Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Extras, Scott Westerfeld

This is the 4th Book in the "Uglies" series that was originally a trilogy. In the dedication Scott writes something to the effect that it is for all his readers who told him what the real definition of a trilogy is.   :-)

Anyhow, Tally is not he main character. The main character is Aya Fuze, a young Japanese girl who is 15. While there are not more rules or regulations on when you can get surgery, or what kinds of surgery you can get, her parents still won't allow her to have anything beyond the basic skintenna for communication until she turns 16.

After the "mind rain" that happened when Tally Youngblood and the Smokies give the 'bubblehead' cure out, the world is forced to figure out how to run things again with people who all of a sudden have wants, desires, and opinions about things. Aya's city has chosen a reputation economy. There is no physical currency like our money, so instead you either have to gain fame (of your own accord) or earn merits (by doing good deeds, doing school work assignments, taking on jobs etc). Those merits can buy you what you need or want, whereas in the Prettytime days, anything you wanted was just handed to you through the hole in the wall. Now you have to earn what you want from the hole. So there are many different things to get you famous, but the clique that made Aya's brother Hiro famous is one called "kickers". They kick stories and if the stories are interesting enough, more people will watch them, the more that watch them, the more their name gets said, the more their name gets said, the higher they rise in 'face rank' and your fame means you will get everything you want and you don't need to earn merits anymore. Sound familiar?

It reminded me a LOT about our current secondary economy of fame. Or face. How many likes can you get on a facebook status? How many 'friends' do you have on social media? Can you get to the #1 trending Tweet? Right now it's all just for fun and games, but what if your quality of life depended on how famous you could be? And aren't we already halfway there? I know that there are truly talented celebrities that do work hard in their chosen profession of entertainment and we pay good money to go see them and enjoy them. Take Meryl Streep for instance. She's iconic. Or certain athletes who have worked really hard to become who they are in their sport. But then look at Paris Hilton. Does she ever DO anything? She gets everything handed to her simply because she's famous (and being an heiress doesn't hurt, but isn't that at least partially where her fame CAME from in the first place?). And don't the people who are more famous get certain privileges that come with being famous? The more famous you are, the higher your pay which gives you access to the most resources. Is this right? I don't know. And who's to judge what profession is more legitimate than others? I mean, I could argue that being a WWF wrestler is NOT a profession worthy of the money they get. But if people are willing to pay that much to support those guys in that profession, then really, they are supplying a demand of sorts, and I suppose they should be entitled to it. And I could argue the merits of a football player making just as much money-or more-as a medical doctor or surgeon. Really? How is football more important than bettering a persons physical or mental health? But I am sure that there are people who could argue the good points of a football player. So who gets to decide? And how could we possibly make it "fair"? So while we may think that our system is ludicrous  there's no way to change it unless as a people we only bought into those things we personally thought were important. Football is ridiculous? Don't watch. Doctors get paid to much? Find a different profession to serve those needs. Actors get paid too much? Don't go to the movie theater, wait for it to come out in Redbox and never actually purchase the disc or paraphernalia. But until people make a mass choice about a certain issue, things won't really change. And I do think there needs to be SOME change. In priorities. I understand that entertainment is necessary. I understand that Shirley Temple got many, many people through the depression by bringing smiles to their faces. But shouldn't some people get more credit? What about educators? Armed forces members? Public safety officials? What about 911 call responders? EMTs? I don't know what some of those professions pay, but I don't think it's as much as some.....

