I relate the issue to identical twins.¬† Clones are no more alike than identical twins–in other words, they will probably look like the person they are cloned from, and probably have some similarities, but they will be their own person.¬† Getting kids to fully understand the implications that Matt is fully human is an important first step to understanding this book.¬† (After all, in today’s society, many children start out as “test tube” babies, and this, while different and controversial in whole new ways, is, from the point of view of the kid who is born, very much the same.)

Older middle school students and high school students can relate this to stem cell research as well.¬† I don’t think there are many people out there who would argue that it’s okay to “grow” a human being and then kill it for your own purposes–that’s the equivalent of saying we should be able to do anything we wanted with our own children.¬† However, there is a debate about what it’s appropriate to do with embryos that are created in the process of trying to help someone get pregnant and one their way to be destroyed.¬† Should scientists first be able to research on them for the good of those already alive, or is that wrong, since they have the “potential” to become human life?¬† Or should we not be allowed to create such things in the first place?¬† Books like this can help students wrap their heads around issues that otherwise seem too big or too irrelevant for them to understand.

If your child is reading this book, I would highly recommend reading it with them.¬† It will help you identify issues that are most important to you and your child and help direct a conversation even further.¬† Plus, it’s a great read.

October 11, 2010

There is a lot of gold, but the darkness is there aplenty

Okay, let me be honest.  I hated this book.  At least, once I was done with it I did.

But let me be honest again, while I was reading it, I couldn’t put it down.¬† So the relationship was not simple.

And let me now be really honest.¬† (Because it’s not honesty until you actually reveal something about yourself, instead of just about the book alone.)¬† The main reason I hated the book because I couldn’t handle it.¬† Some things are too painful to read, at least for me with my over-active imagination and brain that won’t turn off, even if I want it to.¬† It’s not that I shy away from tough subjects or even painful subjects in books, in fact, sometimes I am drawn to them, but something about this–maybe the use of animals (I am a vegetarian of the most sentimental kind) or children (I am a new and pregnant mother) or the religious overtones (I consider myself very religious and spiritual)–REALLY got to me.¬† Which again, is why it’s also such a great book–it’s powerful.

So I guess it’s most honest to say that while I was reading it, I wasn’t sure about it.¬† When I was done, I hated it more than anything I’d ever read.¬† Now that time has passed and I’ve had a chance to reflect on its meaning, I’ve come to rethink things.

So why would I write about it?¬† I was clear that this blog is only to talk about books I consider “page-turners”, books that I liked.¬† I’m not here as a reviewer.¬† Well, here’s the deal.¬† Months after reading the book, I still think about it.¬† I am drawn to its theories, to its plots, to its characters.¬† I want to learn more, but I don’t know if I am strong enough.¬† I thought I would never, ever read the sequels.¬† But I think I am wrong about even that.¬† I think someday I will have to.¬† The pull is just that strong.¬† So even though the part of me who wants to escape sometimes into a rosy world resists the horrific imagery that at times appears in this book, there is more of me who knows why the author did that, who agrees with him, and who wants books and stories like this to live on until humanity figures it out on its own.

Title: The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)
Author: Phillip Pullman
Genre
: Science Fiction / Fantasy
Age: 12 and up

Summary and Review:

Lyra is a out-of-place in her world.¬† Left alone by a mother and father she doesn’t remember, she is raised in a university by academics and their staff.¬† She has little formal education, other than what seem like infrequent meetings with the scholars, but is bright and curious.¬† She spends most of her time flying through the streets of the city, playing rough-and-tumble games with the other children.¬† We see her curiosity at the beginning of the book as she and her daemon (an that is connected to her by a strong, invisible force, a physical representation of her soul, and something all humans in this world have) sneak into a study and witness an almost-poisoning of (ostensibly) her uncle, Lord Asriel.¬† After saving him and getting involved with a mysterious woman, she becomes a runaway and joins a party of “gyptians” in a high-stakes adventure to the arctic, where she believes her uncle has headed, and where she and others believe that children who have been kidnapped have been taken.

