On the blog:
Nothing! It was a crazy week with lots of unexpected work extras, and I decided to take a blogging break.
John Marshall’s Wide-Open World, a nonfiction account of a six-month round-the-world volunteering trip he took with his family, was my audiobook for the past couple of months. Marshall engagingly narrates the story himself. As soon as I started reading, I decided I want to do some voluntouring before my son grows up. Never mind that we’re all pretty challenged travelers in my house. Not all of Marshall’s family was on board with his idea to quit their jobs, take a leave of absence from school, rent their house, and head off to Costa Rica, the first stop on their adventure. His wife loved the idea, and his teenaged son came around, but there was strong resistance from his teenaged daughter, a freshman in high school who is described as a stereotypical device-obsessed teen. Reconnecting as a family was a huge part of the impetus for this trip, and Marshall’s descriptions of family life, especially his attempts to rekindle his marriage, are a big part of the appeal of this story. These are nice people, well-meaning, good-intentioned, loving–but also real people, occasionally cranky, sarcastic, and fed-up with each other and world travel. The family’s travels take them to a monkey sanctuary in Costa Rica, organic farms in New Zealand, a school in Thailand, and an orphanage in India. I sometimes felt that Marshall got bogged down in the less-important details of travel–the logistics, the small irritations–and lost focus of the bigger human interest story he was telling. At the same time, though, the petty details of travel are a big part of the experience. Marshall ends the book with a reflection on the ways that the trip changed each person in his family. This was one of my favorite parts of the book. While the results weren’t what Marshall expected, his children were undeniably changed in positive ways to become more compassionate and more committed to social justice: both of them begin to understand their own values and what it means to be a citizen of the world, and both commit in their different ways to making a difference.
I wanted so much to love Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, because Linda Urban is probably my favorite middle-grade author (though it’s such a rich and wonderful field, it’s hard to choose a favorite). I loved the first couple of chapters–the voice, the sentences, the goofy plot, the humor. But as the story went on, it began to fall flat for me, and I am trying to understand why I didn’t love it. I feel like I ought to have loved it–it ought to have been smack in the middle of my reading wheelhouse. Every positive I can think of about it, though, I end up qualifying with a “not quite.” It was clever, but not quite clever enough. Whimsical, but not quite whimsical enough. Funny, but not quite funny enough. I felt like the story wanted to be very Flora & Ulysses-like, but Urban couldn’t quite let herself go enough to get there.
Sunny Side Up was definitely my favorite read of the week and a new favorite graphic novel. There is so much to love about this story. It tackles some very difficult subject matter: Sunny has been sent to stay with her grandfather in Florida because her older brother, Dale, is struggling with addiction. This is subject matter that I don’t think we see treated often enough in middle-grade fiction. There’s a wonderful–and clever–subplot about reading comic books. There’s plenty of humor with the retirees who live in Grandpa’s retirement community. There’s a complex time frame that enables the reader to be fully engaged putting together the sequence of events and understanding cause and effect. Most of all, there is the character of Sunny herself, who is confused and angry and scared and trying very hard not to be any of those things. Of course nothing is easily sorted out by the end of the story; that’s not the nature of addiction or family secrets. But the reader does feel that Sunny has come to a place of acceptance and understanding and will be okay once she goes home.