Anyhow, I think there's no way to do it 100% right. And I think that in this book, the biggest thing people have now that they didn't have before was a choice. The chance to decide for themselves what will make them happy and a means by which they can work to achieve it. They will not all succeed, but if they have access to having their basic needs met and a way to work for anything extra they want if they save up, then I think everyone could have happiness (or a chance to redefine what will make them happy if at first they don't make the top 1000 face rank list). There's even a clique, the Sly Girls, who make it a point to not be known. That's what makes them happy-anonymity. Being able to do what they want to do without anyone watching (which ironically some famous people today get irritated with paparazzi, but well, that kinda comes with fame, doesn't it?). And you don't want to go too far, as in dictatorships, to say that all things are necessary and therefore all equal, such as the trash collector to the brain surgeon. One does require more training, so therefore should be given more. But in the same breath, I think it's so sad that some very necessary professions at the entry level do not allow for a family to meet its basic needs. For instance, when I was a teacher with a BA degree, for a family of 3, did not pay all the bills. And we had a $400/month mortgage, no outstanding debt aside from a car payment, and not insanely unreasonable costs of living. I went to work when my husband went to school and we consistently came up short by around at least $300/month with our needs-NOT wants. So we had to supplement with student loans. So I just think it's sad that we as a society have not found a way to a happy medium where people can choose a profession based on what they love to do instead of what they know will pay the bills. It IS possible as a teacher to make a living for a family, it just requires at least a Master's Degree and living in a state that will pay more for that. In Idaho, where I was teaching, I worked hard to pay for CEUs so I could advance to a BA+12 credits. Then they froze the educational advancement scale due to budget cuts and the fact that "more education won't necessarily make you a better teacher" which is foundation-ally true, but it made ME a better teacher, and it didn't help me and I was out all the money I paid for those credits thinking it'd be an investment. I had already been denied moving up the experience scale due to budget cuts and "more experience doesn't always correlate to being a better teacher" also foundation-ally true, but I was a HECK of a better teacher my 4th year than my 1st BECAUSE of experience. But people who are teachers do so because they love to. But it cannot be their only income if they are just starting out with a BA-unless they are are single and only have themselves to provide needs for. Yes, it would be nice to have a happy medium where everyone could earn enough for their basic needs doing a profession they love and also have a way to earn extras according to their wants. But the solution remains ever elusive.

But another lesson in this book is that you need to decide what will make YOU happy. And then you need to go out and WORK to get there. Not happy? Change it. Aya knew what she would have to do in order to get what she wanted. She studied and waited for opportunity. Was she completely honest to others? No. But luckily things worked out, because the people she betrayed could have easily done away with her. But that was a risk Aya was ready to take. So I guess another lesson is that if you intend to be dishonest, you must be willing to take any consequences that come from being dishonest.

Anyhow, I've rambled on enough about this.....but it was a good read. At times, as through the other books, I felt a bit offended by how our current generation was referred to "the Rusty's" and the attitude towards the Rusty's, but then how often do we now look upon previous generations with disdain at how they did things and shake our head at how incredibly stupid could they have been to NOT know the dangers of XYZ (radiation, anyone?), but they just DIDN'T. So we probably shouldn't judge them. But that's another story for another day. This series definitely gives you a lot to think about in addition to being good entertainment and a fairly quick read.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sisterhood Everlasting, Ann Brashares

I read the first book in this series, but I haven't read any of the others, but that was ok-I wasn't ever lost. There were references to things that had happened in the other books, but enough was there to understand what you needed to. This was the June book for my book club (yes, for once, I'm ahead!)

I'm going to try REALLLLY hard not to spoil anything in an obvious way, but it will be tricky. Just consider yourself forewarned.

This book is full of emotion. Full of introspect for each character and thus, for you too. When tragedy hits the 4 best friends, Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget, they don't know how to deal. So a large majority of this book is them dealing alone-until they find each other again. But there are things that struck me-the love and innocence of a child. And how powerful it can be. There is a character almost 2 years old that you meet at one point. My little one is just over 2 years, so I had a vivid frame of reference for that; and how as a mom I get stuck in a rut when maybe, just maybe, I could see the world more like she does. Maybe I could be less stuck in my idea of how things SHOULD be going or what we SHOULD be doing or what SHOULD be getting done. Life is short. Why do I let myself forget? Probably because as all humans do, unless faced with it in our immediate presence, we feel we have all the time in the world. By the way....all the girls are about 30 in this book, and that is about my age, so I have a vivid frame of references for THAT as well. So yeah, I'd say lots of things struck a chord in eerie ways.

And in all matters in love-you also must make a choice to be fair to you and to the anyone else involved. But you also have to be prepared to love that person in the way they need to be loved. If there was one thing in the book I found preposterous it would be the amount of patience that the majority of men had towards the girls. It just doesn't seem like it would be normal for a guy to be treated in one way and to respond in the way it was written out. But then, again, I suppose it is possible. If you know someone so well, I mean, the relationships in question HAD been going on in one way or another for the better part of 15 years. I've been married almost 10, and I do have to say that for the most part, my husband and I know when to let each other ride our own storms for a bit and when to intervene-as long as we are true to our own character and don't throw the other for an insanely big loop, that is. For instance, I could NOT do what Bee did and get away with it. Because that's not who I am. So maybe that's another thing-to really KNOW who you are loving and let them know you. Don't give up easily. Be forgiving.

