August will always be back-to-school time inside my head, I know Heather feels the same way. It’s the start of a new season, Fall, my favorite time of the year. I love how the chill at night is just starting to yip at summer’s heels. By the end of August I’m ready for a change, and change is a theme this month. All this thinking about all things academic and self-bettering has convinced the WriteOnSisters crew to tackle YA nonfiction. Today we have a collection of books intended to inspire some conversation and make us all think. Hopefully we all learned something useful with our chosen titles. I know I did. As my kids start to bundle up again, clutching their books and crisp apples, I remember it’s a wise Sister who keeps growing and passing on what she discoverers to others. I hope you enjoy the changing season and the book reviews.
Caryn’s Pick: SOLDIER GIRLS by Helen Thorpe
Women in the military is an interesting societal issue that has garnered much attention in recent years, and not in a particularly favorable light. I thought it would be important reading for young women before they undertake a career in the military or just a stint to earn a free college education. I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for the YA population so I decided to find out for myself.
It’s an account of three women deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and how their military service affected their friendship, personal lives and families. The reviews cite Ms.Thorpe, a former journalist, as “meticulously observant” and I guess that’s why I found it to be tedious. Too much trivia that didn’t add to our understanding of the characters. I also think the story would have been more reader-friendly if it had been written from the POV of the characters rather than from the omniscient narrator POV. Often it read like the author had a laundry list of things to relate and she needed to check them all off her list.
And okay, time to confess. I haven’t finished it. I meant to, but it’s 416 pages and I kept nodding off. But it does open eyes to the realities of military life: extremely hard work alternating with long periods of boredom, dealing with unwanted and aggressive attention from men as women are considered both alien and desirable- a love’em/ hate’em mentality, drinking/drugging too much, illicit affairs and facing danger in the extreme. And the promised free education? Which most admit is the draw in the first place in order to save them from abject poverty, has a number of strings attached that aren’t spelled out in the contracts they sign when they enlist.
I intend to finish it, eventually. It’s sort of like going to the gym, I know it’s good for me but I’d rather skip it. But I can’t recommend if for the younger set. Ms.Thorpe spends endless moments commenting on the political motivations for war, which is important, but I would have rather she focused on the women’s personal experiences and left the war commentary for another book.
And since the theme this month is change, I learned that the military can change you in many ways, and not all of them for the better.
Robin’s Pick: OH MYYY! THERE GOES THE INTERNET By George Takei
What can I say, wow this is a fun read. I didn’t expect the high level of honesty and down home humility. Takei has been a public figure for over fifty years and the source of a cult-like fan following due to his role as Sulu on Star Trek long before he became an internet sensation. He’s an outspoken humanitarian who manages to be both politically on the cutting edge and funny in his appeals. He’s open and charming about his most intimate concerns and pet peeves. Can you say Twilight anyone? It’s a delightful change to read a celebrity tell-all that is intelligent and doesn’t pander to mindless hype. Takei admits public adoration is nice, but he clearly understands it only matters if you use your popularity for positive social change. Since change is our theme (and I’m guilt of being a Trekkie) this seemed like the perfect book for me.
As an added bonus the book is informative. There are just so many things I never knew about Twitter and Facebook. I don’t consider myself an expert on either platform, but I do use Twitter a fair amount and before a cyber bullying incident involving my son, I used Facebook a lot. I think it’s safe to say after reading this book I am more confident then ever that I lack the cojones to be an internet high stakes player. Takei makes it clear he’s taken a huge amount of heat for things he considered just a bit of fun when he posted them. In a cyber paced world you need to run, or get out of the way. Takei chooses to run and from where I sit it looks like he’s doing a mighty fine job of leading the race. If you’re looking for a book sure to cause a nerdgasm (or two) pick it up and enjoy Takei’s insightful comments on what it means to be pushing 80 and a media juggernaut.
Heather’s Pick: METHLAND by Nick Reding
This book isn’t aimed specifically at the YA audience, but I think is an important read for teens growing up in North America, many of whom are trying to make sense of the meth problem that often plagues their communities. That’s the reason I read it. I’m no longer a teenager, but in the early 2000s meth became a huge problem in my hometown and I wanted to understand what had happened and what could be done. Reding does an excellent job outlining the socio-economic factors that contributed to the meth epidemic, as well as the corporate and political influences at play. But this isn’t a dry read of mere facts. He tells the story of rural America’s meth problem by giving voice to the people affected – an addict trying to stay clean to raise his son, a mayor determined to revitalize his drug-riddled town, a dealer deformed after blowing up his meth lab, a veteran trying to find work in a dying rural community, etc. Their stories are tragic, painful and often disturbing, but Reding weaves them into a narrative that’s full of empathy and even a little hope.
I think every teen should read this book, despite some of the graphic content. That’s life. And if we don’t want the next generation to make the same mistakes as the current generation, they need to know the deal.