Category: Sports

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick 

Pat Peoples seems like the sweetest man on earth, but for some reason he’s coming home from a mental institution to live with his parents—in his mid-thirties—and he completely loses it when he hears Kenny G music.

Pat thinks he has been away for a few months. Actually it’s been four years. He thinks that he is experiencing “apart time” from his wife, and that if he can control his temper (‘it’s more important to be kind than to be right’), and stay on his rigorous exercise program and lose weight, he will win her back. Because, after all, his life is like a movie created by God. It will have the silver lining of a reunion with Nikki.

In trying to understand Nikki, Pat is reading all of the books that she teachers to her high school English classes. He’s surprised at how negative and depressing they are. As a former English teacher, I laughed at Pat’s comments on books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They don’t have the kind of silver linings Pat expects form life, the kind that ought to be examples for kids.

At home, the silver lining also remains hidden. Things are not going as Pat planned despite hours of daily weightlifting, regular visits with a psychiatrist, and all that reading, Nikki isn’t back on the scene. But another woman, who at first seems like a nymphomaniac but is grieving in her own dysfunctional way, is following him on his long runs. Meanwhile, the mood of the Peoples household, and particularly Pat’s father, swings with the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Pat’s dad is emotionally distant and unforgiving.

So where’s the silver lining? It’s not the one Pat was looking for, but it’s there. And I loved going on the journey with Pat to find it. Good, heartwarming stuff that embraces dysfunctional people of all kinds.

High school housekeeping: I’m always hoping that high school students will read adult books because they often (though certainly not always) juggle more issues, have more challenging vocabulary and less certain endings—like real life. I think Silver Linings Playbook is a good choice for moving into adult fiction. It’s just slightly longer than the typical YA fiction, but shorter than much adult fiction. It’s funny. You’ll like the main character, the story, and the pace. You’ll like that you can compare it to the movie. In addition, Matthew Quick writes YA fiction as well—and we have his stuff in our library. He was a high school teacher at one time, and has a good sense of what entertains and informs you. As mentioned above, The Silver Linings Playbook has a humorous vein about the books read in high school English classes. I really think it would be fun to have a ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ class and read this novel first, then read all the novels mentioned in it—and compare students’ reactions to the book to Pat’s reactions.

     Reason to Breathe, by Rebecca Donovan

I was talking to another teacher at Chaffey High, Mrs. Vanderbeck (who used to work at Colony as well), about the bullying books I was reading this year. She told me about one she thought was great, so I asked her to write a guest blog post and share the book with you. Here it is!

I just finished a book, Reason to Breathe, by Rebecca Donovan.  It’s about bullying and physical abuse, but from the adults that are supposed to look out for you.  Emily, “Emma” has worked really hard to create a facade of indifference to all the students around her.  She is counting the days to her “liberation”. The day when she graduates from high school and is able to go to college. 

Emma is a straight A student, editor of the school newspaper, is a star soccer and basketball player, all the while hiding a terrible secret.  Her best friend, Sara, knows that things are not perfect at Emma’s home, but she doesn’t know the lengths Emma has gone to protect her little cousins.  In spite of her best efforts, she falls in love with Evan Matthews, a new student to her school, who won’t take “No” for an answer. The book is graphic, sad, and yet allows the reader to feel Emma’s annoyance, curiosity, interest and finally the love she thought was not meant for her, at least not in her current situation. I really enjoyed it. It’s a fast read. I am going to put it out for my students so they might read it during SSR. –Mrs. Vanderbeck

High school housekeeping: I looked and I have one copy at Chaffey, none at Colony. So I’m adding it to my ‘purchase ASAP’ list. I also see that it is the first book in a series, so if you also enjoy it, I’ll get the sequels. –Ms. W.

 Bruiser by Neal Shusterman 

If you loved someone, how much would you be willing to do for him or her? If someone loved you, would you allow him to suffer so that you could succeed?

There are a lot questions to ponder in Bruiser. I picked it because I thought it was a book about bullying—and that’s one of my current themes—but, though it does deal with bullying, it is a more complicated look at relationships and what it means to take advantage of others. What it means to be responsible for ourselves.

Brewster Rawlins is called ‘Bruiser’ at school and is voted the ‘Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty.’ He’s a loner and kids at his high school tell tales of his strange home life with his uncle and his brother Cody. No one is sure what happened to his parents.

