Greenglass House, Kate Milford

Is there anything better than a warm vacation in the dark of winter? Yes – a warm vacation in the dark of winter with a really excellent book (obviously.) But don’t worry, I’m not going to brag about taking a holiday. Even when I know I have one coming, or just got back, I loathe reading about someone else’s trip while I’m forced to convince myself to venture out into the rain or snow. I think it’s human nature – no matter how kind a person may be – to loathe the good fortune of others when it comes to time off. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a particularly awful person, but now that I’m home, I plan to comfort myself with the knowledge that none of us really want to hear about (or, God forbid, see pictures) of someone else’s week away. I will spare you that, and instead focus on the kind of pleasure we can all enjoy – the sweet satisfaction that comes from reading a fantastic book.

I bought Greenglass House on a whim as a Christmas gift for my mother. It was advertised on Amazon (undoubtedly because I have a book buying problem, and that site knows exactly how weak I am), and after reading the first few pages, I was hooked and ordered it immediately. When I got to my parents’ house in December and unwrapped it, I was delighted by the beautiful cover and the feel of the particular paper used. I’m not a publishing expert, but there’s something about the paper stock in hardcover middle grade novels that immediately brings me a deep sense of joy. It was physically painful to have to wrap it up again and give it away on Christmas morning, regardless of the fact that my parents long ago taught me that the gifts I loved dearly were the ones most worth giving away.

Thankfully, my mother is the best sort of person to give books to because she immediately senses the giver’s reluctance and offers to share it back again (after she’s read it, of course – she’s not a saint). She sent it back to me a week before my vacation, promising me that I would love it, and of course, she was right.

There was something about this book that I found…magical. Every time I picked it up, I was swept back into the very sweetest parts of my childhood – those hours spent buried in books, as well as those lost in exploration of the ramshackle thirteen room parsonage we lived in for many years. Milton managed to perfectly capture that thrill of discovery, the wonder of childhood that transforms the ordinary into the exceptional. As I was reading, I ached to go back in time, to climb into deep, dirty closets and find, not a project to organize, but the key to another world.

When I was young, of course, there were plenty of days when I was bored, anxious to grow up and go off on real adventures, and fortunately, as an adult, I’ve tried not to let that younger self down. What I didn’t understand then though, was what those grown up adventures would cost me. Riding on the coattails of joy at discovering new places, there came an understanding of reality that forced shut some of the doors of my imagination forever. Milton’s novel pried open some of those doors again, if only an inch, to remind me of the great and glittering adventures that still exist at home when I bother to look with fresh eyes.


For more about Kate Milton, head over here.

My Most Excellent Year: A novel of love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park, Steve Kluger

I had about a hundred things I was supposed to be doing this weekend, and rereading this book was not on the list. The problem was, by about four o’clock on Sunday, I was in such an irritable mood that all I wanted was an old friend.

Unfortunately, my oldest friends live thousands of miles away, and my dear friends within driving distance have marathon training runs, children’s birthday parties and new babies (or boyfriends) to keep their dance cards full. And as much as I cherish my husband (he is a wonderful and very patient man!), I could tell this mood was not going to improve even in his company. I decided to hit up my own private stacks and rediscovered one of my all-time favorite MG/YA novels.

I reread the whole thing in less than twelve hours, and it was just as perfect as I remembered. It’s told from the perspective of three seniors looking back at their freshman year of high school in Boston, and honestly, it just has everything I could ever want from a book like this: effortless diversity across race, orientation, and ability; passionate integration of interests covering topics as broad as baseball to musical theatre to political activism; beautiful, believable friendships; and atypically structured, loving families.

This is the kind of book I wish made it onto the curriculum for required reading in schools. Without being preachy or overly moralistic, it promotes resilient, realistic characters any student could be proud to emulate. It’s almost enough to make me want to rewind and take a second stab at being fourteen (almost).


For more about Steve Kluger, head over here.

Kali and the Geekettes, Ellie Greene

I rarely read books intended for a younger MG audience, but Greene is my yoga instructor and also studying to get her PhD in…I want to say Biology…so when she asked me to check out a couple of her books, I said sure. Actually, I think I said something along the lines of, “Really? Can’t you leave something for the rest of us to be good at?” That sass earned the whole class quite a long “break” in Dragon, although I’m sure if I asked her, she would claim complete innocence on the matter. She’s sneaky that way.

In all honesty, she’s an incredibly sweet, overachieving woman, and although I suspect this book might be a bit on the young side for most of my readers, it’s definitely one I would want to put on the shelves in classrooms. Green’s protagonist is, like her, a scientist, and I found it incredibly refreshing to read about a young girl interested in science written from an inside perspective. Many of my friends are scientists and engineers, but they don’t write fiction, so characters with their interests are not always written as well as they could be. Greene uses her own knowledge of the field to make the character come alive for me.

Whenever Kali went on about the constellations or discussed an experiment in her honor’s chemistry class, I thought, this must be what it’s like to be great in this subject! It’s Greene’s passion, and as a result, Kali lights up whenever she gets to discuss her favorite subject. In fact, Kali seemed like the kind of kid I would want to hang out with when I was that age – smart, funny, and yes, curious about boys.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for books about smart girls who are also interested in dating. I enjoy a character who can excel in astronomy or physics but also struggles with what to say to a cute boy in class. It speaks to a truth I can relate to, and it’s one of the things I liked to read about when I was that age. Sometimes it’s wonderful to read about a girl saving the world; other times, I just want to read about a girl who learns how to save herself. One is not necessarily better than another, especially for a young reader.

Kali makes a few extremely poor choices when it comes to boys and to her friends, but then, most teenagers do. (Noticeably, none of these impact her academic efforts, which are clearly of utmost importance to her.) The smart ones learn from those mistakes and strive to change something in themselves as a result. They take risks, even knowing that the inherent definition of risk implies occasional failure. Adolescence is all about the growth that comes from that cycle of risk-taking, failure, and success. It was lovely to read a book that approached this idea and made choosing do to the right thing, and occasionally the risky one, look so appealing.

