Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

iconiconI finished Ginny Rorby's Hurt Go Happy in one day. Actually, it was within a 12-hour time frame — I started it yesterday afternoon while I was waiting for my sister at the doctor's office, and I finished it last night at about 2:30 am. I didn't mean to stay up so late reading it, but I just couldn't put it down. I read little snippets — a few paragraphs here and there — at every opportunity during the day, something I used to do as a kid.

Hurt Go Happy is a wonderful, but at times heartbreaking, story about what it really means to be human. The main character, Joey, is a deaf girl whose mother doesn't want her to learn sign language. Isolated in a world of near-silence, Joey makes friends with her neighbors, a doctor and his chimpanzee who communicate via sign language.

The story is about a series of battles that Joey must win with her mother, each of which makes her a little stronger. The first is to defy her mother's wishes and start learning sign language anyway. The second — which is not fought by Joey alone, but with the help of her kind neighbor — is to convince her mother that learning sign language is the right thing. In order to do this, Joey and Charlie have to also make her mother see that she didn't want to Joey to learn ASL because she wanted to protect herself, not Joey.

As the story goes on, the battles — and the victories — get bigger. Ultimately, it is a battle to do what is right for Sukari, the chimp.

The story of Joey and Sukari is based off of the real-life story of Lucy Temerlin, a young chimp who was raised like a child. Hurt Go Happy sends a powerful message, not only because the reader knows it is based on a chimpanzee's real experiences, but because of the emotional bond Rorby creates with the reader.

This book came into my life at an opportune time. Lately, my love of animals has inspired me to begin looking into cruelty-free products — that is, products that aren't tested on animals and don't use any individual ingredients that are developed with animal testing. Reading Hurt Go Happy has solidified my resolve to seek a cruelty-free lifestyle.

Like Reaching for Sun, November Blues, and The White Darkness, I found Hurt Go Happy on my library's website, on a page listing recent award winners. Like many award winners, Hurt Go Happy addresses some pretty heavy moral issues. Unlike many award winners, it does it in a way that makes you feel intimately involved. I can't think of any book more deserving of widespread recognition than Hurt Go Happy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

iconiconI just finished reading The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. This was a riveting book, and as a result only took me a few days to read, even as busy as my schedule has been.

Like Reaching for Sun and November Blues, I found this book on a list of award winners on my library's website. The other two were good but not (in my opinion) spectacular; The White Darkness, on the other hand, blew me away. It has been a while since I've felt so entranced by a book!

If I had to describe The White Darkness in just a few words, I would call it "beautifully crafted." All of the elements in the story — Sym's imaginary friend, hints of dishonesty and ulterior motives, and the steadily building suspense — are effortlessly woven together. The reader finds it easy not only to suspend disbelief, but to feel like a part of the story itself.

One of the things I really liked was McCaughrean's use of subtlety. The circumstances of the story hint at what is really going on, but since it is told from Sym's point of view, she doesn't catch on until near the end. This technique is especially powerful because while Sym is able to explain things away with a child's naivety, the reader is painfully aware that a sinister truth is slowly being revealed.

Finally, I couldn't help but notice that the book has — in spades — one of the most important characteristics of young adult fiction: The young protagonist has to depend almost solely on herself. Every adult in the book is either completely ineffectual, using her for their own gain, or (possibly) a figment of Sym's imagination. Ultimately, this is also a coming-of-age story, where a girl is forced to see reality and become a young woman, at the same time as she must struggle for her very survival.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gotcha Capitalism by Bob Sullivan

iconiconPlease scroll to the bottom of the post for several updates.

I heard about Bob Sullivan's Gotcha Capitalism on NPR. Although I didn't listen to the story, I was intrigued by the short description of the book, so I found it at the library and checked it out.

Even if you don't read much nonfiction or financial books, Gotcha Capitalism is well worth your time. It exposes many of the sneaky ways that companies are managing to have their cake and eat it too — broadcasting a low, competitive price but making it up in the official-sounding fees they add to your bill.

Sullivan discusses all of the major players who use sneaky fees to screw consumers: credit card companies, banks, retirement plan brokers, mortgage brokers and real estate agents, cell and home phone companies, cable companies, and more. It's really quite alarming how pretty much every company we come into contact with is finding sneaky ways to get even more money from us.

Gotcha Capitalism also has some great tips for how to get refunds for some of these fees, such as late fees and increased interest rates on your credit cards. He provides sample letters and even sample scripts for calling customer service. This is definitely a book you won't want to miss!

Update 3/2/2008:

An article about undisclosed bank fees appeared in the Washington Post today. The article talks about problems that are described in Gotcha Capitalism: the increase in fees, banks' failure to clearly disclose them, and "gotcha" fees such as overdraft fees.

Of course, the difference is that the article simply reports the existence of these problems, whereas Gotcha Capitalism talks about what you can do to avoid and, if necessary, recover sneaky and hidden fees.

Update 3/3/2008:

Today I noticed another headline related to a subject discussed in Gotcha Capitalism: an article on student loans. Apparently the credit crisis is causing some banks to think twice about their criteria for granting student loans. The article also mentions predatory lending, which is rampant in school loans.

Again, the article is primarily just reporting on the subject. Gotcha Capitalism offers a much more thorough discussion of the difference between student loan programs, and advice on how to protect yourself from predatory lending.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

November Blues by Sharon M. Draper

iconiconLike Reaching for Sun, I found Sharon M. Draper's November Blues via my library's list of award winners.

I know why this book is an award winner. It deals with November Nelson, a 16-year-old girl who finds herself pregnant after her boyfriend, Josh, has died. The book offers a lot of information for teenage girls about the physical experience of pregnancy and the development of the fetus. It also addresses serious topics such as how much baby stuff costs, and how having a baby can derail all of your plans for your future: your education, work, dating, etc.

Unfortunately, I think the book is a little preachy on these subjects. The conversations during the doctor's visits end up sounding like a paraphrased textbook, and as a reader I'm getting really sick of "hearing" November whine about being pregnant. I'm pretty sure the author is trying to discourage teen girls from getting pregnant by making it sound really miserable, but it's rather poorly disguised, and is going to turn a lot of teen girls off of the book instead.

There is still a story in November Blues, and I have kept reading because I want to see what happens. However, I find that the lectures-disguised-as-fiction often detract from this story, stereotyping the characters and limiting their development, and as a result I'm looking forward to being done with the book.

Reaching for Sun by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

iconiconI found Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's Reaching for Sun on a list of award winners on my library's website. Like Patricia McCormick's SOLD, the story is told through a collection of short vignettes. Usually anything that even resembles poetry scares me away, but I really like SOLD, so I thought I'd give this one a try, too.

The book was short and, thanks to all the white space on each page, a fairly quick read. It was also a very ordinary portrait of a girl in special ed — the main character and narrator is a seventh-grader with cerebral palsy.

One of the most striking moments for me in this book was when Josie's new friend, Jordan, asks her what she hates most about cerebral palsy. Her automatic response was that she hated other people thinking she was retarded.

The book won the Schneider Family Book Award for a Book that Embodies an Artistic Expression of the Disability Experience for Child and Adolescent Audiences — middle school category. At first I wondered what made it an award-winner — like I said, it seemed so ordinary. But after some thinking, I realized that was the beauty of it: Reaching for Sun portrays Josie as any other seventh grader, despite her disabilities.