Posts tagged ‘mean girls’

January 30, 2012

what if you had to die again and again? and again…

I don’t really have a good parenting story for this book because I have toddler boys instead of teenage girls (says a small prayer of thanks). Toddler boys have their issues, but high school popularity contests, alcohol, sex, and suicide are not among them. I realize that’s a lot of weighty issues, but don’t let them turn you away from this book. Its’s weighty, but not in a preachy way. And not in an over-the-top way. Just in a very real, very honest way. It’s a very good story with very good writing, which at the end of the day, is a great way to spend some time.

Title: Before I fall
Author:
 Lauren Oliver
Genre: Fiction
Age: High School or Upper Middle School (but the topics are definitely high school rated)

After not really liking the first chapter (I was thinking, is anyone really THIS shallow?), I got into the book until it had such a hold on me I couldn’t put it down even though the baby has been keeping me up and I really needed to sleep. Here’s my two cents, and I think this would be a GREAT book for any teenage girl and her mom to read together. Even if you are at the point in your relationship where this main character is and you don’t talk much, just the shared reading experience would be great. As a mom (or a dad!) you would be sending the message to your daughter, that yes, you are up for topics like this, that you are willing to read about them and even talk about them, that you were a teenager once, too.

(Although please do not ask your child to read it and then give them any high-road morality lectures about alcohol or driving or sex. Trust me, the book speaks for itself. That is the beauty of it. If you have a close relationship with your kid, treasure that and talk to them about the characters, their lives, and their decisions. Let your teen lead the way with the discussion. Don’t push it.)

This book is really well-written. Told from the point of view of a popular high school girl who dies in a car crash and has to relive her last day over and over, it’s a beautiful story about life and the way we live it. It’s a great story about the lessons we learn along the way, by one girl who learned those lessons way too late. I was a little worried it was going to be too predictable–she starts out so shallow and obviously she is going to learn, change. But it wasn’t like that at all. For one, she learns lessons in a really honest, believable way. For two, what seems so shallow at first is explained so well in later chapters that depth is added to her character and she becomes so alive. Which is only somewhat ironic, given that she’s dead.

I think teenage girls would really relate to this book, even if they’ve never stepped into the popular circle or touched a cup of beer to their lips. This book is about growing up. It’s about finding out what’s important. It’s about the changes we make on purpose and the ones we don’t realize we’ve made until they are already a part of us. It really makes you think about how you live your life. In a good way.

From a parent perspective, here are two of my favorite observations, which you could talk about (or not) with your kids:

For page references purposes, I had a library-bound hardcover.

Page 225: It’s the weirdest thing. I’m popular–really popular–but I don’t have that many friends. What’s even weirder is that it’s the first time I’ve noticed.

Page 194: Here’s one of the things I learned that morning: if you cross a line and nothing happens, the line loses meaning. It’s like that old riddle about a tree falling in a forest and whether it makes a sound if there’s no one around to hear it. / You keep drawing a line farther and farther away, crossing it every time. That’s how people end up stepping off the edge of the earth. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to bust out of orbit, to spin out to a place where no one can touch you.

That second passage is a really good reminder for parents. It can be so hard to draw that line–and once drawn, to keep its meaning. When I worked as a principal, I saw so many parents struggling with it. But it’s so important, and this is why. Kids WANT that line, they crave that line, even if they could never, ever express it for themselves. I used to tell parents that, and they wouldn’t always believe me.

I remember hearing an NPR interview a long time ago with a woman who had once worked as a dominatrix. I don’t remember what she had turned herself into that landed her later on NPR, as that was likely less interesting. But this is exactly what she was talking about. She said she never had any boundaries growing up. So she just kept pushing and pushing, looking for the walls. She tried alcohol, she tried drugs, she tried stripping, and she just kept going. Unfortunately, I never found a polite way to share that story with parents, but I wish I could have–if that didn’t make them give their kids some boundaries, I don’t know what would. This book, might, though.

