Book Review – The Great Gilly Hopkins

The Great Gilly Hopkins

Katherine Peterson

Hardback, 1978

Galadriel Hopkins is a foster child of the steryotypical foster child variety.  She’s a bully to her classmates, mean to her teachers, and downright awful to the people that she happens to be around.

So, this is another banned book, but since it’s by the same writer who did Bridge to Terabithia (also banned frequently, btw) I was actually sort of looking forward to it, even though I knew nothing about it.

Then I started reading.

If I had happened across this book, I wouldn’t have picked it up to begin with.  As it was now, I almost didn’t bother with it.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t know if it’s the character or the author’s writing, or both, but as the book started, there wasn’t a single character I cared about.  Gilly is a bitch, her teachers are weak, her case worker felt like a slimy used-car salesman…

There’s a mother totally out of the picture, but Gilly holds on hope she’ll come back for her, despite having never spoken to her.  The neighbor is “one of those” (ahem, black) and Gilly uses that as her excuse to justify stealing from him and treating him like crap. Her teacher is black so she leaves racist poetry tucked in the teacher’s math book. The one friend she manages to make, she’s only has because she wants to be abusive to the girl and the girl is too stupid to notice.  The foster brother is a little, uh, slow, and Gilly makes sure to exploit it.

Oh, and the foster mother, who is annoyingly southern, is also fat.  And I know she’s fat because the author has made sure that her being fat is her only memorable quality.  She sits and chairs sag and bedsprings squeak.  She falls and lands on top of Gilly, crushing her.

In other words, I’m sorry I read the book.  At the end, Gilly gets closer to what she wants, and that’s not good enough either.

So, The book is, I’m sure, banned because Gilly is a racist piece of crap.  I think that a better author or differently written book could have made it more “oh, look at the poor foster child” and less of that because a lot of the piece of crap part, at least, is her intentionally not getting close.  I wonder how differently this book would have been written if it had been done twenty years later – styles and approaches have changed, after all.

You, of course, all know my opinion – I don’t think any book should be banned.  But this one could be omitted from shelves because of its lack of quality just the same, and I wouldn’t mind.

Bottom Line – 2/5 pages.

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Book Review- No Plot, No Problem!

Book: No Plot, No Problem!

Author: Chris Baty

Format: Paperback

Published: 2004

     National Novel Writing Month is the crazy, insane, and wonderful brainchild of Chris Baty, author of No Plot, No Problem. In this book, he outlines how this idea (affectionately dubbed NaNoWriMo) came to be, and ways to succeed in it, and in your noveling career, with your sanity mostly intact.

       Let me start by saying that this book is awesome! While it is geared mostly toward those who have no idea what NaNoWriMo is, or those who are novices at it, it is a really great inspiration for those of us who have been there, done that, and are stuck in just a bit of a rut. Not only did it give me ideas, but it also got me excited about writing again, something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. Chris’ use of humor, as well as his chilled out approach makes the book, overall, a pretty easy read. My only real complaint about the book is that it gets a little repetitive at times. Some of the chapters seem to go over the same subject again, and again, and again. It’s not enough to be a huge problem, but it does make a couple of the chapters seem a bit long and tedious. Overall I give this book a 5 page review. It is great for those wanting to participate in NaNo, those who need a bit of inspiration, or simply those who just want to write something, even if they just want to take their time with it.

Book Review – Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Complete and Annotated
Luke Dempsey
2012 doorstop… er I mean Hardback

Monty Python’s Flying Circus complete and annotated is the sidetable of all Monty Python books. And when I say sidetable, I mean sidetable. It’s wider, taller, and by far thicker than any book you’ve got sitting around you right now. (Easily half an inch taller and at least an inch wider than the hardback I have sitting here with it.) And how thick? Well, at about 900 pages of extra thick paper, it’s about three times as thick as a normal book as well.

But for mostly good reason.

Inside this book are complete scripts for all 45 episodes of the television show. Along the sides of the script are comments that are really awesome because they explain a lot of the references that you might miss if you’re not current on 1970s Great Brittan. (So, you know, it tells you that you might have missed half the jokes.)

There are lots of pictures and way more bright colors than you’d ever expect to see in a book.

But, there are issues, too. The book is *heavy* – like wicked heavy. So it’ s not one that you’re going to snuggle with and get all comfy. Also, script reading is boring, so after a while I found myself reading the side notes and not any of the script anymore unless I came up to a favorite skit (this parrot is no more!).