The story is rife with delicious imagery of her collegiate environment, the busy town surrounding it, and the fantastical worlds up north with flying witches and armored bears.  But the real power lies with the kidnapped children and the story of what is happening to them.  A horrific research project, funded by an all-powerful church, is experimenting with the children, leaving many of them dead in a painful way that is foreshadowed earlier in the book by interactions between Lyra and her own daemon.

On the downside, which is part of the reason I had trouble with at first, I found Lyra to be a strong character who doesn’t necessarily affect things around her as much as she is affected by them.¬† This isn’t universally true–she makes some important decisions, but she is played as somewhat of a pawn.¬† On the same note, Lyra is an important part of a prophecy (which is why she is partly played as a pawn by those who know it), and part of this prophecy gets a lot of hype but I felt falls rather flat at its conclusion.¬† However, in the end, the allegory about religion and the ways in which we treat our souls (and ourselves) eventually spoke to me too powerfully to put down this book for good.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

(For the short version and a quick question, skip to the end.)

Wow.¬† I mean, wow.¬† First of all, don’t start off the conversation the same way so many people talk about this book, which is how this is “too deep” for a children’s book and/or “deep enough” for an adult book.¬† I mean, throw up.¬† Are children stupid?¬† Have the adults who say these things never spoken to a middle school or high school student?¬† Most of them speak much more eloquently about the meaning of life than their adult counterparts who are way too deep in their search for financial security to even remember they once cared about such a question.¬† Pullman understood that a children’s book would be the best way to raise such profound questions, and for that, I truly admire him.

This book would raise a lot of great questions in a classroom setting.¬† Too bad our messed up ideals about children’s education would never allow them to read a book that speaks so poorly of organized religion.¬† (It’s interesting, isn’t it, to even think that?¬† I mean, it’s obvious a school would never read this book.¬† But why?¬† Because religious parents would be afraid that one book was going to bring down thousands of years of religion?¬† I’d rather think that one book could entice students to think about religion, to think about what it means to them, and in the end, change the way they look at their own religion, probably giving them more authority over their own thoughts and making their own beliefs even stronger.¬† But alas, our society is too weak for that.)¬† However, in my fantasy world in which this could be read in a classroom, or in a world in which you are an especially enlightened home-schooling parent who wants to present a myriad of viewpoints to your child, or in a world in which you actually have these kinds of conversations over the kitchen table with your teen who somehow didn’t get the apathetic-towards-things-his-parents-care-about gene, then here you go:

What do the daemons in Lyra’s society represent?¬† Is there a parallel in our world?¬† Why do you think daemons are the opposite sex of a person?¬† Why do a minority of people have same-sex daemons?¬† Why would removing someone’s daemon release energy?¬† Why would the church want to eliminate daemons, at least in their natural form?¬† What is so scary to the church and religious people in general about an alternate world, a world in which living things are different than they are in this one?

If you are the average parent with an average teen and just want to get a chance to see what they thought of the book and maybe have a short but hopefully meaningful conversation, try something like this:

So, do you think the daemon’s are people souls?¬† Or their desires?¬† Or did you have another idea?¬† (If they do, go with it and ignore the rest of what is written here.)

If not, and they agree with the soul-thing, keep on that, and don’t necessarily use the church as the enemy, even though that really is what the book talks about, but maybe something more generic like “adults” or “authority”.¬† That way, your teen can talk about things that are more relevant in his own life.¬† Unless, of course, oppression by an organized religion is an issue in his life, in which case, knock yourself out.

As a follow up, if they agree with the soul-thing, you can ask: “why would the adults want to experiment with cutting away souls?¬† Do you think adults do anything similar to kids today?”¬† (And if your teen answers that making her go to high school is the same as cutting away her soul, don’t argue; just listen.¬† She’s probably trying to tell you something important.¬† Kids often feel like they are trying to be pressed into cookie cutters that are not the right size and shape for them.¬† See if this conversation can lead you to understand if your child feels that way and if so, if they can tell you who is doing that to them (parent, teacher, coach) and what they feel is being taken away from them.¬† (And please listen.¬† I mean, if they argue you are taking away their individuality by not buying them a car, you don’t have to take them too seriously, but at least hear what they are trying to say!)

