Embracing Nature

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is an account of Christopher McCandless’s untimely death. Shortly after graduating college, he decided to go off the grid. He cut contact with his family and belongings to travel around much of the western half of the U.S. before reaching his final destination in a remote section of Alaska.

The author shares various perspectives surrounding Chris’s death. He includes some of the people he befriended, his life and travels leading up to the trip, and other accounts of young men who died due to an encounter with nature. There are also snippets and quotes from Chris’s journal along with the author’s musings.

These various pieces all create a thought provoking and emotional look at a person whose deep love of freedom and nature cost him his life.

Hungry for Love

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller is Matt’s journey of coming to terms with his eating disorder.

Each chapter offers one of Matt’s life rules to the reader along with that day’s calorie count. He perceives himself as a disgusting, unlovable person who achieves superhero abilities by starving himself. By eating minimally, he notices every sense sharpen and his ability to handle difficult social situations improve.

This is important to him since he is trying to figure out what terrible thing happened to drive his older sister away from him and their mother. He feels that their mutual crush Tariq and his jock buddies are to blame. It also helps him navigate teen life as a gay male.

Spoiler- Over time, Matt realizes that his senses aren’t as acute as he thought. He comes dangerously close to dying (more than once) before being able to face the truth about himself and his family.

Strike Out

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis is my second tough topic read in a row.

Mickey Catalan is a strong senior in high school with a promising future as a softball catcher. Everything changes the night her and best friend Catalina get into a car crash. Mickey’s hip is in bad shape and she has a long road to recovery. Her Oxy prescription seems to be the only thing that can get her through the pain of recovery.

While at a doctor appointment, Mickey is approached by an older woman who offers to supply her with more pills since her doctor won’t. This is when Mickey meets three other teens from a surrounding town who all use. Soon the Oxy isn’t enough and they progress to using heroin.

Mickey is completely addicted and justifies her use to manage the pain and get her through her softball season and a possible championship. There are plenty of family and friend dynamics at play through the story. Events come to a lethal climax when they resort to buying from an untrustworthy seller.

This story explores the harsh realities of addiction. It can affect anyone.

Time to Repair

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow is an emotional ride into a world of mental illness, depression, drug abuse, trauma and a slow journey into recovery.

The story begins with seventeen-year-old Charlotte’s vague memories of being dropped off outside a hospital. She nearly died from a suicide attempt. After hospital care, she is out-placed to a facility (Creeley) that specializes in helping girls who self harm.

It is here that readers learn a bit about Charlie’s traumatic background beginning with her father’s death, being bullied at school and abused by her mom which spiraled into homelessness and assault. While at Creeley, Charlie manages to engage with some of her peers, and forms a couple relationships that will last after she leaves.

When Charlie leaves Creeley, she tries joining with a former friend to make a new start. This is when the real tests begin. She must find a job and try to take care of herself without falling into old patterns. She is put to the test. Her struggles are very difficult and realistic. Recovery isn’t easy. It takes a special intervention to bring her back to finding herself, or one of my favorite analogies, putting the pieces of herself back together in some new way.

This book impacted me all the way through to the author’s note. I was rooting for Charlie and her friends the whole way through. The power of kindness in supporting others is a radiating message. While not always easy, there is always hope and promise.

Dear Family

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover tackles depression due to years of dysfunctional family dynamics combined with a love story.

Merit and Honor are identical twin sisters with absolutely nothing in common, except for liking the same boy. Merit is the main character. She is overwhelmed by everything in her life and decides to drop out of school. Nobody seems to notice or care.

Her sister’s boyfriend and a long lost step-uncle move into the house. This creates new household dynamics that ultimately bring out all the secrets that Merit has been harboring. She is faced with confronting her own weaknesses while also making amends with each family member.

A Hero’s Journey

Fairy Tale by Stephen King combines elements of some series and story favorites: Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, and of course, classic fairy tales.