Also, as somebody who has written scripts before (disclaimer: I hated it! Also, they’re all unpublished.), I’m pretty familiar with script formatting, and I fully expected to see that here. They didn’t at all bother to format these like scripts, so there’s a weird mish-mash of lines and fonts and whatever else. It makes it pretty but I would much rather have seen the form.

There’s also no new content aside from those side comments, and very little content about those who were a part of this at all. Each of the Monty Python people have one page of bio info, and it’s all tucked away randomly inside somewhere.

The book is $50. If you’re a serious Monty Python fan – remember, TV show, not the movies – buy it, and keep it around for use as an end table, door stop (dude, you could block the doggie door with this thing), or weapon (providing you have the arm strength to throw this at somebody). But as far as reading goes, this isn’t one that you really get a lot of benefit from reading it all in one sitting.

Bottom line, buy it if you can recite the entire Blancmanges playing Tennis skit, but just let it be if you aren’t that into it. (3/5)

Book Reviews – What’s Happening to My Body

The What’s Happening To My Body Book For Girls

The What’s Happening To My Body Book For Boys

Lynda Madaras with Area Madaras

Illustrations by Simon Sullivan

Paperback 2007

 

Furthering the “let’s see why these books are banned” challenge, we have the What’s Happening to My Body? books.

These books are written by a woman (with the help of her daughter) who actually teaches sexual education classes for parents and children to attend together.  These are better than any school health book, better written and easier to understand, and just as thorough.  If not more so.

The only reason these books can possibly be banned is because parents are too stupid/closeted/religious/closed minded/whatever to let their children actually understand their own bodies.  Remember, this is basically an ENCYCLOPEDIA and it lists what homosexuality is and what masturbation is (and actually says “many people do and many people don’t – it’s up to you to decide what’s right for you” and lists religion as a reason to or not to…) and because of *that* these are some of the most banned books ever.  Seriously?

That aside…these are well written, thoroughly explained, and not at all uncomfortable and creepy like our elementary school health/science classes were.

I consider it a public school fail that I learned things from these books at my age (I’m 30!), and I will buy one for each of my future children because the information in these books is Important, and the addition of text blocks from questions and experiences brought up in her classes really add to the books.

 

As far as rating these books, I guess there’s a niche somewhere where you wouldn’t need to know about your body (maybe if you’re 80 and don’t know anything yet it’s too late?) but for everyone else, these are a must read, and for people going into puberty, a must have.  5/5

Book Review – The Light by Michael Grant

Title: The Light

Author:  Michael Grant

Format: Hardback

Written/Published: 2013

Way back at the beginning of this blog one of the first few books I reviewed was a book called Fear by Michael Grant.  It was the fifth book in the six book series and I found that it had put a very rotten taste in my mouth.  That rotten taste is still there with some of the dark and disturbing imagery impossible to remove or forget no matter how much I try to.  Yet, despite it all having been through that horridly difficult book I had to see the series to the end.  I had to know how the FAYZ ended and who walked out alive and who didn’t.  In some ways it is a compulsion, and so when I realized the book was out and in the library I picked it up.

With a deep breath I opened the book and started to read hoping I would not have to trudge through the same horrors that I did before.  I wasn’t worried about the formatting which was another issue I had with Fear I just didn’t want to be left with more gruesome imagery at least not more of the kind that actually gets to me. (Yes the book was gruesome filled with a lot of death and destruction but it didn’t get to me as much as what was contained in Fear).

When I started the book Fear I was annoyed right off as Michael seemed to be going for something new and wiring the perspective of two people in the same scene at once it was confusing and annoying as I was trying to read and re-read to figure out if the thoughts and words belonged to the character Gaia or Diana.  Then things went to ‘normal’ and the book read like all the other books read where I was turning the next page wanting to know what would happened next horrified at the death of some and hoping for the death of other character.  There were moments where I was disturbed by this book particularly when it came to the character Alex but it was fortunate that his parts were not long or prevalent like the disturbing moments in Fear were.

In all, the book was a quick read for me despite being a little over 400 pages long.  It was hard to put down as I wanted to know who lived and who died and a lot of people died I will tell you that!  I found myself caring for some of the characters again rather than being put off by them and the last character I thought I would ever find myself concerned over was the one I hated to see go the most.  So, despite my complaints, Michael Grant can be a decent author – I mean of his seven books I’ve read, only two can I say I loathed.  Those are some pretty good odds in my opinion!

Thus I will give this last and final book a three page rating.  Some of you may notice that this is the same rating I gave Fear which I loathed but I will admit at the time I was much more generous with my ratings and if I could go back and re-rate fear I would give it a solid two placing The Light clearly above it.