Enchanted; Hero (Books 1 and 2 of The Woodcutter Sisters), Alethea Kontis

November has officially swallowed me up. Between NaNoWriMo, Ten to One, publicizing the new book and helping my sister-in-law with her wedding, my free time has seriously dwindled. Somehow, however, I found time to read not one but two of Kontis’ Woodcutter Sister books. And I really wish I had a third…

Not that I have time to read another one – certainly not when I have so many other more pressing projects I absolutely have to be working on – but if Kontis magically put out a new book tomorrow, I would find a way to squeeze it in.

Shoulders squared, feet apart, and tailbone centered, Saturday lifted the wooden practice sword before her. “Again.”

Velius laughed at her. Saturday scowled. There wasn’t a speck of dirt on her instructor; no dirt would be brave enough to mar his perfect fey beauty. Nor did he seem fatigued. She hated him a little more for that.

“Let’s take a break,” he said.

“I don’t need a break.”

“I do.”

Lies. He was calling her weak. The insult only made her angrier. “No, you don’t.”

Velius lifted his head to the sky and prayed to yet another god. Temperance, maybe, or Patience. Was there a God of Arguments You’ve Lost Twenty Times Before and Were About to Have Again? If so, Saturday bet on that one. (pg 2, Hero)

Kontis writes the kind of books I would have adored at twelve. Apparently not much has changed. Just as I needed a break from algebra and French grammar lessons back then, I still crave that peaceful feeling that comes from reading novels like these when I’m drowning in deadlines.

The love stories here are simple and predictable, yes, but that’s okay because the books aren’t about romance. They’re about Kontis’ young heroines figuring out how they fit into their family, and into the world. Along the way, they do happen to meet some sweet young men who are fall head over heels in love with them and are perfectly happy to be supportive of being, well, support. These guys enjoy the pleasures that comes from being partners (and occasionally sidekicks); since I know plenty of men just like this, I was tickled to see them appear on the page in more than one guise.

What I especially loved about these books (besides the author’s spot-on sense of humor) was that the women – not only the protagonists, but every woman encountered – had power. These women altered destinies; the men were mostly around to be loving and helpful (or pawns…sometimes they made excellent pawns). A few of her women were selfless, and some were wicked, but Kontis also wrote characters who fell along the spectrum in between.

Given that these books are aimed at a younger audience, I especially appreciated that fact. I read all sorts of trash when I was a kid, but I gravitated toward stories about competent, tough, questing women who also fell in love. I was a romantic, always, but I often wanted more from the female characters written for me. I read stories about two-dimensional women because my choices were limited. All I had access to was a single, small library, so it felt special to find something that fit my favorite niche. It turns out, it still does.

Of course, these days, I not only want stories about kick-ass ladies, I also long for fun books like these with a little more diversity. Where are the adventure romances about non straight/white/young characters? When I find books like Kontis’, that hit so many of my happiness buttons, it really does make me crave more. But why can’t I have the treat I love in other flavors?! It’s National Novel Writing Month, so I can only hope some of you are busy crafting what I seek – not books about issues, but stories that capture powerful, relatable, exciting protagonists who are more like us and less like the fairy tale characters Hollywood has cursed us with.

In case you aren’t writing your own but want to point me in the right direction, I’m looking for books to read in December with interesting, underrepresented narrators. Bonus points for humor, fantasy and/or YA.


For more about Alethea Kontis, head over here.


Zombie Baseball Beatdown, Paulo Bacigalupi

Happy Halloween everyone! And by “everyone,” I mean those of you who celebrate Halloween. For the rest of you, Happy Thursday! It’s almost the weekend, and my brother’s birthday is tomorrow…and oh yeah, National Novel Writing Month kicks off. Tomorrow. Huh. That came up quickly. Thank goodness today is Halloween so I can drown my problems in bite sized candy bars! (Tomorrow I’ll be doing the same thing, but all the candy will be marked down eighty percent, so that will be something special.)

I’m actually not big into Halloween. I’ve never liked costumes, and I hate being scared, so the only thing this day has going for it is the candy. Don’t get me wrong – I do really enjoy free candy, but even that’s less exciting as an adult. I can go buy candy whenever I want, and I don’t have to wear a wig or a hula skirt or whatever to get it. As a child, I always just latched onto the biggest group of trick-or-treaters I could find so I could hide in the back and score treats on their enthusiasm. (That’s a pro-tip right there, so if you have a child who loves candy but finds it difficult to break the “don’t talk to strangers” rule, I highly recommend this method.) Even though I don’t get particularly excited about October 31, I did want to give you all a fantastic quasi-horror story to enjoy when you come down off that sugar rush, and thankfully for all of us, Bacigalupi delivers in spades.

I’ve actually owned his first novel, The Windup Girl for quite a while but have never gotten around to it. When I read his Big Idea post on Whatever about his foray into middle grade fiction while I was traveling in September, I decided not to wait around. Sure, other people were giving him crap about branching out to try something new, but I wasn’t tied to his other books. I had no reason not to like this novel, and, as it turns out, about a dozen reasons to find it utterly delightful.

I highly recommend you scroll up and click on the link to his Big Idea post because I actually think Bacigalupi can sell this book to you better than I can. I’m so worried about spoiling it (and I really don’t want to spoil it for you) that I keep writing and deleting a list of the things I love about it. I can’t decide what information you should have to convince you to run right out and buy a copy (or twenty, if you happen to teach fourth through seventh grade – and yes, I do think it would appeal to that wide a range of readers, not to mention adults, who would be crazy not to enjoy Bacigalupi’s approach to the zombie apocalypse), so I’m going to share the one paragraph from his post that sold this book to me:

Ultimately, it turns out that whether I’m writing novels for adults or for middle school zombie enthusiasts, my themes and agendas still sneak into my stories. It was probably inevitable that my zombie apocalypse would come oozing out of the local meatpacking plant, with its overuse of antibiotics and strange feed supplements and questionable government oversight. And of course, once you’re writing about industrial meat, you can’t help but write about the workers who are often exploited by the meatpacking industry. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, a story about bashing zombies with baseball bats becomes a story about food safety and corporate greed, immigration policy and race in America. (excerpted from The Big Idea: Paolo Bacigalupi at

I mean, come on – it has something for everyone! Kids, baseball lovers (and baseball haters, incidentally), zombie fans, vegetarians, political junkies…and I’m actually none of these (well, I do love the Rockies, but I’d never read a book about baseball by choice, so that hardly counts), and I still thought this book was freaking fantastic. I’m already hounding my library to get more copies because it’s just that good. Seriously. It grossed me out, and I teared up on at least three separate occasions, but mostly, I laughed and cheered and generally felt a sense of awesome that can’t be denied.

