Review: Outliers

“Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.” page 285

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Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.
Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2008.
Adult nonfiction, 309 pages including notes and index.
Lexile:  1080L  .
AR Level:  7.8 (worth 13.0 points)  .

What do geniuses, rice paddies, hockey players, a Korean airline, a small town in Kentucky, and young Jamaican twins have to do with each other?  These topics and more are woven together in Gladwell’s explanation of success.

Outliers

This book goes beyond the ten thousand hours to achieve mastery theory to examine what else can effect our success or failure in life.  Gladwell looks at how community can change health, how Germany jumpstarted the Beatles, what made one Jewish lawyer wildly successful while his father struggled, and what linguistic difference makes Chinese children understand math more easily.

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Review: Dreamland

“Children of the most privileged group in the wealthiest country in the history of the world were getting hooked and dying in almost epidemic numbers from substances meant to, of all things, numb pain.” p. 8

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones.
Bloomsbury Press, New York, my edition 2016, first published 2015.
Adult nonfiction, 374 pages including index and notes.
Not leveled.

Dreamland is the far-reaching narrative of America’s unprecedented struggle with opiate addition.  It looks inside doctor’s offices and pharmacutical marketing, studies villagers from Xalisco, Nayarit in Mexico, and interviews street addicts, rehabilitation workers, and more to form a comprehensive picture of how this situation developed.

Dreamland cover
Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones.

This book doesn’t entirely fit my usual review criteria.  After all, the author and the majority of people in it are white, although there is a substantial Mexican and Mexican-American element present.  However, I decided it was close enough to my usual topics (since addicts are generally not a privileged group, even if they are white or privileged in other areas) to discuss here.

America’s opiate epidemic has been getting a lot of attention because it’s affected a lot of people that those in power don’t usually think of as potential addicts – middle class Midwestern white suburbians.  Another, lesser known, oddity of the problem is that nearly all of the black tar heroin dealers in American’s smaller cities are from small towns in the tiny Mexican state of Nayarit.

Quinones interviews addicts, dealers, medical professionals, reformers, and law enforcement to provide as accurate a picture as possible of how this came to be.  Most of the people he talks to are white, Mexican, or Mexican-American, although he does talk to some people of color, and he brings up the disparity between political response to this ‘epidemic’ and previous reactions such as the ‘war on drugs’.

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Review: First in the Family

“If you want to go to college, right from the start you have to raise your voice, ask for what you need, and keep your eyes open about what classes and opportunities your high school offers you.” page 32

First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students – Your High School Years by Kathleen Cushman.
Next Generation Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 2005.
Nonfiction, 80 pages.
Not leveled.

This book gives encouragement and advice to high school students who may be the first in their families to attend college.  It includes many personal stories and quotations from students who have similar journeys.

First in the Family

One of the main focuses of this slim volume is encouraging teens from minority groups to attend college and pursue careers rather than jobs.  This book is specifically aimed at diverse high school students who have no family members that have attended college.

I bought this book because it was on clearance for a dollar at Barnes & Noble. I’m not the first member of my family to attend college, and neither was Husband.  I don’t work with high school students, but wanted to review it here.  After reading it and starting to write this review, I discovered there is a free interactive online version of the text.  The second book The College Years, is also available online for free in a PDF format.  I look forward to exploring those resources more at a later time.

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Discussion: Microaggressions in Fiction

A look at several books to try to articulate different ways of approaching microaggressions in literary texts.

Here’s a loaded question for you: When are microaggressions okay in literature?

This question came up today as I was reading a book review over at Sinead’s blog.

After I had written several paragraphs in the comment box, trying to clarify my thoughts on the subject, it made sense to just write my own post and ask for feedback on this question.

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Review: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

“When I first got my library card and wrote Blackbird Farm on the form, she didn’t know I was Dad’s daughter or Jim Brown’s grandniece, and she asked me how long my family was working there. I think she still feels bad about that.” page 76

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York, 2015.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 216 pages.
Lexile:  880L
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 5.0 points)

Sophie Brown’s family has moved from LA to Gravenstein, California.  They’ve traded their apartment for a house and farm filled with all the many things her great-uncle Jim had saved.  A farm doesn’t feel right without any animals, but they’ll have to be cheap because money is tight since Dad lost his job and they started relying on Mom’s income as a freelance writer.  Then a chicken turns up… a very special chicken.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Amazon kept recommending this book to me since I started buying diverse books.  Nothing in the description suggests a PoC is in this book and in the tiny cover preview, Sophie didn’t look dark-skinned.  Eventually I ordered a copy – but mistakenly got a hardcover instead of the paperback.  Once it arrived I was glad for the mistake, because as soon as he saw this book, our reluctant reader started insisting that I read it to him that night.  I don’t turn down his book requests, and they are loving it so far.

This book was a wonderful surprise.  The format is unusual (just like those chickens).  There also is a paranormal/science fiction aspect that would be a major spoiler to discuss.

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Review: I Got This

“I’m also incredibly proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, but at first I wasn’t sure why everyone was talking about it. Then I realized that as I was growing up, there hadn’t been any Latina role models in gymnastics!” page 149

I Got This: To Gold and Beyond by Lauren Hernandez.
HarperCollins Children’s Books, HarperCollins New York, 2017.
YA biography, 231 pages.
Lexile:  1020L.
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 5.0 points) .

Laurie Hernandez was a bit of a dark horse.  Just turned 16 and only recently eligible for the US Olympic team, she not only was part of the winning 2016 gymnastics team, she also won the silver medal in balance beam.  Fresh off her Olympic win, she went on to win Dancing with the Stars, a nationally televised ballroom dancing competition.

I Got This Laurie Hernandez

This book is definitely a teen read.  Apparently Hernandez’s nickname in the press is the Human Emoji, and she embraces that as each of the 20 chapters has a different emoji associated with it (a few do repeat).   However, she also manages to pack in information about gymnastics and some startlingly good life advice, coming from a 16-year old.

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Review: The Memory of Light

“There’s something fragile about all of them, like they’re holding on to what the world expects of them by some brittle branch that could break at any moment.” p. 24

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork.
Arthur A. Levine Books Imprint, Scholastic, New York, 2016.
YA realistic fiction, 326 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.4 (worth 12.0 points)
NOTE: This book is not for 4th graders.

We meet Vicki in the most intimate and vulnerable time in her life – after she’s just attempted suicide and is now hospitalized for severe depression.

The Memory of Light

I got this book through a branch loan (CSviaS) after Naz recommended it to me when we were discussing the sad lack of books about disability with intersectionality.  It took a while to come through with holidays interrupting ILL services and me being on vacation, so during that time, I thought of one book in my collection and accidentally encountered another at the store.  I’ve also been hitting up Google with the idea of reviewing a number of books about disability by people of color and generating a list for kids, parents, and teachers.  Just like early readers, this is one of those little niches of the book world that we need to diversify.

This book is beautiful.  That probably seems like a strange thing to say about a book about depression, but the writing is just lovely.  It reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, not in any way the content, but the writing style.  I was quickly immersed in Vicki’s world and wanted her to heal and live.

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