Charlie narrates his unbelievable tale. He starts with some of his childhood before progressing to saving a grumpy old man named Bowditch at the age of seventeen. This interaction changes the course of his life. He gives up sports to help with Bowditch’s recovery and his aging dog, Radar.

In doing so, he learns that Bowditch has an incredible secret. His locked shed holds a well that leads to another world. This world contains huge amounts of gold and a way to turn back time. Charlie decides to travel there in hope of saving Radar’s life. Once there, he realizes that there is an entire kingdom that needs to be saved too. There is a terrible curse over the remaining people causing them to be horribly disfigured. Any goodness that remains is in danger.

Charlie is captured and seems destined to die in this world. But his prison mates believe he is a prince destined to save them all.

This book has all the elements of an amazing tale, including fantastical creatures, monsters, danger, adventures and several heroic characters. I was reminded within only a chapter or two that Stephen King is truly a masterful story teller.

A Brutal Time

Kindred by Octavia Butler is a captivating mix of science and historical fiction. I decided to read it in preparation for an upcoming lesson with eleventh graders.

Dana is a black woman from California who is suddenly transported from her current time in the 70s to a plantation in antebellum south. She quickly realizes that she is there to save the plantation owner’s son (Rufus). Rufus is a distant relative, and Dana seems destined to travel back in time whenever his life is in danger – which is quite often. This creates a clash of worlds as she must transition from more modern times to a setting of brutal slavery.

Time is meaningless as she can be gone for days or months that only equate to minutes or hours in her time. It is only when her own life is threatened that she is able to return to her real life.

Dana manages to accustom herself to moving between times, even bringing along her white husband the second time. It becomes unclear whether Dana and her husband will ever be able to live normally in their correct time. Readers get to know the southern characters which makes every hardship even more horrific and Dana’s presence even more necessary, as perhaps she is not there to only help Rufus.

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before and one I won’t forget.

Best End Day

The First to Die at the End by Adam Silvera is the prequel to They Both Die at the End. I did not read the latter.

The book explores the idea of being able to learn your exact death day by buying into a company called Death Cast. The book jumps to various characters (Death Cast owner, an employee and others), but is primarily focused on Valentino and Orion.

Valentino just moved to NYC to start a career in modeling a day before his twin sister. He is at the debut of Death Cast in Times Square when he meets Orion and Orion’s best friend who is like a sister for the first time. Orion has a heart condition and has bought into Death Cast. Valentino decides to join in by buying a one day membership. The very first phone call is made, and shockingly it’s Valentino who receives the call.

This moment speeds up everything, especially Valentino and Orion’s relationship. Orion does his best to give Valentino the best end day possible, all the while not knowing when/how death will come.

It’s a love story first that also raises some thoughtful questions about life and death, fate and the people who come into our lives at different moments.

Gossip Trap

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu shows the impact rumors and gossip can have on all involved.

Chapters alternate among various teen characters’ points of view. There is the popular one, the popular friend who used to be an outcast at her former school, the nerd and the jock. And then there’s Alice. Alice had friends and was doing fine until a terrible rumor began that she slept with two guys. It gets even worse when she is blamed for one of their deaths.

The aftermath brings us into the mind of each character. We come to understand their thoughts and actions. Alice endures terrible treatment, but has the support of one new friend.

There is a strong lesson about the toxicity of gossip and the value of kindness.

Small Town Feeling

Beartown by Fredrik Backman is the first of a trilogy that I hope to continue reading. I finished this first book a couple weeks ago, so names are fuzzy.

Beartown is very good at one thing: hockey. Events build toward a huge championship game. We meet several important characters, including various townspeople, team coaches, the club manager and his family along with many of the players. Each has their own important part to play.

When the club manager’s daughter accuses the star player of rape, the entire town seems to turn against her and her family. Events unfold leading to the court’s decision. The town may not ever be completely the same.

I couldn’t help but connect certain parts of Beartown to my own small town, and I am compelled to find out what awaits each character.