As to the series as a whole considering I mentioned how I recommended in the past to others, might still recommend it but caution people that it can get very dark and gruesome.  If I were to rate the whole story from the first book Gone to the last The Light I would give it a three page rating, it had the potential to be a four page series but Fear just really drags it down that much.

Book Review – 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child By Naomi Steiner and Susan L. Hayes

Title: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child
Authors: 
Naomi Steiner and Susan L. Hayes
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 2009

A developmental-behavioural paediatrician, Naomi Steiner is herself multilingual and raising her children in a multilingual family. Between her professional qualifications and her life experience, she is superbly positioned to provide an in-depth program for all parents to raise bilingual children.

While there is some excellent scientific data in the book, which provides fascinating insights into language acquisition and child development, as a guide the book falls oddly flat. I kept expecting something slightly more detailed than the advice to set goals and provide children with language exposure. The book continually heads towards detailed information before veering off at the last moment.

Much of my frustration with the book came from its underlying assumptions. The text is only aimed at parents in the USA, and an inordinate amount of space is dedicated to validating and justifying a bilingual lifestyle. There is even a section debunking the myth that bilingualism will destroy the American way of life.

Ouch.

For those readers who are outside the USA, and potentially not living in an English speaking country at all, the assumption that parents are secretly threatened by the prospect of a bilingual family is frustrating. A lot of the content implies parents are often one step away from giving up and that English will become the only language. If you are a monolingual English parent ready to give up in a foreign country, don’t expect much support in this book.

The advice given is so basic that at times it reads like an extended article padded beyond recognisability. Some points are reiterated so often that the authors call attention to the reiteration. A significant proportion of the book could be reclassified as project management rather than parenting. The remaining content is simply common sense.

I would have found this book more useful if it had detail about developmental stages. There was brief discussion about the capacities of toddlers to learn, but little beyond this. How is the process different between a newborn, a 5 year old and a 15 year old? What can parents do to support each age group? After a certain age, the book almost advocates handing language acquisition over to the school system, but goes on at length to criticise the formal educational opportunities.

The primary method of instruction recommended is One Parent, One Language. With this method, the parent who is skilled in the second language will speak to the child exclusively in that language. This might be exciting for families where both parents speak a second language, but as the unskilled parent I am left feeling discouraged about my ability to contribute.

There is value in this book for anyone who wants to raise a bilingual child, but has given it absolutely no thought before. Monolingual parents who wish to raise bilingual children might also find something useful here. If you already have skills with a second language, or have thought about how you would learn one, there is probably little this book can contribute to your understanding. Due to the incredibly basic level of the book, I am giving it 2 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – Sex Changes by Christine Benvenuto

Sex Changes: A memoir of marriage, gender, and moving on
Christine Benvenuto
Hardback
2012

