The Half Life of Molly Pierce (2014) by Katrina Leo

The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leo (2014)

Suggested age range: 15 and up (Harper Teen, 256 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

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The Book: It’s mystery, it’s contemporary, it’s young adult. It’s The Half Life of Molly Pierce. Seventeen year-old Molly feels like she’s missing part of her life. There’s the boy who claims he knows her, but she doesn’t recognize him or know where (or when) she met him. Then there’s his brother who also knows her name, and with whom she senses a significant connection. Was (is?) there something between them? Love? Friendship? Slowly, memories start to come back, and Molly begins to put the pieces together. What is her secret life everyone else seems to know about but her? Will she ever have a whole life instead of just half of one?

Spirituality in The Half Life of Molly Pierce: So, you’ve probably heard me talk about the idea that the relationship to the self is one area of spirituality we can think about out of the four major connections (self, others, natural world, Divine [God]). Looking at this novel through a spiritual lens highlights that idea of our connectedness to the self, and it definitely made me think about how this idea of being “whole” is tied to our spirituality. Mental illness is something a lot of people deal with in today’s world, and it shouldn’t be ignored. The more we can understand it and support people who deal with it, the better. When we see brokenness, we want to fix it. I want to see un-whole people become whole, and Molly’s story reminded me of that even more.

Hope and expectation for the good to come were two other dimensions of the story that engaged my own spirituality.

I wasn’t expecting this because I honestly wasn’t sure what the book was going to be about! So I’m immensely glad I picked it up.

Who Should Read This Book: If you enjoy psychological reads that have a bit of mystery, like We Were Liars, you’ll probably enjoy this. Readers interested in issues surrounding mental illness, or writers interested in ways they can represent mental illness in a story would definitely find this book relevant. It will make you think, and is ideal for reading and discussing with others. I found myself telling my friends about it, even though they weren’t reading it at the time. Oh, and it’s pretty addictive. You might even drop friends off to shop and wait in the car so you can finish the book. (Note: There is some strong language and mature content in the book.)

The Final Word: I wasn’t sure what to think of Molly Pierce at first. I hadn’t read many of the reviews of the book before I plunged in, which I found out afterwards, was a good thing. There is a bit of a twist, and I’m certainly not going to give any hints what that twist entails, but readers who like puzzles and uncertainty—this might be a good choice for you.

I was wondering how Leo was going to wrap the story ends up and resolve the plot, and I was surprised at how satisfying the ending was to me.

The beginning of the book was very jarring (and I think it’s supposed to be) but its conclusion left you with a far different feeling.

Have you read The Half Life of Molly Pierce? What did you think? What other books did it remind you of?

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A Journey of the Heart: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

“He had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.

Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human” (p. 180-181).

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Suggested age range: 16 and up (Black Swan, 357 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

Genre: Contemporary Realism

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The Book: Harold Fry’s life is about to change after he receives a letter from an old friend, Queenie Hennessy. This letter informs him that Queenie is dying of cancer, and she writes to say goodbye to Harold. Out he goes to post a response back, but his walk doesn’t end at the mailbox. Instead, he continues walking, intent upon completing his pilgrimage from one end of England to the next, in hopes of saving his friend. What follows is the story of Harold’s journey, but it is much more than a physical journey. As Harold meets a variety of characters and adventures along the way, he reflects on the past, and this in turn affects his present. For just as his interactions affect those he encounters, he is affected by those he meets along the way. The story is a moving narrative of Harold’s journey of the heart–a journey that ends up changing many more than just Harold.

Spirituality in Harold Fry: Harold’s decision to embark on this impossible walk from the south of England to the north certainly reflects his spirituality, for there is hope inside of Harold that one small act can have a significant effect on a situation. Harold doesn’t claim to be religious, but I think his  story is rife with spiritual moments. As he gets deeper into the pilgrimage, his perspective on the people around him becomes deeper and compassionate. Harold experiences significant connectedness with people and animals alike, and this adds another spiritual aspect to the story. There’s too much to discuss in detail here, but let’s just say the topic of spirituality in fiction would be an amazing area of discussion with this book!

