When You Reach Me

When_you_reach_meWhen You Reach Me
Rebecca Stead
Published July 14, 2009
200 pages

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mom and I spent a mother-daughter weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia. We visited Colonial Williamsburg and went to Busch Gardens. We had pancakes for breakfast and ice cream in the afternoon. Oddly, however, despite all the touristy things we did, the thing that I remember most vividly about that weekend was sitting in our hotel room, reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light together.

It’s been years since I’ve read that book, so I don’t remember it in detail (The basics: It’s about a teenage girl named Vicky who goes to spend the summer on the island where her grandfather lives. He is dying of leukemia, and she and her family know this is the last summer they will spend with him there. On the island, Vicky spends time with three boys, all of whom have their own experiences with death. Needless to say, it is not a particularly light kids’ book. But it is incredibly poignant and lovely). But I do remember my mom reading the book aloud to me in that motel room in Williamsburg while we both cried and cried.

I am not alone in having happy childhood memories tied to Madeleine L’Engle’s books (most of which are intended for middle readers–grades 6+). And for good reason–they are, simply, great. L’Engle is probably best known for A Wrinkle in Time, a Newbery Medal Award winner from 1963, which is about some kids’ adventures through space and time to save their dad.

Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me (itself a Newbery Medal Award winner in 2010) is also a fan of L’Engle’s. In her acknowledgments, Stead writes, “Every writer stands on the shoulders of many other writers, and it isn’t practical to thank all of them. However, I would like to express my special admiration for the astonishing imagination and hard work of Madeleine L’Engle, whose books captivated me when I was young (they still do), and made me want in on the secrets of the universe (ditto).”

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Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood

41MeRdcI3gL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood
Julie Gregory
Published September 3, 2003
244 pages (hardcover)

I really need to stop reading memoirs. As a rule. No matter how interesting the subject matter may seem, the memoir is inevitably terrible. And this book is no exception.

Sickened is a memoir about a chick who was, for years, the victim of Münchausen syndrome by proxy (at the hands of her totally loony mother). Münchausen syndrome by proxy (“a psychological disorder in which a parent and typically a mother harms her child (as by poisoning), falsifies the child’s medical history, or tampers with the child’s medical specimens in order to create a situation that requires or seems to require medical attention”) is pretty gross and creepy. The book, which is peppered with the author’s actual medical records from childhood, promised to be interesting—in a American Horror Story kind of way.

And, there is definitely a lot of creepy/crazy in there. An example: Continue reading

Mermaids in Paradise

20723818Mermaids in Paradise
Lydia Millet
Published November 3, 2014
290 pages (hardcover)

Several years ago, on a family vacation, I spent a day on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, exploring the Baths. The water there is a beautiful aquamarine and crystal clear; the beaches are full of soft, white sand; and the weather is about 80-degrees and sunny year-round. Bright, tropical fish dart around close to the beach, making for phenomenal snorkeling. Part of the beach itself is lined with massive boulders that create an almost cave-like atmosphere. As water rushes in and out with the tide, you can climb over, under, and between the boulders (with the help of various ropes and ladders), to reach new stretches of gorgeous, white-sand beach.

When people refer to the Caribbean as paradise, this is what they’re talking about. It is, hands down, one of the most stunning places I have ever visited.

That’s my description of the Baths. Here is Deb’s: Continue reading

Welcome to Braggsville

Welcome to Braggsville
T. Geronimo Johnson
Published February 17, 2015
384 pages (hardcover)

Remember a couple years ago when small-town high school in Wilcox County, Georgia, had its first-ever racially-integrated prom a couple years ago? People all over (well, all over everywhere but the Deep South) were shocked that things like segregated proms still existed. Here’s a reminder:

The fictional Braggsville, Georgia, population 712, is reminiscent of Wilcox County. Every year, there is a festival called the Pride Week Patriot Days Festival, the highlight of which is a Civil War battle reenactment (not that anyone refers to it as the Civil War, of course). Black people live in the Gully; white people live on the other side of the Holler. Confederate flags and black lawn jockeys decorate houses. At local general stores, you can pick up bumper stickers with tasteful slogans like “IF YOU’RE ANY ‘CAN, EXCEPT AMERI-CAN—GO HOME” and “IF I’D KNOWN IT WOULD BE LIKE THIS, I WOULD HAVE PICKED MY OWN COTTON” and “KEEP HONKING—I’M RELOADING.” Continue reading