Paper Hearts

Paper Hearts

First Lines: Through the village/once loved./Eyes lowered/not shamed/footsteps steady/not faster/or slower/than before.

A few days ago, I talked about those Holocaust books for my students. This is another one recently added to our list. I got it free from Scholastic years ago, but I never was inclined to read it. But I did always think it was interesting this Holocaust story was written in verse.

Survival. Friendship. Defiance. Things Fania and Zlatka found in Auschwitz. These two teenagers lost so much along the way until they found each other. They looked out for each other, protected each other as much as possible. And, in the ultimate act of defiance, Zlatka made Fania a birthday card in Auschwitz: a purple heart signed by a number of their other friends, with wishes for the future. Something as simple as a card could mean death for these girls, which made Fania treasure it all the more. Based on a true story.

I figured this would be a fast read, being written in verse.

And it was. I was pretty quickly pulled into Zlatka’s story, but I had a little trouble with Fania’s. In part, at least, I think that’s because it has hard to remember who was the narrator. The verses are written in a similar style no matter who the narrator is. And the girls tended to have very similar perspectives. I just generally assumed the narrator was Zlatka, even when I knew it wasn’t. It’s weird to switch narrators in a verse novel like that. I’ve seen it done before, but the voices were very clearly different.

But the story, especially knowing it’s based on true events, is special. Zlatka and Fania are both trying to be brave and learn how to adapt to their new situation, despite losing their families one way or another. The depictions of Auschwitz fit well with what I already know about the camp and this did have the feel of being meticulously researched. I appreciated that.

This story is hopeful and doesn’t get too dark, despite the subject matter. That doesn’t mean it goes down easy (the girls still have to deal with a lot of death, hardships, and brutality), but it also makes those small moments of hope and kindness they experienced stand out more. I didn’t walk out of this book hating humanity like I can sometimes in other Holocaust books. This actually more or less did the opposite–because it made sure to highlight those moments of kindness coming from expected and unexpected places.

The Bridge From Me to You

Image result for the bridge from me to youFirst Lines: The house smells like apple pie thanks to the burning candle on the mantel.  Uncle Josh and my three cousins are outside throwing the football around.  Apparently this small town loves football the way ducks love water.

This was one of the books on my to-read list I was trying to read in an effort to clean up my list.  I’ve read a couple other Schroeder books, which are typically written in verse, and I thought this would be a nice change of pace.

Lauren is the new girl in town with a dark secret.  It’s hard to feel anything but lost leaving behind a home she desperately wants to return to.  Colby, the star of the football team, has a problem.  He dreams of more than playing football for the rest of his life, but no one seems to understand.  But as both of their lives fall apart around them, it seems like they might be the only ones who truly understand each other.

The story is a mix of lyrical poetry and prose, switching between our two narrators. Lauren is poetic most of the time, Colby is our prose. I liked the mix because it felt like we were getting a lot of the gritty details of the story from Colby, but Lauren brought the effective emotion in a very small space.

Lauren and Colby are both in tough situations when they meet. Lauren is living with her aunt and uncle, heartbroken and homesick. Colby is the star on the football team with a secret. It’s kind of cool to see how they meet and keep growing their feelings for each other.

The story is sweet even though it’s also got a lot of real issues the characters are dealing with. Lauren and Colby’s lives are not easy at this moment. Both of them are struggling to put on a happy face and pretend to be normal. I liked that their issues were so real and that there really wasn’t a “right” way to handle any of it.  To me, that’s kind of the mark of a good YA book.

The story was good. Lots of heart and a pretty fast read.

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution

Image result for siege roxanne orgillThis is a little different.  I bought this from Scholastic for my classroom, thinking it was nonfiction.  It’s not–it’s actually a lyric novel.  Color me surprised.

Anywho, it’s basically exactly what it advertises itself to be: a (lyrical) book about the siege of Boston in 1775 that more or less kicked off the American Revolution.  Narration bounces between Washington, the Boston newspaper, Washington’s commands, British officers, and others.

I’m a huge Revolutionary buff, so this fit my wheelhouse well. I thought it was an interesting and different way of looking at history, by making it lyrical and turning it all into poetry. It definitely made for a fast read.

It’s just that it seemed to cover so little. I mean, Washington and his aide-de-camp Joseph Reed were really the biggest characters in this. There were appearances by others like General Howe and Abigail Adams, but they were minor characters. More time was spent on Washington’s orders than on other characters.

It’s a catch-22. If you make it lyrical, you have to leave things out. But to put everything in, and still be lyrical, the book would be mammoth.  (Side note: a great lyrical historical fiction novel is The Watch That Ends the Night about the sinking of the Titanic.  I adore it.)

Still, it was a good read.

Chasers of the Light

imagesSo this is a little different from books I normally read.  As you probably noticed, I don’t have a first line for this…because it’s a book of poems.  I was approached by the publisher to read and review an ARC of this book by Tyler Knott Gregson and I quickly accepted, having seen a number of his poems surface on Pinterest.  And I was interested to see what was inside this little book.  (Sorry the cover picture is small and blurry.  If I find a better one, I’ll change it out.)

I really can’t do much of a summary here either.  These are poems that Gregson, a poet and photographer, wrote on his typewriter.  These poems are shown in their original glory in this book, on the receipts and book pages they were originally typed on.  It’s kind of an interesting concept.

I thought these poems were fantastic.  I kept finding it impossible to put them down.  Some of the poems are simple, five line deals that convey a single thought.  Some are longer and discuss an event or feeling at length.  But they were all interesting.  And not only were they a joy to read, they were fun to look at too.  Pictures of mountains, lakes, old receipts that you can sort of make out what they say…  They were an element of fun added to the poems.

All of the poems were quite good.  Gregson has a way of looking at the world that connects two usually unrelated items.  He twists things so the poems don’t always go the way the reader thinks they will.  For example, one of the poems talks about a man having blisters on his feet from dancing…with a ghost, a memory.  Which is a really cool statement and one that very clearly paints a picture.  It’s a lovely and startling twist.

Everything he wrote about just seemed to click into place in an unexpected pattern.  I can’t help repeating myself on this.  There really was something special about these poems.  I wrote down about five of them in my quote book because they were just that good.

And so many of them are terribly romantic.  Sure, others were about loss or the hope for a new love, but the romantic ones were my favorite.  They were tender and sweet and so many other things I can’t put into words.  Forget having a guy quote me Shakespeare or Neruda, find me a guy who can quote Gregson.  He’d have me hook, line, and sinker.