Who Should Read This Book: This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Though Harold is older, he is a protagonist that even young readers would be drawn to, at least I think, from my own reading experience. I wanted to know about his friendship with Queenie—what was it that was so significant about their relationship? Also, what happened between Harold and his son? His journey, which includes flashbacks and reflections on his life, unfolds throughout the narrative, leaving clues here and there so the reader can piece together a fuller picture of the character of Harold Frye. And it’s a character the reader is certainly sad to say goodbye to after the last page is turned.

The Final Word: By all means, go and read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This novel has received rave reviews from many sources, and I’m surprised it took me so long to read it myself. It was during a recent trip to London, while browsing in a bookstore, that I realized this book was perfect for my life in that moment. I was on a pilgrimage of sorts, of my own, so this story fell into my lap at the perfect time! I read it on planes, on trains, and while listening to live jazz one afternoon outdoors in Jerusalem. It’s a rich story, and one with loads of memorable quotes—so have a notepad ready to jot those down. You’ll definitely want to go back and read them again. Be warned–you may need tissue!

 

The Stuff of Dreams: Dream Boy Interview with Madelyn Rosenberg & Giveaway!

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What if your dreams were real? What if someone you only knew in a dream showed up in your life one day? That is exactly what happens to Annabelle, the protagonist in Dream Boy by Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg. Today, I’m very excited to have Madelyn stop by the blog for an interview about a myriad of subjects including dreams, the book, what she’s reading, and of course as is a tradition on the blog: Donuts!

First, a little about Dream Boy:

“If dreams can come true…then so can nightmares.

One night Annabelle dreams of the perfect boy: tall and handsome with impossible blue eyes. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he’s gone…until he walks into her science class the next day. Perfect and REAL. The boy of her dreams. And when he brushes past her, he whispers “Annabelle.” Suddenly, Annabelle’s got the perfect boyfriend and a date to homecoming. Her life is like a dream come true…until her dreams stop and the nightmares begin.”

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EXCERPT from Dream Boy:

I’ve always been a dreamer. Daydreams. Night dreams. Dreams of grandeur and dreams of escape. If I were an onion and you peeled back the papery outside, you’d find layer after layer of eye- watering dreams. And in the center, where there’s that little curlicue of onion heart? There’d be a puff of smoke from the dreams that burned away.

It was all just brain waves, I thought— disconnected, like the notebook that my friend Talon keeps. She draws a line down the middle of the page; on the right she writes everything she remembers about a dream, and on the left she puts notes about the stuff that’s happening in real life, things that might trigger her subconscious. Reality on one side, dreams on the other—a  clear line between the two.

But it turns out there are no clear lines, just a jumble of what is and what might be. And all of it is real.

“Dream Boy explores the mysterious world of dreams, where we access our deepest desires…the authors expertly weave fantasy and the real world in a perfect blend.” — Erica Orloff, author of In Dreams

Preorder Your Copy of Dream Boy: INDIE BOUND, AMAZON, B&N

And now for the interview!

The cover is beautiful and intriguing. Is it similar to anything you had in your minds about what the front image would look like for your novel?

We’d wanted a wild-looking tree, though I don’t think we pictured it looking quite as fantastic or with this (perfect) color scheme. I think at one time Mary and I had talked about the back of a boy’s head being on there, which, of course, is why we don’t design book covers. We loved what the team (Shane Rebenshied and Eileen Carey along with Adrienne Krogh) came up with. Here’s a link if you want to see the art without the words: http://blot.com/post/74092861177/dream-boy

Lovely! Thank you for the link—it’s brilliant to see the artwork on its own.

As a blogger, I am very interested in the spirituality of a story. As authors, do you think your spirituality affects your writing?

