Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

ImageTell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, is the sort of YA novel that keeps the genre worth reading. I’m consistently impressed by the way YA deals with grown-up issues with all the faith and fight of a teenager. I honestly am very glad that I got to read this particular book as an adult rather than as a teenager because I like the way I understand it now. I would have approached it much differently as a teen. The novel is written from the perspective of June, whose godfather and uncle, Finn, a famous artist, is dying of AIDS in the late 1980s. The political issues could certainly take over the novel if the author hadn’t brilliantly limited them to the intrusion of the evening news. June develops a secret friendship with her uncle’s partner, the man her family believes infected her beloved uncle, because of a note scribbled in a book that Finn leaves for her and a deep need to know more about the man who was kept secret from her for nine years. In addition to helping his partner and niece become friends, Finn tries to find a way to reconcile with his sister and to bring June and her sister closer again. Finn’s last painting, a portrait of sisters June and Greta, becomes a way for the living to connect with the dead and dying but for June and Greta to talk to one another as they secretly add to the painting, changing their representation to suit the the way they see themselves. A summary cannot capture the beauty and complexity of this novel. It’s nice to see a novel that captures the complexity of relationships so well, and it’s really nice to see a novel written for teens that doesn’t make a big deal out of being gay or to try to blame gayness for AIDS.

I think it is the most beautiful thing to find a novel that leaves you feeling wrecked and clean, and this novel accomplishes just that. I hesitate to classify it as a coming of age novel or, as it probably sounds by my description, one of those topical YA novels that teach kids how to deal with something hard. It’s really a powerful, well-written piece about how complex love can be, and I really hope you read it.

Five out of Five stars. 

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The Fault in Our Stars is That they Keep Crying

This effing book

This effing book

I actually accidentally met John Green before I read anything by him and way before I knew what a nerdfighter was. I got to go to NCTE in Chicago a few years back, a giant convention of English teachers, getting wild over free copies of mistake-riddled publisher’s proofs and asking for autographs from the celebrities of our field. I was actually trying to go meet a particularly wonderful poet, whom I’d just recently read a year before for one of my last grad classes. Unfortunately, the poet had to cancel, and this John Green guy took his place. I was actually really disappointed.

Until I listened to what he had to say about the purpose of education. Then I thought, hey, what a smart guy. I guess I can get over missing out on the really incredible writer. Later, on the convention floor, which is where all the textbook companies try to build a cooler pen to entice us English teachers with, I saw him sitting at a table waiting for folks to ask for his autograph. I thought that no one was coming around and felt bad for him, so I smiled, in a really condescending way, looking back. I didn’t see the line of people wrapped around the corner and going all the way back to the door.

I picked up a copy of The Fault in Our Stars for my students when I started a sort of classroom library for them to borrow from. I was about to say that if I could unread a book, this would be the one, but I don’t mean that. Really, I think that reading this book was a really powerful and important experience for me. Teens should read it because it will help them understand and deal with grief. Adults should read it because it will help them understand and deal with grief. BUT John Green is absolutely unforgivable because he has created smart, interesting, lovably characters in Hazel Graze and Augustus, but then he goes and completely destroys the world. The really awful thing is that you can’t get mad at him for ruining your life when you read it because, as Hazel says, she’s a bomb waiting to go off.

In fact, what really pisses me off about this book is that John Green is such a brilliant writer that I couldn’t stop reading even though I knew it would wreck me. Why are all these really good YA writers trying so hard to make people suffer when they read their work?

But for all of my mixed feelings about this book, I really do think it is a wonderful, powerful thing and that the world is a better place because this book is in it. The story follows Hazel and Augustus, two “cancer kids” who meet at a support group and develop a romance so sad and so doomed that Rose and Jack from Titanic slowly slipped out the backdoor to avoid competing. While the novel certainly deals with grief and dying (in some very humorous ways, atypical of the YA issues genre), it also concerns itself with story telling. It is very clear that John Green, evil as he is, is very well educated on what makes a story. My summary of the story takes out all the life of the book. I realize that’s probably a strange way to describe a book that’s about people who are dying too young, but what that bastard (that is no way a comment on his parentage, only on his writing) John Green does so cleverly is to create a whole world that really only makes sense to the reader because of the dire circumstances in which he places his characters.

5 out of 5 stars for wicked good writing, 2 out of 5 stars for breaking my heart and making me ugly cry so hard I had to stop reading and concentrate on breathing.

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Oh my Gosh! I Haven’t Seen Me in Forever! Where Have I Been?

Hello blog! I’m surprised I remembered the password to see what was going on. I was about to hit delete on the whole shebang when I decided to look at the stats on who was reading the thing. And that’s when I saw you, one person who reads the blog every day, and you kept me going. 