But, you know, I’m not going to twist your arm. If you’re not into it, that’s…cool. I still have this bowl of candy to help see me through the dark times, and when I come out on the other side of…well, today, it will be November. I’ll be trying to write three thousand words a day. I won’t have time for your rejection of zombies, people! Nope. I won’t have time for anything but pretending you love what I love, so you may as well just give in and love this book now.


For more about Paulo Bacigalupi, head over here.

Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

Do you ever read a book, or trip over it, really, and when you stand up it’s a day later and you can’t concentrate on any of the other things you thought you loved even though you can’t fully understand why? And somehow, that tripping hazard is gone, finished, but you’d rather it not be, and then you just laugh because the protagonist is a fangirl and it’s so unbelievably appropriate to feel this way that there’s nothing to do but laugh and gnash your teeth and wonder why your mouth tastes sort metallic and stale.

I’d never even heard of this book or this author, and her name is Rainbow, so I was all set to be annoyed, but then I couldn’t be because it was so loving and perfect and I’d never read anything else quite like it. Because yeah, a lot of my friends are Fans with a capital everything, and they were reading fic before the internet was even really a thing. They used to print out reams of it and share back and forth, awake all night long because otherwise one might accidentally spoiler the other, and I never understood it, but that’s because I was always busy writing my own fic in my head.

I just didn’t realize that’s what it was. The stories were always there after I finished a great book or movie, or if a show I watched disappointed me; they crowded into my head, waiting to be twisted around to something better. I didn’t know it made me a fangirl until maybe a year ago. Then I finally admitted it, but I felt like I’d come to the party so late that all I do was stand in the corner and watch other people do this thing better than me. It was like being back in a junior high gym class, but this time the jocks didn’t care; it was all about the sparkliest nerds loving each other, and I still felt as invisible as I was back then. New clique, and cliques still weren’t my thing.

I’ve always been more of a drifter, keeping the stories to myself, straying from the group because groups are loud and hard and exhausting. It’s easier to just have the stories and to have friends who tell me about their groups without my ever having to meet them. I like it that way, even though, yes of course I’m jealous, sometimes, that I wasn’t made in the right shape to fit into groups, but we can’t have everything and when it comes down to it, I’d rather have the stories.

And when I saw this book, I thought, she’ll never get it right. It will be a stereotype, and the girl will be forced to completely change for anyone to like her. She’ll have to give up living in one world to be a part of another, but then she doesn’t, and it made my heart so happy that I couldn’t do anything else but write this.  Because this book is sweet, and it’s funny, and I love how Rowell know that it really isn’t impossible to get the best of both worlds, even if it takes some juggling to get there.


For more about Rainbow Rowell, who has become my special unicorn of happiness in just twenty-four hours, click here.

Wonder, RJ Palacio

It’s been a good long time since I’ve read a middle-grade novel I would recommend as highly as I would Wonder. This is one of those books, though, that I want to see in every school library and classroom. I want it to be on required reading lists for fourth, fifth and sixth graders. I want to be sure that it’s one of those stories that gets talked about and remembered by young readers, so for the many of you out there in the position to make that happen – get on it!

Maybe I’m crazy, and there are actually hundreds of incredible books written for children that age, but back in the day, I scrounged for anything out of the ordinary and mostly ended up with formulaic novels featuring blonde, shiny protagonists. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with blonde, shiny protagonists. They have a right to the same amount of shelf space as anyone else. The problem is, most people are not blond or shiny – even fewer are both – and yet books are absolutely chock-full of peppy, winsome people with unrealistic issues.

Tell me the truth: have you ever asked a person what one time he or she would never choose to relive? I have, on a number of occasions, and the answer is always the same. Junior high. Those three or four years in between the innocence of elementary education and the ignorance of high school are no man’s land. The kids experiencing them just want to get out alive, and those of us who have made the journey look back with a shudder of relief. Back then, I had a face (with braces, and glasses, and some horrific bangs) that only a mother could love. I think I most closely resembled one of the troll doll key chains I insisted on carrying around, and my personality did not make up for the fact that I was also chubby and uncoordinated.

Do you know why? It’s because children that age are short-sighted,  insecure, and frightened – even the nice ones! Even the ones who turn their homework assignments in on time and win trophies in soccer! Even the ones with tidy handwriting and perfect attendance! The beginning of puberty just kicks itself up into a tizzy and turns pleasant children into sullen, explosive, sneaky preteens. And guess what? We still have to love them in this phase, and part of my definition of love is finding books that make kids going through tough times feel better.

Wonder is one of those books. It’s written from the perspective of five people, although the central character is August Pullman, a ten-year old boy born with an incredibly rare combination of genetic disorders that lead to his having a painfully deformed face.  The story winds its way through his first year attending school after having been home-schooled for years;  while the fifth grade is difficult for everyone, this bright, kind child has been dealt a particularly rough hand, and his problems are the type that cannot be hidden from prying, judgmental eyes.

(from the perspective of Justin, August’s older sister Olivia’s boyfriend):

i can’t sleep tonight. my head is full of thoughts that won’t turn off. lines from my monologues. elements of the periodic table that i’m supposed to be memorizing. theorems i’m supposed to be understanding. olivia. auggie.

miranda’s words keep coming back: the universe was not kind to auggie pullman. i’m thinking about that a lot and everything it means. she’s right about that. the universe was not kind to auggie pullman.

what did that little kid ever do to deserve his sentence? what did the parents do? or olivia? she once mentioned that some doctor told her parents that the odds of someone getting the same combination of syndromes that came together to make auggie’s face were like one in four million. so doesn’t that make the universe a giant lottery, then? you purchase a ticket when you’re born. and it’s all just random whether you get a good ticket or a bad ticket. it’s all just luck.

my head swirls on this, but then softer thoughts soothe, like a flatted third on a major chord. no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely. and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you. and a little gravelly-voiced kid whose friends have left him over you. and even a pink-haired girl who carries your picture in her wallet. maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds. (loc 2580)

The universe takes care of all its birds. It doesn’t always feel that way to me, but I still the love of the idea of it. Palacio writes characters who are painful and real, but not without hope. They aren’t nearly as blonde or shiny as many fictional children are, and yet they have untapped reserves of resilience and compassion.  Hope, resilience, and compassion are the best gifts I could conceivably imagine giving a child, so when I find them woven into a beautiful story, I can’t help but want to put a copy in every kid’s hands…


For more about RJ Palacio, head this way.