When Bronte sees the Bruiser in the library looking for a book of Alan Ginsberg poetry, she is intrigued. She decides to go out with him although her twin brother, Tennyson, objects. When Tennyson later sees Brewster in the locker room without his shirt, sees the incredible mess of his battered back, he starts to understand that Brewster is the abused, not the abuser.

Both Tennyson and Bronte come to know Brewster. There’s a strange ‘reveal’ to his situation, and it’s not far into the book. Telling you what it is would help me talk about the book, but it’s something that I think shouldn’t be given away in a review.

I’ve been book-talking Shusterman’s Unwind for a while, and it’s a quick-paced adventure through a dystopian future. This one is different—it slows down a bit, gives you the chance to think about individuals and their situations, about friendship and sacrifice. Not only about what we’re willing to sacrifice for others, but what is appropriate in asking others to sacrifice for us.

   The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Jessica, the best sprinter on her high school track team has just broken the league record in the 400-meter, beating her cross-town rival who is narcissistic snot. But the best day of her life turns into the worst as, on the trip home, the track bus is hit by an uninsured driver. While one of her teammates is killed, Jessica loses her leg below the knee.

Even in the hospital, Jessica is told that she is recovering quickly, She’s young and in great shape. She will get a prosthetic leg and be able to walk again. And yet that is little comfort to her. Jessica is depressed because she lives to run. She can’t imagine a life without running. She dreads going back to school and facing her classmates. She repeatedly has the running dream.

Life appears to be over, but Jessica has some good luck left, particularly when it comes to good friends. Fiona is truly there for her. She convinces Jessica to go back to school. She makes sure that her transition is as easy as possible. And there is Gavin, the cute guy that Jessica has been crushing on for over a year. He’s so nice to everyone, and although he has a girlfriend, he tries to understand what Jessica is going through and help. Finally, Jessica meets Rosa. Rosa has been in Jessica’s Algebra II class all year. But Rosa has cerebral palsy, and Jessica admits to herself that until she had to sit at a table with Rosa (because she can’t use the desk with her wheelchair), Rosa was invisible to Jessica. Jessica understands that she, too, is now—paradoxically—both invisible to some and yet someone for students to gawk at when she receives her temporary leg, which looks like a pipe. She decides to really see Rosa, who is not only kind, but also a math genius and willing to help Jessica catch up.

While Jessica struggles to get back to normal, her track coach and teammates come up with a plan to help her run again with a special $20,000 prosthetic running leg, a sort of curved piece of metal that adds spring. Meanwhile, Jessica’s parents struggle with her medical bills, insurance companies and lawyers.

I’m glad I had the chance to read this upbeat novel. I loved the way that, despite a few really mean girls, the teens had the courage to help one another—and the tenacity. Nothing they plan to do is easy, and they all have to work hard. Jessica’s better understanding of Rosa and her desire to help Rosa do something she’s always wanted was inspiring.

This novel is one of three finalists for this year’s California Young Reader Medal. It’s a book for everyone. Enjoy kindness of these characters. And if you fall for it, you might love a YA classic that deals with the same disability issue—Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt. Of the hundreds of YA books I’ve read over the years, it’s one that I remember because it’s so well written and has such beautifully realized characters. Just as The Running Dream is up for the California Young Readers’ Medal this year, Izzy, Willy-Nilly won that award some years ago.

Juice by Eric Walters   

When Coach Reeves retires and Coach Barnes comes to coach football at Michael ‘Moose’s’ high school, optimism is high. Barnes has coached at Division One Central High and tells his new team that they can become Division One as well—with all the perks, including chances at college scholarships.

Coach Barnes has brought lots of sponsorship with him. There’s new equipment including a whirlpool, big screen TVs in the weight room, a massage therapist and new uniforms.

But a new attitude is expected too—one of winning at any cost. And Moose is the new team captain who is challenged to do whatever it takes in order to have a chance at an NFL future.

Another good one from Orca Soundings. Looking forward to seeing the READ 180 classes tomorrow at Chaffey!

     Wave Warrior by Lesley Choyce

Another Orca Soundings adventure for teens working on their reading skills.