August 18, 2011

high school is hard and here are THIRTEEN REASONS WHY

When I think about teasing in school, there are two incidents that come to mind immediately. The first one was 4th grade, when I got glasses. I was SO excited about my glasses and a girl called me “four-eyes”. She was my friend and I think she was just trying to tease me and say something funny. I took it as a compliment. My teacher took it as an insult, though, and talked to her about it. I thought that was ridiculous.

About two years later, I was in the middle school girls’ bathroom when two more girls came rushing in. One was in tears. Sobbing hysterically; I thought someone might have died. When I figured out what was wrong, though, it turned out that one of the boys had called her flat-chested–I forget the terminology he used, but he got the point across. I had no idea how to respond. I really, really, had no idea why she was upset. Because one of the boys said her boobs were small? Really?

That should give you a good picture of me. That’s the nerd I was in middle school (yeah, right, like I’ve changed…)  :), and let me tell you, there are a lot of advantages to traveling socially-unaware through middle and high school in between the cliques and the put-downs.

This book is about someone who wasn’t as lucky. This is about someone who travels right in the middle of the social circles, who tries hard to fit in and who gets trampled on again and again. This is about someone who couldn’t take it anymore. Specifically, it’s about a girl who kills herself and leaves behind a set of tapes explaining why.

Title: Thirteen Reasons Why
Author: Jay Asher
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age:  Young Adult, 13 and up

Summary and Review:

Now, nothing is wrong. 🙂 I’m not sure why I’m writing about two books about death right in a row (see my last post about the wonderful story each little bird that sings), but that’s just what I picked up recently. I’ve actually been avoiding this book for awhile now but saw it at a bookstore and decided it was time to read it. It sounds horribly depressing, but it isn’t. And even though the main character and one of the two narrator voices is actually dead (she killed herself before the book begins), it isn’t really about death. It’s more about high school and how we treat each other in high school.

The book is told from the point of view of a boy, one of the thirteen recipients of the tapes. He finds the tapes on his doorstep one day and starts listening. In horror, he realizes the voice he hears is of a girl he knew, a girl he was almost friends with, a girl he wished he had been closer to, narrating her experiences in high school as he walks along the paths she used to walk and visits the sites she used to visit.  He hears about the boy she kissed, the rumors about her that weren’t true, the way she was treated by her peers.

If you are at all interested in YA literature, you’ve heard of this book. It’s as good and as important a book as people say it is. It should be required reading for anyone who has anything to do with high school–especially the teachers who might not remember as acutely as the kids just how much the little stuff hurts.

I do wish I got to know the two main characters a little bit more, but I also liked that I could fill in some of the blanks about their personalities myself. And while I’ve heard others say that the girl who killed herself doesn’t leave a lot of room for sympathy, I disagree.  Yes, she is bitter. Yes, she sounds condescending. But I’m sorry–she’s a teenager, and a depressed, suicidal teenager at that. She’s not beyond blame–that isn’t the point of the story. She’s just the one that couldn’t handle it. The fact that you might not like her only adds to the story–the others didn’t like her much either, but they should have treated her with more respect. It’s a powerful page-turner, and I highly recommend it.

As a mother, I really liked the way the author brought the boys’ mother into the picture. He is clearly a good kid, and she trusts him, but she knows he is lying about what he is up to tonight and whether or not he is okay. But she gives him his space, she allows him to do what he needs to do–miss dinner, stay out late, and listen to the tapes–all without knowing what is going on. And he trusts her enough to ask her to bring him the tapes, even though he knows she will know something is wrong. The malt that he drinks at her suggestion meant so much to me, thinking about my own son in the future, going through a tough time, not able to tell me about it, but able to trust me enough to bring me into the picture for a bit, and to have a milkshake in my honor.

I think this book is an important read for all of us, whether we’ve been there or not. It’s great for high school students to understand the effects of their actions. It’s great for teachers and parents to understand the gravity of the situations their children might be facing–at times adults can trivialize the problems of youth–read this and you will never do that again.