Why I Fight, J Adams Oaks

First, a word of disclosure. This particular Oaks is my husband’s second cousin. We think. We’re nearly certain about it, in fact. He could be a first cousin once removed. At the very least, I’ve definitely met him at a family reunion; at the time, his precise connection to my mother-in-law didn’t come up in conversation (which is surprising, given how much her family enjoys discussing genealogy). As the product of two only children, I have given the technicalities of cousin-hood very little thought, and the only reason I mention it is because I feel it’s important to highlight any hint of author bias I might have when discussing a book.

That being said, I suspect I’m a lot more biased about authors I’ve been reading for years than I am about one who is, at best, tangentially “related” to me. Also, if you really wanted bias-free reviews, you would only have to read a small sampling of my posts to know you’re in the wrong place. I am nothing if not opinionated about books…

The funny thing is, I actually put off reading this one for a long time because I thought it was a biography. I have no idea where I got that idea. Sometimes at those reunions, I’m so exhausted by the end of the day, I only half-listen to the conversations around me; when that happens, I fill in the blanks with complete gibberish that I hopefully never get asked about. I’m about ninety percent certain that’s what happened here. The other ten percent is reserved for the possibility that another family member – one who hadn’t read the book but was trying to be encouraging – inadvertently gave me some false information. (My money’s on the gibberish theory, for the record.)

So, yes. I’m not a huge fan of biographies. I’ve only managed to read five or six in my entire life, and I was afraid that I would start J’s book and find that I couldn’t finish it. In my mind, that was the most disastrous thing I could do, because inevitably I would run into him again, and then how would I play it off? I can be exceptionally awkward when forced to lie, and what usually comes out instead is an ugly and blunt form of the truth. (You cannot even imagine the train wrecks I have endured when epically failing to lie.) In writing my character for Ten to One, however, I have started to do some research on bare knuckle boxing and the gambling that surrounds those fights. It occurred to me about a month ago that Why I Fight might be a great resource, so I girded myself and leapt in.

As it turns out, it is a great resource, but it’s not a biography. I managed about two years of avoidance for nothing! Instead, it was a fast-paced YA/MG novel that I suspect could have great appeal for young readers who are struggling to find an appealing book. I don’t often find stories like that, and I’m always incredibly excited to be able to recommend one.

Honestly, I can write a ten page list of books that are great for kids who love to read, but it’s much more difficult to narrow down the titles that can hold the attention of a child being forced to do it. I think one of our base desires is that we want other people to love the things we love; unfortunately, that just isn’t possible, and reading is often ruined for children (and adults) because those of us who are passionate about books have a hard time understanding where they’re coming from.

The thing is, I’ve met plenty of people who don’t like to read (for a variety of reasons), but I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who doesn’t like stories. Some people prefer to get them from video games or movies, in the news or at the water cooler. They may prefer an auditory experience, or they may find themselves transported more easily into another world when they can take part in shaping the narrative.

Personally, I like the privacy of the written word. I take great joy in soaking in the nuance of language, and I don’t have to struggle to create a world in my own head. Both nurture and nature were on my side there though. I never had to struggle to learn how to read, and I always had plenty of books available to me. My parents modeled a love of reading, and they encouraged me to read anything I wanted. I have such positive associations with books that it makes complete sense I would grow up to be a reader.

Every person in the world doesn’t have to be like me in order to enjoy the occasional great book though. The trouble is, for many non-readers, books have often been thrown at them haphazardly without a side note of “Hey! This is a great book, but let me know what you think – if it’s not your thing, we can keep looking.” Many school librarians have told me this is especially problematic in their line of work; once children start falling behind on reading comprehension, books become the enemy. The thing that breaks my heart is that they miss out on stories that could mean so much to them – books that probably won’t be assigned on any curriculum, but which capture a cathartic experience.

Why I Fight probably won’t end up on many summer reading lists, and that’s a shame because it’s a wonderful read. Its hero is passionate, and violent, and optimistic in his struggle against isolation and invisibility. It’s the kind of story I find myself wanting to give to kids who think there’s nothing for them in books.

We sat, and I watched Nana bow her head to pray for us. Then we ate, not talking, and I was happy for the quiet. Nobody in my family made any sense. Ma wore this gold cross on a chain but never went to church. Her and Fever and Spade all said their Jesuses and Christs like they was cusswords. And now, the first time anybody was talking God stuff, I was getting hollered at. Nothing was ever just said. It was either shouting or quiet. As I chewed, I got to thinking maybe I wasn’t really related to a single one of them. Only problem was we all had the same pasty white skin, leaf green eyes, and scraggly black hair. But how could I feel so different on my insides? I didn’t want to holler at anybody. I didn’t want to be hateful. I just wanted people to be happy, maybe smile sometimes, you know? And I didn’t want to be alone, like everybody else wanted to be. I was so scared of being left on my own, but right then, feeling so peeved and confused, I just kept staring at the kitchen window, picturing busting out, running as fast and as far as I could. (p 24)


For more about J Adams Oaks, go here.

The Borrowers, Mary Norton

Whenever I head “home” to visit my family, I always find myself sucked into their bookshelves. It’s not that I don’t bring my own books to read (during one memorable visit, I read eight Sookie Stackhouse novels on the sly); it’s that every room in my parents’ house is filled with books refusing to be ignored.

The rooms my brother and I used to call our own? Now, an office and a guest room, both lined with shelves fairly trembling under the weight of what I like to call “hobby” books, but are in actuality my parents’ professional tools (in my mother’s case, theology and grassroots politics, in my father’s, theatre, music, and biographies). In the upstairs hallway, the shelves are mostly  poetry, plays, and extremely well-loved children’s books. In the living room, it’s the classics and beautifully crafted research books, while the sun porch is overflow for a hodgepodge of left-overs. Even the dining room has become home to my old childhood bookcase, filled, at Christmas time, with our most beloved holiday books, and the rest of the year, with my dad’s massive Shakespeare collection.