So what do I have to say? Well, not a lot. Or more accurately, way more than you want to hear about things that are either 1. too personal or 2. too political. So let’s try something different. 

What shall I write about? Hmm… When I started blogging the tutorial to get started suggested choosing a theme. AT the time I chose mustaches, but everybody and their mother (sorry mothers, for the unintentional yo momma joke) has a mustache. How about cheese, I thought, being more than a little excited about cheese. But, I live in the podunks and have access to cheddar and American (which is not, as you know, cheese, but rather an amalgamation of several different kinds of slime) But now. I don’t know. I’m thinking maybe it’s time to write about something that really matters to me. But what matters to me besides cheese and books?

Ah, yes. Books. I’m going to write about books on here from now on. I shall review what I’m reading, suggest titles, and get suggestions from that wonderful human being who checks my blog daily with the sort of desperate hope usually reserved for lost dogs. Thank you, one person. You have become a reason for writing again in this forgotten space. 

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Nothing to Say

What do you do when you have nothing to say? Well, I for one just stop blogging for a bit. I have opinions of course, and plenty of status updates, but I’ve had nothing to say because I’ve been living knee deep in the exciting world of Grown Ups. So far, as far as I can tell anyway, it’s made up primarily of running toilets, the phrase “Send me an email, and I’ll take care of it,” and budgeting. It appears my thoughts on adulthood from my first diary are incorrect. There is very little dancing with Muppets and monsters (that was the summer of Labyrinth), buying a lot of toys, or telling princes off for trying to rescue me. However, there is a fair amount of eating ice cream for dinner. I nailed that one.

I was chatting with my friend Travis several weeks ago. He was asking if I was doing any writing lately, and instead of thinking of the blog, I thought of the wildly inappropriate short stories I’ve been writing for fun. It just goes to show that blogging only works if you have enough opinions to sustain the sort of writerly relationship that regular blogging entails. I could blog about what I’m thinking most of the time, but I doubt you care about my ode to Baby Bell cheese or my constant waffling on the subject of true love and relationships. The point of writing that is to say that maybe I’m not the writing type. Maybe you have to have something interesting, profound, or at the very least funny before you are allowed to expect people to care about what you’re writing. Maybe I’m on the wrong track.

Then again, maybe blogging is just kind of ridiculous unless you are famous or a feminist or Jenny Lawson.  Maybe expecting people to care about the stuff that we usually put in our diaries is narcissistic and delusional. Maybe I don’t have anything to say because I’m trying too hard to be interesting when what I’m really doing is wondering why my office sometimes smells vaguely of soiled baby diapers. Despite all of this adulty stuff I’m doing, I somehow still feel like I’m too immature to write about anything significant. I don’t have enough wackadoodle experiences to maintain a blog for more than a year or two.

Which is all just a really roundabout way of saying that I’m feeling an existential dread about this blog. I like writing, and I love sharing ideas, but the blog feels less like the forum I’d like it to be and more like a soapbox. I don’t want to think of myself as some kind of voice in the wilderness (aka the interwebs). I’d rather just meet up over coffee and talk. I don’t have enough answers to write with any kind of regularity or verve and too many questions to be comfortable expecting people to read what I have to say. Maybe I should dump the blog or else turn it into a series of question sets, and then maybe you can answer them. Maybe I should stop at 520 words about not having anything to write about. Maybe I’m a liar.


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In God’s Attic Apartment, A Poem

Hey guys, all six of you who regularly read this blog and say just enough nice things to make me write another, this is for you. Underneath this unnecessarily boring introduction is a poem I wrote and thought I’d share. Now, I usually hate my poetry, but this one is just funny enough and has just enough irreverence toward religion and holy things that I kind of like it. If you enjoy it, you are probably going to see me in Hell, which is cool because the Devil prefers red solo cups, and solo cups don’t shatter.


In God’s Attic Apartment


So I’m just hanging out

in God’s attic apartment,

and I drop a glass. A nice one.


Crystal. A gift from his favorite Pope,

probably. And I say, “Ah, hell.”

but I’m thinking Hell, you know,

the hot place for people who shatter

God’s stemware and cuss in his apartment.


And the Creator, the Creator just laughs

and says, “Broom’s in the pantry, my child,”

and just like always, He hangs out

while I do all the work.

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Sometimes, I Worry About Marmalade

Sometimes, I Worry About Marmalade.

