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Same Old Sad Song: The Hate U Give

At 464 pages, Angie Thomas's The Hate U Give (2017)is a surprisingly quick read for a text that deals with such a heavy and heated topic: the fatal shooting of an unarmed, black male at the hands of a white cop and the surviving witness who has to cope. "Tragically timely" (to quote Adam Silvera), the novel is another entry into what is unfortunately, in the lyrics of Smokey Norful, the "same old sad song."

Nearly twenty years ago, Jacqueline Woodson first tackled the same subject matter in her typically poetic and poignant style in the novel If You Come Softly (1998). It is a story of first love, an interracial one between fifteen-year-old Jeremiah and Ellie who meet at their private school. They have to deal with how society treats them because of their relationship. In the end, this modern day Romeo and Juliet comes to an abrupt end when Jeremiah is fatally shot by the police. Woodson continues these characters' story with Behind You (2004) which focuses…
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Also Love That Book, "Hate That Cat"

The story of Sharon Creech's Jack from Love That Dog (2001) continues. Early in his school year, Jack reveals to his teacher that 1) he hates cats, and 2) his college professor Uncle Bill does not believe that the poems Jack had written in the previous school year are "real" poems because they are short, lack rhyme, a regular meter, symbols, metaphor, onomatopoeia, and alliteration.

Thank goodness Jack has Miss Stretchberry as his teacher again because she tells him that all those elements his uncle mentioned are not requirements. A poet writes according to his own images, rhythms, and sometimes chooses elements like onomatopoeia and alliteration to enrich their poems. And with that, Creech, again, takes us on Jack's journey and growth as a writer and person during this fourth grade school year.

This time around, readers learn a bit more about Jack's home life, why he hates that cat, and how he finally does move on from the loss of his beloved pet, (the focus of…

The "Fangirl" Life Is Not for Me

I generally try to avoid anything that is a "hit" or trending with the masses. In fact, the more something is a "hit," the less likely I am to consume it, for my tastes often seem to not be aligned with the crowd's.

At CBR, Rainbow Rowell is a hit, so much so that, for many, anything she writes is an automatic "must buy." A couple of years back, I chose to find out if all the hype was warranted by reading Attachments (2011), her debut novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, though for seemingly different reasons: I loved the male protagonist whereas others loved the cleverness of the email exchanges between the two female characters.

Fangirl (2013) is another of Rowell's character-driven  YA novels that has been well-received by readers and well-reviewed by critics. As of this post, it has a slightly higher rating on Goodreads (4.12) than her very much revered Eleanor & Park (4.11), also published in 2013.

A coming-of-age story, Fangirl relates a…

Running for His Life--and Not from It

"Running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do," explains Castle "Ghost" Cranshaw from Jason Reynolds's National Book Award finalist Ghost (2016) when he comes across a track practice on his meandering run home from school one afternoon. A seventh grader, Ghost also has "a lot of scream in him" that has resulted in many altercations at school that have put him on a path to delinquency.

This scream implanted itself into Ghost three years before on that terrifying night when he and his mother dashed barefoot out of their house and hid in the storage room of Mr. Charles's neighborhood convenient store. "That was the night I learned how to run," he adds. Except, so far, he's been running in circles.

That all changes, however, when Ghost crashes a track practice because he takes a dislike to one of the athletes's "cocky swagger." Ghost wants a showdown to prove that this cocky k…

Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?

Who killed Mr. Chippendale, and why? These two questions drive the narrative in Mel Glenn's Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems (1999). Told from the perspectives of various characters reacting to the murder of Mr. Chippendale, Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? is developed through a series of interlocking free-verse poems. Many characters are introduced, the majority of whose voices are heard once and help to create a nuanced portrait of Mr. Chippendale whose life was very much a mystery to his colleagues despite his twenty years of teaching English at Tower High.

This book is best appreciated not so much as a mystery but as a character study. This mystery simply lacked the tension needed to make it an engrossing whodunit. Still, the story is relevant, for it explores a variety of current issues, e.g. generational conflicts, immigration and the pursuit of the American Dream, media and teen violence, and offers a realistic portrayal of modern high school life. One problemat…

I Love That Book, "Love That Dog"

My pleasure while reading Sharon Creech's Love That Dog (2001) just could not be contained as evidenced by the Cheshire grin plastered on my face from the beginning to end of this novella. Related in free verse from the perspective of Jack through dated entries that span a school year, Love That Dog is quite charming and delightful.

