Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Yes, it is still winter in Maine. Give me the sun on fresh snow, and I'm blissfully happy.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson won the 2015 Printz Award for young adult fiction. This literary novel set in Northern California explores artistic creativity and sibling rivalry. I had hesitations about reading a twin book since authors tend to treat them like circus freaks. There was also a dead mom, which has become nearly a cliché in YA. Nelson, however, has an original take on these tropes.

The narrative alternates between thirteen-year-old Noah and his twin sister, Jude, three year later. In between the twin narratives, their mother's death pushes their lives in opposite directions, alienating the once close siblings. Jude sounds more like a typical teenager with her sassy quips and amusing superstitions while Noah has a more quirky perspective. He sees emotional moments as paintings and can't express his true feelings in words. The duality of sibling rivalry versus loyalty made for a powerful dynamic.

I'll Give You the Sun pushes boundaries for young adult fiction but doesn't quite break them. Jude has a crush on her model, who is an art college student from the UK. Oscar flirts back because he believes that sixteen-year-old Jude is his age. She is young enough to believe that her "soul mate" will overcome his long history of substance abuse and womanizing. The resolution did at least reinforce that their age gap would be seriously problematic.

The amorous feelings between Noah and his new best friend were more age appropriate for a young adult audience. It was wonderful to see a homosexual relationship treated as a romance instead of as a tragedy, although there were barriers and no easy resolution.

The gorgeous writing captured the emotional intensity of the teen years:
"I didn't know you could get buried in your own silence."
"How can I hate him and wish I were more like him at the same time?"
"This guy makes me feel like I'm actually here, unhidden, seen."
"I feel pinned to this awful moment like a dead insect."
"In one split second I saw everything I could be, everything I want to be. And all that I'm not."
I'll Give You the Sun was at its best on art, showing how artists see the world and describing the fascinating process of sculpting in stone. Art shapes character, propels the plot and is used metaphorically. The twins' art historian mom fostered their passion for creativity, and her spirit haunts them, blurring the line between mourning and the paranormal. My favorite relationship was between Jude and her mentor, a sculptor who challenges her in art and in life. Guillermo Garcia was a nearly mythical character:
"I...watch him work, watch him rake his hands, dripping with wet clay, through his hair, over and over again, until it's not clear if he's making the sculpture or if the sculpture is making him."
This beautiful novel spoke to me as an artist. I could see glimmers of my teen self in Jude and in Noah, who define themselves by their art. I was lucky to have had wonderful mentors and an artist mom, who is still very much alive and not haunting me. I would have loved this edgy book as a teenager and I enjoyed it as an adult too.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I bought a hardcover copy at Bull Moose in Brunswick and was not compensated for my review. The charcoal life drawing is one of mine from high school.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Winter Dog Walk on Skis


Sunday morning I awoke delighted to find three inches of fresh snow.


We have had so much snow this season, I can practically ski right off the back deck. My cross-country skis are extra wide for trail breaking. I'm usually the first one out after storms. 


Skiing or snowshoeing is the only way to walk the dog these days. On foot, people sink to their knees and dogs sink to their bellies, but I've trained Scout to follow in my tracks. 


Our backyard has become Narnia. I never tire of the magic.


Our wooded trail takes us to Bowdoin College's playing fields.
On the mornings I don't ski, I swim laps in the indoor pool. 


The cross-country trail encircles the fields. Unleashed dogs are welcome as long as you clean up.
If you are walking or snowshoeing, please avoid stepping in the ski tracks as that ruins them. 


Feeling bold, I followed the steep snowshoe trail into the ravine and nearly got stuck.


Trudging uphill was hard work on skis, but it was worth it to speed downhill.


At the base of the hill is the first pond.


Under the bridge, the stream was flowing metallic black, reflecting the sun.


The Town Commons trail lead us back into the woods...


...to the second pond, where I sometimes ice skate.


It was time to turn around and to head back home. Scout was excited to follow our scent.


I tricked her by choosing a different trail that skirts the first pond and a meandering stream. 


We had only been gone an hour or so. Is this our home or a snow drift?


My fabulous husband had shoveled the snow and had made crepes for brunch.
Later we read by the fire and watched Downton Abbey with our daughter.
What a perfect weekend!


More snow is falling this morning....

Blog Watch: this post was part of the Winter Walk-Off, 2015. You're welcome to join us:
document a winter "walk" from your home by March 19th and link to Les @A Tidewater Gardener. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is it cold enough to duct tape your face?

My taped daughter and friends at Nordic States in Presque Isle, Maine February 16, 2015

We have a new standard for cold this year. At the Maine high school State Championship for Nordic Skiing (ie cross country classic and skate) the high temperature was minus two degrees Fahrenheit (-19C) with twenty mph winds. My daughter's coach had the team tape their faces to avoid frostbite. Some racers use duct tape, but Kinesio tape is softer on the skin. Duct tape is also useful for taping hand-warmers to your body under racing spandex. The girls came second for their division, class c. None of them got frostbite.