SHORT VERSION: Don’t even bring up religion.¬† Use the daemons not as a representation of souls, but as a representation of human desire.¬† Does your teen ever feel like adults are trying to take away his or her natural desires or instincts just like the experimenters in this book?¬† Umm, yeah, I’m willing to bet so.¬† That’s a conversation right now.

September 24, 2010

Imagine if you had the power to GIVE color to some who could only see in black and white

I would argue that you do have this power.¬† We all do.¬† I’ve never met someone who sees the world the same way I do.¬† This could mean that I’m some kind of mutant.¬† But more likely I think it means that we all see things differently.¬†¬†¬† And by having real conversations with each other, we can spread the color around until all of our worlds become so colorful, so multi-dimensional that we would have no choice but to see the other person’s point of view.

That would be power.¬† The kind of power that changes the world.¬† And in Jonas’s world in the beautifully conceived Giver, that’s exactly what does happen.

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre
: Fantasy
Age: Middle School, 9 – 13

Summary and Review:

Jonas is 12 and he is about to learn his profession, chosen for him by the elders in his society and handed out in a ceremony with his peers.¬† But Jonas isn’t chosen for one of the standard jobs of child-rearing or cleaning.¬† Instead, he is chosen to be the next “Receiver of Memories” and as his training begins, he starts to realize things about his world he never saw before.

The first thing Jonas does is stop taking the drugs prescribed to all citizens when they reach adolescence.¬† He notices feelings for girls he never had before.¬† He starts to see in color when before he only saw in black and white (and significantly, the first thing he sees is the red of an apple).¬† And he starts to learn the stories from his predecessor, the stories and memories of all that has been taken from his community, all that came before.¬† He learns about weather that isn’t always perfect.¬† He learns about war and pain, love and loss.¬† He learns what it really means when a child who doesn’t developed properly is “released”.¬† And gradually but finally, he decides he cannot bear the burden of knowledge alone, in a world where these things will never exist.

(SPOILER ALERT) I’ve heard some people complain that the ending is too vague–that they want to know exactly what happens to Jonas.¬† But Jonas is escaping a world where everything is predictable and controlled.¬† The fact that he has even made it into the unknown means he has succeeded.¬† And that, to me, is the whole point.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

I could talk about this book for months.¬† In fact, I’ve used it in the classroom, to talk with seventh graders about utopia and dystopia and what those themes means.¬† Nowadays, I suppose every seventh grader has read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy (which I also love) and so they have been certainly introduced to those themes.¬† This book is less violent, perhaps more subtle, more introspective, but no less powerful.¬† And this book isn’t about a community-wide struggle for freedom, but simply one boy’s quest for the truth in the world, even if that quest comes from understanding just how painful that truth can be.

One great family activity after reading this book would be to watch the movie Pleasantville.¬†¬† It has a lot of similar themes–a seemingly perfect society where everything is in black and white, everyone is “happy”, if only in conversation, and the weather is perfect.¬† There is also no outside world.¬† But then two modern kids are zapped through their television (Pleasantville is an old TV show) and they start to change the society.¬† Through their actions the citizens of Pleasantville are introduced to color, love, sex, and knowledge along with hatred, bigotry, and censorship.¬† The image of the red apple also appears symbolically in the film.

(SPOILER ALERT) The movie also ends on slightly vague terms, although not as vague as the book, giving rise to the idea (and great discussion topic) that uncertainty is one of the prices we pay for our freedom.

Simply comparing the movie and the book will give you a lot to talk about and illuminate a lot of important themes.  Some other questions you might want to discuss are:

– Why did the people of Jonas’s society decide to create it the way they did?¬† What do you think were the benefits?¬† Do you see any benefit to living in a black and white, seemingly “perfect” society?

– Why did they create a “Receiver of Memories” if they wanted to erase those things from their own memories?

– If you were in Jonas’s position, would you have done the same thing?¬† Why?

