Monday, April 14, 2008

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A Crooked Kind of Perfect
Linda Urban
Harcourt, 2007

Zoe Elias just wants a piano. What does she get? An organ and six months of free organ lessons. It’s not perfect but her life isn’t perfect either. Her father is afraid to leave the house and so her mom spends a lot of time at work, earning enough money to keep the family afloat. Her dad takes lots of courses from Living Room University “where you can learn any trade without leaving the comfort and privacy of your own home.” (p. 25) He’s taken such classes as “Earn Bucks Driving Trucks” and “Golden Gloves: Make a Mint Coaching Boxing.” Zoe learns to play the organ using the book Hits of the Seventies and is chosen to be at the Perform-O-Rama (a local organ competition). The only hitch? With her mom working so much and her dad afraid to leave the house, how is she going to get there? Life is not perfect for Zoe, but as she learns, a crooked kind of perfect is sometimes good enough.

It would be easy to dismiss A Crooked Kind of Perfect as just a sweet story but that would be doing it an injustice. I simply loved Linda Urban’s characters and her refusal to use stereotypes. I can’t label a favorite character – I loved them all! Zoe’s father really appealed to me but maybe that’s because I had an agoraphobic great-grandmother so I could understand his fears. Neither Zoe nor her friend Wheeler were whiners, although many would think they had plenty to whine about. The theme of not giving up, even when life isn't perfect is an important one (and one that kids need to be constantly reminded of). This book couldn't have a better title.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this book will be around for a while – it’s a book that teachers will love and I think kids will love it too.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Mother the Cheerleader

My Mother the Cheerleader
Robert Sharenow
Harper Collins, 2007

Few people would admire Louise’s mother. Besides being a neglectful alcoholic who frequently “entertains” truckers in her boarding house in New Orleans, she is also a Cheerleader – one of the women who gather in front of Louise’s elementary school to scream horrible racial insults at Ruby Bridges when she is escorted to school each morning. Louise has been pulled out of school as a protest to integration. She spends her days helping around the boarding house, cleaning up after a mean, legless man and cleaning his bedpans. Louise had never even thought much thought about the fairness of segregation. As she says, “My first reaction to the news that William Franz was to be integrated was to wonder why the Negro kids wanted to go to such a crummy school.” (p. 10)

One day a man shows up looking for a room. Although Morgan Miller says he’s in town to visit his family, it becomes evident that he is also interested in the protests down at the school. Both Louise and her mother are fascinated by Mr. Miller – Louise because he’s interested in reading and her mom because she’s interested in men. Neither is prepared for the conflict this man will bring.

Every morning Louise’s mother goes to the school to fulfill her duty as a Cheerleader. The day after Morgan Miller arrives, she continues her routine. She’s startled, however, to see Morgan step out of his car to watch the whole scene. He tells her that he witnessed the whole thing in order to see “real courage” because he needed courage in order to visit his brother. Unfortunately, his visit (in a car with New York plates) gets noticed by the redneck men who also attend each morning’s sessions.

There is nothing romantic, nothing pretty about this book. Louise is a character who is definitely not thriving in her environment – but at least she’s surviving it. She does realize that “Acts of courage come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes what seems like a small moment to one person constitutes an unprecedented act of bravery for another.” (p. 286)

I wouldn’t call this a fun read, but it was a good one and an important one. As a child of integration (my elementary school was integrated just a couple of years before I started first grade), I cannot imagine what a segregated school would have been like. It’s thanks to the courage of people like Ruby Bridges that I didn’t have to.

Back from Vacation

San Francisco and Northern California were absolutely amazing. It was my first trip to California and we had a spectacular time. I loved going to see redwoods, and I’ve never driven along such a coastline. I can’t wait to go back.

The only down part was knowing that my beloved iBook was very, very sick. Two weeks and two days without it were entirely too much. And the iBook wasn’t the only thing sick. My eldest daughter, mother, and mother-in-law had terrible colds and they decided to share the love once I got back. I’m finally, slowly beginning to feel better. And my iBook is back after receiving a new motherboard.

Now you would think after being offline for more than two weeks that I would have a boatload of book reviews to post. Nope. I spent all of spring break reading adult fiction – mostly murder mysteries. I do have one review that I’ll post later tonight (I hope) and I just finished A Crooked Kind of Perfect and I hope to write the review tomorrow. I still have a pile of fiction to read and I hope to start devouring it after Saturday (my eldest daughter’s birthday).

I’m very, very behind on reading my blogs and I know there’s not much hope of catching up so I think I’m going to start fresh. I must say it’s good to be back in a routine.