It’s impossible not to get distracted in a house like that. I also find that while I don’t have a lot of free time while I’m here, I do have many pockets of fifteen-minute windows when I’m just…waiting. Inevitably, over the course of my stay, I pull out a book or three in every room of the house, and when I find myself stranded with too little time to do anything useful and too much to just stare blankly out the window, I’ll pick one of them up.

This week, I’ve been mostly pawing through old books from my childhood. There is just something so dear about the worn covers and the places where I folded pages down or spilled (yes, I am terrible to books). The first one I pulled out after I arrived was The Borrowers. I must have read this fifteen times when I was a kid (although somehow, I never realized it had sequels – go figure), and last summer, I went to see the Miyazaki film based on it (The Secret World of Arrietty) which tickled my desire to reread it when next I had the chance.

Having done so, I can say with greater confidence that, although I adore Miyazaki’s work, the movie is not as enjoyable as the book. One thing I did notice coming back to the text was that the pacing for both was surprisingly similar; when I was at the theatre, I felt like it was dragging a bit, but when I pulled out the novel, I realized it’s just one of those stories from another era of children’s fiction. The pace is slower, and the setting is lavished upon. It actually makes for a beautiful adaptation to a visual art form, but the story didn’t translate quite as well (or perhaps that had something to do with it going from British book to Japanese script to American script – something may have been lost in this game of Telephone).

The story embraced me immediately. It brought me back to this warm, happy ball of childhood when a house had so much potential for mystery and exploration. The Borrowers were as real as could be to me again, at least for a few minutes (at which point, the reality of setting the table and checking on dinner returned).

It was a charming fireplace, made by Arrietty’s grandfather, with a cogwheel from the stables, part of an old ciderpress. The spokes of the cogwheel stood out in starry rays, and the fire itself nestled in the center. Above there was a chimney-piece made from a small brass funnel, inverted. This, at one time, belonged to an oil lamp which matched it, and which stood, in the old days, on the hall table upstairs. An arrangement of pipes, from the spout of the funnel, carried fumes into the kitchen flues above. The fire was laid with matchsticks and fed with assorted slack and, as it burned up, the iron would become hot, and Homily would simmer soup on the spokes in a silver thimble, and Arrietty would broil nuts. How cozy those winter evenings could be. Arrietty, her great book on her knees, sometimes read aloud; Pod at his last (he was a shoemaker, and made button-boots out of kid gloves – now, alas, only for his family); and Homily, quiet at last, with her knitting. (pg 20)

There is a quality to books like this that inspire so much ingenuity. As a child, I would read the descriptions of the Borrowers’ home with rapt fascination. When I finished, I would try to build houses like theirs myself (ostensibly for my dolls, but since I didn’t care much for the dolls themselves, they were almost permanently boxed while I constructed). This was less about the plot to me than about the world that could be created. I was fascinated by the repurposing of materials to create something special – a skill that came in handy when I taught preschool and had a limited budget.

As much as I love books that are being written for young people now, I can’t help but be a little nostalgic for the novels of my youth (which were, incidentally, of my parents’ youth as well). They might not have been the most riveting adventures, but they straddled the line between reality and make-believe in a way I find utterly charming and nearly impossible to reproduce.

The Last Unicorn (part the first), Peter S Beagle

The unicorn was grey and still. “There is magic on me,” she said. “Why did you not tell me?”

“I thought you knew,” the magician answered gently. “After all, didn’t you wonder how it could be that they recognized you?” Then he smiled, which made him look a little older. “No, of course not. You never would wonder about that.”

“There has never been a spell on me before,” the unicorn said. She shivered long and deep. “There has never been a world in which I was not known.”

“I know exactly how you feel,” Schmendrick said eagerly. The unicorn looked at him out of dark, endless eyes, and he smiled nervously and looked at his hands. “It is a rare man who is taken for what he truly is,” he said. “There is much misjudgment in the world. Now, I knew you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you take me for a clown, or a clod, or a betrayer, and so I must be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream. Still I have read, or heard it sung, that unicorns when time was young, could tell the difference ‘twixt the two – the false shining and the true, the lips’ laugh and the heart’s rue.” (pg 40)

I’ve been trying to savor this book, choosing to read it only a chapter or two at a time even though it lends itself to a hurried read, and for that reason, I’ve had the opportunity to be struck by passages like this one. On the one hand, the story itself transports me back to childhood, with its shady glens and mystical beasts – it has all the magic I searched for with less experienced eyes; on the other, moments like the one above remind me of the endless struggle of growing up, the struggle that continues even after enough years have passed that a birthday cake looks more like a melting wax torch than a celebration.

The Last Unicorn is such a melancholy adventure. Its protagonist is a character that lives for an eternity, after all. I find it hard enough to be mortal, to have the years I have and hope desperately that they are enough, that I will make some small mark on the hearts of people I love before my time is up. Like Schmendrick, poor human wizard that he is, I want to be known and understood for my best intentions, even if even I don’t always know what those are.

It’s always fascinating to me to find a book that’s so well-suited to a young audience – fast-paced, straightforward story-telling, understandable language – but which resonates so deeply with a more mature one. I have no doubt I would have loved this book as a child or teenager, but I don’t know if I would have appreciated the subtly of the Beagle’s writing. It’s so lovely, and sad. I keep finding myself sighing and saying, “Yes, that’s exactly what it feels like to grow older. How does he know? How does he know?!” Quests are supposed to change us, and in this book, I have no doubt that by the end, the evolution will have occurred.

The straightforward nature of such quests, however, in a great book, is turned on its head. I still  remember finishing The Magician King  and experiecning the rising dread of a quest thwarted:

“This isn’t how it ends!” Quentin said. “I am the hero of this goddamned story, Ember! Remember? And the hero gets the reward!”

“No, Quentin,” the ram said. “The hero pays the price.” (pg 396, The Magician King)

(Damn it, Grossman – that still hurts. Please finish writing the next installment of soul-crushing delight soon.) Maybe The Last Unicorn will have a cheerier ending. Maybe it will be a straightforward “happily ever after,” but I have my doubts. Beagle seems too tapped into the reality of our flawed existence for a cut-and-dry resolution. That isn’t how the real world works, and it isn’t the most satisfying ending to most books either.