I’ve been reading more about transgender issues lately in an attempt to understand them better. I know a couple people that fall somewhere to the left of the male/female spectrum. When I found this book, I thought it would be an interesting take on the issue.
The author is a woman of some age (they never really told us, but I’m guessing about 40), who has three kids, Adam, Bibi and Lilly (not their real names), oh, and a husband, Tracy (not his real name), who is a woman trapped in a man’s body. The book picks up pretty much when he declares that to his wife.
Before I go any further with this review, a bit of a side note – I do believe firmly that I should refer to “Tracy” by whichever pronoun Tracy prefers, but since the book referred to Tracy as “he” the whole time, I’m going to as well, just to make the review all streamlined and stuff.
The book is done in three parts. Part one is called, originally, Part One. It deals with the author finding out what’s going on with her husband, and getting to the point where Tracy finally moves out. We find out that they’re Jewish, that they’ve spent much of their marriage living separately because of work and whatever, and that there are three kids. That’s about it.
And I have to say that I have never, ever, ever in my life read a memoir about a more unsympathetic twat in my life. I’m serious. I have no sympathy at any point in this book for this woman because of how she is. Keep in mind, this is how she’s telling her story, how she wants it known and (hopefully) how it really went down. And all I read in the first 120 pages or so was about a woman whose husband came to her with a statement (“I feel like I’m a woman trapped as a man”) and she said “no” and “don’t tell the kids.”
I’m not going to use this review to argue with how she should have handled the situation, one way or another, but before any of my readers get up in arms, remember that there’s a difference between playing along and having compassion, and I at least expected a little compassion. Yeah, I expected the “my marriage is over” part of things, and no, I never expected her to go dress shopping with Tracy (which she totally didn’t) but I did not, at any point prior to having the book in my hands, expect this to be the memoir of a woman who was all “I’m such a victim, feel bad for me!” about everything.
I read through to page 120, and all I could think was that I wanted to bean this chick with a baseball bat a few dozen times. And while I don’t at all agree with the way her husband went about being towards her during the transition, I can’t help but wonder if maybe a gram of compassion from Christine at any point could have softened the entire situation for all involved.
So I started trying to figure out why I hated this woman so much. Yes, a lot of it was her actions. “I couldn’t believe everyone was taking HIS side, but then again, we live in the Valley of the Politically Correct!” A lot of it was the fact that she had gone to the trouble of writing a memoir and had somehow managed to not put a detail about ANYTHING in this book. (No, I’m not asking for her street address, but I want some idea of what’s really going on other than her being Jewish in the Valley of the Politically Correct [her term] somewhere in, I think, New England, which is about as vague as saying you live “over yonder” and pointing while on vacation somewhere.)
Then there’s her style. Her style of speaking and doing and everything. At one point, the author is talking about her 8=year-old daughter. “I was in shock. I knew my little girl to be precociously verbal, but even so her words added shock to shock.” Wait. What? Or, another favorite. “Over the years, Lilly has become more articulate about her feelings. When she was six, she began to pontificate on the subject of having a dad who is a girl.”
It’s like the author was so busy telling us what her feelings should have been that she didn’t feel anything. There’s nothing at all comfortable about this woman. Nevermind the fact that she stripped out so much of anything, whatsoever that would have connected us with her…
We hear about the half-assed friendships she had (“it wasn’t until I lost these people that I realized I had never really been close to them”), how nobody cared about her because it wasn’t politically correct to do so, etc. I don’t know what she’s been doing in therapy all these years, but seriously, all she’s telling us is how much of a fucking victim she was through all of it, sad and alone and stuck with the kids. Nevermind the fact that she starts her damn story out by talking about how, because of work, she was often the only parent with the kids anyway.
Part 2 of the book is almost a totally different book the way its written. She finally gets to the part about how the kids are feeling, but again, we had to hear about her “precociously verbal” children and a load of other shit that just made me want to hit her.
At one point, she listed all the things she had to do in her day, starting with her 4:30 AM getting up to exercise while checking email and read the paper while listening to NPR. In this, she refers to the kids as Ms. 7 and Ms. 4 and Mr. 13 (o_O), talks about taking three kids to three schools in three cities, and even gives us about a third of a page on getting “Ms. 4” to the center of town to get the bus to the school that she’s teaching in that day. Now, I get it that lives get complicated the more people you’re responsible for. But your son is 13, which totally means he can get his own sorry ass up with an alarm clock, and if you’re so damn busy, why are you doing things like driving across town to get your kid to a bus to take her THE SAME PLACE YOU’RE GOING ANYWAY. Also, there’s a potty training incident, which makes me wonder why she doesn’t have a change of clothes and a box of wipes in the car for the kid (really, she had to take the kid home to wash her clothes?). Oh, and seriously, she put listening to the radio on this list, so…
Folks, life lesson. Don’t overcomplicate your life and then complain about it. Seriously. And this list was TWO PAGES LONG and barely covered her getting to work with just a sentence or so gloss over about her work day.
And again, it’s another example of the disconnect we get with this woman. She wrote her kids up as Ms. 7 and Mr 13. Who does that?

I marked page 192 because it’s the first time she really talks about dealing with Tracy on an emotional level and her acceptance/understanding/adjustment to the Trans issue. Up to this point, all she’d managed to do was tell him he couldn’t be a woman and have a few convos with the kids. It took almost 200 pages to get to a point where she talks about transgender issues as anything but a slight to her marriage.

So I’m giving this book a 2 for several reasons.
The first is that if I hadn’t been reviewing it and so hell-bent on getting to the end of this for some reason other than her victim mentality, I would have put it down before the second part. The fact is that if the entire memoir had had the feel of the 2nd part (and sort of the third, even though that’s sort of just summation), I would have like d it a whole lot more.
But the second reason is because of all the things this book is missing. I don’t care that she changed names (a fact that we had to read any time she named anybody – hello, make a note at the front) and that she wanted to protect herself (although the whole small town that she never moved out of knows what’s going on, so…), but you can’t strip everything and expect there to be anything left when you’ve finished. If she would have loosened up a bit and relaxed for a minute, we might have got something out of this that was helpful.
Really, don’t bother. Even if you’re in her situation, going it alone has got to be better than this.

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