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The Zombie Teacher

The following is a bit of flash fiction I’ve had in a notebook for a while. Since yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day and because I just gave my last final of the semester, I’m sharing it. I hate to explain myself because I know good writers don’t, but I’ve never claimed to be a good writer. See, zombies are hopeless. The obsession with zombies in media is a reflection, in my opinion, of a desire to write people off, to excuse violence, to refuse education and to say some people are worthless. My world view is a little bit more hopeful. All of history has been a march of progress and of people becoming nicer. Why anyone would think that we are spiraling down into hell on earth is beyond me. I don’t buy into Armageddon or end days, and while I might joke about zombies, it bothers me that people want humans to start eating/shooting at each other like that. Yes, I realize the irony in that statement in the midst of all the wars and shooting and probable cannibalism around the world, but it takes hope to grow hope, and I think a little more criticism of the genre would be helpful.

The Zombie Teacher

Ms. Keeling of PS 31 was in her 14th year of teaching occasionally snotty, often tardy, but mostly decent 16-year-old human beings when the Big Event happened. The first morning that it became apparent that the end was upon us, she watched the reports on the news stoically, brushed her teeth, filled a thermos with coffee, and tidied her hair. The bus was much less crowded, and for the first time in years, she was able to get a seat, even after the bus driver watched her warily. She smiled at him kindly, and he smiled back once he noticed the silver apple pin in her lapel. A teacher, he thought, maybe she hasn’t heard. But this is the city, and bus drivers don’t talk to passengers, so he simply drove the same route he’s driven for 21 years. When the teacher got off the bus, he watched her, wondering why she was still going to work after all that had happened. Surely the schools would be closed. Buses always run because people have to get places, but schools, schools shut down for snow and terrorists, field trips and broken water pipes. Surely schools close for zombies too.

Ms. Keeling was used to being the first teacher in the building, so the eerie silence didn’t alarm her. She was also used to the whoops and howls of the 700 or so teenagers who began to trickle into the building even at this early hour every day, seeking a warm place to stay and a kind face to talk to, so later, when the hoards would break into the building, she wouldn’t hear them. Ms. Keeling was uncharacteristically behind on her lesson plans. She’d stayed up late to finish reading a novel that she planned to book talk to her students, and lesson plans had gotten left behind. She’d winged it before, taught by the seat of her pants, crafted marvelous lessons out of thin air, based on a question or an idea or even a student who was staring out the window, but her principal was determined to see his teachers doing valuable, state-mandated, approved lessons each day. She needed to get them in before he decided to fire her. He’d already threatened a few times that semester after she started a seditious untested poetry club. The principal had been a part of the school for seven years. He, of course, knew everything.

As she was scribbling something about fostering critical thinking under a note about arguments and nonfiction texts, the principal burst through her door. Principals shouldn’t carry shotguns, she thinks. He looks puny, like the gun will knock him over if he fires it, and there is blood on his hands. Well, she thinks, that’s been there a while.

“Come with me if you want to live!” He had seen to many action movies, has punctuated with too many exclamation points. “It’s the end of the world!”

“It always is,” she said, and returned to planning her week.

“I’m here to save you!” She mentally marked out the offensive punctuation.


“How do you expect to survive?” She held up her grading pen.

“Even mindless hoards need education. In fact, I’m sorry, I’m being rather hyperbolic today, but they always have.” He tried to pull her out of the seat, and she stood, placing her hands on her hips and looking at him over her glasses, “Out, out damned spot.” She giggled. The principal, who slept through Macbeth in school, thought she must have gone crazy. He wipes his bloody hand on her chalkboard. His plan was to save himself and as much of the world as possible from the zombie hoards, but he didn’t see Ms. Keeling’s first period class making their way down the hall. The morning bell masked his screams.

“Good morning, class.” said Ms. Keeling, separating a few students who were attempting to bite one another. When one of them turned on her, she gave him a stern look. “Have I ever tried to bite you, Taylor?” They shuffled into their usual seats as she took a quick visual roll call. Only 4 were missing. Only 4 students still fully human. Oh well, she thinks about the class she had in her 1st year, all of them on parole, all of them on drugs. All of them learned something. She wrote out the new rules for her students on the board, carefully going over each so that students knew what was expected of them in this post-apocalyptic world. Each pulled out a piece of paper and scribbled them out in the same handwriting they had when they were children.

The news stories will say to cut off the head or destroy the brain, kill the zombies. Ms. Keeling will say “nonsense.” She will say, “Look, this is progress. See.” She is right, of course, for there is something there. The men who come in Kevlar with automatic weapons will think oh god, if only for a moment, and maybe they will put the guns down and join the students for a lesson or maybe they will fire anyway, but this is Ms. Keeling’s story, so we will end it where she wants to end it: in a productive classroom.

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