Sure, it can be great to know a character has vanquished every demon and reaped righteous rewards, but that may be difficult to relate to as a reader. Off the page, we know that the victory of one week may not matter the next, and more than anything, books serve as a reminder that the world is not only what we know from our own experiences. It’s tangled, and messy, and often brutal. It requires of us great sacrifice, and a willingness to love what might eventually be lost.

The world can be a hard place, and the quests we are asked to complete don’t always seem like the stories we have read. This is because we tend to remember endings above all else. We like to think of every obstacle overcome without bothering to recall how it came to be. We forget that the story is not just the final chapter but everything that came before it. It is the long, lonely nights in unfamiliar forests. It’s the roads that seem to stretch endlessly before us under a scorching sun. It is the friends we have cut with sharp, careless tongues, the friends who have left us so that we may find our better selves again. It is the old crone we must show kindness to, and the kindness we beg from strangers in return. The quest is the most special hard thing we’re ever given – it’s the rock we rub our lives against to shape them into what we want to be.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

This is the conversation that took place about ten minutes after I finished The Fault in Our Stars, when one of my closest friends came over for our weekly dinner:

Me: So I just finished this book, and I’m still having a lot of feelings. If I just randomly start crying…

Her: I love that book! I’ve read it twice. I’ve never cried harder for a book than I did for that one.

Me: So if I just freak out about it for the next hour…?

Her: That’s totally fine.

Thank God for friends who understand what it’s like to get uncomfortably over-invested in books.

Although, to be honest, if you read this book and didn’t cry, I’m not sure I could be friends with you. I mean, it’s a book about kids with cancer. And it’s a good book about kids with cancer, which means that John Green knows exactly how to take your heart and pulverize it, all the while making you laugh. And by “you,” I mean “me.” Obviously. I don’t know what your heart is like. Maybe you went into this book without knowing it would be about kids with cancer, and the whole situation caught you totally off-guard. Maybe you don’t get Green’s sense of humor, in which case, again, I don’t know what to tell you. (Because he’s wonderful, and I’m so glad he has more books out for me to fall in love with.)

I, on the other hand, went into it knowing exactly what I was getting into. I’ve seen a thousand gifs and heard all the most popular quotes. I was fully prepared for a story about star-crossed teenage love. I told myself I was only doing this so I would know what other people were talking about when it came up in conversation. Even as I was reading it, I was completely under control. I had decided that the only people who got emotional about this story were the ones who knew nothing about it before they started. I was a rock. I could handle it.

When will I ever learn?

Fast forward to about forty pages from the end. Those of you who have read this book probably know exactly what part I’m thinking of, and for those of you who haven’t, well, I don’t want to spoil it, but the kids have cancer – feel free to use your imaginations to fill in the myriad plot points that could  arise out of such a story. It’s okay. I’ll wait.  Got them? Good, now that you’re with us, maybe you’ll understand why I was laying on the floor of my living room crying my eyes out.

My favorite line of the novel was repeated often (and therefore does not count as a spoiler) – “The world is not a wish-granting factory.” This line, it turns out, comes in handy when reading a book like this one. I kept saying, “But I don’t want that to happen!” And as if on cue, I would be reminded that “the world is not a wish-granting factory.” (But I want it to be! But it’s not. But! No.)

I love that about this book. It reminds me that there are the things in this life that we want, and there are the things we can have, and the two circles do not always overlap. It doesn’t mean we give up. To me, it means we try harder, and we appreciate, with every ounce of our being, when those circles do slip over each other. Because sometimes, kids have cancer that can’t be cured. And desperately needed jobs only take a day to lose. Our bodies may betray us. Our friends and family won’t understand what we need them to understand. Loss is a constant because the world is not a wish-granting factory. That fact will never not hurt, and there will never be a solution to every problem for every person. The world is not a wish-granting factory. John Green sure got that right.

But he also wrote a book that made me desperately happy for the small precious moments in life. His characters didn’t save the world. They were just ordinary teenagers who also happened to have cancer destroying their bodies from the inside out. And yet. They found a way to have good days. They found a way to appreciate the moments that weren’t made of pain. They rose above futile wishes and continued to live their lives. To me, that’s the most heroic way a person can live. Some of us may get the chance to do something momentous one day, but most of us will just live quietly. We can choose to regret that, or not. I choose not. I like the details of life so much more than the broad brush strokes anyway.

John Green has written what is, essentially, my Catcher in the Rye. Now, before you rise up against me for saying that, let me explain: I didn’t get Holden Caulfield when I was fifteen, and it made me angry that I was supposed to and couldn’t. Of course, I get him now, and all I can think is what a blessing it was that I didn’t understand back then. Life had been exceedingly kind to me, and I hadn’t earned that book yet. The book I needed then was this one. I had experienced unexplained physical pain since I was five. I had a family I cherished that I never wanted to hurt or disappoint. I had known too much death. I needed Hazel and Augustus and Isaac. I needed to know that other kids had lost and lost and lost and yet still managed to maintain their sense of humor and passion. I hadn’t dived into the darkness of the world, but I had paddled along its edges. I needed books that would guide me a little deeper, but carefully, and with love. This would have been that book for me.


For more about John Green, head over here.

Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery

I am terrible with transitions. I like change well enough in theory, and I’m fine with it after it’s happened, but when I’m within a week of upheaval, I tend to fall to pieces. Tomorrow, I leave on a six-week trip covering three countries and providing an opportunity to see a number of dear friends, and while I’m thrilled to be going, the stress getting ready has given me several nights of insomnia, near constant heartburn, and my very first (!) doozy of a nosebleed. (Yes, I have become that person who gets nosebleeds under stress – I’m looking forward to adding that to my resume of delightful quirks.)

The only remedy for the anxiety I feel about this whole situation was to go to the bottom of my bookshelf and pull out one of my absolute favorite books from childhood. I’ve kept quite a few chapter books from back then, but Anne has always been particularly special. I still remember the first time my mother read it to me. I would get to hear a chapter every night before bed as a treat, and when I was reading it this week, I would hear every line in her soothing voice.

The “Avenue,” so called by the Newbridge people, was a stretch of road four or five hundred yards long, completely arched over with huge, wide-spreading apple-trees, planted years ago by an eccentric old farmer. Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.

