Happy Monday, Readers! This isn’t my BIG BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT (that’s coming later this week) but a small announcement: I’m starting a new feature on Mondays—Middle Grade Monday! As you know, I already read and chat about a LOT of Middle … Continue reading
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta (2006)
Suggested age range: 15 and up (Harper Teen, 419 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
“Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered and every secret will be made known.”
I finally read it!! During Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon!! And it was amazing!!
The Book: A tragedy took place on Jellicoe Road. Friendships were forged and flowers were planted. Eighteen years later, Taylor is trying to piece together what happened, and how it relates to her own story of being abandoned by her mother on that same road. When Hannah, who is like a second mother to Taylor, disappears, Taylor does everything she can to figure out where she is. A strange recurring dream of a boy in a tree continues to haunt Taylor, and she senses someone following her. And then there’s her friendship with Jonah Griggs, leader of the Cadets–the social group in constant battle with her own.
Spirituality in Jellicoe Road: We all want to belong within our families, and form valuable connections with our parents, and this is a challenge Taylor encounters in the story. In addition to dealing with the fact that her mother abandoned her on Jellicoe Road, Taylor is navigating the significance of her recurring dream with the boy in the tree, who seems to important. What does it mean for her life, whether it’s her past, present, or future? This aspect in the story got me thinking about the notion of dreams as spiritual. Are our dreams important and how we do figure out what they mean? If you know me at all, you know I find dreams fascinating, so of course I was highly intrigued by this part of the book.
Who Should Read This Book: Whether you are a fan of Marchetta’s high fantasy, such as Finnikin of the Rock or E. Lockhart’s contemporary YA, We Were Liars, I’m pretty sure you will enjoy Jellicoe Road. Marchetta’s beautiful prose reminded me of the gorgeous imagery from Finnikin, while the mystery of the plot and its companion narrative made me think about Lockhart’s text. At first I was pretty confused, trying to figure out the connections between the two different storylines, but it gets easier as you go along, so don’t let this deter you.
The Final Word: This book was published in 2006, and it’s taken me so long to read it! Its unforgettable plot and spiritual dimensions, however, drew me to review it on the blog. I believe it is not to be missed—you just have to be ok with crying. Ok, maybe crying a lot.
Get your box of tissues, and step onto Jellicoe Road as soon as you can.
Have you read Jellicoe Road? What did you think??
Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (2013)
Suggested age range: 9 and up (Dial, 380 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Contemporary Realism
“And endings are always the beginnings of something else.”
The Book: This heartwarming story opens with a tragedy, but is surprisingly hopeful and unique throughout the rest of the novel. In the narrative, we meet twelve year-old genius, Willow, who counts by sevens, is a math whiz, and loves making things grow. The story charts Willo’ws journey to discovering a community and a new family. The beauty and wonder of the natural world is celebrated through Willow’s reflective and unique perspective of her surroundings.
Spirituality in Counting by 7s: Willow’s journey into becoming comfortable with herself, a girl without parents, is one spiritual aspect of the story. I was particularly interested in the way the author revealed Willow’s spirituality though her gardening. The people Willow encounters affect her spiritual identity, and with them she develops community. The way Willow’s community support and love her represents a part of the story I fell in love with—as a reader I was cheering for Willow and the search for her to discover a place in a community that would value her. Her discovery of these people and of a purpose really made this a strong book for me.
Who Should Read This Book: This middle grade novel is similar to ones by Kate DiCamillo in that I think it’s a story almost any age would enjoy. Whether you’re twelve or twenty, I think you can appreciate this story and Willow’s journey as she navigates a world without family. Readers may discover some aspects of Willow’s journey to relate to—we are all searching for belonging and identity in some way, and this journey doesn’t stop at a certain age, though it may become easier.
Using this book with young readers? After reading the book, you could give your readers the opportunity to either journal in response to a question such as: What is one thing in your life that makes you feel like you belong?” or draw a picture about something in the book they liked. Arts-based response would be fabulous with this book. Either way, there is a lot of potential for curriculum with upper elementary students, or any age for that matter. Discussion is a must for any activity that you use with your young readers.
The Final Word: The book is refreshing in the way it’s not predictable and features some surprising turns. That’s one of the reasons why I give this book such a high rating. I leave you with a quote from the book that relates well to that notion:
“What we expect rarely occurs; what we don’t expect is what happens.”
This 2013 story is not to be missed, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, in spite of my worries about it being too sad initially. Don’t be put off by the potentially tragic premise—Sloan’s novel is brilliant!
“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
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!
When I posted ALL FOUR STARS by TARA DAIRMAN as one of my top anticipated releases for 2014 at the beginning of the year, I had no idea the blog would be one of her interview stops, or that I would write a recipe-inspired post from the book. If you’ve read my review of this contemporary middle grade novel, out July 10th, you will know that it is one of my new favorites, and I absolutely fell in love with Gladys and her culinary antics!
I appreciate that Tara took the time to visit the blog and answer some questions I devised for her. I think you’ll enjoy reading her responses. And A SEQUEL!! She talked about a sequel!!