On the surface, Love That Dog is a story about a boy who learns to appreciate and write poetry. On a deeper level, however, it is a story of a boy who, through poetry, finally finds a way to mourn the loss and honor the memory of his beloved rescue dog, Sky. Through his year-long exposure to poetry, Jack discovers the magic of poetry and writing, which enables him to express his thoughts and feelings, and ultimately tap into the power of his own voice.
Jack's voice is completely authentic and endearing. Seeing his growth from resistant, to grudgingly compliant, to insecure, to confident, to independent, and ultimately to inspired in response to hi…

From Hans Jorg Gudegast to Eric Braeden

"Wait. Why is Stephen A. Smith of ESPN writing the Foreword to a soap opera actor's autobiography?" The answer is clear upon learning the important role that sports has played in Eric Braeden's life, as detailed in his autobiography, I'll Be Damned (2017). Braeden is the star and figurehead of television's number 1 daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. He stars as Victor Newman, a role he originated in 1980 intended to be for a 26-week run and has parlayed it into one of nearly four decades.

Born Hans Jorg Gudegast in Bredenbek, Germany, Braeden's career as an actor was quite the unlikely story. However, a curious mind and an adventurous, independent spirit takes him from a war-torn hospital basement in Kiel to the sound stages of Hollywood.

I'll Be Dammed is Braeden's first book. As such it covers the span of his life, career, and humanitarian efforts to a level of detail and name dropping that may not appeal to the masses. Fans of Braeden (…

Spotlighting Dr. Bennet Omalu, CTE Discoverer

"Huh?" was my response when the local radio update featured a clip of Jose Baez, the lawyer of former Patriots' tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez, accusing the medical examiner's office of holding Hernandez' brain hostage and requested that the family's wishes be honored by releasing the brain to Boston University for CTE analysis. Seemingly out of the loop, this is how I learned of Aaron Hernandez' death by suicide a day before. Other than being surprised by the timing of his death--days after exoneration of a double homicide--and lamenting the tragic nature of Hernandez' life and all parties involved in his drama, my response was due to learning that Boston University was in the game, as it were, for CTE research and diagnosis. "Well this is certainly elevating the school's national status," I recall thinking with pride.

A week and a half later, after reading Jeanne Marie Laskas's Concussion (2015), I downgraded my …

Golden Girls Forever, Indeed!

It was with giddiness that I stumbled upon Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai (2016), Jim Colucci's guide to my all-time, favorite sitcom, the immortal juggernaut, The Golden Girls (1985). For fans of the show, this book is quite a gem as I can testify from how I literally skipped out of Amazon Books after perusing its shelves for the first time.

Packed with hundreds of exclusive interviews with the suits, writers, producers, directors, stars, guest stars from the show, Colucci reveals behind-the-scenes, never-before-revealed stories and commentary. The level of detail and insight into various aspects of the show suggest that the author really did his research and is very much a fan of the show.

A Bit of Trivia:

Bea Arthur was "difficult" in that she took her craft seriously and wasn't about appeasing others or being unnecessarily "friendly." As such, though highly respected, she was also intimidating, especially to many of the gues…

Unrealistic: Secrets and Sensibilities

Regina Scott's The Lady Emily Capers series features alliterative titles and silhouette-based covers that I love. Reading Secrets and Sensibilities (2013), however, did not pique my interest enough to warrant continuing with the series. This is due, again, to poor characterization and unrealistic plot development.

As far as steamy romances go, Secrets and Sensibilities isn't one, similar to Julia Quinn's romances in which steamy sex scenes have no part in the storyline. Unlike Quinn romances, though, Secrets and Sensibilities also lacks interesting characters, witty dialogue, romantic courtship, and sexual sizzle. Bland, flat, and boring best describe a story that began with great potential.

So what's the story?

At the invitation of the widow of the former Earl of Brentfield, art instructor Hannah Alexander accompanies four of her students on a country visit to the estate of David Tenant, the new Earl of Brentfield. The widow of the late Earl and aunt to one of Hann…