Its beauty seemed to strike the child dumb. She leaned back in the buggy, her thin hands clasped before her, her face lifted rapturously to the white splendor above. Even when they had passed out and were driving down the long slope to Newbridge she never moved or spoke. Still with rapt face she gazed afar into the sunset west, with eyes that saw visions trooping splendidly across that glowing background. Through Newbridge, a bustling little village where dogs barked at them and small boys hooted and curious faces peered from the windows, they drove, still in silence. When three more miles had dropped away behind them the child had not spoken. She could keep silence, it was evident, as energetically as she could talk. (loc 295)

If I had never read this book as a child, I might find its style to be overwritten for modern tastes, but since I have powerfully pleasant associations with it, reading a section like that transported me back to my own little bed. I found myself remembering details of my old bedroom so clearly – the chipped, pale pink paint and industrial grey carpeting, the little white bookshelf always overflowing, a rainbow-colored bedspread that clashed with my white and gold dresser. I can’t help but laugh at how little I decorative taste I was burdened with in my youth, and yet that room was filled to the brim with stories my parents told me, so I could never not love it.

We read so many books aloud when my brother and I were young, especially in that old house where even dinner time was likely to be given over to a family chosen novel, but Anne of Green Gables was always one of my favorites. Anne tried hard to be good, but she was always getting into gently amusing scrapes that seemed, both to her and to me, deeply unjust at the time. She also talked far too much and about the most ridiculous things, and although I didn’t fully realize it at the time, it was one of the key reasons Anne and I seemed like kindred spirits.  Although I often came across as reserved in unfamiliar settings, the secret very soon was spilled that once I got going on a tear, I could talk the ear off of anyone, and would.

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive— it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so I’ll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it’s difficult.” (247)

I loved Anne, too, because as much as she chattered on, she also had a vivid imagination and was content to spend hours alone with it. I felt I must be terribly odd when I was a child and people would find me staring dazedly out the window or with my hands under still running water, completely lost in my own world. I felt a little happier knowing that other people still liked her even though she was strange in ways that I was too.

It was a deep comfort above all else, however, that one of Anne’s greatest flaws was one I shared, and it was one she only barely grew out of by the end of the book:

She flung herself into her studies heart and soul, determined not to be outdone in any class by Gilbert Blythe. The rivalry between them was soon apparent; it was entirely good-natured on Gilbert’s side; but it is much to be feared that the same thing cannot be said of Anne, who had certainly an unpraiseworthy tenacity for holding grudges. (2060)

If ever a line of text was written perfectly to describe me, it would be “[she] had certainly an unpraiseworthy tenacity for holding grudges.” I should be ashamed of the number of stories that pop to mind to illustrate that point, and I should be even more ashamed by the flash of pride I felt at how successfully I’ve held some of them…and I am, at least a little. It’s hard to be completely annoyed at a personal fault though, when one happens to be so good at it as to almost consider it a farmable skill…

Anne, of course, learns the virtue of forgiveness by the end of the book. It’s that kind of story, written in an era when wholesome novels about girls could encourage friendship, family, and adventure without necessarily dictating puritanical values. There’s no kissing or dating either, of course, although Montgomery writes a wisp of romance into this first volume, but I’ve always loved Anne’s declaration that “Young men are all very well in their place, but it doesn’t do to drag them into everything, does it?” She is fierce-minded and proud, dedicated to the people she loves, bright, generous of spirit, and, as she says after one of her more trying mishaps, “surely born under an unlucky star.”

She’s a character who is difficult to hate because although she tries desperately to be good, she is also clumsy and outspoken with a terribly quick temper, and she seems all the more vulnerable for her faults. It’s a winsome combination. I will always be grateful to have had a girl like Anne to grow up with, and even still to keep me company now that I am grown.


Want to go on an “Anne vacation?” I did when I was about thirteen – it was dorky and wonderful. Go. Also, I was obsessed with the movie and borrowed it from the library an embarrassing number of times (that number was more than ten and less than 100…). Turns out, I’m not the only one who loved it

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (post the second), Catherynne M Valente

“For though, as we have said, all children are heartless, this is not precisely true of teenagers. Teenage hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their own strength. Neither do they know reason or restraint, and if you want to know the truth, a goodly number of grown-up hearts never learn it.” (pg 8)

Tonight, I was sitting in our church’s tiny Ash Wednesday service, and we sang one of my all-time favorite songs. While I probably should have been reflecting on the season of Lent stretching ahead of me, or about sacrifice, or prayer, instead, I was thinking about this book. I finished it a few days ago, but after posting on Monday, I didn’t feel like I had much more to add. It was a beautiful read, but I couldn’t find the inspiration to write something as thought-provoking as I felt it deserved. It wasn’t until we started singing together that I was swept up by how the lyrics of “Amazing Grace” remind me of the journeys, like September’s, that I most enjoy reading about.

In case you’re not familiar with the song, these are the verses I love best:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far
and Grace will lead us home.

I remember singing this at camp when I was a child, sitting with all my friends and looking out at the White Mountains, the night sky stretching above us. The words just flowed out of me, and when we finished, I wanted to sing it again. I get that same feeling still, this powerful surging desire for adventure with all the trials and growth it brings. I long for the mysteries that test me and make me stronger and more compassionate, that will tame my wild, raw heart without chaining it too tightly.

Of course, it helps that I think we create our own grace. We make it, give it, seek it, long for it – grace is, to me, an expression of our best, bravest, most selfless hearts – it is the part of us that steps up and becomes, even if it is only in a tiny way or for a single moment, heroic. It is our conscience and our grit, our faith in ourselves and our trust in the goodness of others.

“September did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts. They do this because they are afraid of the world and of being stared at, or relied upon to do feats of bravery or boldness. And all of those brave and wild and cunning and marvelous and beautiful parts they hid away and left in the dark to grow strange mushrooms – and yes, sometimes those wicked and unkind parts, too – end up in their shadow.” (p 77)

When we’re young, it’s so much easier to brave and wild and cunning and marvelous. Each of our worlds are pinpoints of light, and we are at the center, shining more brightly and callously than we could ever believe when we’re all grown up and looking back. We can’t imagine how it was that we were simultaneously so fearless and heartless and young! Our minds were hardly made up at all. We could take one road, then turn off into the darkest woods with only the tiniest of hesitations niggling in the back of our brains. We could intentionally lose ourselves again and again because somehow, some peculiar whirling internal compass compelled us to – for how else would we find ourselves if not by getting completely turned around?