In part, it might depend on what you mean by spirituality – people define it so many ways, inside religion, outside of it, upside down. But whatever the definition, I suppose the answer should be a resounding yes because everything that is a part of me defines my writing – experiences that I had as a kid, the way I feel about the earth and the need to protect it, my thoughts about religion (mine and everyone else’s). Dream Boy is actually one of my few books where there hasn’t been a prominent Jewish character in some way, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects in there, too – from foods they eat to the way the mountains and landscape are described. Mary and I explored some creation theories with dreams v. Adam and Eve, and it was interesting to go there. I do a lot of questioning, which seems to be built into Judaism. So any characters I help create are going to do a lot of questioning, too. Theme-wise certain subjects — family, the environment, good. v. evil — creep into most things I write. As does humor. I think I might believe in laughter above all else.  

I asked Mary to chime in on this one. She says: My spiritual side is connected to my subconscious – much the way my writing is connected to my subconscious. I tune into that undercurrent when I sit down to write.

I can understand that, Mary. I can certainly see how you explored the dream theories and the narrative of Adam & Eve in the story—very interesting!

Dreams and their significance are mentioned often in your novel—how important do you think our dreams are?

Very? Extremely? Undeniably? And that goes for the dreams we dream when we’re asleep and the dreams we dream when we’re awake. They propel us forward. They hold us back. They allow us to become our best selves. They destroy the world. They save the world. They wake us up.

Yes! I think dreams can be so important. Do you ever write down your dreams and look up definitions of symbols?

For awhile I kept a dream notebook where I would wake myself up, write down what I’d dreamed, and try to interpret the dream the next day. When you get in the habit of remembering all of your dreams, it makes you remember more of them. As a result, I went through a time period where I really did feel – like Annabelle – that I was awake all of the time. It was exhausting, so I stopped. Also, it turned out my subconscious was more disturbing than I thought.

I do agree with you that when you make a conscious decision to remember your dreams, it can be the case that there are too many to write down! Now onto reading: What’s on your summer reading list?

Lots of things. Testament, a photo book with essays about Chris Hondros, a photojournalist who was killed on assignment in Libya. In YA world, it’s Tabula Rasa (Kristen Lippert-Martin) and Sweet Unrest (Lisa Maxwell), which were written by two women who live near me in Arlington. (I haven’t met them but I’m a huge advocate of reading local.) Also the Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, When We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. I’m sure I’ll be primarily reading middle-grade, as that’s an area where I do a lot of writing and I also like to read what my kids are reading. (Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord. Angie Sage has a new book coming out, as do John Scieszka, Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell.)

Thank you for sharing these—I’m going to have check out the book about the photojournalist. I’ll also be interested to know what you thought of We Were Liars. Now onto what you’re reading and your writing: Are there any books that inspired you in the writing of your novel?

Not specifically, but as with the spirituality question, I’d say that many things I’ve read – especially when I was a young kid – informed the kind of writer I’ve become.

I find that this is true of other writers as well, and I can say that the books I read as a child have really affected my own writing today and even how I view the world. It’s amazing how our childhood reading can be so impacting.

If you could have dinner with any author, which one would it be? Tell us why!

Norton Juster. He’s the first author I remember loving, because The Phantom Tollbooth taught me so much about words. In interviews/documentaries/speeches I’ve seen live and in person, he’s seemed funny and friendly and accessible. I am a pretty anxious person and a number of writers I admire would probably intimidate me to where I couldn’t speak. Or eat. I think I’d be able to manage a few bites with Norton Juster and I might even be able to talk back.

We like to ask all the authors we interview on the blog this question: Favorite doughnut?

That would be the Tres Leches doughnut, from the Doughnut Plant in New York’s Lower East Side. http://doughnutplant.com

I haven’t been there, though I’ve investigated a handful of dessert spots in NYC over the years. I’m going to have to hunt this one down the next time I’m in the city. Thank you for the heads up about the Doughnut Plant and thank you for visiting Spirit of Children’s Literature to talk about Dream Boy!

Dream Boy is out July 1st! But you can win a copy here on the blog—enter using the link to the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Mary Crockett likes turtles, licorice, and the Yankees. Madelyn Rosenberg likes cats, avocados, and the Red Sox. Luckily they both like the weirdness of dreams (and each other) enough to write novels together. The friendship has survived three moves, six kids and countless manuscript revisions. Madelyn lives just outside of Washington, D.C. Mary remains in the mountains near their hometowns in southwestern Virginia. You can find them on Twitter @marylovesbooks and @madrosenberg or their blogs at http://www.marycrockett.com and http://www.madelynrosenberg.com.