1. I loved All Four Stars and think the plot is fantastic. Where and when did the idea for the story start to brew?
Thank you so much, Katie! I was living in New York when I first started to write ALL FOUR STARS, and working as an editor at a small magazine. In that job, I had freelance writers who wrote stories that I edited, but I never met most of them, or even talked to them on the phone. So it occurred to me that if a kid was a good writer, she might be able to hoodwink me into publishing her. And if she could trick me, why not the biggest newspaper in New York? I was interested in food and cooking, too, so it made sense for me to make my young writer a wannabe restaurant critic. And I moored her out in the suburbs, where I grew up, with parents who couldn’t have been less interested in gourmet food. The rest of the plot just kind of flowed from that!
I loved the contrast of a foodie protagonist with parents who cooked using the microwave–brilliant!
2. What’s your writing process like? Is it very structured? Do you have to write in a specific location, have a certain noise level, etc.?
These days, I tend to be more structured about my writing process than I used to be. I prefer to work in the mornings, either at home or in public. I don’t mind a low level of background noise, but I can’t listen to music while I write. A hot beverage next to the computer is nice. But really, I can write anywhere if I have to. I drafted parts of ALL FOUR STARS on the New Jersey Transit Bus during my morning commute when I was living on the east coast, and in various spots (mostly cafes) around the world while I backpacked for two years with my husband.
I love to write while traveling, and I love the idea that some of your story was written in different cafes of the world!
3. What would you say to young readers who pick up ALL FOUR STARS and then want to learn to cook or bake, but have never made anything before? What would you encourage them to start with?
That’s a terrific question! Well, first of all, I’d make sure you have permission from an adult and supervision if necessary, especially if you are going to use knives or the stove or oven. Then I would pick a recipe that has a short list of ingredients. If you’re baking, something like muffins or a quick bread can be a good place to start; for dinner, maybe pasta with a very simple sauce, like garlic and oil. And a fancy salad is easy to make and can be surprisingly delicious—baby spinach with sliced pears and blue cheese was the first salad I ever made, and I love it to this day!
That is a lovely salad combination!
4. I love Gladys’s determination to get that restaurant review completed—are there any parallels between Gladys’s antics and her experiences in the book and your own childhood?
Haha—not that I can recall. Gladys is much bolder and more adventurous than I was at that age. The only real parallel I can think of is that I eventually developed a taste for surprising people—for instance, in high school, I did Mathletes and cheerleading at the same time. But that was about as bold as things got for me. 🙂
I enjoy hearing about unique high school experiences–they definitely make for interesting plot lines…
5. These are important questions I love to ask authors who visit the blog: Favorite kind of donut, Favorite kind of pie, Favorite kind of cake?
My favorite donut is the peanut butter and jelly donut from Square Donuts from Terre Haute, Indiana! My favorite kind of pie is cherry (closely followed by rhubarb), and my favorite kind of cake is carrot. Mmm, now I’m hungry for all of these things.
Excellent choices! Cherry pie is such a perfect choice for this time of year–I have to say I wouldn’t mind a slice myself.
6. I read about your amazing two year journey around the world with your husband—could you name your top three favorite meals? (and places where you had those meals?)
Ooh, a trip down culinary memory lane! It’s almost impossible to narrow it down, but here are three amazing meals I had:
-Breakfast of pan de yuca (cheese bread) and yogurt smoothies in Quito, Ecuador (2009)
-Lunch of donkey meat in Beijing, China—surprisingly tasty! (2011)
-Christmas dinner in Hyderabad, India—chicken saag, Hyderabadi biryani (a specially-prepared rice dish with beautiful, extremely long rice grains), and so many different kinds of bread that the waiter warned us that we were ordering too much (2010)
These look like three amazing meals! My cousin is getting ready to visit China–I’ll have to ask her about trying donkey meat. That Indian meal is definitely making my mouth water….Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos!
7. Will there be any future books with Gladys or do you think you will write another foodie book?
Yes—there will be a sequel to ALL FOUR STARS in summer, 2015! It’s set during the summer after sixth grade, and Gladys faces a whole new world of professional and personal challenges. I’ll hopefully be able to share more information about it soon. I’m really excited about it.
(jumps up and down) I can’t wait!
8. Is there a dessert place in NYC like Classy Cakes that you would recommend to your readers?
Classy Cakes wasn’t based on any one place, but the restaurant Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side is pretty well-known for its pricey desserts (and its long lines and snippy attitudes!), so I may have drawn a bit of inspiration from it. The Internet tells me that there is also an all-dessert restaurant in Manhattan called ChikaLicious, which sounds a lot like Classy Cakes, but I’ve never been! Maybe next time I’m in town…
Yes! I’ve been to Serendipity 3–we waited a long time to get in, but we wanted to try that frozen hot chocolate. 🙂
Thank you so much for having me, Katie! These were terrific questions!
Thank you, Tara!!
Do look up this debut author–see links below! And you can get her book, out in just TWO DAYS!
Social media links:
Also, be sure to check out The Midnight Garden ALL FOUR STARS blog tour, if you haven’t already!