Thus is the murky world of childhood. The monsters are more terrifying, or we maybe are just more helpless, and yet, we are also more resilient, more willing to risk everything for the chance at some unknowable reward. Valente has captured this gamble, this scrambling from the cold grasping of childhood to the passionate frustration of adolescence, leaving us, at the end, on the tricky cusp of adulthood.

Those of us who are already grown can see our own paths leading backwards – the enemies we have vanquished, and the ones who have vanquished us, the delicate lives we have trampled and the people we have saved, even the grace we have given and that which we have received – it’s all there for us to see and remember and regret. I can’t help but love September, with her bursting, untamed heart, even though I know, as does Valente, that the happy ending of this story is only a moment on the girl’s larger journey. There will be greater mountains for her to climb yet, and bitterness will seep in with love, but that’s the adventure of growing up for all of us, isn’t it?

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (post the first), Catherynne M Valente

There are some books that just bound and determined to keep me from reading them quickly, and this is one of them. To be fair, The first book in this collection, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, had the same effect on me. I’m actually amazed I managed to get through that one in two posts.

Let me be clear – this is not at all an issue of quality. Valente is an incredibly gifted writer, and she weaves wonderful stories for her readers. The difficulty for me is that her books are, well, feasts. Visually speaking, she creates such a rich world that I cannot read it at my normal rate. I have to keep pausing to imagine what Alice in Wonderland-esque quirks she’s telling me about. I love it, but it’s also exhausting to the mental eye. I read maybe two or three of these brief chapters at a time and I feel completely full. I need to take time to live in her world before I can go on.

Valente has the ability to make me feel as though I’m a part of this place she’s created, but the price I must pay is speed. I cannot be my efficient, grown-up self if I want to come and quest with her. And I do. I desperately do – who doesn’t? Who hasn’t heard of Neverland and wondered what it would be like to fly through the window one night? Who hasn’t wanted to trade junior high gym class for a letter from Hogwarts? Who hasn’t been willing to take on the weight of the world in exchange for magic and mystery and heroics?

I think we all want it, in our ways.

Of course, our desires don’t all look the same. I grew up loving Anne McCaffery’s Pern and Piers Anthony’s Xanth, so my perspective on another world may look very different from an eleven year old girl who has read The Hunger Games, and Divergent, and Harry Potter at a highly impressionable age. Granted, I’ve read all those books and loved them too, so when I imagine what I might find if I climbed through a wardrobe, it has the elements of years of pages lovingly turned.

What stays the same though, through decades of literature and analytical critique, is that having a child’s open mind and hard heart is a strength. At the end of an adventure, of course, one does well to be wiser, but at the beginning? Not at all. In order to gain entrance, you must shrink down and let go of logic completely. That is not such an easy thing as we get older and struggle with practicalities all day, every day. Our sense of whimsy fades. Our patience for magic wanes. We read too quickly, and we forget to fall down into the rabbit hole of the story.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I love stories, and I have to cling to a version of myself that I barely remember when I open a book like this. I try to call back the stars to my eyes, desperately wishing for that sure, bright sight I used to have, but it gets harder every year. Even Wendy had to grow up eventually, the adventures of her youth becoming bedtime stories for new children. I always thought that was a desperately sad thing, that final moment when Peter returns for his friend and she has grown up on him. I don’t feel badly for him though – no – I ache for her, for all those years she told herself those tales so that she could remember what it felt like to taste magic.

In these stories, there are always people who inhabit a magical land, who get to live there forever, and then there are the people who have managed to sneak in, the people we follow just in case, someday, we find our path. Their stories are roadmaps for our secret, questing hearts. We must read them carefully or risk missing the moment when our opportunity flits past.


For more about Catherynne M Valente, visit her beautiful page here.

The Taming of the Shrew (Saddleback’s Illustrated Classics), William Shakespeare (adapted)

Oh, for those empty, unguided days of January! I wish for them well now that the year has really and truly begun! It seems as if all of my work projects and plans for travel have sprung to life at once, and where, even a week ago I felt completely undirected, I’m plenty busy now…

One of the writing projects I’m working on at the moment deals with the relationship between Katerina and Petruchio (the “shrew” and her suitor) in The Taming of the Shrew, so I’ve been reading all the copies I can get my hands on. This particular version, a graphic novel intended for middle school children, was lent to me by my father, a huge Shakespeare buff. He collects all sorts of strange versions of the plays, as well as histories, films, and modern interpretations; he’s been doing this for as long as I can remember. We read and watched many of Shakespeare’s plays together when I was a kid, and his ability to pick the ones most interesting to me at any given age is, I’m sure, a huge reason why I enjoyed them so much. The language was familiar to me from a young age, and after years of discussion, I intimately know the plots and cultural significance of much of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

When he first started talking to me about this particular project, I was fascinated by the idea of looking at this play through a more modern lens, and with an eye to the idea of bullying that emerges upon careful reading. He and I started talking about it at Christmas, and I’ve been researching since then, but what I’ve discovered upon discussing the play with others, is that most people have no idea what I’m talking about. And I mean none. I’ve had blank looks just from sharing the title of the play, and these were from well-educated and knowledgable friends. Admittedly, I hang out with a lot of people whose strengths are rooted in the sciences, or who are musicians or engineers, but still! I was shocked. If they hadn’t even heard of the play, how could I expect to write something using the characters from The Taming of the Shrew that could be, in any way, comprehensible to students?!

It was an eye-opening experience, and one that I’m glad to have had early in the process. I realized I’ll have to go about this trusting a perspective other than my own; I will have to embrace the fact that readers may not immediately recognize the significance of this play within Shakespeare’s larger body of work. They may not know that although he was certainly a product of his time, the frightening misogyny in this play is not found in all of them…

I’m curious to know if any of my readers have used a resource like this to teach Shakespeare (or another author) to middle or high school students. It’s not exactly Cliff Note’s, but I did feel as though it robbed the story of any of its poetry and subtext. The play is broken down to its simplest parts, and the end result, to me, was a flat, uninspiring, and confusing story. I wonder though, if this were used in conjunction with the true text of the play – could it help to break down the language comprehension barrier? I wouldn’t want to use it alone; if anything could rob students of a latent love of the Bard, it’s this, but I certainly see how it could have its uses.