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You’ll find my review of Dream Boy on the blog later this week!

Happy Reading & Sweet Dreams!

#AtoZchallenge: “Q” is for Quests in Children’s Literature

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Are you on a quest?? Are you reading a book about a quest?

The fact is: quests run rampant throughout children’s and young adult literature!

One classic of children’s literature that treats this notion of the quest both symbolically and physically is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I encountered this famous fantasy as a young reader and the book is one I still love to this day. Bilbo Baggins’ decision to leave Bag End and venture into the unknown is an excursion that changes him in more ways than one.

Bilbo’s experience is one that many of us can relate to—a moment when we are offered a chance to step outside of our comfort zone, whether that is to start something new by putting into action an idea we’ve had for awhile, move somewhere new, or change something that needs to change. For many of us, it is the space between decision and action that is frightening, and like Bilbo, most readers can understand how precarious this points is. Perhaps this aspect of the novel is one reason why The Hobbit is a classic, and yet reaches out to both children and adults.

Bilbo is insecure in the beginning of the novel, uncertain about whether he is capable of the large quest offered to him. Like him, we sometimes feel unworthy of a significant endeavor into which we are placed. The fact is: you are a unique individual, and certain tasks need your background and expertise, though you may not see yourself as an expert.

As a young reader, The Hobbit was an influential book for my own thinking about the idea of having a “quest” or “destiny” in life.

What other texts of children’s literature illuminate a quest that you find beautiful and significant? What quests in children’s literature are you drawn to again and again?

The Spirituality of Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens (2014)

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens (2014)

Suggested age range: 13 and up (Harper Teen, 321 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Personal Copy

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“If a heart can smile, mine does.”

The Book: Sixteen year old Alexi Littrell has endured something terrible over the summer, and she won’t share it with anyone. She hides her feelings and scratches her neck to distract herself from the pain of what happened to her. When she begins to develop a friendship with Bodee, a fellow classmate, who comes to live with Alexi and her family, there is hope that Alexi may one day be able to share the truth, heal, and move on. Both Alexi and Bodee have experienced pain related to their secrets, but with each other, they face an opportunity to be authentic and honest. It is within friendship and family that one should feel safe, but will Alexi ever be able to find that safety again?

Spirituality in Faking Normal: Alexi is part of a religious family, and the book engages with both religion and spirituality in a refreshing way. What I liked is that Stevens doesn’t sugarcoat what it means to grow up within a Christian family. She also depicts realistic teenage voices from both religious and non-religious families. For example, there is often strife between Alexi and her older sister, Kayla within their religious household; Stevens shows through her narrative that religious families have just as many issues as those who are not religious. At the same time, there is a spirituality about the story related to a deep and authentic connectedness between friends (and family) and there is also the notion that even though bad things can happen to good people, there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. Some good discussion could come out of reading this book including speaking up about abuse, self-worth, and reaching out to those who aren’t like us.

Who Should Read This Book: Young adult readers who need encouragement (and who doesn’t?) should read about Alexi’s journey to knowing who she really is as a person and being able to stand up for herself. The book is also a good choice for adults, who might become more aware of how young adults hide their pain from others through Stevens’ depiction of the young adult world.

The Final Word: It was hard to not read this book in one sitting. I was drawn to Alexi’s story and wanted to know what choice she was going to make. I cheered her on, as she “channeled her brave,” and booed when people were less than kind to her. I was definitely invested in these characters, and I was especially satisfied with the way Stevens tied up the book. This is a tough and relevant issue to tackle in a story, I think, but Faking Normal is a fabulous example of how this can be done with sensitivity and realism. This is a book that brought up difficult issues, but I strongly recommend it and think it is an excellent example of how literature can heighten our sensitivity to others, especially those who are enduring or have endured abuse of some sort, even when we are not quite sure what to say. Just being present and listening to people can be significant. Bodee’s friendship with Alexi is a powerful example of that.