Ben Currie lives in Lawrencetown Beach, Nova Scotia. (For those of us Southern Californians with little knowledge of geography—think far to the east, far to the north, mostly surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, in Canada—but not far from the state of Maine. As for the ocean there, think cold, cold, cold!) Ben’s always been curious about surfing, but he’s a lousy swimmer. Plus, he’d been warned away from the sea by his fisherman grandfather, who understood its dangers and its killer waves. Ben misses his grandfather, who died last spring.

As much as he loves his grandfather, you know from the book’s title that Ben isn’t going to be able to stay away from the water. When he tries to surf—renting a shortboard with a V tail ( a ‘fish’), the reader knows he’s in trouble—he wants to imitate the truly experienced surfers on his first day out. So it isn’t just the freezing cold water that gets to him—it’s his naïveté that that nearly kills him as he struggles to paddle, takes off from the wrong spots, has a great chance to be mowed down by other surfers, gargles saltwater, and face-plants into the bottom of waves.

Bloodied, bruised, and broken, Ben probably would have given up if he hadn’t met an old dog named Mickey D, and then the dog’s owner, Ray. Ray is a veteran surfer from Santa Barbara, California, who has driven all the way to Nova Scotia in an old, junker van. Ray is willing to teach the ‘gremlin’ Ben. “‘Fight your inner demons.’ . . . ‘Be  a warrior. Don’t ever let the suckers get to you.’”

The surf action at Lawrencetown Beach is hyper competitive and violent as guys like Gorbie and Genghis would as soon cause someone to drown or ram him with their surfboards than share waves. Yet Ben finds one more friend in Tara, who is a beautiful and graceful surfer, but knows how to stay cool. Ben will need to learn to survive, deal with loss and death, choose whether or not be a hero—all while learning to sense the rhythms of the ocean and respect its power.

Breath by Tim Winton 

Which risks are worth it? How do you challenge yourself in a way that makes you grow as an individual? That can make you feel alive and so adrenaline-fueled that every day you’re ready and waiting for a new adventure? How do you keep from stepping over that invisible line where you are challenging death itself?

Bruce, nicknamed Pikelet as a teen, is a paramedic as an adult. As the novel opens, he has arrived on the scene of what appears to be a teen suicide, a hanging. But he knows better.

When they meet Sando, friends Pikelet and Looney don’t know that he is a big wave surfer, well-known in some places and sometimes appearing in surf magazines. They are Australian boys who have recently discovered the sport. They’d always enjoyed the water and holding their breath at the bottom of the river. But the ocean is something different. They love it and will do whatever it takes to have the chance to ride waves. They take up odd jobs in order to buy equipment. Looney’s father is neglectful and abusive, so he can go out anytime without much trouble. But Pikelet must lie to his older, concerned folks in order to get away and challenge the waves since his father fears the ocean for reasons he keeps secret.

Sando decides to mentor the boys in surfing bigger and more dangerous waves. They are flattered by his attention, and learn that they have to ignore the snide comments Sando’s wife, Eva, makes about them and their relationship to Sando. She understands that they are there, at least in part, to feed his ego.

Eva has a limp. Yet why she limps and why she is so angry is a secret—and uncovering it is dangerous for Pikelet. As she opens herself up to him, he finds himself trapped by her adult yearnings. While he intuits how inappropriate she is in taking him into her confidence, Pikelet is also smitten with her.

Loonie is aptly named. He will try anything and for him, death-defying challenges are a way to show that he is better than Pikelet, more of a man. But Pikelet has a better sense of self-preservation. He loves a challenge, but knows when his chances of survival aren’t so good.

This slender book is so beautifully written, such a wonder. I was hungrily reading it, hoping to recommend it to all teens. As I got to the final pages, and read about Eva and her way of recreating danger and the adrenaline-stoked high of the fear that accompanies it, I knew that Breath is for mature teens only. Yet it deals so well with the questions of an ordinary life, of facing challenges, and even of maintaining breath, I couldn’t help but hope that others will have the chance to enjoy it.

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One in an occasional series of topics that are tough for adults to address with teens.

Since we’ve recently had anti-bullying assemblies at both of my schools, I’ve been talking up some of the best books in our libraries about bullying. You might want to check one out:

Teen Classics:

I’ve read and recommend all these.  Summaries are from the publisher. 