My daughter racing on a warmer day
The best way to beat the cold at home is a woodburning stove. Our first house in Maine had one placed at the bottom of the stairway in the open plan living space. We had a newborn (the future Nordic Ski captain) and a rambunctious three-year-old (now a Physics major), who always touched before asking. Since there was a nice fireplace in another room, we considered removing the woodstove but decided to wait a year. Half of the homes we'd seen had those clunky woodstoves. There might be a reason.

Our first January in Maine there was an epic icestorm. We lost power for a week. Many of our neighbors lost power for longer. That "dangerous" woodstove kept our small house in the 60's and the pipes from freezing. An open fireplace is far less efficient at heating a house since most of the hot air goes up the chimney. A woostove radiates heat, and the top can be used to cook tins of soup and to boil water for tea or even a bath. My professor husband became very proficient at splitting logs.

A woodstove is greener than you might think. The trees we burn, some from our yard, are replanted every year. A growing tree sucks up more CO2 than is released by burning that tree. Maine is the most densely forested state in the continental USA, and one of the least populated, so burning wood works for us. As the saying goes, a woodstove warms you three times: stacking logs, splitting logs and burning them.

Reading Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein with Scout, photo by my husband. Book review coming in March.

When we moved into our current house, the first thing we bought was a woodstove to supplement our natural gas furnace. Our Jotul keeps our library cozy on the coldest nights and has been useful during other power failures. We've never had it as bad as that first winter, but this year, with all the blizzards, record snowfall (another six to ten inches due tonight) and frigid temperatures (three degrees Fahrenheit), I feel prepared. If I need to go outside for logs, I can always tape my face!

Recommended reading: The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach (fiction)
For more novel uses for duct tape, woodstoves recipes and other winter survival tips.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Winter Jigsaw


Sometimes when I'm revising a manuscript, I hit a wall of snow. 
Old words seem frozen solid, unmoving and unmovable. 


My stream of thought is blocked. The structure falls.


But if I look carefully, I find a small opening,


And finally a clear path. I must cut fresh tracks in what has fallen, but if I keep going...


I discover an unexpected vista,


Where all the fragmented pieces fit into a story. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler & Blizzard Photos

A Japanese soldier hiding on a tropical island for 18 years after Word War II ended? That sounds like pure fiction, but No Surrender Soldier was inspired by a true story. American author Christine Kohler has lived in both Japan and Guam. Her firsthand knowledge brings an historical incident to life with fictional characters. This engaging young adult novel would make a marvelous supplement to the history classroom, as it touches on both World War II and the Vietnam War.

No Surrender Soldier is set in 1972 on the Island of Guam (a US territory.) Fifteen-year-old Kiko chases a baseball into the jungle and finds a Japanese soldier hiding in a cave. His family history makes the encounter all the more horrific: during World War II, a Japanese soldier raped his mother, and now Kiko's brother is missing in action in Vietnam. Kiko is torn between his desire for revenge and his empathy for the old soldier. He's a believably impulsive teenager who hungers to be a man. This is a coming of age story with solid values.

What I loved best about No Surrender Soldier was how it treated the Japanese and Guam cultures with even-handed respect while acknowledging the atrocities of war. Kiko is native to Guam but his best friend is Japanese. Tourists from Japan help his family's business. The story is told in alternating chapters so that we can see inside the Japanese soldier's head and empathize with his harrowing struggle for survival. Seto's flashbacks to his boyhood (including baseball) and his shame over disappointing the emperor make him a sympathetic but scary character.

The writing was accessible with occasional poetic interludes in Seto's voice:
Not raining leaves, nor whistling wind, not gonging bamboo, nor droning airplanes - especially not the bombers - could drown out the sound of a thousand soldiers marching. Marching. Marching.
This fast-paced novel would appeal especially to boys aged eleven to fourteen. Kiko is a young, boyish fifteen. There are lots of gross-out survival details like eating rats, although talking to a girl is even scarier. I had a hard time reading the detailed description of butchering the family pig, but Kiko suffers even more because he loves his pet. The gory violence of that scene was not gratuitous since it foreshadows what may come later. Although the story has plenty of educational value and religious moments, it never sounded didactic or preachy. No Surrender Soldier was designed to be read under the covers with a flashlight.

Reviewer's Disclosure: I bought this 2014 ebook myself. It's also available in hardcover from Merit Press, a new publisher of young adult fiction. I have a personal interest in Japan. My husband teaches Japanese Politics at Bowdoin College and my sister-in-law is Japanese.

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@Barrie Summy

Photos from the Blizzards of 2015

We've had three major storms (four snow days) in the past week, dumping about three feet of snow.

 That's not counting the drifts due to high winds. I have to "walk" Scout on skis. She follows in my tracks.

 My daughter has been a big help with the shoveling...Scout less so.

In my seventeen years in coastal Maine, I've never seen so much snow. Nothing melts in single digit temps.

The skiing has been great so I'm not complaining.
More is due tonight!