– Is there anything in our own society that attempts to make things “more pleasant” for us at the expense of knowledge or experience?¬† What is that?¬† Do you think it’s a good idea?¬† Are there things we shouldn’t be allowed to learn by making our own mistakes or having our own experiences?¬† (Examples might include laws that protect us from ourselves, like a drinking age, school dress codes, internet filters at school or a library, etc.)

– If you were to design the “perfect” society, what would it look like?¬† What kind of laws would you have?

September 21, 2010

The devil‚Äôs here‚Ķand he‚Äôs the least of the problems

I saw this book on the ALA’s 2010 list of best books for young adults.¬† The title alone is enough to pick it up, but the reviews were also tempting.¬† There was a lot of stuff I loved about it, and it’s definitely a good book, although I’m not sure it’s my kind of read.¬† But after thinking about it, I decided it still falls into the category of books you want to stay up late and read (and I did that with this one), so it definitely deserves a spot on the blog.

Title: Soul Enchilada
Author: David Macinnis Gill
Genre
: Fiction/Fantasy
Age: Middle School and High School

Summary and Review:

“Bug” is a high school dropout, an orphan three times over, whose problems seem big–keeping a regular job and paying rent in a nasty apartment.¬† Then the devil’s sidekick comes to collect on a debt her grandfather owes.¬† Apparently, he sold his soul to buy a Cadillac and has now disappeared.¬† The plot twists again (although they let you know this on the back cover, so it’s not really a spoiler, although I wish they didn’t) when she fights to save the car and realizes that her soul was put up as collateral.

The story takes a lot of turns, which many reviewers seemed to have trouble believing, but didn’t actually bother me that much.¬† Basketball games and pizza delivery races with the devil?¬† Hey, I’m there.¬† I like a book like that.¬† But for me, I wanted a bit more in the characters.¬† Bug is feisty and strong, an independent woman to a fault.¬† But shouldn’t she have some other side?¬† You see it a little when she remembers her mom–I would have just liked to see a little more.¬† Of course, maybe I’m being sexist here–if this were a male action hero, would I be asking the same thing?¬† I certainly hope so.¬† Same with the other characters–they are interesting and likeable, but I wished I got to know them better.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

The book doesn’t necessarily lend itself to deepness: that isn’t a fault, it’s just not the point of the book.¬† But if your kid is reading it, there are things you could talk about.

First, there’s the whole making-a-deal-with-the-devil thing.¬† Who would do it?¬† For what would you make a similarly large sacrifice?¬† Is there a modern true-life equivalent of selling one’s soul?¬† What would that be?

Before she realizes her soul is up as collateral, Bug fights to keep that Cadillac–despite the presence of a stinky, powerful demon now in the passenger seat.¬† Why would anyone put up such a dangerous fight for an object?¬† For Bug, the car is not only a prized possession, but the last remaining memory of her grandfather.¬† Are there things in your life that mean that much to you?¬† Why?

September 8, 2010

An enthralling, exciting, fantastical, and very real BRAVE story

Title: Brave Story
Author
: Miyuki Miyabe
Genre
: Fantasy
Age: Older and wiser middle schoolers, Grades 7 and up

Summary and Review:

Wow.¬† I mean seriously WOW.¬† This book was a LOT to read.¬† In a good way.¬† But also in a deep way.¬† A dark way.¬† A profound way.¬† And a very REAL way.¬† This book is not for the light at heart.¬† It’s for students who want their books to represent their world, not sugar-coated, and probably (hopefully) much darker than the one they inhabit.¬† It’s the kind of book parents want to think their children aren’t ready for and the kind of book that those same children probably need to read.¬† I loved it, but I admit, I loved it even more in retrospect than while reading.¬† It is long; it is complex.

The dark moments are far outnumbered by lighter moments, but they are there and they are not likely to be forgotten.¬† The main character, Wataru, is a young boy whose parents are getting divorced and the boy is going through very real feelings of loss and guilt about that. Simultaneously, he discovers a portal to a fantasy world through which a friend of his–or rather a popular boy who he wishes was a friend–has also traveled.¬† That fantasy world imitates in many ways his favorite video game, a fact which at first irritated me because it seemed so fake, but which I came to love as a metaphor for him inventing this world as he goes, trying to make sense of the real world back home through challenges and parallels he discovers in this new, fascinating, and imaginative world.