And one last thing-be understanding of everyone's individual way of dealing with hard things. Where one woman grieves the loss of a baby to be with a miscarriage at 6 weeks, another woman can accept it and move forward in her life without missing a beat. Neither way is wrong. The first should not learn to get over it, nor is the second a heartless freak. Some people have to deal with hard things privately. Some need to share it with the world and be validated in different levels from facebook to blogs or only with a few intimate friends. If someone leaves you out of a grieving process, they most likely have a good reason. One that we should respect and not feel offended by-or feel like you've done something wrong. Sometimes your ignorance of something is exactly what the person needs from you in order for you to help him or her. That's not always easy to accept.

Any how, I really enjoyed this book, the girls looking at their lives and really truly examining what will make them happy, what will let them truly live and be true to themselves. Even though it was sad and suspenseful at times, many times, it was truly beautiful.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Rick Roirdan

Book #2 in the Percy Jackson series. I first was introduced to Percy Jackson when I was finally able-as the teacher of multiple grade levels-to chaperone a field trip for the 7th grade. To one of the local cheap movie theaters. It was walking distance away, but one of the kids had a broken leg, so I got to drive. Anyhow, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was the PG rated movie at the time that would appeal to middle schoolers. I really enjoyed the film and revisiting all of the Greek Mythology that I learned in my English classes 8th grade through high school. As with all film adaptations, I subsequently heard about the horrible job that was done. So about a year later, I stumbled onto the book and decided to read it aloud to my older daughter, then 6/7 at the time. It was a little intense for her; as in this was NOT a bed time story book, but a daytime story book. But I found out why people were so upset at the movie. They really didn't HAVE to change what they did, STUPID!

I bring this up because when I went to search for an image of the second book, I found that they are releasing a movie adaptation of this one sometime this year. And judging from the trailers, yes, some BIG changes were made. That's usually not a good sign if you can tell that from the trailer. I guess it's one of those that you have to go into knowing you'll be enjoying it for pure entertainment and NOT for following the story line exactly. In other words, it's no Hunger Games or Harry Potter, Secret Life of Bees or The Help.

That being said, this book includes more than just Greek Mythology and battling the bad guys and monsters to get something in the end. My favorite part was about a new character, Tyson. Who is quite different from all the other kids at school-a homeless kid who got a scholarship to attend the same school as Percy and becomes Percy's friend. It's about acceptance of someone different. Later on, Tyson's relationship status *SPOILER********************************************************************************************************************************************************** we find is half brother to Percy*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************And many people in both of Percy's world don't take too kindly to Tyson, but despite is conflicting feelings towards Tyson, Percy still sticks with him and gives him the benefit of the doubt. It also shows how sometimes nurture CAN overcome the nature of someone. But I really liked that. We all know kids who pick on others and who are picked on. If we were all to show a little more kindness and patience to those being picked on-even if it means we don't have any other friends-I think we'd all be better off for it. And that was my favorite part about this book.

The Lucky One, Nicholas Sparks

Despite popularity, I have never read a Nicholas Sparks novel. Until this came up for book club. I have only seen the movie of The Notebook, but never read the book. I'm saving that for when I want a really good cry.

Anyhow, The Lucky One.

Most people know the gist; Logan is a former Marine, 3 tours to Iraq, finds this picture of a girl who his friend insists is a lucky charm of sorts which keeps him alive and safe during his deployment. After he gets back he eventually walks from Colorado to Hamton-a tiny town where everyone knows everyone's business in search of the woman in the picture who happens to be Beth. What he expects to find her is as good as anyone's guess. Split narrative between Beth, Keith Clayton and Logan Thibolt gives you that great sense of knowing what everyone is thinking, but the insanity of the other characters NOT knowing what the others are thinking.

This book explores several relationships and choices. Unplanned pregnancy, marriage, divorce, perseverance as a single mom, dealing with wealthy influential families-especially in a small community, soldiers and what they deal with during and after deployment, relationships after divorce, children having to spend time with divorced parents, parents accepting their children for who they are, not who the parents think they should be, man and dog even- it's all in there.

It also shows that 'honesty is the best policy'. BUT, if for some reason honesty has NOT been the FULL policy, it also shows about the role of forgiveness when people make mistakes, because they do and they will-we're only human. Letting someone have a chance to explain themselves before coming to a full conclusion is usually a good thing; especially if it was someone you've trusted in the past.

The book's climax is towards the very end, and oddly enough there is a spring storm going on right as I was reading the last few chapters-during a flooding rainstorm in the book. That made it extra intense! Definitely a good read!