The Outsiders: According to Ponyboy, you’re either a Greaser or a Soc. Coming from the wrong side of town, he’s a Greaser and his high school rivals are the Socs, the kids who have the money, the attitude and can get away with anything. The Socs love to spend their time beating up the Greasers but Ponyboy and his friends know what to expect and stick together. But one night someone goes to far and Ponyboy’s world begins to crumble.

The Chocolate War: A high school freshman discovers the devastating consequences of refusing to join in the school’s annual fund raising drive and arousing the wrath of the school bullies.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: Eric “Moby” Calhoune attempts to answer his best friend, Sarah Byrne’s, dramatic cry for help in dealing with a horrific event in her past.

for the post on our new bullying books.

for the post of bullying books that I’ve reviewed.

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The library will be having its Scholastic Book Fair again this year during the week of February 27 to March 2 from 8 AM to 3 PM.

We’ll be open Wednesday evening February 29 until 7 PM so that parents can shop as well.

 We’ll have lots of Hunger Games items—The Hunger Games trilogy books, ‘mockingjay’ jewelry, posters and more—as well as many popular titles.

Please help us by shopping for books, posters, bookmarks, journals, pencils, pens. Proceeds from the book fair earn new books for our library.

We need your support!

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

All right—this really is a book for mature readers, but it’s such wonderful storytelling on so many levels that I want to include a review of it. Add to that the fact that students often ask for good novels about sports, and other that a few short books written for struggling readers and a few more by Walter Dean Myers, I can’t think of any I’ve read that I genuinely like.

So if you want baseball action and you read at grade level or above; if you’re mature enough to read about how crazy and tangled relationships can get for both young adults in college and for older folks facing the end of midlife, you should try The Art of Fielding.

Mike Schwartz, catcher for the Westish College (Wisconsin) Harpooners is at a baseball tournament when he spots high school shortstop Henry Skrimshander. Henry is a natural, pure and simple: graceful, elegant, a joy to watch. Mike knows that Henry can help turn around the fate of the hapless Harpooners. And the Harpooners are Mike’s life blood.WestishCollegeis both his home and his family, as he is an orphan who has had a hard-scrabble life.

Once at Westish, Henry’s talent, before hidden from the public by his obscure beginnings, become evident to all. While the Harpooners succeed (with some extra help from a very good pitcher, Starblind), Mike knows that Henry can be a pro if he works hard enough. Mike is driven, with a singular intensity that borders on nutty, to help Henry make it to the show.

After 50 errorless games, Henry may soon tie the record (51) of a famous (and fictional) retired shortstop and author of a book (also The Art of Fielding) that Henry lives and dies by.

In that 51st game, Henry lets go of a wild throw that alters the course of the team and the lives of the characters: Henry’s; Mike’s; that of Henry’s roommate, Owen Dunne, a gay man (yes, it matters a lot in the novel) and lover of literature who reads in the dugout while awaiting his turn to bat; the school’s president, Guert Affenlight, lifelong playboy who suddenly, inexplicably finds that he has a crush on Owen; and Affenlight’s daughter, Pella, who ran away from her prestigious high school and married a much older man who had a speaking engagement there.

This novel works on so many levels. You can like it as a great baseball story. You can enjoy the considerable talent of the storyteller/author and the fact that this is just flat-out a good read. And if you love the classics, you get a super-bonus round: you’ll soon realize that the Harpooners are something like the crew of the Pequod, that Mike Schwartz is a more loveable Ahab, and that there are many connections to Moby-Dick. (There are lots of hints to lead you to this, not least of which is the college’s oft-mentioned statue of Melville and Affenlight’s publications on Melville.) Incidentally, if you really love reading, you’ll also see hints of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany in that wild throw of the baseball.

I recommend this book to all adults. To students, some frank talk: the reason this book is for mature readers is that there is some sexual description as pairs and then love triangles form. (These do appear very realistic in the college scene.) Beyond that, there is the issue of a much older man falling for a college student. While the student is an adult, and a relationship between the two is not illegal, it’s still unethical on the part of the college president. I did find it odd that a 60ish-year-old man who’d led a straight life—quite the playboy, in fact—would fall for a young man. However, the relationship and its fallout work in the context of the novel. So—this isn’t a book that you’d ever read for a class, and it’s only for mature readers who understand that just because something is part of the story (and people who are usually pretty good are engaging in it) doesn’t mean that it is being presented as a model for you.

And if you like baseball—Wow.

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