The fantasy world is equipped with everything you want a fantasy world to have: great characters, interesting and very different towns, warring peoples, and complex politics.¬† Our young hero starts out with very little power or strength but begins to find his own.¬† The world is full of surprises, challenges, and certainly some scariness.¬† And somewhat intense parallels to Wataru’s situation at home.

The book certainly touches on deep subjects.¬† Wataru’s father is leaving his mother for another woman, and while he sees his father as the culprit in a very black and white way at the beginning of the book, he later learns that his father originally left this woman for his mother and starts to wonder what it all means. The conversations are real, something that kids will especially appreciate.¬† When he and his dad finally sit down to talk about the separation, his dad says “Convictions are important decisions, the kind you can’t go back on.” And Wataru thinks, but doesn’t say “So abandoning me and Mom was an important decision.”¬† But then he asks his father “So what are your convictions, Dad.¬† I mean, Mom is really sad, and Grandma’s furious, and all Uncle Lou does is hold his head in his hands and moan.¬† How can convictions be worth all that?”¬† In other words, Wataru asks what a lot of kids would want to ask.¬† The conversation goes further.¬† Wataru’s dad says that “You only live once/”¬† and that “If you think you’ve made a mistake, you have to fix what can be fixed.” But Wataru doesn’t know the whole history and doesn’t understand.¬† He thinks to himself “Dad’s life was a mistake.¬† So…what does that make me?”¬† He tries to ask these questions to his father, but just like in real life, they get stuck in a generation gap of understanding.

At one part of the book, his friend wakes him up when his mother has turned on the gas in their apartment in at attempt to kill both herself and him.  This is a parallel story to something that had already happened to this same friend.

I know some people will be turned away by the darker aspects of the book, and others by the unfamiliar cultural setting–the book was translated from the Japanese.¬† If your child is honestly too young to handle material like this, then that’s probably a good decision.¬† But most children can handle more than their parents think–and there are many children who would benefit greatly from reading a book like this.¬† Besides, I firmly believe that children, like anyone, will get out of a book what they are ready to get out of it, and very little more.

But you know that boy in school–there are many of them–who bury their heads in fantasy novels, rarely read a book less than 500 pages, invent complex games or stories of their own, and might even have parents who are divorced?¬† Please buy him this book.¬† And get it for a lot of other kids, too.

The book’s English edition won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award in 2008.¬† The author, born and raised in Tokyo, worked first at law offices and has previously written crime novels, which gives this project some more context.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This is one to read alongside your child.¬† The darker aspects will have you wanting to engage in a conversation immediately and often–what do you think about this?¬† Isn’t it awful?¬† You’ll want to reassure your children that the world isn’t (always) like this, and likely your instinct will be to hope they don’t really relate.¬† But hold back.¬† Let them experience it for themselves.¬† Let them ask you questions.¬† Let them know you’ve read it, too, and you understand.¬† But let your kids guide you through this one.¬† Otherwise you take most of the magic away.

If you like, here are some possible questions to ask when they are done (although, please, put them in your own words, or you will be met with eye-rolling):

What was the importance of Mitsuru’s character?¬† Why do you think he was portrayed as someone more popular than Wataru, someone Wataru looks up to, but also someone experiencing many of the same things as Wataru?¬† Mitsuru seems to be a symbol of something.¬† What?

How does this family deal with divorce?  What have you noticed about any of your friends who are going through this?  Does this make you think about it any differently?

What does Wataru learn about himself?  How does he learn it?  How does the contrasting character of Mitsuru help illuminate what Wataru is learning?

How do you (or your friends) use fantasy to escape or explain your own reality?¬† (This could be a week-long conversation.)¬† Help your child understand that when they go online to play a game or social network (especially those kids who social network and try on different personalities, which is definitely the fad now), they are using fantasy worlds in almost the same way as Wataru, even if it’s much less obvious.¬† See if you can get them to tell you why they and their friends like to do that.¬† And then you may have solved the mystery of the online generation!

Good luck with that!